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African Safari & African Safari Vacation FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions - Page 1

Woodland Kingfisher Chapman's Baobab Cheetah Vlei Lily Bull Elephant

Make an informed decision on which Africa Safari is best for you. Browse the detailed African safari information on camps and packages. Create a unique Africa safari tailored to you and your friends. Below are commonly asked questions about African safaris with informative answers to make planning your African safari easy. We suggest looking over our African safari books page that details the best field guides and photographic books for anyone wanting to read up before they go on African safari.

Links to Frequently Asked Questions (click for answers)

African safari pricing
How much does it cost?

African safari destinations
Southern Africa vs. East Africa, which safari region is better?

Your Health and Safety
Is travel to Southern Africa Safe?

   What about Zimbabwe?

What are the medical health precautions and issues?
   More on Malaria

Travel requirements
What are the entry requirements (passports and visas)?

Is Southern Africa an expensive or difficult destination to travel to?
How much money should I bring?
   A note on VAT and purchases of gifts in South Africa
Are there requirements for self driving?

Staying at the African Safari Camps
What is a "typical" day on an African safari?
Are the wild animals dangerous?
What types of food are served on an African safari?
Is there electricity in the camps?
Is communication with the "outside world" possible while on an African safari?
What laundry facilities are available on African safari?

African Safari Considerations
How do we get from camp to camp on an African safari?
Can we bring children on an African safari?
What animals will we see on an African safari?
What weather should I expect on an African safari

African Safari Planning
What time of year is the best time to go on an African safari?

What pre-African safari reading do you recommend?
What clothing should I pack and how much luggage can I bring?
What Luggage should I use?
   SUGGESTED LUGGAGE LIST
Luggage safety and security

Reserving your African Safari
How do I book my African safari and how early should I make reservations?
Which forms of payment may I use to pay?
What trip insurance should I obtain, if any?


AFRICAN SAFARI PRICING
How much does it cost to go on an African safari?
Most of the African safaris and African holidays we organize for our clients are 100 percent customized to their individual interests, timeframe and budget. The rates for the destinations we offer cover a wide range and typically vary significantly from the “high season” (generally July through mid-November) to the “low season" (generally November through June). To check pricing for the over 250 properties detailed on our website, check our Rack Rates pages.

We also publish rates for our set African safaris; those safaris which have already been planned and scheduled by us or one of our ground operators in Africa and which depart on a set date, visiting specific locations. These safaris are found on our Safaris page.

We encourage you to contact us for a quotation; we are here to assist you in planning an amazing African holiday. We really are passionate about what we do and we welcome all enquires.
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AFRICAN SAFARI DESTINATIONS
Southern Africa vs. East Africa, which safari region is better?
First, let’s define the regions… In terms of wildlife safaris, Southern Africa includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia while East Africa is essentially Kenya and Tanzania. Meanwhile, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), all destinations popular for Gorilla tracking safaris, are generally considered Central Africa.  Malawi and Zambia are also sometimes classified as Central Africa.

Historically and up until the 1980’s, East Africa was the preferred destination for safari-goers and wildlife enthusiasts. Kenya and Tanzania offered superb wildlife viewing with a well-developed safari infrastructure of operators with both permanent camps and mobile safari circuits. In contrast, the countries in Southern Africa, while full of wildlife and beautiful wilderness areas, were either politically unstable or mostly undeveloped for safari tourism.

During the 1990’s things began to shift. South Africa’s apartheid came to an end and its monetary unit, the Rand, historically very strong, began to depreciate, making South Africa a very attractive travel destination. Intrepid safari guides in South Africa took advantage of the increase in tourism to open up Botswana and Zimbabwe to hunters and photographers. With the increase in tourist capital, the safari industry in Southern Africa grew and permanent camps and mobile safaris opened in its pristine wildlife areas.

In terms of landscapes and attractions, the regions are quite different. East Africa boasts Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti Plains / Maasai Mara ecosystem and the Ngorongoro Crater. Southern Africa includes Botswana’s Okavango Delta wetland, the Skeleton Coast and Namib desert of Namibia, the miles of coastline with diverse habitats and the Kruger National Park of South Africa, the semi-arid Kalahari Desert of Botswana and northern South Africa, and the lower Zambezi River basin including Victoria Falls along the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The wildlife species found in the two areas are essentially the same; most of the predators and plains game can be seen in both regions and only some birds and a few mammals and reptiles are distinct between the regions. The major differentiation is in the numbers of certain species and the general experience a visitor will have when viewing them.

