Africa is so often a longed-for holiday destination but one that is often put off for fear of the unknown. How does a safari work, how do I choose a lodge, what do I pack!?
The questions can be endless, but it really isn’t that hard with a little forward planning, some handy tips and good travel advice. You will be boarding a South African Airways plane before you know it!
How do I choose my safari lodge?
If you have already done a google search on safari lodges in Africa you will know it is an overwhelming and daunting experience with so many lodges to choose from, where do you begin? The good news is there is a lodge to suit all personalities and travel styles, be that couples, singles, families or even groups. Lodge sizes can vary from a small lodge with only 8 rooms to a large luxury lodge having 60 plus rooms. A family with small children may feel more relaxed with the general liveliness of a larger lodge whereas a family with teenagers may be perfectly fine in one of the more intimate smaller camps. If you have special interests such as bird watching some camps have specialists on site to take you on walks when you are not on safari and some even have photographers to spend time with you honing your skills.
You may also have noticed the terms Private Concessions and Private Reserves and wondered what they mean? Private Concessions are within the border of Kruger National Park and they pay a fee to do so. A Private Reserve lies outside or adjacent to the National Park sharing a fenceless border. Both operate similarly in that a private game lodge gives you a superior viewing experience by allowing you to travel off-road to track animals and get up close wherever they may be. This can have you unbelievably a short 2 metres from a cheetah as I experienced recently!
What do I wear on safari?
You don’t need to go full Safari Ranger with your pre-holiday shopping but do plan on buying/packing colours such as grey, khaki and beige! I did mix it up and sneak in some black (it’s my favourite colour) and there is always one in every group that needs to choose their safari to wear their favourite statement piece but this is not the time. So really do try and be sensitive to your location and environment as the animals are spooked by bright colours and this is why you are there, don’t scare them away!
Also remember it is COLD, more so at certain times of the year, like winter (Doh!) but even in summer the mornings are brisk, so don’t forget warm coats, gloves, beanies and socks (safari approved colours of course). Layer yourself up as you will leave in the cold and be heading back possibly in 30deg. Raincoats are mostly supplied and on very cold days you might even be treated to hot water bottles and blankets!
Can I take a suitcase?
This can be controversial! The answer is no you shouldn’t but there are many who the idea of having to travel with a duffle bag is tantamount to travel abuse. So for those special ones, go ahead and take a case, but for the rest of us, if you can manage with one of the wheelie type large duffle bags the rangers will be pretty pleased. They don’t have a lot of room and if the odd person rocks up with a case they can manage but if everyone does there WILL be an issue and personally I didn’t want that to be me. I must say I hated travelling with a duffle style bag but its like child birth you forget about it as soon as its over!
How does a safari work?
Safaris are morning and afternoon affairs and the highlight of your day, but then so is the food, your room the scenery ….ok there are lots of highlights on your African Adventure!
Morning safaris mostly start with a wake up call at about 5am from your safari guide. A quick get ready then meet at 5.30 for coffee/hot drink and a light snack which could be cereal, toast fruit yoghurt etc just enough to wake you up and sustain you on the 3 hour drive. You will head out with a tracker (who sits on that funny seat at the front of the truck) and your guide, both who are incredibly experienced and knowledgeable on all that you are about to see. About half way through, you may have a break for another hot drink and snack if it is required and a toilet stop (bush) before continuing on your way. I won’t go into too many details as no two safaris are the same, but heading off on your first safari drive is a very special moment and super exciting for everyone. What you see on your drive will stay with you forever and you will probably look at your photos and wonder if it was real!
Is it safe?
You will receive a safety briefing on arrival to your lodge which might make you laugh when they tell you to ring for a tracker to walk you to dinner in case you come across a lion (and to think only a few short hours ago you might have been in the Cape Winelands having a cheeky pinot and your brain has not quite computed you are now in the middle of an African game park and THERE ARE NO FENCES)!
You are in amazing hands at these lodges, they understand the wildlife and can tell when an animal is feeling threatened, they do carry rifles but rarely (if ever) have had to use them. A few times I had wished they at least got it out of the bag as I am sure the cheetah could have killed me before they got the zip undone, but they assured me no guest had died on their watch.
How long should I stay?
I liked 3 nights, it is a good guide for any stop to get the full destination experience and is my recommendation.
Is it expensive?
Yes and No. It is important to break down the rate per person per day and then remember what it includes, early breakfast, full breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea/high tea, dinner, snacks, drinks including alcohol at many, daily walks and 2 game drives per day and luxury accommodation. Compare this to a day in London or Sydney or any big city with luxury accommodation and meal and sightseeing plus more all included its all about perception so consider this so you don’t put off something that could be a life enriching holiday experience.
For more information on booking your next Safari contact Travel Designer Karen Denley for more expert tips.