1. After experiencing a 24-day safari, I would highly recommend not going on a safari longer than 14 days.
2. Having a 4WD vehicle to yourself makes a world of difference on safari. Next best is a shared 4WD. This is followed by a private minivan. The least desirable but most affordable is a shared minivan. The reputation of very bad roads is true but very, very tolerable in a 4WD.
3. If traveling between Maasai mara and Serengeti and it has not rained, and you are traveling in a 4WD, consider doing it over land and ignoring your tour operator’s advice to do it by air (see my journal entry to understand why).
4. Between July 1 and around October, you pay 2-3 times the normal lodge rates simply because it is high season. It is high season because of the migration on the Serengeti plains. However, it is hit-or-miss whether you will actually see the migration. Consider lowering your costs by traveling in June. Chances are, it will not be raining in June, and you can enjoy lower rates.
5. Most lodges have telephones. Your driver will most likely have both a CB radio and cell phone. Your North American cell phone (except for certain models) is useless here. Most lodges have Internet-ready computers (for a small fee). Consider setting up a temporary Hotmail address and communicating with friends. Also, consider sending a e-mail to the Hotmail address (before leaving home) with a list of important phone numbers and other information. In an emergency, you might be able to download this information.
6. Dress is always casual, as if you were camping. I wore a hat, thin hiking pants that zip off at the knees, a T-shirt, and a hiking shirt (ex-Officio with roll-up sleeves and vents) and hiking boots. I also brought a sweater and nylon windbreaker, which I needed in the evenings and especially at Ngorongoro and Mt. Kenya. A bathing suit is desirable, as most of the lodges have pools. Do not even think about swimming in local creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. Not only is there a real risk of parasites; you also have to contend with some large and angry animals that may not be visible when you step in.
7. The big game, especially the cats, are a treat to see, but do not forget to look for and photograph the other interesting animals and especially the colorful birds that are found in plenty.
8. Don’t believe what you read about tipping not being expected. It is highly expected! Interestingly, they actually prefer their local currency to dollars, pounds, or euros. Bring plenty of small bills for tipping. Sometimes the tipping get outlandish. For example, if you have six small pieces of luggage, you might well end up with six porters, all expecting a tip.
9. “Luxury” tented camping (i.e., permanent camps) is often better than lodges and is a real treat. They have all the comforts of a lodge and the feel of old safari. Be sure to secure your tent and belongings, as monkeys have apparently learned how to untie the tent flaps and enter. We are told their favorites are snack foods and medications.
10. Bring old clothing that you can throw away and lighten your load and laundry. The locals will gladly take your old clothing. Lodge laundry is fairly inexpensive and has overnight service.
11. Bring books, journal, short-wave radio, cards, or other distractions as there is very little entertainment at most lodges at night.
12. Leave the purifier at home. The bottled water provided by your reputable safari operator and/or reputable lodge will be plenty, and it is safe.
13. Have a packing system that allows breaking down the luggage into the allowable limits from U.S. outbound flights (70 lbs), international flights (50 lbs), and intra-east African flights (30 lbs). Consider using Hefty 2.5-gallon zip-lock bags to store, protect, and “desiccate” the clothes to reasonable size.
14. Most hotels allow you to store luggage for a few weeks with them for free. Might keep this in mind if you are departing and arriving in the same European city before heading to Africa.
15. Keep in mind you are in the tropics and often at higher altitude so wear a broad rim hat and lots of sunscreen. Don’t forget to drink continuously throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
16. The safari operators often bring binoculars but you should bring your own just in case.
17. Bring lots of pens to give away to the children you will see in the small villages.
18. Bring any needed medications with you. You will not find quality medications and healthcare in this part of Africa. Take out insurance that allows you to be evacuated to Europe in a medical emergency. Do pay the small, up-front fee for Flying Doctors. Even if you do not use it, it is going for a good cause.
19. Avoiding disease may be as simple washing hands before eating, using hands wipes, and noting that your shoes have been in some bad areas so wash your hands after handling them.
20. Here is how to keep the insects from biting: a. Soak all safari clothing in permethrin before use. b. Bring Ex-Officio Buzz-Off shirts and pants for the tse-tse flies of Serengeti. c. In most areas, you can probably get away with short-sleeve shirts and shorts during the day, but reconsider if the area is buggy. Wear hiking boots and never sandals. d. Use sustained-release DEET products (I recommend 3M Ultrathon). Don’t even think about entrusting your health to herbal products; DEET is very safe. e. Bring a can of permethrin to spray mosquito netting in the rooms (no need to bring netting, as it is supplied by lodges but bring safety pins to close any rips in the net) f. Bring a can of indoor insect spray to coat rooms (although most lodges actually provide this).
21. Some of the best buys in African crafts are actually in the lodge stores. The locals sell the same things at very inflated prices. In the Maasai villages, the best buys are the beaded jewelry and bows/arrows.