East Africa offers herds of zebras and wildebeests in the hundreds of thousands. The annual migration between the Maasai Mara in the north and Tanzania’s Serengeti in the south is a spectacle unequaled anywhere on earth today. However, Botswana and Zimbabwe are home to 80% of Southern Africa’s 300,000 elephants and huge herds are a common sight along their northern borders.

The weather also varies between the regions. In East Africa, October marks the beginning of the “short rains” while April brings “long rains.” Many of the safari camps close during the long rains due to difficult driving conditions. In Southern Africa, while each country varies, the rains generally fall between November and March with the rest of the year being mostly rain-free. Most of the camps stay open year-round. The rainy or “green” safari season in Southern Africa offers benefits such as herbivores having their babies, lush green landscapes and dramatic skies, all of which combine to create superb photographic opportunities. Temperatures are similar between the regions with May through August being the cooler months.

The major differences between East Africa and Southern Africa for safaris are the density of tourists, the safari accommodations and the safari vehicles. East Africa, in general, has earned a reputation for a high density of tourists staying in hotel-styled lodges. The most common safari vehicle in East Africa is the mini-van with its pop-up roof, whereby passengers stand up to take pictures while peering out of the roof or sit in the enclosed vans. Conversely, Southern Africa is known for its luxury tented safari camps and huge tracts of wilderness areas with very low tourist densities, making for a private safari experience. The safari vehicles used here are modified, open-air Land Rovers which also add to the intimacy of the experience.

That said, there are a growing number of luxury lodges cropping up in East Africa, particularly in Tanzania and these lodges offer a far more exclusive experience than the large safari lodges which may have typified Kenya and Tanzania.

For the most part, Southern Africa is dominated by huge land concessions, which are owned or leased by luxury safari camp operators, and these concessions are for the sole use of the individual camp and its guests. With an average camp size of only 10-16 guests and only one or two vehicles for the entire concession, one can drive all day and not encounter anything but wilderness and wildlife.
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HEALTH AND SAFETY
Is travel to Southern Africa safe?
(This is the question we are asked most often by prospective travelers)
Africa's biggest enemy is the international media who represent all 46 African countries as a single entity and not as unique and individual countries with their own characteristics. This misrepresentation is actually due to lack of education on the part of the media.

It would come as a surprise to many people to find out that there are in fact areas that are worse off in more developed countries than in the "dangerous" African countries. No country can claim to be 100% safe, and so as with travel to any new or unknown destination, it is advisable to take certain standard security precautions. Visitors should take the same precautions as they would normally take in any other destination worldwide. Keep an eye on your purses, wallets, passports, money and cameras when walking in a crowd. Avoid walking in the cities at night and place valuables in your hotel safe. Choosing a knowledgeable operator such as Eyes on Africa as your specialist Southern African tour operator is the best move you could make.

While staying at African safari lodges and tented camps you are typically far removed from human settlement and crime in the camps is virtually non existent (we have never heard of it and have been traveling to the camps for years). We advise that valuables be locked away or kept under the supervision of the camp or lodge manager, or better yet, left at home if you are at all concerned.

We are extremely knowledgeable about the continent (having been born and lived there) and can therefore minimize any possible risks for our guests. Most of your travel time in Southern Africa is likely to be spent away from the large cities where crime is most prevalent. You will be visiting areas and regions that are remote and where crime is almost non existent. Even if your African holiday involves spending time in the cities, having a company like ours able to choose the appropriate lodging, locations and simple security advice, you will find the cities we recommend are as safe as travel almost anywhere.

Finally, we simply do not recommend destinations that are not completely safe. This is why you will find that we do not recommend every country in Africa.  We have lived in Africa, we know its cultures, and we know what is safe and what is not. In the same way we only recommend the finest African safari camps, we also only recommend certain cities while away from "the bush".

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What about Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe has recently been in the news and has received a large amount of negative press surrounding President Mugabe's decision to permit "re-distribution" of privately owned farms to the "war veterans".  This process has been accomplished with its share of crime and violence, especially by those who were removed from their life-long farms. (For further discussion on Zimbabwe, please see Zim History). However, this violence has only occurred in and around the cities and farming areas, and then mostly in the central and southern portions of Zimbabwe.

