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kerikeri Feb 17th, 2005 09:54 AM

Shared Safari Etiquette
I have been meaning to ask this for future trips:

We were lucky enough to have had 6 safari drives to ourselves before landing at a larger camp (12 tents) where the privacy was over.

We had already experienced the tranquility and learned some of the rules about staying quiet, yet for the "new" seat mates, every corner brought exclamations and squeals of glee.

When we stopped to observe impala locking horns (were they impala or kudu?) and I video taped all I have are the sounds of our seatmates "ooh, look at that? Where's the camera? Oh, honey don't use that lens," etc.

I tried every form of polite signaling, and I am not confrontational in person by nature. Apart from speaking to the driver (impossible to do since everyone was in the same open vehicle and he would not be expected to scold his guests) is there any other way of getting the seat mates to pipe down?

There we were in Botswana amidst the nature setting and my entire video cam is filled with suburban ladies yapping away and dropping film canisters and altogether "ruining" the setting.

If I could afford a private vehicle I would arrange it for next time, but have any of you experienced this and what did you do? What can you do?


Roccco Feb 17th, 2005 11:00 AM


Out of curiosity, at which lodge did this incident take place?

The only similar incident that I have encountered was while at Djuma Vuyatela, when I was stuck with a family of six (four adults and a 16 year old and a 12 year old). I HATED these people, and I don't think too highly of Djuma Vuyatela for stuffing my wife and I with a family of six with two children.

While they were not YOUNG children, they were obnoxious, and it was nothing but chatter about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the 16 year old bragging about whatever colleges she was applying and just nonstop talk on the game drives. I believe I was stuck with these people on either 2 or 3 game drives, as the other vehicle was fully occupied by another large party.

I do think that you should expect a certain amount of talking, especially in situations where there are no animals. However, once the vehicle is stopped at a sighting, I do agree that the guests in the vehicle should be quiet.

Personally, I have never been a fan of larger lodges, and this has led to the itinerary I have chosen for this year. Even my Sabi Sand lodge of choice, Simbambili, only caters to a maximum of 12 guests (6 suites), while my time in North Luangwa will be spent at the smallest camp in Southern Africa, Kutandala, with only 3 suites accomodating a maximum of 6 guests.

It is for this very reason why I am very hesitant to consider a place like Mala Mala in the Sabi Sand with 50 possible guests or Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa with 40 possible guests.

Also, although this is the first time I have been fortunate enough to do so, this year I am traveling within a party of four, and that, alone, may be enough to guarantee me my own vehicle. Luangwa River Lodge has committed to providing me my own vehicle, and I will just have to wait and see at the other lodges. I am not going to pay in advance for a private vehicle, because I know that I may get one anyway, depending on how things turn out at the other lodges.

In the future, if my finances will permit it, I would love to see Africa with a private guide on a luxury mobile camping safari, but with only two guests, I am probably looking at about $1,750 per night minimum with a top guide, which after the trip I am going on does not seem to bad anymore!

I would just suggest that you lean, in the future, to the smaller lodges, and in not so popular destinations. I have yet to meet any "suburban ladies yapping away" while in Zambia! ;)

tashak Feb 17th, 2005 12:17 PM

Unfortunately, I have experienced this. And it occurs even at very small camps, too. It is all a matter of luck, because all you need are two chatty people, and it ruins the whole vehicle. There really is no good way of figuring out who is going to do this: sometimes groups travelling together are noisy, sometimes they are perfect companions. Often people who first meet feel the need to chat endlessly on drives, and they can be worse than the groups!

The most immediate management mechanism I have found is to always have a serious animal, bird or environment question ready for the guide. (Best to keep your own voice low, to set and example. ) If they are just chatting, it is entirely fair to say, "Excuse me, what is that bird over there?" Keep asking follow up questions, too. The goal is to break the patter of their conversation. (Of course, if you are parked, watching some wildlife drama unfold, there are plenty of questions about animal behavior, the history of this pride, etc.
If you are in the back, you may have to say "excuse me, could you please get the guide's attention" to the talkers, then ask the question. Anything to get the discussion back to the safari. You may have to do this fairly regularly, and it works best if the talkers are between you and the guide, because typically they will stop talking to hear the response too. Often these people just need to fill any silence, which is really really sad...and bad on safari.

But this technique does seem to train people to not "chat"...and although there will not be silence, at least you will be learning something and not just putting up with senseless chatter.

Unfortunately, I've had to do this far too often, and there is really no way of predicting where and when the "talkies" will show up. They are in big lodges, small camps, highend and low end places, in easily accessible camps and very remote places. Sorry to admit this, but people from the US seem to be the worst offenders. So if you can pick places that get more non-american tourists, it might help a bit...

If they are really loud, I do think it is fair to ask them to keep it down. Sometimes people just forget the rules. And if it is kids (unreprimanded by their parents), I wouldn't hesitate to tell them to be quiet. (So the kids think I'm an old fogey...who cares? I'm not their for a popularity contest! And too many people let their kids run amok without any discipline.)

