Frequently Asked Questions
Note that all our holidays are financially-protected in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992” using an insurance-based scheme issued by International Passenger Protection Ltd. We do not sell scheduled flights (although give guidance on these) and are therefore not required to hold an ATOL license, which is specifically for flight-inclusive packages. The exception to this is seat-rate air transfers and charter flights for the purposes of safaris, which are covered by our insurance scheme and which are included in our packages. For more information please refer to our financial protection information page.
There are no set rules and much depends upon the season you are booking for and the location. Our best bit of advice is to book as soon as you are sure you wish to travel, to avoid disappointment. All we ask for is a deposit and request you take out insurance to protect you from cancellation beyond your control. Final balances are requested two months prior to departure. We have put many ‘last minute’ trips together, with only a few weeks’ notice, but these invariably involve compromises. At the other end of the spectrum, some experiences do book up as much as a year in advance, such as certain small group walking safaris and popular safari camps and lodges, especially for peak season dates. Namibia also books up a long way in advance owing to its popularity and scarcity of beds in the peak months – we’ve booked tours here with a few months’ notice, but it was hard to optimise these itineraries. Try and plan a year ahead if you can for Namibia. Preferred accommodation in Cape Town also books out a long way in advance for the high season (November to March). Start talking to us as soon as you are thinking seriously about travel – we will advise you when its best to book, or how long you can leave it. We won’t ask for a deposit until the services you are interested in have been provisionally secured, and you are sure you wish to proceed.
We have helped single travellers on many occasions. Walking safaris are particularly well-suited to single travellers because they are almost without exception run on a small group basis and are easy and enjoyable to slot into. Some of these do not charge a single supplement, another key advantage. We occasionally run group treks in the Drakensberg, which singles can join. However, going on a private trek with a guide, on a one-on-one basis is a very rewarding experience and we have set up treks on this basis on many occasions for clients travelling alone – we work with dedicated, very personable guides who will look after you very well. We have also set up touring trips in both South Africa and Namibia where a guide has looked after a single traveller for the duration of their tour, acting as driver, guide and host throughout. We have often found that our single travellers have maintained contact with the guides who looked after them, which is a great indicator of the bonds they formed.
We think that South Africa is a fantastic country to drive in and many international visitors choose to travel this way. It’s a great touring destination and there’s arguably no better way to really see the country; it has excellent roads and these are generally well-maintained. Principal routes are metalled, but you’ll often find yourself having to navigate dirt roads in outlying country areas – these are generally well-maintained and graded, and suitable for standard 2-wheel drive cars. You just drive at lower speeds. A minority of South African drivers drive aggressively (tail-gating), but you shouldn’t encounter this much and once away from urban areas, traffic is generally light and you’ll often find you have the road to yourself – put on cruise control and enjoy the view! Satnav works well countrywide, but we will provide clear written directions, illustrated with small maps where possible, between all accommodation and from and to airports. We recommend you do not drive in rural areas at night if you can avoid this – some vehicles are poorly lit and livestock are not penned by fences in certain areas.
The best way to get to the Drakensberg is by car. The northern Drakensberg is 4 hours from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport and the central Drakensberg takes around 5 hours. Both these areas take around 3.5 hours from Durban. Pietermaritzburg Airport is closer to these areas, but there is a limited flight schedule. Private transfers can also be arranged, but unless you are travelling in a group of at least 4 people, it is mostly cheaper to hire a car (Walks in Africa have a trade contract with Europcar). The roads are good, we will provide clear directions and you will have flexibility. You can also charter to fly to the Drakensberg, from Rand Airport if coming from Johannesburg. This flight is directly to the Champagne Castle valley in the central Drakensberg. Road transfers to neighbouring valleys can be arranged from there. At the opposite end of the scale, there is a minibus shuttle operating between Durban and the Southern Drakensberg, if you are averse to driving. A backpacker bus (Baz Bus) operates between Johannesburg, Amphitheatre Backpackers (northern Drakensberg) and Durban city. However, the schedule does not suit those travelling on limited timeframes such as a typical 2-week holiday.
