Never been on a safari before? You’re in for a thrill! We believe it is the best bucket list trip you can do. But what’s it really like on a safari? Here's our five top tips for first timers to get the most out of an African safari vacation.
1. Wear the correct clothing
It might be hard to believe when you see pictures of animals roaming the sunny savannahs, but Africa gets cold! On most safaris you are up very early in the morning for the best wildlife viewing (this is when predators such as lions and leopards are hunting their prey) and before that beautiful sunrise warms the air, it is freezing!
Layers are essential to keep you comfortable, so we recommend you take a fleece jacket, a hat and even gloves for morning game drives. Evenings on safari are often spent out by the campfire, so you'll also want to be cosy for this, with long sleeved tops, trousers and mosquito repellent to protect against insects.
During game drives try to wear natural fibres that are breathable and neutral colours can also help camouflage you, increasing your chances of getting up close and personal to the animals.
Comfortable, closed-toe walking shoes are also a must - you'll sometimes be required to get out of the safari vehicle and walk through uneven terrain, especially on walking safaris (like our 11-day Botswana Walking Safari) where this is essential.
2. Take a zoom lens or binoculars
You’ll get a much clearer picture of what you are looking at if you can see what the animals are doing up close. It is worth investing in a good camera with a zoom lens, and a pair of binoculars for each person, to save passing them around when your guide spots a lion or rhino in the distance or a brightly coloured kingfisher by a river bank. Be sure to take all the necessary gadgets too - charger, plenty of memory cards, extra lenses, cleaning equipment. It's surprising just how many photos you take on a safari. Check out our Uganda Gorillas and Chimps tour - you certainly won't want to miss capturing the humanlike behaviours of these beautiful primates.
3. Make like the animals and rest in the middle of the day
The majority of African wildlife is at its most active at dawn and dusk, meaning lots of early morning and night drives to get the best safari experience. This can be quite tiring, so the usual routine whilst on safari is to return to the lodge and relax whilst the wildlife is also doing the same. Most of the lodges and camps we use have lovely pool areas or libraries which enable you to recharge your batteries in style. Our Kenya Luxury Safari Holiday features exquisite lodges in the game reserves, with a whole menu of activities on offer if you really don’t want to relax including horse riding, camel riding, nature walks, picnic breakfasts, river walks, sundowners on the rocks, barbeques in the bush, star gazing, a visit to the Samburu workshop and even the use of a helicopter to get a bird's eye view of the beautiful landscapes.
4. Be patient!
Your guides not only know the area well but are also trained to understand animal behaviour patterns and territories, so you need to trust them to find you something interesting to spot. However, this isn’t a zoo and animal sightings aren’t guaranteed. In our experience you will get the most out of a safari if you ‘go with the flow’ rather than turn up with a checklist that could leave you disappointed.
Clearly on everyone’s wish list is the ‘Big Five’ but the reason they are called this is because they were so difficult to hunt so it’s a gift when you spot one, not a given. We recommend you just sit back and take in the entire journey, from driving through rolling plains and lush forests to learning about the tiny insects and spectacular birdlife.
Some locations are better than others in terms of the volume of wildlife on offer and regular sightings. On our Namibia Highlights Tour, the vast salt pants surrounding Etosha National Park mean that the water holes there are highly populated with thirsty wildlife, making for some incredible encounters. If you sit still for a while there is a good chance that you won't be alone for long!
5. Ask questions
All our guides are highly trained and are rightly proud of what they do. They love guests that show a real interest in their subject. Everything in Africa has a story and guides are full of anecdotes, so don't be afraid to ask them anything - be it stories about their life and how they got into guiding, what their favourite bird is, the best wildlife sighting they've ever witnessed and anything else you'd like to find out.
Whether it's your first ever safari vacation or if you'd like to explore a new part Africa, check out our Safari Trip Ideas here to inspire you.