We have had quite a few people with disabilities travelling with us over the years. These safaris all work smoothly because when someone is in a wheelchair, has clear mobility issues, or specific health issues, they are usually very upfront with their tour operator. They say what they can and can’t manage.
Similarly we – armed with this clear information – source appropriate safari places for them to stay, discuss what level of assistance can be given by the hotel or game lodge staff, modifications that can be made – and all goes well. Furthermore the staff in safari camps are immensely willing to assist to ensure that everyone gets to see and do as much as they possibly can.
However where we sometimes have ‘issues’ on a client’s safari is when a client has not communicated any mobility or health issues that they may have. Either prior to booking their safari trip or even prior to arriving!
This may be for two reasons:
- Perhaps they are so used to their particular degree of mobility or health issues that they may not appreciate that this may cause some problems on a more active safari holiday.
- Perhaps they don’t appreciate that all the modern comforts that they have in their home may not always be available on a safari in a remote area. They may not realize that lifts are not usually available in a two, or even three storey hotel in Africa.
Of course the reality is that it’s usually a bit of both. Without good communication at the planning stages, they sometimes arrive and find that the hotel, or more usually the safari lodge, is not what they were expecting. It’s too remote, has too many steps, too much walking to get from their room to the main area etc.
What are the Pressure Points? (as they say on Masterchef)
Stairs and Relative lack of lifts
Most hotels in Africa have plentiful space so they tend to go out and not up. Usually they are on only 2 floors and so they do not have lifts (elevators). The exceptions are city hotels which typically have several floors and a lift.
So if you need a lift to climb one or two flights of stairs, please mention this as it will not necessarily be clear from our descriptive copy. We can request a ground floor room for you, or book a different hotel.
Spread-out Hotels and Lodges
Similarly many hotels and game lodges are spread out to give everyone lots of privacy. Great for most people! But sometimes the furthermost chalets can be quite far from the main lodge (with its dining/sitting/bar facilities). Again ask to be in the nearest cottage or hotel room if you want to minimize walking. (This issue can sometimes be sorted out on check-in but not always if the hotel is fully booked, so it’s best to request it up front.)
So please feel free to mention if one of you is not too good anymore with flights of stairs, or walking over a certain distance (name the distance if you can).
African game lodge owners and architects love to build fluid organic lodges which utilize some stunning location and use natural materials as much as possible. Wonderful – unless you are a little frail on your feet as this sort of design often means lots of small steps to your chalet’s door, sometimes different surface levels within a chalet and generally speaking uneven surfaces for walking. (Some of them even give a mild work-out for the most nimble of people!)
Again I would not necessarily move away completely from these lodges. Just mention that you are concerned about steps etc. Most of these lodges have one or two rooms which are much more conventional and closer to the main lodge.
Need for Heat
The other issue that people often forget to mention is when they feel the cold badly. Generally this is NOT an issue in much of Africa for most of the year but it can be if you are travelling in the middle of our winter eg. June/July in South Africa, Namibia, even Botswana. Please mention this as there are certain safari destinations which we may choose to not recommend in the Southern Hemisphere winter such as the Eastern Cape and Madikwe. Similarly if there is a choice of chalet or tent accommodation, we would recommend choosing a game lodge with chalets, rather than tents.
Tree houses and Tents
Many of our safari lodges have tented accommodation. This has certain implications. Though they often have heaters/air-conditioners, they are not as well insulated as a cottage or chalet. So they are colder in the winter months. They are also usually not equipped with many normal features of a hotel room such as telephones, mini-bars, room service etc. Do not expect to see these facilities unless our copy explicitly mentions these as features. This is often a deliberate decision on behalf of the game lodge to maintain an ‘away from it all’ atmosphere.
Very occasionally our safari lodges have ‘treehouse’ suites. If stairs are an issue, then this is a red flag as these usually involve steps to get to the treehouse suite, sometimes quite steep ones.
Mobility on a Safari
Generally game drives, if you are frail, are not an issue as you can sit in the front seat next to the ranger, or the staff are very happy to assist you to get onto one of the other seats. (Many – though not all – have platforms from which you step, making this much easier.)
However it would be good to know that you want the front seat ahead of time so that we can request this. (Some rangers assume that their guests will want to sit on the higher seats behind for visibility and game-spotting. So they put their cooler box on the front seat unless they know it’s needed.) Similarly there may be two people who need the front seat and the lodge will want to allocate them to two different game vehicles.)
Some safari areas offer a range of safari activities which may require you to be more agile and mobile than if you are just sitting on a game vehicle. Generally a boating safari will be fine but many older people, especially if they are carrying a little extra weight, find that the mokoro trips or canoeing excursions – in Botswana or Zambia – require an agility that they no longer possess.
Similarly walking safaris vary remarkably between areas. Some are gentle strolls which are easy for most to manage. Others are in ‘Big Game’ country where ideally you need to be able to react quickly following your rangers instructions at all times. Very rarely this might involve climbing something or crouching for an extended period – killing for the quad muscles!
Thus if you have mobility issues, read our copy to ensure that there will be enough safari activities that you can participate in, and don’t hesitate to check with us.
Read our Copy
Underlying all of the above is a gentle plea to you to read our descriptive copy. Often when people complain that a hotel or game lodge is not what they were expecting, it is because they have assumed that it will be as they want it to be. Ie if they like a conventional hotel room, they assume that a game lodge in a remote area will give them that hotel-room experience that they want.
We write our proposal copy carefully to describe a lodge accurately. It is in our best interests to do so as it ensures that you have the correct expectations, and we cannot be accused of mis-selling!
However with the plethora of information available on the web now, sometimes our clients do not thoroughly read our proposal descriptions and then say “there are too many steps” when they get to a lodge.
So PLEASE read our description. If something sounds like it won’t suit you, then ask for further clarification. As you will have gathered by now “fluid design”, “built into the rocks”, “chalets spread out to ensure privacy” mean something of material interest if you are frailer.
In Summary – too old for a safari?
- Don’t be embarrassed to discuss your mobility in the planning stages (or your partners’ mobility…)
- Read our lodge copy descriptions carefully. If there’s something that needs further clarification, ask us…
- Think about what sort of safari will best suit you
- If you are not sure that something or somewhere will suit your needs, discuss it with us. We can always give you extra information which will enable you to make an informed choice.
Other Health issues – Diabetes
This has never caused an issue for our clients (so far) but it is important to mention it if you need to eat very regularly. Generally this is not a problem. But if you were going on a long road transfer into a more remote area (with a lack of shops en route) then we can arrange a packed lunch. (Sometimes packed lunches are included for longer transfers of over 4 hours but you might prefer some extra reassurance of a snack even on a shorter 2-3 hour journey.)