Can I Go on Safari if I Have Back Pain?

A question I often get from people interested in going on a safari is, “Can I go on safari if I have back problems or other recurrent pain issues? Will going on safari make these problems worse?”

While that decision is best made between you and your doctor, there are plenty of things that individuals can do to make themselves more comfortable on safari. Being aware of potential problems and preparing for them is the first step.

Anyone with back problems or other recurrent pain should be aware that most safaris involve a lot of time in vehicles, and that East African roads can be extremely bumpy. East African nations simply don’t have the tax revenues to maintain roads that we have in the United States. Many roads are made of dirt or gravel and get large potholes during the rainy seasons. Also, drivers may sometimes need to maneuver vehicles off-road to get from point A to point B. Driving can be rough, especially in bush.

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A warthog darts across a fairly smooth rural dirt-and-gravel road.
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Some roads are just two wheel tracks through the savannah.

Ujuzi can help with these issues in a few ways. If you are working with Ujuzi to build an itinerary from scratch, let us know about your concern so we can make plans accordingly. Depending on the area to which you are traveling, possible solutions may include:

  • planning routes that include more paved highway driving and less off-road driving
  • planning shorter drives with breaks so you can stretch and walk around
  • scheduling a walking safari
  • using a charter plane instead of a road vehicle on some or all legs of your trip
  • selecting a smooth-riding van rather than a 4×4 Landcruiser for your safari vehicle (available in Kenya only)
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The rainy season can lead to rougher roads. This safari van was delayed by a pothole for a few minutes. The passengers took the opportunity to stand up and take pictures.

If you have signed up for or are considering a trip where the itinerary has already been planned:

  • Feel free to contact us with questions you may have about the lengths of drives or the quality of roads.
  • Talk to your group leader about seating arrangements during the trip. The smoothest ride in a safari vehicle is in the passenger seat next to the driver.

IMGP2759It feels good to stretch your legs in a safari vehicle. Photo credit: Mark & David Solberg.

Here are additional tips for making your safari trip more comfortable, whether you’re in charge of the itinerary or not:

  • Talk to your health care provider about ways to stay comfortable on your trip. They may suggest exercises, medicine, pillows or supports.
  • If you take medicine for your condition, pack it in its original container. Prescriptions should have your name, the date of the prescription and the name of the prescribing physician on the label. Some prescription pain medicines are considered controlled substances. Carry a letter from your physician that lists all of your prescriptions in case airport security has any questions.
  • If you have any special supports or pillows you use when sitting at work, in the car, or at home, consider bringing them (or travel versions) on the trip. Catalogs like Magellans, TravelSmith, LifeWithEase and RelaxTheBack offer inflatable and/or packable versions of many common supports.*
  • In most cases, you will have the same safari vehicle for the majority of your trip. Ask your driver if you can leave cushions or other supports in the vehicle so that you don’t have to carry them back and forth at lodgings.
  • If your doctor advises it, make sure to get up and move around at every opportunity. This may include time spent in the vehicle (most have raisable roofs that allow travelers to stand when safe for a better view of wildlife) as well as outside the vehicle.
  • Many lodges offer a la carte spa services, including massage. They do not usually need to be scheduled far in advance, but if you have any concerns about availability, contact me prior to your departure so I can make arrangements.

With a little planning, you can have a safari trip that is memorable for all the right reasons.

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Antelope roam across a rural road.

* Business names are used for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by Ujuzi African Travel.

Featured Lodges: Serian and Ngare Serian

Deck lounging at the family tent

Enjoying the veranda at Serian’s family tent.

“Serian” means “serene” in the Maa language of the Masai, and Serian and Ngare Serian bush camps are aptly named. The sister camps are situated on opposite banks of the Mara River in Mara North Conservancy, Kenya, and offer guests a peaceful refuge from which to enjoy Kenyan wildlife at its best.

Our breakfast at Serian Mara

Guests can choose to dine indoors or outdoors at Serian.

The environmentally conscious accommodations offer the perfect balance of simplicity and luxury. Stone, hardwood, and other natural building materials create permanent tented lodgings that fit the river environment as organically as the surrounding vegetation.

