Skip to main content

What to think about when booking a safari holiday

After more than two years of restricted international travel and holidays spent at home, many UK holidaymakers will, for the first time in a long time, be looking forward to summer holidays filled with adventure and trips abroad to far-flung destinations. For a lucky few, this will include a safari and an opportunity to witness up close those exotic and amazing animals that most of us will only ever get to see on our television sets in wildlife programmes.

Before setting off, most safari-goers will have given some thought to the visas, vaccinations and kit necessary for their trip, such as a good hat and protective clothing, binoculars, and a camera for taking snaps of all the wonderful creatures they’re hoping to see. But many will not have given much thought to checking some other points that will make for a much safer trip.

Coming from the UK, it’s difficult to imagine or appreciate just how vast and wild the bush is, including how far you are from even the most basic of emergency services we take for granted. If you were to suffer a serious injury, the reality is that the nearest urban area with a hospital and doctors equipped with the necessary facilities is likely to be an air journey away, with no guarantee of how quickly the aircraft will be able to get to you or even land once it does. With that in mind, here are some pointers to think about before setting off on safari, in order to keep yourself as safe as you can.

Do your research

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, research who you’re actually going on safari with – not just the travel company organising the holiday, but the local safari operator and their guides who will be taking you into the bush. Often, the travel company and safari operator are completely different companies.

Once you have found that out, ask what qualifications and experience the safari operator and their guides have. Those qualifications will depend on what type of safari you are taking, but if you’re intending to camp overnight in the bush or to view dangerous game on foot, you’ll want to know that you’re with someone who has the relevant experience and training. A starting point is to ask whether the guides hold recognised safari guiding qualifications, such as those issued by FGASA - the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. FGASA’s qualifications are recognised by safari and lodge operators in South Africa, as well as in other countries throughout Africa, including Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania.


Are the safari operator and guides insured? Although it’s hoped that nothing will go wrong, it’s always reassuring to know that there is insurance in place if something does, and to know in advance if there are any limits to that insurance. Any reputable safari operator and guides will have insurance, so think twice if you’re told that there’s none or if you can’t be provided with a copy of the policy.

Are you insured? Make sure you have adequate travel insurance and that it covers the specific type of safari you will be taking, e.g. a driving, walking or horse-riding safari, and includes cover for medical expenses as well as for air repatriation


Once you’ve arrived, your guide should give you a safety briefing and explain what to do in the bush and camp, as well as what not to do. You may even be given a safety leaflet to read and equipment to use in the case of an emergency, such as a horn or whistle, a torch and a two-way radio. It’s not uncommon for any wild animals that are in the area to wander through the camp, so it’s vital for your own safety that you follow all advice and read all safety information you’re given. If you’re uncertain what to do in any particular scenario – for example, what happens if you need to use the toilet in the middle of the night – then ask your guide.

If your safari involves camping out overnight in the bush (be that in a lodge or in a tent pitched in a different spot every night), then there’s a good chance that animals will be in the vicinity, or even in the camp during the night. Safari-goers often report in the morning, when they go for breakfast, seeing footprints of animals who have wandered through the camp during the night. Don’t be afraid to ask your guide to confirm who will be keeping watch during the night. Depending on the type of safari, this might be the guide or other employees of the safari operator, or it may be that the safari-goers themselves will be expected to take turns at keeping watch. Ask questions, if you’re told that there will be no-one on watch duty during the night to dissuade any dangerous animals, such as lions.

Report it 

If something does go wrong, make sure the local safari operator and guides prepare a written report and that the incident is reported to the relevant local authorities - e.g. park warden, police. Note down the contact details of any witnesses, take photos, and keep all documentary evidence of what happened. If you’ve gone with a tour operator, be sure to report it to them as soon as you can.

Book a package 

Consider whether to book the entire trip as a package holiday provided by a UK tour operator, as they should carry out at least some of the above checks - such as checking the qualifications and insurance of local safari operators and guides - for you. 

Should you be injured on safari, you may discover that you unwittingly signed an injury liability waiver with the local safari operator and guide. Although not usually binding in the UK, in many other countries you may find that you have unknowingly signed away your rights to seek recompense against the local safari operator and guide, in the event something does go wrong that is their fault. 

Although a package holiday can sometimes cost slightly more up front, it will at least provide a safety net of being able to seek recompense once back in the UK against a UK-based company should you be unlucky enough for something serious to go wrong. This is much easier than trying to pursue a safari operator or guide based abroad. 

And finally, don’t forget to enjoy what should be the trip of a lifetime.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people injured abroad at our dedicated serious injury abroad section.