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 all have we learned from our first safari experiences? Here are our best first time safari tips.
Our 12 Best African Safari Tips
First Time Safari Tip #1: No Yelling!
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 safari 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.
First Time Safari Tip #2: 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 safari gear posts
First Time Safari Tip #3: Now! Now!
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.
First Time Safari Tip #4: Get a Telephoto Lens
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 photography pretty seriously. We travel with a Fuji X-T3 with a 200mm lens.
First Time Safari Tip #5: 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.
First Time Safari Tip #6: Enjoy Sundowner Time
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.
First Time Safari Tip #7: Bring Binoculars
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.
First Time Safari Tip #8: Don’t Forget About the Birds
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.
First Time Safari Tip #9: Ask Questions!
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.
First Time Safari Tip #10: Stay Healthy
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.
First Time Safari Tip #11: Tip Your Guide
To be a safari guide in Africa is a coveted job. A good guide is responsible, knows his or her safari animals, has ample knowledge of the bush, and many times has grown up in the environment he/she works in.
A guide is up before you are and goes to bed after you do. They are switched on all the time and answer all your questions that they have without a doubt been asked over hundreds of times.
Working in a safari lodge is a great job to have and most take it very seriously, however after talking to some of the guides they still don’t make what you may think they are making and very much rely on tips.
Tipping a guide and other lodge staff is like tipping your server at a restaurant in the US. It’s not mandatory, but is almost expected and appreciated. These people work very hard to ensure you are having an enjoyable holiday and it’s important to reward them if you think they are doing a good job.
I know African safaris are expensive and you probably don’t want to dish out more cash after dropping so much on the holiday itself, but it is important to budget for tips.
A standard guideline for tipping is $10-$15 per person, per day for your guide, and anywhere between $5-$15 per person, per day for the general employees. However, many safari companies will have a booklet or send you a pre checklist PDF with all of this information and what is standard at their lodges.
Bring USD or the local currency (USD is preferred) for tips as many lodges won’t have a credit card machine.
First Time Safari Tip #12: Don’t Expect WiFi
We’re always surprised by other guests on safari that go into the bush and are surprised when there is no WiFi. Many safari lodges are quite literally in the middle of absolutely nowhere, meaning there is no WiFi. Or if there is, it is incredibly slow and not even worth trying to get on anyway as you’ll be spending your precious Africa time trying to send an email.
It’s best to go into your safari not expecting connection. There will be downtime, but this is for napping, reading a book, or chatting with others. We live in such a digital and connected world nowadays I actually enjoy being in the bush and knowing that I cannot get on the internet to check things.
Book A Safari in Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
Another great option is Safari Bookings. Safari Bookings offer safaris all around Africa in every price range!
What to Pack for an African Safari
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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