How to plan and prepare for a safari
An overland safari is the ultimate way to experience the bush at its best in Africa; and now that you’ve made the decision to go, the questions are many, in order to make sure you:
- Pack it all,
- See the best places and
- Choose the very best time to go
But first, the basics.
What is a safari actually?
It might seem an obvious question, but the word safari can conjure up images of safari suits and teams cutting swathes through the undergrowth. These are – thankfully – a far cry from reality these days – except the swathes if you are planning to visit mountain gorillas, but that’s another story.
Modern safaris mostly consist of a journey overland by truck and/or 4×4 into national parks and game reserves, where maximum time is spent viewing game. In some cases you can also take a helicopter or light aircraft to the heart of your destination, but expect to pay a good deal more for this.
Having arrived, an assortment of game drives, guided walks and possibly even boat or mokoro rides will be on offer. Game drives in general offer the best wildlife viewing opportunities, largely because of the ground that they can cover. If available, we usually recommend the option of an open-sided game vehicle with a local, experienced guide. This is generally the best chance for getting a glimpse of the broadest selection of wildlife, and the most elusive, as these guides often know where the specific individuals hide.
What kind of wildlife is on offer?
Of course there is the ‘Big 5’; a crucial part of any first-time safari. These are the African elephant, Black and White rhinoceros’, Cape buffalo, African lion and the African leopard. Read more here on the different types of lions to be seen in Africa (there is a small population in western India – bet you didn’t know that ;))
Then there are a whole host of equally must-see species; giraffe, antelope of various sizes and habits, zebra, hippopotamus and warthog, cheetah, caracal and smaller cat species – and, for the very fortunate, the more elusive species such as porcupine, aardvark, and aardwolf.
For a thorough list, we can recommend Stuart’s Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, available at various online stores.
In addition, many areas of southern Africa, Swaziland in particular, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and the Okavango Delta of Botswana, are a birder’s paradise and must be included on any serious bird watchers’ safari list.
Planning for your Safari
A first step is working out how much time you have. The most accessible national park, where Big 5 sightings are all but guaranteed, is South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Visiting this park can be done in as little as 3-5 days, including transit from Johannesburg; a central hub and usually the best destination for well-priced plane tickets.
If the Serengeti National Park or Ngorongoro Crate – the sites of the annual Great Migration – are on the list, then anything upwards of a week is recommended. These safari tours can be done as part of a longer tour or as a standalone safari, via Arusha, Dar es Salaam or Nairobi.
Next you need to decide on the optimal time of year; and this can vary widely depending on the park you wish to visit. In general the winter months are cooler and drier, and so the animals gather around the water holes, especially in the drier parks such as Namibia’s Etosha National Park.
The Great Migration offers different game viewing options from Kenya and Tanzania, with winter months offering river crossing, where hungry crocodiles await! – while summer offers calving season in Tanzania, thus cat sightings and kills are common.
If you have the time, your safari can be undertaken as part of a longer overland tour, which can include beautiful sandy beaches, local cultures, amazing geography, cities and adrenaline activities in the mix. (Links here)
For a review of the various options by national park, use our Highlights menu list. (link)
What to pack on a Safari?
Regulations on clothing can vary by country, but in general, neutral colours are better for blending in. Comfortable walking shoes will be required for pit stops and game walking where this is offered, and long pants will also suit best for these occasions.
Be sure to bring a long-sleeve jersey and a water-proof jacket as even in summer it can be cool in the evenings. Winter can be extremely cold in the early mornings and very warm in the day, so zip-off trousers (as gorgeous as they are ;)) are quite a useful thing.
Then there the absolute staples of insect repellent, sunscreen, decent drinking bottle, binoculars and field guides to animals and birds.
For a complete downloadable packing list, click here.