Growing up, Discovery Channel showed you in moving picture form that this was indeed a reality. You watched wide eyed as a cheetah, in a 70mph predator run, chased and brought down a small springbok.
Your best mate returned home from your dream adventure, to talk of still nights drinking a beer opposite a viewing waterhole as giraffes, leopards, lions and elephants wandered down for a nightly drink.
Not being able to stand being a third party spectator any longer, you save as hard as you can to live the dream yourself, and have these wild animal encounters on your very own African safari.
As you prepare to leave, you realize Africa is a long way from home, it’s rough travel, and safari’s are expensive.
You decide you better do some research, in order to plan, and make sure you have the best African wildlife encounters of your mate and discovery channel put together.
Your search brings you to here, African safari tips from travelers who made the safari mistakes and know how to ensure that your dream African trip brings you the most amazing wild animal encounters you can brag about for years to come.
Plan in advance
You need to first decide what wild animals you want to see, as some animals are only found in certain parks.
For example, if you really want to see elephants then the best place to go would be Addo Elephant Park.
Going to many different parks all over the continent will wipe out your budget. Plan for the most important for your dream, and for the game park that will allow you to see the greatest variety of wildlife.
Research very carefully the optimal seasonal viewing of the Game Park. In the dry season, the grass is short making it easier to spot wildlife.
Choice of drinking water holes for the animals will be fewer, so your chances of watching them socialise at flood lit waterhole opposite your campsite, with an ice cold beer are greater.
We learned that safari tip the hard way.
We visited Etosha NP in Namibia during the wet season.
Etosha is notorious for brilliant water hole animal viewing, except we didn’t see much at all. The campsite water holes that usually see an abundance of wildlife were empty due to the abundance of water around the park.
Animals are most active at dusk and dawn. It is very hot in Africa, so during the day the animals are usually hibernating in the shade.
Be sure to do the same thing yourself. If your excitement is too hard to contain and you go out during the day, the only result will be that you chew up your fuel budget, and an eventual visit to the chiropractor for neck strain.
Get up early to catch the animals at play, rest during the day, and then go out again just before sundown.
TIP: Lions like to sleep on the road at night to soak up the day’s heat trapped in the tar. If you’re up early enough you
You have a much better chance of seeing them up close and personal on the road.
There were several times we turned a corner to find a lioness resting on the warm tar. It was a magnificent sight to see her suddenly jump into launch mode, and stare us down through our front windscreen.
- Take a guided night drive. You can only go on night drives organized at your accommodation. All gates to accommodations close by nightfall and you better be locked safe and sound inside them.
- Once night falls you can jump in an open topped vehicle, with a huge spot light, and a guide to tell you more about what you see as you drive around the park, hearing the sounds of nighttime Africa, and seeing only the red eyes of creatures in the dark.
- Take a guided walking safari- just do it! Getting on the ground with these magnificent beasts in their territory will get your heart pumping. We didn’t have as much action as anticipated, but we did get close to rhinos(downwind) and we smelled the fear of the lions running away from us in the distance.
- If you take a tour please make sure they are eco-friendly and protect the animals and their habitats from these dangerous human encounters.
- A horse ride is a relaxing and pleasurable way to see the stunning scenery with friendly herbivores by our side. We went horse riding through the valleys in Swaziland amongst warthogs, zebra and deer.
- Monkeys in all shapes and forms are hilarious. Sit and watch them and be highly entertained. We saw them arguing, b***slapping one another, picking each others nits, jumping over our car trying to take it hostage, and yes doing it like they do on discovery channel- over and over again!
Is seeing the Big 5 all there is?
The excitement of seeing the Big 5 is very enticing i.e. rhino, buffalo, leopard, lion, and elephant.
Why are these animals called the Big 5? It has nothing to do with size, these animals were the most prized trophies of hunters years ago.
Please don’t get fixated on the Big 5 and think this is all that matters. Remember travel is not about checking things off your list.
There are so many different animals for you to discover and learn from, and each is valuable in its own right.
Spend time appreciating them all. I used to even love watching the dung beetles. They were fascinating and I learned so much about them in the process.
Do yourself a favour, spend the money to buy a 600mm zoom lens. Animals are scared of you, they won’t come close for a portrait, and you won’t sneak up closer to them (I hope).
You’ve spent all the money, time, and energy to put yourself in a place of contact with these wild animals, you want to have something to take away from it and keep with you for memories and reflection.
Read more: Here’s what’s in our camera bag
Safety Tips for Safaris
- Never ever ever, and I mean ever get out of your car, unless in a safe designated area, or with an armed ranger present. This is the wild, don’t mess with it. I know this sounds a bit like a ‘No shit Sherlock’ kind of statement, but you will be surprised at how many people get eaten by lions trying to get that perfect shot.
Keep a safe distance when you encounter a wild animal and when in your vehicle keep your windows rolled up.
- Zip your tent up at night. Nothing beats hearing the roar of a lion in the middle of the night, but you don’t want to invite it in for dinner.