Planning a trip to Africa

Who is going? Knowing how many people are traveling as well as whether there will be children or extended family members helps in planning your safari. There are many family friendly lodges but there are some that do not accept children under 12 and even others that do not accept children under 16. Likewise if you are traveling with grandparents or older family members then it may be important to find suitable lodging with easier access around the lodge or camp. Also, if you are traveling with a larger group, you may prefer a sole-use accommodation such as a villa as an option.

When to go? Africa is truly a year-round destination. Regardless of when you plan to travel, you will find a place in Africa that is perfect for that time of year. Generally speaking though, dry season is the best time for viewing animals because the vegetation is thinner and water is less available so animals are easier to see and they frequent the more permanent water holes. For East Africa, the dry season is approximately from July to October and for Southern Africa, it would be slightly longer from April to October. Outside of these months, it will be greener and more lush which is better for birding and flora as well as warmer temperatures. It really depends upon where you are going and what you want to see.

What to see? A safari is usually equated with seeing the Big Five but there really is so much more to see! Some reserves are well known for concentrations of certain animals. For example, besides the Big Five, Madikwe Reserve has a strong wild dog population, Londolozi Reserve is known for their leopards, and Phinda Reserve has a wide range of fauna and flora due to its seven distinct habitats. So in addition to the Big Five, many reserves offer something extra depending upon your interests. Beyond the animals, you should consider including another spectacular place to see while traveling in Africa. This could be a short stay to view Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world, or to experience the vibrant and culturally diverse Cape Town home to Table Mountain and Robben Island. You could include a visit to the Winelands, South Africa’s version of Napa California, or soak up some sun at a beach destination such as the archipelago of Mozambique. There are so many options and combinations of exciting places to experience!

How does the trip planning process work? Dianne initially will spend some time understanding who is traveling, whether it’s a special occasion as well as the client’s overall interests and style of travel. She will then present trip ideas to the client. Once a trip is finalized, Africa Direct of South Africa processes clients’ payments and makes deposits to confirm itineraries. Dianne and Africa Direct USA do not receive or process any client payments. Dianne is available as the clients’ resource for information and questions on their itinerary until they travel. Africa Direct USA and Africa Direct of South Africa are entirely separate entities.

What to bring?

  • Clothing in neutral colors is preferred: khaki, light brown/green, tan. Avoid bright colors & white for improved game viewing.
  • Safari attire during the day is casual. In the evening, it’s casual to smart casual. Soft sided luggage is preferred by the smaller aircraft which fly you to the reserve and typically the max weight is 20kg. Please check before traveling.
  • Sunglasses, hat and lotion as needed.
  • If you are traveling during the South African winter months (April – August), you will definitely need a warm safari jacket, scarf and even gloves as it can be chilly in the AM and PM!
  • Bathing suit depending upon when you are traveling
  • Comfortable hiking/walking shoes (not white)
  • Toiletries. Your medication, epipen, and anti-malaria medication as necessary. Some people travel with an antibiotic as a precautionary measure.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • Camera to capture the most amazing memories! Please note that film (can be expensive and/or difficult to obtain) & extra flash batteries and lens cleaner. If you would like to rent a camera or a lens, please let us know. We have a resource for this.
  • If taking a digital camera: memory stick(s)/data card(s), charger and extra batteries
  • DVD recorder with charger
  • Small bean bag to substitute a tripod
  • Binoculars. It is possible to rent some of the best binoculars on the market at a very fair price. We have a resource for this. Please ask if interested.
  • Money, credit card, traveler’s checks.
  • Passport & correct visas as needed. Please check well in advance based upon where you are traveling.
  • Emergency phone numbers.
  • Insurance policy details (Travel and Medical).
  • Guide book(s) covering the area you’re visiting – it should include mammal/bird/reptile pages for easy identification.
  • Your itinerary and reservation documents.
  • Addresses and cell numbers (e-mails/texts).
  • Any vaccinations certificates (where applicable).
  • Copy of your passport, kept in a separate place than your passport.
  • Copy of marriage certificate, if applicable especially if you recently tied the knot.
  • Copy of any credit cards you plan on traveling with, kept separately.

What’s the Big Five? The Big Five refers to the African Elephant, African Lion, African Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and the White/Black Rhinoceros. This group of animals was considered by hunters as the most difficult African animals to hunt on foot as well as the most dangerous and so they were named the Big Five. It has since been adopted for the purposes of marketing and tourism.

What’s a game drive like?

  • During the course of the game drives, you will view many animals, including the Big 5 species (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo & elephant) from a very close distance. The animals in these areas are accustomed to game viewing vehicles, so you don’t need to be afraid – rather enjoy the privilege of viewing them at such a close distance! Pls note that there is no guarantee that you will see the Big 5 since animals roam freely in the wild. 
  • Remain seated for the duration of the drive. It is important for you not to break the profile of the vehicle, as the animals view the vehicle as one object and non-threatening.
  • No loud outbursts. The goal is not to distract the animals.
  • Please turn off cellular phones during game drives.
  • No smoking on the game drive, and if you do smoke during a sundowner or morning coffee stop, please seek instruction from your guide on what to do with the cigarette butt.
  • No littering in the bush!
  • If you need a bathroom break while on a game drive, please do not get out of the game vehicle without first consulting your ranger.
  • In private reserves, game viewing vehicles are allowed to drive off road when following members of the “Big 5”. Watch out for overhanging branches.  Do not grab hold of any branches as many could have unseen thorns.
  • Your guide is specifically qualified to conduct game drives in a specific region, so go ahead and ask him/her as many questions as possible! They are experts on the area and animal behavior. ALWAYS listen to the rules and the warnings while on game drives. 

