There are a whole host of things to consider before you set off exploring the world’s most exciting continent. So we sought the opinion of some of our friends in the trade who know African travel best. Their suggestions include what to pack, hidden gems to look out for, and how to make the most of your time. We hope they will be help you in some way when planning your next safari.
1 When you’re on safari the most important moments are those spent on your game drive. You might be tempted to hit snooze when the call comes for the morning drive, but it is out there in the bush where the magic happens, so up and at ’em! Plan a three-night stay and save your nap for the heat of the day, like the wildlife itself. Give no thought to the days of the week or the hours in the days, and switch off your mobile phone for some real time out.
Brett Thomson, Sun Destinations
2 Allow more ‘me time’. Give yourself the occasional break from lodge activity by sitting out a shared event – even if it’s a game drive. Get up late, then sit quietly in an open space with binoculars.
John Haycock, Africa Explorer
3 Talk to an expert (email correspondence is not enough) who has been to the areas you want to visit and who knows a range of products, so they can steer you to the experience that will best suit you. The web on its own will not give you a balanced view.
Bill Adams, Safari Consultants
4 Establish that your booking agent has personally visited the areas and properties they are recommending to you.
Nicci Lenferna, Pulse Africa
5 When looking at a flying safari check the airline’s whole route network. It could be more convenient, and possibly cheaper, to use the same company for onward legs as their flights tend to connect without long waiting periods.
Theo Marais, Coastal Travels
6 Check on the altitude of the locations you are going to visit. Altitudes of above 2000m, like some in parts of Kenya, can be unsuitable for some people.
Riccardo Orizio, Saruni Camps
7 Decide what wildlife you want to see (not all parks offer all species), what kind of wilderness experience you want and what sort of camps you are looking for. Most importantly, pick places which get the balance of bush and comfort just right, have a proven conservation ethos and which employ excellent guides who really know their stuff.
Grant Cumings, Chiawa Camp / Old Mondoro
8 The first question to ask is, “When do you want to travel?” It is vital that you don’t go to your chosen place at the wrong time. Your operator’s personal knowledge and impartial advice are vital here. Sure, use the web for research, but be aware that the facts are not always accurate, or what they seem to suggest. Check with those who know…
John Addison, Wild Frontiers
9 One of the best ways to gain good value for money, while maintaining high-quality guiding and exclusivity, is to travel outside the high season. These times will vary from country to country and even from camp to camp. A specialist tour operator will be able to help you with this. Though game viewing is usually easier during the dry season, increasingly this is becoming less predictable. Plus, the presence of camps in more remote areas, and the fact that many now stay open throughout the year, means you can enjoy an interesting and fulfilling safari at technically the ‘wrong’ time of year.
Robert Slater, Safari Consultants
10 As well as giving you greater independence and freedom to create a holiday to suit your interests and requirements, self-driving gives you value for money. By saving on the costs of private guides and air charters, you’ll have more to spend at the destinations you’ve travelled so far to see – for example, splurging on premier accommodation or going for a hot-air ballooning excursion.
David Cartwright, ATI Holidays
11 Consider travelling in the low season. Prices at most safari lodges can be as much as 30-40 per cent cheaper over this period. This is also arguably the best time of year for game viewing in places like the Kruger National Park as the vegetation is not as thick and animals are more reliant on rivers and waterholes, and therefore easier to find.
Paul Campbell, Travel Butlers
12 If you are on a tight budget, you should avoid safari destinations that charge in US dollars. One of the best-value reserves is South Africa’s Kruger National Park because it is priced in local currency.
Onne Vegter, Wild Wings Safaris
13 Enjoy and absorb all the little things; try to understand the different sounds and smells and what they could mean. A safari is a unique experience and will change your whole outlook on life.
Stuart Bartman, Karibu Safaris Botswana
14 Take your sense of adventure, disconnect, and don’t even think about Wi-Fi. Put your phone and watch away, take as many photos as possible and immerse yourself in nature, culture and in new experiences. These are memories that will last a lifetime… the rest will still be there when you get home.
