So you’re going to Africa. First of all, ugh, I’m jealous. I’d live there if I could. Truly. And second of all, YAY! You’re in for the trip of a lifetime.
I’m so grateful that I spent a decade of my life traveling across the big beautiful continent that is Africa. With only 12 African countries under my belt, I’m still hungry for more. And, let’s be real, it’s a huge place to explore.
I’m lucky enough to have been able to live and work in Kenya in my early twenties, as this provided me countless opportunities to go on safari. I’m talking about going on little safaris here and there whenever I could.
At this point, I’ve been on safari in African countries more times than I can keep track of. But, I’ll be honest, it still blows me away every single time. There’s something incredibly healing about being in nature with the most incredible creatures around you. Living under the blanket of stars, and staying warm by a campfire. It’s honestly the best.
Today, I’m sharing a round up of tips of what you need to know before you go on safari in Africa, because I’ve found that there’s a lot of misconceptions about what this experience will be like. While Africa is huge, and all safaris are different, these tips apply to safaris across the board.
Remember, it’s always best to dig into the specifics of the country and park where you plan to go on a safari to get a detailed understanding of your experience.
What You Need To Know Before You Go On Safari In Africa
Most people are drawn to tourism in Africa due to the wildlife. I mean, c’mon, it’s pretty unbeatable, right?
I created this list of tips before you jet off so that you can have the best experience possible. Let’s be real, safaris are expensive. So, you want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck by choosing the best time of year, location, and accommodation.
If you’re planning your safari in Africa right now, just remember that while the animals are certainly memorable- there’s also a lot more that this continent has to offer. Check out my post on what to do in Africa to enjoy everything from beaches, to mountains, and everything in between.
First things first, you want to have a good understanding of the season during the timeframe that you want to travel. If you’re coming from the States, and going to South Africa, for instance- it’s important to remember that it’s the other hemisphere. Meaning our summer is their winter.
Most people like to travel during their summer season, so just make sure that’s still a “good” time to go wherever you’re headed. I say good in quotation marks, because all seasons offer different pros and cons. It really depends on what you’re comfortable with, and what you hope to get out of the experience to determine if it’s the right fitting season for you.
Along with understanding the season you’re traveling in, it’s important to understand what this season means for the migration pattern of animals. Most people prefer to go on safari in the dry season, as there’s less mosquitos, better visibility, and more pleasant weather. However, animals need water! So the dry season might mean less animals in some areas.
Even if you don’t care as much about seeing the migratory animals like zebras and wildebeests, it’s important to remember that these animals are food for the big cats. And I’m guessing you do want to see those, right? The more animals that are around in general, often means the more action you’ll get to see.
Of course weather goes hand in hand with seasons and migration patterns, but it’s still worth mentioning separately. Reason being is that I can’t tell you how many tourists I’ve encountered who were shocked at how dang cold it can get in African countries. I guess most people just envision Africa to be a hot, dry place- but the truth is, it’s a diverse continent, with diverse weather patterns.
Even if you’re in a place that gets super hot and deserty dry in the daytime, chances are it’s quite cool in the early mornings and evenings. And, guess what- those are the times you’re going on the game drives! The moral of the story is to pack layers. You can’t go wrong.
Africa is a continent, which means you’re going to have to narrow it down to a specific country once you start planning your safari more specifically. While there are safaris available in most (if not all?) countries in Africa, they will certainly provide different landscapes, animals, and weather.
There’s also, of course, the issue of safety and stability of the country to be considered before traveling there. Some of the most well known countries that for safe tourism and safari are as follows:
- South Africa
- Sierra Leone
Once you land in the country that you want to visit, then you need to narrow it down to the specific national park you want to go to. Many countries have multiple parks, but some smaller countries only have one or two.
You can certainly go to multiple parks during your stay, just make sure to check in with the transport and distance between the two. Even if it doesn’t look that far on a map, you never know the road quality. And if you’re buying flights between parks, that can add up quickly!
Things to consider before you choose the best national park for your safari:
- How busy it is.
- Can you drive off road?
- Entrance fees.
- Cost of accommodation in or around the park.
- Do they allow night drives, or have a curfew?
