PLANNING YOUR SAFARI
Let’s have a chat by phone or zoom so we can find out who you are, what you like, and where you want to go. To start, we address the big questions. When do you want to travel? Do you know where you want to go exactly, or you don’t have any idea? Maybe you know exactly what you want right down to the lodge of choice. Either way, we will be listening, giving you some suggestions and sharing our thoughts – but mostly listening to you.
We will begin by outlining a high-level sketch of your trip, with very broad ideas. We will give you enough information to navigate your options – what country, region, style, experience etc. We will offer you a rough quote that gives you a good idea of what to expect.
Building the bones
Once you are happy with our ideas and the price range, we start building the nuts and bolts of your trip. We book accommodation, seek out the best local guides, manage the logistics, book flights and buy permits. We will finalise your quote, inclusive of all details. We will send you a link to your digital itinerary, and a quote – for final acceptance.
How long should I travel?
A week is minimum on safari. It takes time to settle into a camp, explore the area and find animals and we suggest at least two camps for at least three nights in each. You really don’t want to feel rushed and this means you really only get two full days in each place at least. Also be aware that part of the allure of Africa is that its wild and nothing is entirely scripted. That is what makes it so addictive. Safaris involve early wake ups and it’s a great idea to end your safari with a relaxed experience on a river, or near the beach, where you can catch up on sleep.
Drilling down to your interests
When we build the bones of the trip we want to find out more about you? Are you particularly keen to see lions, leopards, elephants, wild dog or any other species? Most photographers will shoot from vehicles as these offer the greatest flexibility. Viewing animals from hides, from the air, from a boat or on foot are also options and great experiences. Do you have any other special interests such as visiting local communities, fishing or bird watching?
Style of accommodation
Whether you stay in a simple mobile camp put up specially for your group or a five-star lodge, you can be assured that hosts will take every effort to make sure you are safe and very comfortable. Some lodges are like hotels and win awards for style and design, others are extremely rustic. Many camps are tented. What this means is that your “room” will have canvas walls, but will retain all the comforts and luxuries of a hotel, with en-suite bathrooms and a private deck. Many people prefer canvas style safari camps as you feel much closer to the bush and can hear all the exciting sounds of the night.
What makes us experts?
Not only have we worked in the travel business for a long time as guides, lodge managers, marketers, journalists, photographers & hotel graders – we have actually been to the places we send our guests. You will notice all our lodges images, are our images. We’ve built our own relationships and expertise, found the best local guides and we’ve literally spent our lives figuring out how to help people have better travel experiences. We have also built up a great deal of trust with our clients and our suppliers so if things go wrong (as they occasionally do) we can pick up a phone and sort them out quickly and efficiently. We are here to hold your hand every step of the way from the minute you arrive in your destination – should you wish to be accompanied by a professional host and guide from beginning to end, we can arrange that too.
Do you book international flights?
We prefer you to arrange your own international flights and recommend using an accredited agent just in case things need to be changed or refunds are required. We can arrange your domestic and regional flights through our dedicated booking agent. It’s hugely valuable having an airline professional booking flights especially if changes or refunds are required.
How long in advance should I plan a trip?
Travel in Africa should be planned well in advance (think 12-18 months prior to departure) due to a short safari season and limited availability at safari camps. If you want to travel over the Christmas/New Year holidays or during March break, please give us plenty of notice.
A typical day
There is a briefing at every camp when you will be told, in detail, of what to expect. What time is wake up? Do you require an escort to your room and other important safety tips? The lodge manager will confirm your dietary preferences and also tell you about meals. He will also guide you to your accommodation and show you the amenities, torches, light switches, etc. Most camps are unfenced and you will be advised about any special precautions such as closing doors and windows in case of baboons. Usually guests wake up at dawn and have a light snack before heading out on drive. After a couple of hours there is usually a morning coffee stop overlooking a beautiful view. Your guide will point out where you can use the loo. In Africa, every tree is a ‘lava-tree!’ Usually breakfast is served around 11 and then you can have a siesta, sit by the pool, or download images. Guests usually meet again at 4 pm for ‘high tea’ and leave for an afternoon game drive which ends with a sundowner. In some camps it’s possible to return to camp by spotlight looking at nocturnal animals. Dinners are served and then you will be escorted back to your rooms for the night.
