The Dos and Don’ts of Booking a Safari in Kenya

August 21, 2013 by

Action, Adventure & Adrenaline, Animal Encounters, Middle East & Africa, Photos & Videos

Lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and cape buffaloes converging en masse, oh my, the Big Five! Most people about to book their first Kenyan safari will likely admit that the trip is the culmination of a dream fed from youthful reading of National Geographic or watching Discovery Channel. Who, after all, does not want to be meters away from the world’s most notoriously exciting animals?

Kenya is Africa’s most popular safari destination and the most popular safari destination within it is the Masai Mara National Reserve. When people picture Kenya, or even Africa, there is a good chance they are recalling pictures and videos shot within the park.

Though small compared with some of the other parks, Masai Mara’s size works in the tourist’s favor—an impressive concentration of wildlife abound there. With the exception of the difficult-to-sight Rhino, visitors to the park are all-but-guaranteed to spot the other four members of the Big Five. There is no shortage of smaller game as wildebeest, cheetahs, hyenas, baboons, giraffe, impala, warthogs, buffalo, zebra, hippos and crocodiles are likely to appear in your viewfinder.

African Sun with Giraffes

Giraffes and the African sun

Safari is a Swahili word that means “Long Journey.” Most travelers on a Kenyan safari will have done just that—traveled a long way. The last thing anyone wants to happen is for lodging to be not-as-advertised, for a budget to be broken by hidden fees, or one of the worst scenarios, a guide that seems unable to locate much more than empty grass and trees.

There are hundreds of companies offering packages for booking a Kenyan safari. For the first timer, this can be intimidating and overwhelming. All of the companies offer the trip of a lifetime, but not all of them actually deliver it.

A traveler I befriended on a flight to Nairobi recounted to me his marred safari experience. While he had seen all the animals he had wanted to, his “complete package” was far from whole. The company tacked on fees at every turn, going so far as to charge him extra to snap photos. Below is a list of dos and don’ts that will help guide you to booking the right safari package that lives up your expectations.

Read more about Masai Mara National Reserve

Do select a safari package that fits your style and your budget

Elephant and Tree

Elephant

There are as many kinds of safari packages as there are animals in the game park, so it is important to know what is out there and what works best for you. From game drives, walking safaris, cultural tours that focus on the native people, to even hot air ballooning safaris; there is no shortage of options.

Decide what length is appropriate for you. Most packages range from one to three nights. Most animals can be seen on a one-day package, which generally includes two to three game drives. The last thing you would want to happen after going through all the expense and planning to get to Kenya would be to sell yourself short and leave the park wishing you had more time.

Also decide if you want to work with a company that will be going to a government game preserve or one that has access to a private preserve. The big difference with a private preserve is more access, less crowd and less rules restricting drivers from driving off the marked roads. The trade off is it tends to be more of a rag-tag experience.

Do look for all-inclusive packages

Buffalo

Buffalo

Whether you are traveling to your safari from Nairobi or Mombasa, save yourself the trouble of figuring out intermediate transportation by booking a safari that includes transportation that takes you from where you are and brings you to your next destination.

Do bring appropriate gear and clothing

Elephants

Elephants

Unless someone has convinced you that a safari is the place to meet your significant other, leave the cologne and perfume at home. It may attract Mr. Right, but it scares the animals. Bring sturdy clothing of colors that will blend into the surroundings—khaki pants and a breathable cotton shirt with a hat to protect you from the sun should suffice.

Out on a game trail, there will not by anywhere to charge your camera or purchase batteries, so make sure you have brought enough with you to keep your camera running all day. Also be sure to bring plenty of memory. On my first safari I managed to fill a 32gb SD card within the first day.

Do give yourself time to adjust to the change in time and altitude

Giraffes in Road

Giraffes in the road

Jet lag is real. The last thing you want is to be fighting off sleep while a herd of elephants is a stone throw away. People coming from North America are likely to feel the eight-hour time difference. Give yourself some time to take it easy and adjust to the change before heading off on safari.

Don’t wait until you arrive to book your safari

Lion with Cubs

Lion with her cubs

Personally, I am the type of traveler who likes to show up and figure things out from there. For me, it is exciting to throw things to the winds of chance and see what results. A safari, however, is a misplaced use of such intrepidness. Dotting Nairobi’s airport, and all along the city center are signs advertising safaris, some at seemingly too-good-to-be-true prices. Remember that too-good-to-be-true rarely is good or true. Most of these outfits do not have websites and lack a way for you to objectively vet them. Using them runs the risk of a not-as-advertised experience, such as happened to my friend when he found himself paying more than double the allegedly all-inclusive price.

Don’t book with a company without a track record

Looking out of Transport

Looking out of the vehicle

I cannot stress this point enough. There is no shortage of websites and forums where you can read feedback from people most likely to give you an honest assessment—former customers of the tour company. What you are looking for is the overall experience of the company’s collective clients. Though you may find cheaper prices with companies without a track record, I’ve mentioned the risk you run by going this route.

Do have the time of your life

I could write pages and pages about what it is like to see the world’s most grandiose mammals roaming freely amongst each other. I could spend the better part of this day describing what it is like to see a lion crouching in the grass stalking a buffalo, but all that will pale in comparison to what it is like to actually be present in the cradle of humanity experiencing the world as our earliest-known ancestors once did daily. A safari is an experience that puts a definitive pin on the timeline of your life, so if you follow these steps you are ready for the time of your life. Enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Luke Maguire Armstrong.

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 – Luke Maguire Armstrong

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