How to pick a safari operator?

So we have had a couple of experiences now with safari tour companies and thought we would compile a list of questions and tips from things  we’ve learned that may help selecting the right outfit. Once you pick the country and the itinerary, here are items to start from:
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Itinerary: how long is it to get from Park A to Park B? Not distances, but realistic driving times.
How much time will you spend in each park actually game driving (factoring in time from your accommodation to the park gate , queue times during busy season etc)
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 –Acommodations: what are the names of the lodges and what kind of room is it? Several lodges offer different level of rooms: tent, hut, bungalow etc : the level of comfort can vary greatly and how close to nature you are also (see our post on staying in the tent in the Serengeti).  Is the lodge/accommodation in the park or outside? If outside, how far outside the park is it?
Of course, do your own research once you have the names of the “hotels”and if some of them don’t look good or rate well, ask the tour company if they can  substitute for what you want at no charge.
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 –Food and Drinks: what is included each day? If full board, are drinks included (soft drinks, water) or extra? We had to pay extra for drinks (incl. water) during meals which is a common practice.
How much water is included each day during your safari/game driving and is it refrigerated (cooler)?
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Vehicle:
-What kind of vehicle is it (Make, model of the 4X4). How new is it?
-Does it have a pop-up roof (so you can stand in the vehicle and take good pictures)?
-Does it have A/C? The reason this is important is not only because it might be hot during non game driving but the roads might be very dusty and filled with diesel exhausts. Most companies will tell you they have A/C but it isn’t working which is often a bunch of boloney! They just don’t want to spend the extra fuel. Insist before booking.
-Does the vehicle have power outlet to charge your camera, and other electronic gear?
-Does the vehicle have a radio thanks to which guides talk to each other (relay animal sightings etc)? Ours did not and we were glad it didn’t .The good side of having a radio in the vehicle is that you might see more animals, BUT in popular parks, you will end up most likely with many other cars and listening to radio static while you are trying to enjoy the animal. For example, we saw fewer leopards than people who had car radios (5 vs 11) but had a private viewing with that one female for 45 minutes! We would not have traded this for 2 or 3 leopards more with a bunch of other cars and noisy radios. Also drivers who rely on radio for sightings might end up chasing other drivers around the park and you might be eating someone’s dust all day.
-What’s the company plan B in case the vehicle gets stuck or breaks down? Are they able to send you another driver/vehicle within a reasonable time? The concern is : can the company’s fleet accommodate a replacement vehicle?
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 –Payment and cancellation policy: that goes without saying
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Medical emergency: what does the company do in case of a medical emergency? If you are in the middle of nowhere, do they have a fly-in doctor? (this was included at no cost for us- although we didn’t get to try it :))
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Driver/Guide: this is perhaps the most important item since you will be spending day in and day out with that person. It can make or break your safari. We had both ends of the spectrum, a terrific guide in Uganda and a lousy one in Tanzania.
-Are you getting a driver/ guide or a driver AND a spotter? If you get a good driver/guide, you really don’t need a spotter.
-How well do the guides know the parks? How long have they been employed with that safari tour operator and in the business?
-Does the guide like to interact with clients? Does he speak your language clearly? How much does he share about the culture, parks and animals? Is the guide good at anticipating needs and listening to your interests?
Our Tanzanian driver guide did very poorly on the communication side and did not like to be directed. A good guide should tell you something about the parks, what you can expect to see there, facts/behaviors about the animals you are viewing, where and what time you’ll be having lunch, potential bathroom breaks, and when you’re actually in a game-viewing area (believe it or not, we had this issue).
-Absolutely try to get the name of your assigned guide ahead of time and then see if you can find any information on the web regarding that guide from other people’s experience.
-If you have a special interest in a specific type of animal (birds, cats, etc), make sure you are matched up with a guide who specializes in that area.
-Will the guide be dining with you at any of the lodges or facilities? Obviously you will have several packed lunches with your guide, but you could also end-up having breakfasts and dinners with him too, which is fine if you’re enjoying his company. In our case it was painful when we learned at the Serengeti tented camp we had to have dinner with our guide. We remedied the situation by grouping our table with another group of tourists who didn’t care for their guide either.
Hope this post helps someone in the future selecting a good safari operator.
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3 Responses to How to pick a safari operator?

  1. Laetitia says:

    *******************************HAPPY BIRTHDAY SYLVIE !!!!!!!!!! *****************************************
    Alors qui c’est la vieille cette année 😉
    Je te souhaite de passer une merveilleuse journée en ce jour particulier et nous t’embrassons tous les 4 !!
    Profites a fond de ce voyage magnifique et tchin tchin de France !! 🙂 Gros bisous

  2. Terrea says:

    Excellent guidelines…wish I could say I’ll need them soon! :o)

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