What is a great value-for-money safari lodge?

This is a lodge that must deliver all of the following: five-star game viewing; top guides; every in-lodge comfort; hospitality and very good cuisine. We know where they are to be found.

When should we book?

Aim to book a safari 9 - 12 months in advance. This is important. Safari lodges are very small, so they fill up fast. The average size is 10 rooms. The best ones sell first, as you would expect. If you are booking for Christmas, do it 18 months in advance; most camps add a surcharge for this period.

Why choose MB Safaris?

We have knowledge based on decades of searching for safari excellence. We incorporate the best into our highly focussed tours, confident they will surpass your expectations. We look for the shining stars, the ones that stand out from the rest. It's personal, for us. We take pride in offering our clients incredible wildlife experiences, and your satisfaction is what motivates us.

A good honeymoon choice?

Not just good - the best! A safari is one of the most stand-out journeys you can do. But please read "When should we book?" above. (That is, if you want the best value. If budget the not the issue, book any time. Just do it!)

Is it as simple as it looks?

example graphic Actually, no. There's quite a lot that is not explained on safari websites, for example: the size of the property is, who else shares it, how many vehicles can use it for game drives (you don't want traffic on a game drive!), what certification the game rangers have, and so on. Not as interesting as leopard portraits, but still important.

Then there are the added costs: Park fees, bed levies, gate fees, transfer fees to the lodge, and flights to the game reserve. We quote including all these add-ons.

What are the next steps? What happens next?

Have a look at our safari tours page, where we list the wild journeys we love best. Tell us which one (or ones) you like, and when it suits you to travel.

When is the best time to go on safari?

Absolutely any time in Kruger and Victoria Falls. Favourites - and therefore the most busy! - are the months of March - May and then August - November. Cape Town is magnificent from October to May, and can be cool and wet in June and July. High season in Botswana is June to September, in general.

What are private lodges and reserves?

Private lodges are non-state owned. They are found in private game reserves, many of which have been physically incorporated into the Kruger National Park. This means that the fences between them have been removed in order to promote more natural movement of wild animals. Some private lodges are within the Kruger Park itself; these lodges have bought concession areas for their own exclusive use. All safari lodges on our tours are private, either in private reserves or in private Kruger concessions.

A major difference between state camps and private lodges is the style of game drives: private lodges offer smaller vehicles (about 6 - 8 guests on each) and the ability to go off-road. State-owned lodges or camps offer self-drive in closed vehicles, or larger open game drive vehicles with guides (up to 22 guests), and there is no off-roading permitted. You will be subjected to traffic and, at times, bad manners, when Kruger Park is busy. The accommodation and food in state (national) parks and reserves is often basic.

Why do private safari lodges cost more?

  • The lodges are kept small to preserve safari atmosphere.
  • They offer superior comfort and service, and more exclusive game viewing on open vehicles.
  • Staff ratios are high: there are more staff members than guests.
  • Maintenance of buildings and bush vehicles, and bringing in consumables, make for big overheads.
  • Conservation fees are charged by by the game reserve - from visitors and lodge owners alike.
  • Road maintenance is costly and ongoing; and petrol consumption is high.
  • Extra staff is now necessary to fight increasing poaching activity.

example graphic Lodge owners are passionate about Africa's dwindling wildlife. Profit margins are low, and most spare cash goes towards refurbishments. Marketing swallows up the rest. Pretty much every cent you spend on your safari is ploughed back into the game reserve - something to feel very good about.

(There's a local joke that goes: Q: How do you make a small fortune in the safari business? A: Well, first, you take a big fortune and buy a safari lodge ...)

Luxury or mid-level on safari with MB Safaris? What's the difference?

**** mid-level is comfortable. Good beds and linens, en-suite bathrooms, flush toilets, good service, nice pool area, good food, and very good game viewing.

***** Luxury is a step up: good beds and linens, extras like bush chic decor and big suites with verandas, spacious full en-suite bathrooms, sophicticated finishes, great service, well-stocked bar, curio shop, Internet, aircon in-suite where possible, great food, nice extra touches like additional outside showers, turn-downs and pillow chocolates, and very good game viewing.

****** At the very top is Ultra-luxury: sumptuous bush palaces with crystal and silver tableware, Persian carpets, enormous suites, full bathrooms, splash pool per suite, luxurious finishes, good artworks, gourmet meals, bathrobes and slippers, binoculars, exclusive curio shops, and lots of small extras, and very good game viewing.

What on earth is a 'Meru' tent?

It's a big, sturdy, canvas-sided double room. You can stand up in it. It has two full-sized, proper beds in it, or a King size double bed, as well as a cupboard for your clothing. At the back of the tent, you'll find an en-suite bathroom with all modern conveniences.

Why are the internal flights so pricey?

It's simply this: the smaller the plane, the more it costs, per capita, to run the flight. Most scheduled flights to the game reserves operate with small planes (40 - 100 seats). Charter flights and air taxis take 6 to 12 passengers.

Is it safe to travel on safari?

Yes. Africa is huge - there are 54 countries in Africa. To give you a sense of scale, the Kruger National Park is the same size as Holland. Etosha National Park is even bigger than Kruger Park. Botswana is the same size as France. The safari areas are found mostly in the southern and eastern parts of Africa, which are stable and peaceful, with good airports and reliable onward connections.

Do I need a visa?

You will have to check; it depends on your nationality. Each African country has different requirements.

Is it safe in an open vehicle and in the camp?

