terrorism, war, HIV/AIDS, and famine in Africa… Aren’t
Before we answer this question, we need to put Africa in perspective.
Africa is an immense continent, not a country. There are 54+ countries
in Africa encompassing a myriad of cultures, economic systems, histories,
and languages. Africa has only about 15 percent of the world’s
population but nearly 30 percent of the world’s remaining languages.
The distance from its western tip to its eastern horn is farther than
the distance from New York to Amsterdam. The continental United States
could fit into Africa nearly four times over.
To not go on safari in eastern or southern Africa to, say, Tanzania
or Botswana, because of something that happened in West Africa, in
Liberia for example, is like refusing to go to Canada because of something
that happened in Mexico. Take heart: there is much that is “good”
and “right” with Africa. These are the places we take
our Safarists, not to war zones.
This said, we do live in an era where, in the United States as well
as abroad, the threat of terrorism lingers. Ultimately, it is up to
each individual to decide whether he or she wants to give in to the
goal of terrorists -- to live in fear and perhaps ignorance -- or
to engage the world and to learn from others. Regardless, if terrorism
were to occur, it would likely happen in an urban center; on safari
we spend maximum time in “the bush,” not in cities. And
always we at Cowabunga Safaris promise that if there is even the slightest
chance anyone might be in any undue jeopardy on one of our safaris,
we will cancel or rearrange the safari without hesitation.
As for HIV/AIDS, the scourge of Africa, a person can contract it only
in very specific ways… What kind of lifestyle will you lead
in Africa? In the unlikely event an emergency blood transfusion is
needed, our contingency plans include access to sterile needles and
facilities where all blood is screened and medical staff are western-trained.
Finally, about famine. Ironically, Africa can grow enough food to
feed itself. The problem is distribution: many regions suffer because
of poor or non-existent roads and rail links. Nevertheless, it is
virtually impossible to lose weight on a Cowabunga Safari, so delectable
is the fare and desserts!
So now we return to the question, “Are you scared to go on safari?”
No! Since 1974, we at Cowabunga Safaris we have made countless friends
and had innumerable, wonderful experiences in Africa. Going to Africa
and being on safari is a privilege.
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Do you shoot animals on your safaris?
Yes – with cameras! We conduct photographic safaris only.
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Where do you go in Africa and what kinds
of safaris do you do?
Since 1974, we at Cowabunga Safaris have done many, many kinds and
variations of safaris nearly everywhere in southern and East Africa.
Additionally, Gary and Brian have made valuable friends and contacts
throughout much of the rest of the continent after their own individual
explorations – to Timbuktu, the Congo, Senegal, Mozambique,
Our safaris range from rustic to upscale. Tell us what you have in
mind. We can make it happen.
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Is going on safari dangerous? Will animals
There is always an element of risk being on safari in some of the
world’s greatest wildlife areas. However, you should not think
of yourself as prey! Rather, you should think of yourself as a privileged
guest in the animals’ home. As long as you observe certain rules
while in your hosts’ home, they will all but guarantee you an
enjoyable time. Our experienced guides make certain all Safarists
know and follow “bush etiquette,” not only to get in respectful
proximity of wild animals, but also to ensure the safety of humans
and animals alike.
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What safety precautions do you take?
Prior to departure, we thoroughly brief all Safarists. We also stay
in constant contact with our many friends throughout Africa generally,
and the countries we’re going to specifically, to keep apprised
of everything from political events to animal movements.
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Once underway, we use only established, reputable airlines. In country,
we make sure first-aid kits are within easy reach, and that staff
trained in western basic first-aid are present. Beyond that, we have
VHF radios and cellphones with which we can contact medical air rescue
services. Finally, we have contingency plans in place for getting
individuals from anywhere we are to a range of highly regarded medical
facilities and western-trained physicians, all capable of handling
nearly any ailment or condition.
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What do you eat in Africa?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: it is virtually
impossible to lose weight on a Cowabunga Safari! All of our meals
cater to western preferences, are first-class, and are excellently
prepared. Chefs make exquisite cuisine using a wide array of meats,
pastas, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Desserts are delectable and
overwhelming – so much so, we encourage all Safarists to practice
the Cowabunga mantra: to “Eat dessert first, because life is
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It must be so hot in Africa, how do you stand it?
