Safaris - Most Common Questions
Take a Safari in East Africa with Dave Frinton
- What is the best time to go?
While the most expensive, the migration of the wildebeest is normally from mid July to early September, but things are not as certain as they used to be. Weather patterns are changing which does confuse the animals. Super high season and the most likely time to see the river crossings would be mid August.
- When is the worst time to go?
Again, with normal patterns mid March to early May is the heavy rains which makes things a bit more complicated to get around, and you’re bound to get stuck here and there and have tall grass. However, this can also be an amazing time to go as things are lush and animals are very well fed and happy. But again, things seems to certainly have changed and as I write this (Feb 2020) they are thinking that this year’s wet season as example may be much lighter in rains because of the unexpected on and off rains during what is supposed to be a very dry and hot season.
- How hot does it get?
This of course depends on your altitude and time of year. The more impressive (in my view) areas like the Serengeti and the Massai Mara are at about 5000 feet (or around 1600 meters) elevation and can be cooler at night and reach highs around the mid 80’s (or 26 C), where places like Samburu can easily be in the 90’s F (30+ C) with variations of course depending what season you actually get when you arrive!).
- Do I need visas?
Yes, and we can arrange them for you in advance or you can get them at the airport upon arrival in Kenya and Tanzania, but you’d be doing yourself a favor by getting them issued in advance. They can take up to 3 weeks. They cost $50 US each and always subject to change.
- Do I need a lot of shots?
Yellow Fever (as I write this) is still required for Tanzania and could be for Kenya. If you’ve had it once, you may be good for life, but check you have had the right initial dose, etc. If you have an exception from your Doctor, you will need proof. If you go to a travel clinic they will recommend all kinds of other precautions, which are totally up to you – but may not be required. I always take meds for malaria. Things can change, and what is required today may change at any time.
- My passport expires soon, what do I do?
Your Canadian passport needs to be valid for 6 months after the day you get home – so ensure that you have a passport that meets this requirement.
- What are the bugs like?
I’ve been there 9 times and while we have encountered some flies and bugs, normally they aren’t as bad as you might think – but be prepared to protect yourselves from mosquitos at the very least.
- What’s the food like?
I love it, but unless you go with a really high end program, the normal lodge or tented camp menus are pretty simple – with chicken, beef, lamb, fish and vegetarian options. The produce is fresh and delicious with lots of great tropical fruits to choose from. I’ve never come home lighter!
- How’s the water?
When on safari and in all lodges you’ll have water supplied. Even when brushing your teeth, be sure and use bottled, not tap water. On most (non-ultra-luxury) safaris water is an additional expense at meals but provided for free in your room and on safari. Be sure and drink lots – it is so important to remain hydrated!
- How’s the beer?
Very good and very inexpensive. Bar drinks, specialty drinks and wine is often pricey.
- Is there an additional cost for going as a single?
Yes. Rooms are based on 2 people sharing, so if you require a room for yourself, there will be an additional cost.
- Are there any savings if we want a third person sharing a room with us?
Yes, but not all accommodations have rooms that actually can have 3 people in them – so we need to pick the ones that can!
- Can I bring a big wardrobe of clothes?
No. You need to pack light and the internal flights have weight restrictions. If you are coming in or leaving after to other parts of the world, you can store your international clothing in Nairobi – which is the likely city you will be flying in and out of. Often weight restrictions for internal flights are 15 kilograms and while they rarely actually check, if you are over the allowable luggage weight they can refuse to take the bag or can charge you extra.
- Should I come in early for your safari?
Normally I’d say no, but depending on your chosen itinerary it may be a good idea to have a day to explore Nairobi. I’ll discuss this with you and advise you depending on what you’ve chosen. Some people do like a lazy day at the pool to recover from the long journey.
- What can I bring to give away?
I highly recommend you try and add some sort of excursion to a school or orphanage if it’s not already part of your chosen tour. They always need school supplies as example. Do not bring candy. If you have some sports supplies (like soccer balls, etc.) they go a long way and sometimes you can barter a bit for local crafts. My advice is to give most of your items to the headmaster of the school to ensure they are fairly distributed. If you give things away on the street or side of the roads, etc. they may immediately try and sell what you’ve given them.
- How much should I tip?
You would be surprised at how little people earn in the tourism industry, whether baggage handlers, servers or your driver guides. I encourage you to be generous and count on bringing $150 or more in newer US $ currency per person. Some options will include tips, but you may wish to go above and beyond.
- What currencies are used in Kenya and Tanzania?
Both Kenya and Tanzania have their own shillings (as I write this 1 US $ = approx. 100 Kenya Shillings or 2200 Tanzanian shillings). US $ are what to bring and really widely accepted, but make sure you get crisp, non-ripped and newer money. They often have trouble trading US $ into shillings if they are torn or older.
- What precautions should I prepare for?
Bug spray, upset tummy meds, electrolytes are all a good idea. Perhaps some ginger gravol, etc.
- Can I get my laundry done?
