When on an African safari, there is plenty of free time in a typical day to kick back, relax and read a book in between game drives. Even if you’re not on safari, there’s nothing better than a story that transports you straight to Africa to bide the time until you can be back in the savannah again
This list of the best books to read on safari in Africa are either fictional stories set in Africa, anecdotal books about safari rangers or field guides to enhance your experience and teach you more about the flora and fauna you may come across.
A Year in the Wild – James Hendry
A Year in the Wild is, without a doubt, one of my favourite books of all time – not just my favourite safari book!
It tells the hilarious story of two feuding brothers who are sent to work at a safari camp for a year to work out their differences in the wild. Expect tons of animal encounters, interactions with other (slightly crazy) staff and over-demanding guests, and you’ve got a novel that you’ll belly laugh all the way through.
The book gives a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a safari camp. The author, James Hendry, is an experienced safari guide based in South Africa, meaning many of the characters, landscapes and tales are based on real experience. James’ dry sense of humour is apparent on every page, and his writing is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye – just mostly through laughter. You really won’t want to put this book down, and when you finally finish it, you’ll be happy to hear there is a sequel!
Back to the Bush – James Hendry
The sequel to James Hendry’s A Year In The Wild is Back to the Bush. It picks up at the end of the last book, with the brothers continuing their jobs in the safari lodge. This time, it focuses on Angus, the sarcastic safari guide (based largely on its author) as he tells the story of his next year in the lowveld.
You’ll meet some brand new characters, as well as some old, with stories of love, friendship and of course, plenty of really irritating safari guests and staff members. Much like the first book, there are moments that will make you cry and be completely in awe of the struggles that come with living in the bush.
James Hendry’s wit and sarcasm are still in strong supply, as well as his incredible ability to make you feel like you’re in South Africa, sitting in Angus’ jeep as one of his guests. This book about safari is well deserving of a place on your bookshelf – whether that’s while you’re in your camp relaxing after a game drive, or when you’re back home longing for your next trip.
The Elephant Whisperer – Lawrence Anthony
The Elephant Whisperer is a poignant, heartfelt and true story of a herd of rogue elephants that arrived on conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s game reserve. It shares the tale of him trying to keep the animals safe from execution, so prepare to ride an emotional rollercoaster of humour, love and sorrow.
The story is exceptionally told and is full of wonderful characters and animals, but also shows the grim realities of running a lodge that guests are so often protected from. Expect terrifying encounters with poachers, heart-wrenching stories of loss and a few wild mishaps – only some caused by the elephants themselves.
This is a truly compelling read, and a must own for animal lovers everywhere.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Run – Peter Allison
Peter Allison is an experienced safari guide now based in Botswana, and Whatever You Do, Don’t Run is a collection of anecdotes from his time working at various African safari camps. It centres on one of the first (and best) pieces of advice he was given by a colleague before he knew what to expect. When up against a wild animal in the bush, whatever you do, don’t run.
It’s a very easy book to read on safari thanks to its short chapters, each one centred on a real-life tale from the bush. Each one is told from Peter’s perspective and does a great job of conjuring up landscapes, characters and thrilling animal encounters. It will transport you to Africa on every page, all the while teaching you about the oddities of the bush and behind the scenes of a safari camp.
Don’t Look Behind You – Peter Allison
The second of Peter Allison’s safari books is Don’t Look Behind You. It’s full of the real-life tales Peter wasn’t able to tell in his first book, including encounters with some of the wildest and most dangerous animals on the planet. The stories stem from his time as a safari guide at a camp in Botswana and a private nature reserve in South Africa, making this a fantastic read when on safari.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife
Another must-read book on safari is a field guide, and my favourite is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife. Field guides are designed to share facts about the flora, fauna and landscapes of national parks and game reserves across southern Africa. Though your safari guides will be able to answer the vast majority of questions you may have, a field guide is a great book to have back at the camp in case you wanted to read up on the animals you saw on game drive earlier on in the day.
Books like these are often heavy and bulky, but the National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife is pocket friendly but still crammed full of information. You’ll discover everything you need to know about the birds, mammals, reptiles and many other creatures you may come across on safari. Learn about the appearance, habitat, diet, characteristics and young of hundreds of species.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series – Alexander McCall Smith
Though not strictly a book about safari, the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series is still worthy of a place on our list of books to read on safari.
Set in Botswana, the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency tells the story of Precious Ramotswe, a female private detective who solves crimes in the local area. Though the crimes make up around half of each book, the real focus is on Precious’ life, her past and her story of growing up in Africa. Through this, each book conjures up fabulous images of the landscapes, people and culture of Botswana.
The books are very lighthearted but there are thrilling moments too. So if you’re after something charming to read while on safari, any of the books in this series should make you very happy.
Make sure the best African safari books on this list feature on your packing list, and you’ll always have something thrilling to turn to while you’re waiting for your next game drive.