Unless you regularly book safaris for your clients or have been to the Serengeti, it’s difficult to see some of the nuances that make a huge difference in your client’s experience. After spending four days in the Serengeti (Central and North) on safari with Hills of Africa, we’ve collected a few tips that can help travel consultants plan their Serengeti safari.
1. A good guide trumps everything.
When it comes down to it, customers go on safari to see wildlife. While a beautiful lodge with modern amenities is great, if your client leaves without seeing many animals, they will feel let down. A great guide is the difference maker.
The best guides are excellent wildlife observers, knowledgeable about everything your clients will see, and are social and interactive. To ensure your customers have a good guide, here are a few things to know.
First you need to understand that there are two types of guides. Camp guides and private tour guides.
The first are staff at the lodge or tented camp where your clients are staying. They drive open sided jeeps and your clients can ride with different guides throughout their stay. Camp leaders who have been at camp for at least a few years should know the Serengeti area where their camp is located like the back of their hand, including some of the more remote spots that others don’t know about. do not go.
For example, although we had a private guide, he had previously worked as a camp guide in the Central Serengeti. He knew that the eastern Serengeti, which costs an extra $10 per person to visit, is the best place to spot big cats, and he knew which part of that area certain cats liked to hang out in. We saw six cheetahs that day (not to mention seven servals, the elusive African wildcat and several lions) and were one of maybe six jeeps the whole time, a rarity on safari!
Private guides like we have had are employed by a safari company or agency and stay with your clients throughout the safari regardless of how many lodges and camps they stay in. In many cases, the best guides started their careers as camp guides, sometimes in multiple national parks, and then moved on to private tours.
When researching which safari companies to work with or which lodges and camps to send clients to, ask questions about their guides. And if you know a company has a specific guide with great reviews from previous customers, see if you can reserve it in advance.
Do you offer internal training? Only a handful of companies (all high-end) including Asilia Camps & Lodges, &Beyond and Nomad Tanzania offer in-house training.
What education or schooling do your guides have? All guides must be licensed, which means they should all have completed at least one guide training program. But there are also further training workshops.
Have your guides won awards? Not a crucial question as most of the guides have not won any awards, but it’s worth asking. Our guide at Hills of Africa was the fourth place finalist in the annual Tanzania Best Guide competition in 2020. The competition takes place there every year are other finalists out there.
What is the average tenure of your guides? Ideally, you want guides that have been around for eight years or more. But generally no more than 25 as spotting wildlife is highly dependent on a guide’s eyesight.
As an example, our guide saw a black rhino from a vantage point on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. The rhino was more than 2,000 feet away on the crater floor, and he did it without binoculars! And on our one day in the eastern Serengeti he sighted seven serval cats – a record even for him.
When arranging a private tour for your clients, make sure the guide you choose has several years in the job. Not only are they better at spotting wildlife and having the answers to their customers’ questions, they also know the roads better, including how to drive over them when there’s an intersection several miles away.
Are your guides permanent or are they not hired as needed?
Camps and tour operators who hire when demand increases are reluctant to have the best guides available. The best guides are always employed, and many On-Demand employees are fresh out of college with little to no guiding experience.
2. The distance to the river is crucial.
When sending clients into the Serengeti during the Great Migration, a river crossing is an essential part of the experience. And that means getting to the river early and staying late. The closer your client’s lodge or camp is to the river, the easier this will be. Of course, the closer to the river, the more expensive the lodge or camp will be
When we were in the northern Serengeti, our camp was about an hour away. We never got to the river before 9am and even missed a morning crossing as a result.
Remember, the closer a lodge or tented campground is to the river, the sooner they book up… and cost more too. We booked our safari about a year in advance. We don’t know what other options were available to us, but we do know that the sister camp, a permanent camp as opposed to our ‘mobile’ camp which was a little closer to the river, was fully booked about three to four years earlier.
3. Permanent vs Mobile Camps?
Speaking of permanent camps versus mobile camps. A mobile camp moves to track the migration throughout the year. That means when the wildebeest are in the north, the camp is in the north. If they’re in the south, they’re in the south. Only a few migration camps move within a region. As a result, there is no distinct benefit of being in a mobile camp over a permanent camp at any given time of the year.
Keep in mind that there is a higher concentration of mobile camps in different parts of the Serengeti at different times of the year. Mobile camps are plentiful in the northern Serengeti from July to October, when the wildebeest are crossing the Mara River. Later, between November and early January, the southern Serengeti will have the bulk of the mobile camps, as that is where calving season is.
4. Large groups are not always fair.
Large group safaris are one of the cheapest ways to send clients on a Serengeti safari. With large groups, however, the chances of wildlife sightings may be reduced. For one thing, the group has to stay together, which prevents a guide from venturing off the beaten track – that’s how some of the special sightings often take place.
Second, in a caravan of three to five jeeps, only one jeep may catch a sighting. For example, if the guide in a jeep spots a lion walking in the distance by the time the message is relayed to the other jeeps, the lion may be out of sight. Even if a lion is sunning itself on the rocks, the jeeps have to contend for position (along with any other jeeps already on the site), making it harder for everyone to get a clear view.
That’s not to say large groups can’t have an amazing experience. Not all customers feel the need for long days in a jeep exploring the deep Serengeti. For these clients, a group safari could be just the ticket. They are also good for the more sociable client for whom making new friends is as important to their holiday enjoyment as sightseeing.