So you’ve decided to embark on a dream trip – a safari experience in Africa. You’re not alone, this once-in-a-lifetime experience is near the top of most people’s bucket lists, but not all safaris are made the same. Africa is an immense place, and there are many different countries and regions from which to choose when planning this dream trip. In addition to location, there are some other things you should keep in mind so that this dream trip doesn’t become a nightmare.
1. Where to go
Africa is huge and throughout southern and eastern Africa there are many options to choose from when planning a dream safari adventure. Many first time visitors to sub-Saharan Africa decide to visit South Africa, not only for the easy flight connections from the US, but for the width and breadth of activities offered around the country. You can trek to Kruger National Park and spend a few days at a lodge, embarking on game drives and seeing some of the world’s most amazing animals. But you can also enjoy urban experiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg, creating a more well-rounded trip. If natural wonders are on your must-see list, then a visit to Zambia is in order to observe the mighty Victoria Falls. Spend a day exploring this stunning region before traveling inland or to other nearby countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia or Botswana for a more traditional safari experience. The Great Migration is an event that many safari goers want to see, and if you’re one of them then visiting Tanzania early in the year should be your choice for safari experience. Spend time in the mighty Serengeti to see the millions of wildebeest and zebra as they wander in search of new food sources. Also be sure to plan a visit to the modern-day Garden of Eden known as Ngorongoro Crater where wildlife live peacefully throughout the year. No matter where you go, you’re almost guaranteed to have an amazing safari experience.
2. When to go
Time of year is important to consider as well, as weather conditions can vary dramatically. Remember that below the equator the seasons are opposite those in the US, so if you travel in June, you’ll be visiting during South Africa’s winter. Even their winters aren’t too tough though, and you can still find plenty of opportunities to see amazing wildlife in the middle of the season. Many safari goers elect to visit in January – March, before the start of the rainy season and during the Great Migration. While there will always be animals around, the rains in turn create high grasses and it can be harder to find those elusive animals. Ideally you want to visit when the conditions are dry and the landscape hasn’t started its incredible growth.
3. What to pack
This is a common but tricky question and can be hard to answer. If you’re going on safari though, then you will most likely be staying in several lodges or tented camps and those travels will also probably involve short, domestic flights. That means you have to pack light, very light, not only for ease as you move around, but also due to strict weight restrictions on those shorter flights. Ideally you’ll want to bring a canvas, soft-sided bag that when fully packed (along with your carryon bag) weighs no more than 33 pounds. This will naturally vary, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Regardless of season, you should pack very lightweight hiking pants and long-sleeved shirts made of synthetic materials. This will protect you from bug bites in addition to being able to quickly clean them on the go as you need to. Try to wear neutral colors, avoid anything bright or dark. Bright scares animals and dark attracts bugs. Speaking of which, bring a lot of bug spray, preferably with high levels of DEET. The bugs are always around, so make sure to take the proper precautions.
4. Leave expectations at home
I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip and that we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have a perfect experience, but it’s important to relax as well. I spoke to a number of professional guides in Botswana who all said the same thing. The worst thing about their jobs are tourists who expect to be able to see and do it all at one time. Namely, everyone wants to see the Big Five. This somewhat arbitrary list of animals includes: the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The fact is that you are out amongst nature, not Disney World, and nature is unpredictable. The guides know a lot and through constant communication with colleagues can create a variety of amazing wildlife experiences for visitors, but they aren’t magicians. Ultimately they have no control over the wildlife so if you don’t get to see a lion or a leopard, don’t get angry, just accept it as part of the experience.
5. It really is amazing
We spend months, probably years planning a safari trip to Africa all in the hopes that it will be fun and maybe even transformative. And you know what? It is. I’ve always been an animal lover and I was prepared for an amazing adventure, but what I experienced exceeded even those lofty expectations. There is simply nothing like sitting in a rugged jeep in the middle of Africa, a few feet from dozens of graceful giraffes searching for leaves, the sounds of other unknown animals in the distance. This cannot be replicated in any way; it is just something you have to experience for yourself. If you ever had any doubts, and I can’t imagine you have, an African safari should be at the very top of your travel bucket list and please make sure you do everything you can so that you too can have these wonderful moments of unadulterated travel joy.
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