So You Want to Travel in Africa? A Safari Q & A, by Ted Cookson

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SO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL IN AFRICA?
A SAFARI Q &
A
by Ted Cookson
Published in September 2003
Oryx at Kenya's Samburu Park, 27-second video clip


In this Q & A I will discuss some of the best reasons (A) for selecting a safari in Tanzania versus Kenya and (B) for selecting a safari in Botswana versus South Africa's Kruger Park.

In addition, I will touch on some of the advantages and disadvantages of traveling to East Africa versus southern Africa.  For our purposes here I will consider East Africa to be Kenya and Tanzania; and I will consider southern Africa to be South Africa, Botswana and Victoria Falls in western Zimbabwe.


WHAT SAFARI POSSIBILITIES DOES KENYA HAVE TO OFFER?

Masai Mara is considered Kenya's premier game park.  A rolling grassland beautiful to behold, the Mara plays host to the great migration every summer when millions of animals, chief among them wildebeeste, migrate north across Tanzania's Serengeti plain into Kenya's Masai Mara.  There is still game aplenty after the animals have returned to the Serengeti by early autumn.  A visit to Masai Mara is usually combined with a visit to either Samburu Park or Amboseli Park.

Samburu Park is somewhat more dry than Masai Mara Park although it too is rich in game.  In fact, Samburu boasts some species of animals seldom seen outside Kenya's North.  These include oryx, gerenuk (a long-necked gazelle which feeds while standing up on its hind legs), the reticulated giraffe and Grevy's zebra with its thin stripes.  The primary attraction of Samburu for many, however, is leopard.  In Samburu several of the lodges bait leopard in the evening so, with luck, you can watch the nighttime predator come to feast on scraps of meat under floodlights.

Amboseli is situated in what was a dry lake bed until very recently.  The wildlife inhabiting this reserve seeks sustenance near several small streams and swampy areas.  The primary attraction of Amboseli is its proximity to 19,340-foot (6,447-meter) Mt. Kilimanjaro which lies just across the border in Tanzania.  With luck, visitors are able to photograph game animals with the mountain as a backdrop.   


SOME OF MY FRIENDS RECENTLY TOOK A SAFARI IN TANZANIA.  WHY WOULD ANYONE SELECT TANZANIA VERSUS KENYA FOR A SAFARI?

Since northern Tanzania boasts the same species as are found in Kenya's southern parks, Masai Mara and Amboseli, a decision as to whether to visit Tanzania versus Kenya should be based at least in part on the time of year of travel.  The great migration across the Serengeti Plain is best viewed in Kenya's Masai Mara from July through September.  Much game can be found in Tanzania's share of the Serengeti during the remainder of the year. 

Another factor to consider is Tanzania's primary attraction, Ngorongoro Crater, which contains a captive wildlife population within its own ecosystem.  As these animals never leave the crater, the seasonality of a visit to Ngorongoro is not critical.  The typical safari circuit in northern Tanzania includes Lake Manyara and Serengeti Park in addition to Ngorongoro Crater.

A final factor is the significant trend toward mass safari tourism in Kenya.  This means that, in general, safari camps in Kenya are larger.  On the other hand, due to economies of scale, a safari in Kenya can also be less expensive than a similar safari in Tanzania.


TO WHERE SHOULD I FLY FOR A SAFARI IN EAST AFRICA? 

Nairobi is the international air gateway for those planning safaris in Kenya and in northern Tanzania.  Light aircraft connect Nairobi with Arusha in northern Tanzania.  However, an inexpensive daily shuttle bus ferries safari enthusiasts from Nairobi to Arusha in less than six hours.  The cheapest and most dependable means of transportation on this route, the shuttle bus eliminates the expense and uncertainty of international flights from Nairobi to Arusha and also of domestic flights in Tanzania between Dar Es Salaam and Arusha. 

I am considering an African safari but am unsure whether to visit East Africa or southern Africa.

Since 1986 I have arranged African safaris for many hundreds of expatriate and Egyptian clients.  In the past decade my clients have begun to wrestle with this question more and more.  Until long-haul airfares from Cairo began to be reduced sharply from the mid-1990's onward, East Africa was by far the most popular African safari destination for travelers from Egypt.  Today it is still cheaper to fly from Cairo to East Africa, of course; but airfares to southern Africa are also now quite affordable. 

One important difference exists between safari camps in Kenya versus most of those in southern Africa.  Above I made a similar comparison between safari camps in Kenya and Tanzania.  While exceptions do exist, there is a significant trend toward mass safari tourism in Kenya.  This means that, in general, safari camps in Kenya are larger than those in southern Africa.  On the other hand, due to economies of scale, camps in Kenya can also be less expensive than those in southern Africa.

