How to Book your Safari

Should I book my safari through an operator or direct with the lodge?

The world is getting smaller, but booking a safari is still a more involved process than just clicking a button on a booking engine website. There are many types of safari and many countries which offer a safari experience, but the one thing which typically unites safari product is the remote wilderness: you are dealing with accommodations which can be literally in the middle of nowhere.

This is why we recommend booking through an operator, because Africa is not connected or as straightforward as Europe or the USA. Africa, the home of the safari, is not a continent with a consistent level of infrastructure, and it can be hard to appreciate the impact this can have on your trip.

5 key reasons to book with an operator

Tour operators are insured. What if the camp you booked suddenly gets flooded or there is a political coup? If you book direct, you are likely to lose your money, but if you book through an operator they can salvage your booking and recommend somewhere else to stay.

It doesn’t cost anything to use an operator. How is this possible? To explain: it is the job of the tour operator to know the lodges, know their owners, know the airlines, understand how an itinerary best works, and recommend the best lodges for the guests. This works for the lodge because they are not paying marketing fees to find the client, they know that the client will be happy because they will fit the lodge well, and they know that the operator will support them on the booking. So the lodge ‘pays’ for this service by giving a special commission to tour operators it trusts. This is a win-win-win: the lodge is happy to work with the operator, the client is happy to get the free service from the operator, and the operator is happy to sit in the middle and communicate essentially in two different languages!

Tour operators’ knowledge is usually better and more up to date than the information you find online. They will save you time, money and hassle by knowing about, for example, a more swift transfer, a camp that better suits your party, a reason why you won’t see elephants at that time in that place

Tour operators make it their business for you to have a great trip from start to finish, and will ensure a consistent level of service throughout, for no extra cost, including all your internal transfers. They will be on call for any emergencies 24/7- reassuring when you are far from home.

Independent tour operators will make sure the vision you have becomes a reality; independent tour operators are not attached to any accommodations so can tailor your trip precisely according to your wishes.

How to book a safari: 5 steps

Step 1: Choose the Scenery

What do you imagine when you think of going on safari? Is it prides of lions on savanna plains such as in ‘Born Free’, or rainforest and primates such as in ‘Gorillas in the Mist’? Have a think what you really want to see and use that as a starting point. A good tour operator can help shape your plans once you have some ideas as to referred scenery/wildlife.

Step 2: Choose the Safari Style

What to pick: safari lodge, tented camp, safari house, riding safari, flying safari, self-drive, group tour or mix and match? Here’s our guide:

Safari House

What is it? Stand alone house, usually for exclusive use (ie no other guests apart from your party), made of brick and mortar with closed rooms
Advantages: you are not at the mercy of weather, animal noises are not as likely to wake you at night/in the early morning, and the daily schedule is set by you. It can also be much more cost – effective for a group because you don’t usually pay per person, but for the whole house.
Best for: families and groups

Tented Camp

What is it? The traditional safari accommodation of 50+ years ago, a canvas structure with flaps for doors that pull back in the morning. These days they are usually en suite with proper beds, and many have electricity.
Advantages: usually very eco-friendly, these camps leave very little footprint. The truly mobile tented camps can get you right up to the action as they can respond to where the wildlife is. These days the luxury is such that you will not feel the difference between a tented camp and a lodge in terms of creature comforts.
Best for: honeymooners and adults

Our brief guide to the safari countries of Africa

South Africa: abundant wildlife in the very accessible parks (most have heard of Kruger Park), wild beaches, beautiful winelands, and vibrant cities. Highly recommended for families (easy to get to, easy to get around) and first timers (not as wild an experience as, say, Zambia)
Kenya is the magnificent Rift Valley, and the unmistakable red-clothed Maasai Warrior. They are the world-leaders and remain so in many aspects. This is the setting of Karen Blixen and Joy Adamson.
Tanzania is where you’ve been taken on many a wildlife documentary, watching the struggle between the migrating wildebeest and the awaiting crocodiles as they make the perilous river crossing. Tanzania has huge plains of teeming game, and the beautiful spice island of Zanzibar at the coast.
Botswana is the place for drifting about in a mokoro, flying over sparkling floodplains of the Okavango Delta, or quad biking across baked salt flats. Botswana is mainly accessible by plane so can be prohibitively expensive for family groups.
Namibia is where you go when you’ve already been on safari because it’s about slowing down to enjoy, well, nothingness. The scenery is huge, predominantly flat and ridiculously beautiful. This is the Kalahari at its finest, where you’ll find the huge red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, the extensive Skeleton Coast, and miles of barren beauty in between.
Zambia is the setting of the walking safari, the mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls. Zambia is wild and still quite inaccessible in the rainy season, adding to the adventure in our opinion.

Safari Lodge

What is it? Safari lodges usually they have many chalets, centered around a central communal area. Safari lodge accommodation is solid in structure which differentiates it from a tented camp, but in reality there is little difference between many safari lodges and safari camps now that safari camps have become so lavish and lodges can be open in design.
Advantages: A more solid structure offers more protection against the elements and can give peace of mind to the more nervous traveller. Lodges can be more commercial and able to provide for individual requirements such as kids meals, playrooms etc.
Best for: families

Self-Drive

What is it? Rather than being picked up and transferred from A to B, you hire a car and drive yourself. It’s really only appropriate in South Africa as roads are good, as are directions.
Advantages: Cost! And you set your own schedule.
Best for: families

Group Tour

What is it? A scheduled, set-departure tour which takes in key attractions, usually by some type of bus
Advantages: Cost, and making friends
Best for: Single travellers, groups of young adults, special interest groups

Riding Safari

What is it: for the advanced riders, you can ride from camp to camp over a few days or longer.
Advantages: you see a lot, and it’s right there, up close.
Best for: fit adult riders

You will find variations of the riding safari, where you move mostly every day, but instead of on horseback you may choose a walking safari, or a flying safari, or even a quad bike safari.

Step 3: Choose the Time of Year

If you have a time of year when you have to take the trip, talk to your tour operator first about the limitations this imposes on your plans. Climate is so varied throughout Africa and throughout the year, the time of year will have a huge impact on the type of safari you will experience.

Have a look at our ‘when to go on safari’ page for more advice on the best times to visit.

Step 4: Choose a Tour Operator

We, of course, recommend choosing an independent safari specialist tour operator because they will match the trip to you, and not try and fit you into a one-size-fits-all experience. Look for endorsements on the tour operator website from industry organisations such as PATA, LATA, ASTA, and always ask if they are fully independent if you are not sure.

We are all human here at the Good Safari Guide too- if you want any help or advice, get in touch with us; we are all incredibly knowledgeable and can put you in touch with the right people based on your enquiry.

Step 5: Get Your Travel Documents

Passport, visa, wallet and watch…

You’ll definitely need a passport, and ideally you’ll have at least 2 blank pages and 6 months validity left from the day you return from your trip. Every country has a different requirement but 6 months will cover you for all countries at the time of press. You may be turned back from the airport if you do not have sufficient blank pages, or months validity.

It is also likely that you’ll need a visa too, which you can either get upon arrival or in advance – each country is different. All the entry information can be found on your country’s foreign advisory service or indeed on the host country’s high commission website. The UK’s www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ is a fantastic resource for travellers.

You will need travel insurance and you’ll need to keep a copy of it with you.

You may also need a yellow fever certificate if you are travelling from a country deemed at risk. Again, this information will be included in the entry requirements section on the embassy website.

Get in touch with the high commission and get organised as early as possible with your documents. Have a look at our list of safari country High Commissions based in the UK, America and South Africa