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Accessible Safaris

Many safari travellers visit both East and Southern Africa but not many have done it confined to a wheelchair. But Tineke Dirks from the Netherlands has, and is happy to prove that it is completely possible.

These are big journeys in any event – international flights, transfers, different accommodations, game drives and local tours – but all Tineke asked for is that they be accessible safaris. People in the same situation as Tineke feel the same: use the term ‘disability’ or ‘wheelchair friendly’ if you want but put the focus on accessibility to the African experience.

Safari activities in the Makgadikgadi

Tineke prepares to watch wildebeest crossing a river during the Masai Mara migration.

It starts with the booking process. A good travel consultant will know what is possible, rather than what is not possible. And there is plenty possible: genuinely accessible safaris are available in Africa’s most exciting travel destinations including Kenya’s Masai Mara, Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Kalahari as well as South Africa’s Cape Town. Modern safari operators use wheelchair-adapted boats and vehicles; their lodges and camps have fully-accessible suites, complete with adapted bathrooms.

A Salt Pan Sleep out

In the Masai Mara, Tineke stayed at Rekero Camp where she could get around fairly easily. And there is always a helping hand if needed.

Tineke knew she needed these safaris tailor-made to her requirements and indeed her expectations. She wanted to see the destinations at their best, for example, but not if that meant heavy rain or baking temperatures. Details matter when booking a trip like this and local knowledge is key: a travel expert can put together the right itinerary for the time of year and deal with any potential issues upfront: Tineke wanted to know, for example, if she could bring along her hand-bike to attach to her wheelchair. Turns out it’s no problem on international flights but it can cause issues on local flights where there is limited space on smaller aeroplanes.

A Salt Pan Sleep out

A lightweight, collapsible wheelchair made things easy from a logistical point of view.

A thorough, detailed booking process got Tineke what she was hoping for. Her Kenyan safari opened in the Masai Mara where she stayed at two different tented camps and enjoyed game drives and local cultural tours, including a visit to a Maasai village. Tineke was happy with the front seat during her game drives but nowadays there are safari vehicles so well designed for wheelchairs that even the pop-up roof is accessible.

Back at camp, she found that staff went out of their way to help her and come up with practical solutions, especially when there was an unforeseen snag. A dedicated caregiver was on hand for all the assistance she needed while preserving her independence, and she felt safe and looked after throughout.

A Salt Pan Sleep out

Tineke watched wildlife from the front seat but other vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs.

She saw a lot of wildlife in the Masai Mara – lions, elephant, hippo and cheetah as well as thousands of wildebeest crossing a crocodile-infested river – and enjoyed star-lit dinners and conversations around the camp fire – the complete safari experience. She wondered if South Africa could provide the same level of accessibility.

Well, it does – and more. On her next trip, Tineke discovered that South Africa is the best destination on the continent for accessible travel. Airports, hotels and the country’s top destinations have all incorporated accessibility into their design and there are dedicated tours for the hearing- and visually-impaired as well as mobility-impaired seniors and of course, travellers in wheelchairs.

A Salt Pan Sleep out

Cape Town’s Big Red Sightseeing Bus is just one of the city’s activities with wheelchair access.

Tineke found she could easily access the entire Cape Town experience, ranging from Robben Island and Kirstenbosch Gardens to Cape Point and the Boulders Beach penguins. Nearly all the museums and galleries in Cape Town are wheelchair-friendly – including the famous Zeitz MOCCA at the V&A Waterfront –and there’s even a special service for wheelchair visitors on the Table Mountain cableway, ensuring everyone who wants a view from the top of the famous mountain can get it.

A Salt Pan Sleep out

The view from Table Mountain was made easy, care of the cable car & priority wheelchair access.

Two successful holidays, thanks to good forward planning and the right operators. And with Botswana now on the map for accessible safaris as well as opportunities in Tanzania and Uganda, it seems that even more of Africa is becoming accessible.

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Safari Online have been nothing but professional and incredible from the time we made our first enquiry to the last day of our stunning holiday. Nothing was too much trouble for Walter. We are now starting to plan our next family Safari for 2019. Guess who we will be booking with??? Safari Online we hope you are ready!!!!!

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We have been to Africa for 24 of the last 27 years so know a bit about what is involved. Walter has arranged the details for the last couple of years, and has done a superb job. He is always quick to respond and comes up with answers immediately……..no evasive tactics, always head-on!

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