Safari 101: What to Expect

I have wonderful memories of visiting game reserves with my family when I was little. A holiday wasn’t a holiday if we weren’t pitching tents somewhere in the wilderness.  I learnt ”safari etiquette” from a young age so it’s a very natural experience for me and I feel so fortunate to have grown up in the bush, so to speak. Are you beyond excited for your first safari experience? Then you’ll also have some questions mulling through your mind. In this 3 part blog series I’ll shed some light on what to expect, where to go and what to pack. Let’s start with the ultimate safari Q & A!

What exactly is an ”open safari vehicle”?

An open safari vehicle is a modified 4-wheel drive pickup with comfortable seating for up to 12 guests. There are many variations but most have no roof so you can experience the wild to the max. Always stay in your seat, no matter how excited you get. And try not to squeal too loudly when you come across anything interesting. Most guides provide ponchos for rainy days and some lodges will even pack a hot water bottle and blankets. It can get quite chilly on the back of an open vehicle! I have found that sitting in the front row is more comfortable and is the best spot to take photo’s. The back row may have a higher vantage point but I’d avoid sitting there of you have a back problem.

Buffelsdrift Safari

Safari at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge

What does a typical safari day look like?

05h00: Wake up call

05h15: Coffee, muffins and rusks to snack on

05h30: Morning game drive

09h00: Return to camp for breakfast followed by ”me time”

15h00: High Tea

16h00: Afternoon game drive (usually with sundowners)

19h00: Return to camp

20h00: Dinner under the stars

This is just to give you a rough idea; each lodge or reserve will run slightly differently. You will notice that you will have quite a bit of free time to relax. During the morning game drive there is often a coffee break. The afternoon game drive generally includes stopover at a scenic spot for sundowners.

Game drive

Why do we have to wake up so early?

5am? Seriously? Yes, seriously, the earlier the better. Is there anything more beautiful than an African sunrise? Maybe an African sunset, but not much else comes close. The early morning or late afternoon is the best time to spot game. It’s more difficult to find animals during the day, because they tend to escape the intense midday heat, especially during summer months. Obviously there will always be animals around but those special sightings of nocturnal or crepuscular creatures like honey badgers, aardvarks, leopards and porcupines are more likely in the early hours of the morning. Predators like lions also prefer to hunt when it’s cooler thus your chances of seeing some National Geographic-style action will be better during the cooler times of the day. So, if the birds can do it, so can you! You’ve probably travelled very far so you may as well make the most of it. You can sleep at home!

Why is a safari so expensive?

This is a great question and it basically boils down to 3 things; infrastructure, complex logistics and a high ratio of staff to guests. Let’s start by thinking about actually getting to Africa. Flights are infrequent which makes them more expensive. Most game reserves are situated in remote areas and not close to major cities where airports are located. Thus you need to drive a fair distance (on a bumpy road no doubt) or hop on a (pricey) charter plane. Then think about the logistics of getting food supplies, building material, staff etc. to and from the lodges. Moreover, consider the conservation aspects. Just maintaining the fences can cost millions. Management of game, anti-poaching units etc. involves precision planning and lots of hands. Which brings me to the last reason; all those hands. Private reserves and lodges provide employment opportunities sometimes for entire communities. From the guides to the chefs to housekeeping and builders; it takes many people to run these establishments successfully. Furthermore, regardless of how much a safari trip costs, I’m confident that most travellers of Africa will agree it is worth every cent. You don’t have to break the bank to have an extraordinary experience; there are many pocket-friendly options too. But next time someone complains about the cost to travel to Africa, you can provide some clarity.

Safari experience

Dinner under the stars

What should I wear?

Another great question which will be answered in the next blog post in this series. Keep your eyes open! In the meantime, tell me where you’re heading on your safari! A