Go wild: How to plan an African safari

Oct 28, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. ET

Whether you were inspired by the place on Earth that Ernest Hemingway wrote about so lovingly or just a nature lover, an African safari is the vacation of a lifetime. It has something magical to offer for every traveler of every age, and has become a go-to stop for those hunting for luxury. Add a trip deep into the Serengeti to your bucket list, and start planning — this one takes some time, love and excitement.

African safari

Give yourself time

Tip: This planning timeline doesn’t include booking flights, which should be done very early when traveling to Africa. Also make time for vaccines if you plan to go to any extremely rural regions.

Planning an African safari is something that takes research, patience, time and sometimes even paperwork. If you’re looking to go the simple resort-and-scheduled safari route, four to six months should be ample planning time. If you’re interested in visiting various regions and booking a well-known guide or safari, give yourself at least a year to make sure every detail is perfect.

Decide who is going

Do you want to go soul-searching Julia Roberts-style or do you dream of a romantic adventure for two? Maybe your family is overdue for a reunion or you want to renew your vows alongside elephants. Decide who is going and start factoring that immediately into your budgets and trip itinerary. You could book a private safari just for your family or plan an outdoor massage session at sunset for you and your hubby. Africa is diverse, and so are the options.

Decide on a region

Each region in Africa offers something unique an unforgettable, so this is one of the most difficult decisions. One of the most popular and explored regions for tourists are in East Africa, focusing on Kenya and Tanzania area. This is also the best option for those on a budget, as there is no shortage of safari packages and deals. If you’re looking for something more unusual, southern Africa offers the most diversity and works well with a medium to high budget. This is also home to one of the seven wonders of the world: Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The south is a great option for families who also want to combine helping people with sightseeing, as there are many organizations such as children's shelters where helping hands and smiles are always welcome.

Woman on African safari

Decide where to stay

Do you want to camp fireside under the desert sky? Or perhaps lounging sauna-side in a luxury retreat in the middle of nowhere is more your thing. After you research your region, it is time to research where you want to stay on your safari off-time. Africa has some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, but if there was ever a time to step out of your comfort zone, it would be in Africa. Explore the wide variety of bungalows and hideaways (most accessible only by plane). Don’t forget that Africa has some of the most spectacular beaches in the world, so look into beachside cottages for a more romantic adventure.

Choose your season

The time of year is one of the most important factors to take into account when planning an African safari. The most amazing wildlife spotting happens during Africa’s dry season, as the whole animal kingdom gathers around watering holes. Dry season varies by region, so be sure to do your research on the best times. In Kenya and much of Africa there are two dry seasons: January through March and July through October. In Tanzania (where the great migration of herds takes place) the dry season is roughly June to November. Don’t be tempted to settle for the wet season to avoid tourists, as animals may be few and far between. Rain also happens in a lovely downpour-like fashion, so the chances of being stranded or encountering floods increases.

Book your tickets and plan

Booking your tickets to Africa early is the best choice. The cost of getting to Africa varies by your starting point, and flight prices outside North America usually climb rather than fall. I would book nine months to one year in advance, depending on the amount of time you need to plan. If you want pressure to add to the adventure, six to nine months is the time to find the right price. Also keep in mind you need time to plan secondary transportation upon arrival. Africa isn’t as easy as hailing a cab in New York or London. Buses, jeeps and tiny planes are in your future.

Have fun planning the most beautiful traveling memories of your life.

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