Preparing for Your Safari
Yes, we always overpack, too.
Everyday must haves:
Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat
Packing can be a tricky issue – you want to bring enough clothing to avoid wearing the same shirt every day, but not so much that you don’t have room in your luggage for souvenirs. The best advice we can give is to pack with layering in mind: slacks and shorts or skirts with a shirt, sweater or other layers to shed as the day heats up.
Tsetse flies like certain colors! Who knew?
Earth tones (tan, olive, brown, gray, etc.) or pale colors are best for viewing wildlife and birds. Military camouflage clothes are illegal in many African countries and white is not allowed on a walking safari. You may choose to wear white at other times, but you’ll find that it will come to look dusty and dirty quite quickly. Tsetse Flies are attracted to black and blue so although it is fine to pack those colors, you will be more comfortable wearing other clothes when you are in tsetse areas.
Comfortable rubber-soled walking shoes, such as topsiders or running/tennis shoes, are recommended (worn with socks if you are going out for a walk in the bush). Sandals are fine to wear for game drives or around the lodge, but not for walks where there may be thorns. In the early morning and evening, socks with your shoes deter mosquitoes. (More on mosquito deterrence later.)
Jackets & flip flops
Plus we totally recommend an Isadora Duncan scarf pre-soaked in permethrin*
Include a fleece jacket, a lightweight raincoat, a scarf or wrap, and even a light pair of gloves as early mornings and late evenings can be quite cold. As the day heats up, you’ll want a swimsuit, cover-up, and flip flops to take advantage of the swimming pool (most camps have them).
Whatever you bring, just make sure it is comfortable. Safaris are pretty casual and while you certainly don’t need to dress up for dinner, you may appreciate slipping into something clean and fresh after a hot shower when you return to camp at night. If you’re spending any time in a major city, dress as you would on a weekend back home. City restaurants will have dress codes that vary on a case-by-case basis.
Laundry service is available back at camp and is either included in the cost or can be done for a small additional fee (depending on the camp or lodge).
The lodge and camp staff may not wash underwear, due to local traditions, but most will provide detergent for you to wash them yourselves. Depending on the weather (most camps use the sun rather than a dryer), your clothes may not be dry the same day you give them to be laundered so be sure to have some clean clothes to put on. Lightweight fabrics will dry fastest and will save space in your bag – leave your jeans at home. There is no dry cleaning.
*Permethrin for mosquito deterrence. See guide at right.
Thanks to Trish and Marleen, our Botswana partners for this useful guide.
Malaria and other scary diseases
Take all recommended precautions.
(Just don't stress too much.)
If you're traveling to Africa for the first time, you will want to get all of the recommended vaccinations. There are some differences depending on which country you're visiting; for example, some countries require a yellow fever vaccine and others don't. You can also look them up on the internet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (CDC.gov) is a good source. Visit your local health department or a travel doctor. They will have up to date information and should be able to give you the vaccines.
In addition to vaccines, your doctor will recommend an anti-malarial to take while you're in Africa. The most common anti-malarials are Malarone, Lariam, and Doxycycline, but there are others. Consult with your doctor on effectiveness, side effects, dosages, and cost.
Old Africa hands stress the importance of physical barriers to mosquitos. We always choose our clothes before the trip, buy a bottle of permethrin (a relatively non-toxic and odorless insecticide) from Amazon, and soak the clothes, following the directions. The permethrin does not affect the clothes.
It's great to bring a long scarf that can cover exposed body parts as the sun goes down, in case you can't rush back to your tent to get a coverup. I always bring a light-colored long-sleeved shirt, also permethrin-soaked, and wrap it around my waist or put it in my daypack. This is also good for sun protection.
The Anopheles mosquito, which is the one that carries malaria, comes out at dusk and dawn, so at these times it's especially important to cover up.
If taken properly, anti-malarials are very effective. To keep in mind: although there is no vaccine for malaria in general use yet, it is easily cured. The trick is to identify it quickly and receive medication.
In general, avoid swimming in standing water, close the shutters of your room at dusk, and use your bed net!
For the Woody Allens Among Us
The worst that will happen, probably, is your basic turista. Or the flu. Just be sure to tell your tour guide if you get sick. No toughing it out!
Tipping is (and should be) a personal decision based on the level of service you receive. It is acceptable to tip in either USD and/or local currency. Based on that principle, we have compiled some guidelines on tipping appropriately in a variety of scenarios:
Your driver/guide will remain with you for the duration of your stay at each camp (or continue on with you if your itinerary involves driving between camps rather than flying) so you will tip them at the conclusion of your stay all at once rather than day-to-day.
In Botswana, it is common to have both a guide and a separate tracker. Both of these people will expect a tip, but the guide should be given approximately twice as much as the tracker.** For excellent knowledge and service we recommend tipping $15 per person per day.
We recommend bringing envelopes to discreetly divide your tips.
Safari Camp Staff
There is often a tip box in the main tent area to leave your gratuity at the end of your stay for the camp staff. While on safari, you will not need to tip every person who handles your bags or brings you a drink, simply reward great service at the end of your stay for all to share. We also suggest that you tip camp staff in a similar manner to that of your guide, depending on the level of camp. We recommend tipping $10 per person per day.
There is certainly some leeway when tipping as a family; a $20 tip for a quick transfer for a family of 4 seems high, so use your best judgment and decide on a case-by-case basis.
** Africa is very hierarchical compared to the U.S. Of course, we just pretend not to be.
Prescriptions & CPAPs
For prescription drugs, it's recommended that you carry a copy of the prescription from your physician, although this is rarely needed. Original bottles are good, but if there are space considerations, this isn't crucial. If the medications are essential to you on a daily basis, keep at least 4 days' worth in your carry on, on the off chance that, like Barack Obama on his first trip to Kenya, your luggage arrives later than you do. It doesn't happen often. Really.
Virtually every safari company makes accommodations for CPAP machines.
If you're staying at an upscale lodge or safari camp, they will have first aid supplies. These may be different from the ones you're used to. You may want to pack a small tube of antibiotic gel for cuts, some Band-Aids, an anti-diarrheal medication, and hand sanitizer. Some doctors recommend either Pepto Bismol tablets or acidophilus capsules (both taken daily) to guard against aforementioned turista.
If you need antibiotics, they are readily available in Africa, as are steroids if you find yourself having serious allergies.