FAQs and Recommendations

FAQs on a African SafariWith such a bewildering array of information about safaris on websites, brochures and in the media, it can be quite daunting to decide on what is best for your own safari.

We have some General Travel Information on this website which we hope may be helpful: click here but we are also listing below some of the Frequently Asked Questions that we receive and our answers and Recommendations:

  • When you go on safari, do make sure that you allow enough time to stay at each of the lodges or camps so that you can go on several game drives to see the area and its wildlife. Avoid the temptation to try to cram in many different parks staying just one night in each place as this will mean you spend too much time travelling between the parks and do not have the chance to fully enjoy anywhere.
  • We always recommend flying in to the camps rather than travelling across country. The long road journeys between the parks can be exhausting and some of the routes have very bad stretches of road especially Nairobi to Mara. Spending half a day travelling on the pot-holed Kenyan roads, with all the overloaded lorries and buses, is more stressful than a short flight straight to the camp.
  • Make sure you each have your own pair of binoculars so that you can enjoy the best viewing of the wildlife and birds. If necessary you can buy a new pair at the Duty Free at your departure airport.
  • Do some reading to get a better appreciation of what is in store before you fly out to start your safari: see our Reading List.
  • If you arrive in Nairobi in the morning after an overnight flight, instead of travelling straight on safari consider having a night at Nairobi Tented Camp in Nairobi National Park, so that you can rest and take things easy after the flight but still do some game viewing on a safari in the park.
  • Book a safari which has game drives in a proper 4x4 safari vehicle in preference to a minibus (van). The vans are not ideal for driving on the rough tracks in the parks and reserves and can get stuck when roads are muddy. In the rainy season we often have to rescue other safari companies’ minibuses using our 4x4s and pull them out of the mud!

Q: When is the best time to go to Kenya?

A: Kenya is on the equator and is known as a "year round destination" which can be visited anytime. The hottest months are late January to March while the coolest are July and August. It is probably best to try to avoid the two rainy seasons, known as "the long rains", a 10 week period between late March and early June and the "short rains" a six week period during November and December. Global weather patterns are changing and sometimes the rains fail completely in some parts of Kenya and there is a period of drought or there may be heavy rains outside the normal rainy season. However when it rains it tends to be mainly at night or in the early morning which means there can still be sunny days in between. Many safari camps close during May when the long rains are at their height, as the tracks and roads get muddy and it may not be possible for the camp vehicles to take visitors on game drives. During the hot months of January to March conditions can often be dry and dusty and the animals may congregate near water-holes so that there is excellent wildlife viewing. Just after the rainy seasons, in June or again in December, many of the animals have their young to co-incide with the better grazing from new grass following the rains. The wildebeest migration moves into the Mara between July and September and this is when many visitors come to Kenya and the parks can get more crowded with tourist vehicles. To sum up - January to March: usually hot and dry and great for wildlife viewing, April-May: can be wet and muddy, June: green and lush after the rains, Jul-August: cooler but good for the migration in the Mara, September-October: good weather and good wildlife viewing, November-December: the short rains. For climate temperature charts click here.

Q: What is the accommodation like on safari?

A: Safari lodges have guest rooms similar to a hotel with en suite bathrooms. They are comfortably furnished with all the facilities normally associated with a 3 star hotel. Tented lodges have rooms which are tents on a platform and with a roof and also have en suite facilities with showers, flush toilets and hot and cold running water, like a hotel bathroom.

The safari lodges and bigger tented lodges can be more "touristy" and being larger establishments they can be a bit impersonal if you are travelling alone or as a couple. They suit those who prefer to have the infrastructure and facilities of a hotel and most have swimming pools and extensive grounds and gardens.

The boutique lodges and camps can be very stylish and smart in terms of design and decor, often with very spacious rooms and even going so far in some cases as having plunge pools for each room.

Eco-camps and smaller tented camps have insect-proof tents with en suite facilities including safari shower and flush toilets. They give a more authentic safari experience but the tents are comfortably furnished with proper beds and you don't need to bring your own sleeping bag! The emphasis is usually on having excellent guides and great wildlife viewing away from the crowds. Guests often eat together and people travelling alone usually say that they found the atmosphere friendly and enjoyed meeting other like-minded travellers round the camp fire in the evening or at dinner.

The Adventure Camps are a budget option with guests bringing their own sleeping bags and towels and accommodation is in small dome tents with a mattress on the floor. Each tent has its own nearby cubicle with a flush toilet, safari shower and wash basin. The Adventure Camps are suitable only for those who don't mind "real camping" and can put up with some degree of "roughing it". Apart from the accommodation in simple dome tents, the meals and the guiding are at the same standard as the higher quality camps and game drives are in 4x4 safari vehicles. For those on a limited budget the Adventure Camps are a good alternative to the big tourist lodges and minibus tours for those for whom the safari experience is more important than hotel accommodation.

