General Information About Safaris
A Typical Day, What To Take, Tipping On Safari And More
Going on a safari, whether it is your first time or you are a seasoned safari goer, is still an exhilarating experience and will undoubtedly be one of the main highlights of your trip to Africa. You spend your days waking up to the sounds of the African bush, taking exciting game drives over the plains and through the bush to spot Big 5 animals in their natural environment, and ending with a relaxed dinner under the starry night skies – there cannot be a better way to pass the time!
Are Safaris Demanding?
Generally, safaris are not demanding in terms of heavy physical activity, however there are elements which can be tiring that you need to be aware of.
Game drives tend to be in 4x4 safari vehicles (or in Kenya, you can be in a safari minibus). Due to the nature of the terrain the roads are often bumpy and can be a little tiring. Open 4x4 vehicles also expose travellers to the elements more than closed vehicles, meaning greater exposure to the sun in summer and cold winds in winter. Some open safari vehicles will have a canopy overhead to minimise exposure to the elements, however there are some lodges who do not use canopies in order to enhance photographic opportunities for their guests.
Many lodges offer walking activities ranging from one to 3 hours and this is generally the most strenuous activity you will encounter, and individuals of average fitness should experience no problems. Walking in single file, you will be introduced to how to spot tracks in the sand or mud, the uses of many different types of trees, and much more. If you are extremely lucky, will come across wildlife such as impala, giraffe or even something larger!
If your itinerary includes a light aircraft flight, these are often very compact and there is a certain amount of stepping and bending to get into the aircraft and manoevering yourself into your (rather small) seat. Travellers are also more likely to experience travel sickness in smaller planes than the larger commercial aircraft and this should be kept in mind.
A Typical Day on Safari
Even though every day will bring a different experience in terms of your wildlife viewing, safaris tend to follow a general pattern, which is consistent wherever you go.
The day starts with a wakeup call before sunrise at around 05:00 to 05:30, with tea/coffee at the lodge before you depart. The mornings are the best opportunity to follow fresh tracks and see wildlife, as some of the nocturnal animals are still active. Depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long. When you return to the lodge, a delicious breakfast will be waiting for you - normally buffet style, followed by a cooked offering if you are still hungry!
The next few hours are spent resting and relaxing in camp as this is the hottest part of the day and animal activity is minimal.
At around 15:00 high tea is normally served before you head off again for an afternoon game drive (usually around 15:30 to 16:00). If you are in a National Park, the Park regulations require your guide to have you back at the lodge by sunset, however if you are in a private concession or community area, you will often enjoy a sundowner drink stop out in the bush before experiencing a night drive en-route back to the lodge, aided with a spotlight to search out the nocturnal animals.
On arrival back at the lodge you will normally sit around the camp fire and enjoy drinks while waiting for dinner. Sometimes dinner is served outside under the stars in a 'boma' around an open fire, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting. Chatting about your experiences and adventures with your fellow guests is a perfect way to round off the day, and a great feeling of camaraderie soon begins to exist between everyone. Many lodges will seat everyone on the same table for all meals, which gives you the opportunity to really get to know other people. After dinner, drinks may be enjoyed again around the fire however most people find they are tired from the fresh air and early start and are in bed by 22:00.
In some areas, such as East Africa, and especially if you are with a private driver-guide for your safari, there is also the opportunity to elect to go out after breakfast on a full day game drive with a picnic lunch, which means you do not have to return to the lodge until sunset.
What to Take on Safari
The dress code on safari is very relaxed, so there is no need to even consider packing dinner jackets, ties, formal shirts or cocktail dresses for your time on safari! Shorts/t-shirts are ideal for walks and the warm midday periods, but long trousers and long sleeved shirts are a good idea to wear in the evenings to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Try to take neutral coloured clothes – so greens, beiges, etc – and avoid taking anything too brightly coloured. Also, try to avoid taking anything white – firstly the dust will soon turn your pristine white t-shirt into a not-so-attractive dirty colour, and secondly white does attract bugs at night. Camoflauge printed clothing is OK for the bush but please do not wear in towns or when crossing borders (particularly in Zimbabwe).
In addition, a warm sweater is useful for the cooler morning and evening temperatures when out on game drives – you also have the ‘wind chill’ factor of being on a moving vehicle.
If you are going on safari during a known rainy season, a waterproof jacket is obviously a good idea, and during the Winter months you will certainly need several warm layers for your game drives, including a hat, scarf and gloves, as it can be extremely cold when the sun goes down in the evenings, and when you first set off on the morning game drive.
Comfortable walking shoes, trainers or hiking boots are advisable if you want to go on a bush walk – otherwise sandals are ideal to wear at meal times and around the lodge area. Covered shoes on the game drives in the Winter months may also be an idea, as there is nothing worse than cold toes/feet!
A sun hat or baseball cap, or anything really to keep the sun off your head, is a good idea to stop sunstroke when out on game drives, and also will help to shade your eyes from the sun. A good pair of sunglasses will also help you to scan the landscape for the wildlife without squinting into the sunlight and getting a headache! Sun block and lip balm are also recommended.