All camps will have qualified guides who will be skilled at finding animals and positioning vehicles. They will know the birds and be able to tell you stories about the bush. You are going to get to know them well and it’s important that you work together ask them questions and tell them your interests.
Game drives can be four or five hours long – and sometimes you will see plenty of animals and sometimes few. In South Africa, in private reserves, guides communicate extremely well with one another and at times it’s possible through close cooperation for guests to see the Big Five on a single game drive. The time spent in these sightings is carefully controlled and sometimes you will need to make way for other vehicles so that there are never more than three vehicles at a sighting. In all places, it is possible to avoid other vehicles entirely and simply find your own animals.
Power and Electricity
Most places (hotels, lodges) have electricity and have backup generators. But we always recommend that you should take a flash light with you on safari. Always remember if you plug something in (e.g.: One of your appliances) there may be a different voltage! The usual voltage is 220-240 AC. If you appliance does not match this voltage you need to bring a converter with as some lodges may not have a converter for you to use. Increasingly lodges are using solar and sometimes hair-dryers are not permitted.
Will I have Wifi – can I stay in touch?
Most safari lodges now have either full camp-wifi, or they will have a wifi lounge where you can connect. Wifi can be slow, so don’t expect to connect to Netflix and there is always an outside chance that connection will be limited. We will let you know if a camp does not have wifi and in this case they will have radio or satellite phones for emergencies. We will always be able to get hold of camps so give your loved ones our contact details in there are any urgent issues. Getting a local sim card can be a useful option in some areas.
How does your pricing work?
Each custom itinerary has a single trip price, which includes all the ingredients (hotels, transfers, guides, activities, and so forth) on the trip. The trip price is fairly comprehensive and typically covers the bulk of what you’ll spend while on your trip. That being said, there are some things that are generally not included in your trip price, such as tipping, travel visas, and your international flights to/from the destination.
How much should I budget for my trip?
Expect to pay anything from $350 to $2000 per person per night sharing inclusive of meals, guiding, and activities. Prices are affected by time of year, the exclusivity of the concession and the size of the camp. On top of this you may need to add flights and transfers. For a 7-night safari in Botswana with flights expect to pay from $7000 or so per person and it can go up steeply from there if you select premium experiences.
How to cut down on costs
If you want to cut down on costs consider travelling in the shoulder or low season when rates can be up to half the price and there is no single supplement. Generally, the premium season is July to September when its dry. There is no bad time to be on safari and the wetter times can provide amazing opportunities for birding and photography. We suggest dedicating less of your budget to places such as Victoria Falls or Cape Town, and more to the actual safari.
Why a single supplement
Camps usually have a concession based on a certain number of tents and vehicles and so if you are a single traveller, staying in a camp with just 6 or 7 seven tents, you can expect a further 30% at least. Some camps waive these supplements at quieter times of year.
What about private vehicles
Photographers, small groups ( up to 6) and families really should consider having private vehicles to give them added flexibility. Usually a camp will only be allowed a specific number of vehicles to operate in an area so you need to book private vehicles early. Also expect to pay a premium of up to $500 a day. Usually camps will always offer ‘window’ seats with two people per row.
Can my trip price change?
No, the price will never fluctuate between the time you pay the deposit and your final payment. Our trips are calculated in US dollars for most places (South African Rands apply in Namibia and South Africa). Please bear in mind that if you pay us in a currency different to the invoice we will calculate the rate of exchange at the time when you pay the deposit and again when final payment in due. South Africa, in particular, has a very mobile currency and exchange rate fluctuations can work in your favour or against
When you are happy with the itinerary and are ready to pull the trigger, we will send you an invoice for the 25 % deposit that is generally required to secure your safari. This is the point that we suggest you secure travel insurance.
What happens then?
Now you sit back and relax until it is time to do your second payment. There is an opportunity in this period to do small amendments/additions to the itinerary. Generally final payment is done 60-90 days before you depart, giving time for funds to clear, and for us to pay over to suppliers
Getting your documents:
Once we have done all the payments, we will send you your final itinerary. This is in the form of a live link that shows both a summary and detailed version of your day to day itinerary. You will not require vouchers, as everything will be on your phone/tablet.
How do we pay?
