Game Warden

First time Safari advice.

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I want to start a topic off which caters specifically for first time safari goers: in which we can share our experience gained through numerous trips. Where people new to both Safaritalk and going on Safari can ask a question and not be nervous about doing so. I invite all of us to take part, and that includes operators and agents, on the understanding that they do not promote themselves or any of their trips.

 

What questions did you have before your first trip? Who did you speak to? Did you know anyone that had been before?

 

Let's make this an essential thread, a pinned topic - and let's welcome new safari goers onto Safaritalk and help them without overwhelming them.

 

Matt.

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Can we discuss what kind of information we might be putting in here,as I'm not entirely clear about whether this is intended to be

1) A kind of FAQ for first-timers

2) A series of recollections of how we planned our first safaris?

3) A place where people can ask questions like "Should I go to South Africa or Kenya?"

4) A combination of the above

 

You should probably delete this post later, but I don't think I'll be alone being a little confused.

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It's everything that a first timer might want to know, but that is maybe afraid to ask. Don't over complicate it: so for instance, what were the questions you had Pault before your first safari? So it will be 4) on your list.

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Hmm, well I think my first African safari plan wen't something like, my dad had been to Kenya a year before with a group called "Spice." It was your typical twin centre safari + beach combo. They were running a similar trip the next year that my dad planned to book again and asked if I wanted to join her. So having recently qualified as a scuba diver I though it would be a great combination of safari plus diving. The cost for the trip was £1600 ish for the flights, most of the safari activities and all the accommodation. The mombasa hotel was on an all inclusive basis, i think the rest was on full board. The diving, excursions, balloon flight, activities in Nairobi and Mombasa were extra. The safari portion was a whistle-stop tour of Treetops, Naivasha and the Mara (Mara Simba). A link to my trip report is here: http://www.kats-korner-uk.com/Kenya.html

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"Don't over complicate it." Me? Never!
:P

 

Questions I had before my first safari to Kenya. Since I was very much expecting an adventure (and we had one) and probably because I am male, I didn't really ask a lot of questions.

1. Will I actually see many animals? Surely not lions! Answer: Yes - you won't beleive how many.

2. Why are these lodges so damn expensive? Answer: Wait until you start with the tented camps!

3. Will we actually see people in pith helmets? Answer: Not sober people.

4. How unsafe is Nairobi, actually? Answer: Actually, pretty unsafe and a bit scary after dark, whereever you are from.

5. Is it going to be worth it to pay more to stay at a lodge in a better location in the Mara? Answer: Yes it is.

6. What camera should I buy? Answer: The answer changes every six months

7. Am I going to regret not booking all of my transportation in advance? (Actually that wasn't a big concern, although it should have been) Answer: Yes, definitely. However, you will have experiences to remember forever as a result.

8. Will people be unbearably racist? Answer: No

9. How bad will the roads really be? Answer: As bad as you can imagine and then a bit worse.

10. Will it rain much? Answer: If you bothered to check you would see Kenya is in the middle of a drought and the short rains have not come. It will be very, very dusty.

11. Will I get ripped off? Answer: Oh yes! But not so much that you need to stress about it.

 

I don't think I was a very typical first-timer as I planned my trip based mostly on Lonely Planet, with a few visits to forums that seemed to be populated by people who thought it was a good idea to have a butler on safari. I just couldn't get my head around that. Other people had written "trip reports" and from these and the guidebook I picked out a selection of safari operators and Maasai mara lodges, as well as a feeling that I could not go to kenya without going to the Mara.

 

12. Should we choose camps with a butler? Answer: Listen to yourself!

 

Not quite a FAQ, huh?
:rolleyes:
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Good list, but I have to take issue with point 3... ;)

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Good list, but I have to take issue with point 3... ;)

 

Of course I was referring to times before the latest Safaritalk-driven re-emergence of pith helmets as a fashion statement. :P

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Posted (edited)

My intial thoughts for first timers

 

1. Do some research on web sites like this to consider where to go.

 

2. When considering your budget be prepared to adjust up-wards a little to make this a special experience. This may be a once in a life time trip so spending a few hundred extra dollars to get to get what you want may be a good idea.

 

3. When looking at prices consider what is and is not included. Accommodation is probably a given but what about food, alcoholic beverages, laundry, park fees, bed tax, in country transfers, safari drives etc All these can add considerable cost to the basic quote.

 

4. Some itineraries will include the international flights. Most quotes, in my experience, do not.

 

5. Tented accommodation in Africa is not generally what we understand by tents in our own country. However, for the hardy traveller this can also be obtained.

 

6. For this first ever trip use a reputable specialist travel agent in your own country to fix all logistics accommodation, transfers etc whether this is a package holiday or tailor made.

