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Planning to go on an African Safari?... Wait!... Don't Book Without Reading This First...(Part I

An African Safari.

Oh, the beauty of watching lions, elephants and rhinos roam in the wild. It's no fun seeing these animals in a zoo, much less watching them on National Geographic. Experiencing an African Safari has long ranked among the top of many a Singaporean's bucket list. A trip to Africa just seems so mysterious, but yet, dangerous. Sleeping in tented camps, the thrill of watching animals hunt in the flesh, all from from the safety of a 4x4, camera in one hand, a pair of binoculars in the other.

Here's what I've realized about the many Singaporeans who "say" they would love to experience an African Safari someday. Many of them wish it, a number say they're planning it, but almost all of them never do it.

Why? Fear, that's why. Fear of the unknown. Fear because Africa isn't London, isn't Rome, isn't Sydney. "Africa is dangerous isn't it? Where do I start? I've heard Safari's are really expensive? I don't want to get robbed."

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is also Africa's Highest Mountain at 5895m. It can best be viewed from Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Now, fortunately for Singaporeans planning to go on an African Safari, you have us, A Girl & A Bald Traveller to lend you a hand.

While we wouldn't consider ourselves experts on the African continent, we have been to Africa three times (solo and even on our honeymoon) and visited the North, East and South of this amazing continent. And here, are answers to 14 frequently asked questions we feel that will really help you (especially Singaporeans) out when you finally decide its time for you to go on a Safari, and not just talk about it.

1. How Much Does A Safari Cost?

The ultimate zebra crossing in The Serengeti, Tanzania

To answer the question of "how much a Safari costs", it really depends on a number of factors; namely,

1. Your choice of transport

2. Your choice of accommodation standards

3. The location of your place your planing your safari in.

4. The type of Safari you choose. Eg; Camping Safari, Lodge Safari, Tented Safari, Budget, Eco, Luxury, Ultra Luxury

5. High or Low Season?

6. How you "booked" your Safari? Eg; over the internet, did you bargain?

But in this section, let's talk about the fixed costs first. The rest will be addressed in my later points.

All national parks or conservation areas will require you to pay a "entry fee". Because the very best of African Safari's are found in East Africa, (Kenya & Tanzania) "fees" cost anywhere from $70 USD (Kenya's famous Masai Mara/Amboseli National Park) to $100 USD for (The Seregeti, Tanzania), and you pay it for EACH day you spend in the park. Planing to spend 4 days in the Serengeti? That will be a "fixed" $400 USD.

"Entrance fees" are cheaper in the south of Africa, and can be as low as $20 USD a day in Swaziland or South Africa. Gorilla Trekking Safari's are only available in Uganda, Rwanda and The Congo, and there is a compulsory "Gorilla Trekking Permit" which will cost you at least $750 USD because they try to limit the amount of tourists a year. Botswana with its Okavango Delta offers both "wet & dry" Safari's; and it's no surprise the "fixed costs" in Botswana are astronomically high.

In short. If you're on a budget and really want to experience a Safari? Start in the southern region of the African continent, it only gets more expensive the higher you go.

2. What Are The Accommodation Standards Like?

The view of the Kilimanjaro from our luxury tented camp

Interestingly, the idea of how accommodation on a Safari is truly like differs widely among most Singaporeans I speak to. Some even describe it as "oh, I could never accept the conditions there, not for me."

Fortunately for Singaporeans (choosy & pampered ones), Africa actually has decent accommodation, probably decent enough by Donald Trump's standards (as long as you've the money to pay for it). Because we've visited Africa on a number of occassions and in various circumstances (on our Honeymoon and also as a backpacker on our solo trips), we just might be able to provide some insight on this.

On our Honeymoon, we stayed in a Luxury Tented Camp. The above, is our "Tent", which cost us $150 USD - $300 USD per night depending on the season. In our "tent", there is a dressing room, (for the ladies) a lounge/porch and a really huge toilet. In terms of "Stars", this would qualify as a 4 Star hotel.

Any hotel worth their salt will have a decent swimming pool to relax and unwind after a tiring day of "game spotting". 5 Star Luxury Tented Accommodation will cost you at anywhere from $400 - $800 USD a night. Because most of us Singaporeans enjoy "acting more wealthy than we really are", there's no way we would even bat an eyelid at these prices.

For Singaporeans playing in the "Donald Trump" league of wealth, Ultra Luxury Accommodation is what you want. That will cost you no less than $1000 USD, and all the way up to $10,000 USD for a night's sleep. Link: Top 10: Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges

3 meals a day with a free flow of coffee and tea are usually part of the room price. And why not? The rooms don't come cheap. Just in case Singaporeans can't do the math, $300 USD for a 4 Star standard is the equivalent of $430 SGD a night! No one goes for a 1 day Safari, and this isn't even inclusive of Game Drives, Park Fees, Tips, and most of all, the transport from the airport to the the Safari camp, now that's a killer. For a 4 Star standard, they usually charge anywhere from $600 - $800 USD for an airport pickup and back after your Safari is over. (obviously, there are cheaper ways to arrange this, which I will come to later in Part 2).

