These tips are based on ashok mahindra's personal experiences while on safari in Africa
Botswana is a difficult country, particularly for Indian travellers for the following reasons:
There is no direct flight from India.South African airlines do not operate any direct flights from India.
It is very expensive, nearly twice if not more expensive than East Africa, because of its policy of high end tourism.
Visas are difficult to get.Please see visa section below.
Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta has one of the worst airports - small and over crowded.The airport is no where near international standards.
South African Airlines do not operate directly any flights from Johannesburg to Maun but operate through Air Links.Air Links have two flights daily from Johannesburg to Maun and return from Maun to Johannesburg.Air Botswana operate only one flight daily from Johannesburg to Maun and return.
Air Links operate old aircraft, often with a 1:2 seating, with small over head bins which cannot accommodate the regular sized hand luggage.
The staff at the check in counters at Maun, are inexperienced and often cannot handle thru check in luggage to final destinations. Because of this, you may well have to take your luggage and then recheck your luggage and pass through immigration and security again at Johannesburg airport.
Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required for entry into East Africa.These are now valid for a life time.These are to be taken at least 10 days before date of departure.Oral polio vaccinations are required for visits to Kenya only. Tanzania is Malaria free.Valid for one year only.These are to be taken at least 4 weeks before date of travel and should be valid on the date of re-entry into India.To be done by Government hospitals and Health Organisations.In addition, you may also choose to take Malaria prophylatics.
In certain parts of Tanzania, like in Tarangire and Serengeti, Tsetse flies are common and an irritant and may be a health hazard.Advisable to wear long trousers, full length shirt sleeves, long socks and shoes.Carry an insect bite allergy cream.They are blood sucking flies and are attracted by blue and black colors. If bitten take an anti-histamine pill or cream which is meant for insect bites and stings, itching and plant rashes. The red blotches may remain for some time. Always use the fly swatter provided in the vehicles by some Camps during the game drives.In Botswana, particularly when doing Mokoro, boat and barge rides be careful of mosquitos.Before the rides spray a mosquito repellant on your clothes and spray some on your hands to put on your face and exposed parts of your skin.Wear double socks. Mosquito repellants are available in your room and in your vehicle and are supposed to last for 8 hours.
Carry a lip softener In view of the winds in the morning safari’s where you may be prone to get chapped lips.
Soft wet hand/face wipes and alcohol swabs
In safari you may have to take a toilet break or touch various unclean surfaces where water or soap is not available. Take plenty of hand soft wet wipes. Some camps provide them but not all.You may also like to carry hand alcohol swabs.
Generally,adequate charging facilities are available in individual tents.However,in some moving camps there is only one place for charging available near the reception.If this is important check before.
Carry a G type International Adapter, preferably with USB ports.The newer camps have USB ports and direct ports for your battery charger in the rooms so that an international adapter is very often not even necessary.
WiFi is now generally available at most lodges, except very remote areas.Ask when making the booking.The new lodges have WiFi in the rooms and not in the reception and dining areas.
Use WhatsApp generously when WiFi available to make free calls and send voice and photo messages.Just remember to switch off data roaming and mobile data on your mobile phones.
Portable USB Charger
It is useful to carry a Portable USB Charger as a back up for charging your mobile phones at airports and other areas where charging may not be readily available.Only remember to carry this in your hand luggage and not checked in luggage.
Lithium batteries for your camera should not be carried in your checked in luggage as it is not permitted.Carry in hand luggage.
When travelling internationally to Africa it may be wise to plastic wrap your checked in luggage for safety.
As most bookings at camps are on the basis of full package, there are no cash expenses,except for personal purchases.USD are accepted. However, for small tips carry local currency.It is KES for Kenyan Shilling in Kenya,TZS for Tanzanian Shilling in Tanzania and Pula in Botswana.Just outside the JKIA,Nairobi there is a foreign exchange counter where you can exchange into local currency.
Flights are by small aircraft with limited luggage space.For Kenya & Tanzania the maximum is 15 kg and for Botswana the maximum is 20 kgs.This includes checked in luggage, hand luggage and all your camera gear.Extra weight may be charged.Soft bags are recommended with retractable wheels..
Laundry is included in the package with delivery usually on the same day.However, the laundry may often be unpressed and personal under-clothes not covered.Dry cleaning is generally not available.
Driver/Guides are English speaking.A few camps also have a spotter, in addition to the driver/guide, but this is not common.A guide with spotter makes a fantastic combination!Guide is the single most important person, particularly if you are a wildlife photographer; so establish a good relationship and respect their judgement.Guides may be either employed by the camps or freelance.I prefer camp employed guides.
Game drives are either in the morning and afternoon or for full day.In the National Parks there are entry and exit timings. Currently, in the Masai Mara,Kenya the entry is at 6:30 am and exit at 6:30 pm.In the Conservancies, there are no timings for the game drives.
