Each evening, the game drive ends just as the sun is setting. The sky lights up in various shades of pinks and oranges as your jeep hums along the rough dirt road back to the lodge. You’re taking in the sights and the sounds but also taking a mental inventory of the day. It’s nearly impossible to talk about what to expect on safari without the words “bucket list” or “once in a lifetime” coming up in conversation. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of the nearly extinct rhino that brings unexpected tears of joy or watching a herd of elephants protecting their young that leaves you grinning ear to ear, each day on a safari brings with it overwhelming emotion and pure magic. Let these tips act as your guide and discover what to expect on a safari and how to make the most of this incredible adventure.
Deciding when and where to go on safari comes down to what you want to see. Exactly when you take your trip will impact the animals that you will likely see. Start by asking yourself questions about what animals or experiences excite you the most and build from there. For example, if your dream is to go on a gorilla trek, you’ll probably want to spend time in Rwanda or Uganda. If you’ve fantasized about seeing the wildebeests’ migration, you’ll probably see yourself heading to Kenya or Tanzania.
The animals, of course, are there year-round so there is never a bad time to visit – but the number of animals you see will vary by location and season. Weather also plays an important role because rain and temperature may impact your experiences. Visiting in high season typically means you’ll have the best chance at spotting animals, but that can also mean clusters of jeeps jockeying for position. A visit in the offseason may mean more time looking for animals, but when you find them you could have the experience all to yourself.
What to Wear on Safari
While there are dozens of safari packing guides with advice on exactly what to pack in your bags, we’re going to focus on three main packing points:
- We are here to dispute the myth that going on a safari means dressing head to toe in khaki and green. Wearing those colors may be important on a walking safari, but when you’re in the vehicle, the colors you wear do not matter. Wear whatever you’re most comfortable in while sitting in a vehicle for and prepare for long days ahead.
- Dress in layers. The early morning game drives can be chilly, especially in an open-air vehicle. Wear a jacket then take it off as the midday sun heats up.
- Expect everything to get dusty. Shoes and clothes are hard to keep clean when your day is spent on orange colored dirt roads. Laundry is available at the lodges, but avoid wearing anything you’d be crushed to ruin. White, in particular, is nearly impossible to get clean!
Also worth mentioning, know your baggage restrictions. Many charter flights require bags to be soft-sided and under 40 pounds. Check out some of our favorite (and stylish) picks for your safari further below.
You’ll quickly learn and understand jokes about African Time. “Now” could realistically mean in three hours. Put your watch (or phone) away and just learn to enjoy the experience without getting caught up in an itinerary or schedule. Sometimes you’ll be on the way to the lodge for lunch only to see an unexpected lion and suddenly, 1 PM lunch becomes 2:30 PM lunch. Other times it’s harder to place why things took longer than expected, but do your best to just go with the flow.
Vaccines and Visas
Most of popular African Safari destinations offer visas on arrival for US citizens, but it’s always a good idea to double-check before traveling if a visa upon arrival is available for your country. If possible try to get your visa online to avoid waiting in long lines upon arrival. Vaccines are another important thing to check into as each country has different requirements. If you are crossing a land border during your trip, that can change your vaccine requirements. For example, you do not need a yellow fever vaccine when flying from the US to Kenya or from the US to Tanzania. You do however need one if you plan to drive from Kenya into Tanzania. A few anxiety-inducing moments and a shot at the border will certainly remind you to plan ahead next time.
Buy the Lens
In many instances, your phone acts as a perfectly acceptable camera — a safari just isn’t one of those situations. Yes, there will be times animals wander right up to the car, but that’s the exception, not the rule. You’ll need something a bit more powerful to get that shot of a leopard sleeping in a tree or lioness dragging her kill. For a trip like this, you certainly won’t regret investing in the right gear. Because selecting the right equipment has so many variables, check out our full guide to travel photography. A general rule of thumb is something with 200mm of zoom or above is the best for capturing wildlife!
Not all Jeeps are Equal
You’ll be spending a lot of time in your safari jeep. With two game drives a day, you can expect to spend up to 8-10 hours in there each day. The amenities like coolers, chargers, and even WiFi are nice to have — however, the most important thing to understand is the seat configuration. Some vehicles are maxed out even with middle seats full. Smaller groups and smaller vehicles mean everyone has a great view.
Talk to Your Guide
Your guide is arguably the most important part of your safari experience. A great tip when searching through reviews of hotels or trip providers is to make note of the guides mentioned. If a specific guide sounds great do not hesitate to specifically request them. These guides are an absolute wealth of knowledge, so ask as many questions as you want.
Trust the guides during game drives. They know the park and the animals’ patterns exceptionally well, plus they are constantly on the radio with other drivers discussing locations. Getting you in front of as many animals as possible is their goal. I’ll never forget sitting in the jeep for what felt like forever looking out at absolutely nothing. You could feel everyone in the car getting restless, but our driver insisted we wait a bit longer. Then suddenly, three male lions popped up over the horizon, walking side by side directly towards us. His patience rewarded us with the best photos of our trip and a moment that will forever be etched in our memories.