The Real Low-Down on Family Safaris in Africa
Should your family consider going on an African safari?Margaret Bain, tour owner and operator of Winston Safaris & Trekking, Evanston, Ill.,answered our questions.
BAFT : What types of families are best suited for safari?
BAIN : Any family can go on safari.There are two main restrictions: First, children must be at least two years old in order to take the inoculations for Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and Hepatitis And, although not an inoculation, malaria pills are also a requirement. Only a parent can decide if the children are capable of handling the 24 hour (or so) trip to East Africa.
BAFT : How much does it cost?
BAIN : The cost for four people (parents and two kids) runs about $1200 per day. That’s broken down into $400 per day per adult, and $200 per day per child ages 4-12. Teens are charged as adults though some lodges cite 25 percent off the adult rate for ages 13-17.This includes everything except air, alcohol, and tips. However, lodging in a 3 star hotel,food, snacks and drinks, guide and park fees are included.Prices go up for truly upscale accommodations.
Minimum is around $1000 per day for a family of two parents and two kids...although this would include some "participatory camping".This is where the family stays in public campsites in our pup tents with sleeping bags and helps with making/breaking camp, and cooking/cleaning up for meals.Some lodging can be included in this type of trip, but to average out to the lower price, this type of camping would be included.
BAFT: Tell us about the actual ride, the type of transportation used in safari, and also the length of ride.
The “ride” depends on which game park the family is in.Most safaris to Tanzania include the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, and many add the parks of Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
Serengeti is HUGE, and the ride can be from sun-up to sun-down.Ngorongoro is small, and trips are restricted by law to half-days only.The other two parks are “mid-sized”, and trips can be all day, or parts of a day.
If you go with a flexible company which does custom trips, then the length of time spent in a park can be whatever length the family wants.Vehicles will depend greatly upon which company the family chooses. Some companies use air conditioned buses that seat 20 people.Others use 4WD Land Rovers or Land Cruisers.
For families, the best option is a company which does NOT do large groups. The reason I advise this, is: if children get cranky, sleepy, etc., a private safari allows the option to change the day’s plan. If the family is the only client, then the truck can go back to the lodge or campsite for naps, meals, a little play time in the pool.If a family is traveling on a group tour, they must stick with the plan.
The other thing to look for in transportation is the availability of window seats.The companies with vans cannot guarantee a window seat for all.Look for a company which seats no more than 4 persons in a 4WD vehicle, and all will be guaranteed a window seat.
If the family consists of more than 4 persons, they should request two trucks. Then, one parent can ride with the children in each truck.A window seat is very necessary for best game viewing!
BAFT: What if junior has to go potty?
BAIN : What if anyone has to go potty? Most game parks have no bathrooms.In Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Crater is the only exception.
Potty time is taken behind the truck. Non-potty goers should look out the front of the truck while the potty-goers go behind the truck.For females, bring along small packets of tissue. Also, bring zip-lock sandwich bags to keep the used tissue in.They can be discarded upon return to the lodge or camp site. Because there are no wash-up facilities, bring along either hand sanitizer, or antibacterial wipes.
A good safari company can get you to a private place, out of sight of other trucks for potty duty.
BAFT: What kids are best suited for safari? What kids are least suited for safari?
BAIN : Again, the kids must be able to take a long flight. Parents can assist with this by making sure that the kids have plenty of quiet toys, such as crayons and coloring books, CD or MP3 players with music, and snacks.
Any child with a sense of adventure and/or a love of nature will be fine on safari.
Children with no interest in animals, or who are not apt to be comfortable in a truck for long drives will not enjoy safari.
BAFT: Tell us about how people should behave in the vehicle and rules of conduct.
BAIN : To reiterate, families should book with companies who do private safaris. Children may have a hard time conforming to the rules of large groups where the daily itinerary is set in stone.
If a family does book with a large company, then children will be required to behave as if they are in an upscale restaurant – be on their best behavior at all times.
Everyone on the vehicle should be QUIET when at a standstill to view animals. The animals do not mind the sound of the truck, or the sound of a camera. But the sound of human voices will cause them to be spooked, and probably make the animals leave.
BAFT: What types of cameras and videos are good for safari? Recommendations?
This author is a film buff. I have yet to own a digital camera. So, I am a little bit biased!
Regardless, take extra batteries. And, if your camera has rechargeable batteries, take a car charger, and take an A/C current converter.That way, you can recharge wherever you are.
A caution on current converters:Don’t just get a “plug converter”. These do nothing to adjust the current. A real current converter will step down the 220 volt current to 110, which is vital!The wrong kind of converter will fry your appliances.
If you are a digital camera buff, take extra memory sticks. You may think you will only take 500 pictures…but likely you will be wrong.We have had clients take up to 5,000 pictures.You don’t want to be in a position where you are looking through treasured photos, trying to decide what to delete!
If you are film camera buff, estimate how much film you might need, then double it, and add a few more rolls!
For zoom: you want something that will do a minimum of 56mm.Two lenses are better. There will be some times when you are so close to animals that a 28mm zoom will actually seem too close (if you have a good guide). Other times, you might want something bigger, but 170mm should be about as large as you need in any circumstance. Mostly for the larger lens, you will be shooting the more shy animals such as eland, rhino and leopard.
For video, the same caveats apply. Take extra batteries, take chargers, and remember to take more cassettes than you think you will need!
BAFT:Are prices of safaris going down or up these days?
Prices generally go up a little every year. Park fees increase, lodge prices increase, fuel prices increase, and so the prices of safaris must increase to keep pace with rising costs.
Margaret is the founder and co-owner of Winston Safaris and Trekking, a Tanzanian safari company specializing in private, customized trips to Tanzania’s game parks. Her company website is www.winstonsafari.com . She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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