Q: What is a safari shower / "bucket" shower?

A: Safari / bucket showers are common in mobile or tented camps where there is no permanent plumbing. They are an effective yet environmentally friendly way to shower where water is at a premium and provide plenty of hot water to wash comfortably.

Generally there is an en suite private shower stall within your tent with a "rainfall" style shower head at which you can control the water flow. Outside the tent there is a large waterproof bag or bucket which is filled with about 10 to 15 litres (5 US gallons) of hot water before being raised with a pully / rope system to either connect to the shower pipe or fill a cistern. The water is delivered at the ideal temperature so it is best to use it as soon as it arrives. Staff typically fill the showers at a pre-arranged time of day, or you simply need to give them a few minutes' notice so they can get it ready.

Q: Which are the best parks and reserves to visit?

A: There are many varied parks and reserves from which to choose – each has its own unique reasons for visiting, be it a special topography or rare wildlife species. Where possible we recommend combining two, three or more parks in order to see a broad range of landscapes and animals. Some private reserves / conservancies are able to offer night game drives and walking safaris plus they offer the advantage of having few – if any - other tourist vehicles sharing the land. See more details on Kenya's Parks & Reserves.

Q: Are we better off staying inside the Mara Reserve and will we see animals if our camp is outside the Reserve?

A: The Mara eco-system and its wildlife extend far beyond the boundaries of the official Masai Mara National Reserve. Other game-filled wildlife reserves (conservancies) have been established in the Mara and most guests prefer the conservancy game drives as animal sightings and photo opportunities can be better than within the Reserve. The conservancies also have the advantage of offering a more private, exclusive wilderness (away from crowds of tourists) and they allow night game drives and walking safaris. Some camps (such as Porini Mara Camp and Porini Lion Camp) offer game drives in conservancies as well as in the main Reserve. See more details on Mara conservancies.

Q: In what type of vehicle will I have game drives?

A: If you are booking a fly-in (air) safari your safari game drives will be operated by your chosen camp / lodge. Various types of vehicles are used for game drives, so do check with your sales consultant which type your chosen accommodation uses. These drives may be shared with other guests – typically maximum 6 per vehicle – and there may be the option to upgrade to a private vehicle.

If you are booking a road safari in Kenya you can choose between a 6 seater safari minivan or a closed-sided 4x4 vehicle – both have pop-up roofs giving passengers great photo opportunities.

At Porini Camps shared game drives are taken in specially-adapted 4x4 safari vehicles with open sides, perfect for viewing wildlife and taking photos. These have 3 rows of seats behind the driver / tracker and take a maximum of 6 guests, so everyone is guaranteed a "window" seat.

Q: How safe are we from wild animals if we sleep in a tent or go out in open-sided vehicles?

A: Attacks on humans are rare. Most animals are wary of the sight and smell of humans and will flee rather than attack. While on game drives you will be escorted by expert guides who are highly trained in assessing situations and avoiding danger. In addition guides in some countries carry firearms. Wildlife can wander close to camps and lodges since they are typically unfenced, but every measure is in place to ensure guest safety. For example, guests are escorted around camp after dark in many cases.

Q: Will there be lots of bugs and creepy-crawlies? Do we need to bring mosquito nets? And what about snakes?

A: Many visitors are surprised to find that on safari there are often not as many bugs as there are in their home countries in summer and frequently they tell us that they did not even see a mosquito on safari! However this is Africa and there are certainly many tropical insects in the country but most are quite harmless to humans and some of them are actually very interesting! During the rainy season there are often more insects in evidence especially after a shower of rain. The lodges normally provide mosquito nets in the guest rooms but in the tented camps these are not needed if the tent is insect-proof with zipping doors and sewn in groundsheets. The important thing is to leave the lights switched off when you are out of the tent and always keep the doors zipped shut. Most people on safari do not even see an insect in their lodge room or in their tent. If you notice a gecko (small lizard) in your lodge room, these are common and absolutely harmless so they can just be ignored, especially as they eat mosquitoes and bugs. As for snakes, there are many species of snakes in East Africa, most of which are harmless to humans. Snakes are not often seen as they avoid being in the open where people are walking about and will almost always try to get away and to hide if they sense human footsteps approaching. Your guide may spot a snake and point it out from the safety of your vehicle when on a game drive but they are rarely seen in the grounds of the lodges or camps. If you do see a snake, do not approach it - simply give it a wide berth and tell your guide or a member of staff at the camp. If left alone at a safe distance, snakes do not pose a danger.