Payment can be made by electronic bank transfer (EFT). You can also use Paypal, but beware of the additional fees/commissions. Funds must arrive free and clear of all bank charges and commissions.
Do you provide price breakdowns?
We will give you a clear idea of the nightly rate at each lodge when making your selections but we don’t always show every tiny cost, as behind a single trip price is a rat’s nest of exchange rates, tiny conservation & park fees and other micro costs. We will always engage with you to help you understand costs and how to maximise your trip spend. It’s important that you know that we are always determined to get you the best trip price.
Do I need shots or inoculations?
It depends. Every country has different suggestions and requirements. These seem to change on a regular basis, so it’s always best to check with a travel health clinic. For a guideline, please refer to the specific country you’re interested in.
Do I need entry visas?
It depends. Every country has different rules and requirements. These seem to change on a regular basis, so it’s always best to check with the relevant embassy or consulate.
Is tipping included, and how much?
Tipping is not typically included in your trip price. Gratuities are a very individual thing and at your discretion to reward great service. A general guideline is $10 – $20 per day for your guide and the same again for the lodge staff. Most lodges will leave envelopes in your room which you can hand to the manager or to your guide directly.
Passport valid for 6 months
Valid visa – if required
One other picture ID (e.g. driver’s licence)
Photocopy of passport page to carry in wallet
US Dollar cash in small denominations ( 10/5/20)
Documents showing recommended inoculations ( Yellow fever etc)
Travel insurance documentation
Packing for Your Safari – Clothing and equipment :
Travel light. In most lodges there is a laundry service. If you are flying in to your safari destination, your luggage must be packed in a soft tog or duffel bag, and limited to 12 kilograms. You should also bring a day pack to carry any essentials you might need whilst actually on safari. On safari most people wear shorts and a T-shirt during the day and put on long sleeved shirts and long pants in the evening for warmth as well as protection from mosquitoes. Should you be particularly sensitive to the sun a loose cotton shirt is essential during the day.
Natural tones of khaki or green are recommended. White is not a suitable colour for the bush. Firstly, it increases your visibility quotient to the animals you are wanting to get a closer look at, and secondly, it will get dirty very quickly. Dark blue coloured clothing should also be avoided as the colour attract tsetse flies.
Fleece or sweater and a windbreaker for game drives, because it is highly possible that you may go out on a hot day, but be faced with a chill evening on your return. Some areas have a steep temperature gradient, ie. Very hot days and very cool nights. Remember that layering your clothing will keep you warmer than relying on one thick item.
If you are travelling in the rainy season, take a light rain top. The lodges provide full waterproof ponchos so no need for full rain suits.
It’s rarely necessary to bring hiking boots unless you are planning to do lots of walking. Light trainers are sufficient for most purposes.
Clothing To Pack
2 pairs cotton pants (jeans can be too hot)
2 pairs shorts
2 long sleeved shirts (for sun protection as well as warmth).
1 light sweater or sweatshirt
1 lightweight, waterproof windbreaker
1 or 2 pair sturdy walking or hiking boots or running shoes
‘Slip-slops’ for walking in camp/at the pool.
3 short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts
5 changes underwear and socks
1 hat with a brim (baseball caps might cover your nose but not your ears and neck).
a very high factor sunscreen
Antihistamine cream in case of insect bites
Motion tables if you are sensitive to sea or air sickness
Moisturiser and lip balm
Your personal medication
Good quality sunglasses plus protective case and binoculars
Africa is an extremely photogenic continent. From panoramic scenery, wildlife and birds to people and vibrant ceremonies. Rich colour and good low lighting conditions abound. Always carry enough memory cards, batteries etc, as it is difficult to get in some remote places. Keep your cameras in a dust resistant, padded case and out of the midday sun.
The right guide and the right vehicle
As a photographer you want to have a great photographic guide and we can help with that. He must know the landscape, best spots for wildlife and also have a keen eye for light and angles. If you can afford to have a private vehicle this will ensure you will not have too many people in the vehicle with different interests. You should at least have a window seat. We also arrange custom photographic safaris where you will have a guide and a group of likeminded people.
What photographic gear should you bring
I-phones are great! But if you want to capture birds, faraway and fast moving subjects you will need a bit more firepower. The latest gear (mirrorless or DSLR) has amazing ability in low light, focus speed and video. David suggests a range of 200 mm to 500mm for birds and wider lenses (or iphones) for the landscapes.