In Africa one can find penguins – yes, penguins! -- and wildebeest
within kilometers of each other. So while there are hot parts of Africa,
there are cold parts too. In East Africa, in places like Tanzania,
Kenya and Uganda, all countries on or near the equator, the average
elevation is 5,000 feet above sea level in most parts of safari country.
This moderates temperatures, translating into ideal year-round daytime
highs in the 70s or 80s, and nighttime temperatures in the 60s or
50s. The four seasons in East Africa are marked more by rainy and
dry periods than by degrees: the short dry season, the long rainy
season, the long dry season, then the short rainy season.
In southern Africa, in places like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia
and South Africa, seasons in safari country are likewise marked by
rainy and dry periods. Yet depending on the line of latitude combined
with elevation, one can have wide temperature variations also. In
some of the places we go on safari it is not uncommon to be comfortable
in a t-shirt and shorts during the day, but to need a coat, stocking
hat and gloves at dawn, dusk or during the night. On a couple of safaris
we’ve even had to contend with frost and snow!
In sum, being too hot on safari is rarely a problem. In fact, an often-heard
refrain around Cowabunga Safaris is that “Africa is a cold continent
with a warm sun.” Layers, therefore, are a must.
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What about bugs and snakes?
First-time Safarists are always surprised by how few insects they
have to contend with while on safari. To some extent this can be attributed
to timing: we tend to go on safari during the dry season, especially
in southern Africa. While the reasons are more logistical –
isolated bush camps can be reached by vehicle, animals congregate
around remaining water sources, making for rewarding observations
and photography – in terms of bugs, this is when there are fewest
of them. Pleasant evening campfires also help in that they keep insects
from “bugging” Safarists. Finally, all our safari accommodations
are very comfortable and bug-free, if not bug-proof.
As for snakes, we realize not everyone sees it our way, but you’d
be lucky to see a snake on safari! This isn’t to say snakes
aren’t around in safari country. They are. However, since 1974,
most of our safaris have focused more on mammals than reptiles. In
other words, with only a few exceptions, we haven’t gone out
of our way to find serpentine creatures. More important to most Safarists,
serpentine creatures haven’t gone out of their way to find them.
In fact, we have alumni who have been on safari with us nearly a dozen
times and have yet to see a snake. Some are getting to the point where
they actually wish they’d see one!
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I’ve never been camping in my life –
how could I manage on safari?
While we do conduct participatory, backpacking safaris on request,
the bulk of our safaris are more upscale. You’ll stay in first-class
lodges similar to what are found in, say, Yellowstone National Park.
Most tented camps are anything but what you might find on a weekend
camping trip in the USA. The tents are large – they are big
enough to walk into and stand in -- with comfortable twin beds, complete
with linen and duvets, and other furniture. Unless otherwise stated
in our itineraries, all accommodations have private en suite bathroom
facilities, including hot showers and toilets (yes, even in the tents).
Some places even have filtered swimming pools.
Depending on the type of safari you choose or ask us to custom design,
your mode of travel might be in an open land rover, a van with a pop-up
roof for photography, on foot, by canoe, motor boat or chartered light
aircraft, or even in a hot air balloon! We cater to all abilities,
comfort levels and interests. Tell us the kind of safari you’re
interested in. We can make it happen.
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Am I too young? Am I too old? Who goes
on a Cowabunga safari? What shape do I need to be in?
Since 1974, we’ve had 88-year-olds, college students, families,
best-selling authors like Ken Blanchard, public school teachers, and
children (albeit we have a lower limit of 14 for most mixed groups)
from across the United States and several other countries go on safari
with us – and the list could go on. In short, we’ve shared
Africa with people of all ages and from all walks of life. The health
of these people has run the gamut. We consult closely with every potential
Safarist to make sure his or her abilities, comfort levels and interests
are compatible with any given safari or group, whether the safari
be rustic or upscale, participatory or not.
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What clothes should I bring on safari?
What gear do I need?
As a general rule, Safarists should bring only the bare essentials:
binoculars (the most important piece of equipment in our opinion --
at a minimum, we recommend 7x35s), camera, plenty of film or large
memory sticks, three or four changes of casual clothes in “bush
colors” (i.e., khaki, browns and greens – but no camouflage!),
a wide-brimmed hat, sunblock, swimsuit, a broken-in pair of comfortable
walking shoes, and a pair of flip-flops/water sandals. A warm jacket
is a must.