Q: What is a typical day on safari?

A: Each camp and lodge varies with its exact schedule, but generally safaris follow a typical pattern with two main activities each day. Activities are mainly game drives and guided walks, but in some locations can include game viewing from a river.

The morning may begin with a hot drink and light snack before the first drive / activity which starts at or just after sunrise. There are great opportunities to see wildlife at this time since it is still fairly cool and animals are most active. The morning activity usually ends by late morning with guests returning to the camp / lodge for breakfast / brunch.

Guests generally relax at the camp / lodge for the middle of the day. This is because the animals are quite inactive during the heat of the day – seeking shelter in the shade. Guests have lunch and enjoy the camp or lodge facilities (lounge / hammocks / swimming pool etc) or some properties offer short walks or visits to a hide.

The second main activity will follow afternoon tea (drink / snacks, etc) in the late afternoon and perhaps end at a scenic point to view the sunset. Some camps offer night drives after this. Guests later return to the camp / lodge for drinks and dinner.

Q: Can we drink the water?

A: The water in many cities and small towns is purified and safe to drink, but we recommend drinking bottled water / drinks which are readily available at hotels, camps and lodges.

Q: What type of food will we have on safari?

A: The food available at most camps and lodges is of great quality and with an international style. Breakfasts include cereals, fruit, cold meats, eggs, bacon, sausages etc and fresh bread. Lunches and dinners may include soups, salads, cold meats, pasta, meat & fish dishes and fresh fruits and vegetables. Larger lodges tend to offer a buffet selection. Smaller camps have a more personal service with guests dining together communally. Some properties can offer bush breakfasts, lunches and dinners for an experience of dining in the wild.

Q: Do mobile / cell phones work on safari?

A: Mobile / cell phone coverage across Africa is generally quite good and even some of the main safari areas have a service. Your phone company will be able to tell you what service is provided in the countries you are visiting. If you use your phone during your safari please respect other guests and do not use the phone during game drives or speak loudly on your phone while in camp.

Q: Do the camps and lodges have Wi-Fi or internet access?

A: Very few safari camps have Wi-Fi / internet available for guests. Some may have a mobile / cell phone signal through which you could access the internet (depending on your phone plan / provider) though this may be expensive. Most major hotels in Nairobi and on the coast have internet (fees may apply).

Q: Is there power to charge a camera / video camera / laptop / iPad / phone?

A: Yes, the camps and lodges have power – perhaps as solar lighting and / or a generator. The power may be switched off for part of the day. At small camps and lodges you may not be able to use a hairdryer or electric shaver but batteries can be charged either in your tent / room or in a communal area. Your charger must be 220v or you will need to bring a transformer – though most electronic equipment now automatically converts from 110v to 220v. The required adaptor plugs are included in most international travel adaptor kits. For Kenya it is plug type G (the British-style 3 rectangular pin plug).

Q: What happens if there is a medical emergency on safari?

A: In the unlikely event of illness or injury our driver-guides and most camp / lodge staff are trained in first aid procedures. Medical travel insurance is a necessity and we recommend that you purchase a policy with a supplemental benefit for emergency medical evacuation. In the event of a medical emergency an aircraft can be dispatched to lodges or camps. There are good quality medical facilities in the larger towns and cities should you require medical attention while on your trip.

Q: How can my family contact me if there is an emergency at home?

A: Most of the properties we offer have telephones and email so can be easily reached. Smaller (mobile) camps may use radio. We recommend that you leave the contact details of your accommodation as well as our office with your friends and family so that we can assist should they need to contact you.

Q: What about security and the threat from Somali pirates?

A: While there are certain inherent risks involved in any travel the chances of being involved in an incident are very small. Your safety is our foremost concern and we are constantly updated by the official government security departments and agencies and monitor any situations that may arise. It is extremely rare for tourists to be involved in pirate attacks. Piracy is mainly off the coast of Somalia targeting international shipping, with pirates aiming to take control of large vessels and holding the ship owners to ransom.

Q: How do we book?

A: First contact our team of travel experts who will help you plan your trip and will provide a quotation. You can use our simple online Booking Enquiry form or email us on info@gamewatchers.co.ke. If you are in the U.K. you can call our UK office on 0870 471 7122 (8.30am to 5.30pm Mon-Fri or 9am to 1pm Sat). In North America you can call toll free 1-877-710-3014. If you choose to proceed with a booking we will check availability at the hotels, camps and lodges and hold provisional bookings where possible. Reservations are confirmed on receipt of a 20% deposit, and final payment is due 60 days prior to the start of your arrangements. Payments can be made by debit / credit card (MasterCard, Visa) via our secure online payment system. Alternatively payments may be made by bank transfer.

