Getting ready to go on your first African safari? In this post, we share our best African safari tips to know when you are preparing for safari. 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 Southern and East Africa country. So, what have we learned from our first safari experiences? Here is a basic guide to African safari.
Our Best African Safari Tips for First-Timers
First Time Safari Tip #1: No Yelling!
Shhh… You aren’t in a zoo, and the animals are not domesticated. The excitement can be overwhelming when safari-goers visit animals in their natural habitat. The urge to get up, wave your arms, and yell is not something we would ever recommend. Humans are just guests in animals’ homes when on safari and should act accordingly.
Many 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 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 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
- The Best Safari Shirts for Men and Women
- The Best Safari Bags to Take to Africa
- How to Pick a Great Safari Hat
- Ultimate Women’s Safari Clothing Checklist
- The 11 Best Binoculars for a Safari in Africa
- Best Cameras for Safari
- The Best Safari Jackets
- Fantastic Safari Dresses!
- The Best Safari Pants!
First Time Safari Tip #3: Now! Now!
Anyone 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 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.
That doesn’t mean you’ll need an 800mm lens that costs as much as a car. However, get ready for lens envy while on safari because some take photography seriously. We travel with a Fuji X-T3 with a 200mm lens.
First Time Safari Tip #5: Wake Up Early
It’s something you’ll have to learn to live with in Africa. Animals are most active in the morning and evening, as mid-day is too hot for them to move around. This is why most safari days consist of two game drives, a morning and an evening.
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 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.
We recommend you pick a decent pair that will last longer than one trip. Here are our ten favorite safari binoculars with in-depth reviews.
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 used to make fun of them. I even replaced my mother’s binoculars and bird book bag with potatoes. However, after seeing our thousandth elephant, we realized it was 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 fascinating, like the picture above. It is a pied kingfisher. One of our favorite birds hangs out 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 a better safari and will probably make your guide happy. The safari guest learns more and better understands African wildlife and what they see. We find that 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 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. 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 our time 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 your 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 rise at dawn.
- Take it easy on your stomach. We travel often, and we’re used to the local bacteria. However, we’ve met many travelers 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 their safari animals, has ample bush knowledge, and has grown up in the environment they work 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, 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 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 essential 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 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 literally in the middle of 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 a 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 enjoy being in the bush and knowing 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 suggest camps and lodges then present you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, 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. Experts on staff can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details like a travel agent. Safari Bookings is another platform that offers slightly cheaper safari options that are fantastic.
What to Pack for an African Safari
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Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.