Cowabunga provides in-depth written briefings for all Safarists after
they sign-on for any safari. Furthermore, when possible, Cowabunga
conducts face-to-face briefings approximately three months before
departure. For those who can’t make the face-to-face briefings,
a detailed transcript of questions and answers is sent to them. Gary,
Brian and Nancy always stand ready to brief Safarists at a moment’s
notice via fax, phone, e-mail, or in-person.
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What pills and shots do I need?
In most parts of eastern and southern Africa, you should take anti-malaria
pills and get hepatitis shots as a precaution. A few countries still
require a yellow fever vaccination or a signature from your doctor
waiving you from such a vaccination (we cover this distinction in
the briefings). All Safarists should consult with their local public
health clinic or personal physician regarding pills and shots.
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When is a good time to go on safari?
As soon as possible! Any number of things could change and keep you
from going: politics, personal finances, age, health, airfares, etcetera.
Some of life’s biggest regrets are missed opportunities.
If you’re interested in knowing what month is a good month to
go on safari, well, the answer is slightly different. In this case,
a good time to go on safari in many parts of southern Africa is during
the northern hemisphere’s summer months; this is southern Africa’s
winter and dry season. (There are, of course, parts of southern Africa
that can, and should, be visited anytime, regardless of the month.
We’d be happy to tell you about these places.)
In spite of what many guidebooks say, any month is a good month to
go on safari in East Africa. We’re serious. This isn’t
just a sales pitch. Daytime temperatures are typically in the 70s
or mid-80s for highs in most parts of safari country, and mid-60s
(but occasionally the 40s) for lows during the night. During “the
rains” it does not rain 24/7, usually only for a short period
during the morning and afternoon, meaning that most roads and trails
remain passable. Quality game viewing is a given year-round in East
Africa due to the sheer number of animals present in the region.
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What animals will I see on safari, and
Elephant, lion, hippo, hyena, giraffe, zebra, baboon, warthog, gazelle
and antelope we can guarantee. Cheetah probably, leopard perhaps,
and rhino maybe, among other species. Birding is always phenomenal.
On most safaris we see around 40+ mammal species. In terms of sheer
numbers, we should see many hundreds, if not thousands, of mammals
in southern Africa, and upwards of 10,000 mammals in East Africa!
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I’ve never been on safari, which
one would you recommend?
This question is a difficult one. It’s like asking a parent
with a couple of children which child is his or her favorite. We love
all our safaris for different reasons. Regardless, we’ll need
to consult closely with you to consider timing, cost, abilities and
interests. As a starting point, perhaps we should give some “big
picture differences between southern and East Africa, the parts of
the continent where wildlife viewing is most rewarding.
In southern Africa we typically have opportunities for combining a
wide variety of activities during one safari: treks and walks (at
a pace set by the individual), game-drives during the day and at night
(in open vehicles with no sides and no top), canoeing and/or boating
on the Zambezi, and even horseback riding. Our camps in southern Africa
are often isolated and small, sometimes capable of accommodating no
more than eight people (which is fine, because unless otherwise stated,
Cowabunga groups rarely have more than 10 Safarists, and custom-designed
safaris can have fewer still); frequently elephant, cape buffalo,
and other animals pass directly through them. The landscape in southern
Africa includes the rugged Luangwa Valley, an extension of the Great
Rift Valley Escarpment, the mighty Zambezi River, the remote Mavuradonha
Mountains, the captivating Cape, and incredible Victoria Falls, the
largest curtain of water in the world.
As has been mentioned elsewhere on this website, East Africa continues
to possess not only some of the last great concentrations of animals
left on earth, but also diversity. Rare is the East African safari
where we do not see 46+ different mammal species and 200+ species
of birds. Furthermore, there is a cultural dimension to being in East
Africa that is unmatched -- as one would expect from a region with
148 different languages, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and traditional
religious influences, etcetera. In terms of topography, our safaris
range from highlands in view of snow-capped peaks (Mt. Kilimanjaro,
Mt. Kenya, the Ruwenzori Mountains), to semi-arid regions, to montane
forests, to expansive savannah such as the Serengeti and the Maasai
Mara, the northern extension of the Serengeti ecosystem – often
in the course of one safari! These areas are most often explored in
vehicles, but can in some instances be covered on foot, horseback,
or even by hot air balloon. While we can never promise what a group
will see, we have no hesitation saying that if we started counting
animals from the time we arrived in East Africa until when we departed,
we will see more than 10,000 animals -- and this isn=t allowing for
repeat sightings of certain individuals.