But you are correct, the guides depend on tips, and they are often hesistant to correct passenger behavior-- unless another guest expresses dissatisfaction with the situation. If the noise continues, I would do this very quietly, during a teabreak, and see if you and the guide can work together to keep a lid on chatter. They can do this by reiterating the rules before you set off again...

Best thing to do is express your concerns to the camp manager BEFORE you are assigned to a vehicle. Just tell them you would prefer to be with guests who are not talkers! And if worse comes to worst, you may have to tell the manager that you are unhappy, and see if you can arrange to be in another vehicle or do another activity. Sometimes this can be done...sometimes not.

thit_cho Feb 17th, 2005 12:57 PM

I think the best way to get them to pipe down is to politely ask them to do so. Frankly, if they sulk and take offense, so what!

sandi Feb 17th, 2005 01:18 PM

kerikeri - I'd just tell those running their mouths to pipe down. It's not a matter of being rude or confrontational, it's just "proper etiquette." Remember... it's your safari, too.

... and if adults can't control themselves, maybe they should be put in a "children's vehicle" for game drives! Come to think of it, that might be a very very good idea - all children together!

kerikeri Feb 17th, 2005 03:00 PM

thanks everyone for your takes on this. misery loves company...

Ericka Feb 17th, 2005 03:33 PM

For those lodges that offer it, how much does it typically cost for a private vehicle?

sandi Feb 17th, 2005 04:59 PM

Figure $200/day - some maybe a tad less, but can be as high as $400/day.

Kavey Feb 18th, 2005 03:07 AM

Can confirm this happens at the smallest camps too. Even at Little Mombo where there are only three tents, it's still a matter of luck who you end up with.

On our latest visit there the first three days were shared with very likeminded fellow guests. The last day, they left and were replaced by this awful couple (and a nice enough friend of theirs). The husband was just an utter photography snob and kept making the weirdest statements to show his expertise. He's start mouthing off about how the light was bad just now (when it was just perfect) and then, at midday, when it was really harsh, make ecstatic comments about it and ask our guide to drive him back to some tree he'd liked an hour or two back so he could photograph it in the right light. We came across a pack of hyena tearing into the remains of a zebra and I started snapping away. It's the kind of thing one doesn't see often. Light wasn't absolutely perfect but it was what it was. The man kept saying it was a waste of time as there were no catchlights in the hyenas' eyes and therefore the images would be crap. Not only would it still be worthwhile taking some shots regardless but there WERE catchlights in their eyes as I could see very clearly, having a digital camera which allowed me to see what I was getting as I went along. Basically he'd learned all the buzzwords but had no clue about their actual meaning. He also treated his wife as his camera assistant, loudly demanding this lens or that and changing lens every few minutes.


At Savuti we were put into a vehicle with an American family of 4 (2 kids) even though the other vehicle only had 3 adults in it (who had not paid for a private vehicle). Basically, because they were repeat guests they'd just said they didn't want anymore in their car please and couldn't they dump the arrivals (us) in with the family? The family were nice people but not good safari companions. The girl felt anyone who wanted to witness hunts and kills was bloodthirsty and wicked. She also didn't want to be there but at home. The dad would call at animals to get their attention to turn and face us for a better picture and could not understand that this was what the guide meant by impacting on their behaviour. "I'm not impacting on their behaviour, I just want them to turn and face me for my photo". Uuugh!

And on other occasions we've shared with nice people but people who have only wanted to see the Big 5 and have been unwilling to show some compromise to allow for other guests' interests (ours and additional guests) in birds, smaller mammals etc.

I'd pay for a private vehicle too but it's just soooo expensive!

Mincepie Feb 18th, 2005 11:36 AM

I am not sure that the size of the campakes much's just luck. I enjoy the company of other people and would not go for a private drive. The only problem we had was at a small camp..and the problem came from some travellers from England(I am english and live in the US) 2 families had teenage children who ruined our last 2 nights. Those nights were meals eaten together..the parents sat the children at the end of the table and sat themselves at the far end. The children were tired and whined throughout the meal. Next time I would ask to eat elsewhere..this was an expensive vacation and I did not see why I should have to babysit.

Kavey Feb 18th, 2005 12:46 PM

Mincepie, how rude! They didn't want their kids to ruin their experience so they let them ruin someone else's!

When we were at Jack's there was a family there for a couple of nights. During the mid-afternoon break when most people enjoy either a nap, a shower or some quiet time these kids raced around outside screaming and singing at the top of their voices.

I was very cross as I'd really wanted to catch an hour of sleep.

We weren't in the same group as them for activities but all guests took tea/ meals together. When we went to afternoon tea, before the afternoon activity, their mother happened to ask me, conservationally, whether I'd had a nice rest. I decided to respond very politely but honestly and said that no, I hadn't, as the kids had been very noisy indeed and their singing and screams carried straight through the canvas of our tent.

