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Safari vehicle surrounded by elephants in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Safari vehicles
The most common safari vehicles in Kenya are 2WD minibuses, and 4WD Landcruisers or Land Rovers. In Tanzania, some 4WD minibuses are used, but 4WD Landcruisers and Land Rovers are most common. 4WD is required for safaris in remote areas and during rainy seasons, and in areas that have poor roads or black cotton soil, which gets very slippery when wet. 4WD is also required to descend into the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, due to the steep and poor descent and ascent roads.

On most safaris, the vehicle is driven by a Kenyan or Tanzanian driver guide. You travel to the park in this vehicle (unless you fly there), and do game drives in it, watching the wildlife.

The above vehicles may also be rented for self-drive safaris. There are also smaller 4WD Nissans, Toyotas or Suzukis offered for this purpose.

More about safaris by road

Land Rover in a cloud of dust. Original Land Rover carrying up to four safari-goers.

Minibus or Landcruiser/Land Rover?
Minibuses have softer suspension, which may be comfortable on poor roads and during long drives. Land Rovers and Landcruisers do better on the really rough roads and off the roads, and are somewhat more spacious inside, for example for your legs.

Extended Landcruisers/Land Rovers
The original Landcruisers and Land Rovers have three rows of seats; one in front for the driver, and two in the back for safari-goers. There are also longer versions of these vehicles. They have been extended to allow for one more row of seats in the back.

The advantage of the extended versions is that they allow for two more passengers. The disadvantage is that they are a little less manoeuvrable than the original versions.

Open vehicles
Open safari vehicles, i.e. with no roof, are used only for game driving vehicles operated by some lodges. They are not practical for travelling the roads, where you may have to face much wind, dust and rain.

Safaris are hard on the vehicles, which require frequent maintenance. A simple way of telling a better local tour operator from a worse is having a look at the state of the vehicles they operate. A vehicle that isn't properly maintained may spoil your safari. In some cases, you only have to look at the tyres. Worn tyres mean less safety and less performance on poor roads. If the tyres are worn, what's the condition of the spare tyres?

Now, no safari vehicle looks brand new. There is always wear and tear to some extent.

Two Lancruisers, one of them with the pop-up sunroof up. Extended Landcruisers, each one carrying up to six safari-goers.

Safari adaptations
The vehicles are original models rebuilt and/or equipped for safari use.

Pop-up sunroof/roof hatch
All good safari vehicles have roof hatches or pop-up sunroofs, which are opened for game drives, allowing you to stand up in the vehicle for a better view.

Pop-up sunroofs (see the picture above) are most common. The roof protects you from the sun, which may be fierce in the middle of the days. (But still use your sun block, as there is a strong sun reflection from the surroundings.) For early morning and late afternoon game drives, sunroofs aren't really necessary.

The pop-up sunroofs open above the seats in the back, not above the front row where the driver sits.

There are also vehicles with roof hatches (one for each row of seats), which are lifted away when open. These offer no protection from the sun, but are ideal for bird watching and for game viewing in forested areas, as there is no sun roof obscuring you view upwards.

Stronger suspension is necessary on the poor roads and off-road. In the picture above, you can see the yellow Australian heavy-duty leaf springs fitted to both vehicles.

Fuel tanks
Most safari vehicles have two fuel tanks, and may carry up to 150 litres/40 US gallons/33 British gallons of fuel.

The bullbar (the steel frame in front) protects the vehicle and passengers from damage in collisions with animals.

Safari snorkel
Some safari vehicles have a snorkel, which is not to allow the car to submerge under water, but to provide cleaner air to the engine. The snorkel raises the air intake away from dusty roads.

Minibus parked by a pool in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Minibus carrying up to six safari-goers.

Spare tyres and heavy-duty jack
Most safari vehicles have two spare tyres and a heavy-duty jack, attached to the back of the car. Having two spares is better than having one. Flat tyres from poor roads, acacia thorns etc are not uncommon, but are quickly fixed.

