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

In our previous post, we touched on;

- How much an African Safari should cost?

- What kind of accommodation standards to expect?

- Wifi on Safari?

- Visa's & Vacinations

- How tour agencies try to "scam you"

- Possible travel delays in Africa

- How to book a Safari at the lowest possible cost

Though some people might find our blog more "provocative" rather than helpful by most travel blog standards, the general response to our earlier post (Part I) was pretty favorable; in fact, many readers emailed us to say it was a great insight on African safari's.

And in this post (Part II), we continue to address another 7 frequently asked questions on African Safari's. (oh, and if you haven't already read Part I, you really should)

8. How Many Days Of Safari Is Enough?

Having been to Africa three times and counting, let's just say i'm no virgin when it comes to planning and experiencing a Safari. Read closely, because i'm going to write this just once.

Unless you're a die hard animal lover, the optimum period of time to spend on safari is not more than 5 - 6 days.

As fun as a Safari game drive can be, it is also extremely tiring. You can set off as early as 5.30am and you won't be back in your tent till it's almost 5pm.

The very first zebra/giraffe/elephant you see, you'll be like "Wow! that's an elephant!"

After a couple of hours, as your eyes comb the terrain, fixated on just spotting lions or rhinos, you start to say "oh, elephant?"

By the 3rd day, your going to be saying "oh f***, it's another elephant. Are we stopping for lunch?"

You get my point.

9. Screw Taking Photos; Unless You're In It

Many a time, I find myself bemused by the "photographer wannabe's" of this world. Wherever they are, their camera's go "snap, snap, snap". Which leads me to wonder; what's the whole point of this?

Why take a dozen photos of an animal (say a lion) if you're not in the picture? At best, it looks like 10,000 other photos available on google images (no one cares or knows who took that awesome lion photo). More often than not, most photos look identically bad, and that means you spend the next 5 minutes deleting the 50 similar photos you took every single time you saw a zebra.

Guess what? You're on Safari! Watch the animals in the flesh, not behind a camera lens. Managed to score a great photo? Big deal, you're not in it, no difference from a random photo on google images. If you really have to take a photo, jolly well make sure you're in it. (or some part of you is at least)

Oh, and those "photographer's" among you saying "photography isn't just about taking good photos, it's about capturing memories", here's the truth; when you finally decide to look at these photos to relive you're memories? Unless you're inside that particular photo, you'll be hard pressed to relive anything by staring at the 12 similar zebra or elephant photos you snapped that day. (see point no.8)

10. Leave Your Iphone At Home. You Need A Damn Good Camera

While i'm not an advocate of spamming photo-shots of every animal I see on Safari like some people do, I must admit I kind of kicked myself for bringing nothing but my iphone for photos.

I'm not contradicting my previous point (above) on how dumb I feel it is to take a photo identical to those on google images; but let's just say there were many instances where a proper high resolution SLR camera would capture what I just witnessed in a more perfect way. (again, this only applies if "part of me" was inside the photo)

11. Which Country Should I Visit For A Safari?

There are an overwhelming number of national parks in Africa where you can go on a Safari, each with its own "specialty" and "price point" (refer to point No. 1 or the picture above).

If your looking to experience your FIRST Safari, do the one in Kruger, South Africa. Its game fees are the cheapest, and you'll see many fellow Singaporeans on tour, feels just like home.

When you're no longer a Safari virgin, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Serengeti in Tanzania, or Kenya's Masai Mara should provide more interesting viewing.

Forget Gorilla Trekking, it's not for Singaporeans, you people are better off shopping in Paris.

12. Is Africa Safe?

The long and short answer to this question unfortunately, is no. Africa in general is NOT SAFE. Not for women, not for groups, not for even locals.

When we asked our local driver, "how safe is Tanania?" He replied "Tanzania's safe, about 60% safe".

That said, it's quite alright to stroll about town in the day. It's unlikely you'll be robbed by anyone at gun point. You're more likely to be "psycho-ed" to take a Safari package from an unscrupulous tour operator.