The Drakensberg is a very large, high mountain wilderness, which rises to over 3000m (circa 10,000ft+) and receives its fair share of extreme mountain weather at all times of year – that said, it receives a great deal of sunshine too. Although it is possible to stride out with confidence on a lower-mid level day hike in shorts and tee shirt, with a light rain-proof top stuffed into a pocket in the warm summer months, overnight hikes or hikes to altitude require an alpine thought process when it comes to dress and equipment, particularly in the cooler months. We will provide clear guidance on clothing and footwear well ahead of your departure date. For information on Drakensberg weather, go to the South Africa page and click on the ‘When to Visit’ tab.
No. That said, there is one low-level contouring trail in the Southern Drakensberg (the Giant’s Cup Trail), which is served by huts. If you want to enjoy an accommodated trek, the 3-day Amphitheatre Trek is an excellent option – the accommodation lies just outside the boundary of the Royal Natal National Park in the northern Drakensberg, but is positioned so that a proper mountain trek can be followed. Other than these two exceptions, if you wish to sleep out within the park, you will need to camp. There is a good choice of accommodation positioned close to park entry points in the main valley approaches and out-and-back day hikes that venture deep into the park can be enjoyed.
Statistically, the vast majority of visitors to the Drakensberg (in excess of 99%) stay in local accommodation and do not venture into the park to wild camp. There is a good variety of hotels, B&Bs, backpacker-style lodges and self-catering camps operated by the Parks Office. Not all of these visitors go on walks, but those that do will need to return to their accommodation before the day fades. This means that those intent on camping out within the park usually find themselves alone once they push beyond the point day walkers have to turn around, ie. at around lunch time. You will then find you have the mountains to yourself and the deeper you go, the more likely this solitude will persist. One of the reasons the Drakensberg is so wonderful, and there are many by the way, is that it is a proper mountain wilderness where you will likely encounter few if other trekkers. Even close to the park entry points, the paths feel relatively free of people.
The Drakensberg is well worth visiting at all times of year, especially if you just intend to enjoy day walks or simply take in the views and soak up the atmosphere. However, if you are seeking to enjoy a multiday high-level trek, particularly one that involves camping, then you will need to give consideration to the seasons and the weather each brings. For information on Drakensberg weather, go to the South Africa page and click on the ‘When to Visit’ tab. Note that our 3-day accommodated Amphitheatre trek in the northern Drakensberg can be done at any time of year.
A great many walks take you above 2000m AMSL, so it is important that your travel insurance covers you for hiking above this level. Some insurers set a limit of 2000m and ask for a premium to cover you for higher elevations. Helicopter rescue by the South African Air Force (SAAF) is covered by the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg park fee, but call-out times can run to several hours. If traversing the Drakensberg escarpment, you are often technically outside of the park and within Lesotho (although the SAAF generally do not quibble about this). It is better to take out cover for CASEVAC in your policy, if not covered automatically, so that fast-response private helicopters can be called upon.
Walking safaris are not hikes so the fitness requirement is different – most game reserves feature flat or gently undulating territory, so you won’t be expected to endure long or steep ascents or descents as you might when hiking. But you need to be happy being outdoors on your feet for several hours at a time and this can sometimes be in fairly high temperatures. You tend to cover ground slowly, interpreting what you see on the way – this might be spoor, plants of interest, smaller fauna and insects, in addition to larger animals. When you encounter wildlife, you may spend considerable time observing behaviour, sometimes in a crouch if you are not screened. Morning walks tend to be a minimum of 3 hours, with a break for refreshments, but on some safaris you may be out for up to 5 hours in the morning, provided it’s not too hot. Having returned to camp for lunch and a siesta, you’ll typically head out for an afternoon walk lasting around 1.5 hours before dusk. Overall, expect to cover between 8 and 15 kms per day.
