Don't beat about the bush: Safari tips

What is a safari?

There are several ways to do a safari. The first is to make it up as you go along, buying a flight to somewhere like Botswana and then booking camps on a nightly basis. In practice this is not such a great idea: booking camps independently can be expensive and difficult, costing, in Botswana, from pounds 100-pounds 190 per night.

The cheapest option is to take a package with a major operator such as Thomsons. This can be pretty pleasant, though do bear in mind that you'll be travelling around in a minibus with six people to a vehicle, and you can end up spending more time spotting other minibuses than lions. You'll stay in fairly large, purpose-built camps.

If you want to have a seriously exclusive experience - travelling around in your own four-wheel-drive vehicle, taking private plane transfers and staying in luxury private camps miles from anywhere - then you should approach a tailor-made safari specialist such as Africa Exclusive (01604 628979) or Abercrombie and Kent (0171 7309600). A trip like this is going to cost pounds 3,000 or more per person for (say) 10 days, including flights from the UK.

One final way to do a safari, is to go with an adventure firm such as Exodus Travels (0181 675 5550), Guerba Expeditions (01373 826611) or Explore Worldwide (01252 319448). These operators offer expeditions by truck or bus, camping en route and staying in simple lodges.

Don't be naff

Don't immediately go out and buy all the new twee safari gear because (a) it's naff and (b) they'll know you're a novice. On safari you will need sunglasses, a hat that doesn't blow off in open vehicles, cover ups for the evenings and comfortable walking shoes.

Appendages

Don't be trapped behind your camera - TV wildlife films have far better shots and you'll bore your friends rigid with your holiday snaps back home. A good pair of binoculars is a much better investment, as is a torch with a few spare batteries for nocturnal calls of nature.

Not for shrinking violets

Nature is red in tooth and claw, and you may witness scenes you'd rather not. That sweet little bambi you were cooing at can become a bleeding corpse in seconds. And no, real animals are not the cuddly Disney versions; the last lot of tourists who tried to have their photo taken beside the lions didn't live to tell the tale.

Watch the calendar

Game is much more difficult to spot in the rainy season - animals may no longer come to the lodge waterholes and will disperse over a wide area. The seasons vary throughout Africa but here is a rough run-down.

Botswana - Reasonable all year round but the dryest season is from April to October. Lowest prices are in May and June, and lots of American tourists pile in from late July to early September.

Kenya & Tanzania - Very temperamental this season (the dry season has been extremely wet), but usually rainy in April and May, early June and November.

Namibia - Rainy days can happen at any time during the year. Oppressive and very hot in late October and November.

Zimbabwe - Can be moody, but the best dry season is from April to October.

Health

There have been more outbreaks of malaria than usual in eastern and southern Africa due to the heavy rains this year, and anti-malaria tablets are essential. Consult your local travel clinic, your doctor or the Malaria Reference Laboratory Information Line on 0891 600 350 for the correct prophylactic.

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