On the right is a 2 Star standard of "Tented Camp" in Tanzania. It's better than it looks, and has a really spacious toilet inside the tent. The picture on the left is the 4 Star Tented Camp we stayed at in Kenya.

I did a quick check on on the price of this 2 Star Tented camp, (because it was included as part of our package, prices were not known to us) and I was surprised that prices came up at around $105 USD per night. Tanzania is a lot more expensive than Kenya if the difference in standards is just $45 USD! (we paid $150 for our 4 Star Camp in Kenya)

At first glance, our tent looks really small with just enough space for a queen sized bed and barely anything else.

But as you enter the tent, it leads to a really huge toilet! And surprisingly, it wasn't half bad. "The Girl" thought it was okay.

The only "uncomfortable" part about it was that the "walls" of the toilet weren't very well made, there were gaps in between the wood, and anyone who bothered to walk close enough, could definitely watch us having a shower. But anyone who did that would most definitely be a pervert because you had to walk really close to see anything.

This (above), is what your accommodation for the night will be should you choose a Budget Camping Safari.

Depending on the price and what was agreed on between you and the tour operator, you may or may not have to participate in the pitching of the tent. It can get cold at night, but once your in the tent snuggled up in your sleeping bags, it still makes a very decent night of sleep.

A Budget Camping Safari Package in Tanzania will include "Park Fees" (already worth $90 USD per day), driver/guide with 4x4 for the game drive, 3 meals a day, and a pickup and return from Arusha (the gateway to the Safari Circuit). All these shouldn't cost more than $150 - $180 USD a day. Eg; If you're on a 5 day 4 night camping safari, it shouldn't cost more than $800 per person. Anything more, and you've been taken for a ride.

3. Will There Be Wifi On Safari?

If you're like what most Singaporeans can truly afford, no.

If you're paying for "Trump Style" Safari Tours, definitely.

If you're like A Girl; & A Bald Traveller though, we just stand close to "Trump Style" Safari vehicles and use their Wifi for free because they don't have a password.

But fret not. As long as you aren't on a budget safari, there will be WIFI in your camp, it just might be kind of slow though. We stayed in a 2 - 3 Star accommodation for a couple of nights in Tanzania, the WIFI was so bad that at any one time, only two people could log on (and even so, it was the slowest, most unstable WIFI I had every experienced).

4. Check If You Require A Visa Or Vaccination

Africa is probably the continent with the most number of countries requiring either a Visa, yellow fever/malaria vaccination (or both) upon arrival.

Lets talk Visas. Fortunately, our Singapore passport is somewhat decent, allowing us to enter around 30% of African countries without much hassle. To find out if the country you need requires a Visa, either visit your own country's foreign affairs website, or wiki about that particular country's visa requirements. Forgetting to do so may see you either not be able to board the plane at all. or be turned back upon reaching your destination.

Because of our inborn/nurtured herd mentality which leads us Singaporeans to visit mainly tourist traps, visiting the travel clinic for a vaccination almost never crosses our mind. A number of popular African Safari destinations like Kenya for example, have a mandatory yellow fever vaccination (above). The easiest way to get this in the travel in clinic at Tan Tok Seng Hospital, and it costs around $200 SGD/$140 USD. Just tell the nurses which country you are going to and they'll advise you accordingly. You can get this vaccination cheaper in other clinics of course, but don't bother, it's just marginally cheaper.

Oh, don't even think about skipping the vaccination. I'm all for saving money (as you readers know) but if you fail to produce right documents, they'll send you to their medical both at the customs and make you pay $50 USD for it. It might be cheaper than the travel clinic in Singapore, but you don't want to be pricked by an African syringe i'll tell you that.

5. "ALL" Tour Agents Are Out To Scam You. Don't Take Their Word For It

- ask in detail, get them to pen it down

All business should, and must seek to earn a profit, and no customer should have an issue with that.

The problem with African tour agencies however, is how they seek to earn their profit; especially the agency in the picture above. SandLand Tours in Tanzania, is probably the worst if not one of the worst tour operators i've come across. (I heard the Kenyan establishment of SandLand is fine though) I won't elaborate here because how badly they suck is worth a post of its own. Rather, here's generally what to look out for when choosing a Safari agency so you don't get taken for a ride.