Walking in the bush is a completely different experience to driving through it. For starters there’s no engine noise, which means your ears tune in to the trills and chatter of the bush; smells are natural and raw, uncontaminated by diesel fumes, and you are free to roam in any direction, off-grid and off-tracks. Whereas you tend to seek out larger animals and tick off the Big-5 when in a vehicle, being on foot connects you with all aspects of the wild – there is a much stronger focus on flora and smaller fauna, and the interconnectivity of the micro-ecosystems of the bush, a dimension you barely touch when on a driving safari. Unravelling what you encounter in the presence of an extremely knowledgeable guide, gently explaining the intricate networks of nature, is an unforgettable experience. Inevitably, you will encounter larger wildlife too and there is a tangible aura of excitement being out in a wild area, beyond the secure cocoon of a Toyota Landcruiser. You physically step into a wild ecosystem and become part of it, challenging the fight or flight decisions that animals continuously need to make – humans are perceived as a threat and animals naturally become more skittish when they are present. Finding and approaching animals becomes a skill and you’ll learn to read signs and observe behaviour, whether it’s a warning call or movement, or the direction an animal might be looking, which gives clues as to what might lie unseen. Identifying spoor and tracking, particularly rhino, buffalo, elephant and lion, and making a quiet approach upwind can be hugely rewarding and exciting. Many walking safaris immerse one in the bush for several days, affording a real opportunity to disconnect from the modern world and tune into the natural one properly. You should also get to see much of what you might on a driving safari, just spread out over time, and a lot more besides. For those who need to guarantee they tick off Big-5 animals, we recommend spending a few nights in a safari lodge where drives can be undertaken, before moving on to a walking safari ….. save the best for last!
Most walking safaris take place in Big-5 reserves and lion potentially pose the largest threat, even though they hunt at night. Although walking is not without risk, rest assured that walks would not take place if they were not deemed to be ‘safe’. Game reserves would be dangerous places to walk in if you were to simply wander about in an uninformed and oblivious manner, but in the company of a trained walking guide, who understands animal behaviour and most importantly, knows how to behave around animals, walking is a low risk activity – walk properly, following the guide’s rules, and risk is all but negated. Predators are not often encountered on a walking safari and some guides will seek to avoid them. Lions can be very vocal and their tracks can be observed, among other signs, and guides will often know when they are present. However, tracking lion is something you may get to experience, with the aim of making an approach at distance, if the guide deems it to be safe and participants are willing. It is extremely exhilarating to hear lions vocalise close to camp in the early morning, then set out to find their tracks and follow them!
Yes, with one or two exceptions. On walking safaris in Zambia, it is law to walk with both a guide and a tracker; the tracker walks at the front of a group and will be armed. The Zambia National Parks and Wildlife Service trains and employs trackers, who are then assigned to private walking safari operations. In South Africa it is usual for the guide to be armed and lead at the front of the group (the gun is always at the front). Trackers are not required, but on some safaris there may be an assistant guide bringing up the rear and he/she may also be armed. In Botswana, it is usual for the guide to be armed and to lead at the front. There may be an assistant employed at the rear, but this is usually an unarmed tea-bearer, who will also act as a spotter. Rules about carrying arms are less strict in Botswana and we have enjoyed a walking safari where the guide was not armed (and no tracker was present). This raises the question as to whether carrying a weapon is necessary for safety – there is a school of thought that carrying a weapon might give the bearer a false sense of security and lead to more risk taking, but ultimately, the quality and training of the guide, irrespective of whether he/she is armed or not, is the most important factor – behave in the correct way in the bush and you should never need to resort to discharging a weapon. If a weapon is ever discharged, it will most likely be into the air to scare an animal from a particular course and even then, this would be a very rare event. Rest assured that walking safari guides have to pass extremely stringent tests, much more so than for vehicle-based safari guides, and the strong tradition of walking in key reserves across Southern Africa has in its own right fostered a cohort of excellent walking guides.
Khaki or similar neutral colours are recommended on safaris, and this is especially important on walking safaris. Besides maximising your chance of encountering game (and for longer), dressing in this way is also part of bush etiquette. White and red garments should be avoided when out walking especially. Some clothing that might be considered neutral by some are not considered so by animals, eg. light, stone-coloured garments, a colour that many safari-goers opt for, can actually appear relatively bright and can be seen more easily by animals than mid-tone greens and khakis. You may find that your guide asks you to stand at the back of the group when observing wildlife, because your clothing does not blend in with the bush or appears too bright! Please also note that army camouflage uniforms and hats are forbidden in most African countries. Cotton clothing is generally cooler than synthetic clothing and is recommended for safaris.