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Safari aircraft in Seronera airstrip in Serengeti.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Safaris by air
Doing a safari by air doesn't mean that you watch the wildlife from an airplane, but that transports to and between the parks are done by air. The game viewing in the parks is then done by traditional game drives in vehicles, or by walks, boat rides etc, depending on the options available.

A common form of airborne safari is that you fly to a park, where the lodge or tented camp where you are to stay handles the rest; transfers from and to the airstrip, bed and board, game viewing activities etc. You may stay for a number of days in one single park, or stay fewer nights in a couple of different parks, flying between them.

Scheduled flights
Most major parks in Kenya and Tanzania are serviced by scheduled flights, and can easily be included in an airborne safari. To go to other parks, you may have to charter a light aircraft, which costs considerably more.

Fast and comfortable transports
The main advantage of travelling by air is that you travel fast and don't have to spend long hours on dusty and bumpy roads. You may, for example, fly from Arusha airport (ARK/HTAR) to Seronera airstrip (SEU/HTSN) in Serengeti in Tanzania in less than one hour. Travelling the same route by road would take a full day, and some of the roads are quite poor and uncomfortable.

You can't avoid poor roads altogether, as you will be using them for game driving once you're in the parks. Game driving is done at slow speed, though, and is not as rough or tiring as travelling the roads for getting to the parks.

A disadvantage of flying is that you get to see little of the East African countryside, villages and rural life.

Aircraft parked at Seronera airstrip in central Serengeti, Tanzania.

One or two engine propeller planes, such as Cessna Caravan and Beechcraft, are used for most flights into the bush. These are fairly small planes, rarely carrying more than 20 passengers, and are well suited for bush use. They are generally flown by a crew of two.

The airstrips are basic, usually with a grass, gravel or dirt runway, a toilet and a parking space for vehicles picking up or leaving passengers. A few well-frequented airstrips have cafés.

The airstrips don't have customs or immigrations offices. This means you can't travel by air directly between Kenyan and Tanzanian parks, but have to detour via an airport that has customs and immigrations.

Where to fly from
Wilson Airport in Nairobi (WIL/HKNW) and Moi International Airport (MBA/HKMO) in Mombasa are the hubs for airborne safaris in Kenya. In Tanzania, it's Arusha Airport (ARK/HTAR), Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR/HTDA) in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ/HTZA) in Zanzibar. Some Tanzanian safaris may also start from Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO/HTKJ).

A number of parks may be visited by scheduled flights from these airports.

Many safari flights have a 15 kg/33 lb main luggage limit.

The East African bush seen from the air.

Tour packages
There are probably travel companies in your country that offer safaris by air as packaged tours. Typically, such safaris go to either Masai Mara in Kenya or Serengeti in Tanzania, and include three to six nights in lodges or camps of good to luxury standard.

Airborne safaris are easy to tailor, to include specific parks you want to visit and specific camps or lodges you want to stay in. Any travel company specialized in safaris should be able to help you.

Safaris by air aren't necessarily very expensive. The flights do cost, of course, but you also save expenses by not travelling by road; you don't need a safari vehicle. Instead, you do game drives in vehicles provided by the camps or lodges, which costs less. You may also reduce the number of days on safari. Compared to a seven-day safari by road, you may get the same amount of game driving on a five-day safari by air.

Planning and booking yourself
Local flight schedules may change at short notice. Remember this, if you intend to plan your own safari and to book safari flights, camps, lodges etc yourself directly from local operators.

Allow for such changes in your itinerary. Don't be too clever and figure out neat ways to combine parks, transfers, international flights etc, so that there will be a minimal loss of time waiting. Also make sure to have departure times confirmed, preferably the same day or the day before.

Takeoff delayed by elephants on the bush airstrip.

Chartering flights
By chartering a plane, you may go to parks and other places that are not serviced by scheduled flights. Aircraft of different sizes may be chartered, starting from three passenger seats. Charter fees start at around USD 500 per hour for the smallest planes.

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Page updated 27 April 2013