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African Safaris: 10 Things You Must Know Before You Go

by Lystia Putranto

The go-to resource for planning your safaris. Find all you need to know about the top destinations and make your wildlife travel dreams come true.
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Thinking of going on an African safari? You’re not alone! Afterall, a wildlife safari is an experience like no other. Just you and raw, untamed mother nature at its best.

As you may expect, before going on a safari, there’s much for you to learn and prepare to ensure that your first safari will live up to expectations. 

In this article, you’ll find insights and information you ought to know before going on an African adventure of a lifetime.

Here are some useful tips that will help you plan an unforgettable safari: 

 

1. Choosing Your Ideal Safari
 

Zebras grazing in an African grassland  

If you’ve already begun doing some research on types of safari vacations you ought to consider, it may dawn on you the abundance of options that are on offer.

We understand that choosing from such a vast selection can be more than overwhelming. So, to help narrow down your choices, create a list of aspects of your five safaris ‘must haves’.

This list should highlight the most important things to be factored into your travel, such as:

  • Budget
  • What you want to see
  • Other activities you’d like to partake in
  • Preferred type of accommodation &
  • Mode of transportation

You may start creating the list by asking yourself the main reasons why you want to go on a safari. Is it because you’d like to see certain animal species? Would you like to catch a glimpse of the migration of animals? Or are you looking to be involved in a conservation safari project?

By having a clear understanding your reasons for going on a safari as well as your priority aspects, you will be able to better focus your search and easily eliminate options that don’t fit your list needs and preferences.

 

2. Where to Go

As you are already aware, Africa is an enormous continent with many great countries to visit with each one offering a unique set of wildlife, nature, and culture.

Based on data shared by Africa Renewal Online, out of the 50 million tourists that travel to Africa each year, travelers from France, UK, and the US, make up the biggest share. However, each has a different set of countries of preference.

French travelers tend to opt for Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritius, and Senegal. The British mostly prefer Egypt, South Africa, Mauritius, and Gambia. While South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe are the favorites amongst US visitors.

If you’re a safari first-timer, it may be a good idea to start by checking out this useful article on the top 8 safari countries in Africa. Alternatively, you can also easily determine destinations to consider by knowing exactly what animal species you are expecting to see during your trip.

 

3. What to See 

African elephants are among the big five animals you will see at a big five safari

Knowing what you expect to see on your safari adventure is a crucial part of planning your very own version of the perfect safari. Though Africa has a vast collection of wildlife, it’s worth to note that many of its species are unique only to certain regions.

For example, the ‘Big Five’ safaris are popular among first-time safari goers. These safaris are tailored specifically for travelers whose main intention is to see the Big Five animals: lions, leopard, rhinoceros, elephants and the Cape buffalos.

If you too are interested in seeing these five species during your visit, note that you will only be able to do so in:

  • Botswana
  • Zambia
  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania
  • Zimbabwe
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo & 
  • Malawi

If you’re interested in doing some gorilla tracking, however, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo should be on your list of top destinations to consider. 

 

4. When to Go

When it comes to safaris, the best time to travel depends very much on the destination(s) you have chosen. Generally, it’s best to go during the dry season as water is scarce and the animals would usually gather around the few water resources that haven’t dried up.

Dirt roads are also easier to navigate this time of year (during the rainy season, some areas may be flooded, making it more difficult to get around). This is why you can expect to see a lot more animals you hope to see during your visit. Note that since the dry season is considered the peak season for safaris it’ll likely to come with a heftier price tag.

If you’re expecting to observe wildlife migration, be sure to also take the time of the year into consideration. At the Serengeti National Park, for example, the great Wildebeest migration is also at its best for viewing during the dry season (late June to September).

Check out this article if you’re looking to learn more about this annual event dubbed as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.

5. Where to Stay 

Luxury accommodations are in abundance in Africa

Image credit: Karen Blixen Camp

Thanks to the popularity of safari travel, when it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of choices to choose from. If you are looking to be pampered, luxury African safari tours offer accommodations such as five-star resort hotels or outdoor luxury camps.

