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My Very First African Safari: What It's Really Like to Go on a Safari

by Cristina Costea

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Doing things for the first time is exciting and fun, but it can also be a bit scary. Especially when it comes to safaris – a situation that puts you in a new country surrounded by wild animals! That said, once you know you’re in good hands, the anxiety dissipates and you’re left with the freedom to make the most out of your adventure. 

When it all comes down to it, safari travels are a wonderful way to mix adventure and relaxation, and your first safari is always going to be memorable. We recently chatted with Mălina, a young professional from Romania, who recently went on her very first safari in South Africa. And here’s what she had to say about her experience!


Spotting wildlife during the safari


BookAllSafaris.com: This was your first time on a safari, what made you decide to go on one? 

Mălina Căuș: It was actually included in the travel package that we bought from the travel agency. The trip we booked was a tour of the southern part of South Africa, in a rented car. That said, I must admit that we are very glad that it included this opportunity of a lifetime to observe the African wildlife firsthand!


So, where did you go? And what did you see?

We slept for two nights in luxury safari tents at Buffeldrift Game Lodge. They offered a variety of safaris but we decided to go on the Bushveld Safari. We had the option of going in the evening, to watch the sunset and drink a glass of wine while waiting for the animals or we could do it in the morning. The elephants at the lodge were three rescued elephants and since the elephant safaris included brushing, feeding, and walking experiences, we were able to do all that. Since it was cloudy on the day that we arrived, and we could not see the sunset, we chose the morning safari that started at 7 AM.


A herd of Wildebeests relaxing


What animals did you see and how did you feel seeing them for the first time in the wild?

The first animal that we saw was the Springbok (the national animal of South Africa) and the car stopped close-by so that we could take pictures. The guide explained us a few things about this unique gazelle. We also saw zebras, giraffes, white rhino, Kudu antelope, Nyala antelope, Cape buffalo, and Wildebeests (the guide said jokingly that they are always sad, with a long face because they realized how ‘ugly’ they are!).


That’s really funny! Can you please tell our readers what other activities you engaged in while on your safari? 

We learned about the vegetation in the area and even tasted some plants to see how salty they are. We took pictures and stopped on top of a hill where we had a snack and admired the gorgeous view.


Driving safaris


Can you describe a typical safari day?

I can’t really say what is “typical”, but I can certainly tell you about our day. We started in the morning when it was quite cold outside, and we went on a convertible 4x4 vehicle, so we could see the animals. The vehicle had 3 rows with 3 seats on each row and one seat near the driver, who was also our guide. Now I have to tell you a few things about our guide. She was a woman who seemed very fragile, but she drove the vehicle on some very steep slopes without breaking a sweat!

Her knowledge of animals and plants was impressive and she made us feel as if everything was always under control. She stopped the vehicle very close to the rhinoceroses and explained some things about them, why they are called white, even though they have the same color as the black ones, she pointed to their ears that were moving independently etc. At one point, one of the rhinoceroses that were laying on the ground had gotten up and everybody became a little frightened. That’s when she explained to us what the signs of aggression are and thankfully, we didn’t see any of these signs. That said, her insights enable us to know when we ought to best leave them alone. 

We drove for a few hours, stopped to taste the plants, and paused to take pictures. We also stopped on top of the hill to admire the surroundings. As we were climbing one hill, we saw a giraffe, but the guide shared with us that it was a bit of a ‘loner’ and that there are others that walk together, so we stopped to look for them.

We ate a snack on top of the hill/world, we drove again for some time and then the vehicle took us back to the starting point.


Rhinoceros in its habitat


In terms of packing, what are 5 essentials one should bring on a safari?

When it comes to safari clothing, I would say a jacket (neutral, earthy color). And be sure to not forget your camera, sunscreen lotion, anti-mosquito solutions, and binoculars.


What advice would you give to a first-time safari goer?

I would advise them to go in with an open mind and heart, to trust their guides and also ready to be (pleasantly) surprised!


So what surprised you the most about your safari experience?

When I first found out that I was going on a safari, I asked my sister for her professional camera that has a 50X zoom. I imagined the animals would be far away from us. So it really surprised me to actually get to see them up-close. We stopped the vehicle next to the white rhinoceros and the guide explained the signs they give off if they don’t like our presence. At one point, a family of buffalos even walked right by us – as if we were not even there.


Zebras spotted in the bushes


Drawing from your own experience, are safaris appropriate for children? How old do you think a child should be before a parent can bring them along on a safari?

I think it can be appropriate for children older than 14. Besides the safari, we visited the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness & Rehabilitation Center where we could go inside the cheetah’s enclosure, for example. Children were not allowed in there because they were too small and they could have been considered prey by the large cats. Parents with young children had to stay outside and calm their crying children, while everybody else got to go inside.

On a family friendly safari, besides getting to observe the animals, travelers will be given insights and information on how they can help to preserve the environment. You’ll get to learn about ways we all can help reduce the dangers that await wild animals and I think it is important for children to learn this at an age when they can start to act on the information they receive.


Will you be going on another safari in the future? 

I would absolutely go on another safari. In fact, I am already making plans for another one!


On a safari, you'll get to be up-close and personal with the wildlife


*All photos (aside from cover image) are from Mălina’s personal collection 


Is going on an African safari on your bucket list? If you’re been dreaming of finally going on a wildlife adventure of a lifetime, be sure to check out the vast selection of budget safaris that we have on offer! The best part about it is that it won’t burn a huge hole in your wallet!

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