Have you ever watched a nature documentary such as Planet Earth or Our Planet and sighed when you see the cheetahs racing across the horizon or the elephants bathing in the water hole? Maybe you thought, “There’s no way I’ll ever get to East Africa and if I do, there’s no chance I’ll have that gorgeous nature all to myself.”
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that. But let me tell you that not only do you have the chance to experience an African safari with unparalleled privacy and solitude, but right now is the perfect time to do so.
This may seem like an unlikely thought, but it’s true. Let’s be clear: we are in the midst of a global pandemic and international travel is more complicated than it has been in over a century. Things have never been more hectic in most of our lives, but at the same time, travel and the freedom it brings has never seemed more precious. An African safari represents the beauty of freedom like no other vacation. It personifies the power of the wild and erases the distance between humans and the natural world. You wouldn’t be wrong to consider all the safety concerns and other variables that go along with any trip, but you should also know by now that every single experience brings with it some risk. You cannot avoid risk altogether, but you can mitigate it and perhaps take the opportunity of a lifetime to escape the pressures of normal life and bask in the bounties of the savannah in Kenya or Tanzania.
Nations in East Africa have been carefully reopening their borders to allow travellers the chance to experience the African bush in an unforgettable manner. The current lull in international travel has caused tourist numbers to plummet, and with it, the prices of travel. African safaris are typically expensive vacations, but the pause in travel has created a variety of deals that travellers can take advantage of. Not only is the trip more affordable, but you can likely upgrade your accommodation, spend more time in each destination, or combine several destinations on one itinerary. You can also upgrade to a private experience for your entire time in destination, with a private driver and guide, intimate lodgings, and stress-free transfers. There’s no better way to ensure physical distancing than to make sure you have your vacation all to yourself.
And that’s the main allure right now. The Masai Mara, the Serengeti, and the cloud forests of Rwanda and Uganda offer you the chance to come face-to-face with fascinating animals that most of us have dreamed about seeing since we were kids. An African safari is always a magical experience, but sometimes sharing a stretch of plain with several other safari vehicles or trying to maneuver your way around other tourists so you can get the perfect shot with your telephoto camera lens can distract from the experience. Right now, you can experience the bush without the crowds. You can savour that intimate experience when you come face-to-face with a mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, slow down to capture the perfect photograph of an elephant with the backdrop of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park, or sit back and allow the chirp of birds and rustle of the leaves to lull you to sleep at your private game lodge.
Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda have all implemented rigorous safety guidelines, so you can know that you’ll be safe while experiencing the wild. It’s easy to physical distance when it’s just you and your guide on a vast stretch of plain, or you have a luxury tent all to yourself back at the lodge. But there are also international certifications that should help you to rest easier while travelling. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has issued Safe Travel Stamps to Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. These stamps recognize the nations’ commitment to the best possible health and safety standards for travellers and tourism professionals, which includes the implementation of masks during travel, the frequent sanitation of travel areas and vehicles, and the commitment to physical distance whenever possible. Uganda has also recently acquired a Safer Tourism Seal that ensures their commitment to the highest standards for travel safety.
You will still need to follow procedures when heading to East Africa and take some additional steps before arriving. Kenya requires you to test negative with a PRC COVID-19 test within 96 hours of arriving in the country. You’ll need to provide proof of this test and the PRC criteria, so be sure to sort out all the details with your travel advisor ahead of time. Rwanda and Uganda also both require negative COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of arrival. Uganda needs to be a PCR test, while Rwanda requires travellers to take a second test upon arrival at Kigali Airport, and to wait for up to 24 hours in transit hotels for confirmation of results.
Tanzania technically does not require proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival, but many airlines travelling into the country have stricter safety guidelines. Tanzania does use body temperature scanners to monitor all travellers arriving into the country and require those with symptoms to take a test and isolate. Again, check with your travel advisor to make sure you follow all necessary procedures.
There are some extra hoops to jump through to head on an East African safari these days, but the little bit of inconvenience is surely worth it to have an unforgettable experience in the wild. Not everyone gets a chance to see the Masai Mara or the Serengeti for themselves. Even fewer travellers get to enjoy these iconic parks with little-to-no crowds and nothing to distract them from breathing in the fresh air and engaging with nature on a deeper level. It’s time to take that chance for yourself and make the most of our current situation.
Disclaimer: all information was accurate at time of publication. It may have changed in the interim.
8 Dec 2020, 4 p.m.