Going to a safari for the first time can be kind of nerve wracking. Yes, it’s exciting to be seeing wildlife, especially the Big Five, but you may have lots of other questions. What should I wear? Will I be safe? Here are 10 essential African safari travel tips to know before you board the plane and clamber into that Land Rover jeep.
1. Be flexible, patient and open minded
We all draw up beautiful expectations of how amazing our first safari will be, but the reality is that every safari drive is unique. There are certain aspects to it that we just can’t control, for example the weather and what you see. Sometimes you’ll see a lot, sometimes you’ll see a little. This is all part of the safari charm, but it can also mean going long periods without seeing anything noteworthy. Or maybe the folks at your camp saw something incredible that you didn’t! So one of the most important African safari travel tips: try not to stress about what you have no control over!
2. Keep your voice down
We know the excitement can be overwhelming. And you may want to let out a triumphant whoop when you see a wild lion for the first time! But this isn’t a zoo, and the animals are not domesticated. The urge to get up, wave your arms, or yell is not something we recommend. Remember – you are in the animals’ home, and you should behave accordingly! Many animals are dangerous, and they can still hurt you even if you’re in a truck.
3. Dress the part
You don’t need to dress exactly like a ranger or buy an expensive safari-style outfit, but colours like green and khaki serve a practical purpose in helping you blend in with the environment. You should wear things that are lightweight and cool and can protect you from the sun. No loud prints, bright or dark colours! The clothes you wear on a safari trip don’t need to all come from specialist shops, but they should be multi-functional, breathable and neutral.
4. Be prepared to wake up early
Not a morning person? You’re gonna have to learn to live with it in Africa. Animals are most active in the morning and evening, as the afternoon is too hot for them to be moving around. This is why most safari days are divided into two – one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning game drives typically involve waking up at the crack of dawn. Early mornings will be a part of your African safari experience, so embrace them (along with lots of sunscreen and water for when the day heats up).
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Your guide is there to do more than just drive you around – they are literally walking books of information! Many of them are locals who have grown up in the area surrounded by these animals, and have gone through intensive courses and training. Their ability to spot the animals is second-to-none! Tapping into their knowledge will truly add an extra dimension to your safari experience. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and even about their own experiences in the park! Nothing makes a safari guide happier than sharing their passion and quelling your curiosities.
6. Consider your camera equipment
Snapping photos are a quintessential part of a safari trip. While you can certainly capture some beautiful shots if the animal is relatively close to the truck, should they be more than 25 metres away, entry level zoom lenses just aren’t going to perform well in terms of quality. You don’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a 800mm telephoto lens, but you do need at least 200mm to take good safari photos. Want to know what are some of the cameras wildlife photographers use? Check this safari camera guide.
9. General vs. specialist vs. self drives
You’ll find that there are different types of game drives in Africa. It ranges from general drives where guides try to track down as many animals as possible to give everyone the best experience. There are also specialist drives for those seeking a more personal experience, or to track down and get that perfect shot of one particular animal. There are also self drives where you can decide where you want to go and how long you want to spend at a particular spot. There isn’t any one that is necessarily ‘better’ than the other – it all entirely depends on what you’re after!
10. Tip your guide
A safari guide gets up before you do and goes to bed after you do. They are alert all the time and have great understanding and knowledge of the bush and wildlife. Most take their jobs very seriously, but they really don’t make enough and rely very much on tips. Tipping a guide is not mandatory, but is definitely very much appreciated. They work very hard to give you a good time, and you should tip them a small appreciation if you’re having a good time!