An African safari is not something you want to cut corners on. But, at the same time, you don’t want to spend money on something that will add little to no value to your safari experience. So, while the Swarovski binoculars may seem cool at the time, I suggest you save your money for some safari splurges that will pay dividends in good memories. Here are my four top choices.
Five or ten years ago, domestic or charter flights were far less mainstream and far more of a luxury than they are today. Many new airlines have cropped up and the ones that were already in existence have upped their frequency of flights. Gone are the days when you had to plan your safari around that one weekly flight. So, why is flying in such a perk?
In addition to the obvious—significant time savings—flying in a little Cessna gives you the incredible opportunity to see the country you’re visiting from a different perspective. My first glimpse of the Serengeti was from our little plane. As we slowly made our descent into the Seronera, I saw my first elephant, giraffe AND hippo, all before my tootsies had set foot on Serengeti soil. This is a memory that shall never leave my grey matter.
A good lens
This splurge is aimed at the shutterbugs out there—you know who you are. Nothing is more frustrating than having an opportunity for that perfect shot only to discover that your lens isn’t letting in enough light and you end up with a grainy image. This isn’t easy to rectify: good lenses are extremely expensive. In fact, the lens that I’ve got my eye on is over $5000. But, it’s 400mm and an F4 and gets rave reviews. What to do? Hire it! Yes, that’s right. It’s possible to hire a lens for as little as $30/day, depending on lens. I think I paid around $550 for my lens rental on my last safari. $550 is not cheap, but it’s about 10% the price of the lens and, when a new one comes out, I’m not stuck with the old model. And, some of the photos I captured thanks to this lens, to me, are priceless.
If I had to choose just one safari splurge, it would be a tossup between the flight and the private vehicle, with the flight probably winning by a hair. The vehicle can be a crapshoot. Sometimes, you get lucky and are put with other folks who are considerate and who share your interests. In these instances, having others in your vehicle can enhance your safari experience. But, when luck isn’t on your side, you can find yourself sharing a vehicle with Chatty Cathy and Sundowner Sue. Cathy plants herself directly behind the driver, every time, and natters on about every bird and beast. Because she’s right behind him, she somewhat dictates when you stop and start.
Cathy alternates glances between the animals and the cooler in the back. As soon as that sun comes remotely close to the horizon, she’s already got her olives and pickled onions out. For her, a safari is the land equivalent to a booze cruise. Or, you could just get placed with someone who wants to stop at every insect and bird, or just the opposite: they sigh whenever you ask to stop for a photo opp. I’ve experienced them all, and I’ve reached the point where I no longer care to leave it to chance. By having your own vehicle, not only can you skip the sundowner if you wish, you call all the shots. This is the ultimate for those who want to get out at the crack of dawn and return after sunset.
This last item only applies for those safaris where your flight leaves late in the night, but you’re back in the town with several hours to kill. The key to this last perk is to ensure you select the right lodge, but any tour operator worth their salt will help you with this. Not only does a day room give you the chance to unwind and get some shuteye, it also is a great place to meet fellow travelers. On my last safari, my flight wasn’t until 11:59pm! What an awkward time for a flight. The logistics of picking up new guests at the airport meant I was dropped off around noon. At first I thought I was going to be utterly bored, as only the main lodge had wifi, but after I’d soaked in a hot tub, taken a nice siesta and packed my luggage, it was already 6pm.
I then headed to the main lodge where I enjoyed a glass of wine while chatting with guests from various parts of Europe and North America. I ended up dining with two of them. I then answered some emails and took in the last smells of Zambia before heading out. It was like a mini holiday, and it’s a little treat I often add to the end of my safaris.
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