Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Safari experts share their tips

By Stephanie Steinberg, Special to CNN
  • Experts on African safaris share what every traveler should know before they go
  • July through September is the best time to see the Great Migration, they say
  • Don't delete photos until you view them on a large screen, expert says

Editor's note: CNN's Destination Adventure series looks at travel locations for the explorer at heart. This week, we're going to Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. We'll feature favorite regional foods, local secrets and your best photos and stories. Have you been to Masai Mara? Share your story with CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- Observing lions and elephants at the zoo is fun, but watching them roam their natural habitat in Africa will shoot tingles up your spine.

"The wildlife, the culture, the scenery, it's out of this world," said Linda Friedman, owner of travel company Custom Safaris in Bethesda, Maryland.

CNN talked with two East and Southern Africa safari experts about what travelers need to know before embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. Friedman has been leading customized safari trips for more than 20 years, and Dan Saperstein, co-owner of Hippo Creek Safaris in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, has coordinated safaris for three decades. Read on to hear their safari secrets:

Spotting wildlife

On East or Southern Africa safaris, people generally see the "big five" -- lions, leopards, cape buffalo, rhinoceroses and elephants.

"Ninety-nine percent of people on safaris see all those," Friedman said. "The only one that's a little hard is the leopard."

Share your stories and photos from Kenya's Masai Mara reserve

The animals you observe depend on the country you're in. In Kenya and Tanzania, safari-goers can witness the Great Migration, Saperstein says. The spectacle involves nearly 2 million zebras and wildebeest trekking from Tanzania's Serengeti Plains to Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve.

A large price tag

Warning: Safaris aren't cheap.

Large lodges with 50 to 100 rooms run $400 to $500 per person per night. Park fees and transportation are not included in the lodging price, so a two-week trip can cost about $10,000 per person, according to Saperstein.

Small all-inclusive lodges with six to 10 rooms are pricier and can cost close to $2,000 per person each night.

8 trips for animal lovers

Lodges on national park reserves will have electricity, hot and cold water, cellphone service and sometimes Internet access. "But there's never a guarantee the Internet will work," Saperstein said.

The cost also depends on the country. For example, Botswana is on the pricier side since charter planes are required to reach different excursion sites.

Tanzania: Make the most of your photo safari

The best time to go

"You can go on a safari 12 months a year," Friedman said.

But keep in mind many popular safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere. Friedman recommends going July through September -- when it's winter in Southern Africa, and the weather isn't too hot. It's also the best time to see the Great Migration in Kenya, Saperstein said.

Travelers who don't like heat should avoid safaris in October and November when temperatures reach close to 100 degrees, Saperstein advised.

When to book

Most safari-goers book their trips at least a year in advance.

Friedman and Saperstein said that many people use their frequent flier miles for airline tickets so they don't have to spend $1,500 to $2,500 on a flight.

If you're looking for a more upscale trip, Saperstein suggested booking as early as possible because the smaller lodges fill up fast.

Don't leave home without ...

Your camera! Bring a camera with a long lens and several memory cards.

"Always take as many pictures as you can," Saperstein said. "Never delete them when you're there. You may shoot things that don't look great on the back of the camera screen there, then plug them into your computer screen, and they look fantastic."

Bring clothes to layer. Pants with zip-off legs are convenient because riders don't have to stop to change. Hats and sunscreen are also a must for skin protection.

While it's required to take antimalarial medication in every country, Saperstein suggested packing bug spray with at least 30% DEET to fend off malaria-carrying mosquitoes that emerge at night. Long sleeves and pants can provide an additional layer of protection, too.

The one thing you can't forget? A sense of adventure, Friedman said.

"Africa is not like traveling to Europe. Things don't go quite as smoothly just as we're used to," she said. "You just have to have some patience, but it's the absolute trip of a lifetime."

What every safari rider should know

People often don't realize that they need several blank pages in their passports for visas, Saperstein said. Some countries require two consecutive blank pages to obtain a visa, which can be ordered in advance or upon arrival.

Passports also need to be valid for at least six months after your return date.

As for vaccines, some countries require yellow fever vaccinations before entry. Travelers need to carry a card that confirms they received the vaccination at least two weeks before arrival and within the last nine years, Saperstein said.

Just don't get more shots than necessary, he warned.

"A lot of the travel clinics are happy to sell a person $2,000 in shots," Saperstein said. "It's important to make sure the ones you are getting are appropriate to the type of trip you're going on."

It's not all about the animals

Though people traverse Africa to spot lions and elephants, the safari experts advise talking to the locals and inquiring about their lives. Friedman also recommends volunteering with a school or relief project.

"You think you're going to see the wildlife, but it's really the people and their culture that tugs at everybody's heartstrings."