Dust is the enemy so use 2 camera bodies to avoid switching lenses and take lens cleaning clothes and a blower brush. A good tip is to take a pillowcase or similar to keep over your camera while driving. For stability is hard to beat a beanbag for longer lenses. Some shooters prefer a monopod but just make sure you choose the right monopod head so it can move correctly and does not flop around. Tripods are essential only for landscapes, stars and very low light photography.
Macro lenses are great especially in summer when insects and flowers are prolific. If you want to tackle star photography (a 2.8 14 mm lens or similar is recommended). An external flash is useful for macro, night photography and as a fill in flash.
On night drives flash photography is generally not encouraged. If spotlights are used (the yellow ones) you can do a lot with a fast lens (especially a 2.8 or f4). A polariser is great for summer clouds. Graduated filters and Big stoppers are great for seascapes. Neutral density filters can add great drama to landscapes especially if you want to do Intentional Camera movement.
Drone usage is strictly prohibited in most national parks in Africa. In some countries they are not allowed at all.
Storage and data
If you shoot in RAW (recommended to give you the best dynamic range) plan on shooting up to 10 GB per day and remember that its always best to have a backup drive so images are always in two places. Do you need the fastest, most expensive cards? Probably not, unless you are shooting HD video.
Bags and moving around
Choose a camera bag that has straps for ease of carrying to and from vehicles. We recommend Thinktank and Lowepro bags. Just make sure that the bags have great seals, and fit your gear. Generally I try not to open and close bags too much on a game drive and store my main wildlife camera on my lap, action ready, inside a dust proof bag.
Will airlines allow my camera gear on board.
Although most airlines do not allow more than 5 kg carry-on baggage, no international airline has ever wanted to take the risk of checking my camera gear when they see what is inside. In small planes where it is simply impossible to put the gear in overhead check in or under the seat in front of me, I will reluctantly check my bags at the bottom of the stairs and do my best to supervise the load and unload. If your total gear weight is excessive you may need to buy an extra seat.
Batteries and plug points
Most lodges now have in room charging, but you should check adaptor requirements for the country you are visiting. Some camps you will need to hand in your computers and batteries for charging in a central office before game drives and get them back after. It’s worth marking your initials on your lens caps, cards, batteries, and chargers.
Sharpening up your skills before your safari
Safaris are expensive trips and its worth getting your skills and equipment up to standard before safari. For all clients, David offers a free one hour zoom workshop and if you want to extend these sessions you can do so at a nominal rate.
On a workshop what can you learn?
- The relationship between shutter speed and aperture and ISO
- The essentials of exposure compensation, focus and metering
- The basics of composition and capturing the action
- How you can make an image come alive in post-production.
I recommend Lightroom Classic for processing and management of images. It comes bundled with Photoshop which is used for advanced retouching. Silver EFEX pro is great for black and white processing (Part of the NIK Suite from Google). Also use Topaz De Noise AL for reducing noise on high ISO images.
I have a detailed set of photographic quick tips which I supply
Always remember that the African sun is strong and can be harsh. Too much sun can lead to headaches, dehydration, nausea and dizziness. Rather look after yourself by using sun screen and a hat and always drink lots of water. Dehydration can really creep up on you if you don’t and can cause high temperatures and illness.
In built-up areas the water is safe to drink (mostly in South Africa) however, some areas it is not safe to drink the tap water at all. So we rather recommend that you drink bottled water at all times to prevent any illness. You may use the tap water to rinse your mouth when brushing your teeth. Ice is generally fine to consume, but sometimes it is better to be cautious. We advise you to rather drink bottled water at all times in Africa. Most lodges will give you a plastic or metal bottle to use while at the lodge – we strongly oppose plastic water bottles.
Food and drink:
Most lodges and hotels are accustomed to different eating preferences. Let us know your preferences and we will let all the properties know so they can cater for you.
A lot of areas in Africa are affected by Malaria especially during and at the end of the rainy season. We strongly recommend that you take your anti-malaria medication. Take your medication exactly as its prescribed and directed, don’t skip any medication! At the end of your safari, if at any time you develop influenza symptoms please consult your doctor immediately.