Swimwear is not something most people would associate with a safari, but as many lodges do have pools, it is worth just throwing into your case just in case you fancy a cooling dip inbetween game drives.
Taking photographs on a safari is almost a given, so don’t forget your camera (and if you are into photography in a big way, consider different size lenses and a bean bag too to rest the lens on so that you avoid camera shake), binoculars (the ranger/driver will tend to have a pair of these always to hand, but they are there for everyone to share, so if you are not the sharing kind of person, better to have your own pair to use all the time) and spare camera batteries and memory cards – there is nothing worse than seeing the perfect shot, only for your camera to die a death or the memory card to be full (bear in mind too that the opportunity to download photos will be limited). Most lodges will have curio shops that will sell most types of batteries so if you run out, it’s not serious, but prices may be high. If you have a video camera, it may be a good idea to take a spare battery for this as well.
One top tip for camera equipment in particular is to take a pillow case to keep everything in when out on game drives – some camera bags are big and unweldy so take up valuable seat space, plus you end up having to unzip compartments and while the bag is open dust gets in everywhere – having everything in a pillowcase that you can keep relatively ‘closed’ and just reach in to retrieve the necessary camera body/lens is just so much easier and cleaner all round.
Even in malaria-free areas, there are still nasty bugs about that can give you a nasty bite so do take some strong insect repellent with you. Some lodges will supply this in the rooms, but better to be safe than sorry and pack your own just in case.
It is always a good idea to pack your own first aid kit – so plasters, antiseptic cream/wipes, antihistamine tablets, painkillers, etc. If you wear daily disposable contact lenses it is advisable to bring more than you think you will need, as you may want to take the lenses out inbetween game drives if you get too much dust in your eyes. And of course, if you are taking malaria tablets – don’t forget to pack these!
Some lodges have a library but these are limited and so it is useful to bring your own books/novels for siesta hours. Having your own wildlife reference books too will mean you can also read up about more facts on the animals you have seen during your drive. Bird books in particular, if you are an avid birder, are especially good to have, as not every bird will be identified by your ranger along the way, so you can quietly look up anything you have seen and identify it yourself.
Tipping on Safari
It is customary to tip your guide (and tracker if you had one on your game vehicle, or your poler if you take a mokoro in Botswana) when you leave, and also to leave something for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have done a good job of looking after you.
Many lodges will leave guidelines in your room as to what they feel is an ‘appropriate’ tip, however some people feel that these suggestions can be a bit high. Obviously, tipping is optional and what you leave is totally at your own discretion - we would stress that you should never feel pressured into leaving a tip that you are not comfortable with.
If you wish to follow the lodge guidelines, of course that is your decision, but if you feel uncomfortable with their suggested tipping levels, we would like to put forward an alternative method for working out a suitable tip amount.
Your ranger/guide - what we normally suggest is think about your tip in terms of what he/she would appreciate most - so for example, this could be money to cover a really nice 3 course meal out with a good bottle of wine, so that they can treat themselves (and maybe their partner too) on their valuable time off. We would suggest basing this amount on what YOU personally would be happy to pay at home if you were to treat yourself and someone else to the equivalent night out.
Driver-guide (East Africa) – for people who take a longer safari with a private driver-guide, USD7 to USD10 per traveller per day is considered a good tip for a driver-guide (based on 4 to 6 travellers in a vehicle). If there are only 2 or 3 travellers in a vehicle, you might consider raising this amount to approximately USD10 to USD12 per traveller per day in recognition of the individual attention given to a smaller-size group.
Safari escort (East Africa) - some groups are accompanied by a professional safari escort. It is customary to tip your safari escort on the last day you are with them and the recommended tip is USD10 per traveller per day. As with the tip for a driver-guide, smaller groups (5 or less) might consider tipping slightly more.
Your tracker/poler - we would suggest tipping something equivalent to giving him a night out in a local bar, where he can buy himself and friends a few round of drinks. Again, maybe base this amount on what you would be happy to spend at home in your local pub.
Housekeeping/general staff - if they have kept your room spotless, then a tip is certainly a nice gesture - but maybe just the equivalent of a couple of drinks. Some lodges will have communal tip boxes, so all the tip money is pooled and shared between the relevant staff members.
We hope that this helps – but please note this is just a personal opinion, and it is a relatively easy way of estimating a tip amount that should not offend anyone. It is customary to tip on the last day you are with anyone.
Another thing to consider is taking some envelopes with you, so that you can address the envelopes accordingly and seal the individual tips inside - in this way, the tip is not revealed until after you have departed.
Please listen to your guide/lodge manager attentively on safety precautions particular to each lodge and follow their instructions.
There is an inherent risk associated with going on safari. Most guests will be required to sign indemnities at the various camps and lodges and will also be required to abide by the operator’s code of conduct in order to ensure your safety.