Jayne Harley, Sunway Safaris
15 Everyone wants to find that special treasured moment. But it may not be as hard to find as you think. Your hidden gem may be as simple as listening to the call of a fish eagle, the smell of the dust before a late afternoon Okavango thunderstorm, or the hushed anticipation as you follow the outstretched finger of your Maasai guide pointing out a majestic tusker.
Hilton Walker, Great Plains Conservation
16 Don’t over-tip as this tends to encourage undue expectations and could lead to resentment against your fellow tourists, which could in turn erode the safari experience for others.
Mark Sprong, Land & Lake Safaris
17 Malawi’s tilapia fish, known as chambo, is a must-try. It’s best served fresh from the lake, charcoal-grilled with a squeeze of lemon, garlic and salt. For a pre-dinner tipple, why not sample a legendary Malawi G&T on the rocks.
Akossa Mphepo, Sunbird Hotels and Resorts
18 For flights on small aircraft photographers or groups of four or more should consider booking a freight seat, which affords you an additional 75kg of baggage allowance. This is charged at a child fare, which can be split among the group.
Anu Vohora, Safarilink
19 If you are concerned about your arrival after a long-haul flight, why not consider a VIP meet-and-greet service at the airport? They’ll meet you at the bottom of the aircraft’s steps and hand-hold you all the way through passport control, customs and on to your awaiting transfer at arrivals.
James Haigh, Tourvest East Africa
20 If tracking chimpanzees in Uganda, book chimp habituation tracking for just an additional US$70. This allows you to accompany a habituation team for a full day, instead of the usual one hour.
Wim Kok, Matoke Tours
21 The time of year to go gorilla tracking is crucial. In Rwanda, it gets very wet and slippery in April, May and November, so these months are best avoided. In Uganda, this can be a good time to go because the rain is not so intense, and there are good discounts to be had on gorilla permits and accommodation.
Patrick Shah, Journeys Discovering Africa
22 Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe is a true hidden treasure. Home to some of the country’s most pristine and picturesque wilderness areas, it is known for its thriving population of wild dogs and the striking Chilojo cliffs. Get there now, before the crowds inevitably do in years to come.
Luke Brown, Vayeni
23 Rwanda is not just a single-activity destination; there’s so much more to see other than the mountain gorillas. Don’t miss out on less-visited gems such as the mystical forest at Musanze.
Tim Henshall, Kamili Safaris
24 If you want a private reserve experience but haven’t really got the budget for it, consider Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa. The only lodge in the park offers fully inclusive packages and luxury accommodation at a reasonable price. It is a public park but seldom visited by self-drivers, so you’ll have most of the place to yourself.
Wouter Vergeer, Safari Bookings
25 Go to southern Tanzania. With the range of choices on offer here you will be able to keep prices down by being able to spend longer in one place. As well as game drives, you can enjoy walking safaris, boating trips and fishing.
Miles Nicholson, Original Travel
26 Consider whether you want to go as part of a group or travel individually. Group safaris can offer a price advantage; they can also be activity-oriented and therefore attract like-minded travellers (such as specialist birding or photographic groups). Travelling individually offers more flexibility. The ultimate luxury is to reserve a private vehicle, which gives you full control of how much time to spend at game sightings.
Anke Cowan, Kafunta Safaris
27 Tanzania’s Arusha National Park is often ignored, which is an excellent reason to visit. You will be far from the crowds and have one of the continent’s most scenic reserves almost to yourself. The landscape is varied and excursions are plentiful, including canoeing and waterfall hikes, all under the shadow of Mount Meru, Tanzania’s second-highest peak.
Tehsin Takim, Takims Holidays, Tours & Safaris
28 Take responsible tourism into account. Does the accommodation provider you are considering work with local communities to ensure they benefit from tourism? Do they monitor their environmental impact, and do they genuinely help with conservation? Watch out for greenwashing…
Lucy Lopez, Wilderness Safaris
29 Bring the right attitude. Guests who come with ‘wide-eyed wonder’ at all the amazing things (big and small) that nature has to offer end up having a far more enjoyable safari. Soak it all up and learn as much as you can from the folk who live there.
