Getting ready to go on your first African safari? In this post we share our best African safari tips. We’ll never forget our first safari in Africa. It was our third day on the continent and we drove off headstrong into Kruger National Park at sunrise blasting The Circle Of Life.
A lot has changed since that day and we’ve now spent plenty of time in game viewers, walking, and driving ourselves around the wilds of Africa. We’ve been on safari in just about every country in Southern and East Africa. So, what have we learned from our first safari experiences?
Our 10 Best African Safari Tips
Shhh… You aren’t in a zoo and the animals are not domesticated. When safari goers are visiting animals in their natural habitat the excitement can be overwhelming. The urge to get up, wave your arms, and yell is not something we would ever recommend. When on safari humans are just guests in animals home and should act accordingly.
Many of the animals are dangerous and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a truck if an elephant decides to charge. In fact, while elephants may be some of the most incredible animals on this planet, they’re also immensely dangerous and a member of the big five animals.
Dress The Part
Not only is it fun to don the safari get up, but those green and khaki clothes actually serve a practical purpose too. Safari clothes are purpose built and made to be comfortable, blend in with the environment, and hold up to the elements of the African bush. That doesn’t mean you need to go full blown leopard print or get a monocle, but it does mean wearing clothes that are appropriate to the safari environment.
There’s also the argument that you can wear whatever you want for safari clothes since you’ll be in a car, that is unless you’re going on bush walks when you don’t want the animals spotting any odd colors! If you’re doing some bush walks we recommend packing a good pair of safari boots to wear.
Check out some of our other posts:
- The Best Safari Shirts for Men and Women
- The Best Safari Bags to Take to Africa
- How to Pick a Great Safari Hat and Protect Yourself from the Sun
- Ultimate Women’s Safari Clothing Checklist ( + Other Safari Packing List Items)
Anyone who is familiar with “Africa time” will understand that there are several meanings to the word now. There is “now,” “just now,” and “now now.” “Now” could mean anywhere from five minutes to two months later. “Just now” means in the next hour or so. And “now-now” actually means now – the moment. So, when you’re on safari it’s best to put the technology away and enjoy the now-now. There is never a better time to feel in touch with nature than a digital detox in the bush.
Telephoto or go home
Although you’re going to get closer to the African animals than ever before to really capture them on camera requires a telephoto lens. Something around 200mm plus should do the job. Want to know what some of the best wildlife photographers use? Check out our guide to a camera for safari. The doesn’t mean you’re going to need an 800mm lens, that costs as much as a car. However, get ready for lens envy while on safari because some take photgraphy pretty seriously. We travel with a Fujifilm X-T10with a 200mm lens.
Wake Up Early
It’s something you’re going to have to learn to live with in Africa. Animals are most active in the morning and evening, as the mid-day is too hot for them to be moving around. This is why most safari days consist of two game drives, a morning one and an evening one. The morning typically involves waking up at the crack of dawn and having coffee on the go. Evening game drives are our favorite since they leave in the afternoon and end with a cold gin and tonic.
The best way to end a safari day is without a doubt with a beautiful sunset and a drink. Or in other words a “sundowner.” Are you familiar with the term sundowner? No? We would suggest you familiarize yourself with the ritual of having a drink at sunset to celebrate a long African day’s end.
Identifying birds or spotting what animal is on the horizon requires some great eyes or a good pair of binoculars. Since most of us do not have the eyes of an eagle we’d say a pair of binoculars is crucial. We recommend you pick up a decent pair that will last longer than one trip.
Look It’s A Bird
One of our favorite activities we’ve learned about on safari is birding. Yes, that’s right we’ve become those people… Birders. We use to make fun of them. I even replaced my mother’s binoculars and bird book bag with potatoes once. However, after seeing our thousandth elephant we realized it’s time to look for something new. Enter the birds.
There are thousands of variations of birds and species. Some are physically beautiful, some have splendid calls, and others are just fascinating like the picture below. It is a pied kingfisher. One of our favorite birds who hangs our around rivers and lakes in search of its next meal.
Excuse Me Sir, What’s That?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I may be guilty of wanting to know it all, but showing some curiosity creates for a better safari and will probably make your guide happy. The safari guest learns more and develops a better understanding of African wildlife and what they are seeing. We find that the curiosity brings the passion out of our guides and enhances our whole game drive experience.
This one covers a lot, but you are spending a lot of time in the bush and a lot of time sitting. Here’s how we suggest mitigating the health risks of both.
- Drink plenty of water from one of these travel water bottles.
- Keep yourself covered from the sun. I’ll never forget the day, I was burned so bad that I had blisters on my face. Bring some sunblock and a hat!
- Stay limber. In between game drives make sure to walk some, do some yoga, exercise, or stretch.
- Take antimalarial medicine if you are a worrier. We are not your doctor, but we recommend taking doxycycline. We have periodically taken it, but due to the amount of time we have spent in Africa we have chosen to avoid long term doses of the antimalarial medicines and use the mosquito avoidance strategy. Cover up at night, wear insect repellant, use a mosquito net, and be aware of surroundings.
- Get some shut eye. This one shouldn’t be too hard, but you’ll need to go to bed early on safari since you’ll be rising at the crack of dawn.
- Take it easy on your stomach. Nine months in and we’re used to the local bacteria. However, we’ve met many a traveler who have stomach issues eating the same food we do. We suggest taking it easy to begin. Watch out for the skins of fruits and veggies, avoid large quantities of meat, and avoid spicy food and check where ice is coming from. That being said the majority of safari lodges are exceptional at taking the proper hygienic steps when it comes to preparing food.
- Bring a small medical kit with some basic needs for emergencies.
Plan Your First Safari
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
- Look the part: Here is our guide to choosing the best safari clothes for your adventure.
- Flights to Africa: Compare airlines, dates and prices all in one place with Skyscanner.
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. We ALWAYS travel with travel insurance. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
- Water: Much of the water in Africa is questionable at best. We always use our Lifestraw Go Waterbottle to ensure safe drinking water.
- Guide Book: Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.