Yes, You Can Go On Safari in a Wheelchair!

Blog: Yes You Can Go

Have you ever considered what it would be like to go on an African safari? To see animals such as giraffes, elephants, zebras, leopards, baboons, hippos, buffalos and all sorts of birds, close-up and personal and in their own environments instead of behind bars in a zoo?

When evaluating vacation options, many assume that Africa travel — especially safaris — is too difficult for individuals with mobility challenges. Yet, nowadays, there is no reason for wheelchair users to rule out this life-changing travel experience. The keys to a successful safari vacation are knowledge and careful planning.

In a recent article in Travel Weekly, Maija de Rijk-Uys, managing director at Go2Africa, confirms that “Africa’s great wilderness is becoming more and more accessible to travelers who use wheelchairs.” Adds Rijk-Uys: “As lodges have made it more accessible for people with disabilities to travel, we have seen a greater demand.”

South Africa is particularly accessible for individuals with mobility disabilities because airports and many tourist attractions, hotels, wineries and dining establishments are set up to accommodate wheelchair users, says Rijk-Uys. The country is also a safe destination for medically fragile individuals since its sophisticated medical infrastructure assures good care in the event of an emergency.

Rijk-Uys says that popular South African sightseeing locations such as gorgeous Table Mountain which overlooks the city of Cape Town, are accessible to wheelchairs. Likewise, beaches in South Africa such as Fish Hoek, Big Bay, and Camps Bay provide beach wheelchairs that move smoothly in the sand and can even be driven into the water.

Africa tourists who use wheelchairs will find that safaris are typically conducted by jeep so that mobility challenges needn’t be a major obstacle. In some safari locations, walking is even forbidden for safety reasons.

Safaris are made more accessible by the fact that some  operators “now have specially designed or adapted wheelchair accessible vehicles for their game drives,” says Responsible Travel, an operator that runs environmentally conscious Africa trips that give back to the communities in which it operates. Responsible Travel recommends wheelchair users consider vacationing in Botswana, another location that is increasingly accessible.

“Botswana is well set up for wheelchair users, with adapted vehicles available including jeeps, boats and the mokoro canoes used to traverse the lagoons and waterways of the Okavango Delta. While you’re game-watching, your wheelchair is kept securely to avoid any damage,” according to Responsible Travel.

Cape Town-based tour operator Travel with Rene offers wheelchair accessible vehicles for tours and transfers. Founded by Renè Moses, who has quadriplegia, the company specializes in wheelchair accessible travel. Moses’ vehicles “have been adapted with hydraulic wheelchair lifts to cater for wheelchair users, family and companions. For the clients’ safety, wheelchairs are secured to the floor by means of 4×4 floor restraints. A body belt is placed around the wheelchair user and the wheelchair to ensure their safety.”

To confirm that a safari will meet your accessibility requirements, be sure to research the following details:

1. Ensure that your lodge is situated on flat ground instead of on a hill or mountain top. Elevators and lifts are extremely rare in the African bush.

2. Make sure that your lodge has walkways that can accommodate wheelchairs. Lodges that are based on sandy terrain may limit your ability to get around.

3. Find out if your lodge has a generator. In South Africa, the government has implemented “load shedding” – the temporary interruption of energy a couple of times a day to save power. This can be extremely inconvenient without a back-up generator.

4. Ask if your lodge has outdoor showers. According to Travel Weekly’s Dorine Reinstein, “showering outside is a safari tradition; it’s a lot of fun to be under the sun or moon and to have nature all around you. Outdoor showers on decks are often a lot more spacious than indoor ones plus there aren’t ledges or doors to navigate.”

5. Make sure that your lodge has wheelchair accessible vehicles. Otherwise, you will need to be carried in and out of the vehicle by others, not an ideal scenario for many people.

Ready to go? Prepare for the time of your life!