Making the most of your safari experience: where to go and what to pack
Dreaming of a safari adventure? There’s plenty to think about: which area to stay in, which animals you want to see, whether you want to do anything else while you’re out in Africa. To make things a little easier, our experts have put together an insider guide to African safaris, with information on what you’ll see, where you’ll see it, as well as top tips on what to bring with you.
The Big Five
Most countries of Africa have their standout safari options, from Kenya’s Masai Mara to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Each is home to a vast array of wildlife - more than enough to please the average visitor - yet one of the most talked about ‘goals’ of a safari still, is to tick off the animals collectively known as the ‘big five’.
The safari hunters of yesteryear coined the phrase ‘big five’ to describe the most difficult animals to take down with a single shot. Modern travellers are (thankfully) more enlightened, and only interested in shooting the perfect photograph of these majestic creatures. Consisting of the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo, the big five can all be found in a number of Africa’s national parks and reserves, but certain animals are more abundant (or less elusive) in specific areas.
The Masai Mara and Serengeti are amongst the foremost lion watching areas in Africa; the graceful leopard is the most elusive of the big five but several groups live in the Nakuru area and the Serengeti; the august elephant wanders all of East and South Africa’s great parks and sightings in Aberdare, the Masai Mara and Ngorongoro Crater are relatively commonplace; rhino roam the countries’ forests and plains; and finally, buffalo are the most plentiful of the big five, offering numerous viewing opportunities.
Planning and preparing
If you’re planning a holiday to include African wildlife encounters, there are many options. If you want a holiday focussing predominantly on wildlife, then our tours to Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana or Uganda may be your ideal choice. If you would prefer safaris to be only part of your destination experience, consider South Africa for its varied history and culture, Namibia for its vast sand dunes, Ethiopia for its breathtaking rock-cut temples, or Zambia, home to the wonder that is Victoria Falls. It all comes down to your own personal choice.
With a few exceptions, most safaris on our holidays will be operated in 4WD vehicles (some open top), with a window seat guaranteed, ensuring you get the best possible chance to see what you came to see! It should be borne in mind that 4WD drive vehicles are not always the smoothest of rides and a number of African wildlife destinations are home to unsealed roads - so you should prepare to be bounced a little and enjoy it as part of the experience.
What to pack: 10 essential items for a safari holiday
A soft backpack
This can be taken as hand luggage or packed into your suitcase and will come in handy on safari. It is perfect for carrying game-drive essentials, as well as a plentiful supply of bottled water.
A suitable suitcase
Hard-shell suitcases do a wonderful job of protecting your belongings but can be bulky and heavy - no good for the manner in which bags are transported between lodges. Consider instead strong, but soft bags which are readily available and more easily packed away.
With flights up to 12 hours and precious luggage room, the ability to transport an entire library of books in a single device can be a godsend. Remember the charger and applicable adaptor too.
Notebook and pen
There’s so much information to be gained from your safari guide, you might want to record it for when you begin to collate your memories once home.
Important for searching for animals in the bush, or viewing birds high in the sky.
The pay-off for enjoying sightings of large and exotic animals is that you may end up attracting the attentions of smaller, more irritating creatures. All of Africa’s main safari destinations have malarial areas (though fewer in South Africa than East Africa) and it is always a good idea to speak to your GP well in advance of travelling. Mosquitoes and other buzzing pests can be dissuaded from feasting on you by a strong DEET-based insect repellent.
Sun hat & sun lotion
In general, the ultraviolet radiation of the sun’s rays is strongest at the equator, which runs through Kenya. Though game drives are often timed for early morning and late afternoon to escape the worst of the heat, it is still possible to get sunburnt. A light-coloured sun hat and an SPF sun cream appropriate to your skin type will offer the protection you need.
For the same reason, sunglasses with a significant UV protective coating are a safari must.
Lightweight, good quality clothes allow for the most productive use of your luggage weight allowance. Not all safari destinations are dry and hot all year round, and not all safari experiences are the same.
East Africa has rainy seasons March-May and November and Southern Africa November-April. This shouldn’t put you off visiting during these months - the game viewing is just as spectacular, against a lusher backdrop - but you should be prepared with lightweight waterproofs and layered clothes, particular for night/dawn drives when it can get surprisingly cold.
Camouflage-type light tans, browns and khaki reflect rather than absorb heat and do not scare the animals - particularly important on walking safaris, when good quality walking boots are also a must.
A high quality digital camera
Perfect for capturing those precious moments, so check out our top tips on safari photography.
If you’re ready to start planning your trip, take a look at our collection of African safari tours.
Nicola considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a number of places around the world and these experiences usually involve searching for as many kinds of wildlife as possible. Recent highlights include penguins in Antarctica, bears and whales in Canada and Alaska and sea otters in California - but there are always more animals to search for.
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