Often, safaris are centered around the type of accommodations you prefer for the duration of your vacation. A variety of options—from luxury lodges to tented camps—will be available for you to consider. Your choice of accommodation will rely primarily on cost, trip duration, and preferred lifestyle—would you rather return to a luxury bathtub after a day-long safari, or are you the more rough-and-tough traveler?
Most safaris require some amount of guiding. There are tons of places you can’t get into–such as game parks–or experiences you can’t have–such as game drives–without a proper guide. At least in Africa, the whole system is set up this way. Don’t feel like you are getting ripped off; it is just basically how things are done over there and even if you don’t approve, they aren’t going to change.
What you can do is select your safari company rigorously. While the bad actors of the late 80s and early 90s are pretty much all gone, it’s really about your personal choice. Do you want a cheap trip a mid-range trip or the highest of the high end? One group we have come across who has been around for 19 years now is Rothschild Safaris. They can be fairly high-end if you want them to be, but they also can dial things way down to 3-4 trips without much fuss. Every other safari group seems to stay in their lane of high end or low without much wiggle. They are usually selling you set packages, whereas Rothschild (and likely some others) create safaris specifically for what you want to do and where you want to stay.
The vast selection of safaris you encounter can be overwhelming. In order to narrow down your options, you should highlight the most important things for travelling: your budget, what you want to see, and your preferred mode of transportation. Ask yourself: Why do you want to go on a safari? Do you want to see a certain type of animal? Are you interested in the conservation aspect? Do you want to expose your children to a new environment or nature? If you have a clear understanding of why you want to go on safari, you can better delineate the type of experience you would like to have.
Safaris are available with a range of variations. If you’re looking to splurge on a romantic getaway, you may want to look for a fly-in option. If you want a more family-friendly (and budget-friendly) adventure, consider a self-drive safari, a guided experience, or a camping safari.
You should also consider the country you would like to visit. Will a language barrier hinder the experience? Are you interested in a central Asian safari instead of a traditional African adventure? These are all factors to consider when making your decision.
If you’re a first-timer, it may be best to stick to a more popular and tourist-friendly safari region. If you’re not sure where to start, consider centering your experience on visiting one of the “Big Five” animals: lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and cape buffalos. Seeing these mammals will bring you to Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Malawi—most of which have established safari programs.
If you’re ready to jump head-first into adventure, consider basing your safari on gorilla tracking. This adventure will take you to Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as many central Asian countries.
A safari is not a standard or typical travel experience in any way. Take it from someone who went on a week-long camping safari while pregnant—it is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting travel experiences you can have. A good night’s sleep, a big dinner the day before, and plenty of research are some of the best ways to prepare for the trip.
Additionally, your safari time will likely be organized around the animals’ sleeping schedule. You want to see as many awake animals as you can, which means you’ll likely be out on sunrise and late afternoon trips. Prepare to wake up at dawn and spend all day moving and observing. Even though you may be in a warm climate, wearing layers is one of the best ways to physically prepare for your adventure. You never know what a sunless morning can do to the temperature. Bring snacks, plenty of water, guide books, sunglasses, binoculars, and—of course—your camera.
The key to a successful and stress-free safari experience? Strategic packing. The following is a list of suggested clothes and accessories to make your adventure as fun and comfortable as possible.
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Zip-off pants
- Hiking boots, or anything good for walking
- Safari hat, or headgear with a visor
- Bug spray
It is important to keep in mind that not all safaris are created equal. If your adventure requires you bring another item along, be sure to pack it. If, for example, your safari organization has binoculars or hats you can use, leave those items at home. The trick to a successful safari is to pack only what you need; if you’re weighed down by unnecessary items, your day is sure to be a long, tiring, and frustrating one.
If you’ve been on a safari, you are likely privy to the importance placed on conservation efforts. Your guides serve as invaluable educational tools, teaching safari participants about local communities, the economic growth nature and conservation tourism can bring to areas of the world, and the importance of funding conservation efforts. However, not all safaris are run ethically; guides may sometimes physically provoke animals to initiate a more “interesting” experience. Stay away from these businesses. I cannot stress this enough. Choosing to give money to safari companies who promise action and who practice these unethical only perpetuates human exploitation of animals.
The best way to avoid these sketchy companies? Do your research. Visit websites, read reviews, search for accreditations/certifications, and scan the testimonials page of every company you’re considering. Red flags are more obvious to spot than you might think.
To walk or to drive: this is a divisive question in most recreational situations. Sure, you may prefer a walk to the beach over the five-minute drive, but what about while on safari? Walking safaris are dramatically different from driving safaris for a host of reasons; trip variables, such as safety, comfort, and convenience, are dialed up or toned down. With the hope of easing your decision, we have provided a few important details for each type of safari.
Driving—Most commercial safaris are extended stretches of driving on either paved, gravel, or dirt roads. You will likely be seated in a Land Rover-looking vehicle with a canvas top, which may or may not be rolled open. Vehicles allow guests to get close to the animals in a safe and controlled environment; should any danger present itself, the guides are able to leave the scene quickly and efficiently. This type of safari is often conducted in the presence of larger, more dangerous animals, such as the big five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo. Though you be safe and, likely, more comfortable, this type of safari may lack the intimacy of a walking expedition.
Walking—Walking safari participants are often instructed to walk single-file through the wilderness. There will likely be a guide in front and a guide in back, each equipped with some sort of weapon. Though this may sound menacing, it is necessary to anticipate the presence of danger; the presence of weapons does not guarantee their use. A walking safari will allow visitors to get very close to wildlife—both flora and fauna. In addition to seeing the actual animals, you will be able to observe tracks, nests, and smaller animals, such as rodents and insects.