If you’re going on an African safari for the first time you probably have a number of questions. There are hundreds of Agents telling you where and when to go, so I’m not going to go into this. This post is intended to give you all kinds of practical tips which will help you prepare for an African safari no matter where or when you go.
No matter how many pictures you have seen or what expectations you have, the very first moment you see African animals in the wild will be unforgettable.
But you should also know that not every moment of every safari will be the highlight of your trip. Far from that! You might be driving for hours and hours with not much to see. But then you will, you always do, and it will all be worth it
Oh, and the other thing is, you may probably want to stay longer. Take my word for it, you will. Book a few nights extra. Flying to Africa is not cheap, so get the most out of your trip.
Don’t get too close to the elephants and hope they don’t get too close to you
Depending on the country and the place you are visiting, you don’t necessarily need to partake in an organised tour in order to see African animals in the wild. Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda,Masai Mara in Kenya – these are just a couple of examples of the parks you can easily visit on your own. Often you will see animals just next to the road, outside the parks.
We have been on numerous safaris in Uganda and in Kenya, and we have done both – safari rides with a guide as well as on our own. My advice for you is to do both. None of these formulas guarantee that you will see more animals, you just have to be lucky.
First time in Masai Mara, you may see all the Africa’s Big-5 (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard, and Buffalo) on the very first day. While you’ll also see lots of different animals during a guided tour in the morning, you may encounter 3 out of Big-5 later during the day when driving in your own private safari car.
No driving. You don’t have to drive and concentrate on the road, so it’s a much more relaxing.
Better visibility. You sit higher, there are no windows and so you see everything better.
Knowledge. You can learn a lot about African animals from the safari guides. You quickly feel like an expert by being able to tell the difference between all different sorts of antelopes.
Expertise. The guides have lots of experience. They know where and when to look for certain animals and they often see them long before you do…
Communication. Safari guides constantly communicate with their colleagues and exchange information so they can bring you to the centre of the action in no time.
Accessibility. In some parks, private vehicles are only allowed to drive on certain roads while guided tours have fewer restrictions.
Kids are more engaged. It’s easier to get the children engaged and interested in the whole safari experience on an open jeep safari ride than when driving in your own car. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that young kids don’t appreciate safari. They do. You just have to find the ways to get them interested and engaged. Get your kids a good pair of binoculars and play a game of who sees a certain animal first, and you are all set.
Picnic in African savanna and sundowners. Some of the very best memories of safari experiences are the ones where you have breakfast, picnic lunch, or a sundowner drink in the middle of an African savanna. It’s just something you have to experience at least once.
Night drives. You cannot go on a self-drive safari at night. You are not allowed to drive at night in the parks and it’s not a good idea to drive in the dark in Africa anyway. If you want to hear lions roar or see them hunt at night, you’ll have to book a night drive. Don’t expect to take any pictures at night, just enjoy the ride and hope that you get to see some action.
It pays to travel to Africa with a big family or a group of friends. You pay for a regular safari ride and end up with a private driver and a whole big jeep for yourself because they don’t necessarily fill the jeep if they already have 4-6 places sold.
Very often, young kids are free of charge or get a discount as well. It’s not always the case however, so don’t count on it. If you want to be certain that you will be on your own, you have to ask for it and probably pay much more.
Flexibility. You can decide where you want to go and how long you want to spend at a certain place and don’t have to worry about being stuck with a group of 10 other people who take 101 pictures of a giraffe in all possible angles and still complain when the driver wants to go on. OR you can stay longer, follow and watch the animals as long as it suits you without having to worry about other people or a schedule.
Better pictures. Usually you will have better chances to take pictures of the animals if you don’t have to compete for the best spot with the other people in the same vehicle.
Cost. Needless to say, self-drive safari is much cheaper than an organised ride. Safari rides, especially private ones, can be very expensive. Sometimes it might be cheaper to stay at a luxury lodge with all-in formula (food and safari rides included) than having to pay for a hotel and safari rides separately.
Heating and air-conditioning. This might seem irrelevant, but wait till you sit in the open jeep driving 40 miles an hour before sunrise or after sunset. Or when you find yourself in an open savannah in the heat of the day with no shade whatsoever.
Children’s age is not an issue. Some safari rides will not permit children under a certain age, usually under 6. This is mainly because of the safety concerns in the proximity of predators. In your own car, you can take children of any age on a safari ride and you stop as close to the lions or leopards as you wish. Just try to limit the noise and keep the windows closed.
Kids entertainment. If you are traveling with very young children, they might not have much patience during long safari rides. It might be easier to keep the kids entertained in your own car. I rather have my kids watching the animals than playing games on a tablet, but we often listened to some children’s music during safari rides as it kept the kids quieter.
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Duration of the ride. Make sure you are well informed about the duration of the ride. Some will only last an hour or two, while some others can take the whole day.
