What you must know before going for a safari holiday Image courtesy of Magical Kenya
26 October 2013 Written by 

What you must know before going for a safari holiday

Almost everyone who visits East Africa says a little "I wish" as they board the plane back home. The trip was fantastic but it could be better. So, they probably swore never to repeat some of the mistakes or miss out on some of the opportunities that presented themselves while on safari. Here are a few that you may want to consider. If you have not taken your trip yet, you will be surprised how significantly more these things will make your experience more memorable if not magical.

General Background reading or research

You're going to Uganda. You shouldn't have packed beach clothes because the country is landlocked. You're travelling to Kenya. She neighbours Tanzania so you did not have to book two tour operator companies. You're going to Tanzania. The people mainly speak Kiswahili. A language translation book would have saved you half an hour of miscommunication with the waiter at the restaurant. All these can be avoided if you do a little background reading and research of the country and region you intend to visit. Find out the language the people speak. Find out the geographical location. Find out the weather at that time of the year. Find out the distances between your intended places of travel. The difference between one who does a background research and one who does not could be saving hundreds of dollars and salvaging lots of precious time when talking to locals. A general background research will enlighten you on much and grant you a relaxed safari. It will also help you on how to pack your clothing.

Technology

Almost all my friends who left East Africa to study abroad were met with surprised foreigners who thought African live in trees, relax in caves, are neighbours with Tarzan and keep lions for pets. Many of these foreigners are surprised that skyscrapers, telephones, Internet, traffic and even some of the latest fashion and technological advancements are found in Africa. So yes, do carry your laptop if you want to browse - the lodges have Wi-fi. Do carry your cell phone - you can make a few calls home. Do carry your debit card - you can pay via Visa and you can withdraw from ATMs. Technology is a convenience for any trip. Find out which one you need most. It is available in Africa.

Footwear

Most safaris are in the wild. Tourists may want to take walks with the local warriors into the savannah. Trekking and hiking are great activities while on safari. Even if you do not like hiking, chances are there will be some good walking to do. Carry a comfortable pair of shoes.

Camera

Were those cheetahs or leopards that you saw on the trees? Were they eating a gazelle of a dik dik? You have narrated your African adventure to your friends in six different versions and the details are wearing out. Were you even in Africa? You will know you were if you had tangible memories. Pictures define your safari. Always carry a camera a good one. The 6-megapixel Point and Shoot that you got from Uncle Wallace won't suffice. You need a good camera. A Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) will never disappoint. Even if you can't buy one, you can borrow one from a friend. If the DSLR is hard to obtain or too complex, get a powerful Point and Shoot. The market has advanced features nowadays. The zoom does not need to be super-powerful. The buffaloes will walk up to your car. The monkeys will perch on your sunroof. The Lions will sit merely five meters from your vehicle. Don't panic, though; they will not attack.

Tour Operator

A tour operator will save you time. They will find the best locations since they have been in the business. Research in advance for a credible tour operator. Check out their reviews on Trip Advisor. Rate their website. Seek testimonials for tourists who have used their services. A tour operator can grant you more than you expected if you choose well. Also, with an operator, interacting with the locals needs not be an uphill task if a guide is provided. Make your reservations with them before you check into the country.

Change your expectations

Every country has its unique culture. In order to have a great time, you will need to manage your expectations. The 10am bus in Germany leaves at 9:59:59. The 10 am bus in Kenya may leave at 10:40am. Don't vent out at the bus driver; you will be the strange one, believe me. Africans are generally social and communal. Don't take offense when you arrive at the hotel and they grab your luggage for you as they ask how your trip was. Some meals are eaten with the hands. Forks and knives are available if you ask. Don't stare at them for using their fingers. There will be many more things that will culture-shock you. The trick is to come on safari with a clean slate of no expectations. As you experience new things, take them with a pinch of salt and give the benefit of doubt. Africans are generally very intrigued and taken to foreigners. You will find love in your safari.

Manage your Money

Not all foreign currencies are accepted as legal tender. Find out in advance if you can use your foreign currency. However, you will be required to exchange your money at one point. Ensure you don't exchange all your money. It is probably best to exchange it in bits as your safari advances. That way you will not have excesses of local currency at the end of your trip. If you are using American Dollars, watch out for the old bills. Some African countries do not accept American dollar bills earlier than the year 2000 (In Kenya its 2007). However, ATMs make it easy to withdraw cash directly into local currency.

You're set for your safari. Welcome to magical East Africa!



Ernest Wamboye Wakhusama

Ernest Wamboye is a writer and editor working in Nairobi, Kenya. He is also a volunteer Brand Ambassador at AfricaTalentbank.com and an origami artist and storyteller at Arts & OAK, a company that he founded. Ernest is married to Waturi and they both live in Nairobi, Kenya.
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