General Info - Safaris in Southern Africa
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 Southern Africa. You spend your days taking exciting game drives through the bush to spot the animals in their natural environment, and going to sleep lulled by the night sounds of the African bush – there cannot be a better way to pass the time!
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, but this can, of course, vary from lodge to lodge.
The day normally starts with a wakeup call before sunrise (this can be as early as 05:00!). The mornings are the best opportunity to follow fresh tracks and see wildlife, as some of the nocturnal animals may still active.Some lodges will even wake you up with a tray bearing hot coffee or tea delivered to your room!
Generally on safari in South Africa, once you have had your tea/coffee at the lodge, you depart on your game drive - depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long. When you return to the lodge, breakfast will be waiting for you - normally with a choice of cereals, yogurts and fruit followed by a cooked offering if you are still hungry.
In Botswana and Zambia, you usually sit down to a full breakfast before heading out on your morning game drive. You will return from the game drive around 11:00, where there is then time to quickly freshen up before a delicious lunch is served.
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. This is also when you can go out on a guided bush walk if this is offered by your lodge.
At around 15:00 or just after, high tea is served before you head off again for an afternoon game drive. 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/reserve, 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 can sit around the camp fire and enjoy drinks while waiting for dinner. 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.
Sometimes dinner is served outside under the stars on the lodge deck, in a 'boma' around an open fire, or even out in the bush itself, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting. 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.
What to pack for a safari is a question that we get asked again and again. Whilst this is not the definitive list, it should give you a bit of a guideline. There are a couple of ‘general rules’ to remember as a starting point.
- You do not need to invest in a special safari outfit, however you should try to take neutral coloured clothes – so greens, beiges, etc – and avoid taking anything too brightly coloured. Camouflage printed clothing is not necessary but if you do take anything in this style, please note it is not advisable to wear this in towns, at airports or when crossing borders (particularly in Zimbabwe).
- Take comfortable clothes – remember that your game drive may be long so you don’t want to feel uncomfortable 10 minutes into the drive as you cannot go back to get changed!
- 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.
- If you are going into an area where Tsetse flies are present (such as South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi in Zambia) then you should also avoid the colours blue and black.
- Think in layers...when out on game drives, the early morning and evening temperatures are much cooler and you also have the ‘wind chill’ factor of being on a moving vehicle. Better to layer up in the mornings and take off clothes as required. And do the reverse for the afternoon game drives – whilst it might be lovely and warm when you set off on your game drive, when the sun goes down it will suddenly feel a lot colder! And if you are going on safari in the Southern Hemisphere Winter months (June, July, August) – the more warm layers, the better.
- The dress code on safari is very relaxed, so there is no need to worry about packing formal shirts, ties, jackets or cocktail dresses for your time on safari!
Clothing items to take include:
- Shorts/t-shirts - ideal for walks and the warm midday periods.
- Long trousers and long sleeved shirts – for the evenings to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- A warm sweater/fleece.
- A waterproof jacket – especially if you are going on safari during a known rainy season. Some lodges will provide waterproof ponchos in case of rain but this cannot be guaranteed.
- Woolly hat/beanie, scarf, gloves – definitely needed if on safari during the Winter months in Southern Africa. Some lodges even provide guests with hot water bottles if the Winter temperatures are really chilly!
- Swimwear - just in case you fancy a cooling dip inbetween game drives if your lodge has a pool.
- Ladies may want to consider packing a good support bra, as the game drives can be bumpy.
- Comfortable walking shoes, trainers or hiking boots – for bush walks and/or for those cooler Winter game drives.
- Sandals - ideal to wear at meal times and around the lodge area.
- A sun hat or baseball cap - to stop sunstroke when out on game drives, and help to shade your eyes from the sun when looking for the wildlife.
Other Items To Take On Safari
A quick check list of other useful items to take with you:
- A small day pack to take out on game drives with you.
- A water bottle – the lodge will fill this up with water if you ask – great to stop you getting dehydrated on game drives.
- A good pair of sunglasses.
- Sun block with a high SPF factor (between 30 and 50) and lip balm.
- Strong insect repellent - even in malaria-free areas, there are still bugs about that can give you a nasty bite. Some lodges will supply this in the rooms, but better to be safe than sorry and pack your own just in case.
- First aid kit (plasters, antiseptic cream/wipes, antihistamine tablets/cream or other medication to relieve reactions to insect bites or stings, 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.
- Malaria tablets and other personal medication.
- Camera (and if you are into photography in a big way, consider different size lenses and a bean bag, monopod or tripod to to rest the lens on so that you avoid camera shake).
- One top tip for camera equipment is to take a pillowcase or other cloth bag 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 – instead consider having everything in a pillowcase that you can keep relatively ‘closed’ and just reach in to retrieve the necessary camera body/lens as required.
- Spare camera batteries, memory cards and battery charger - 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 may be limited).
- 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.
- A small flashlight may be useful.
