Contrary to popular belief, an African safari is not synonymous with luxury or non-budget traveling. In fact, there are a lot of ways to explore Africa on a budget. In East Africa, especially in Kenya, there are group-joining safaris that travelers can opt with. Whether you are traveling solo or as a couple, a group-joining safari could be an ideal way to cut down your travel costs and at the same time meet people with similar interests as yours. But, what is a group-joining safari and how is it like?
Group-Joining Safari in a nutshell
As its name suggests, a group-joining safari is when you join a group for your safari. Typically, you need to contact a tour operator to join one but there are also other options. The first one, and a highly recommended way, is to find like-minded travelers in forums and blog posts. Seriously, there are a lot of them looking for travel buddies. Another option, which is probably not the best one to do, is to not book any and just surprise yourself when you get to your country of destination. You see, many people outside the airport offer such services. But, beware because some of them are not really part of a tour company but just a middleman who’ll look for an operator for you and add a certain fee on top of the rate. So, if you’re feeling adventurous or you haven’t arranged any group safari yet, you can personally head to travel offices like those in India Street near the clocktower roundabout. Lastly, and this is probably the most common practice, is to book with a respectable tour operator or arrange a group with other travelers in forums like TripAdvisor, Fodors, Lonely Planet, etc. While this is so far a safe practice, the best way is still to go online and message a local tour operator. Make sure the tour operator is based in Kenya and not just a travel agent who can hook you up with operators (this entails an added expense, too!).
What to expect
Here are things you can expect from a group-joining safari:
- New people: In a group, there will be about 4 to 7 people possibly from diverse backgrounds. Other group-joining safaris even accommodate until 10 people.
- One ride: All people in your group will be riding the same van or 4×4 safari vehicle, whichever is used by your chosen tour operator and each of you will get your due seat.
- Window seat not guaranteed: For bigger groups (usually of it’s more than 7 people, depending on the type of vehicle you’re going to use and the capacity of the vehicle), being in a window seat cannot be expected. Some operators practice seat rotation so each guest will have a chance to experience optimum game viewing.
- Meet-up points: There will be one pick-up point and drop-off point for everyone. If one’s accommodation is located somewhere else, transportation may be provided by the tour operator for an added cost.
- Possible delays: Note that since you are traveling with others and not all of you are staying in one place, delays may be experienced. Hopefully, your fellow travelers will be considerate enough not to be late. But, if you’ve arranged this group via a travel forum, you can always ask your fellow travelers if they’re willing to stay in the same lodge or camping ground as you or at least somewhere nearer. This way, the possibility of delays will be brought to a minimum.
- Fixed travel time: Usually, a safari day will last for about 9-11 hours including pick-up and drop-off and game drive. Itineraries are also fixed and cannot be customized as this is the itinerary agreed by the group. So, learn how to compromise and understand that pee breaks are also usually on a schedule. Note that everyone will follow the same itinerary. You can choose to skip some game drives but you cannot expect to change routes.
- Usually the same accommodation for everyone: A solo traveler is expected to get his/her own room. This is normally slightly higher than 2 pax sharing in a room but if willing to share, inform the operator to see if there’s another traveler looking to share a room.
- Different accommodations is possible: As mentioned, it is not required that all travelers stay in one lodge or camp. You may stay in a lodge and others may stay in a tent on that park but every day, there will be a designated pick-up and drop-off points.
- Meals: You will share all meals together. Breakfast is usually buffet-style while during a safari, you will be provided with a lunchbox and you will stop in the middle of the game-drive for a picnic.
- Significantly cheaper: Generally, the more people you are on a tour, the cheaper the price. This is because you share expenses like fuel, vehicle and guide/driver fees.
- The more the merrier: Meeting new people is hit-and-miss. Yes, there is a possibility that you may not like one of your fellow travelers. But there is a higher chance that you will enjoy the company of others because you all have basically the same interests and this may be a starting point to an unexpected friendship.
Who is it for?
If you are an adventurous traveler, whether solo or couple, who’s on a budget and is willing to compromise a little comfort and a little time, a group-joining safari could make a great adventure for you. With this option, you will not only save money but also meet new people who could possibly be your travel buddy all throughout Kenya – someone you can hit the beach with or maybe even go barhopping in Nairobi!
Note, however, that there are some cons to this type of safari:
- Not suitable for families: Especially if you have little kids in tow, this will be a big adjustment to the group. Not only will you have a fixed itinerary and long day of game drives, kids who throw tantrums may also affect other people’s safari experience.
- No time to be a loner: In group-joining safari, it’s almost impossible not to socialize so if you would rather keep to yourself, you may want to think twice.
- Not direct booking: When you contact the local tour operator, they will usually only make the arrangements with their esteemed supplier/partner who pools group joiners in one trip. This means that the vehicle to be used, for example, is not owned by the local tour operator themselves. The advantage here is that they know which group-joining safari providers can be trusted and as mentioned, they make the arrangements for you. If you want the tour operator you inquired with to provide their vehicle and employed guides, this will then fall under private safaris.