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How much does it cost to go on safari?
What does the cost of a Cowabunga safari include?
The cost of any safari can vary widely, depending on the destination,
size of group, activities, types of accommodations, whether one travels
during high or low seasons, or if it’s a private, custom-designed
itinerary. At a minimum, you should probably plan on a two-week safari
costing you anywhere from US$3,500 per person and up for the “land
only” part of the safari, to which another US$1,500 to US$2,000
per person or so needs to be added for airfare. (The cost of airfare
to and across Africa reflects the distances involved and the relatively
few carriers that serve the continent.) Ironically, adventure camping
sometimes -- but not always -- costs more than staying in upscale
camps and lodges, a reflection of the difficult logistics involved.
So what does your money buy you? Unlike some safari companies that
lure people in with cheap advertised prices only to force clients
to reach into their wallets for every other thing once they are in
Africa, Cowabunga safari prices are straightforward. What you pay
covers all professional driver/guide services, accommodations and
meals as listed in our complimentary itineraries, entrance fees, transport
in Africa with guaranteed window seat, even tips for porters and wait-staff
at scheduled meals. We want you to enjoy Africa, not to be burdened
with doing math and doling out dollars while you are there.
Additionally, in-depth discussions about “African C.C.B. and
Triple T” – in Cowabunga code, this means “African
cultures, critters and birds, and trees, tracks and turds” –
are included, as are (funny?) jokes on the part of the Safari Leader.
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What is a “typical day” on safari
Actually, we don’t know if we’ve ever had a “typical
day” on safari in over thirty years. However, a “common
routine,” if you will, might be to wake up to birdsong at about
5:45 a.m., get dressed, and to meet the rest of your group for hot
tea or coffee around the campfire to ward off the morning chill. You
then board your vehicle or lace up your shoes and venture off with
your professional guide into the bush, usually in time for sunrise.
The first light of day just before sunrise is a magnificent time as
Africa is coming alive and the animals are active. You may need a
sweater or light jacket at this time. You will seek to photograph
and/or observe animals (and trees, and rivers, and mountains, and
valleys, and clouds…) until 8 or 8:30, at which time you return
to camp for a hearty breakfast. You then have some time to yourself
until about 10:30 when you depart once again. You return to camp at
about 12:30 p.m. and a luncheon buffet is served around 1.
You then have the early part of the afternoon to yourself. This is
the warmest part of the day (this said, temperatures will usually
be no higher than the 80s at most in safari country), the time of
day when many animals are simply “lying up” in shade.
Some people utilize this time to take a nap, catch up on journals
and field notes, clean cameras and code film, read, or even explore
the environs around camp to add additional birds, animals, plants,
and flowers to their check lists. At 3:30 or 4 you board your vehicle
or lace up your shoes again, returning to camp by about 6:30 p.m.
when the sun is setting. After a hot shower and change of clothes
(laundry service is generally available at every camp and lodge),
you proceed down to the campfire for a “sundowner” drink.
An exquisite dinner is served around 7:30, and by 9 you’ve had
a full day and you’re ready for a good night’s rest –
if only the night sounds of the African bush would let you sleep!
In the distance you can hear lions roaring, hyenas howling, hippos
snorting… You might lie awake for some time, not out of fear,
but out of fascination and awe. It is now when you might pinch yourself
to make sure it is not a dream. You are actually in Africa on safari!
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Why do you keep returning to Africa?
Why do you have Cowabunga alumni who have been on safari with you
over a dozen times?
Imagine a couple coming to the United States for the first time. They
make a two-week trip to the state of Arizona and see the Grand Canyon.
They then return home without seeing Niagara Falls, or the Olympic
Rain Forest, or the Rocky Mountains, or the Florida Everglades, or
Yellowstone National Park, or Denali National Park, or the Sonoran
Desert… Could one say they’ve seen the United States,
yet alone the continent of North America? Africa is much larger than
North America. One needs a lifetime, not just two weeks, to experience
a fraction of the continent’s infinite beauty and endless diversity.