Another obvious difference between a safari in East Africa and a safari in southern Africa is that game drives in East Africa are conducted in closed vehicles.  These are usually vans specially equipped with pop-up roofs.  Those taking a safari in southern Africa, on the other hand, normally ride in open vehicles on their game drives.  Most 4-wheel drive vehicles in southern Africa have been fitted with graduated seating holding up to 7 passengers.  While open vehicles allow for the easiest photography, they are also dustier.


I HAVE HEARD OF KRUGER PARK IN SOUTH AFRICA.  WHAT OTHER SAFARI POSSIBILITIES ARE AVAILABLE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA?

South Africa's Kruger Park, covering some 7,700 square miles (20,000 square km), is about the size of Wales.  Although hosting about 5,000 visitors daily, Kruger remains a haven for more varieties of wildlife than any other African game sanctuary.  These include 147 species of mammal, 510 bird species and 230 species of butterfly.

Camps in Botswana's Chobe Park and in Botswana's Okavango Delta region are smaller and less  frequented than those at Kruger, and the game in Botswana is as good as or better than that found at Kruger.  In addition, Africa's greatest waterfall, Victoria Falls, is situated in the far west of Zimbabwe, just across the border from Chobe Park.  Visitors can fly nonstop from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, enjoy the many tourist-oriented activities (such as white water rafting, Zambezi river cruises, bungee jumping, a short elephant safari, etc.) in the area of the Falls, and then take their safari in nearby Botswana, only a short drive away.  This option is best for those who prefer to bump into fewer tourists while on safari and who also want to include Victoria Falls on their itinerary. 

Those with a more substantial safari budget will want to consider including Botswana's incredible Okavango Delta region, which provides the opportunity to experience both dry and wet camps.  Game drives at dry camps are taken in open vehicles while game drives at wet camps are taken by canoe.  The Okavango is pricey because transportation to and between the camps is by light aircraft.


WHAT ELSE IS A "MUST SEE" IN SOUTHERN AFRICA?

VICTORIA FALLS: 

I have already made reference to Victoria Falls above.  Tourists should consider whether they are ever likely to return to southern Africa and, if not, whether they would like to include this "world class" waterfall in their itinerary.  If so, it makes economic sense to take a safari in Botswana.  But because nowadays a travel advisory is often in effect for nearby Zimbabwe, everyone must decide his/her own comfort level vis-a-vis the current political situation in that country.  I am not aware of any security-related incidents involving tourists at Victoria Falls and, personally, I would not hesitate to visit the far west of Zimbabwe in the course of a safari in southern Africa.

CAPE TOWN: 

In southern Africa tourists also have the opportunity to include unique urban and suburban experiences before or after their safari.  Cape Town and its beautiful surroundings offer three full days of interesting activities.  As airfare between Johannesburg and Cape Town is not significant, these sights should be included whether visitors take their safari at Kruger Park or in Botswana.

A half-day tour to Robben Island just off Cape Town is worthwhile.  On Robben Island is the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for many years.  Prison tours are conducted by former inmates.  The view from Robben Island looking back at Cape Town is one of the most picturesque views in the world, and the tiny fairy penguins which inhabit the island are also a highlight.  Another half day can be devoted to shopping in Cape Town's recently redeveloped waterfront area and/or riding the cable car up 3,563-foot (1,086 meter)-high Table Mountain, South Africa's most famous landmark.  From the top the views of city and harbor are breathtaking.   

Two day trips from Cape Town by coach or, better yet, by rental car are also highly recommended. 

The Cape of Good Hope near the southern tip of Africa is only about 50 miles south of Cape Town.  The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve supports unique marine food-eating baboons which most tourists find entertaining.  The lighthouse and sheer cliffs at Cape Point provide an unforgettable viewpoint at the tip of Africa.

A visit inland to Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl in the Western Cape winelands region makes for a second pleasant day trip.  In addition to wine tasting, tourists also obtain an introduction to Cape Dutch architecture.  This architectural style drew from medieval Holland and Huguenot France as well as from Indonesia.  The lovely Cape Dutch country houses which grace the region are accessible to tourists via the various wine routes.  Even teetotalers will appreciate the beauty of the countryside and a lovely venue for lunch.


YOU HAVE COVERED A LOT OF GROUND HERE.  PLEASE SUM IT ALL UP FOR ME.

In summary, airfare to East Africa is cheaper than airfare to southern Africa; but Kenya's major parks in East Africa and Kruger Park in South Africa all tend to be subject to mass safari tourism.  Mass tourism is terrific for those who are on a very limited budget.  After all, the animals are the same no matter where one sleeps.  But, for those who can afford it, options to avoid mass safari tourism exist in Tanzania in East Africa and in Botswana in southern Africa.  Victoria Falls in the far west of Zimbabwe can be included by those who elect to safari in Botswana.  Cape Town and its environs offer unique urban and suburban experiences which should not be missed by visitors who opt to take their safaris in southern Africa.
 

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com
 

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