Hayley Plaskitt, Imvelo Safari Lodges
30 Try and talk to the locals as much as possible – your waiter, driver, guide, street vendor. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from them.
Dominic Webb, Responsible Safari Co.
31 Be sure to take advice from people who actually live there: they will be able to tell you the must-visit places, recommend some good dining spots and reveal top travel tips.
Kelly Wood, The Hide
32 When you are planning a photographic safari avoid lodge hopping. Not only will this save you money and make more photography time possible, but by staying at the same place you will have a much more intimate wildlife experience. You get to know the environment intimately – and you will go home with much better images.
Lou Coetzer, CNP Safaris
33 When booking a photographic trip ask yourself: how many guests per safari vehicle? Where is your lodge in relation to the park? Are there any hides? Do they have a guide who loves photography? How many vehicles on the concession? Is driving off-road allowed? At what times do you need to be in and out of the area? The more research you do the better, and making use of a specialist operator can make all the difference.
David Rogers, Villas and Africa
34 Have your camera ready at all times, not packed away in your bag, or you could miss out. If you are afraid of dust, cover it with something that can be removed quickly.
Peter Geraerdts, Track and Trail River Camp
Taking care of yourself
35 Dehydration is serious and can ruin your safari. It is not just about drinking enough water, it is about replenishing the salts you lose from the action of wind and sun. So, bring your own powdered Gatorade (lots of it) and take some each day.
Johann Du Toit, Wilderness Bookings
36 Always shake out your shoes before putting them on – you never know what may have made a home there during the night.
Leanne Munckton, African Secrets
37 Safari dust is part of the experience. Carry some wet wipes to freshen up.
Grace Kithaka, Mara West Camp
38 The best thing to stop the itch from a mosquito or tsetse fly bite is, would you believe, hemorrhoid cream
Mindy Roberts, Norman Carr Safaris
39 When self-driving, familiarise yourself with points where you can get fuel. Not all villages shown on the map have service stations, so you need to budget carefully how much you will need and where you will get it.
Judi Gournaris, Wild at Tuli
40 Don’t ask how far somewhere is in kilometres, rather ask how many hours it takes to get there. Distances alone can be very deceptive due to road conditions or park rules on driving speeds.
Pippa Turner, Kafue Camps and Safaris
41 If you are planning a self-drive trip but are not confident about 4WD driving, then consider arranging a training day, either before travelling or at the start of your trip.
Rachel Jones, The Cardboard Box Travel Shop
42 For the migration, download the HerdTracker app, a real-time Google map that displays accurate updates of the migrating animals’ locations. Also consider staying in semi-permanent camps as they move to track the wildebeest.
Taqi Moledina, ARP Travel Group
43 Pack your gear in waterproof bags: the type that you take on boats. Not only will this keep your belongings dry in the rains, but (because the bags seal) it also stops insects getting into your clothes.
Jane Baxter, UK
What to pack
44 Ladies, don’t forget to bring your sports bra for those bumpy bush tracks used to explore the area on game drives.
Francesca Hird, Ker & Downey Botswana
45 A spare pair of glasses, an all-purpose charger for your camera battery especially (but for any other devices too), and a waterproof bag that covers your camera – it’s useful for all sorts of things, especially in sudden downpours.
DD Kingscote, Outposts
46 A kikoi or a sarong. It’s multi-functional: you can wear it as a scarf, wrap it around your head as a turban, wet it and cool off your body or use it as a bath towel.
Simona Quaglia, Uncharted Africa Safari Co.
47 Pens, pencils and notebooks. It’s great to keep a simple diary, jotting down your sightings and the feelings you experienced. Take a few extras though, as they are readily welcomed by the locals and can be used to barter in many rural areas.
