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Top Tips for a Great Safari

Published 30 March 2016

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

Safaris feature on just about every bucket list going. The old-fashioned romance of herds of elephants marching across dusty plains, wildebeest charging through ranging rivers and the sounds of lions roaring in the distance hold an enduring allure. For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see their favourite creatures in the wild, for others it’s the start of an obsession with all things Africa and they’ll return time and time again. But whether it’s your first safari or your hundredth, make the most of every minute with these top tips.

Leopard, Tanzania

Set your alarm

While waking up at 4am is not everyone’s idea of a relaxing holiday, it’s the best way to get some truly fantastic wildlife sightings. Animals are at their most active early in the morning before the heat kicks in, so heading out before sunrise is the ideal way to see them in action. Plus you can always take a siesta later in the day.

Dress sensibly

No one wants to be distracted by sunburn or insect bites, so slap on a hat, stick on your shades, slop on the sunscreen and lather on the insect repellent. This is not a fashion show; it’s hot out there, with temperatures regularly up to 40°C, so wear comfortable, loose, cotton clothing with long sleeves. Conversely, it can be pretty chilly at 4am, and frost is not unheard of, so bring a jumper or jacket for those early morning game drives.

Wear neutral colours

The lions will spot your hot pink safari outfit a mile off, so tone it down and stick to neutral colours such as khaki, beige, green and brown. White, a mosquito favourite, acts like a beacon to insects and will quickly show the dirt. Blue too is irresistible to the tsetse fly, while black absorbs the heat, making it difficult to keep cool. Keep it plain and simple and avoid camouflage patterns, which are reserved for military personnel only.

Bring your own binoculars

Don’t get caught out as the only one who can’t see the leopard snoozing in the distant tree, and invest in a good pair of binoculars. Most rangers and guides will carry a pair, but you’ll have to share with the driver, the spotter (if there is one) and your fellow safari-goers, so it’s more convenient to take your own.

Use your eyes

Tempting as it is to take a picture of every single springbok, you’ll get far more out of your safari if you put the camera down, turn off your cameraphone and observe with your eyes. Soak up the landscapes, breathe the fresh air and listen to the sounds of the bush – absorb the scene in all its clarity, not through a lens or a phone screen. Don’t sacrifice those magical moments for a photo.

Don’t list tick

While everyone will have their favourite animals top of their sightings hit list, don’t be too disappointed if you don’t see everything you wanted to. Wildlife watching takes time and patience, and it’s a shame to be so caught up with finding that elusive leopard that you forget to appreciate the herd of elephants that just wandered past your jeep.

Take an interest in the insects and plants too

Yes the rhinos, lions and giraffes and zebras are the most iconic, but the smaller insects and plants can be just as captivating. Keep a look out on the ground for the fascinating dung beetle for instance, who can carry up to ten times their own bodyweight, or ask your guide to explain the inner workings of complex termite society – you’ll be hooked.

Swot up on your birds

Twitchers: there’s always one - the person who shows up with a list as long as their arm of the rare vultures, herons and hornbills that they’ve been longing to spot. If you’re the type who barely notices our feathered friends, it can become rather tedious as the ranger stops for the seventh lilac breasted roller of the day. However, some basic knowledge of the birds you’re likely to see will increase your enjoyment no end, especially when you glimpse the more unusual or colourful species. Most guides and lodges will have a bird book you can borrow, or you can bring your own.

Hot-air Ballooning over the Serengeti

Step away from the jeep

Jeep safaris are just one way to wildlife watch. Boat safaris are a more relaxing, less bumpy alternative, allowing you to see the water-dwelling animals and birds that you might not otherwise see. To get even closer to nature, immerse yourself in the surroundings and explore the bush on foot. Seek out fresh hippo tracks or take a closer look at the diverse plant life. For the ultimate romantic experience though, nothing beats a sunrise hot air balloon safari.

Cheetah drinking from water at a nature reserve near Johannesburg

Enjoy it

What could be better than a few days relaxing under bright blue skies, gazing across endless savannahs and watching the planet’s most majestic creatures in their natural habitat? Revel in the peace and quiet, appreciate the silence, and fall in love with the African bush.

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