How to Plan a Safari in the Time of COVID-19, According to an Expert

Here are five ways to ensure that you’re planning the safest of safaris. 

High angle view of zebras walking on field in Ikoma,Tanzania
Photo: Nick Dale/Getty Images

Safaris are socially distant by design. You're outside with the wildlife, exploring in open vehicles, sleeping in secluded tents, enjoying al fresco meals, and stargazing around a campfire. At Mango Safaris, we've been hearing comments like this one, from our client M. Zhou, who traveled in October: "We still can't believe we were able to safely experience the beauty and wildlife of Rwanda and Kenya in the time of COVID-19. Cheers to Mango Safaris and their partners in Africa for planning our incredible trip, dealing with all sorts of changes, and ensuring our safety and compliance with local COVID-19 guidelines."

Here are five ways to ensure that you're planning the safest of safaris.

1. Use a travel designer.

Now more than ever, you'll benefit from having an expert to help you smartly plan and watch over your trip. Destination specialists offer critical insight during itinerary planning and in pre-departure preparations, such as knowing current country entrance requirements, COVID-19 testing protocols, and required supportive documentation. Travel designers are adapting their knowledge to the times, such as using private villas or family tents with dining rooms so you can opt to dine in your room away from other travelers.

Once traveling, you can enjoy peace of mind and immerse yourself in a destination without distractions, knowing that you have an advisor watching over you at every step should rules or schedules change.

2. Consider destination.

Dinokeng Game Reserve outside Pretoria
Visitors have flocked from the capital Pretoria and financial hub Johannesburg since the government allowed South Africans to travel for leisure within their provinces last week, bringing a small sliver of relief to the country's tourist industry, which has missed out on more than $3.9 billion in revenue since South Africa went into lockdown on March 27. MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images

Safari destinations are open and waiting to welcome you. They are using sensible protocols to keep both travelers and citizens safe. Most of the wildlife safari-focused countries require a negative COVID-19 test within 48 to 120 hours of arrival.

East Africa has largely been open and operational since July and August. Today, U.S. citizens can travel to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. By implementing quick border closures last March and April, African countries have achieved success in controlling the pandemic better than many other destinations. Rwanda has a population of over 12 million people and has had just shy of 6,800 cases since March. They are reporting under 100 cases per day.

In Southern Africa, Botswana and South Africa have just announced reopening. U.S. travelers are welcome in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and Mozambique. Countries in Southern Africa have watched East Africa's early example. They are catching up quickly — some properties will offer tests when guests arrive, limiting the time travelers need to spend in cities when their itineraries require additional testing.

3. Consider timing.

If you are comfortable traveling now, go before the end of May 2021. You can expect to have the fresh air and wildlife of the African wilderness practically to yourself. It is important to make sure you have a sense of relaxed adventure to roll with the changes that could happen with flight schedules or test requirements. Reopening specials are incredible and capacity is currently wide-open.

Look at the Southern Serengeti in February for the birthing season of the wildebeest migration. The inside word is that only a handful of mobile camps will be set up in the area, so this season is going to be unique and special.

If you are not yet comfortable traveling internationally, now is an attractive time to curb your pandemic blues by planning your trip for later in 2021 and into 2022. Give yourself something to look forward to: game drives with leopards, sundowners with elephants, and brunch with giraffes!

4. Keep it simple.

Tourists wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus get off from an open vehicle during a guided safari tour at the Dinokeng Game Reserve outside Pretoria, on August 7, 2020.
Tourists wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus get off from an open vehicle during a guided safari tour at the Dinokeng Game Reserve outside Pretoria, on August 7, 2020. MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images

One-country itineraries and longer stays at each location mean fewer interactions with other travelers and less opportunity for schedule changes to mess up your plans. In Tanzania, you can marvel at the Great Migration in the Serengeti and snorkel on the lively reefs of Zanzibar. Pair a gorilla trek in the misty hills of Rwanda with a classic big safari in the emerald foothills. Track leopards in Botswana's coveted Okavango Delta, then meet wild meerkats in the Kalahari.

5. Travel safe.

Research has shown that flying is fairly safe, thanks to airlines' mask requirements and HEPA air filtration systems. Beyond this, look at direct flights to countries that require a negative test for entry. Great direct flight options include Kenya Airways' route from JFK in New York to Nairobi; Delta's route from Atlanta to Johannesburg, resuming on March 28; and United's route from Newark to Cape Town, launching in fall 2021.

T+L A-List advisor Teresa Sullivan is the co-founder of Mango Safaris and can plan a safe, fully customized safari trip to Africa.

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