What You Need to Know Before Going on Safari: 5 Tips for an Unforgettable Experience

by Nancy Molina

The Swahili word “safari,” originally from the Arabic adjective سفر (safar) means a journey, travelling, or touring. And it’s something you should do at least once in your life.

I have been living in beautiful South Africa for the past five years and am fortunate enough to go on safari at least once a year. Being a former tour leader, and being married to a former overland guide, these are some tips I have gathered to help you make the best of your safari experience:

1. Take a look at the weather

Most people think that all of Africa is the same, open savannahs with sunny and hot days. But the reality is, Africa is a huge continent and the countries where you can go on safari are located in different latitudes. For example, South Africa is located in the southernmost part of the African continent with well marked seasons, very distinct hot summers and cold winters. Make sure you dress appropriately.

Visiting Kruger NP
Kruger NP is one of the best national parks in Southern Africa for wildlife sightings.

2. Think about what to pack

Now that you know the weather is something to consider based on where you are going and what time of year, make sure you bring the right clothing. Safaris include a lot of driving so dressing for comfort is important. Comfortable shoes are best for climbing into those safari vehicles or for walking safaris. Plan your outfit to include layers (for cold mornings and warmer days) and stick with neutral colours, like khaki, olive, tans, and browns. Wildlife doesn’t really like bright colours and this can negatively impact your safari experience.

African sunsets in the bushveld
African sunsets in the bushveld are some of the best you will ever see.

3. A camera vs your phone

When you venture into a national park or nature reserve in your safari vehicle, you are only allowed to drive in the designated areas and need to maintain a reasonable distance between you and the wildlife. That means the leopard you were planning to have in a perfect portrait shot might be a bit further away than you thought. Your phone will be sufficient for landscape photographs but if you want those specific animal shots; better to bring a DSLR camera with you to nail the shot. Bonus tip: there are a lot of settings on those cameras, so make sure you know how to use it beforehand.

Getting some shots with our Canon SLR
Getting some shots with our Canon SLR
My iPhone and binoculars trick
My iPhone and binoculars trick

4. It’s not all about the “big five”

We all dream to see lion cubs or rhinos grazing on the same day but the reality can be quite different. While hours can go by without spotting any of the “big five,” tracking wildlife is half of the adventure. These natural areas work in perfect harmony, so remember to enjoy the small and fascinating stuff: birdlife, insects, animal tracks, flora. You will quickly realize there is abundant life everywhere you look.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Kudu bull, such a majestic beauty
Kudu bull, such a majestic beauty

5. Do your homework

Take time to do some research about the country you are going to, as having an understanding of the people and culture is important. It will allow you to truly immerse yourself in the destination and see the surroundings with a more holistic view; how people lived in the area, what they learned from the environment, and what is still present in their lives today.

The above list of tips is important to keep in mind so long as you have already checked off the most important things: if you need a visa, received the necessary vaccinations, and have travel insurance.

African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Dog or Painted Wolf
African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Dog or Painted Wolf
Leopard - Always a highlight to spot, such a elusive cat
Leopard – Always a highlight to spot, such a elusive cat

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