Going on safari in Africa for the first time
If you’ve never been on safari before, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Imagine watching huge herds of elephants wander right past your vehicle, seeing hundreds of impala leap across the plains, and spotting tiny lion cubs appear from the long grass.
Our safari experts are often asked what a typical day on safari is like and how different it is to go on safari in one country versus another. Here’s what you need to know.
The history of safari
The term ‘safari’ comes from a Swahili word meaning ‘journey’. In the 1920s, Denys Finch Hatton (one of Britain’s early adventurers) began leading safaris in Kenya for guests who wanted the thrill of a wild adventure without compromising on comfort. Along with a handful of other explorers, he set a blueprint for luxury safaris: amazing wildlife experiences, expert guiding and excellent hospitality.
What’s it like to go on safari in East Africa?
East Africa is the home of safari – it’s the place to go if this is the holiday you’ve always dreamt of. If you’re going on safari in Kenya, you’ll probably spend your first night at a hotel in Nairobi to relax after your flight, before you catch a small bush plane or Jeep the next morning. In Tanzania, you’ll do the same thing in Arusha. Once you’re on safari, a typical day goes along the lines of: wake up with coffee brought to your tent, an early morning game drive (it’s when the animals are most active), back to camp for breakfast and lunch and to relax in the hottest part of the day, a mid-afternoon game drive, back to camp for dinner and drinks around the fire. Game drives are in safari vehicles with an expert guide, and the parks don’t have fences so the wildlife really is wild.
What’s a South Africa safari like?
South Africa is a great introduction to safari because you can include a short ‘taster’ safari within a longer holiday. It’s brilliant for spotting the Big Five animals – they’re so iconic that they even made it onto South African rand banknotes. For safaris in South Africa, we prefer private reserves, where you can go off-road on game drives to get as close as possible to a springbok-chasing lion or an impala escape artist. Accommodation is better quality than in the main parks and game drives are usually twice a day in open-sided 4x4s. Many private reserves offer walking safaris where a guide will show you tell-tale footprints and close-ups of smaller creatures you might’ve otherwise missed, and night drives to spot the nocturnal wildlife. The two most popular areas are the Greater Kruger National Park area and the Eastern Cape.
What about a safari in places like Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda or Zimbabwe?
These countries offer a less conventional safari experience, whether it’s all about a certain species – like gorillas in Rwanda, or a different way of getting around – like being poled in a traditional canoe in Botswana.
Wherever you go on safari, the essentials are largely the same. Soft bags are recommended for all safaris and are a must on fly-in safaris, when there’s also a luggage limit of 15kg. On most safaris, there’s not as much walking as you might expect, but we’d still recommend sturdy shoes for hopping in and out of your vehicle and walking from your room to the main part of camp. It can get cold in the evenings and you’ll want to be outside for as much as possible, so bring layers. Our top tip? Listen to your guide. The guides here are some of the most knowledgeable people on the planet about wildlife, so you’ll get an education as well as the best photos.
Check out our safari travel guide for more tips and advice.