In the following, I have collected some hints concerning the equipment and tips & tricks that have proven to be good on our African safaris in Kenya an Tanzania so far.
For the entry to Kenya as well as to Tanzania you need a visum and a passport that is valid for at least 6 months and contains at least three free pages. In the past, visa could be applied for when entering the country, but this is probably no longer possible.
In principle, visa can also be applied for at the embassies of the countries concerned before the trip. Visa are valid in both countries for 90 days from the date of issue. Since the details can change, it is essential to check the current regulations. Applying for visas at the embassies is a very cumbersome and time-consuming process. In addition, personal documents (e.g. the passport) must be mailed for this purpose, which is not to everyone’s liking.
For some time, therefore, there have been services on the Internet specializing in simplifying this process and allowing it to be carried out completely online for an additional fee. One of these services is e.g. iVisa.com*.
However, I don’t have any personal experience with these services, so I would be very happy to hear about your experiences with them in the comments.
For our last Kenya trip at the turn of the year 2021/22, we obtained our visas at the end of 2020 for the first time completely online directly from Kenya. The Kenyan government has created its own eVisa website for this purpose. You have to answer quite a few questions there and upload scans of your passport and a recent passport photo. The process of issuing the tourist visas for us took only a few days.
The best shots usually are usually taken in the early morning and late evening hours. Most of the animals rest at noon, moreover, photography with a long telephoto lens from a distance is hardly possible at that time because of the heat shimmering of the air. Despite the light-sensitive sensors of today’s digital cameras, it is therefore often necessary to use fast telephoto lenses.
Since there is no more hunting allowed in Kenya and northern Tanzania, the animals are not too shy, so that one can usually get close enough to them. In southern Tanzania and especially in the Selous there is still some hunting, and therefore the fleeing distance of the animals is much higher. By the way, at least the mammals in Africa are relatively large, so that usually a focal length of 400mm with full format camera bodies is sufficient, especially if a crop camera is available, too. So I swear on my 400mm supertele with an initial aperture of f/2.8, but this weighs more than 3kg. In the case that more focal length is needed: with 1.4x and 2.0x tele extenders the quality will hardly decrease and you can achieve a focal length of up to 800mm with an initial aperture of f/5.6.
Additionally, I recently took a “fine weather” telephoto zoom with a focal length of 60-600mm (Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports*) with me, which is much more flexible in bright light and also provided an astonishing image quality. I would also recommend a fast 70-200mm zoom for animal group shots ( and for the elephants 😉 ) and a 16-35mm zoom for the breathtaking landscapes. If you plan to shoot the night sky, a fast wide-angle lens is also helpful.
Furthermore a tripod, a monopod, several tripod heads, 2 Manfrotto Superclamps* and several chargers accompanied us in our luggage.
In the often dusty environments, changing lenses should be avoided as far as possible, so, and also as a back-up, I recommend to take at least two camera bodies with you. It would be a pity, if the failure of a single body would mean the photographic end of such a trip. It is impossible to find a suitable replacement fpr your broken camera in the middle of the wilderness. A good combination is to take a full format and an APS-C body with you. Recently I even had 3 camera bodies with me. On the last trip, I used two high-resolution full-frame bodies with 45 and 50 megapixel sensors, which allowed subsequent cropping of the images without much loss of quality.
In addition, I used a small 12 to 14 inch laptop for data backup and a quick image check, an iPad, several batteries, power banks, binoculars etc. Distributed on 2 backpacks with necessary accessories this made in total a weight of more than 20kg.
As a backpack, I used a ThinkTank Airport Accelerator*, which just manages to pass as hand luggage in the plane and takes 2 bodies with 400mm f/2.8, the extenders and the Sigma 60-600mm - but then there is no place left. The rest was stored in a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW*. But due to the 12kg free carry-on baggage limit at KLM and Kenya Airways the transport was no problem.
The KLM and Kenya Airways airlines can be especially recommended for photo safaris in Africa, because they allow carry-on luggage of up to 12kg per person and we had almost reached this weight limit with our photo equipment on our trips, despite the fact that it was distributed among 3 people.
With other airlines and a limit of only 8kg, you have to be tricky: I then divided everything into three backpacks and hung a camera with lens for me and a fellow passenger at the baggage check-in around my neck. By the way, one time, when flying with SWISS, the backpacks were actually weighed. But despite a slight overweight (approx. 9.5kg) they were generously accepted.