 

7. Make sure you get good health advice for where you are going.

 

8. You will probably want to see lions - most of us do- but lions need other less iconic species to survive, so everything you see will have direct or indirect value as it is all interlinked

 

9. Last but not least - Beg borrow or steal a decent camera. The mobile phone is not enough.

Edited by wilddog

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Posted (edited)

From experience:

 

1.) Dont take 2 months to muster courage to create an account in Safaritalk and another 2 months to post. Specifically get advice before you book your 1st trip.

 

2.) Listen to everybody but do your own research too- not only to get information but also to try and discover what is your safari style.

 

3.) Be careful of superlatives. And try to fit the superlative not only with the place but also the source of the feedback ( I am always careful of superlatives from agents unless I know them very well, even though I appreciate the work majority of them do in helping a newbie plan). Also try to look at those superlatives from the safari style of the person giving it which could be different from your safari style. It is possible, like me, it would take 3 safaris for you to figure out what you next want and it could always be changing.

 

4.) Whatever you do or not do, get yourself to Africa.

 

5.) Always write a trip report.

Edited by Anita
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..1) Make a list of what you want to see & do & the importance of each item on the list to you.

2) Be prepared to add & subtract from that list as you research your trip. (You won't find Tigers in Africa or Gorillas in Botswana)

3) Make a budget limit!

4) Be prepared to add to that budget!!!

5) Do not try to cover the whole of Africa in one trip.

6) Be flexible.

7) Double check your itinerary do not assume anything if your not sure ask for clarification!!

8) Remember your a guest in someone else's country, be polite & respect everyone you meet.

9) Do't take it for granted that you will enjoy the same trip as someone else. One man's meat is another mans poison.

 

And Finally

 

10) Be wary of all advice! :)

Edited by nappa

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Hindsight is a marvellous thing, these are some of the things I wish I had known on my very first ever safari:

 

My husband had booked a tented camp, I panicked that I was going to be in a 2 man dome tent - until I read the website and found out that their definition of a tented camp meant private en-suite bathroom, kingsize bed, mini bar, and private plunge pool ... so always read the website before jumping to conclusions!

 

I was not fully prepared for what a private safari experience would be - I hadn't really appreciated that it would be so full on, and I would be in the company of other guests for all my game drives and all meals. For some people, this can be intimidating - so I would also say, never be afraid to ask your tour operator or the lodge if you want to have a meal on your own during your safari - most places are happy to set you up on a private table around the pool, or even in your own room, if you want a bit of privacy and 'alone' time with your partner.

 

Don't spend all your time behind the lens of a camera or video - take the time to enjoy the wildlife for what it is first hand.

 

For people going on a private safari, definately make sure you know what is included and not included in your rates. It may come as a shock if you think all drinks are included, and at the end of your stay you are presented with a whopping bar bill!

 

If you are going to Kenya on safari, also check that you understand what is the difference between staying in a National Park or on a Conservancy. Many of the lodges on the Conservancies state that all game drives are included, but these are actually only on the Conservancy itself, so if you want to go into the Masai Mara National Reserve, for example, and you are staying in one of the neighbouring conservancies you have to pay the National Park Daily Fee in addition. Again, if you book through an operator, they should make this clear to you. Some conservancy lodges will include a day game drive into the Masai Mara for stays of 2 or 3 nights so this may not be a problem.

 

Take extra layers out on evening game drives with you - when the sun goes down, the temperature will drop and you also have the wind chill factor of being on a moving vehicle. There is nothing more miserable than freezing to death on the back of an open land rover. Better to take 6 jumpers out with you and only need to put on one rather than not take any at all!! And you can always lend out the spare jumpers to fellow guests who did not read this post and make friends for life. Same applies for morning drives too. And don't think you will look silly if you take a beanie and scarf and gloves too - you will be the envy of everyone, especially during the winter months!

 

Consider taking a pillow case to keep your camera in when you are not using it. It will protect the camera from the obiligatory dust that is always flying around and it is quicker to take the camera out of a pillow case rather than faff around unzipping camera bags.

 

Don't worry about being a fashion guru on safari - the dress code is CASUAL all the time!! And try to avoid taking too many white clothes - a. white attracts bugs at night and b. anything white turns a delicate shade of dusty brown within about 10 seconds out on a game drive.

 

The wildlife will NOT come into your tent/room/chalet and eat you while you sleep.

 

Take elasticated trousers or at least trousers that are 2 sizes too large, as the amount of food that you will be offered to you if you are staying in a private lodge will guarantee that you will put on half a stone.

 

Think about your game ranger - it may be fun for you to stay up drinking til the early hours of the morning, but remember that he has to be up earlier than you the next day AND he cannot sit there and moan that he has a hangover/headache - or indeed not get up at all!

 

Don't be afraid to ask questions out on the game drive too - the rangers are a mine of information, and just want to share it all with you. Chances are, another guest is thinking the same but is too shy to ask!

