No matter how many photos you’ve seen, or how many episodes of Animal Planet you have watched, the first moment you see African animals roaming and living in their natural habitat will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience like no other.
Few travel moments can hold a candle to going on a safari and seeing animals in their natural splendor. The diversity of wildlife on the African continent is astounding; truly one of the most magical and indelible moments a traveler can experience.
The beauty doesn’t end at the wildlife. African national parks are gloriously-untouched expanses of land, that at times, almost seem other-worldly.
The magnificent landscapes of these spectacular game reserves offer an unparalleled paradise for animals lovers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone else obsessed with exploring this wondrous world of ours.
Below I have written about what you can expect while on safari, as well as some tips on how to make the most of your safari adventure. I’m telling you, there’s literally nothing like going on a safari. Absolutely nothing.
But like anytime you travel abroad, the lens you choose to look through will likely determine your experience. The more flexible, open-minded, and receptive you are, the more likely you will fall head over heels with your safari experience.
There are a plethora of tour outfitters, so it’s worth doing your homework and finding the right tour operator that fits your needs. We used the company Wildlife Safaris and I highly recommend them for a South African safari. Compared to the other companies I researched, I felt like their offerings best suited our needs in terms of value, duration, and activities.
During our morning rides, we had a private driver, who was also our personal guide. With over twenty years of experience under his belt, we couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgeable and skilled guide. Ronaldo was patient, affable, and quite simply an all-around lovely human to be around. The character and experience of your guide goes along way on a safari. Simultaneously, the way that you choose to interact with your guide[s] will also ultimately impact your overall experience.
Yes, the tour company you choose is important. But here’s what I would argue is just as important: the length of safari you choose. There are some people who can and want to do a 10-day safari. We are not those people. First of all, safaris are expensive. Even budget safaris will set you back. If you’re interested in exploring any of the country outside of the game reserve, you’ll need to be realistic about how you manage your money and time.
As much as we loved our safari, and believe me, I’m borderline obsessed, by the end of our three-day tour, we [embarrassingly] became somewhat immune to the incredible wildlife surrounding us. I know. I sound ruefully terrible and insanely obnoxious. Hear me out.
The first day of your safari is brimming with unbridled jubilance. Every single time we spotted an animal, I would practically squeal with delight. There is something to be said about seeing your first herd of animals roaming freely in their natural habitat. Every new animal is like being handed a brand-spanking new Christmas present, just waiting to be torn open. You can’t help but view the surrounding expanses with eyes wide open and an equally open heart. You are practically bursting at the seems with boundless bliss and uncontainable wonder.
By day two, you’re still of course excited, especially if you’ve spotted new animals, still reveling in that holiday cheer, even though December 25th has come and gone. On our second day, we saw a pride of lions, and that was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our tour. Your jaw continues to drop, you are still enamored by mother nature and her abundant gifts, even if it is to a slightly less degree than the day before.
By the third day, the sight of dozens of animals roaming the extensive terrain inevitably shifts to that feeling you get when you’re still hearing your favorite Christmas song on December 30th. You still gleefully sing along. But you’re also ready for the station to start playing The Weeknd again, because really, haven’t we had enough of the Christmas melodies for one season?
So while you continue to marvel at the sheer beauty that envelopes your 4 x 4 jeep, if you’re really honest with yourself, you’re also kind of over it. Seeing wild animals roam across the expansive grounds has inevitably lost a bit of its luster the twentieth time around.
And if I’m really being honest, you may even feel slightly ashamed that you’re no longer insanely impressed by the countless wild animals crossing your path, too guilt-ridden to utter those words aloud. Because, wouldn’t so many others kill to be able to go on a safari? How dare you not be madly in love with every single nanosecond of this adventure?
I told you it was a bit obnoxious. It doesn't make it not true, though
As with anytime you travel, remember YOU are the visitor here, not the other way around. Similar to respecting the culture, language, customs, and traditions of a foreign country, be respectful of the wildlife and environment around you. Listen to your guide extensively during your safari trip. Ask about local customs, manners, and courtesies as to not offend any village folk or get you and your crew in danger. An experienced guide will let you know if it’s safe, if ever, to leave the vehicle to explore on foot.
Trust that your guide probably knows the park by the back of his/her hand. Don’t ask your guide to veer off the intended trail, these trails exist for visitors’ safety and enhance not only your views, but also the likelihood of witnessing wildlife.
Tread lightly and appreciate silently [minus the squeals in your window-closed vehicle, of course]. As mentioned above, it’s thrilling to seeing an animal like a cheetah or lion for the first time; just be careful that you’re not being intrusive and frightening the animals.
A few years ago, we traveled to Iceland and of course, seeing the Northern Lights was on the top of our list. We became obsessed. We poured over forecasts, weather reports, and radars to track where and when the highest probability was to see the lights. The chase was almost as exciting as seeing the lights themselves.
And so goes being on a safari. A good portion of the excitement that surrounds a safari is the chase and anticipation. It’s not uncommon to drive for hours and not see much. It’s also not uncommon to be suddenly inundated with animals all around. There is so much unpredictability on a safari, that you have no choice but to be patient, flexible, and open-minded.
Most safaris include morning/day rides along with sunset rides, so you’ll need to pack plenty of layers. The parks can get very chilly after the sun sets.
Here are some recommendations on what to pack:
* Comfortable closed-toe walking shoes
* Flip flops for when you’re walking around camp, and depending on your accommodations, for the shower
* Lightweight clothes like short-sleeve and long-sleeve t-shirts
* Cargo pants / yoga leggings
* A light jacket / pullover / sweatshirt for evening rides
* Hat & gloves
* Scarf/ pashmina for evening rides [and the airplane!]
* Mosquito repellent
* Water bottle
* Protein Bars / Snacks / Boxed Lunch
* Protective lip balm
* Pain reliever / band-aids / any other medicine / first-aid needs
* Any and all toiletries that you might need
* Camera to take 1,000,000 photos, more or less
* Cash for tips and various purchases [don’t expect to see any ATMs around!]
It's worth the reminder for all of us: anytime we travel, WE are the visitors. Let’s stop assuming and becoming annoyed when foreign destinations don’t have the conveniences that we have at home. Everywhere is different, and it's our job to immerse ourselves into the culture and country we are visiting. Let's not expect others to acquiesce to our needs. It’s our jobs as travelers to arrive prepared, as well as be flexible and adaptable. Let’s not expect our western needs and often ridiculously high standards to always be accommodated, especially when traveling to isolated locales like the African bush.
One more thing. Let’s not pretend that the first-world countries we all call home are perfect. I think it’s safe to say that all of us wealthy-nation citizens could rattle off a slew of disconcerting issues, injustices, and inequalities surrounding our homelands. Remember: there’s no such thing as perfect, regardless of where you live.
Have realistic expectations, be willing to go with the flow, and leave your obnoxious attitude back at home. I guarantee your travels will be all the better for it.
Few experiences, travel or not, compare to a safari. It is an experience that will simultaneously leave you amazed, humbled, and excited beyond belief. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, it is the absolute epitome of an adventure of a lifetime.
As a qualified and experienced mountain and nature guide I will assist on the route, and lead you to the lower plateau of the mountain to ensure you get the best experience and knowledge of South Africa’s history, nature, and culture. You will see Cape Town from a different perspective and learn about our unique biome, the Fynbos.