Brenda McDonald, Flame of Africa
48 Pack a pair of binoculars before you pack anything else. They will greatly enhance your game-viewing experience. those with image stabilisation are recommended. Don’t go for too much magnification if you want to cut down on weight and expense.
Nommy Vuma, Africa Albida Tourism
49 Whether you are an experienced Africa traveller or a first-timer, spend time at each place to absorb the experience. Stay three nights at each of two camps rather than two nights at each of three camps. This will also keep the price down as it cuts down on transport costs.
Alistair Rankin, Machaba Camp
50 Generally, safari lodges and operators who go the extra mile looking after the local communities and the environment do the same for their guests, so it is worth taking note of this when making your choices.
Marc Crouch, Tongole Wilderness Lodge
51 The variety of wildlife activities on offer is key. Make sure you stay close to the animals and not to other tourists. Sometimes this may mean a long drive from the arrival point, but in terms of game experience it is worth it.
Matt Smith, Muchenje Safari Lodge
52 Choose a camp that offers communal dining as opposed to hotel-style, separate tables and allows guides to join you for meals and by the campfire. This will give you a more intimate experience. Remember, you have a common interest with most people in that camp: the magic of Africa.
Calvin Cottar, Cottar’s Safari Service
53 Tell your lodge management in advance what your special interests are – whether it be birding, painting, photography, geology, rock art, insects, tracking, reptiles, writing poetry… They love to accommodate you, and this will help them to plan for your arrival.
Vikki Threlfall, Tuli Safari Lodge
54 Consider taking a training course as opposed to a ‘normal’ safari, in order to understand what makes the entire wilderness ecosystem tick. With a training course you get a doubled experience – an authentic safari with a whole lot of knowledge and personal growth thrown in.
Kath Greathead, EcoTraining
55 See the stars. The nocturnal element of safari often gets forgotten, but you’ll see the clearest skies of your life in the African bush. Go on a night drive, cut the engine, switch off the lights and marvel at the infinite glittering heavens.
Robyn-Lee Ghaul, Alex Walker’s Serian
56 Think about the different kinds of safaris on offer, because younger children might find being quiet on a vehicle for four hours twice a day a big ask. Try to mix it up with village or school visits, boat trips or fishing (if available), and other interesting day trips or picnics.
Jessica Salmon, Flatdogs Camp
57 Taking your children on safari could be one of the most impactful experiences you can give them. To make the most of this, enquire about private or exclusive activities. These allow your family to enjoy the services of their own guide and have the convenience of their own vehicle or boat, and the pace and experiences can be tailored to the family’s needs
Walter Smith, Desert and Delta Safaris
58 For those going on a safari for the first time, go game viewing with a guide rather than self-drive otherwise you’ll miss out on learning about and seeing a lot of wildlife through the eyes of an expert.
Dawn Wilson, Botswana Tourism
59 Consider a private guided safari – you can create your perfect itinerary and have your own guide to escort you around. You’ll have the knowledge, passion and experience of that individual on hand, so you won’t need to worry about a thing. If you are travelling with children make sure your guide is experienced in taking kids on safari – and knows how to keep them entertained!
Julie Ives, Chameleon Holidays & Travel
60 Most visitors to Etosha don’t consider the option of a guided walk on the private reserves bordering the national park, but it is a lovely way to learn about the habitat and resident wildlife. Take a couple of hours with an expert guide to enjoy the peace and quiet of Namibia on foot.
Ben Forbes, The Mushara Collection
61 It is the safari guide who really makes the whole experience and who will keep you safe. Choose your operator carefully: one who truly knows the guides and who will expertly pick the right one(s) for your individual needs.
Marguerite Tuffrey, Okavango Tours and Safaris
The Ideas Bank is now open!
Our expert contributors to this article have supplied many more tips than can be listed here. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to learn more.
There’s also an invaluable resource we haven’t tapped into yet – and that’s you! Share your top tips and suggestions for travelling in Africa on Facebook and Twitter or email email@example.com and we’ll add them to the Ideas Bank for everyone to share. Safari njema!