This post contains affiliate links.
Preparing for a safari is unlike preparing for any other trip I’ve taken. There are things that you have to take into consideration that I never would have guessed, and had never thought about for other trips.
- Weight Restrictions (for yourself and your luggage)
- What medications might you need?
- Clothing (did you know you shouldn’t wear blue on safari?)
- Photography Equipment
- Foreign currency
- Bug Protection
Thankfully, the safari company we chose, Yellow Zebra, provided us with a great checklist to start with, but even that document seemed to assume some level of advance knowledge. Down the interweb rabbit hole I went.
Vaccinations: Start Here at the CDCs website on travel recommendations. Keep in mind that this is what the US recommends you get – not necessarily what your destination country recommends or requires so you need to check both. You also may need to check countries where you have a layover. Had our flight path included a stop in Nairobi, Kenya for more than five hours, we would have needed a Yellow Fever certificate to get through customs. I also highly recommend working with a doctor that specializes in travel before your trip. Some of the vaccine courses that were recommended (and in some countries are required) took months to complete, so we had our first appointment almost a year before our trip. We chose to travel in Tanzania where only the “basics” were required. We got Tetanus, diphtheria, and measles, Hep A & B, and typhoid.
Visas: Every country will have a government run website that tells you what the requirements are for Visas. We did need a Visa for Tanzania and one of the reasons we chose Zanzibar as our beach destination (as opposed to Seychelles or Mauritius) is because it’s part of the country of Tanzania, which meant that we didn’t need another Visa. Obtaining our Visa was technically a piece of cake. You do it when you land in Tanzania, but to me, this was a stressful because I wasn’t sure what to expect and was afraid one of us would somehow get denied a Visa and get shipped straight back to the United States. It ended up being a non-issue and we got right through when we landed at the Arusha, Tanzania Airport. Yellow Zebra had a representative meet us on the tarmac and walk us through the Visa office and customs.
Weight Restrictions: We had the option of driving between safari parks or flying. We chose to fly between most of our stops with the exception of the transit from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater because they are only a few hours apart. There were several airlines with small charter flights that basically hop from park to park, landing on dirt landing strips and taking off again. These smaller flights have weight restrictions on flights, in most cases 15 Kg. For my U.S. friends, that’s 33 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but you’ll hit it quickly. Between extra lenses, tripods, video camera, batteries, and chargers, we had over ten pounds of camera gear alone. We also had to bring our beach clothes for Zanzibar, toiletries, and I probably had three pounds of sunscreen. It’s not like we were traveling to places with gift shops, so if you wanted to have it on safari, you had to bring it.
Medications: You need an anti-malarial which in the U.S. requires a prescription from a physician. Take your anti-malarial with food, because they’re known for making people feel a little sick. They’re also known for giving people bad dreams, just an odd fact. Our physician also sent us each with an antibiotic in case we came down with something while there. We also brought Nuun tablets for hydration because we spent a lot of long hot days driving and we were worried about dehydration. We brought Imodium because stomach bugs are prevalent in the area since the water isn’t safe for drinking. We also brought allergy medicine and first aid supplies like hand aids and antibiotic ointment. Here’s a fun little nugget of information that I learned from my travel doctor for this trip. Pepto-Bismol is a mild antibiotic! He recommended that at the first feeling of stomach upset, start with Pepto, then move up the list to the prescription antibiotics he sent with us.
Clothing: It wasn’t nearly as hot in Africa as we expected, so if I were going to go back, I would bring warmer clothes. We brought mostly technical clothes like Columbia PFG, Ex-officio, REI, etc. Avoid the color blue (yes really) because it attracts Tse Tse Flies which can cause sleeping sickness. Avoid bright colors that wouldn’t normally be seen in nature because animals see it coming and hide from you. In the places we stayed, there was daily laundry service. You left your clothes out and they returned them the next day, with the exception of women’s undergarments. They left laundry soap in the room so I washed those items myself. We didn’t do any walking safari’s, so hiking boots weren’t necessary but we both wore hiking sneakers. Mine were Merrell brand. The added complexity for us was that we were staying at some nicer safari camps which meant it was normal to “dress for dinner”, so I mainly wore black maxi dresses in the evening that could double as daytime wear when we were in Zanzibar. We only stayed at one lodge that had a pool, otherwise swimwear was only needed at the end of our trip.
Photography Equipment: We took our Sony Alpha 6000 with the two lenses included in the kit, and I cannot recommend it enough. I have zero photography experience or training and that camera made me feel like a pro. All Africa photos on this post and Part 1 of the series (where you can see the pricetag for the trip!) were taken in the Superior Auto mode using just those lenses. We also took a lightweight tripod and we took bean bags because I read lots of posts about needing them. I didn’t need them. I wasn’t taking long range shots like that. I took three batteries and another AWESOME thing about the Sony Alpha series is that they also charge by Micro USB. So I could charge all three batteries using the battery adapter in a plug (usually in the main tent at camp which was shared with others so had to wait in line) but also could carry a little powerbank in my pocket and if a battery was getting low while we were out shooting, I could just put the power bank in my pocket and the cord reached to the camera which was around my neck. THIS FEATURE IS PRICELESS! Seriously. You need a Sony Alpha.
Foreign Currency: United States dollars were perfect. We didn’t even need to exchange any money. If you are going to a country where you would like to have their currency before you arrive, call your bank well in advance. They can easily swap you Euros or Pesos or Canadian dollars quickly – but an unusual currency like Tanzanian dollars was going to take my bank 3 weeks to get. There are also a lot of countries that have closed currency (like India) which means that you can’t get it before you get there. Never exchange for closed currency at the airport where you land because you will be charged an exorbitant fee. Most hotels can direct you to a place to exchange or in some instances, can have someone come to the hotel from a currency exchange or bank to work with you. Again, as an American, its so easy to take for granted how easily we access cash. There are no ATMs on safari. There are no banks. There are no credit card machines. Bring cash for everything. Safaris require a lot of tipping. Tipping to your drivers, to the camp, to the people carrying your luggage.
Bug Protection: The camps usually went in at night and sprayed for mosquitos and put our mosquito net out. Never ever sleep in Africa without a mosquito net. We used Permethrin spray on all of our clothes, which holds up for two weeks even through washing, and our travel physician recommended these wipes instead of bug spray because it was a more even coverage and lighter weight to carry. He also recommended putting sunscreen on first, letting it dry, then wiping on the bug spray.
Check out Part 1 (where I give price information) of this series here: Our Honeymoon in Tanzania – Part 1 – Planning