Where to stay? From affordable lodging to ultra-luxurious accommodations complete with your own private staff, there is something for every budget and in every style. Having a sense of where you are on the spectrum helps in recommending places that target your wishes and needs. In addition, there is a wide range in the size of a camp or lodge. Some camps are more intimate and quiet while others are more family friendly or larger and more social amongst guests. Some lodges do not allow children. Dianne has visited dozens of lodges and can help you find just the right place!

Do you want a Private Game Vehicle or a Specialist Ranger? Having a Private Game Vehicle or a Specialist Ranger join you for your safari takes your experience to a whole new level. While on safari, you ride in a jeep with other guests from the camp. Sometimes being with others who have different interests or needs results in not always seeing and experiencing the bush the way you want to.

When you book a Private Game Vehicle, you can choose what time you want your game drive to depart, how long you want to stay out in the bush, what time you want to return to the lodge, and what you would like to look for. This allows you many more opportunities to enjoy your safari the way you want to enjoy it. Safaris in Private Game Vehicles are normally conducted by the more senior rangers at the lodge and are a great way of enhancing your safari experience!

You can also have a Specialist Ranger join you on safari. A Specialist Ranger is certified and trained in understanding animal behavior. Predicting animal movement, social interactions, and behavioral characteristics is their expertise and usually developed over many years through their passionate observations of a vast array of different species. You will often find yourself in the right spot at the right time when you are accompanied in the vehicle by a Specialist Ranger. Some are also professional photographers as well which helps guests secure the best shots that capture the memories of your incredible journey for years to come.

If a Private Game Vehicle or a Specialist Ranger is of interest, Africa Direct USA can make the appropriate arrangements for you.

Warning: Once you have done a safari this way, it is difficult to go back! Having a Private Jeep Vehicle and/or a Specialist Ranger join you on your safari takes your experience to a whole new level. 

What about Birding Safaris?  Birding safaris are a type of safari that really requires a Specialist Guide. The search for new birds on anyone’s life list, has got to be the best way of taking you to the most beautiful places in the world! This is why we encourage nature lovers to join us on a birding safari to Maputaland (northern Kwazulu Natal) or Wakkerstroom! These two destinations are well known to be littered with endemics and are arguably two of the most aesthetically beautiful regions of South Africa!

There are approximately 958 species of birds in Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa). In Maputaland, there have been 608 of the 958 species recorded in this region alone – hence us having this as a hotspot destination for our birding trips! Wakkerstroom is a small town roughly in the centre of South Africa that has rolling grassveld plains, rocky escarpments and an abundance of water bodies, allowing for suprisingly diverse bird watching – this time on the high-lying escarpments of the country, as opposed to the low-lying areas of the Maputaland coast.

If Birding is your fascination, combine a Birding trip with safari for the ultimate experience! Please let us know which birds you want to see, and it will be our pleasure to do our best to find them for you!

What about the Migration? The great annual migration of millions of zebra, wildebeest, and other antelope in East Africa is amazing to witness on safari. Each year, around 2 million animals start their long trek from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains further north to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. They go in search of food and water and their journey runs in a clockwise circle. The animals cover a distance of around 1800 miles. It’s a long and tough trek and an estimated 250,000 don’t make it.

One of the most spectacular sights of the migration is when herds gather to cross the Grumeti River in Tanzania as well as the Mara River in Kenya. Migration crossings take place from July through September. As the herds cross, large predators such as crocodiles wait patiently and cunningly in the river to gorge themselves on yet another meal while other predators on land such as lions and hyena wait for their prey. It’s both thrilling and hectic and there are a number of lodges whose location is well suited for you to witness this amazing event.

Please note though that since this is a natural event, the migration changes slightly from year to year in timing.

Special Occasion? Getting Engaged or Married? Africa makes the perfect venue for special occasions whether it’s an anniversary, big birthday, engagements or even a wedding. Dianne has planned helicopter stops on mountains complete with champagne on arrival and with awaiting photographers for the “Will you marry me?” moment. She has also has arranged special stops for private meals in tree houses and other unique hideaways! Destination weddings are becoming extremely popular and getting married in the heart of the African wilderness and slipping away to the nearby white sand of the archipelago of Africa’s Indian Ocean for your private honeymoon is sublime! What a romantic dual venue for a wedding and a honeymoon! Dianne can coordinate your special occasion as well as professional photographers to capture the memories. Contact Dianne for ideas on lodges that would make fantastic wedding venues as well as private beach hideaways! One of the best ways to turn your trip to Africa into a special occasion adventure is to combine the Bush and Beach. After some time experiencing Africa’s wildlife in the bush, why not shift gears and find a dream escape at a beach resort on the Indian Ocean? Relatively short flights can connect you from bush to beach to create the ultimate African Journey! Consult Africa Direct USA for beach resorts to take your vacation to a sublime level!

What about travel insurance? In today’s changing travel environment, it’s important to protect your trip investment so you can relax and enjoy your trip. Unforeseen events such as flight delays, baggage loss or even an unexpected sickness or injury could impact your travel plans. You should purchase a travel protection plan that helps provide coverage for Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption, Emergency Medical and Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation, Trip Delay, Baggage Delay and more.