African safaris are famous for their stunning natural beauty — from the stunning landscapes of the Maasai Mara in Kenya to the fascinating wildlife in the Serengeti in Tanzania, it is definitely an adventure of a lifetime. However, to really see the best of African safaris, you need an operator or guide, and picking the right one can make all the difference to the quality of your trip. That’s why it is critical to know what to look for when choosing your safari operator from among the thousands available today. Refer to this checklist to help you thin out the herd and make an informed choice:
What are previous visitors saying about their services?
Third-party review sites like TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, Trust Pilot, Safari Booking, and similar Travel Forums can help you get a good feel of the service quality offered by an operator. These are supposed-to-be reviews from actual customers as opposed to reviews from their own website that they can manipulate.
Have they been in business for at least three years?
A safari operator with at least three years of experience offer the benefit of accumulated lessons and insights, which they will bring to bear during your trip. Of course this is not to say the newer operators are to be avoided completely, as they could offer an innovative and enthusiastic edge.
How knowledgeable are the guides? (accreditation, tour experience, proper licenses, etc)
If you are going for a specific event, for instance the great migration, then you’ll need an operator who knows their way around the area. Check on the guide’s qualifications as you want your trip to be an educational one as well.
Who runs the operation?
A company that runs its own operations can customize your itinerary for a more personalized and intimate experience from start to finish. You also enjoy the benefit of direct bookings which eliminate the miscommunication and delays that may arise when dealing with middlemen. Direct bookings are often cheaper also because you can avoid the commissions paid to agents.
How responsive are they?
Do you get timely response with your inquiries or do you need to almost beg before getting the information you need? This will already give you an impression of their standards when it comes to customer service.
What activities do they offer?
Are you looking for a rugged, intimate bonding experience with Mother Nature or do you fancy a more luxurious adventure, taking in the sights and sounds from the comfort of your lodge or airplane? See what activities they offer and ask for a breakdown of your quotation so you know the price components of your safari package
Do they have their own vehicles?
Be sure to confirm what kinds of vehicles they use for all their activities — transfers, long distance travel and game viewing drives. You want to ensure that they own they vehicles so they are more in control of the maintenance. Ask for their insurance coverage too.
What are the accommodation options that they offer?
You want a comfortable place to relax after a long day, so be sure that you are satisfied with the options that are offered. What about the toilets and bathrooms? Make sure those are up to par as well. Safari companies work with accommodation property owners so they often have top recommendations but this doesn’t mean you can’t choose your own.
Do they have a clear payment cancellation and refund policy?
Make sure to check the payment terms and conditions as well as the cancellation policy before making any payments. Most direct bookings require up to 50% downpayment and the rest is paid upon arrival. Use your best judgment when booking. For example, if the company name doesn’t match the bank account name, that should be enough to raise some suspicions.
Other Tips and Common Scams to look out for:
- Don’t transfer money if the account name does not reflect their company name even if it’s the name of the owner or the person you’re talking to
- Don’t transfer money via Western Union either
- Often, you only need to pay 30-50% deposit, and the full payment is paid 30 days before arrival. Don’t pay if they are demanding outright full payment
- Be wary of emails using gmail or yahoo
- Do not go with freelance tour guides. It can be luring with their very cheap prices but safaris in Africa cannot be too cheap. Park fees, gas, vehicle costs, etc… all simply cost money and anything below average means you might be handing your money as a donation to your scammer. Even if the freelancer was actually legit, by not being registered means they don’t pay taxes and by supporting them, you are not only harming the local community but you’re putting your life at risk as there’s no telling if the driver/ guide is professionally trained or if the vehicles (if they even own it) are well-maintained
- Your tour operator will handle your booking with all the accommodation during your trip. When in doubt, you can go as far as double checking with each of the accommodation listed in your itinerary, if there was indeed bookings for you made under your tour provider
- I’ve heard cases of scammers going all the way as buying a domain similar to a company with a good online reputation and even using their Trip Advisor account claiming it as theirs (Example: Legit company: erikasafaritours.com | Fake company: erikasafariandtours.com). This is the most elaborate scam I’ve heard so far and can be very tricky to spot. How to avoid: Ensure they use proper email signature. Double check that all their accounts match (Email address, Social media, Website, Google reviews, Trip Advisor)
A good safari operator will take you to the best places, including those less traveled so you can have a more unique experience. Finding one that meets all the criteria listed above will help ensure that you have the best time on your trip, while also feeling good about the impact they are making. In truth, it does take a significant amount of time and effort to fully vet your options and make a choice, but rest assured it will all pay off in the end when you are finally ticking African safari adventure off your bucket list.