Time of the day. The very best time to watch animals is usually early in the morning or in the evening around sunset. This doesn’t mean you won’t see animals during the day. We saw lions with cubs, rhino’s, elephants, leopards, cheetahs and many other animals in the heat of the day. So my advice would be to go looking for the animals whenever you have a chance. After all, that’s the reason you go to Africa, isn’t it? You may even want to consider a night drive, but don’t expect too much from it.
Size of the group. If you have a choice, always go for a smaller the vehicle and a smaller group.
Soft-sided travel bags. Whether you are planning on taking a small plane in Africa or joining an organised tour, you better pack light and take a soft-sided duffel bagtravel bag. Don’t take hard-shell suitcases to Africa, they are not allowed if you need to take a small plane or a group tour. Here you can read about the type of travel bags that we use for our trips. Also, your bags WILL get dirty, so don’t feel embarrassed to take old luggage on a trip to Africa. Nobody cares.
Camera equipment. Take the very best camera you have and the best tele lens you can afford. 200mm is minimum. There is no way you can take nice pictures of the animals with your smart phone. Pack at least 50% more memory cards than for the other trips of similar duration. Always have extra batteries and charge them every time you can. Don’t forget a tripod. It will be of no use during safari rides, but you’ll see animals at the waterholes and other places as well. Here you can find more advice in regards to the best camera equipment for safari photography.
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Electrical adapters. There is not one standard electrical adapter in Africa, so you should check which one you need depending on where you are going. Here is a short list of a couple of popular African safari destinations and the plugs they use. South Africa and Namibia type D/Mtravel adapter M. Kenya and Uganda type Gtravel adapter G. Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania one of the previous two – type D or type G.
Binoculars. You cannot go on safari without binoculars. Well, you can, but it’s more fun if you have a pair. As a minimum make sure that children have their own binocularsbinoculars.
Mosquito repellant with DEETdeet
Sunscreen and sun glasses
Small backpack is very handy to store all your belongings during long safari rides. Make sure it closes well, otherwise you’ll have sand over everything.
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Drinking water and light snacks. You should always have some drinking water with you. Organised safari rides will often provide water and other drinks and sometimes snacks as well, but you might need to wait till they stop somewhere, so it might be more convenient if you have your own, especially if traveling with children.
Flashlight (always) and/or a headlamp (if camping). You will use flashlightled all the time and a headlampheadlamp is extremely helpful when camping.
First-aid kit, medication and a good travel insurance are essential for any trip to Africa. If you are prone to car sickness, you may want to take some medication with you. African roads can be really bumpy. Always take medication against diarrhea when you go to Africa and make sure you are ok with all the vaccinations. Depending on the area, you may need to take malaria pills as well.
Jumping Springbok antelope in Africa
It took a very good camera and lots of luck to get a decent shot of a jumping Springbok
Don’t pack too many clothes and don’t bother with brand new or special safari-style clothing. In Africa you can wear pretty much anything. Whatever you wear, it will get dirty very quickly. You’ll get used to it.
It can get very cold or hot on safari, so make sure you are well prepared for both. Every time. It’s not because it’s hot when you leave for a ride at 3pm that you will not be freezing cold on the way back after sunset.
Always dress in layers. I advise to wear closed shoes, otherwise your feet will be freezing cold in an open vehicle in the morning or in the evening. Most safari tours foresee warm blankets in the car, so don’t be afraid to ask for one if you are cold.
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You don’t necessarily need to dress in khaki or light brown tints. Camouflage clothing should be avoided altogether as it’s considered military and is forbidden in some African countries. Wear comfortable clothes, preferably in neutral colours. But, as already said in my post about packing for Namibia, don’t worry about the colours too much.
If you have to buy something new for your trip to Africa, then go for the neutral tints. Otherwise just pack what you have.
I saw people in pink, bright red, white, orange, and green jackets and sweaters on safari rides. In fact, I also wore a red jacket on safari in Namibia several times. It just happened to be the lightest jacket I own and I only wore it on safari when it was cold (=dark) so the colour didn’t matter at all.
Young child on safari in Africa
You don’t necessarily have to wear neutral colour clothing on safari
– Windproof jacket
– One or two (fleece) sweaters
– A pair of long pants, trekking pants are best, but jeans will do too
– 1-2 pairs of shorts or convertible pants as they give you more flexibility
– T-shirts or shirts for 7-10 days
– Sun hat
– Closed shoes
– Swimming gear
– You may want to pack one smart outfit to wear for dinner, but it’s not really necessary in Africa. We stayed at a couple of luxury lodges during our trip and usually just wore jeans and a shirt, a blouse or a light sweater in the evening.
One last tip. Go on every single safari ride you can and make the very best of your trip. Visit the cities to have a taste of African culture, food and meet the city people.
Credit: This post first appeared on Fullsuitecase.com under the title All you need to know before going on an African Safari