Planning to travel to Africa? Here are the important African safari tips that you should know before going on your very first African safari.
Going on an African safari for the very first time is a dream come true for many travelers. For most, the idea of traveling to Africa seems farfetched or something that could never happen given a number of reasons.
But when you finally see your dream coming to life, fear, and excitement all head straight through the roof at the same time.
With all that happening, realistic questions start kicking in on how you should actually plan or behave on your very first African safari.
Now as a first-timer, it’s not surprising not to know what to expect or better yet what to do on your first safari in Africa.
So that’s why I am writing this post to give you all the important African safari tips to prepare you as you enjoy Africa’s wildlife.
Why should you trust me to give you these safari tips for Africa? Well aside from the fact that I live in Africa, I’ve been on quite a number of incredible African safaris.
From the deep ends of Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda, Chobe National Park in Botswana which boats the highest number of African Elephants to the magical Okavango Delta, I can surely say that I’ve added a number of African safari tips on my sleeves that will be extremely useful for first-timers.
Now you might be thinking that having done a number of safaris in Africa, that perhaps I get bored or something!
No, I still get so excited every time I go on a safari and every experience is different but incredibly rewarding.
I could literally visit all the National parks in Africa and still want to do more game drives. It’s a truly magical experience.
So before I get sidetracked into telling you how beautiful and exciting it is to go on a safari, let’s get to the important African safari tips that you came for to help you fully prepare for your once in a lifetime adventure in Africa.
Read this before you go: 15 Things to know before traveling to Africa
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Best African safari tips for first-timers
1. Find out the best time to go for an African safari
Although Africa’s wildlife will stay throughout the year, not every time is best for wildlife viewing and this is why you need to research the best time to go for a safari in that exact place you’re planning to visit.
The time of the year you visit can make or break your trip. Visiting in the rainy season will keep the animals hidden but will also hinder you from moving freely since the dusty and sandy roads of Africa will be extremely hard to dry on.
For example, if you plan to go for a safari in Uganda, the dry season (June, July, August, September, January, and February ) is the best time to visit since most animals head to the water holes to drink which makes animal spotting pretty easy.
If its the annual wildebeest migration you want to experience (which btw is the greatest wonder in wildlife that everyone should see), then you might want to consider either visiting Kenya or Tanzania in the dry months of June to October since both countries showcase this incredible wildlife spectacle.
I guess you now understand why it’s pretty important to choose the right season to go for an African safari. But generally, drier seasons of most countries are the perfect time for wildlife viewing.
However, drier doesn’t mean summer in some countries. Take an example, Botswana’s dry season is their winter which makes the best time to visit between May and the beginning of October.
So don’t just generalize everything, get to know the best time to visit each African country individually to come up with a perfect itinerary.
Related post: Things to know before backpacking Africa
2. Wake up early
Other than getting that picture-perfect photo of the amazing African wildlife with a backdrop of the rising sun, there are high chances of spotting wildlife in the morning that is why it is crucial to wake up early.
Though the word “morning” might mean 10 am to some, wildlife viewing kind of morning is around 6 30 am – 7 am.
In the morning, wild animals are the most active hence moving closer to places where they can be spotted easily other than in the afternoon where they’re all taking shelter from the scorching sun.
And it’s for this reason why most game drives are during the morning hours and in the evening.
So get your day’s equipment ready the day before and if you’re not an early bird, turn on the morning alarm clock to witness the magical African wildlife unfold.
3. Be on the look-out to spot the wild animals
One of the important tips for an African safari for first-timers is to always be on the lookout while game driving.
Safaris are absolutely different from zoos which means that you can drive a long journey without seeing the big fives.
Though some animals are pretty easy to see without even trying, big cats like lions, Leopards, are Cheetahs can be hard to spot.
So as you drive along, look outside vividly not to miss anything.
This is actually why it can be sometimes challenging to do a game drive alone since you have to drive and also spot the animals.
It’s always better to have someone with you or better yet hire a tour company which will make spotting animals easier.
Because when you miss seeing one, chances are that someone else in the touring car has seen it, and guides are usually more skilled at spotting the big cats.