When it comes time to choose the best accommodation, you’ll want to consider your budget first and foremost. While there are a range of places to stay, even the cheaper options are quite expensive, due to the park entrance fees.
If you’re looking to save money, it’s usually cheaper to stay just outside the park, rather than inside. Also, tented accommodations tend to be a little lower in price- while still providing a really nice “tent” experience. Think of it as glamping, rather than camping, as you’ll still have running water, beds, and a bougie tent to stay in.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to spend more- then you have a whole host of camps to choose from that can be as luxurious as offering spas and gyms, even. Typically the more expensive options also provide flight transport between camps, and other perks as well.
Regardless of if you’re backpacking, or going full on baller status- you’ll want to make sure you know about the food before you book with the place you go. Look, I’m someone with dietary restrictions and allergies, so this is something I’m used to as a world traveler. But let me tell you that you definitely don’t want to be hungry on safari, because you’re out in the bush! There’s nowhere else for you to go and get food if need be.
In that case, I always suggest that people bring a snack bag. Simple snacks like travel bars, dried fruit, nuts, or jerky. But more importantly, make sure to express your dietary requirements to the place ahead of time so that they’re aware and prepared.
Most of the people who I see on safaris are in the older crowd. And I get it, it’s expensive, plus it’s a bucket list item kind of thing. However, before you jump at the chance to take your parents or grandparents as their last big hurrah- I want you to understand that even the moreluxe safaris still have a rough travel component that can be challenging for people with physical limitations or older bodies.
I’m not even talking about the international trek to get there, I’m talking about the overland travel once you’re in the experience. When you fly to camps, you’re usually in a 4 – 12 seater plane, which is tiny and cramped. If you’re overlanding it, then you’re on bumpy roads. Just make sure that you, or the people you’re going with, can handle tough terrain and travel before booking.
I know that the thought of seeing lions and cheetahs in the wild sounds great. Trust me. But you need to remember that you’re not just seeing them on the side of the road in a neighborhood. You’re in the bush, on unpaved, bumpy roads.
Going on a game drive means you get in a safari vehicle and just drive around for hours. And I mean hours, on end. While the safari vehicles are meant for this kind of terrain, most people are surprised at how uncomfortable it is to get tossed around in a car for 7 hours a day.
A Lot Of Sitting
If you’re an active person like I am, you might find the sheer volume of sitting to be difficult. Not only are you driving around for 5 – 7 hours a day (at least), but usually you’re not able to walk too freely within the camp, either.
If you’re staying at a camp that’s within the national park, chances are there are wild animals roaming your camp. Which is awesome! You get to see them all the time, from the shower to bedtime. But, it also means there’s probably a guide escorting you from your room to the car, or your room to the dining hall.
Sure, you can do yoga or other workouts in your room. But, be prepared to have a lack of activity for the duration of your time on safari. Make sure to stretch between drives so that your body isn’t too unhappy 🙂
Seeing Animals Time
Yes, seeing a leopard in the wild is magnificent. And, chances are seeing that elusive creature will also take time. You might go on a drive for hours and see close to nothing on some days, while other days you wake up and see lions eating an impala right off the bat.
The point is that you should allow yourself at least, and I mean at least, three nights of safari if you want to ensure that you see what you want to see. Yes, timing it with the season and location will also increase your chances of action and sighting, but length of time is also important here.
That footage you see on National Geographic usually comes from someone living in a bush for 30 days in camo gear, camping out and waiting for this one specific animal to do one specific thing. It takes time.
Lastly, you need to understand that sometimes animal sightings come from sheer luck. Sure, the guides are all communicating with one another via radio, which certainly helps. But still, there will be times that you go out and see a few birds- while someone else in your camp sees a cheetah catch an antelope.
You need to know that these national parks are often huge, and getting from one side to another takes time due to the bumpy roads. Plus, animals move quickly, and they like to avoid humans, cars, and the strong heat of the day. This typically leaves a pretty small window to see the good stuff.
The most important thing to remember is that every animal is fascinating and beautiful in its own way. While you might not feel as excited by the antelopes as you do the big cats, if you have a good guide then you’ll learn to fall in love with every creature regardless of their wow factor.
Plus, a good guide will teach you heaps of fun facts about the animals along the way.
You’re about to have the experience of a lifetime. Enjoy it!