Fortunately, the northern National Parks and reserves in Zimbabwe have not been affected and these amazing wildlife areas offer the best bargain in all of Africa in our opinion.  The wildlife is outstanding - on a par even with Botswana, and these areas are remote from the heavily populated cities and surrounds where the crime is centered. These northern parks - Mana Pools, Matusadona, and Hwange offer great camps, superb guides, and amazing game viewing all at bargain prices.  Many people take all of the bad press and decide to leave well enough alone rather than take a perceived risk.

We realize that there is now a travel advisory from the US State department and agree that this warning is possibly accurate for the farming areas and the cities. However, the northern parks are still havens of peace and tranquility, offering a superb Zimbabwe safari experience. The support by guests traveling to Zimbabwe will only help to keep the conservation efforts in this country going and to keep the poachers out. The bottom line is, Zimbabwe's northern parks and reserves are completely safe and offer fantastic African safari deals.

We recommend that our guests fly into Victoria Falls from Johannesburg. After enjoying all the varied and superb experiences Victoria Falls has to offer – we FLY our guests from camp to camp, all of which are within totally safe National Park areas far removed from any urban hotspots. Our guests do not venture into the cities or farming areas at all, so are completely safe. Wilderness Safaris has continued to operate successfully in Zimbabwe since the advent of the land re-distribution crisis. We absolutely will not operate any itinerary if we have the remotest concern of potential danger to our guests. (Note: Eyes On Africa abides by these same practices and uses Wilderness Safaris as our primary ground operator in Zimbabwe)
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What are the medical health precautions and issues?
As vaccination requirements change on occasion, we recommend that you check with your local doctor or health department for the latest health precautions. The most important health consideration in Southern Africa is Malaria and it is strongly recommended that prophylactics (i.e., oral tablets) be taken as a preventative precaution. You are not legally required to have any vaccinations unless you are traveling from a region where yellow fever is prevalent, in which case an inoculation will be required against the disease.

Certainly you need not rush off and get every possible inoculation and take every pill under the sun just to travel to Africa.  Do not go overboard with the information put out by the disease control centers. We return time and again to Africa and to the bush and have only ever taken Malaria prevention tablets. A course of anti-Malaria tablets is advisable and many doctors advise a dose of Hepatitis A vaccine. We recommend that you visit with a local travel health specialist for complete details and safety.

Many parts of Africa do have problems with their water and foods; however, the food and water in Southern Africa is much safer than the rest of Africa, especially in the African safari camps and hotels you will be traveling to.  Please do not over-react to the detriment of you own enjoyment.  We have never experienced any problems with the food or water in any of the camps or hotels we have traveled to over the years.

As long as we're discussing water, one thing you must be careful of, especially during the hotter summer months and in the desert areas, is dehydration.  Plenty of fresh bottled water is always available at all of the camps throughout the day and should be consumed regularly and in quantity.  We have seen many guests, even experienced African travelers, who forget to drink enough water and become dehydrated.  A case of dehydration will usually put you out of action for up to a day and is no fun.  All the camps stock re-hydrating tablets which help to set you right again, but we wanted to mention it as this is the most common ailment we have observed among guests on African safaris. Drink lots of water!

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More on Malaria: The most serious risk while traveling in Southern Africa on safari is malaria.  We will not "talk down" this risk as we both know people, albeit all individuals who live and spend time in the Africa bush, who have contracted malaria.  This is NOT something to take lightly and it can be a lethal and at the very least, a long and uncomfortable disease.

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the parasite called Plasmodia. There are four identified species of this parasite causing human malaria, namely, Plasmodium vivax, P. falciparum, P. ovale and P. malariae. It is transmitted by the female Anopheles Mosquito. It is a disease that can be treated in just 48 hours, yet it can cause fatal complications if the diagnosis and treatment are delayed. It is re-emerging as the # 1 Infectious Killer and it is the Number 1 Priority Tropical Disease of the World Health Organization. The CDC estimates that 300-500 million cases of malaria occur each year worldwide and 1.5 million to 3 million people die of malaria every year (85% of these occur in Africa), accounting for about 4-5% of all fatalities in the world.

Humans get malaria from the bite of a female malaria-infected Anopheles mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected person, it ingests microscopic malaria parasites found in the person’s blood. The malaria parasite must grow in the mosquito for a week or more before infection can be passed to another person. If, after a week, the mosquito then bites another person, the parasites go from the mosquito’s mouth into the person’s blood. The parasites then travel to the person’s liver, enter the liver’s cells, grow and multiply. During this time when the parasites are in the liver, the person has not yet felt sick. The parasites leave the liver and enter red blood cells; this may take as little as 8 days or as many as several months. Once inside the red blood cells, the parasites grow and multiply. The red blood cells burst, freeing the parasites to attack other red blood cells. Toxins from the parasite are also released into the blood, making the person feel sick. If a mosquito bites this person while the parasites are in his or her blood, it will ingest the tiny parasites. After a week or more, the mosquito can infect another person. The safari camps in Southern Africa are not located in densely populated areas and this greatly reduces the risk of being infected by malaria.