Vehicles for game drives are generally open from the sides with sun cover.They are usually fitted with radio, fridge,fold down wind screen and charging stations.
Gratuities to porters,guides/drivers,butlers and camp staff are discretionary.Each camp or travel agent will provide guidelines. Currently,the recommended rate for guides is USD 20 per couple per day.Pay more for excellent service.
In the conservancies/concessions you can do night game drives,walking safaris, go off road and there are no timings-four main things which are not allowed inside the National Park.
If you are a wildlife photographer?
If you are a wildlife photographer let the camp know in advance as they are usually sympathetic to wildlife photographers.They may allot you a complimentary exclusive vehicle for your game drives, give you more bean bags and allot you a tent nearest the reception area because of your heavy equipment.Request for a meeting with your guide as soon as you arrive to discuss your plan.Many camps do not have bean bags so carry your own empty bean bag.The camps will willingly fill it with some suitable small grain which you can return.
If you are carrying heavy lenses and expensive cameras remember to take customs clearance at the airport.For travellers from India the clearance is usually valid for three years. However, recently customs have started to accept scanned copies of purchase invoices (on mobile phones) indicating that the items were purchased in India.
Connectivity between camps
Flying is the norm by small aircraft of about 12 seats between locations.There are air strips through out the Masai Mara,Kenya and Serengeti,Tanzania.In Kenya,the operators are Safari Link,Air Kenya,Governors's Aviation and others.Normally, your air strips will be that nearest your camp. Most airports,other than Nairobi,Kenya and Kilimanjaro,Tanzania are small sheds with no staff.Transfers by road are also an option.These can be converted into game drives.Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option.You can do a mix of both options.If you use road transfers for all your sectors than you will have the same guide/driver.If you take the flying option then you will change to the local guide/driver at each camp who who is more likely to have uptodate information on current sightings.You can also mix the options - flying and road transfers.In Kenya & Tanzania the scheduled timings of such transfers by air are known well in advance. However, in some countries like Botswana ,particularly in the Okavango Delta, road transfers are generally not available because of the nature of the terrain. Also,the scheduled timings for air transfers are not known in advance.Botswana have many airlines flying to the numerous airstrips-Wilderness Air,Mach Air,Delta Air and Safari Air.
Travel Agents or do it yourself?
Travel Agents charge commission so that adds to the cost.Enough information is available on the internet to do the planning yourself.Hotels and camps are very helpful in providing assistance and help with airport and hotel pick ups and drops,road transfers,etc. Many will also do internal flight bookings, if they are licensed as tour operators.Some safari camps,like Wildness Safari's and &Beyond run their own travel operations.
Connectivity between Kenya & Tanzania
Currently, there is no direct road access from Masai Mara,Kenya to Serengeti, Tanzania, even though the two reserves are back to back.The most convenient way is to travel by air from either Wilson airport,Kenya or JKIA,Kenya to Kilimanjaro airport,Tanzania and then to Lake Manyara air strip and then from their to the air strips in Serengeti.
Connectivity between India with Kenya & Botswana
Direct flights by Kenya Airways from Mumbai,India and Nairobi,Kenya,twice a day.Takes about 6 hours.
For Botswana, one option is to fly Emirates to Johannesburg,South Africa via Dubai.Takes about 11 flying hours.Then fly from Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana which takes 90 minutes.
For Kenya & Tanzania, online visas can be obtained and also visa on arrival at the airport. Normally, given for three months.If you are flying from Kenya into Tanzania and then back to Kenya ask for multi-entry visa.For Botswana, visa has to be obtained in India for Indian travellers-there is no procedure for online visa or visa on arrival for Indian travellers.Travellers to Botswana are warned that the Botswana Embassy at New Delhi are not very helpful and are arbitrary in granting visas which may sometimes give the impression of harassment.For example, they may ask for marriage certificates or they may decide to accept applications for visas only 10 days before the date of travel.Personal attendance is not required.
Meet & Greet
This is very useful at busy airports, like Johannesburg, particularly for checking in and assistance for security and immigration through a fast track.
Hotels in Nairobi,Kenya & Johannesburg,South Africa
Choose your hotel wisely as the traffic in Nairobi is horrendous.If in transit choose hotels near the airports.The Lazizi,Premiere is a good option inside the JKIA complex.Good hotels near Wilson airport are Eka and Ole-Sereni.At Johannesburg,South Africa for transit to Botswana stay at the Intercontinental Hotel, minutes from the arrival gate.All these hotels may arrange a complimentary pick up and drop.
Flying Doctor's Cover
Flying doctor's cover is mandatory and covers only emergency evacuation from the camp to a private hospital in Nairobi(transportation only).Evacuation is during day light only.Either Nairobi Hospital or The Aga Khan University Hospital(highly recommended as they have world class standards).