Related post: Best countries to visit in Africa
4. Ask a lot of questions
Another tip for an African safari is to ask a lot of questions. If you’ve booked a game drive with a tour company, the tour guide assigned to you is there to answer all your questions.
So ask away and remember that there is nothing like a dumb question.
The only way you will get the most out of your trip is to be inquisitive as much as possible as that’s how you will learn about the African animals and the wild in general.
You can ask about the behaviors of some animals, what the guides think about them – literally anything you want to know and the guides are knowledgeable enough to give you answers.
Try to also be friendly with the guides as that will make them more closer to you – something that will encourage them to share even beyond just the animals.
If you’re doing a self drive, you can ask the lodge or campsite’s staff where you’re staying at for anything you might want to know.
You can ask them where there are higher chance of seeing the big five at a certain time of the day or the best loops to take and they will be happy to give you answers.
5. Take your time to enjoy the wildlife
Africa boasts one of the most beautiful wildlife if not the best in the world and it would be a shame to rush through it during a game drive.
There is so much to see and different safaris will treat you to a different kind of landscape that you ought to appreciate.
When you spot animals, park your car, or ask your guide to stop to admire the animals. You might just get lucky to see some of the spectacular scenes if you take your time.
Whether it is seeing animals mating, fighting, or a lion chasing down its prey, all this can happen if you take your time to fully enjoy the safari.
However, taking your time doesn’t mean ”hogging” the animals for hours. If you were the first one to see a big cat and your car is right near it, don’t spend 2 hours there. Move on so that others can also enjoy it.
Related post: Must have adventures in Africa
6. Take lots of photos
While on a safari, make sure that you take lots of photos to relive your trip even years later but to also capture the incredible beauty that you can only find in Africa.
However, when I say take a lot of photos, I don’t mean going crazy and take 500 photos of an elephant.
I have to say I was guilty of this on my very first safari. I always wanted to take the perfect shot and that put me over the edge – taking photos of everything and I mean everything.
However, taking lots of photos will mean that you have enough memory to store them. So carry these extra memory cards to make sure that you don’t miss capturing incredible moments due to limited memory.
7. Bring a good camera
While still about capturing the amazing wildlife on an African safari, you’ll need to take a good camera.
A good camera is everything on a safari to fully bring out the beauty that Africa boasts.
If you’re not sure which camera you should take on a safari, you can draw inspiration from this list of the best cameras for travelers.
8. Follow the rules and listen to your guide
Many a times, your guide will give you a number of rules to follow and if you’re not going with a guide, there are always rules that the parks’ administration put up – make sure that you follow them.
Most of those rules are for your own safety and others for the safety of the wild animals.
Some of the rules might seem really “basic” but they can make or break your trip. A few of the safari rules to follow include;
- Not getting out of the safari car
- Not feeding the animals
- Paying maximum attention if you’re on a walking safari
- Not disturbing the animals – don’t get carried away by the excitement.
9. Stay safe at all times
An African safari is truly an amazing experience but it can also present a number of dangers if you’re not careful.
First of all, you’re in the habitat of the wild animals which means that doing something that makes them feel threatened can lead them into attacking you.
So while enjoying the wild, make sure that you adhere to the park rules to stay safe. Some of the tips to staying safe on a safari include;
- Do not leave the marked out game paths if you’re self-driving.
- Follow all the rules mentioned above.
- Roll up the car windows if the wild animals are so close to your vehicle.
- Walk away slowly if approached by an animal during a walking safari.
- Carry a first aid kit for any emergencies that may arise. This first aid kit is small enough to fit in your safari day back but has everything you might need.
Related post: Safest countries to visit in Africa
10. Stay healthy while on an African safari
While enjoying your first African safari, don’t forget to take care of yourself by staying healthy. Though it might be a bit hard to do on a game drive, there are a number of useful things that will help you achieve it.
Some of the tips to staying healthy on a safari include;
- Stay hydrated at all times. Carry a bottle of water to make sure you don’t run out. This travel compressible water bottle is perfect for an African safari.