Anopheles mosquitoes start biting by late evening and the peak of biting activity is at midnight and early hours of morning. Protect yourself against the bites in the evenings and early mornings by applying mosquito repellant, wearing garments that cover the body as much as possible, and at bedtime, by using mosquito nets without fail.

All of the camps provide mosquito repellant in the tents and in the lounges and on game drives. Most also provide mosquito "coils", an incense-like slow-burning substance that produces a smoky repellent that can be lit inside the tent before heading for dinner so that the tent is cleared by bed time. Finally, the majority of the camps also provide a mosquito netting over the beds to keep the "mossies" out while you sleep. Wearing lightweight long pants instead of shorts and covering the ankles especially is also very helpful during dinner and in the evening hours. Use the bug spray after sundown on game drives as well.

Remember that the best precaution against malaria is to reduce the likelihood of being bitten. The next best precaution is to begin and complete a full regimen of anti-malarial medication for your African safari.  The medication usually begins before you leave and is completed after returning home.  Check on the internet or with your physician for further information.

For more information, please also visit the following links:
CDC Information on Prescription Drugs for Malaria: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentMalariaDrugsPublic.aspx.
CDC Health Information for Visitors to Southern Africa: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/regionSouthernAfrica.aspx.

Please also read our section on Luggage Safety and Security.
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TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS
What are the entry requirements?
All people traveling to the Southern African region require a valid passport that is normally valid for 6 months beyond the intended length of stay. At present, holders of American passports do not require visas for South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They do however require visas for Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, but all but Kenya ma be purchased at the point of entry for a nominal fee. It is advisable to check with the consulate of the country that you intend to visit as requirements can change without notice.

South Africa... IMPORTANT:  Southern Africa passport control has become very strict with regards to passport control requirements. There have been instances of visitors being deported due to non-compliance. Passports MUST be valid for at least six months after your return home date. We recommend a validity of nine months to prevent any problems in this regard. The passport entry requirement for any travelers entering South Africa is a minimum of two blank pages in their passport (in addition to the two endorsement pages in US passports). If however a guest should be traveling to more than one African country via South Africa, then the traveler must ensure they allow for sufficient pages for each country visited and also have the minimum of two blank visa pages for each re-entry into South Africa.
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Is Southern Africa an expensive or difficult destination to travel to?
It is surprisingly easy and less expensive than you might think. There are direct flights from both New York and Atlanta to Johannesburg and Cape Town with a flying time of about 11 hours. This might seem lengthy, but if you consider that it is a night flight where you can sleep and also watch plenty of movies, the time passes faster than you may have thought. The great advantage is that there are no connecting flights and therefore less stress.

If you were to compare the cost of a trip to Hawaii, staying in decent hotels, compared to the same time on a continent that offers a unique and once in a lifetime experience, it appears that for a totally new experience, the minimal increase in cost is worth every penny. The even bigger drawing card of the region, particularly South Africa, is that the US Dollar is so strong (around 7-10 South Africa Rand's to the $US over the past several years for example) and the value of the local currencies is so low that it is extremely inexpensive once you are there. You find that you can eat like a king at a very nice restaurant for the price of a simple meal back home. Most other world wide regions are relatively cheap to get to but costly once there, so in theory there is a balancing effect when you consider it might be slightly more expensive to fly to Africa, but once there, it is extremely cost effective. An even bigger bonus of the African safari industry is that it is all inclusive in most parts (i.e., meals, drinks, game drives and guides) are included, so there is no additional need to pay for anything once you have arrived, except for perhaps the odd curio. To check current and historical exchange rates, visit our Currency Converter page.

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How much money should I bring?
As further answer to the previous question, guests often want to know how much cash to bring. First, most of the African safaris camps we sell take Master Card and Visa credit cards for purchases of curios and even accept them for guests to pay gratuities to the camp staff and guides. A note on gratuities at the African safari camps: Gratuities are not expected, but a reasonable tip would be US $10 per guest, per day for your driver/guide and perhaps $5 per day for the overall camp staff. Believe me that this amount will seem like nothing after you experience the fine service in the camps we offer! Again, these can be paid for with credit card so cash is unnecessary.