Even if you go back to the same destination in Africa more than once,
it is never the same. A visit to the Serengeti will differ depending
on the time of the year, the season, the annual cycle of the rains,
etcetera. We’ve been there when the grass on the open savannah
is a rich brown and the baobab trees are so devoid of leaves their
branches look like exposed roots. We’ve been there when the
plains are covered with lush green grass and the baobabs are so full
of leaves you can’t even see their branches. In the dry season
the sky is so immense that it goes forever from one horizon to the
other – bright blue with a big ball of sun traversing it through
the day. In the rainy season you see dramatic thunderheads forming
in the distance and large sheets of rain moving across the plains.
Africa is always changing. In fact, we’ve been in Tanzania where
we’ve seen all of the above in a two-week period! One can never
get bored returning to Africa.
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How large are Cowabunga groups?
Unless otherwise stated, our groups rarely exceed 10 Safarists. Custom-designed
safaris can have fewer still.
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How has a small safari company like yours
– with offices in Kansas and rural Iowa of all places, and a
staff of only three – managed since 1974?
The answer to this question starts with our people -- VERY SPECIAL
PEOPLE – including family, volunteers (a.k.a., “Star Guards,”
who mind our offices when Gary, Nancy and Brian are in Africa), friends,
alumni of Cowabunga Safaris, and all of our associates in Africa.
Without them and their support there would be no Cowabunga. All are
valuable members of our team. What is more, these very special people
give strong word-of-mouth recommendations, ultimately leading to a
barrage of inquiries and contacts. We are overwhelmed by letters,
e-mails and long-distance calls from potential clients who have heard
of us through “a friend of their cousins.” In some cases
individuals don’t even know what city they were calling or where
they are e-mailing – they simply have a name and a phone number
or an e-mail address. We never dreamed we would reach the point where
some of our safaris fill two or three years in advance, and many have
wait lists! Clearly we are doing something right. However, we should
let you in on an open secret: for as good Safarists as we at Cowabunga
Safaris are, we’re pretty poor business people!
Our self-declared “President for Life” of Cowabunga Safaris
and founder, Gary Clarke, often says “If we ran a candy store,
we’d eat all the candy.” We’re not in the cutthroat,
competitive safari business to make money – hence the reason
why Gary has done zoo consulting every now and again, Brian is a college
professor nine months out of the year, and Nancy’s only “pay”
has been the expectation of being able to go on one Cowabunga safari
or so a year (which she’s done 26 times in 30+ years). So if
it’s not the money, why do we do it? The answer is “The
What’s that? Well… it is difficult to explain, but it
has to do with how you structure a safari and share Africa with others
so that a safari truly is the single most memorable travel event of
a person’s life. We have seen the safari experience change numerous
people’s lives for the better. It is this humbling fact that
keeps us going – and the fact that we love being in Africa so
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--- Cowabunga Safaris is well-established; since 1974, we have conducted
photographic safaris throughout Africa.
--- Cowabunga groups are small; unless otherwise noted or requested,
our groups rarely exceed 10 Safarists. Custom-designed safaris can
have fewer still. We resist the mass tourism syndrome.
--- Small groups allow Cowabunga to stay in smaller, more isolated
camps, and facilitates fulfillment of The Cowabunga Philosophy: “A
safari should be the most memorable travel experience of a person’s
life. But a safari is not just facts and photos. It should provide
the individual with a greater understanding and appreciation of wildlife
and our natural world, and of the peoples and cultures of Africa.”
--- Cowabunga Safaris is a small, independent company; this allows
us to custom design safaris, from the rustic to the upscale. Tell
us what you have in mind. We can make it happen.
--- Cowabunga has had 88-year-olds, college students, families, best-selling
authors like Ken Blanchard, and public school teachers go on safari
with us – and the list could go on. We can accommodate nearly
any comfort level, ability, or interest. It is a privilege to share
Africa with one and all.
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How do I learn more?
Detailed itineraries are available at no obligation. Call, write,
fax, or e-mail us. Better yet, pop into our Main Camp in Topeka, Kansas,
or our Fly-camp in Clarinda, Iowa – we’ll break out the
maps, brew African coffee, or have a sundowner drink, and talk Africa.
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