Safari 101:

What You Need to Know Before You Go on Safari

What You Need to Know Before You Go on Safari

Is it safe to go on safari?

Yes.  There is no need to be afraid of the animals because they do not see people in the safari vehicle as food.  The animals are used to vehicles because they’ve grown up with them their entire lives.  They are not bothered by them and treat them like any other part of the bush.  Animals may react negatively if you get in their way or if they feel threatened by your actions.  Responsible guides will never put guests in compromising situations, and as long as you follow their instructions, the animals will not pose a threat.  Guides will position the vehicle in a safe spot, and let the animals come to you if they wish.  There are so many fears based on sensational news stories and YouTube videos of elephants and hippos charging at vehicles or people getting mauled by the big cats.  These incidents are very rare, but when they happen it’s almost always due to human error or mismanagement of the situation.   

Are people with physical limitations able to go on safari?

There are lodges that offer wheel chair access or disabled rooms for guests that need them.  Also, lodge staff will be available to help anyone needing assistance getting in and out of the safari vehicles.  If you are unsure if your needs can be properly addressed, we will consult with the safari lodges to see if your specific needs can be accommodated. 

Are kids allowed on safari? 

Children are welcome at many safari lodges but there are some that do not allow children at all.  Each lodge sets its own rules regarding the age that kids are allowed to go on game drives.  Also, you know your child.  If they are well-behaved and at an age where they can appreciate the experience of a safari, it would be a phenomenal adventure to include them on.  Note that there are malaria-free game reserves in South Africa that are well-suited for families, specifically Madikwe and Tswalu.

When is the best time to go on an African safari?

It depends on which country you are going to and what you prefer to see.  In South Africa, for example, game viewing is easiest during the dry season (May-October) while baby animals and green scenery make their appearance January-April.

How far in advance should I book an African safari?

You should generally book an African safari approximately one year in advance.  Many lodges fill up far in advance, especially during peak season.  If Africa is a bucket list dream of yours, you want to do it right, so it’s best to book far in advance to secure the best lodges, reserves, dates, etc.  If you are doing a private safari, 1.5 years in advance or more is recommended if there is a particular private guide you wish to use as your schedule, the guide’s schedule and the lodge’s schedule need to be to be coordinated. 

Get the appropriate vaccinations for your trip.

This will depend on where in Africa you are traveling to.  See our safari Health & Safety page for more information.

Only bring soft-sided luggage.

Bush flights operated by small airplanes have strict luggage requirements and only allow soft-sided luggage (no hard sides or wheels).  

Pack light!

Bush flights also have strict luggage weight limits so you don’t want to over pack.  Many safari lodges/camps provide laundry service so there is no need to bring a whole lot of clothing.  You can simply rotate through your clothes.  TIP: Use packing cubes to stay neat and organized.

Should you do a self-drive safari or stay at a private game reserve where you'll have a safari guide?

Rise and shine – before the sun does.

Game drives usually start around 5:30 am because animals are most active around dawn and dusk when it’s not as hot.  Don’t be tempted to sleep in!  You don’t want to be the one who came all the way to Africa but missed out on seeing a pride of lions in action or maybe even a hunt just because you wanted to catch a few extra z’s.  Don’t worry, you can take a nap in the afternoon. 

Wear layers of clothing during game drives.

Since game drives start early in the morning, be sure you wear layered clothing and a jacket as it is quite cool in the mornings plus the wind chill from driving in an open vehicle.  As the day moves on you can shed your layers as the sun warms things up.  Remember to bring your jacket on the afternoon/evening game drives too as the temperatures will drop again.

How long is a safari game drive?

The length of a safari game drive can vary by location, the lodge you are staying at or the safari company you are traveling with.  Game drives range from 3 hours to 12 hours per outing.  It is a good idea to discuss this topic while you are planning your safari to set expectations. 

A safari is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you're gonna get.

It’s true!  Anything can happen.  You might see 4 of the Big 5 in one day, or a leopard in a tree with a kill, lions roaring, elephants splashing about in water holes, or a baby rhino with its mother.  Sometimes the game drive will be quiet, and you won’t see many animals.  You might not see all of the Big 5 on your entire trip – (I recommend staying 4 nights or more in your chosen location to increase your chances of seeing   You just never know what you’re going to see, so remember that nature is unpredictable and enjoy the ride!

Respect the animals and your guide.

These are wild animals, and you are in their home.  As long as you respect them and their space, they shouldn’t feel threatened and take exception to you.  When tourists act irresponsibly around the animals is when they end up getting themselves into trouble.  Don’t be the next star in a stupid human, viral YouTube video.   Safari guides are highly trained and know how to read animals’ behavior and the situation at hand.  They are there to keep you and the animals safe.  Always listen to your guide and follow their direction. 

It is customary to tip your safari guide and tracker at the end of your safari.

As a guideline, $25 per couple per day for your guide and $12 per couple per day for your tracker.  Tips are given at the conclusion of your final game drive.

What type of things will I see on safari? 

It depends on where you go on safari, but sightings could include a range of things from the Big 5, antelope, hundreds of different bird species, reptiles, amphibians, insects, animals hunting, species migrations, river crossings, mothers with their young, open plains, thick bush, rivers, ponds, lakes and much more!

How close will I get to the animals?

A well-trained guide will always give animals enough space so that they are comfortable and don’t feel threatened.  Many animals don’t mind safari vehicles so if they are comfortable and decide to come toward you, you may come within a couple feet of a passing elephant or big cats or hyenas strolling by, monkeys playing in trees or wildebeest running toward the river.  If you are in a private game reserve, your guide is able to drive off-road which allows you to get much closer to wildlife than at a national park where you can only look for animals from the road.   

Is going on safari safe for the animals?

Yes, as long as the animals are treated with respect and given the adequate space that they need.  As long as they are not harassed or feel threatened, they (and you) are perfectly safe. 

Are animals more active at certain times?

Animals are generally more active during the early morning hours and around dusk since it can get hot during the day.  A lot of the predators use the day time to rest and seek shade, but not always.  The animals don’t follow rules and do what they want when they want, so you can easily find animals roaming during the day or grazing, browsing, patrolling territory, and of course there’s the waterholes.  Thirsty mouths gather throughout the day to quench their thirst, and elephants might even take a swim!  It’s important to go on both morning and afternoon/evening game drives because you never know what is going to happen! 

Protect yourself from the biting flies.

In certain parts of rural Africa, biting flies can be a nuisance and some can carry disease.  To protect yourself, wear neutral colored clothing and avoid wearing black and blue, especially if traveling to Tanzania.

Ready to start planning your journey?