Q: How secure is our payment to Gamewatchers Safaris?

A: Your arrangements are financially protected as we are a member of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) bonding scheme. This is backed by a leading insurance company and ensures that payments are fully protected if a bonded KATO member ceases trading. Most credit cards also offer a certain amount of consumer protection and we can accept these via our secure online payment system.

Q: I am travelling alone .. can you advise?

A: We welcome single travellers on safari but there are some points to consider:

  • Many safaris only operate with a minimum of 2 persons so you may need to be flexible with your choice of dates.
  • Internal flights also have a minimum passenger rule which is between 2 and 4 people, depending on the time of year. Gamewatchers will always endeavour to book you on flights where others are already confirmed but the airline reserve the right to cancel the service, or ask you to buy an extra seat, should others cancel. 
  • We do not offer to 'pair' people up at camp so you would need to pay a single supplement.

A safari holiday is a great chance to meet like minded people with shared game drives. At many camps (including Porini Camps) you can also enjoy the company of other guests at meal times.

Q: Which airlines fly to Kenya?

A: Many of the major world airlines including Kenya Airways, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Swissair fly several times a week from Europe into Jomo Kenyatta International airport, Nairobi. From North America, airlines including American Airlines and Delta offer services that connect via Europe. Other airlines include Emirates, Qatar, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines and Air India. Use our simple Online Flight Search facility to quickly find the latest availability and prices.

Q: Are we expected to give tips to lodge staff and the driver-guides and is there any advice on the normal amounts?

A: Tipping is customary in Africa and it rewards and encourages good service. Tipping is at your discretion but as a guideline we suggest a tip (given on your last day in each camp) equating to US$5 to $6 (or Kshs 500) per guest per day to the Guide (who will distribute part of this to the spotter) plus US$5 to $6 (or Kshs 500) per guest per day into the staff tip box. It is usually difficult to obtain change or exchange currency when at a lodge / camp so it may be useful to plan ahead for tips before starting a safari.

Q: Should we bring sweets, pens or gifts for local children in the villages?

A: Please do not offer sweets / candy to children as with little or no dental care available it is best that they don't develop a sweet tooth. The village chiefs and elders request that you do not give gifts directly to children, however, supplies and monetary donations to our projects are most appreciated. In Kenya we support the St. Lazarus School in the Kibera slum of Nairobi and our Commercial Director, Dr. Mohanjeet Brar, is on the board of directors. School supplies can be donated via your driver in Nairobi (ask them to be delivered to Dr. Brar), or please contact Dr. Brar (mohanjeet@gamewatchers.co.ke) regarding monetary donations.

Q: What type of baggage / luggage should we take?

A: Luggage should be kept to a minimum, especially if you will be travelling via light aircraft. In East Africa the limit is typically 15 kg per person, and in southern Africa it is 20kg per person. This should be in soft bags as opposed to hard suit cases in order to fit in the baggage compartment on small aircraft. On road safaris the weight and size allowance is not as important but you should still try to bring as little as possible. A complimentary laundry service is offered at many camps and lodges. For game viewing it is best to wear grey, brown, khaki or green coloured clothing so the wildlife is not alerted to your presence. Camouflage clothing is not permitted in some countries. See more details on our recommended Packing List.

Q: Do I need to bring a sleeping bag / pillows for Adventure Camping?

A: Our popular Adventure Camping trips (using the smaller dome tents) are designed to bring fantastic value by doing away with some luxuries but without compromising on the game-viewing experience. Thick ground mattresses and pillows are supplied and sleeping bags can be hired (ask your sales consultant at the time of booking). Some clients like to bring their own sleeping bag – we recommend one that is suitable for mild temperatures – "10 degrees C" (where categorised by temperature) or "Summer" (where categorised by season). e.g. in Kenya the average minimum overnight temperature is 11 to 13 degrees Celsius. Also bear in mind the weight and packed dimensions for your convenience in carrying it with your luggage.

Concerned about the security of your booking and your own safety while on safari?
We fully appreciate your concerns when it comes to booking a safari in Africa and you can rest assured that your financial security when booking and your own personal safety when on safari is our highest priority. Gamewatchers Safaris is a member of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators bonding scheme, backed by a leading insurance company, to ensure your payments are fully protected if a bonded KATO member ceases trading.
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