A safari can be the trip of a lifetime. However, some precautions are in order. The key to safari success is knowing what to expect before you go.
Anyone who loves nature and wildlife may dream of going on a safari and sneaking up behind elephants strolling across the Savannah and watching hippos bathe in a river while, nearby, a giraffe nibbles at a treetop.
Such memorable sights and experiences are almost guaranteed on safari. There, there are layers of decisions that must be made however. Which country to visit—Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya? Where might you encounter civil unrest? How do you choose a tour operator? How big a problem is malaria ? What if an elephant charges your jeep or you step on a snake?
There are a range of safaris to choose from—with some being more creative than others. Conventional options include walking, driving, and photo taking safaris, but, tour companies also offer hot air balloon, canoe, cultural, and spiritual quest safaris, which focus more on sacred sites than wildlife. Regardless of which variety you choose, your safari will be an adventure. It is important that you pick a trip suited to your abilities. A walking safari, for instance, can take you through low-lying areas or on trails higher than 10,000 feet, which can be an issue for travelers with heart or respiratory ailments.
During the day, you can expect hot weather in almost every destination and a cool-down in the evening. Some safari companies even recommend a winter jacket. However, when it is hot, it is blazing hot—hats, sunglasses, and high-SPF sunscreens are essential.
For travel to many African countries, immunization is recommended against many diseases. For example, if you are going on safari in Kenya, the United Stateas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that:
- Your routine vaccines are up-to-date.—These vaccines include influenza , chickenpox , polio , measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria /pertussis/tetanus.
- You get vaccinated against:
And in Africa, it cannot be repeated too often—use insect repellent generously and drink only bottled water. Sleeping under a bed net is not a frivolous act; it can prevent you from contracting yellow fever, dengue fever , and malaria. In some countries, malaria is on the rise. Learn as much as you can about the area you are visiting and take the appropriate antimalarial medicine. Typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and cholera are food- and waterborne diseases, largely preventable with normal precautions, like using bottled water and thoroughly cooking food.
Common prescription medicines may not be available in some African destinations, especially in rural areas. Be sure to bring a good supply of your prescription drugs and supplements, as well as antidiarrheal medicines, spare eyeglasses, and personal hygiene items.
If you become seriously ill or injured, contact the nearest United States embassy or consulate. An officer can give you a list of reliable hospitals in the region and English-speaking doctors. They will also inform your family in the United States that you are ill. Since most doctors and hospitals expect immediate payment for treatment, consider buying travelers' health insurance for your trip.
Safety in the Bush
The level of your safety on safari depends on many factors, including the country you are visiting, your guide's experience, the amount of responsibility your touring company assumes, and the behavior of both the animals and the participants.
It should go without saying that the wildlife are not tame circus animals. They are in their home territory and you are the intruder. Most of the large animals you see on safari will attack if they think you are a threat.
No safari company can absolutely guarantee the safety of its customers. Some companies are quite open about the risks involved. In a brochure about its "cattle-drive" safari across Botswana, for instance, Kgori Safaris advises, "This—[adventure] is definitely not for the faint-hearted as encounters with lion and leopard are not excluded. At night, team members will sleep out in the open. However, they can rest assured as the organisers will provide armed protection…"
In some countries, civil unrest due to political, religious, or ethnic tensions can threaten visitors' safety.
In all African cities, walking alone is risky, especially in the evening. Snatching jewelry and other objects through open car windows while motorists are stopped in traffic is a common crime. Leave your jewelry at home and place your money, passport, and other documents in a shirt or belt pouch where they cannot be seen. Carry a duplicate wallet with little cash (no more than $20). If you are robbed, hand that over to your assailants.
Your best strategy for avoiding such catastrophes is to research every aspect of your trip before you leave. Be sure the safari company is a responsible, established tour operator, and ask that your safari be conducted with at least two vehicles traveling together. Know the country you will be visiting, and take all personal safety advice seriously.
Time to Plan
If you already know which country you want to visit or which touring company you want to travel with, begin researching and planning. For the latest health information, visit the CDC's Traveler's Health website , where you can search by country. Travel.State.gov is also a great resource on a country's safety, crime, and medical care. Country-specific guidebooks also provide objective information on safaris.
- Reviewer: Peter J. Lucas, MD
- Review Date: 05/2012 -
- Update Date: 05/07/2012 -