As you are usually not allowed to leave the vehicles on the gamedrives (and you do not want to leave them because of the local wildlife - inside the car you are a tourist, outside the car you are food 😉 ) you will observe and photograph from inside the vehicle. Therfore most of your pictures were taken from the roof hatch with the cameras an lenses placed on bean bags. The roof of our vehicles could be raised, so that the bean bags could be placed on the edges of the roof. Several bean bags were always available in the vehicles. This has to be clarified with the tour operator in advance. For some shots (especially during sunrise and sunset) we also attached the Manfrotto Superclamps* with tripod heads at the roof rails of the car, which increased the stability substantially. Lateron, I also took many pictures with a monopod through the open window. The lower perspective is usually much more appealing.
Power adapters are important to charge the photo equipment. With all the electronic gadgets you need these days, you should also carry the most compact distributor plugs possible, a USB charger with as many USB ports as possible helps too.We have used UK adapters* in both Kenya and Tanzania. The mains voltage is 240V in Kenya and 230V in Tanzania, all of our chargers worked without any problems.
Furthermore, in some accommodations, the electricity is available only for a limited time of the day and/or at central points. In these cases, I connected and charged a Power Bank* during the day while we were on gamedrive and used it in the night to recharge my mobile phone, iPad and camera batteries.
As already mentioned, the best time for game observation on safari is early in the morning and late in the evening. Due to the position right at the equator, there is almost always an equal time of the day and night in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The sun rises in the morning around 6:30am and sets at 6:30pm in the evening. A safari is therefore nothing for late risers. Every morning we got up around 5:30am and got into the car shortly after 6:00am. We were rewarded by many spectacular sunrises.
From about 10:00am on, it gets hotter and hotter and the animals have their midday rest - you should do the same and enjoy the camp and a great lunch. In the afternoon the photos of the morning tour can be viewed and saved. An afternoon game drive typically starts around 4pm and lasts until 7pm at the latest, by this time most parks have to be left. The final highlight is usually another great sunset.
The evening ends at the campfire (“Bushman-TV”), preferably with a Gin Tonic, Tusker (Kenyan beer), Kilimanjaro (Tanzanian beer) or exotic fruit cocktail and a following dinner. Around 10:00pm you are usually completely tired.
BTW: Nowhere else I have ever experienced such darkness as on a moonless night in Africa.
No special vaccinations are required for entry into Kenya and Tanzania. However, there is one exception: When entering Tanzania from Kenya, yellow fever vaccination is mandatory. The vaccination card is actually checked by a health officer when you cross the border.
Both Kenya and Tanzania are malaria endemic areas, especially along the coasts and at Lake Victoria. Malaria prophylaxis is therefore recommended. We have consequently practised this with MALARONE (one tablet per day) and have tolerated it well. However, it is also important to protect against the sting of mosquitoes. The malaria mosquito is active at dusk and at night. It is therefore essential to wear long, if possible bite proof clothing during this time and to use a repellent (e.g. Doctan*). In addition, we impregnated our clothing with a repellent (Nobite) before the trip. During the night a mosquito net covering the bed should be used. All the camps and lodges we visited so far offered them. I myself did not notice a single mosquito sting during the trips.
In the Serengeti there are also TseTse flies, which can cause sleeping sickness. However, this disease is very rare among tourists and occurs only during very long stays. Apparently a single bite is not enough. Our Tanzanian guide, Arnold, knew from his own experience not a single case of the disease. The TseTse flies are penetrant, similar to the horseflies in our country and sometimes appear in swarms. We have killed some of them with our bare hands and improvised fly swats. By the way, our repellents did not impress them very much. Even with the TseTse flies, closed clothing is the best protection. It should also not be of dark color.
Directly at the equator and at a height of 1200-1600m the solar radiation is enormous. A headwear and sun protection cream with a high sun protection factor is therefore absolutely mandatory.
Food & Drinks
“Cook it, peel it or forget it”, this rule should be followed in Kenya as well as in Tanzania. The quality of drinking water is partly very poor, the water often contains pathogens, so that one should avoid washed uncooked food - even if it is very difficult because of the fantastic salad and fruit buffets. Ice cubes in drinks may also be contaminated. Mineral water bottles are available for tooth brushing in all accommodations. But in superior lodges or camps, in the meantime, mineral water is used for washing the food, so that we now also had salads there without any problems. But to do this, one has to trust the kitchen staff.
The food in the camps and lodges is delicious and plentiful. The buffets are usually extensive. The meat is what you are usually used to: chicken, beef, lamb, often with an “oriental” touch. Since there is no hunting in Kenya and Tanzania, local game is not served. Those who absolutely want to eat antelope steaks or something similar have to travel further south to Namibia or South Africa.
The bars in the camps and lodges are very well stocked. In the evening we enjoyed a Gin Tonic or a local lager beer at the campfire. In Kenya, for example, you will get the Tusker (called “elephant soup” by the locals), in Tanzania the Kilimanjaro. But there are also very tasty non-alcoholic exotic fruit cocktails. The South African wines are also highly recommended.
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