Africa is a vast and ecologically diverse continent. Therefore, it can be a bit daunting to plan a safari holiday for the first or even fifth time. If you’re considering a trip for an unforgettable experience of a lifetime, read on to learn five tips to help get you on your way.
1. Choosing your destination
Every destination is unique, and safaris come in different shapes and sizes. Some are great for first time visitors, while others are better suited for people with particular interests or families. Whichever destination you choose, ensure that you receive all the proper vaccinations.
There are many factors dictating your choice. The important things to consider are the reserve size, wildlife diversity and density, seasonality, accessibility, and lodging. So, think about what you would love to see. Is it the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania? How about touring the breathtaking, semi-desert wilderness of Damaraland to see the world’s largest black rhino population, or the famous free roaming desert elephants in Namibia? In stark contrast, the lush waterways of the Okovango Delta in Botswana just teem with life.
What if it’s your first time? Then South Africa, famous for its wildlife diversity, would be a good choice. South Africa offers a little bit of everything and ideal for a family vacation. It’s home to the world-famous Kruger National Park, where you can see the Big 5 as well as hippos, cheetahs, crocodiles, giraffes, and many wonderful and unique birds.
There isn’t one perfect safari experience—it’s up to you to find the one for you. Asking the right questions and doing the right research, however, can lead to the start of an unforgettable journey.
2. What to pack
So everything is planned and booked, and your dream vacation awaits. Before you leave, however, you need to decide what to pack in your suitcase. Most internal flights in Africa have a 12- to 15-kilo luggage allowance, so the key is to find the middle ground. First and foremost is choose the right clothes.
Here’s where all that research comes in handy. The region and season play huge factors, but prepare for the unexpected. Pack a lightweight waterproof jacket (preferably one that folds into a small bag), a long-sleeved, collared shirt is perfect to protect your arms and neck from the sun and keep you cool. Fast drying materials, like lightweight cotton and wool socks, are a must. You don’t want to have to deal with wet clothes that can’t dry overnight.
You might be under the African sun, but come sundown the temperatures can drop suddenly. So, take care to bring some thermal layering for the evening or for early morning game drives.
Choose neutral colors to help keep cool and blend in with the environment. Bright tones tend to frighten the wildlife, and dark blue is known to attract Tsetse flies. Don’t over pack since most lodges and camps provide 24-hour laundry services.
Accessories are next on the list. A sun hat, small bag, and sunglasses are essential. Toiletries are a personal choice, but do remember your prescription medication, sunscreen, and insect repellent and after-bite ointments. Most importantly bring the right shoes, since you always want to be comfortable. For most cases a pair of light trail shoes are more than enough, but some activities will require hiking boots with proper ankle support. And don’t forget your flip-flops for the end of the day!
3. Self-Drive vs. Guided Tours
There are many options when it comes to safaris. Do you get down and dirty at a bush camp, or mix in a little luxury at a lodge. First time visitors and families might want to opt for guided tours. Being under the experienced supervision of an educated guide means you get to sit back, relax, and get the most out of your wildlife experience. For the luxury option there are lodge-to-lodge migration safaris, which allow you to stay at variety of lodges or camps. Most lodges offer both private and group guided tours.
For those who are a little more experienced, there are self-drive safaris. If you wish to get away from it all, then this is for you. You’re able to move at your own pace and truly immerse yourself in the African wilderness. Yet, this independence comes with greater risk and responsibility. Therefore, be well prepared and remember that Africa isn’t a zoo. You’re in the wild where anything can and will happen.
If you want the self-drive experience without the responsibility of all the planning, then why not try a group self-drive? You still drive your own vehicle, but you’re part of a convoy headed by a guide. This gives you the safety of a group and allows you to take advantage of the guide’s knowledge of the area, weather, and wildlife.
4. A day in the sun
Your guide will be key to a successful wildlife experience, so follow their advice. You may drive for hours without seeing any animals, but be patient and don’t rush the guide. Animals often appear spontaneously, and you’ll have to rely on your guide to spot them.
If you have something you’d really love to see, then let the guide know in advance. If you want to relish truly awe-inspiring moments, like lions at sunrise, then early game drives aren’t to be missed. Listen to your guide’s stories, tips and facts allows you to fully appreciate the experience. And don’t forget to put on sunscreen!
5. Capturing your precious memories
We all want to try and capture those memorable, life changing experiences in our lives forever. We want to share it with our families and friends. Take pictures, but remember to listen, to feel the bush surrounding you. Take it slow. Be patient and allow yourself to be immersed in the experience. It’s not always about spotting animals—it’s about becoming a part of the wild.
Your guide will tell you when it’s acceptable to take pictures and when to remain still. Make sure to bring a good camera with a zoom lens if you want to take great pictures. Keep your camera ready. Listen to your guide, because events happen very fast on a safari. Make sure you understand your camera and it’s settings. You’ll end up taking thousands of pictures, so be sure to bring additional memory cards and batteries. Also, try and back up your photos when you have the chance. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing all your vacation pictures.
African bush life is slow and beautiful, so forget the hustle and bustle of your city life. It’s time to relax under the African sun.