11 tips to get the most from your African safari
Ok so all the planning is done – you are heading to Africa for a safari adventure of a lifetime. Maybe the Okavango, the Zambezi or the Serengeti? If you are heading to the right safari areas at the right time of year with the right people then most of the job is already done and you stand a great chance of having an unbelievable experience. However, there are a number of things you can do to really maximise the experience available to you. Here are 11 tips that will guarantee you have the best safari possible.
1. Connect with your local safari guide
The guides in the camps are incredibly knowledgeable and very personable. They have a challenging job, dealing with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and with different hopes and dreams for their safaris, and there is generally a turnover of guests every 2-3 days. Sometimes even the best guides find themselves going through the motions and interacting with their guests on auto-pilot. You can avoid this by showing interest in the guide as a person. Ask questions that show that you are interested in the guide as a person, not just for the animals they can show you. For example ask them about where they come from, their family, their education and how they got to be a guide. This in itself is fascinating, but also shows the guide that you are generally interested in him/her, and this will drop any barriers from their side. They will relax and be themselves, but also go out of their way to show you the best experience possible.
2. Embrace everything
You might have an idea of how your safari experience will play out, but that seldom if ever happens – Africa often throws up all sorts of curve balls. You often can’t control what is happening, but you can control how you feel about it. For example there might be a thunderstorm on your afternoon game drive. You can either sulk about the unfairness of it raining on your safari and demand to be taken back to camp, or you can embrace it and literally soak up the experience of an African rain storm on the savannah. Your vehicle might get stuck in thick sand or mud. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, embrace the experience and see how you can help the guide. The curve balls often provide unique and very powerful experiences and memories, and so long as you embrace them they could well end up being major highlights.
Embracing everything also means really engaging with the experience. Connect with the guides, management and local staff. Soak up the sounds and smells. Take your shoes off and feel the African soil beneath your feet. Learn how to pole a mokoro. Swim in the Okavango, or at very least get your feet wet. Sing and dance with the camp staff. Hug a tree.
Don’t hug a lion.
3. Maximise your time out of camp
Aim to soak in as much of your safari experience as possible. When the guide tells you the scheduled wake time, ask him/her if it is possible to get going half an hour earlier. Don’t waste time sitting around the breakfast table in the morning – grab your food and get out into the wilderness. If you are sharing a vehicle with other people that you don’t know, see if you can (gently) get them on the same wavelength as you. See if you can go out for a full day with a packed picnic so that you can explore further afield. This point follows closely from the first point. If your guide knows that you are super enthusiastic, then he/she will do whatever they can to help maximize your experience.
4. Be curious
Be curious about everything. Ask about an interesting looking tree or flower or insect or spider. Ask what animal is making the noise you are hearing, and importantly ask why it is making that sound. This allows the guide to talk about things that he knows but often doesn’t get to talk about. You will be amazed at your guide’s knowledge, and you will find yourself slipping beneath the surface experience of just seeing animals. You will soon begin to understand the incredible depth of a safari experience and it will help you appreciate the amazingly rich experience you are living.
5. Use binoculars
Invest in a decent set of binoculars, and if you can afford it, get one for each person travelling. Good binoculars will transform your safari experience. The simple fact is this – the more times you put them to your eyes the greater the experience you will have on safari. Use them to scan for wildlife – if you happen to spot something before the guide it is a great thrill. Use them when an animal is far away or hidden in thick bush, but also use them when an animal is up close and even when it is easily visible with the naked eye. You will see the tiny hairs covering an elephant’s body, or the prehensile tips of its trunk. Seeing the incredible colours of a lilac-breasted roller through a pair of bincolars will blow your mind and possibly change your life.
6. Take time out
A great safari isn’t just about rushing around seeing what animal you can find next. Make sure you take time out and really soak up the wilderness around you. On most morning drives you will stop for coffee or tea, and in the afternoons you will stop for a sundowner drink. Step away from the rest of the group (not far and with the permission of the guide) and just sit quietly by yourself. Listen to the sounds, soak in the smells allow wild Africa to envelop you. These can be some of the most powerful moments of your safari.
7. Don’t just view your safari through a camera
People often want to take photographs of everything they see. This is absolutely understandable and capturing a great image is a real thrill. There is nothing wrong with coming back home with thousands of photographs. However, the camera can be a barrier to fully experiencing the wilderness. Make sure you put the camera down from time to time and allow yourself to just soak up the experience.
8. Don’t compare
Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. This is definitely true on safari. Avoid comparing your safari experience with that of other people in the camp.
This is harder than it sounds, because you will often find yourself sitting around the fire together in the evening, sharing stories about your day and it is perfectly natural to discuss the things that you have seen. You will often find that you are absolutely thrilled with all the special things you have seen and experienced until you hear what someone else saw. Then all of the great feelings you had (which were very real) get squashed as you begin to think that you missed out.
It is important to remember that the experience you have is yours alone. What you see and experience on safari is your gift. No one else will ever see or experience those gifts in the same way ever again – so savour them and appreciate them fully. Remember how you felt when experiencing the gift. Don’t let anyone else take that way and don’t envy the gifts that were given to other people.
9. Communicate any fears or concerns
Safari takes place in a wild and foreign environment. It also has the potential to be one of the greatest experiences of your life. If you have any fears (even if they seem irrational) or concerns that might be impacting your experience then you should communicate those to the guide or the manager of the camp. Allow them to understand what it is that is worrying you. The very act of doing this will generally help shift the situation. The management and the guides can also make a plan to change things if needs be to ensure that you feel safer and alleviate any of the concerns you have.
When you are in the wilderness, actively disconnect from the life you normally live, and allow yourself to fully embrace the safari experience. You have travelled so far and invested so much in just getting there, give yourself the best chance of making the most out of it.
Make sure that you have told people that you will be out of contact for the duration of your safari. Then when you get into the wilderness, put your phone away. If you are using it as a camera make sure it is on flight mode. Many camps these days do have internet connection, but do yourself a favour and avoid it like the plague. Nothing will ruin your safari more quickly than watching emails pour into your inbox.
As soon as you start checking your phone messages, or your emails or your facebook, you are disconnecting with the experience available to you and re-connecting with your regular life. It immediately and significantly reduces the potential impact of the safari. Save the facebook photos until you get back to ‘civilization’.
If you are going to a camp with no internet or phone signal (lucky you!) and you absolutely have to be in touch with home for your own peace of mind (e.g. you have a sick family member or you absolutely have to be in some contact with your business) then rent a satellite phone and try and check in just once a day.
11. Own the experience
In planning your trip, we at African Family Safaris can only put you in the right places at the right time, with the right people. We know that this is generally enough to create very unique and powerful experiences and memories. However we can’t force you to enjoy it. Some people go on safari with a negative mindset and regardless of how amazing everything is they are always looking for the things that are wrong with a given situation. People can pick holes in any experience, but is that helping you enjoy it?
Ultimately how you feel about the experience will depend on you. If you want to love it, then you will!