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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.

1. What type of accommodation?

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.

The Africa Bug
never cuts corners

No safari lodges outside park boundaries
The appropriate vehicles, adapted for driving in the bush
Knowledgeable guides and trackers

That does not make us the cheapest
nor does it make us the most expensive

It makes us the best 
in terms of price / quality


2. Which vehicle?

Here we can be brief; our preference is a fully open vehicle. No roof or windows. Some lodges even take off the front doors (where the guide is sitting). The aim is obviously to get as close to nature as possible. A roof can also be annoying when observing and photographing birds. The sun is less of a problem than you might think; game drives are done early in the morning or in the late afternoon. At that time a a hat or cap is sufficient.

Of course it must also be a vehicle with high clearance and which has a 4x4 drive with differential lock (so you can go over obstacles as you go off-road). Our hair stand on end when we see people driving in the bush with a mini-van (how does that feel? Must you take turns peering through the little window?s), or with a lorry that has wooden benches mounted on the back (how do remain seated when such a thing is moving? And how can you avoid your photo equipment from falling?)

3. Private parks or public parks?

A public (or national) park is owned and operated by the government. A private park is a place where a number of land owners got together, dropped their fences, and agreed on a common set of rules. If you have not yet experienced safaris in both types of parks then you probably do not know how big the difference can be. You may even think that there is no difference at all. But it’s quite the contrary. 

So what are the main differences? 

a. who can enter. The
gates of a public park are open to everyone, even those who have not booked accommodation within the reserve. There is no limit to the number of vehicles allowed (except perhaps for the east-gate to Chobe National Park, near Kasane in Botswana). The gates of a private reserve only open for people who can prove they booked accommodation in one of the lodges on the reserve.

b. in what type of vehicle you can drive. In public parks you have a lot of people driving around, in various types of vehicles. However, these
vehicles are subjected to a large number of rules; all private vehicles must have a roof, and if your vehicle has a sunroof then you must keep it closed. They might even ask you to keep your windows closed. Safari operators that drive in a National park have different rules; they may drive open vehicles (iow without windows), but they still need a roof and must also have panels on all sides. These panels must come to shoulder height, and are there to “protect” their customers. Compared to the vehicles used in private reserves; these have no glass windows, no panels, and often even no roof. All to minimise the “distance” between customers and the animals, or otherwise put; to maximise the customers’ safari experience.

c. where you can drive. Because of the large amount of visitors the
rules of a public park are very strict. Those rules are there to protect the visitors themselves (because they have no experience in dealing with wild animals), but they are also in place to protect the animals. For example, you cannot go off road at any time. Nature would take quite a beating if so many vehicles would go off-road. On a private reserve, guides will take you off road for big 5 sightings.

d. when you can drive. Public parks also have rules that say you
have to be out the gate before sunset (or inside your rest camp, if you stay in the park itself). So you can’t do a "night drive" on your own (however; there’s a very limited number of rest camps within the park boundaries that offer this). In a private reserve, your guide will stop the car when the sun is setting. Everyone can get off the car and have a drink while enjoying the sunset. But the afternoon safari isn't over. After sunset, you will get a night drive. Your guide will continue to drive for about an hour or so, and the tracker will look for nocturnal animals using a spotlight.

e. the quality of the game drives provided. If you are in a public park but you do not want to drive yourself, then you can book game drives organised by the rest camp. It may be interesting to do this because they are allowed to drive on more roads than self-drivers. Plus the guides also share sightings with each other by radio, which means that you’ll see more than you would do by yourself when on a self drive. However,
these game drives are not up to par with game drives in a private reserve. First of all; your guide still has to stay on the road at all times, just like all the self drivers. And secondly; private reserves have the best guides and trackers (higher wages and better working conditions attract the best of the best).

f. the quality of the accommodation. All of the above means there’s a difference in wildlife-experience between the two types of reserves. You’ll surely walk away with more (and more amazing) pictures after a stay in a private reserve. But not only that. There are huge quality differences between accommodation in public rest camps and lodges in private parks.  In a rest camp, you'll be in a fenced area where all wildlife is kept out.
Your camp will look like a small village, with shops, restaurants, gas station, car wash, and seven types of accommodation. A "rest camp" is what they call it, but “rest” is sometimes hard to find. With so many people together in one spot, it also means that you will have a much less personal experience compared to a lodge on a private reserve (where everyone will address you by your name). There’s also a difference in comfort level; even if you choose the top-level accommodation in a rest camp, your room will not nearly be as comfortable (or luxurious) as the room you’d have in a private lodge. And there’s a difference in service level; in a rest camp you have to provide your own food (cook yourself or go to a restaurant), and make up your own bed, etc. In a private lodge everything is done for you.

Does all this mean that we advise you to completely ignore public parks? Of course not! A visit to a public park can be
a good addition to your safari, and being behind the wheel yourself, in a big five area, can be quite adventurous. Adding a couple of nights in a national park can ensure that the total cost of your safari stays more bearable. But you should not dismiss private reserves altogether. If you only opt for public parks, you risk missing some of the key species. And the experience will be much less intense. A "bush jam" to gaze at the tail of a leopard hanging down from a tree 100m from the road …that is not the type of wildlife encounters that will make your safari memorable). From a photographer's viewpoint; you'll walk away from a private reserve with a lot more "keepers".