- Books/novels for siesta hours.
- Wildlife reference books – enabling you to read up about more facts on the animals you have seen during your drive.
- Bird books – especially if you are an avid birder, 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.
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 open 4x4 safari vehicles. Due to the nature of the terrain the roads are often bumpy and can be a little tiring. In Botswana's Okavango Delta, if you are travelling in the Green Season, you also need to be prepared to drive through waterways that flood into the vehicle, meaning you spend a lot of the time with your legs up in the air! Open 4x4 vehicles also leave you completely at the mercy of the elements, meaning greater exposure to the sun in summer and cold winds in winter. Some open safari vehicles will have an overhead canopy to minimise this, 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, but individuals of average fitness should experience no problems. Walking in single file over sometimes uneven terrain in potentially hot weather (as the walks tend to take place after breakfast, so just when the sun is starting to warm up nicely), 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!
There are normally age restrictions, however, which will differ from lodge to lodge. Younger children, for obvious safety reasons, are not allowed on any walks - the normal age limit is 16 years of age. Some lodges also have upper age restrictions - Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, for example, require that all guests over 60 years old wishing to join a guided walk provide a letter or certificate from their doctor confirming they are in good health and are physically fit to do the walk. Regardless of age or the provision of a doctors certificate, the final decision on whether a guest can join a guided walk remains with the guide and lodge manager.
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.
Just a Few More Things to Remember!
If you have any specific dietary requirements, please let your Travel Butlers consultant know in advance, so that we can pass this information onto the lodge.
Don't be afraid to ask questions of your guide when on a game drive! He/she has a wealth of knowledge and is happy to share this with you! Even if you think the question is silly or irrelevant, chances are someone else will be thinking it as well so will really appreciate you asking! Just please... don't ask to see a tiger...
Although it is of course very tempting to spend the entire time behind the lens of your camera, so that you capture every potential second of the lion walking past, do remember to try to emerge sometimes and just enjoy the experience first hand. Especially on a night drive, unless you have a rock steady hand or you are a professional photographer, don't expect the night shots to win many awards!
Most lodges will offer a laundry service, which will either be included in your rate as specified or it will be an additional cost (if it is the latter, the costs are normally listed per item so you can work out the potential end bill!). Dirty laundry is normally collected when housekeeping cleah the room in the morning, and returned the same day or at worst, the next morning.
The wildlife is just that... wild. There is no guarantee that you will see every living species of the African bush, but if you have something particular that will make your safari move from being 'wonderful' to 'the very best experience ever', just let your guide know and they will do their utmost to ensure that you are not disappointed. But if you don't end up seeing that elusive pangolin or witness lions hunting at night, don't be too upset - just look back at everything else you did see with very fond memories!
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, or your walking scout in Zambia/Zimbabwe) when you leave, and also to leave something for the housekeeping/general camp 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. Please note that in South Africa and Namibia, Rand is the best currency to tip in; in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, US Dollars are preferrred.
Your ranger/guide - in South Africa and Namibia, 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 ou and convert it into Rand. In Zambia/Zimbabwe/Botswana, the normal tip is USD 10 per person per day. Any tip should be given to the ranger/guide at the END of the entire safari trip (so not after every game drive!), and it is normal to discretely 'slip' some folded notes from your palm to his/her palm as part of your 'goodbye and thank you' handshake.
Your tracker (normally only in South Africa) - 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 or bar and convert this into Rand, and the tip should be given at the end of the safari trip.
Poler in Botswana/walking scout in Zambia/Zimbabwe - about USD 5 per person per activity would be an acceptable tip.
Housekeeping/general staff - if they have kept your room spotless and your beer glass constantly topped up, then a tip is certainly a nice gesture. Some lodges will have communal tip boxes where you can 'post' your total tip as you check out, and all the tip money is then pooled and shared between the relevant staff members. In South Africa/Namibia, work on the equivalent of a round of drinks at your local pub for the key people who have made a difference to your safari stay then convert into Rand; in Zambia/Zimbabwe/Botswana, the norm is about USD 10 per room per day.
We hope that this helps – but please note this is just a personal opinion, and the dinner/drink idea is a relatively easy way of estimating a tip amount that should not offend 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.
There is, or course, an inherent risk associated with going on safari due to the fact that you are in the midst of wild animals. Many camps will ask guests to sign indemnity forms and guests will also be required to abide by the operator’s code of conduct in order to ensure their safety.
Please listen to your lodge manager attentively on safety precautions particular to each lodge and follow their instructions. Some lodges are not fenced, so especially at night, you will need to be escorted between your room and the main lodge area.
When out on a game drive, always listen carefully to your guide. When approaching wildlife, especially the Big 5, please do be quiet and do not, under any circumstances, stand up to take photos unless your guide says that it is OK to do so, as doing so could spook the animal in question to either run away or charge towards you! If you are on safari in a private reserve, the chances are that you will drive off-road a few times, so watch out for overhanging branches and thorns.