She immediately looked mortified and apologised and they had the grace to look embarassed too (we're talking kids over 10 here) and she said that it wouldn't happen again.

I replied thanking her, saying that I appreciated they probably didn't realise how much noise they were making and that was that.

They were good as gold for the rest of the trip and nice kids, actually.

I do think it's down to parents taking kids on trips such as these, where the peace and quiet and remoteness is a huge part of the reason people are visiting, have a duty to ensure that their kids don't ruin the experience for other people. I'm not saying hogtie them but just ensure that they behave considerately.

csuss Mar 18th, 2005 02:57 PM

I am confused...I am planning my frist trip to Africa. We haven't decided yet whether we will do a cusstom trip or go with a group.

When you do your own custom trip, don't you have your own driver and vehicle? Or is it that once you get to the lodges or camps you then go with other groups?

thit_cho Mar 18th, 2005 03:15 PM

Unless you specifically request your own vehicle and pay for it, you will join others in the vehicles (unless there is a rare situation when you are the only guest at a lodge, as I have been lucky to have at Kafunta in Zambia).

Roccco Mar 18th, 2005 03:24 PM


A custom trip only means that you are designing your own itinerary, but it has nothing to do with whether or not there will be other people in your vehicle. If there are other people in camp, there is a strong chance, unless the others have reserved a private vehicle, that you will be sharing a vehicle.

Despite some of the bad experiences some of us have had, I would say that you have about an 80% chance of having perfectly suitable fellow guests. Personally, unless I came across people I wanted to kill, I would not reserve a private vehicle. In such a case, I would do this while in camp, so it may serve you well to bring along some extra cash in case you wish to ditch your fellow guests for your own vehicle, providing an extra vehicle is available.

You may very well be able to solve the problem, by switching to another vehicle with alternate guests, if such an opportunity exists. I find it hard to justify a couple hundred dollars per day for a private vehicle, and would only do so in an extreme circumstance.

csuss Mar 18th, 2005 03:45 PM

Thank you - That answers one question. Which leads to the next - when booking these trips is the cost of the group vehicle included in the price of the lodge or is that a separate cost?
I have started a new thread so you can respond to me directly - I think it is #8 Africa Safari - Help.


Kavey Mar 19th, 2005 06:12 AM

Whilst it would be possible to book a private vehicle on arrival or during one's stay at a lodge/ camp which was not full or had spare vehicle capacity I know that a number of camps we have stayed at on our trips definitely could not accommodate that kind of request when fully booked. And sometimes, even in low season, they have one vehicle out of commission being overhauled, or perhaps being used to bring in goods to the camp.

d110pickup Mar 19th, 2005 08:23 AM

A few years ago in the Okavango my wife and I were lucky enough to be the only guests on the Footsteps portion of our safari and it was fantastic. We had the guide and tracker (entire camp staff actually) to ourselves for a couple of days.
This was very welcome as the day before we were stuck in a boat (at Shindi I think) with a family of four from San Fransico. They were the biggest snobs and braggers I've ever had the displeasure of spending time with.
Also a few days before that we witnessed a jerk from New Jersey who thought he was a pro photographer blow up at the camp manager (munchendji ?? just outside of Chobe) because the other guests and his guide wouldn't spend hours observing and photographing one group of animals. The manager put them in a truck alone and everyone else had a great time.
BTW - I wouldn't hesitate to politely tell someone to keep quiet during a drive.

phernska Mar 20th, 2005 08:50 AM

I'm reminded of my first safari in October 2001. It was a group safari--12 people. Six of the 12 (3 couples) came together. And, luckily for the rest of us, this provided a natural split for activities. We were always divided into 2 separate groups and, therefore, we were only all together for meals. But, these 6 individuals would get rip-roaring drunk every single night!! And, since this safari was right after Sept. 11, this group would get plastered and then sing "God Bless America" or something similar at the tops of their lungs during and after dinner. It was unbelievable...And, when the rest of us didn't join in or looked horrified at the spectacle they made, they would chastise us for being ashamed of being Americans. In addition, they would snicker and smirk and giggle when our guides explained some of the different customs, etc. They were so obnoxious and disrespectful and the rest of us had no idea how to handle the situation.

napamatt Mar 21st, 2005 11:43 AM

Its all about luck. the worst we have had to deal with was a lady who was afraid of Dogs and so didn't really appreciate the time we spent watching a pack of wild dogs hold some Hyena hostage in a donga. Of course things got worse the next day when we saw the same dogs kill a Bushbuck. But they were charming people and well behaved but for that, and she didn't make a big deal of it, but was very unhappy.

After that pet peeves include being kept waiting for non-morning people when theres a Lion roaring and we want to find it!!

In some ways I would see a bigger camp might be better in this respect, because management would have more flexibility to alter the arrangements, than at a small camp.

The worst is probably being with people who dont speak your language, because then you lose a lot of the social aspect of the trip, particularly at meals. This would be my biggest concern, having had two less than perfect experiences in Botswana.

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