Alternatively, should you prefer a more wallet-friendly yet comfortable lodging options, treehouses, and campsites are great choices to consider. 

 

6. How to Get Around

Most first-time safari-goers opt for guided safaris where along with professional guides, will be driven around in a 4WD vehicle (e.g:  a Jeep) with other travelers to the best (and safest) spots for observing the wildlife in their natural habitat.

If you’re feeling more active and adventurous, you can opt for alternative options such as going on horse-back, a canoe, or a mokoro. You can even choose walking safaris and self-driving safaris where you can explore Africa’s vast grounds on your own and at your own pace. 

 

7. What to Pack

 Safari clothing should be loose and comfortable

Image credit: The Sims Forum

 

First things first - as you will likely to be exposed to the sun A LOT throughout your trip, be sure to pack sunscreen (SPF 15 and above).  Remember that you will need to re-apply often (every few hours) in order to minimize the chance of sunburn as Africa’s sun can be brutal. Be sure to also bring polarized sunglasses and a hat – preferably one that has a cord so it won’t get easily lost.

When it comes to clothing, it’s highly advisable to pack comfortable, loose layered clothing that will protect you from the sun. Choose those that can be worn multiple times and are olive, green or khaki.

Bring a windbreaker and long pants as mornings and evenings can be chilly. For shoes, if you are taking a walking trip, be sure to bring heavy hiking boots. However, if you are going on a guided 4WD tour, sports sandals or sneakers would suffice.

As your main intention is to observe the wildlife in their natural habitat, in addition to a sturdy binocular, be sure to also bring along a camera, digital memory cards, and extra batteries or a power back so you can make sure you’d be able to capture all the unforgettable moments you experienced as well as share them with your loved ones at home.

 

8. What to Prepare

  • Visas

In addition to a valid passport, for some countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, a visa is required for entry. We recommend for you to look up the list of visa requirements of the African country you are visiting on sites like VisaHQ.com. To ensure that you have ample time to get the visa processed, it is advisable to apply at least 2 full months (60 days) prior to your travel date. 

  • Vaccines

Since some diseases such as yellow fever are commonly found in Africa, you will need to get immunized before you travel. Other than yellow fever, vaccinations that you would need include hepatitis A & B and typhoid.

Since some vaccinations do take time (up to several weeks) to take into full effect, get your shots done way in advance prior to your departure. If you need more information on vaccines that are destination-specific, the website of the Centers for Disease Control is highly recommended.

  • Insurance           

As you may have gathered, going on a safari requires more preparation than most other types of travels. In order to book a package, some tour operators may require you to purchase travel insurance. We believe that it’s ‘better to be safe than sorry’ and highly recommend for you to purchase a policy – for your own protection, even if your tour operator doesn’t require you to do so.

 

9. Staying Safe & Healthy

travelers in a safari  

Though you’ll be surrounded by wild animals during your safari, safaris are generally safe. As long as you follow the safari etiquettes and the instructions of your guide (E.g: Don’t startle or provoke the animals), you will be in good hands.

To avoid getting ill during your trip, it’s crucial to stay hydrated (drink only bottled water) and to use insect repellant often. Be sure to also pack prescription and over the counter medications that you may need such as malaria medication, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.as even common medications can be difficult to obtain in Africa.

 

10. How to Give Back

 

African Rhinos, one of Africa's most endangered species

 

Signing up for a  conservation safari is one of the best ways you can directly give back to Africa’s wildlife. If you’re looking for other ways to contribute that will last long after you’ve returned home, donating to worthwhile wildlife charities such as Rhinos Without Borders, a program that focuses on moving remaining rhinos at poaching hot spots to a military-protected sanctuary Botswana, can be just as rewarding.

If you’re also keen to give back to Africa’s wonderful people, one of the simplest and kindest ways is to generously tip your safari staff as a way to thank them for their assistance and hospitality. Unemployment is still very much high across Africa and every amount will help towards building a more prosperous and thriving African community!

 


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