African safari for iNatters

I was just thinking this weekend about what I would like to do for a vacation. Like a lot of inatters, I have traveled extensively in my region of the US, usually by myself, and am looking for new places to explore.
If I take vacations to exotic places, I am not satisfied with guided tours with other touristy people. I like to stop and photograph in detail interesting critters, especially smaller ones, not just large mammals.
I wasted one of my “bucket list” trips to Alaska by going with family who didn’t enjoy the same things I do. It was very disappointing, and cost a lot of extra money on staying in nicer locations than I needed, and wasting days at “shopping locations” and such things. They even complained during whaling because it was too cold to come outside and photograph them. That’s been many years ago, my kids are much older, and I want a nice solo trip.
Has anyone here tried a solo Africa trip, self-guided safaris, or similar and have advice to offer?

Um, I’m sure there are really great African safaris. But, hard to say what is a tour that will suit you. My friends went on an African nature trip and, truly, they saw a lot. None the less, they remarked about so much time on bus (it’s a big continent).

Since your prior Alaska trip was a disappointment, why not do it again? Less expensive, likely, than a trip to Africa.

I loved our UnCruise small ship itineraries, especially Alaska Glaciers. They provided kayak hikes most days and land hikes on several days (all inclusive, no additional fees). On my May ‘19 trip, the ship was not full, leaving a very favorable ratio of naturalists to passengers. Well, just a thought…

I am pretty sure others will have other ideas for you.

Some Namibian wildlife parks (not as famous as Etosha) allow independent camping.

Regarding African safaris, it really depends a lot on where you want to go. Some places allow independent/solo trips with no guides, many places require guides, and other places are not at all safe to do independently unless you’re very familiar with the area and people.

My (limited) experience with safaris is that they are often overly focused on the “big” things and that if you’re to sort of person who wants to take time, look at the small things, etc, like many of us on iNat, you’ll often have frustrating experiences on safaris. You’ll see something that’s really interesting but the guides will be rushing you about because there is a rumor of a leopard somewhere (which the high likelihood is that you won’t see it even if it is in the area).

That said, even with that it’s a lot of fun and interesting. Obviously, the other people you’re with has a lot to do with the overall experience.

Prices are all over the place for safaris. I found one with Intrepid that included Serengeti and Ngorongoro, the Serengeti Trail option for a reasonable price. It was a camping style, not lodge based, so that drops the price a lot. They provide the tents, you set them up and take them down and you help with the cooking/cleaning to a greater or lesser degree (depending on the specific guides and cooks). You spend a lot of time in the travel portion though.

The main thing is to do your research before selecting an organization to go with. Do a lot of it.

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I think that a Southern Africa self drive is definitely feasible if you do your research well and feel up to driving on the left. In South Africa, you generally have to stay in your vehicle in the places where the big five occur. If you are interested in insects, it might be better to book a place just outside a national park where you would be allowed to walk freely amongst less dangerous animals. You could then take daytrips into the reserve if you wanted to see the large mammals. I wouldn’t recommend you go to really remote places completely on your own as help could be quite slow to arrive. Prices seem to follow the perception of luxury rather than the wildlife experience - this can be great or really frustrating!

If you do plan to come to or through South Africa and are interested in the kind of things I generally observe, feel free to message me.

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Namibia is the place for self-drive, though some places can be done from vehicle only, for example Etosha. I would be careful to join even low-cost safaris because they will be still orientated towards general interest and there would be not enough time for inatting and lots of time spent in a vehicle and (fast) hiking. So it needs good research how much time and what distances are covered by hiking. I usually travel with regular groups but still manage to get very satisfactory time for nature observation (stops for scenery photos, short hikes, “free time”). People in the group, seeing my interest even start looking around themselves and pointing at the things I might have missed.

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I’d suggest hiring local guides and/or setting up a private tour with a company that knows the area. When you’re on a private tour, you determine the itinerary and the pacing of your trip and you are the only tourist that they’re looking after. I’d look for tour companies or tour guides that specialize in nature/birding/herps or whatever your specific interests might be.

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