Virtually all safari vehicles have a radio, allowing the driver guide to communicate with other vehicles and, if the range allows, with the tour operator's base or office (usually in a town/city such as Nairobi or Arusha). As mobile phone coverage now includes many Kenyan and Tanzanian parks, most long distance communication is done by phone, and radios for shorter ranges are fitted in the vehicles.

Cooler box
Many vehicles have a simple cooler box, which is filled with ice or cold water to keep water bottles etc cool during the day.

Fire extinguisher and first-aid kit
These are for your safety. Look for them first thing when you enter the vehicle the first time.

Seat belts
There should be seat belts in your vehicle. The front seats usually have three-point belts (the type seen in modern cars), while the seats in the back usually have lap belts (the type seen in airliners).

Safari vehicles don't have airbags.

Air conditioning
'Air conditioning' in most safari vehicles is achieved by opening the windows. True air conditioning can be found mainly with some luxury safari operators. Closing the windows and enjoying the AC may add comfort, but it reduces your presence and your experience. Africa is hot, the roads are dusty and the animals do smell.

Sand/traction mats
Few safari vehicles carry sand/traction mats (which are used for passing soft ground, such as sand). There is rarely need for such.

Whites, beiges and greens are the most common colours for safari vehicles.

White has the disadvantage of reflecting much light (from for example the bonnet/hood and the roof), which may dazzle your eyes when game viewing. Dark colours may attract tsetse flies.

The animals don't seem to shy away from certain colours. We have seen cats (lions, cheetahs and leopards) on, beneath or around dark green vehicles often enough to start wondering if they feel more confident with dark colours.

Safari jeep passing a male lion. Original Landcruiser carrying up to four safari-goers.

Seats in safari vehicles
Most safari vehicles have a few seats that should not be used for passengers on safaris, or the vehicle will end up too crowded. For short drives, such as airport transfers, using these seats too is quite OK, but they are not OK for travelling to parks or game driving. Seating issues in over-crowded vehicles may cause conflicts within your group.

Three seats in a row
The middle seat out of the three should not be used for passengers, or the row will be too crammed.

The seat next to the driver
This seat should not be used for passengers in most vehicles, as there is normally no roof hatch above. It's a poor seat for game viewing. Some vehicles do have a roof hatch there, however, and then it's a good seat that may be used.

Seats in Landcruiser and Land Rover
Original versions have seats for 6 passengers (plus driver), but should not be used for more than 4. Extended versions have seats for 8 passengers, but should not be used for more than 6.

Seats in minibuses
Most have seats for 9 passengers, but should not be used for more than 6.

'Guaranteed window seat'
The phrase 'guaranteed window seat' may be used in brochures and ads, meaning that all passengers get a window seat, which is good. But it allows for seating passengers next to the driver, which is usually not as good as other window seats.

What you really want is a guaranteed window seat with a roof hatch/sun roof above. Then you can see well when travelling, and can stand up for a better view during game drives. Make sure that your travel companies or tour operator can guarantee you such a seat before booking. If they can't, you may want to book with another company. Squeezing too many clients into a vehicle is a sign of poor quality.

The numbers of good seats given above include children.

Some travel companies have a policy not to guarantee the good seats to passengers not paying full price, i.e children. They may have to sit in seats between the good (window) ones.

It's a bad policy. In short, all window seats may be booked for adults, and some children may be added on top. What happens is that the children get their parents' window seats, and the parents cram in on seats that should really be empty for space reasons. Thus, the vehicle gets too crowded. The quality is reduced for all passengers. Choose another travel company.

Squeezing in with family or friends
If you are sharing vehicle with family or friends only, and don't mind if it's crowded, you may squeeze one or two persons extra in, if you all agree to this. You may take turns using the less good seats.

This should be reflected in the tour price for each one of you. It should cost less to travel all in one vehicle than splitting up into two.

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Page updated 27 April 2013