If you’re planning your first wildlife holiday, you’re no doubt wondering what to expect on safari. When on safari, what are the best first-timer’s tips and advice for having incredible wildlife encounters and more?
As a safari addict, I’ve created this first-timer’s guide to give you everything you need to have an unforgettable safari.
Get used to needing the toilet in the middle of nowhere
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear there are no toilets on safari! It’s usually a good idea to go at the camp before you head out on a game drive, but don’t worry if you get caught short. It’s still very normal for nature to call while you’re out in the bush, and your guides will know exactly what to do. They may even give you a secret code word or phrase to save your blushes. In Kenya, we were told to say we needed to ‘check the back tyre’!
Once they’re aware, the guides will make sure you’re in a safe enough place to stop (preferably with no other jeeps or prides of lions nearby!) before letting you hop off to relieve yourself behind the car. There will usually be hand sanitiser and toilet roll on board if you need it.
Expect (and embrace!) jeep issues
We’ve had our fair share of car troubles while out on safari, and they are surprisingly common thanks to how often the jeeps are used and the bumpy terrain they have to traverse. Issues such as loss of power and flat tyres can happen anywhere, and your guides are well-trained to change tyres in the middle of the bush.
If it’s safe enough to do so, you’ll likely jump off and wait while your guides do what they need to do. Before long, you’ll be continuing on your game drive as if nothing had ever happened.
However, if there is something dangerous lurking nearby, your guides are well-trained to jack the car up and change the tyre while all passengers are still on board. Should the issue be unfixable, spare jeeps and mechanics are only a radio call away.
Get to know the creepy crawlies
Being so out in the open on game drives and at the camp, one thing you can definitely come to expect on safari is creepy crawlies. Mosquitoes and other biting insects are very annoying and oftentimes painful, so make sure you take insect repellent clothing and high-strength sprays or wipes with you.
Back at the camp, you’re likely to be given mosquito nets to protect your tent, but they won’t stop everything from getting in. You might find bugs and harmless lizards from time to time, but if you see anything more sinister that frightens you (scorpions or snakes, for example) just let the camp staff know and they’ll be able to safely move them on.
The most important piece of advice for first-time safari-goers to remember is to be patient. Remember the animals are wild, meaning they’re completely free to come and go as they please. That can mean some drives are eventful, some are quiet, some you’ll see nothing at all. But it only takes one incredible sighting to make up for it. Be patient, because you never know what you might see.
Don’t be too worried about ticking particular animals off a list, for example, the big 5. Safari destinations have amazing biodiversity, so try to appreciate it all, including birdlife, plants, insects, antelopes, small mammals and reptiles, plus the plants and the scenery.
If you’re desperate to see a leopard but come across your second awesome sighting of lions for the day, appreciate it. You never know what unique behaviours you might witness. Enjoy watching the unique behaviour of the animals, and ask the guides questions to bring it all to life.
Take spare camera batteries
With so much to see on safari, you should expect your camera batteries to run out a lot faster than you think!
Just imagine… you’ve just come across something incredible and your camera is pointed straight at it. A pride of lions are tucking into their first meal for days, when a group of hyena spot the commotion and come charging over attempting to steal their kill. Just behind them, a pack of jackals eagerly await their turn. All of a sudden, the hyenas overpower the lions and the haunting sound of their laughter fills the air as they drag the kill away from the roaring lions. You think your camera has managed to capture the whole scene on video mode, only to discover the battery ran out halfway through and didn’t save a thing.
Sadly for me, that’s a true story, and it has haunted me ever since! Now, I always make sure I have a spare battery charged and ready to go, whenever I need it.
Expect lots of food and drink
As you’ll have seen in the daily itinerary above, food plays a major part in most safaris. Camps will serve biscuits with coffee, huge breakfasts, three-course lunches and dinners as well as other snacks throughout the day. Some even have open bars if you pay for the all-inclusive rate, so it’s very easy to overindulge.
Try not to eat more than you need to and stay healthy!
Remember the packing limits
When planning a packing list for safari, it’s important not to take too much. If you’re travelling via bush plane, you’re likely to have strict weight limits for your luggage. On Safarilink in Kenya, that limit is 15kg and includes your hand luggage and weighty camera equipment.
Most camps will give you laundry detergent to wash your clothes in the sink. You can pack light and still have enough to wear for the entirety of your safari holiday.
Get to know the other guests
Unless you’re travelling in a group large enough to fill a jeep, it’s highly likely you’ll share your game drives with people you don’t know. While this is a wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded animal-loving tourists from around the world, you may have to get used to their wish to stop for every bird they see, or their inappropriate political discussions around the dinner table.
But don’t worry. Your guides will normally do an excellent job of trying to keep everyone happy by looking out for sightings that will please everyone. And as for the dinnertime chat? You should always be able to steer the conversation back to that incredible wildlife encounter you had earlier in the day. That’s something everyone can get on board with!
So when you’re planning your first safari, remember these tips to make it a holiday you’ll never forget.