Planning an African safari can be a bit daunting, it is a big tick, big bucket list filler no matter your style of travel or your budget. For many people it is a once-in-a-life-time trip. For others they fall in love and avidly work towards returning as soon as they can.
In this post I explore the questions you need to ask yourself when planning an African Safari and cover some helpful tips about when to book, safari pricing and flight specials.
As I write this blog post it is the middle of April and I am saying NO a lot. NO there is no accommodation available on those dates, NO that departure date for that tour is full. Unfortunately, so are the departures before and after that date.
To avoid the NO’s, planning an African Safari as early as possible is essential. If you leave it as late as 6 months in advance to plan and book you are going to have to be prepared to be flexible with your dates, your itinerary and be prepared to miss out.
When should I start planning an African safari?
In a perfect world we would love for you to be researching what you want to do more than 12 months before you are planning to travel.
Some of the things you need to ask yourself are:
What country or countries do I want to visit?
Do you want to concentrate on one country only or do you want to visit more than one country?
How much time have I got to spend on the safari itself?
If travelling from New Zealand you need to allow for 2 travelling days to get to your destination and two travelling days on the way home again excluding any stopover days you plan to add.
When can I travel?
This can have a bearing on where you will go on safari. For instance in May many lodges in Kenya close for the long rains when the roads become impassable, however May is a great time to visit Botswana.
What are my must do’s/see’s?
Remember this can’t be things like ‘I must see a lion on a kill’ as what animals you see on a game drive and what they are doing cannot be guaranteed but it could be “I must see Victoria Falls” or “I want to camp inside a game reserve in Botswana”.
How do I want to get from place to place on safari?
Are you happy to travel by road between destinations? Depending on the destination this may mean a long journey on roads that are dusty and often bumpy. Or would you prefer to fly everywhere with small planes transferring you from lodge to lodge.
Do I want to travel with others? Do I want a tailor-made safari? Or maybe I want a combination of both?
Small groups safaris with set departure dates often help your budget go further and you can select one that fits your desired level of comfort. We focus on options that travel with 7-12 people per vehicle.
Tailor-made safaris come in a few shapes and sizes. Depending on what type of tailor-made safari you book you may have an exclusive safari where there is only yourselves, your guide and the camp staff. Many mobile camping (glamping) safaris operate this way.
On Lodge based safaris, you typically join other guests on game drives with guides and game vehicles supplied by the lodge. This is common on ‘fly in safaris’ where you travel between lodges by light airplane. If you wanted your game drives to be private (just you) you would pay a surcharge. If you are travelling with young children, private game drives are often mandatory.
In some destinations, lodges allow safari operators to use their vehicles and guides and they only provide your accommodation and meals. On this type of safari you would be with the same vehicle and guide for all game drives and for the road transfers between national parks/reserves/conservation areas that you are visiting.
How much have I got to spend?
Knowing a budget range is important as it can help us really narrow down an option for you. It can also help us talk to you about what is realistic in regards to your wish list and where you want to go in the time that you have available. This budget figure needs to exclude international flights. You can talk to your travel agent about approximate costs of your flights for the time that you want to travel. If you search online for flights don’t use the cheapest option in your budget, use the option that is in the middle of the pack.
Planning an African Safari Now, Travelling Next Year
It can be really helpful to understand when pricing is released each year by suppliers for the following year when planning an African safari.
Small Group Safaris
For small group set departure date safaris, the dates are normally decided by the end of May each year but pricing may not be available yet. Normally most pricing is finalised by the middle of July each year.
To help with you initial planning look at the departure dates for the current year and there is a high chance that your preferred tour will run on a similar date the following year. Just take a note of the day of the week your preferred safari starts – if they always depart of Saturdays in 2018, they will likely always depart on Saturdays in 2019.
Similar to small group tours we start seeing pricing for the following year come through around the end of May. Some operators are class swots and release their pricing earlier. We when price a tailor-made safari we disclose that we have built in a buffer amount (normally 10%) and that your safari price will be finalised as soon as rates from all the suppliers are confirmed.
Pricing is a complex beast
Pricing is a complex beast as we grapple with different currencies, accommodation and activity supplier increases. Plus the cost of fuel and changing regulatory requirements (taxes, licensing fees to operate, park fees, conservation levies etc). All of these things impact the cost of your safari no matter what style of travel your prefer.
If you are flying between lodges passengers, wieghing over 100kg pay more as an extra seat has to be costed in for safety purposes.
For budgeting purposes we suggest you allow an approximate 10% increase on the current years safari price.
When should I book my African Safari?
If you are very specific on the dates that you can travel, book as soon as pricing is available for the following year (you can book before that but pricing will not be 100% confirmed).
For those travelling during school holidays booking in advance is even more important. School holidays often clash with those of other countries and lots of families are vying for a small pool of family friendly safaris and accommodation.
For your African Safari it is more important that you get your safari arrangements confirmed first before booking flights.
That flight special might be amazing but it is not amazing if you can’t book the safari you want due to accommodation being full or things like gorilla permits being unavailable on the dates you need.
Booking Flights & Flight Specials
In New Zealand we have the big Early Bird Europe sales which usually start around September/October each year. This is when the market is flooded with advertising for coach tours and river cruises and of course those super cheap airfares to London. At this time of year, as well as those sharp UK/Europe airfares you will find the major airlines offering some great fares to African destinations as well.
The second big opportunity is what the travel trade dub “Early Birds Two”. Typically flight specials come out each February and no surprises you will find some excellent Africa fares as well.
If you are outside of New Zealand, talk to your local travel agent about when the flights specials often come out for that destination.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
It is a bit cliche but ‘failing to plan is planning to fail” when it comes to planning an African safari and booking. To make the process as easy and stress free as possible:
- Take the time to answer the planning questions first before talking to us or your travel agent
- Start planning well in advance of your planned trip