- Take a mosquito repellant or antimalaria tabs. Malaria is still quite common in Africa despite the fact that each African government is doing everything possible to eradicate it. You can opt for this insect-repellant and consult with your doctor for the anti-malarial tabs.
- Don’t allow yourself to get burned while on a safari, have sunscreen with you
11. Do not miss the sunset game drive
Just like the early morning game drive, a sunset drive also presents higher chances of animal viewing.
This is because the heat of the day is gone and now the animals can come out of the shade making it easy to spot them.
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12. Take Binoculars
Binoculars are an essential item while on an African safari. They will help you get a good view of that far away animal or bird that you can’t easily get to.
Though some people choose to improvise with their zoom camera lenses, I still believe that binoculars are way better. I remember I got soo jealousy of people who had binoculars on my first safari.
This kind of binocular with large Eyepiece and BAK4 FMC Lens will be perfect for an African safari. Since it’s on the high end of the budget, you can check out a variety of other binoculars from here if you’d prefer something cheaper.
13. You don’t have to wear Khaki from top to bottom
I know, you’ve probably read a number of articles online that say that you have to wear Khaki clothes all through. But no, it’s not necessary and there is no such a rule.
In fact, I’ve never worn khaki attires on any of the African safaris I’ve been to and I’ve never had any issues at all.
However, though there is no rule about which clothes you should wear, you should stay away from bright colored clothes.
Bright pink or orange clothes are not a good idea as they easily attract animals due to their sharpness hence making the animals curious and probably end up coming near you which can be risky.
So regardless of what you wear, stick to neutral-colored clothes. This tip is especially important when going for a walking safari.
Actually, even your tour guide will tell you in advance not to wear bright colored clothes.
Some of the clothes to wear on an African safari include,
- Convertible pants. These breathable and light convertible pants are perfect for an African safari. If the heat gets too much, you can just zip off the legs, and if it gets cold, wear it as full pants.
- Columbia short-sleeved safari shirt for men. It is comfortable and you’ll still look ”stylish” even when on a safari.
- You can pack a few Merino wool T-shirts. These ones for women and these for men will guarantee you extra comfort while on a safari.
- I am not really a fan of dresses or skirts while on a safari. So a pair of these leggings or convertible pants work well for me.
14. Take all the essentials
While going for an African safari, there are some things that should not miss in your daypack. These will help you stay refreshed and will protect you from the sun while enjoying Africa’s beauty
Some of the things that should be in you safari daypack include;
- Sunscreen: There is no doubt that Africa’s sun is incredibly hot especially in countries near the equator. So make sure that you take a sunscreen that has an SPF of 50+ to avoid burning. Buy the sunscreen before you go because it can be very pricey in Africa.
- A safari hat: I will admit that I am not a huge fan of a hat. In any case, my hair is always huge to be accommodated by the hat but it’s very helpful in blocking away the sun. This kind of safari hat will definitely make you feel like you’re rocking the wild while blocking the sun.
- Sunglasses: While still at the African scorching sun, take these polarised sunglasses to protect your eyes at all times.
- Chapstick: I can guarantee that your lips will dry while on a safari. So make sure that you take this chapstick to prevent that from happening and keep your lips moisturized.
- A compressible water bottle: Staying hydrated while on a safari is paramount. So carry this compressible water bottle to refill it before you head out into the wild.
- Bug spray: Don’t leave a bug spray while heading for a safari. Remember that you’re headed into the habitats of bugs so you should have something to protect yourself.
- A proper daypack: You’ll need a good daypack where all the above items will fit in easily. I recommend taking this Osprey daypack as it is small, light, and durable.
Those are some of the essentials you should have before you head into the wild but you can check out this complete Africa packing list to prepare fully.
15. Keep it queit
I know the excitement of seeing your vey first African animal especially if its one of the big five can be through the roof.
I mean I’ve seen them so many times but I still get excited every time I see one. So its totally understandable to be extremely excited but don’t let it go out of hand to the point of screaming,
Yes, some people scream when they get excited but this is the place where you have to contain it.
Always keep it low while talking with others and don’t try to scream at the animals.