Yes - with the proviso you follow instructions. If you disregard safety instructions, you take unnecessary risks. For example, if you walk alone at night in the camp, you put yourself at risk. You will get a security briefing on arrival. The safari lodges we use take security very seriously. Most lodges have a night watch for your added safety.

What about malaria?

This depends on the area you visit. Your safari planner will advise whether or not you are going to a malaria area. Malaria pills come in many offerings, so check with your doctor or travel clinic before you depart on your safari, to find out which one is most suitable for you.

What is a boma?

example graphic This is a boma. It is an enclosed, secure outdoor area where dinner is served in dry weather. The top is open to the stars. In the middle, a camp fire sets the scene. After dinner, you can pull your chair up to the fire to finish your coffee or wine. Bliss. It's the perfect end to a day on safari.

Remember: your safari lodge is in the wilderness and there are no fences between you and the wildlife. This means you ask for an escort to get you to your tent or chalet. No exceptions!

What injections, if any, do I need?

It depends where you're going to. Some areas are within the Yellow Fever belt and you will need a jab (it will last you your lifetime). Discuss this with your GP or clinic or physician. Some visitors voluntarily do a Hep-A-B-typhoid vaccination; otherwise, just bring a standard First Aid kit with anti-histamine cream and tablets, and mosquito repellent.

Is tipping included?

No, it's not. It is common practice to tip the game ranger and tracker at the end of the safari; the amount depends on your satisfaction level. There is no "averge" amount, no matter what anyone tells you. We'll advise what to tip on safari - but it's a rough guide only. Do not feel you have to leave a money trail behind you on safari; it is neither necessary nor expected.

Why are most safari tours all-inclusive?

The fact is, you are going into the wilderness. No restaurants, no stores, little infrastructure. So it makes sense to offer accommodation on an all-meals basis. Also, you are going for the great wildlife viewing, so those activities are also included in the package. You do not have to go on every game drive. In fact, sometimes it's a great treat to stay in the camp when it is quiet and no-one is around. The risk is you may miss seeing what the others see. Or, you may see something in camp the others do not! Wild animals do come into the camps. Often.

What about animal ethics, such as hunting?

Hunting, especially canned hunting, cub petting, and walking with lions are an ABSOLUTE NO-NO. (Special note to volunteers: be very careful. Check here for a list of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.)

MB Safaris makes a point of selecting lodges to recommend to visitors that have no link whatsoever to any form of hunting, and most certainly not canned hunting, which, incredibly, is still legal in South Africa. We believe that hunting and conservation are entirely at odds with one another. Ask yourself: logically, how can hunters possibly contribute to conservation? They want the "best" trophy for their wall, and for taking selfies. (Note to Donald Trump Jnr, who shot a wild leopard in 2015: How could you?)

The "best" means biggest, thus the creature with the strongest genes, usually in the prime of their life, usually male; killing that male takes his genes out of a rapidly diminishing gene pool. This is by any logic criminal, because it is now common knowledge that rhino, elephant and lion - even giraffe - numbers are declining alarmingly fast. Furthermore, ask yourself: how is it "hunting" when there is no no chase, no risk, and using high tech weaponry? Ridiculous. Call it what it is: recreational killing, mostly by people who lack the expertise to deliver a kill shot. This leaves injured wildlife to die a slow, painful death, like Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Botswana has outlawed the practice entirely, and is Africa's leading light in safari ethics.

What do I take with me on safari?

We'll advise you in good time, before you start packing. It's part of our service.

How do payments work?

Payments work as follows: A 25% tour deposit secures the booking. Add to this the cost of internal airfares where necessary. Full settlement of the tour is due 60 days before your safari begins. Payments are by SWIFT transfer (wire transfer).

Why use the SWIFT money transfer (wire) system?

It's completely secure. From time to time, we need to trace a payment. It is quicker and more efficient to talk to a real person to resolve the matter. There is a distinct paper trail. PayPal etc. are convenient systems, but when there are discrepancies, they take weeks to resolve. During this time, provisional bookings can be lost - not good for safari planning. Swift transfer is without risk and stress-free for all parties.

Why are solo travellers charged more?

Single travellers pay more because they are not sharing the cost of a room with another traveller. In effect, they are paying for two people, less a discount. Or put another way, a single price (half the room) with a surcharge added. In addition, single travellers will pay double the price of a land transfer, because in general, the minimum charge for such a service is for two travellers.

Will I be spending any extra?

Bar bills are generally not included in tour prices at the mid-level range. At luxury level, local wines and beer and soft drinks are often included. Each safari lodge has its own small curio shop where credit cards are accepted. They sell caps, shirts, fleece jackets, in fact all safari related items and you'll find some lovely things to take home. Keep space in your suitcases! Laundry is sometimes offered as a free service; check with your lodge of choice.

How much cash and/or local currency must I bring?

Don't hesitate to bring US dollars, Euros or GB pounds - these currencies are gladly accepted in the game reserves as gratuities. Buy as little local currency as necessary - these are volatile in Africa (except Botswana) and the buy-sell gap is enormous for that reason. You'll get very little back if you have to sell because you didn't use it. Credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere.

Can I do some good on my visit?

You sure can, and thanks for asking. Look up Pack for a Purpose, find out if your safari lodge has linked with a local school, then bring some school stuff for kids in the rural (safari) areas, and hand it over to your lodge/s. Then you have some space for taking your curio purchases home. Smart move.

Marianne Birrell Safaris ~ all-inclusive tours & bookings, info, tips, ideas.