- Bargain, bargain, bargain. Whatever price they tell you, they can do it lower; way lower. Tell them you're going to compare with a few agencies. When they say, "tell me your price." You tell them to tell you their price, don't be the first to agree on a price point. Always compare, and make sure they know it.

- What they verbally tell you, make them document it down. If they say its a lodge, ask them which specific lodge. A lady in our group got offered a tent when she paid for a lodge. Fortunately for her, she had the word "lodge" documented down in her invoice, and was able to argue that she shouldn't get a tent. Oh, and after a long day of game drives, trust me, you'll want the lodge.

- These agencies can be really sneaky (like Sandland). They'll tell you "$xxx" is the cost for this 6 days 5 nights. Meals, tents, game drives, park fees, are all included. The day before your Safari, they could very well say, "you guys need to top up $15 USD each if you want sleeping bags". Like duh?

Anyway, you get my point; DON'T Trust Them no matter how polite or responsive they are. Give in to them and you're only encouraging them, sending a message that they can scam the next tourist and get away with it. Remember, document everything to the very last word.

6. Things "NEVER" Start On Time. Give Yourself A Buffer

Since our safari was delayed by a day, we made a trip to the Kikuletwa Hot Springs to pass the time. It was amazing, no regrets about this.

Almost nothing starts at the time it's supposed to in Africa.

Operator tells you, we're leaving at 830am? Don't count on it, your probably leaving at 930am. We were supposed to set off on our Safari on a Monday, but on that morning itself, the tour operator told us, "i'm sorry, we have to leave tomorrow because some other people got delayed".

Fortunately, we had given ourselves an extra 2 days worth of buffer in that particular city, didn't affect us much. The delay even freed up a time slot for us to visit Tanzania's only hot spring (above).

For most Singaporeans, leave is precious and plans made are usually precise and firm. Not when travelling in Africa though. You always need a buffer.

Heck, a couple on our Safari group actually got his flight canceled without prior notice. His flight was at 8am the next day, and they sent him an email (assuming he had access to WIFI and would read it) just 12 hours before to inform him. No apologies, nothing. Still think you don't need a buffer?

7. "NEVER" Book Online

NEVER, and I mean NEVER book any Safari online. You'll have to read point No. 5, "ALL Tour Agents Are Out To Scam You" so I won't have to repeat myself.

Singaporeans love booking stuff online, technology it seems has made us all complacent. The trouble with booking online is you can't fact check whatever nonsense the tour agent is saying.

You want the best value for money deal, they want to offer you the least for the amount you pay. When you book online, not only do you pay the FULL rip off amount, you don't get to thoroughly fact check the Safari operator on what he really is offering.

Don't worry about being "stranded in Africa" with no accommodation or tour booked. There are loads of tour operator all queuing for your business. Spend a couple of hours and let them pitch to you, and compare. Over email, they'll tell you "don't waste time comparing when you could be already in the bush". Yeah right, the prices are different, 50% different. I don't consider myself well off, so if you are richer than I am, go book online.

For instance, just across the road from Nairobi International Airport, there is an old terminal just 50m away. This building is filled with loads of tour operators, all whom will promise the heavens and stars for your business. Cross the road, and take your pick.

Here's how it's like inside this terminal. Money changers, tour operators.

There's no such thing as "we're full". They'll find a Safari for you even if they've to move heaven and earth. Africa is all about outsourcing, combining Safari's with other operators; so long as there's $$$ to be made.

And this (above) is how a typical travel agency looks like. We booked out Safari with "African Breeze Tours", the sister company of the agency you see above. Our tour operator Cate, was friendly, but friendly doesn't necessarily mean great.

We booked a Kenya + Tanzania Safari with her and "African Breeze". The Kenya part was alright, but because their company didn't have an office in Tanzania, they "outsourced" it to another company, (SandLand) which turned out to be a rip off (see point No. 5).

They got my business because they replied my emails promptly and was friendly. But I learnt it the hard way. "Being friendly doesn't mean efficient". And it most definitely doesn't mean their "affiliate operators" aren't con-men.

Still want to book online? Go ahead.

Part 2 Continued.....

Seeing elephant's up close at Tarangire National Park

So, the post is getting a little too long and I think i'll stop at these 7 points for now.

In Part 2 of this post (which I will be posting hopefully in the few days or by end of the week) I touch on another 7 points to take note before booking any Safari in Africa. Here's what the next post is about.

- Which Country Should I Visit For a Safari?

- How Many Days Of Safari Is Enough?

- Taking Photos on Safari/Drivers/Guides

- Is Africa Safe?

- What Kind of Vehicles Can You Choose For Your Game Drive

If you found Part I helpful (or at least entertaining), be sure to catch up on Part II when it's out. It's New Year's eve as I type this, so i'm calling it a night. Happy 2017 everyone!

Part II is finally out. Here it is!!!

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