The minute the sky starts to turn though, you're better off in your hostel/hotel. Even the locals try not to hang about from 8pm onward. In Johannesburg, South Africa, even the hostel I stayed at was surrounded by iron bars. And even more incredible, some drivers choose not to stop at red lights because of prevalent car jacking in the country!

By and large though, just stick to commonsense and you'll get by. Oh, I forgot this was a "Safari post" for a second. I was referring to African cities. When it comes to Safari's (especially the luxury ones which are the minimum standard a Singaporean can accept), it is 99% Safe.

I'll say it again, African Safari's ARE SAFE. Unless you choose to hop off your 4x4, that is.

13. What Kind of Vehicles Can I Choose?

If you've read the point above, you'll have realized the most popular Safari's in Africa are found in the East and the South. Most people don't know this, but because we've been on Safari to both parts of the African continent, I can tell you the type's of vehicles used differ greatly; namely "open viewing" and "closed viewing".

The landscape is vast in East Africa. The Serengeti is huge and hours are spent driving on dirt roads (like the picture above). For this reason, "closed viewing" is the standard choice of transport used unless your idea of a fun Safari is breathing in dust and sand. Oh, and let's not forget the occasional pebble in your face.

Minibuses are the cheapest "closed viewing" transport in East Africa. If you're booking a budget camping Safari, it's almost certain the minibus (above) will be your main mode of transport. This very same vehicle will take you from Nairobi to your Safari in either Amboseli or the Masai Mara.

In Tanzania, there are no minibuses. The cheapest, most commonly used "closed viewing" vehicle is a regular Toyota with a pop up top, seating anywhere from 4 - 6 people per game drive.

Be sure to confirm with the tour company if the limit is 6 per vehicle. Some companies will squeeze 8 into one vehicle, and while it does seat 8, it's gonna be a real squeeze when it comes to taking photos.

This (above) is the standard "open viewing" Safari vehicle commonly used in the South of Africa. It is easier to view the wildlife and provides a better "Safari" experience as opposed to the vehicles used in East Africa.

And here's the bad news.

If you want an "open viewing" experience, you'll have to give East Africa a miss along with the Serengeti and Masai Mara, because 99% of the time, you'll be in a closed up vehicle. The other 1%? Well, I guess you could pay more (much more) and take a Safari from an international 5 Star hotel cum safari company, they'll arrange it for you.

14. Your Driver "IS" Obliged To Answer Your Questions. Just Ask

On a Safari, the driver's has two key roles to play.

First, he is your guardian. He "protects" you from the animals (by not driving into silly situations and advising you how not to get into a silly situation), and "protects" the animals from you (by not allowing you to hop off your vehicle all shout at animals).

But besides being your "guardian", the driver IS PAID to be your guide. He is supposed to at the very least be competent in two areas; be proactive at animal spotting, and also have decent knowledge on animals, plants, and the area.

Singaporeans tend to be a shy or anti social group of people. Remember this, tips are NOT included but are EXPECTED. If you're paying a tip, ask all you want. It would be embarrassing if you ended your safari learning nothing about at least the Big Five.

Oh, and if you get a driver who isn't enthusiastic about his job, keeps silent, drives so slowly that by the time you get there, the animals are gone? Don't hesitate to take the initiative and tell him he should be doing his job else he shouldn't expect generous tips. And how much to tip? I know Singaporeans love to act rich, but $5 USD per day is more than enough, don't spoil the market for other tourists by tipping him $50.

In Conclusion

I wish someone had written a post like this before we booked our trip; planning a trip to Africa isn't exactly the same as planning a vacation to France. Still, the above 14 points (inclusive of Part I) are probably all you need to know about African Safari's.

If this doesn't get you started on googling for the latest air-ticket prices, checking your leave schedule, or saving money in anticipation of your first Safari experience; nothing probably will. And the closest you'll ever get to an African Safari will be National Geographic.

We've done the all the research for you. Now, what you people need to do is to finally stop talking about going for one, and actually start going for one.

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