If you are visiting Johannesburg, a highlight is one of the flea markets that offer beautiful African wood carvings, batiks and other VERY inexpensive but nice arts and crafts. For the flea markets, you will typically want some cash. These artisans are found in Victoria Falls as well and their artwork is typically of nice quality and they make excellent mementoes of your trip or as gifts for your friends and family. The shops and restaurants in Joburg and Cape Town as well as the hotels in Vic Falls all take credit cards.

When we travel for say three weeks to Africa and include two weeks on safari, we typically take around $300 in cash.  This is only our guideline for ourselves; however, we feel that traveling with more cash than this is unnecessary.

A note on the Johannesburg FLEA MARKETS:
The flea markets in Joburg are an excellent place to shop and superb values on gifts, authentic African art and curios and even clothing and furniture may be found there.  Locals and tourists alike frequent these markets and we highly recommend them to anyone visiting Johannesburg.  The best market (in our experienced opinion) is the Rosebank Flea Market.  This market is the biggest and best and we hit it at least once or twice every visit and NEVER walk away empty handed. 

Note that the Rosebank market only operates on SUNDAYS and so you will want to plan your stay with this in mind if you want to take advantage of the bargains to be found.  There are other markets which operate daily and vendors line the streets daily selling a variety of carvings and other goods, but the selection is nowhere near what can be found at Rosebank.

Something else to keep in mind:  Many of the curios found in the safari camp shops and in malls and other stores can also be found at the flea market and usually at a considerable discount at the markets.  REMEMBER TO BARGAIN WITH THE VENDORS!  Their first price will usually be FAR higher than what they will accept.  This is especially important when buying high-ticket items (over $100).
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A note on VAT and purchases of gifts in South Africa: Be sure to keep your receipts for items of clothing, curios, artwork, CD's, books, etc.  South Africa charges a VAT (value added tax) on all goods and this tax is refundable to tourists when they leave the country (residents are not so lucky).  Organize all of the receipts and you can get a refund of the VAT at the airport before you fly home. This is a somewhat easy process but can take some time as the airport gets busy and the queues can be long - get to the airport EARLY!  In spite of the relative pain involved in the VAT refund process, the VAT percentage is substantial (14%) and can amount to several hundred dollars easily depending on how crazy you go in the malls!

Be advised that the receipts must be shown along with the items purchased.
Do NOT store all of your purchases into your suitcase and check the luggage until you have had your VAT receipts stamped by the official at the airport.  They have recently become more strict regarding showing the products with the receipts - they will most certainly make you show the items for which you have receipts!

ALSO - You must have your goods checked by VAT refunds BEFORE you pass through customs into the departure area!!  Goods are shown in the area before you check in at Johannesburg International Airport.  Your receipts are approved and stamped as they are checked against your purchased items.  Only then should you proceed to check-in.  After checking in your suitcases, receiving your boarding pass and clearing customs, immediately get in the VAT refund line to have your receipts added up and approved for payment.  You will either get cash - or, if the amount exceeds a certain limit, a check will be mailed to you.
REMINDER:  Get all receipts approved BEFORE check-in.  After check-in, head to VAT refund desk to get your money.

Finally, the VAT may only be reclaimed for goods, this does NOT include hotel accommodations or food of any kind. Many visitors skip this VAT refund process but it is well worth it if you have taken advantage of the fantastic exchange rate in South Africa.
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Are there requirements for self driving?
The traffic departments of both South Africa and Namibia are now enforcing a law (which was passed in 1998) which requires that travelers applying to rent a motor vehicle be in possession of a valid "International Drivers Permit/License". Should travelers not be in possession of an International License, they will not be permitted to hire a vehicle in South Africa nor Namibia.

Anyone using motor vehicles, other than hired ones, (i.e. making use of a company or friend's vehicle etc.), they will STILL need to be in possession of such license. Anyone driving without a valid driver's license (either domestic or International) will incur penalties should they be stopped by the police. Licenses will NOT be issued to foreign visitors upon arrival to South Africa nor Namibia. Travelers must be advised to carry their Foreign Drivers License as well as their International license.

FAQ's, page 2

Eyes on Africa was selected most knowledgeable Regional Expert for Southern Africa / Safaris by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, October 2004.
Eyes on Africa was selected most knowledgeable
Regional Expert for Southern Africa / Safaris by
National Geographic Traveler Magazine,
20th Anniversary Special Issue.

 


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