The purpose of this page is to shed a light on what’s for sale on the safari-market, and what aspects are important. With this information, you’ll be able to compare apples to apples when looking at different safari itineraries, and you’ll be able to avoid the typical pitfalls.
We realise that it is quite a bit of reading. But if you take the time to read the below information then you will make better safari-choices, which in turn will ensure that you will buy safari products with a better price-quality ratio.
If you’ve never been on safari before, it certainly is difficult to choose the right type of accommodation. Tents seem very dangerous, even though they may be very spacious inside and very luxurious. Are these things safe? And what about the heat during the day, or the cold at night?
Let’s remove your greatest fear straight away; rooms with canvas walls (it’s a bit silly naming these things “tents”, considering their size and comfort level) are perfectly safe. There has never been, in any lodge throughout Africa, an incident with a predator entering such room to prey on a person. The reason is very simple; people are not on the prey-list of lions or leopards. On the contrary, for these animals people are perceived as a big risk. Predators keep their distance when it comes to people, and they will run away if you get too close (when you’re on foot). It is also not true that a predator can ”surprise" you with is presence. They smelled you long before you even saw them.
Canvas actually has a number of advantages compared to stone walls. First off; you can enjoy the night sounds better. And secondly; on hot days (and that is the majority of the days in Africa), such a tent is much more tolerable at night (in comparison with the hot and humid air which often lingers in a stone building).
Canvas has only two minor drawbacks. On the hottest days it is hotter in such a room, at noon. But then you can use the fan. And on the coldest winter nights it may be a tad chilly. But then you just use extra thick duvets, and the staff will provide hot water bottles for your feet (a fun touch of the adventurous old days).
Stone walls have somewhat bigger drawbacks. If you want to get rid of the damp and hot air that has built up in your room during the day, then you need to switch on the air conditioning. But an air conditioner is noisy, and therefore your windows need glass (instead of just mesh) to keep that noise out at night. The end result is that you’re now in a room that’s completely closed-off from the outside. All nocturnal sounds are kept out. That epic moment when you hear a lion roar at night …you will probably not experience it when in a room with stone walls.
Of course the choice is yours! And that choice can be based on the time of your trip (winter or summer). But if you end up with stone walls around you; try to keep the coolness inside your room during the day by keeping it closed. And at night open all your windows and don’t use the air conditioning.
A second question is; must a lodge be fenced or not?
The presence of such an electric fence gives guests a sense of security, there’s no denying this. Because you can safely walk around on the lawns, and lie by the pool without having to worry about an animal sneaking up on you. But the truth is; in an unfenced camp you are actually just as safe. That fence is just there to give guests a (false) sense of extra security. Any lion can crawl under. Any leopard can go over, using any tree nearby. But again; they won’t. They smell the presence of people and turn around. Life preservation is their strongest instinct, much stronger than their need to find food.
To be honest; if a lodge owner puts up a fence, it’s rather to just keep the largest animals out. Like elephants, who might go for the trees in his garden. Or like hippo, buffalo and rhino, who might go for the well-watered lawns around the pool. But keeping these animals out often doesn’t work; fences need electricity, but there are a lot of power outages.
A third question when choosing accommodation is seldom asked and yet it’s very important; how big is the area on which my chosen lodge can drive around?
In technical terms this is called "traverse". Lodge A has "traversing rights" on the properties of lodges B and C, and that gives lodge A a total of X hectares of "traverse". Some lodges are on very large private properties, and need no traverse agreements with their neighbours. Typically, such lodges are rather expensive. Other lodges are on a very small property and are pretty much obliged to get permission to drive on the territory of the neighbours. Otherwise their guests would see the same four bush roads over and over. If a lodge only has a small property and needs to pay for a lot of traverse, then that will have an effect on the price of your room as well.
So lodges on huge properties are typically expensive, and lodges on small properties as well? Where’s the cheaper lodges? Those are on average-sized properties that can share with lots of similar properties/lodges around them. We know where they are, obviously. But as a guest, the only way you can learn who has the best (and affordable) traverse is by visiting an area multiple times, choosing different lodges each time, and then compare. There are some maps out there that show you the traverse on some private reserves, but none of them is correct.
So if lodges start sharing their territories, can that not become a problem? Not really. There’s a common set of rules for lodges sharing traverse, and these rules were created to maximise the experience of every guest, while minimising negative effects on the wildlife. For example; only two or three vehicles are allowed per sighting. Or another example; you can only drive on cutlines of territories for which you have traversing rights.
Aside; where two territories join, you will notice very straight roads through the bush, called "cutlines”. These roads look very different compared to the windy bush roads within a certain “farm”. A straight road is where the fence used to be between two “farms”.
Note that there are also additional rules that have nothing to do with traverse. Lodges may only have a limited number of beds per 1000 hectares. This rule in itself already means that the safari experience in a private park is much more exclusive. But it’s also better for the animals; at any one time there’s only a limited amount of cars out in the bush.
So how much “traverse” is enough? That depends on your safari experience. Those who have already done several safaris may want to spend longer periods with a certain animal. Instead of just taking some pictures of that animal, they may want to follow it, and study it’s natural behaviour. But not all lodges can provide such experiences.
For example; lodges that share their traverse with a lot of other lodges nearby may have to stick to 15-minute time frames at every animal sighting. Fifteen minutes is plenty of time for first-timers. Lodges that provide game drives like this are actually perfect for them; it maximises their chances to see - and take pictures of - all the animals. But for the seasoned safari traveler fifteen minutes might not be enough. It is therefore advisable that they choose lodges that have large territories, without having to share too much with the neighbours. Yes, you guessed it; these are more expensive. But don’t worry! The Safari Bug has all the latest information regarding traversing rights in the private parks (in total hectares the lodge can drive on, as well as in number of vehicles that a lodge has to share that traverse with). We can help you to find the perfect lodge for your needs and budget.
The Safari Bug has all recent information with regards to traversing rights in the private reserves, and can help you to choose the right lodges.