Most vacations to Africa are life long dreams of going on Safari. These are once in a lifetime trips for the average traveler and many Safari goers are first timers on the continent so planning for a trip like this can become a daunting task. I spent close to half this past year in Africa, on several different types of safaris and I have come up with my tips and tricks for being prepared for your own African adventure. I made a few errors along the way and would love to share with you ways to avoid making your own, as well as helpful hints so you feel ready to tackle the African wilderness. Here are five things that make up the ultimate guide to Safari.
Pack the Right Clothes
I didn’t think this part of my trip mattered too much at first, then on further research I realized I wasn’t giving my packing list the attention it might deserve. You have a few things to consider when filling your suitcase for safari.
I went through my closet and pulled what I wanted and then instead of buying expensive safari gear I may only use once, I headed down to the thrift store by my parent’s house and collected the rest of the items I needed for a fraction of the price. Keep in mind it’s all about the neutrals. You’ll want Khaki, tans, browns and greens. You’ll want to avoid certain colors depending on your location. Blacks and blues can trigger certain insects like Tsetse flies can be attracted to those colors, and their bites hurt! White is recommended to avoid because not only is it almost impossible to clean after a dusty ride through the savanna, you’ll stick out on a walking safari. Also, red clothing was prohibited while we were on our chimpanzee trek.
Layers are vital on safari. You’ll most likely be up before the sun on game drive days, so bringing a light coat is helpful. We covered several microclimates so I also packed a raincoat for when we did our jungle treks. By the afternoon depending upon when you are traveling it can be unbearably hot so it’s important to layer and stay comfortable. I had a more active safari with some hiking involved, so I didn’t bring anything I didn’t want to get dirty. If you are doing more of a luxury trip, you may be able to wear some nicer pieces, I’ve seen bloggers in full make up and dresses on safari, but I’ve opted for a more realistic experience. It is dusty and dirty and that is part of the fun.
Closed toed shoes are essential for safari, especially if you are doing any walking or hiking on your trip. I brought lightweight boots by LEMS, they are my favorite in these situations because they are easy to pack but useful for outdoor activities. Sandals are fine for city or resort area and I packed water shoes as well, so bring a few options to be prepared.
I had read about “African Massage” which is basically a free back massage courtesy of the bumpy dirt roads throughout the country. I thought it was probably partially true but figured there was some exaggeration but their is truth to the uncomfortable rides. Ladies, bring sports bras! I was so happy I had proper supportive undergarments so I didn’t bounce out of the LandRover. If there was one thing I wish someone would have told me before I left it would have been how poor the roadways were and how little shocks will do for your bouncing body.
Be mindful of other cultures and pack accordingly. It may be offensive for example in some places to show your knees, so you’ll want to make sure you aren’t drawing unwanted or negative attention to yourself and be respectful of the place and the people you are visiting.
Other packing reminders:
Make sure you check visa requirements before entering the country
Check the CDC recommendations on vaccines and medications, visit a doctor who is aware of travel requirements such as Yellow Fever or up to date Malaria medication to be sure you have all of your healthcare needs in order before you go.
Check to see if the country you are traveling to has restrictions on us of currency. US dollars may need to be certain years, for example in Uganda any US bills created before 2006 will not be accepted. Also, if you are coming from the US, some countries will require visa payment in USD. I usually bring a few hundred dollars with me but try to deal mainly in local currencies.
Bring the Right Camera
If you are interested in taking any quality photos, your cell phone may not cut it. Often times the animals are far enough distance that your phone will take a grainy picture so bringing a DSLR or Mirrorless camera may be worth the hassle of lugging it around.
If you are with a company that adheres to all the rules of the park, chances are you will see most of your wildlife at a distance. I wanted to make sure I could capture each moment so I rented a telephoto lens from Lumoid. They have reasonable prices and the option to purchase your lens after your trip is over, which I did.
Some of my best shots were with the telephoto lens and when I was with a larger group several of the passengers commented on how they wished they were more properly prepared for the photography.
In addition to your camera lens be sure to be prepared to take far too many photos. I brought extra memory cards and made sure I had my Lenspen to keep the dirt and dust off of my gear.
Choose the Right Guide
This may be one of the more paramount choices that you’ll make when planning your safari. Picking the right tour company for the type of trip you are looking for in turn will place you with a guide that you’ll be with for the duration of your journey. These guides are the ones that drive you from park to park, give you the information about the vegetation, culture, history and wildlife. Think of them as your parent while you are in Africa, they are responsible for almost everything and will help you with that plus more. Our guide, Jack with Destination Jungle was AMAZING. He knew where certain animals spent most of their time in each of the parks we visited, he had worked in a few parks before becoming a guide so by the end of the trip we joked that he was the Mayor of Uganda, always knowing someone at the gate or our lodge.
Don’t forget to tip your guide! They work really hard to make sure you see the animals you want, arrive safely at your destination and enjoy your vacation. You can always discuss with your group at the end of your trip and pool your money together. The amount will vary based on the level of service but starting around $10/15 a day per person would be acceptable. Also remember to bring small bills to add to the tip boxes at the lodges or to give out to any other day guides you may use for treks or river cruises. Keep in mind many people only make a few dollars a day and some African countries do not have a standard minimum wage. If you choose a reputable and responsible tour company, they will be paying their guides a fair wage so they won’t have to rely on the tips you give as a means for salary. A tipping tip is to give in the local currency, especially in a more rural area so they don’t loose in the exchange rate and are able to use the money you give them locally.
Pick the Right Time
Decide on the country you’d like to visit first, or the types of wildlife you are most interested in observing. That can be the best starting point for figuring out when the best time is to plan your trip. I was in Uganda in August which is during their peak season (July through September). I knew I wanted to see the Gorillas and the rainy season in Uganda is March through May so I wanted to avoid that time of year if possible. Budget may come into play with the timing of your trip, for instance you may get a bigger discount during off peak seasons, just know you may have some less than desirable weather. I tend to book on “shoulder seasons” which are times in between the busy and slow months of travel. Your price is lower than high traffic months but you still may get the better weather you’re looking for and far less tourists.
Know the Animals Rights
You are here to see the animals, so let’s make sure their habitats stay protected. There are some basic rules that your tour should be following while in the national parks and when encountering wildlife. These are wild animals, they aren’t in a zoo or circus and you are visiting them on their home turf so it’s important to be mindful to ensure their safety and yours.
Part of the fun of a Safari is that you aren’t sure what you are going to see. The surprise is the best part, and it reminds you that this is a natural habitat and things are not predictable. It will also make you appreciate any rare sightings even more.