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Why Should you Choose a Jeep Safari in Kenya?

by Cris Puscas

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For many, dreams of an African safari conjure images of an open 4x4 vehicle gliding across the vast plains of the Masai Mara that allows its occupants to get up close and personal with various species of wildlife.

While you may have some knowledge as to what an overland safari or a game drive is, do you know the various vehicle options as well as their advantages?

In this article, we are sharing insights on why you should choose a jeep safari in Kenya, comparing it with other forms of transportation while breaking down each of their advantages and disadvantages.

But first…

Types of safari vehicles

vehicles on a safari in Kenya

Photo credit: Ultimate Africa Expeditions

Overland safaris are the most affordable way to visit Africa if spotting animals is the outmost prirority. For those who aren’t on a tight budget, flying safaris make an even better choice.

Here are the types of vehicles you can consider using during a safari in Africa:

Overland trucks are big trucks or buses which were customized to withstand the African roads and are self-sufficient to include everything you need for the trip.

You may spend days, weeks or months traveling in an overland truck, which has cooking gear, camping gear, and even a kitchen sink! More often than not, choosing an overland truck means you are opting for an affordable safari.

Minivan safari vehicles are minivans converted for safaris (fitted with a pop-up roof). Most prefer this type of vehicle when traveling in Kenya and it still makes an affordable choice. That said, note that they aren’t ideal for game viewing or photography.

4x4 safari vehicles are offered by most private conservancies in Kenya. They are great for game viewing and photography.

There are two types of open vehicles: 4x4 (or 4WD) safari jeeps which are most often converted Land Cruisers or Land Rovers. They come with large windows and pop-up roofs; and open side vehicles which are 4x4s specially adapted with open sides (some have a canopy).

Some camps and lodges in Kenya offer the option to pay an additional fee to opt for the open vehicle instead of the minivan.

 

What are the advantages of choosing a jeep safari?

Open-sided jeep on a safari in Kenya

Photo credit: African Breeze Tours

At the top of the safari vehicle choice is the jeep (also known as open 4WD safari vehicle).

Choosing between a minivan and a jeep for your safari in Kenya depends on multiple factors such as budget, activities you want to engage in, whether you travel as a family and/or whether photography is a priority.

The advantages of choosing a jeep safari are:

  • They are the most exclusive way to go on a safari in Kenya.
  • Jeeps are best for wildlife viewing, allowing you to get up close and personal with nature.
  • They are also excellent if you’re looking to take great shots and work on your wildlife photography.
  • They give the option to get plenty the fresh air throughout the day. Note that closed safari vehicles may become very hot as they don’t offer AC.
  • They tend to be more comfortable than minivans: there are fewer seats in the vehicle and more space, making them ideal for short game drives.
  • When faced with downpour, a 4x4 (jeep) has more chances of not being stuck in the mud, whereas minivans are known to have been pulled out by…jeeps. When you are on a deserted road, it’s far better to opt for jeep so that you won’t risk being stranded.

That said, there are some situations where a jeep may not be ideal:

  • Jeeps may not be a good choice for those suffering from motion sickness, the elderly, or children. Kindly note that most lodges accept children as young as 6 years old to go on game drives but be careful that they may get restless in the heat. The least bumpy seats are upfront so choose those if you suffer from back pain.
  • Jeep may not be suitable for driving long distances (e.g: between national parks), especially if they are completely open and may not offer adequate protection from intense sun rays (during the dry season) and rainfall (during the wet season).

What activities can you do in a jeep safari?

Game viewing from a safari jeep with multiple pop up roofs, in Kenya

Photo credit: Explorers Wild Adventures

Since the jeeps are open on both sides, they are the ideal vehicle for game viewing, birdwatching, and photography. Some open jeeps are designed in such a way that nobody’s view is blocked by the person in front of them.

This type of vehicle offers an intimate connection with African wildlife. It is easier to look for wild animals and take photos, and it allows you to enjoy the sounds and smells of nature.

Kindly note that you’ll most likely share a jeep with other safari-goers (a total of 6-8 guests can travel in one jeep at a time). However, if you prefer an exclusive experience, make sure to let your organizer known in advance that you prefer a private safari.

 

What to expect from a jeep safari?

safari vehicles watching lions in Kenya

Photo credit: Jamboree Africa Tours and Safaris

In eastern Africa (including Kenya) you will typically find closed safari vehicles offered as part of the safari package.

However, open vehicles are often offered as well. Land rovers / land cruisers can have a completely open top, a pop-up top or an open top with detachable canvas cover. It depends on how the particular organizer has configured their vehicle, so it's important to inquire directly.

If you're traveling by road, the jeeps will be enclosed on the sides (with windows) and just open on the top. This is because open-sided vehicles are not allowed on the roads between parks for safety/security reasons. These types of closed jeeps are not ideal for game viewing as you need to pop your head through the hatch.

But you may drive in one type of vehicle to the camp and switch to a camp vehicle (open) for the game view. Make sure to inquire about this, as it likely won’t be offered as an option as it’s not the norm. Expect to pay an additional fee should you opt for the open vehicle during the game drives.

The 4x4 safari jeep (converted land cruiser) is most often used by accommodation in the Masai Mara. They tend to perform well in all kind of weather and all-terrain. They can have either open sides or multiple game viewing roofs.

If you're on a flying safari, then you'll be using the camp or lodge's vehicles for your game drives. While most private conservancies use open jeeps (4WD), the closed minivans may still make an appearance (so make sure to inquire ahead of time).

For example, if you want to be in an open jeep during your safari in Masai Mara, most likely your safari organizer would suggest a fly-in package.

If you opt for a luxury fly-in safari, then the open side 4WD is the vehicle of choice. They will pick you up from the airstrip when your flight arrives.

Do note that game drives happen mostly at sunrise and sunset, but you can also opt for a full day and you always need to protect yourself from the natural elements, that can be quite “harsh”.

So, make sure to wear your sunglasses, hat, scarf, and pack a windbreaker. Also, don’t forget to use sunblock too!

 

What to expect from jeep safaris in other top African destinations?

open safari jeep in botswana

Photo credit: DK Tours and Safaris

Open safari vehicles are mostly used in southern African destinations: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Road safaris aren’t that common in countries such as Botswana, where the road network is limited, so it makes sense to fly between the parks.

In Eastern Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) you will typically find closed safari vehicles (including the minivan). For example, at Ngorongoro Crater all safari vehicles are closed (for guests’ comfort since the crater is often cold and drizzly).

However, similar to Kenya, a good number of private conservancies in Tanzania prefer to use open jeeps.


 Can’t wait to get up close and personal with the iconic African wildlife? Enjoy the best of what Africa has to offer on a Kenya-Tanzania safari!

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