16. Respect the wildlife
Just like someone coming into your home, you’d expect them to be respectful and the same applies here.
As a guest into the habitats of the wildlife, you ought to be respectful of the wild.
This ranges from not littering around – it’s actually sickening to see people dumping trash in national parks and reserves. Don’t be that guy that I will give a ”what the hell are you doing ” kind of look.
Also, don’t try to manipulate the animals by acting inappropriately. I’ve seen some people make noises with their cars so that the elephants can trumpet.
Literally disorganizing the elephants for their own pleasure. But hey, don’t start running if they lose their cool and decide to charge you.
17. There is no guarantee that you’ll see the animals
One of the other things to know before going on a safari is that you’re going into a game park not a zoo where animals are waiting for you.
Here, you’ll have to look for them which means that there is no guarantee that you’ll actually see them.
Though you’ll see some animals like the elephants, antelopes since they’re literally everywhere but big cats, not so much yet those are the ones everyone is always looking forward to seeing.
But if you don’t see all the big five on your first safari, don’t let your entire trip get ruined.
There is always a chance to see them on the next safari as almost all game drives present something different.
18. Where you stay during your safari matters
One of the things to know before an African safari is that where you choose to stay matters.
Not all the most expensive tented camps and lodges are in the perfect place. However, this also depends on what you’re looking for as an individual.
Whether you’d want to be able to see some wild animals close to where you’re staying or not which I bet you do since that’s the reason you went on a safari in the first place.
Some places are more likely to have animals nearby than others. So make research to find the perfect location.
To give you an example, while on game drives in Botswana, I never saw any Hyenas, but it showed up right at our campsite in the night and I finally got a chance to see it.
Elephants were daily visitors to our campsites and Hippos showed up once in a while. This goes to show that where you choose to stay impacts your first safari in Africa quite a lot.
On the other hand, lodging some where far from where wild animals are largely concentrated would mean that you always have to make long drives before you can start seeing anything.
So decide on where to stay during your African safari keeping those factors in mind.
19. Enjoy your first African safari
Lastly, enjoy the safari. Africa has soo much beauty that you have to enjoy every chance you get.
Be open-minded and friendly and I guarantee you’ll have the best experience ever.
Try to immerse yourself in the African culture, be more understanding instead of focusing on the negatives. And when something goes wrong, don’t let it ruin your entire trip.
There you have it, folks! I hope that these tips for an African safari prepare you well as you encounter Africa’s wildlife for the first time.
Ready for your trip, here are other things you should pack for Africa
It would be a mistake to travel to Africa without travel insurance. Anything can happen on the dusty road of Africa or in the chaotic cities.
So make sure that you and you’re items’ safety is guaranteed by buying travel insurance.
Most travelers love World Nomads travel insurance as it’s easy to get a quote and the claiming process is not a rat race.
The other advantage is that it works in over 130 countries including those in Africa.
Universal travel adapter
Instead of taking different adapters for each African country which is very impractical and expensive, you’re better of taking this universal travel adapter.
Portable Power bank
Before going to Africa, make sure that you have a power bank like this so that you stay connected even on the go when your battery phone dies.
Micro fiber travel Towel
I recommend taking this microfiber travel towel since it is lightweight, dries quickly and it is very absorbent. It’s much better than carrying the heavy cotton ones.
Africa Lonely planet Guide book
Get a general insight on Africa from experts by getting yourself a copy of this Lonely Planet guide book.
Personal water filter
Safaris in Africa can mean going to places where it’s hard to get clean drinking water. So carry your own travel water filter to purify the water before drinking it.
Collapsible water bottle
In that same manner, carry yourself a water bottle so that you can refill it every time it runs dry. This travel water bottle is collapsible and light which means that it won’t take up a lot of space in your backpack. Taking a water bottle will also reduce the use of disposable plastic bottles which is great for the environment.
More posts to inspire your wanderlust in Africa
- Safest countries in Africa
- Best countries to visit in Africa
- Bucket list adventures you must go on in Africa
- Tips for backpacking Africa
- Essential tips for traveling to Africa
- Uganda destination guides
- Egypt destination guides
- Botswana destination guides
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