 

If you are self-driving to a lodge or a camp, do check the times the gates close and allow plenty of time to arrive there from your starting destination. Always add up to an hour onto the anticipated travel time to allow for any unexpected happenings, such as a puncture en-route or bad traffic. Better to arrive early and refreshed, than late and flustered.

 

There are no tigers in Africa, so please do not ask your ranger to find you one (I knew this fact, btw, before I went on safari, but one of our guests complained to her lodge manager that she hadn't seen tigers so was really disappointed...I did check our itinerary, and oddly enough tigers were not mentioned at all so it wasn't like we hadn't managed her expectations...).

 

When you are on safari, there will always be someone who has been to a better lodge/reserve/seen better viewings - just ignore them. This is YOUR experience, your memories, and it is something wonderful and personal to you. Don't get drawn into a 'my lion was better than yours' discussion - if you are having a great time, don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

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Remember the 6 Ps. (Google that if you don't know what it means...)

 

The only stupid question is the one not asked.

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Great advice, some serious some humorous!

 

Take notes on safari so you can create a trip report upon your return, not only for others but for yourself.

 

Start with the experience you'd like to have (such as lots of walking safaris, only solid walls not tents, hanging out for hours with elephants, Gorillas in the Mist) and then pick a particular country/countires and parks best suited to meet your wishes. Don't start with the geographic location.

 

Bring 2 wide brimmed hats, in case something happens to one of them.

 

Check into required vaccines and "yellow cards" well in advance of your departure.

 

Find out the 10 most commonly seen birds in the places you are going and check out those birds prior to your departure so you'll know what you are looking at when you get there.

 

Learn a few words of the local language before you go, inlcuding some of the common animal names.

 

Start saving now for your next safari.

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Adding to the beg, borrow or steal list....binoculars for everyone so no one misses special sightings because someone else is hogging the bins!

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Good point: but what is etiquette in a shared vehicle, and other people don't have binos and want to keep borrowing yours?

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I think most people would be happy to loan 'bins' for a great sighting, particulalry to first timers, but only briefly. So I agree 'beg borrow steal' for both camera and bins' is good advice.

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It might not be feasible, but having a spare pair of bins in the vehicle (safari or lodge/camp owned) for those without would be very nice. And it might be good for safari companies to stress to prospective clients how much having bins enhances the safari experience.

 

I have always happily shared but a recent experience has soured me a bit. I was sharing my bins with our first timer vehicle mates, but they felt so entitled they accused me of hogging my own bins! One actually pulled the bins out of my hands while I was watching wild dog pups at the den. Chalk it up to excitement? Maybe, but I will be more mindful in the future...or use a private vehicle...or bring some sort of hand slapper!

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It might not be feasible, but having a spare pair of bins in the vehicle (safari or lodge/camp owned) for those without would be very nice. And it might be good for safari companies to stress to prospective clients how much having bins enhances the safari experience.

 

I have always happily shared but a recent experience has soured me a bit. I was sharing my bins with our first timer vehicle mates, but they felt so entitled they accused me of hogging my own bins! One actually pulled the bins out of my hands while I was watching wild dog pups at the den. Chalk it up to excitement? Maybe, but I will be more mindful in the future...or use a private vehicle...or bring some sort of hand slapper!

 

Ouch! Thats really weird. Maybe they thought the bins belonged to the vehicle? Thats so not done! Get one of those mossie zappers...

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Or an Indiana Jones type whip...

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Oh, I think I met them, ovenbird! Tolerating you in "their" vehicle, right?

 

Big stick for them - they won't feel the subtle stuff! :angry:

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Or an Indiana Jones type whip...

 

That works too, but you'd probably take the guide's ear off by mistake.

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you are too much! Whoever called you the in-house comedian, thats a serious understatement!

 

This must be the most original 'packing list' for first timer advice thread.....

Edited by Anita

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The list might need a bit of editing by GW before it is really user freindly for first timers. We cannot be seen to encourge bad habits, whips, zappers and my own thought - after the first loan of the bins they can pay rental for the privilege - up front. then hopefilly they will not be whipped out of your hand as Ovenbird experienced.

 

Perhaps this is further advice - be tolerant of other passengers even if you really feel like murdering them. :D

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What is the best way to deal with mosquitos, tsetse flies etc? What do you use to prevent bites and or treat them?

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What is the best way to deal with mosquitos, tsetse flies etc? What do you use to prevent bites and or treat them?

Speaking from dry season travel experience in a variety of countries, the mosquitos are fortunately scarce. Especially in the evening I use bug spray, just Deep Woods Off, but there are many kinds. Not much you can do about tse tses, besides not wearing dark blue clothing. If traveling in the dry season to typical safari destinations, it is likely you will have more mosquitos at home than on safari in Africa.

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