Johan Knols at PlanYourSafari recently suggested that the most important item for a safari is a proper bed. His argument: Waking up rested is the most important thing during your safari, even if all the next points fail. If you have to sleep on a mattress that makes your back arch like a hammock, you will definitely not enjoy the next day. Also bear in mind that a lot of beds in Africa are (very) short, so enquire if your bed will have a foot-board (for those that need to stick their feet out).
While I enjoy Knols’ opinion, I am so tired when coming in from the bush, I could sleep in my vehicle … but then, I also sleep well in airplanes and on my sofa at home, so maybe I am not the best judge.
For me, what is most important is a great leader for the group. In my recent trips, my dear friend, Paul Salvado of Johannesburg has put together the itinerary including travel details, meals and lodging. This has allowed me to have no worry related to the basic trip. Elimination of this stress really frees me to think about photography and quality time with friends. yes, without a doubt, this is my number 1 item.
Okay, I have disagreed with Johan’s number 1, but let me list (in order) his other key considerations and make comments on each:
2. Decent food – Maybe I have been lucky on this, but my trips have always provided a quality evening meal. For breakfast, the lodge packs me a small bag meal which includes cheese and boiled eggs. Maybe most important in my mornings is a good container of coffee. In the vehicle, I always carry dried mango and also biltong. For me, these are the perfect snack foods.
3. A guide that you can understand – I am often without a guide. That said, it is frustrating when good insight is being provided by a local expert and yet I cannot understand the tip I am being given. Like Johan, I rate this one very high.
4.A vehicle that does not break down – for most American travelers, this may be taken for granted. Trust me, until you are stuck in the bush, you just don’t understand how important this one is. On one past trip, I had to get a punctured tire (tyre) repaired. Locals sent me to ‘the goat man’ to have it repaired. Yes, he was a goat herder who had a tub of water to identify the puncture and repair it. He was inexpensive, but my safari would have been ruined without him.
5. Game, yes it helps! – This is why I pick Chobe for my trips. I have seen images from friends who went to Kruger or to Kenya or in the wrong season. In those photos, the game was sparse or distant or the grass high. At Chobe, you will see game … and lots of it. I think that the images at our site bare this out.
6. Pleasant fellow travelers – Sounds unimportant, but a very important issue. Your fellow travelers will be the only people you communicate with for a week or two. Little style issues can be major irritations after a few days. On my trips, there are always folks that have totally different backgrounds than I have. As long as the attitude is right and the mind is open, these will become friends. However, inflexible travelers who have pre-set visions of what they expect can ruin the best holiday.
7. A feeling of security – Another point worth respect. Many safari nations have recently had conflict or may border countries with strife. Botswana is a pleasant and generally safe destination, but this is not our local neighborhood. And of course there are the animals. When I had the punctured tire noted above, I was in the middle of a vast herd of Cape Buffalo, miles from any help. When another vehicle with friends on board pulled up to offer assistance, my feeling of security jumped way up.
8. Getting attention – Not on my top 10, but we must admit that everyone has their own needs. It is nice to know that someone will tailor their efforts to accommodate yours. As a photographer, I want the great view angle. As a wildlife lover, I want the ‘inside story’ a guide can provide. If guides know this is important to you and deliver this attention, it will make the trip special.
9. Your health – Easily taken for granted, but on my last trip into the bush, one of my dear friends had a stomach problem. He missed two days of the trip staying at the lodge. That’s two days in the bush he will never get back.
10. A feeling of freedom – (Not to be confused with the feeling that one can abuse the park) One of the special points of a safari is that you are in nature and it is about your experience with nature. For me, a self drive trip gives me that freedom to go or do what I want while in the reserve. I would re-name this point “flexibility”. With this renaming, I would make this point one of my top two. Some safari groups have a very fixed schedule. If freedom and flexibility are important to you, make sure you ask the right questions before you travel.
So that was Johan’s top 10. Not a bad list at all.
As a photographer, I must add one more to the list: Comfort with my equipment – Many go on photo safari trips and have little or limited understanding of how to move the camera’s focus points, how to use aperture priority or shutter priority or even how to replace the battery on the camera. Knowing one’s equipment really allows one to focus on the safari experience without worry of missing the shot.