3 TIPS: How To Escape the Safari Crowds
Sometimes we want to travel and absorb as much as we can, without the bustle of having many people around in the same place.
Thankfully there are ways around this, so we thought we’d share some our of expert thoughts and insider tips, to help you uncover safari at its very best.
TIP 1: Travel Outside of High Season
Even though seasons vary and many people may call it this, there’s no such thing as a “low season” in Africa, as there’s so many things to do and see. Seasonal changes bring all the weather imaginable, change Africa’s landscape and can also affect how you view animals in their natural habitat – for example, a dryer landscape can allow you to see a leopard up a tree more clearly, or a rejuvenated long grass landscape can allow a lion to seamlessly blend out of sight amongst the thick vegetation.
High Season exist for a reason, as it generally carries the warmest weather and coincides with holiday seasons around the world. This brings with it tourist’s in numbers and usually higher prices. Yet planning to travel outside of these dates can be as good, if not better for your experience.
Generally, most of Eastern and Southern Africa is in high season from July – September, which is a typical holiday season for most countries. The exception is South Africa, whose seasons run opposite and sees their high season from November – February; South Africa is a popular destination due to the country’s rich history and nature, with a wide breadth of activities and sights available, therefore pricing in safari areas doesn’t often change season to season, as in other countries. South Africans themselves also take their holidays during December, meaning availability can be lower in many areas and cities such as Cape Town (we always advise to book early to avoid disappointment).
Green Season (as it’s often referred to, or mid-season) is the bridge between the high and low seasons. Named because of the incoming rains, cooler temperatures and resulting lush greenery. For example the green season in Kenya’s Maasai Mara is considered to be April-May, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta the rains come from around November until March. These types of seasonal changes bring those regenerated green pastures and leaves on trees, cleaner air from the rains whisking through the atmosphere (which is excellent for photography) and bring out animals in their numbers, bird species return and animals such as predators give new life to young ones.
Green/Mid Season does have its drawbacks, namely the chances of getting wet and the viewing ability with some animals. More (and longer) grass, more leaves on trees and so on, means that some animals can be difficult to view – a leopard in a tree camouflaged by leaves, or smaller animals hidden by the grasses are two prime examples. Yet our team find these minor issues and often does not ruin any safari experience overall – at most you may have a leaf or blade of grass protruding in your photographs. What helps these situations are your guide’s ability and experience to responsibly position game drive vehicles for the best viewing and best photos.
Green Season is for many, the perfect season for a safari. Not only do you get pleasant weather, landscape and animals aplenty, but fantastic lower rates for accommodation compared to high season.
Green Season can be full of surprises, including those cute new born babies.
Low Season is typically the wettest or colder months (this can vary depending on area, such as Botswana which can be cooler are night during high season and warm during the day). South Africa, with it’s opposite seasonal changes compared to most countries, sees winter arrive from July-August, with temperatures during the day cool to warm and cold overnight. When travelling during low or mid season, you will usually require layers to keep warm on morning game drives, and again, it’s advisable to bring layers with you on afternoon game drives, as afternoon temperatures lower as you approach the evening – before heading back to your camp or lodge for a hearty meal and drink in front of a roaring campfire.
Low Season often offers the lowest prices for safari and if you are happy to start & end your days in cooler climate and you are flexible with travel dates, then the low season could be for you – you’ll also see great wildlife during this time.
TIP 2: (Kind of) Avoid the Most Common National Parks
Our team find that there are only 4 major National Parks in Africa, where we proceed with caution when arranging safaris for customers – Kruger National Park (South Africa), Maasai Mara (Kenya), Serengeti (Tanzania) and Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania). We say with caution, as these National Parks are fantastic for safari goers and offer everything you could wish for when seeking out your favourite animal or experience in nature. Our caution in these areas are very minor and relate to the amount of tourists heading to these parks – hence why they are the most common. This sadly means more vehicles can be seen during high season – travelling in green or low season means you can avoid these crowds.
One of the best safaris you could take, is to actually visit private reserves and conservancies. Across Africa, in some of the very best safari destinations, areas of natural habitat have been established involving both private entities (such as safari camp operators) and local communities. These private reserves and conservancies, allow for a number of positives, which you as a tourist can actively contribute and give back to, simply by travelling to them;
- Local communities are also stakeholders in the reserve or conservancy, meaning they benefit financially from your visit
- Safari camps in these private areas are limited to how many camps there can be, and how many guests can be accommodated – thus regulating tourism responsibly to avoid over-tourism
- Wildlife is conserved responsibly, local people see the benefits that tourism brings and importantly see the benefit of a living animal rather than a dead one (dead animals can result from conflict with cattle farmers). No animals, no tourism, no revenue – so everyone benefits.
- Wildlife researchers, projects, scientists, environmental initiatives all then subsequently have a stable area from which they can carry out important work.
- Private reserves are not governed by National Park rules, two important aspects to this means that private reserves and conservancies allow game drives to drive off-road. This results in wonderful (but responsible) close interactions with animals – guides understand the animals behaviour and limits, therefore animals are never under pressure and are used to the vehicles being around. Private reserves also limit the amount of vehicles are an animal sighting, often no more than 3-4 vehicles can be present – this again helps ensure the animals are not pressurised.
Guests can visit local communities, as seen here in the Bisate community of Rwanda, where recently opened Bisate Lodge actively contributes revenue to local people from tourism.
By visiting a private reserve or conservancy, not only are you escaping the potential crowds and gaining exclusive access to better viewing of animals, you’re doing it responsibly and giving back to those animals and local communities.
TIP 3: Book a Private Vehicle & Guide
Safaris aren’t cheap. They are often people’s “once in a lifetime” trip, that they have saved for many years for. So this final option won’t be for everyone, yet is a fantastic opportunity for individuals, private groups or families.
Booking a private vehicle is done a first come basis and subject to availability of vehicles at the time of your stay. The cost for arranging a private vehicle can range from $200-$800 per day, depending on the price scale of your chosen safari camp – but what do you get?
- 6-8 seater vehicle complete with your own private guide
- Vehicle is yours all day, you can chose your own game drive times
- Opt for a bush breakfast or lunch, without the need to drive back to camp
- Ensure your group stays together for your safari
Keeping friends and family together can be important and where booking a private vehicle can be beneficial.
Private vehicle are perfect for families, groups and photographers – if you’re wishing to photograph particular species of wildlife, or you’re seeking that perfect sunset over the African savannah, then a private vehicle can help significantly.
Cover Image © Paul Joynson Hicks/Asilia Camps