Bottom line; a safari in a private reserve is unsurpassed in terms of quality. But it is more expensive than a safari in a National Park. R
unning a safari-lodge runnen is a cost-intensive affair. The cars require a lot of maintenance because of all that off-roading. Yhey use a lot of gas as they are operated eight hours a day. It's also costly to get everything (appliances, food, drinks,...) in the midden of the African bush. On top of that a lodge is only allowed to have a limited amount of beds. This depends on the size of their "farm" on the private reserve. Typically the rule is; 10 beds per 1000Ha. This is done to avoid mass tourism, and to limit the impact on nature. Works great, but it does come with a price!

Does this mean all lodges on private reserves are expensive? Not at all! There are enormous price differences between these lodges. Sometimes that price difference has to do with the comfort level (but even the most basic lodge will still have a higher level than any restcamp in the National Park). Or it has to do with the size of the area they can drive on ("traverse"). But most of the time it has to do with the popularity of the lodge. More recently built lodges often have the most affordable prices. The Africa Bug knows southern Africa like the back of it's hand, and knows what lodges offer the best deals.


Proposals of The Africa Bug are tailor made
and compiled according to your preferences,
your budget and your desired length of stay

They are completely free
There’s no obligation to buy
They can be adapted as many times as you want

Once an itinerary is perfected
you can decide unhurriedly
We block the rooms for you for a few weeks


4. Big five or no big five?

"Big five” is a hunting term, used for the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot; elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and black rhino.

For some reason, people started using it for eco-tourism as well (although the black rhino was exchanged for the much tamer white rhino). It became an industry standard, and a way to grade your safari’s succes rate. Your lodge must be located in a “big 5 area”. And if you must have seen the big five to be able to label safari as a succes. If not, it was a bad safari. 

Seriously; if you choose only “big 5 reserves”, you will miss some fantastic parks and reserves that are well worth a visit. Our advice; do not make the mistake of using the term big 5 as an lodge-prerequisite or as a success-meter!

That you want to see the big 5 on your safari, that’s obvious. But that every chosen location, every lodge you stay at, must be able to provide sightings of all of the big five; that is absolutely unnecessary. It’s best to illustrate this with an example. Imagine the following safari itineraries;

Person A first goes to Mashatu, which is a fantastic reserve for leopards, elephants and lions. They do not have a buffalo because their property is not fenced (buffalo could infect the cows from the surrounding tribes with foot-and-mouth disease). And they have no rhinos; they’ve all been poaching out by people from neighbouring Zimbabwe. Even though Mashatu is only "big three”, it is still a top-safari destination. Because of the amazing landscapes but also because of the presence of many cheetahs and a number of antelope species that you rarely see elsewhere (like eland) . Moreover; while he’s in the area, he can add a few other fantastic places to his safari itinerary. Like the amazing Mapungubwe National Park, with its beautiful rock formations, and the Limpopo riverfront. Plenty of water-based mammals such as hippos and crocodiles there. Another place to be is on the farm that holds the old Venetia mine. He can visit a wild dog rehabilitation project there.

Second stop for person A; Blouberg Provincial Park. Again not that far away from Mashatu. Totally unknown to most foreigners (this park caters mostly to South-African tourists), and personally we don’t understand why. This place is a true gem. Blouberg holds a mountain ridge, and you’ll find a lot of species here that you rarely find anywhere else; klipspringers, sable antelope, grey rhebok, and the largest colony of Cape vultures in the world (more than a thousand breeding pairs). Not to mention the huge variety of birds that live on the mountain slopes. To top it all off, you can go on horseback riding there. Very few reserves offer this, but Blouberg can because there are no lions or elephants (although it does have a large buffalo herd). In turn, the absence of elephants means you can find a lot of beautiful trees here, including huge baobabs.

The third stop on person A’s journey; the private reserves near Kruger. Here he is in “big five” territory and game drives focus on finding these species. But after a short week in these private reserves; why not add the famous Panorama Route, with its attractions such as Pilgrim's Rest, Blyde River canyon with the Three Rondavels viewpoint, Bourke's Potholes, God's window, etc?

Person B looked at places like Mashatu, Mapungubwe, Blouberg and the Panorama Route, but opted for a pure ”big five" safari, with only lodges in the private reserves near Kruger. 

Now compare both itineraries. Person B will probably have seen the big five multiple times over, but unbeknownst to him, his chosen lodges are not near a river, so he will not have seen any hippos or crocs. There’s no mountain in those private reserves; bird life will have been less impressive than what person A saw. And he will only have seen one type of biome (bushveld); so unless he was very lucky he will not have seen cheetah. And he will have missed out on a dozen of grazer species.

Now who had the better safari? The person who focused only on the big five? Or the other guy?