What constitutes good value for money on safari?

The accommodation level, the guiding expertise and the reputation of the wilderness area (or private game reserve) must combine to form the best that a given budget can buy, at whatever level, in order to deliver best value. How to judge? Search for reputable safari tour companies. Ask them dozens of questions - they should be able to answer them quickly and to your complete satisfaction. If not, keep keep searching.

What do we base our tours on?

Our criteria are as follows: game viewing that has surpassed our expectations; engaging safari guides; all in-lodge comforts and conveniences; genuine hospitality; good food; smooth connections to lodges, airports and meeting points. And an authentic sense of Africa; you'll know it when you find it.

Why choose a private safari lodge?

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To avoid the traffic in this picture - which you can expect to encounter when you are based in the National Park camps.

The National Parks like Kruger are popular and many of its camps are large. This often translates to busy roads and, at times, many vehicles at one viewing. There are regular reports of bad driving by self-drive visitors. Accommodation in National Parks is mostly in the budget category.

What are private lodges and reserves?

Private lodges are situated in private game reserves ie. usually not in state parks. Kruger is a state park. Some private lodges are in the Kruger Park; these lodges have concession rights for the exclusive use of their guests - the general public may not drive here. All safari lodges we book for our clients are private.

A major difference between state camps and private lodges is the style of game drives: private lodges offer smaller, open 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.

Why do private safari lodges cost more?

  • The lodges are kept small and exclusive.
  • They offer superior comfort and service, and quiet, private game viewing on small open vehicles.
  • Staff to guest ratios are high: there are more staff members than guests.
  • Maintenance of camp, bush vehicles, and large staff complement make for big overheads.
  • Conservation fees are charged by the game reserve - from visitors and lodge owners alike.
  • Road maintenance and lodge running costs are ever-increasing.
  • Extra staff is now necessary to fight increasing poaching activity.

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Lodge owners are passionate about Africa's dwindling wildlife. Pretty much every cent you spend on your safari is ploughed back into the game reserve or its immediate surrounds.

Safari lodge operators as a rule are actively involved in the upliftment of the local rural communities through schools and clinics. Visitors are also invited to join in, because the needs of the local schools are so great. (See Pack for a Purpose.)

Luxury or mid-level? What's the difference?

**** Mid-level is comfortable. Let's call it 4-star. But beware: 4-star on safari is not the same as a 4-star hotel. On safari you'll get sturdy tents or rustic chalets, comfortable beds in clean rooms, generous en-suite bathrooms, good service and food from friendly staff; and game viewing quality will depend on location of the reserve.

***** Luxury is a step up: good beds and fine linens, interesting decor and airy suites with verandas, large en-suite bathrooms, sophisticated finishes, great service, well-stocked bar, pool area, curio shop, Internet, aircon in-suite where possible, great food, nice extra touches like additional outside showers, turn-downs and pillow chocolates; excellent game viewing.

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

When should we book?

Aim to book a safari well in advance. This is important. Safari lodges are very small, so they fill up fast. The average size is 10 rooms.

When is the best time to go on safari?

It depends where you want to go. Any time in Kruger and Victoria Falls. Botswana prices are very seasonal; great value is to be had in mid and low seasons.

What on earth is a 'Meru' tent?

It's a big, sturdy, canvas-sided double room/tent. You can stand up in it. It has either two full-sized, regular beds with mattresses in it, or a King size double bed; space to walk around it, a small dressing table, chair as well as a cupboard for your clothing. At the back of the tent, you'll find a private 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 have modern airports and good onward connections.

Do I need a visa?

You will have to check. Each safari country has different requirements.

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

Yes. BUT ... if you disregard safety instructions, you take serious risks. You will get a security briefing on arrival. The safari lodges we use take your safety very seriously. A night watch for your added peace of mind is common.

What about malaria?

This depends on the area you visit. We will advise whether or not you are going to a designated malaria area. Malaria pills come in many offerings, so check with your doctor or travel clinic before you depart on your safari, to find the most suitable. We'll also provide tips on how to avoid mosquito bites.

What is a boma?

example graphic This is a boma. Huge fun! It's 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 dessert and coffee, pull your chair up to the fire to finish off your wine. It's the perfect way to end a day in the wilderness.

There is nothing quite like the atmosphere in the boma after dinner; wait till the storytelling to begins!

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.

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.

Why are most safari tours all-inclusive?

The fact is, you are going into the wilderness and there are no restaurants or shops in the vicinity.

What about animal ethics, such as hunting?

Hunting, especially canned hunting, cub petting, and walking with lions are an ABSOLUTE NO-NO for us. (Special note to volunteers: be very careful. Check here for a list of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.) Botswana has outlawed hunting entirely, and is Africa's leading light in safari ethics. For the moment, anyway. There is talk that may change.

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 30% 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 are solo travellers charged more?

Single travellers pay more because they are not sharing the cost of a room with another traveller. In addition, single travellers will pay double the price of a land (road) transfer, because the minimum charge for such a service to a private lodge is normally based on 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 in the package. Each safari lodge has its own small curio shop where credit cards are accepted. They sell safari clothing, other safari items and lovely things to take home. Keep space in your suitcases! Laundry is sometimes offered as a free service; check first.

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

Don't hesitate to bring US dollars, Euros, AU dollars, Swiss francs or GB pounds - in fact all hard currencies are gladly accepted in the game reserves as gratuities. Buy as little local currency as necessary - the buy-sell gap is enormous. Credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere.

Can I do some good on my visit?

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Thanks for asking, and yes! Just before you start packing for your journey, look up Pack for a Purpose, and find out if your safari lodge has linked with a local school as their community effort. Most do. 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.

Why choose us?

We pick lodges that stand out from the pack. Our expertise is based on decades of searching for safari excellence, which we love to share. And we know how important it is to get you there quickly, comfortably. Details matter.

A good honeymoon choice?

Not just good - the best. A safari is one of the most memorable journeys any couple can embark on.

Is choosing a safari as simple as it looks?

example graphic Well, not always. There's quite a lot that is not explained on safari websites. For example: the size of the reserve, who else shares it, how many other vehicles may use your area for game drives, and so on. It's complicated, and not as interesting as leopard portraits ... and yet, important. We have this info.

Be sure to compare apples with apples when getting safari prices. Remember those add-ons: Park fees, bed levies, gate fees, transfer fees to the lodge, and flights to the game reserve.

What are the next steps?

Simple. Just drop us an email.

Marianne Birrell Safaris ~ delivering your dream safari.