Guest baths at Serian and Ngare Serian feature luxurious tubs hewn from local stone.
Guest baths at Serian and Ngare Serian feature luxurious tubs hewn from local stone.
Bedroom at Ngare Serian.
Bedrooms at Ngare Serian have electricity 24 hours a day.

The furnishings evoke the safaris of a bygone era, with the rich colors of eastern carpets on hardwood flooring and swathes of cotton setting off the colonial-style furnishings and pale canvas walls.

Main tent and lounge at Ngare Serian.
The main tent and lounge at Ngare Serian is just steps away from the banks of the Mara River.

With six tents – including two family tents, three doubles and one twin – Serian is the larger of the two sister camps. Ngare Serian – which guest and international tennis champion Martina Navritilova called “a one of a kind experience” – has four tents and can be set aside entirely for a private group of family or friends.

Family tent

The family tent at Serian includes two bedrooms, two baths, a living room and a large veranda.

Each tent has its own private veranda and an adjoining bathroom with tub and rain shower; family tents have two bathrooms. Both camps offer family-style dining in a main tent with a bar and lounge, offering a great opportunity to swap stories with fellow travelers.

Giraffes - do you see a face or a vase?

Giraffes dine in Mara North Conservancy.

Guests have complete access to Mara North Conservancy, a privately managed reserve of 34,000 acres that is owned by members of the local Masai community. The conservancy is rich with wildlife; at Serian and Ngare Serian, it’s easy to spot hippos bathing in the river or grazing on the banks, and guests can see even more wildlife by venturing out with a guide on foot or in a vehicle. (Walking safaris are prohibited in the national parks, so conservancies tend to attract visitors who want a closer experience of nature.) Balloon and nighttime safaris are also available.

Featured Guide: Martin Muyenzi

Martin muyenzi

Martin Muyenzi is a native Rwandan. He has lived and worked in both Rwanda and Uganda, and has extensive knowledge of both countries. His kindness and interest in others has allowed him to forge many lasting friendships with international visitors during his work as a driver and guide over the last 10 years. Travelers describe him as friendly, patient, knowledgeable and reliable.

Kathy Terlizzi, volunteer manager at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana, traveled to Rwanda as part of a zoo trip coordinated by Ujuzi. She says, “Our guides were both exceptional – always on time, very polite, and ensured all arrangements went smoothly. I spent more time with Martin and he was very well spoken and knowledgeable about Rwanda. He eagerly shared historical information and answered all of our many questions about a huge variety of topics. Martin is very well versed in Rwandan history, culture, environmental issues, etc. – a great ambassador for his country. He surprised our group with lunch at the Hotel des Mille Collines, which was the Hotel Rwanda movie location.”

Kenya has so much to offer

I just got back from a 10-day safari in Kenya. The country has so much to offer travelers.  I was really impressed with the diversity of the landscape: mountains, forest, lakes, beach, savannahs, and desert (unfortunately I didn’t make it to the beach).

Kenya is the most modernized of the East African countries, but it still has vast open areas and incredible wildlife. I saw all of the Big Five game (lion, elephant, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as a cheetah, zebras, impalas, baboons, vervet monkeys, flamingos, hyenas, giraffes, hippos, wildebeest and more:

  

  Select the image to view a slideshow of Kenyan wildlife.

 

I especially enjoyed our visit to the David Sheldrick Animal Orphanage in Nairobi, which fosters orphaned elephants and rhinos until they’re old enough to be released back into the wild:

 

Elephant Calves Arrive for Their Feeding

Elephant calves arrive for their feeding

 

And the Giraffe Center, which is working to restore the population of the endangered Rothschild giraffe, a subspecies found only in protected areas of Kenya and Uganda:

 

Giraffe Feeding at Giraffe Center, Nairobi, Kenya

Feeding a giraffe at the Giraffe Center, Nairobi, Kenya

 

We saw a lot of beautiful hotels and lodges and were impressed by the modern facilities, delicious food, and attentive service:

  

  Select the image to view a slideshow of Kenyan lodges.

 

Please contact me at anne.medeiros@ujuzitravel.com if you have any questions about Kenya or you’d like to start planning your next safari to this unique destination!

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