It’s becoming easier and easier for committed vegetarians to enjoy safaris in Africa and, while vegan menus haven’t quite caught up just yet, great strides are being made all the time to cater for those who follow plant-based diets. In this blog we discuss the following:
- What food to expect on safari
- How to plan a trip to Africa if you are vegan
- A selection of suitable accommodation
What Food to Expect on Safari
We’ve been criss-crossing the length and breadth of Africa since 1998 and have really seen a sea-change in approaches to food. As logistics and supply chains have improved so tinned, dried and pre-packaged foods have given away to fresh produce, fashionable vegetables, salads beyond lettuce and tomato, and even hand-made cordials, pastas and cakes.
Eating is a huge part of most safaris and it’s not unusual to have the following meals:
- Continental breakfast of coffee, tea, juice and pastries on your morning game drive.
- Full cooked breakfast or brunch back in camp (cereals, fruits, breads, eggs and cheese).
- Afternoon or high tea before your afternoon game drive (beverages and biscuits, cakes, sandwiches, quiches and tarts).
- Sundowners on your final game drive (alcoholic beverages with snacks such as dried fruit, nuts and savouries).
- Dinner back at camp (usually three courses such as soup, mains and pudding).
Lodge chefs have a difficult task: they must provide a variety of meals for different palates far from any stores or suppliers. It’s not unknown for monkeys or even elephants to raid kitchen gardens, which many camps now have to ensure a fresh supply of herbs, vegetables and fruits. If a generator fails, the chef must ensure that cold produce is not spoilt in places where temperatures regularly hit 40°C / 104°F. Once you think about all the obstacles a camp chef faces, you really appreciate the extraordinary meals they create!
Many safari operators try to work closely with local communities for items like eggs and fruit – conservation works best when local people feel the financial benefits directly.
Generally, you can expect familiar food with occasional local touches. Dinner may consist of butternut soup, vegetable curry and fruit pudding. Brunch is anything from omelettes to quiches with a variety of salads. Snacks – called ‘bitings’ in East Africa – are often delicious local items like freshly roasted peanuts or cashews, washed down with plenty of local beer. Wine and spirits are always available, and many lodges are doing away with bottled water in favour of filtered water that is a hundred-percent safe to drink.
Some places will offer a set menu while others provide options for dinner. If you can, choose a lodge that doesn’t rely on set menus as they will be more likely to be able to accommodate dietary requests.
How to Plan a Trip if You are Vegan
The most important part of planning your safari is to communicate openly with your personal Safari Expert so he or she can ensure they place you at a lodge or camp that can accommodate your needs. Although more and more places can cater for vegans, not all can due to remoteness or limited access to supplies.
It’s very important to stress what you can and can’t eat, and to ensure that your safari hosts are able to feed you. Don’t assume items like vegan cheese or almond milk are widely available as they are not.
13 Top Tips for Vegan and Vegetarian Safaris
1. Communicate openly
The more information your Safari Expert has, the better your safari will be. No detail is too small to be mentioned.
2. Head for more developed countries like South Africa
South Africa has a growing vegan community so accessing vegan items like tofu, calcium-fortified ‘yoghurts’, meat substitutes and vegan butters is much easier here. Cape Town and the surrounding Winelands probably have the widest variety of vegan options on the continent.
3. Plan on a surcharge
There may be a small surcharge if specialist items are secured just for you.
4. Ask about taking your own snacks
This may not always be possible – be sure to check the customs rules about bringing in dried fruits, seeds and vegetables, nuts and so on. Some governments will not allow foreign agricultural produce to enter their countries. Also check that your camp is happy to store these items for you – never keep food in your tent or suite as this will attract bugs and monkeys. Check whether you can transport food in plastic bags as countries like Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa are clamping down on plastic.
5. Consider areas that have a large number of Indian guests
The traditional Indian diet is famously easily adaptable to being vegan so these lodges will be more familiar cooking plant-based dishes. Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, South Africa and Mauritius all have sizable Indian communities.
6. Consider staying a stand-alone safari villa
This will allow you to determine your menu as you please due to the presence of a private chef.
7. Ensure that you eat enough and stay hydrated
You may not feel like eating much in hot weather but a safari can be very taxing and it’s important to keep your energy levels up. Drink plenty of water too as long hours out in the heat and dust can be very dehydrating.
8. Consider a supplement
If your usual diet is going to change, consider taking nutritional supplements on safari to ensure optimal health. This is especially important if you are going gorilla trekking as trekkers who are ill are not allowed near the gorillas because they are very susceptible to human infections and diseases.
9. Stay at the most upmarket lodges possible
These are more equipped to handle vegan menus.
10. If animal welfare is very important to you, carefully consider village visits or cultural encounters.
Villages have livestock such as chickens, goats, cattle, pigs and sheep living cheek-by-jowl with dogs, donkeys and sometimes horses – standards of care may be very different to what you are used back home. Vets are expensive and few-and-far between, and animals are prized for their produce.
11. Ask if your lodge has a kitchen garden.
Camps with kitchen gardens can more readily supply delicious fresh fruits and veggies – some even allow you to spend time with the gardeners and chefs harvesting your own salad goodies for lunch and dinner.
12. If the sight of other diners eating meat is upsetting to you, enquire about private dining.
This is not always possible and some camps have a communal dining set-up that can’t be altered. Rather ask your Safari Expert to find a lodge with private, in-room at least separate dining. For some safari-goers, sampling venison such as zebra, kudu, eland or even ostrich eggs is part of the experience but we understand that this is definitely not for everyone.
13. Don’t be shy about requesting more of dish that you enjoyed
Africans are famously very hospitable and will take it as a compliment if you politely request a second helping. If it is a buffet, help yourself to what takes your fancy and ask questions if you are unsure of the ingredients.
A Selection of Accommodation
The following is by no means an exhaustive list – there are many more lodges, hotels and guesthouses in South Africa, for example, that can easily accommodate vegetarians and vegans. All these options can provide vegetarian meals but be sure to double-check that they can provide vegan ones, too.