Yes, and in the more common lodging they can turn things around in a day and it’s not very expensive. Please remember it’s not a fashion statement being in East Africa, and you need light, comfortable clothing that you don’t mind it being a bit dirty (because after one day on safari it will be!).
- Should I wear my jewels?
I highly recommend you leave them at home! Don’t tempt anyone to steal them from you. It’s just not the place.
- Will I feel safe?
I always have, but I wouldn’t if I walked in most parts of Nairobi at night. Use your common sense and if you are unsure, ask where the right places to be are.
- Can I negotiate to buy things?
Of course – it’s part of the fun. There are some stores in lodges, etc. where prices are fixed, but in most places they’re totally willing and expecting to negotiate.
- How’s the internet?
Most lodges have service (sometimes really good and sometimes spotty) and often in only certain parts of the property (ie. lobby Area). Most offer free Wi-Fi. While many vehicles say they have Wi-Fi in the vehicles they seem to mostly be unreliable or rather slow. My advice is not to count on it while out on safari. Some places will turn off the power between certain hours so then obviously your internet will not work.
- What if I use data or buy it from my Canadian or US provider?
Don’t always believe your package or “roam like home” program works like they advertise, but cell service isn’t bad in most places. There are tricks you need to know – like pressing on the “0” to get a “+” is required and country codes may work differently than other parts of the world. Your local provider may very well give you wrong information, so be warned!
- What if I need urgent medical help?
There often are Doctors that are pretty accessible in the lodges, but having a serious urgent issue in the middle of nowhere can be a problem getting help to you. You may wish to subscribe to the Flying Doctor’s Society.
- Should I get medical, cancellation and trip interruption insurance?
YES!!! Please be sure that you are properly covered, and do not assume that your credit card or existing plan properly covers you. Especially in today’s world you wouldn’t be serving yourself well by coming to Africa improperly insured. CruisePlus offers exceptional insurance options.
- How old is too old and how young is too young to do this trip?
The eldest person I took was 86, but he was in great shape and Africa was on his bucket list. It’s not a strenuous trip (unless you do a gorilla trek), but it’s a busy trip – mobility is important as you will sitting a lot but getting up and down on your feet most likely when viewing. I took our daughter at age 7, and she had a blast and was already an experienced traveler. As long as your kids are good with many hours on safari and traveling, they should be fine – but I wouldn’t go much younger than that.
- Should I bring my own binoculars?
I suggest you do, and get some decent ones – at least 10 X 42’s. While there’s usually a pair or two to share in the vehicle (but not always), you’ll like having your own as animals may be far away.
- Will I always get the bed type I want?
Not always to be honest. You may want a king and sometimes you’ll get 2 beds. We try and more often than not you will get what you ask for, but there may be times…
- Can I be late for safaris?
Not if you are sharing with other people! Please always be respectful of others and don’t hold them up. This may sound like a dumb question, but you would be surprised at how often this can happen. If it’s one of my hosted safaris you must be on time or we’ll leave without you. (pretty tough, hey?...we’ll probably give you one warning!)
- What if I just don’t want to go on safari on any given day?
If you’re feeling a bit under the weather or you just want to relax by the pool or take advantage of the spa, that’s fine as long as it’s a safari day and not a travel day. Be sure and let others in your party know in advance to avoid them searching for you or waking you up!
- Do I need to bring any nice clothes?
If you happen to go to the Mount Kenya Safari Club on your itinerary, shorts and t-shirts are not appropriate for dinner but even there it’s still pretty casual. For guys a pair of Docker type pants and an open collar shirt is fine. Bring one sweat shirt or sweater and a light rain resistant jacket, but most of the time make your wardrobe choices to be light and comfortable.
- Can I use Canada/US 110V electrical?
No. You should buy an African adapter (3 plug). Most often you can buy them at the lodges, but buying an international set is a good investment.
- How many pictures will I take?
Way more than you thought you ever would. Bring lots of memory cards. If you have big lenses, you’ll want them. Saying this, don’t live this experience through your camera lens. Be sure and look around and inhale all the beauty with your naked eyes. Don’t forget that adapter and your charger plus an extra camera battery.
- Do I need to speak Swahili?
Yes, if you want to understand what the guides are communicating to each other! They all speak English well, and you’ll learn a few Swahili words along the way.
- What if I book to go with you and you (Dave) can’t go for some reason?
I would only cancel a safari if I didn’t get enough people to go (usually 15) and you could choose to still go without me or get your money back. When I confirm that we have enough people it will be my 100% intention to go. I have never missed one yet - but if a family or health emergency came up and I was unavailable to go and you were paid in full, the safari would go on without me, and unfortunately we could not offer you a refund. If I knew before final payment I couldn’t go, and you didn’t want to go without me, I’d let you know and you would have the option to cancel and receive your full deposit back.
- What is the most important things to remember?
Bring your sense of humor. Be patient. Understand where you are and that things are different in Africa compared to North America. Be kind. Be generous. Respect all the people that are going to do their utmost to make this an incredible experience. If you’re coming with me on a hosted tour at least groan when I tell you one of my bad jokes!