The beauty of going on safari is that not only every season, but every day too, holds its own unique charm. No two seasons, no two days and in fact no two game drives are ever the same in terms of sights, smells, wildlife interactions, landscapes and experiences. Mother Nature is as unpredictable as she is breathtakingly beautiful, so no matter where, when or why safari enthusiasts plan to escape for some bush time, the adventure is sure to be unforgettable and truly like no other.
But where does one even start? Hopefully this beginner’s guide will give you some safari insight and whet your appetite for an African wildlife adventure of a lifetime.
Choose your own adventure
Select your destination. A quick geography refresher: Africa is a continent, not a country, and it is surprisingly much bigger than most people think. It is the world’s second largest and second most populated continent (behind Asia) and it is roughly three times the size of the United States. In fact, the mighty African continent is larger than China, India, the (contiguous) United States and most of Europe combined! Therefore, it is understandable that selecting your safari destination of choice can feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
There are 54 countries in Africa, 9 of which are renowned for world-class safaris: South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Rwanda. Do some armchair travelling of your own and chat to your travel planner about precisely what you’d like to see (and do) while on safari. Do you dream of setting foot on the infinite plains of the world-famous Serengeti or Masai Mara? Are you keen to climb the ancient sand dunes of the Namib Desert or would you prefer a land and (seasonal) water-based safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta? Each country offers its own unique charms and wildlife encounters, so start dreaming of exactly what your ultimate safari should entail.
Consider which landscapes are on your bucket list (or ‘wanderlist’ as I prefer to call it) and decide exactly what animals are on your wildlife checklist. Are you dead set on seeing the Big Five or are you more interested in the Little Five and other small wonders? Would you like to incorporate the Marine Five into your Big Five safari or are you an experienced safari veteran on a mission to spot the Elusive Eleven? No clue what I’m talking about? Click here for some safari lingo to aid in your planning.
Seasons change and so do the sightings
Pencil in your dates. You may be limited to travelling over the school holidays or you may be blessed with the flexibility to travel whenever you like. Ask your travel planner about the specific highlights and weather conditions of each season in the country you plan to explore. Certain animal migrations and seasonal phenomena may help guide your decision.
So, if every season and every country is equally captivating in its own way, then how do you actually decide on where to go and when? Don’t panic. Therein lies the magic of mother Africa. There is so much to see and do, year round, that Africa will always leave you wanting more. And when that Africa bug has bitten (which it will, I guarantee), isn’t it wonderful to have countless reasons (and seasons) to return, again and again?
Champagne taste or shoestring budget?
Determine your budget. Now that you’ve decided where to go and when, now you need to consider whether you want a simple, no-frills bush escape or an over-the-top luxury safari. Not entirely sure what a luxury safari in Africa entails? Read more here. Luxury doesn’t always mean seven-star accommodation with satin sheets and Michelin-starred menus. Our lodges are million-star lodges, with the perfect balance of natural luxury, guilt-free comfort, wholesome (and moreish) food and simple, understated elegance.
A big factor in the budget calculation is whether or not you want a fully-guided wildlife experience with experienced, knowledgeable guides in a private reserve or an unguided self-drive safari in a public park. Again, chat to your travel planner about the major differences between a public and a private safari. The many perks of a guided safari are well worth the added expense: not just because of the interpretive experience given by guide; but also for the ability to off-road for certain sightings, the unencumbered viewing from an open safari vehicle and the lower density of other vehicles.
Choose your safari operator wisely. It is crucial to investigate the guiding principles and ethics of the lodge/operator that you choose to travel with. Do your research and ask around to ensure that you select a responsible operator that adheres to ethical practices, promotes conservation and ecotourism, employs fully-trained and highly qualified guides, adheres strictly to sensitive wildlife viewing practices, celebrates the local culture and gives back to our planet’s land, wildlife and people in some way.
Of course the unique experiences and adventures you crave will also help further determine which safari outfitter to trust with your hard-earned travel spend. Some safari goers seek breathtaking surroundings, pools with a view and ample uninterrupted time to truly disconnect and unwind. Others may feel a bit more adventurous and curious to explore their surroundings on walking safaris, community visits and cultural immersions. From romantic bush sleepouts and hands-on conservation experiences, to afternoon siestas and interactive kitchens, you can be as adventurous or as slothful as you like.
A million times better than any textbook or travel guide
Ensure the guiding experience is top notch. You will spend approximately eight hours a day on a vehicle with your guide, so you will want to ensure that he or she is knowledgeable, engaging, charismatic and, above all, sensitive to the wildlife and dedicated to the safety of his or her guests at all times.
&Beyond is globally renowned for the extremely high standard of our guides and trackers, who make each game drive come alive through their encyclopaedic knowledge, contagious passion for nature, down-to-earth charm and compelling storytelling. We have a legendary team of full-time ranger trainers stationed across the continent, and not one, but three &Beyond ranger training schools. Read more about our guides here.
Drive in comfort
Check out what type of vehicles they use. Again, returning to the eight hours on a vehicle part, you’ll definitely want to research what kind of safari vehicles your lodge/operator uses. For example, our fleet of safari vehicles at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge in Botswana has recently been upgraded and redesigned to offer the ultimate in comfort and convenience.
Each customised vehicle can easily be converted into a nine, six or four-seater, should guests wish, and the separate bucket seats allow for more personal space with welcome arm rests. Whether you’d like to sit together or apart, we can personalise the vehicle configuration to your needs. And not only are there camera bean bags on clamps for the photographers, but also charging points for your camera batteries and cell phones, etc.
Look for added perks and an operator that will go above and beyond your expectations. Whether it’s your first safari or your 50th, make sure it’s memorable. Look for a lodge/operator that takes your experience beyond the expected. It’s those special, unexpected surprises that you’ll cherish and remember for years to come. At &Beyond, we have spent a year re-imagining the &Beyond guest experience, from start to finish, in search of creative new ways to make an already exceptional experience truly extraordinary.
These added perks are aimed at delighting our guests at no extra cost to them. A few examples: the complimentary use of SWAROVSKI OPTIK binoculars; the option to purchase an exclusive range of &Beyond-branded Thule luggage; interesting new guest collateral (including our fantastic new Guide’s Journals and annual Bateleur Magazine); restocked and re-envisioned safari shops, boutiques and galleries; and our “theatre of safari” brought to life with bush cappuccinos, new and improved sundowner cocktails and so much more.
Doing some in-depth research is well worth the time and effort, and engaging with a safari planner will ensure your safari is an adventure that you and your loved ones will continue to talk about for many, many years to come. Plan it wisely and the journey will, no doubt, leave you wanting to experience even more of Africa’s inimitable magic.