Africa

Is an African Safari Right for You? A Guide to Your Ultimate Dream Holiday

Legadema a famous leopard in Botswana --An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

My first dream holiday was in the late 1990’s, when my then boyfriend Antoine and I traveled to South Africa for a little Cape Town action and our first safari. It was a spectacular, otherworldly experience that even now, separated by time and different lives, Antoine and I still bond over.

I knew I would return, I just wasn’t sure when. As it turns out, it was more than a decade later—the responsibilities of a horse and a burgeoning career put the brakes on my aspirations. But finally in 2010,  I went on a Tanzania safari. For eight days, my private guide Chili and I drove through Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti. To say I was smitten is an understatement, and I couldn’t wait to go back.

In late 2012, being one of the millions who suffered from the long-tail effects of the economic crisis, I was laid off. My first thought (seriously, I kid you not) was Africa. By February 2013, I was on a plane to Botswana. And on and on. Since then I’ve been to Kenya several times, South Africa again and Namibia too. See a pattern.

Whether Africa will seep into your heart and mind as it has mine, who knows. What I can tell you, everyone I’ve known who’s gone has loved it. A safari will change you. The downside: It’s addictive. And from what I can tell, even cold turkey isn’t a cure.

A fiery Sunrise in Botswana -- An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

An extraordinary fiery sunrise in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

Is a safari for you?

I find being on safari is a magical blend of blissful serenity and unbridled excitement. It’s the answer when I need a little soul renewal. The serenity comes from an almost mythical beauty coupled with a total lack of responsibility. On safari, everything is arranged for you: You’ll enjoy game drives (usually three to four hours) in the morning, and afternoon. In between, you can read, nap, or chat with fellow guests. Although camps may offer other activities such as mokoro rides (a small, dug-out boat that sits low in the water), excursions to visit local tribes, or helicopter tours, game viewing tends to be the focus. (However, if your preference is cultural excursions, it’s not a problem. Just make sure to let your camp or travel specialist know ahead of time.)

For me, it’s the six to eight hours per day in the bush is where the magic happens. It’s the most thrilling scavenger hunt you’ll ever undertake. Around every bush could be a pride of hungry lions. Flying overhead, an eagle. Or a large herd of elephants could come crashing through the trees around you, trumpeting and rumbling in panic, set off by the smell of wild dogs. (This actually happened to me by the way, and it was absolutely thrilling.)

I don’t have the words to describe the feeling you get when you see these extraordinary creatures in the wild. I’ve never been disappointed. Something interesting or unexpected happens every day.

How wildlife viewing works

When you arrive in camp, you’re assigned a guide. Depending on the number in your group, you may share that guide and a jeep with other guests. (If you want a private jeep that’s possible for an additional fee.) It’s a wonderful way to meet interesting people from all over the world. I still talk to many of the travelers I’ve met on safaris.

On your game drive, you’ll find that most animals are uninterested by your presence. It’s believed that animals view people in a jeep as part of a single benign being of which they’ve become acclimated.  That said, if you separate yourself from the jeep by getting out (please don’t do this) or standing up suddenly, you may be perceived as a threat and invite unwanted attention. Your guide will assess the animal’s behavior. If it shows signs of stress, he’ll keep your viewing short or just move on. I’ve never felt unsafe.

Lions pass by two vehicles while on a game drive in Botswana--An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

A pride of lions pass by two vehicles while on a game drive in Botswana

On a walking safari—and not all camps offer this opportunity, so check first—you’ll observe animals at a greater distance. You’ll walk in a single file line behind your guide who will make sure you are safe distance but still get an exciting view of the animals.

Unfenced vs. fenced camps

If you stay at an unfenced camp, animals will roam through at their leisure. In Botswana, a giant bull elephant strolled 100 feet from my tent. In South Africa, a lion sat on the cement foundation my tent sat on while we were in it. (One of my favorite memories). In Tanzania, hippos walked through our camp to graze.

Is it dangerous you ask? Not if you stay alert and obey the rules. Safety is a camp’s highest priority. In general, camps set up very clear “human areas”: your tent, the walkways that lead from your tent to the rest of the camp, and group meeting areas. Most animals will run away if they hear you coming, and during the day you can see what’s up ahead.

After sunset, a staff member will always escort you to and from your tent. Once in your tent, you are perfectly safe. If this setup makes you uncomfortable though, there are fenced camps that keep the wildlife at bay.

An elephant eats grass -- An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

The matriarch elephant, Cathy from the Abu herd in Botswana eats some grass.

 

Multiple camps are the ticket

On safari, the perfect travel strategy is to stay at multiple camps during your trip. You’ll benefit from new locations and different species or concentrations of wildlife. I find that three nights in each camp is my magic number. I have time to unpack, develop a rapport with staff and guests, and explore a new setting before moving on.

Solo travel

If you like to travel solo, a safari is an ideal vacation. You can enjoy quality time on your own while easily meeting new people along the way. The safari vibe tends is community driven, and I found that it fosters camaraderie.

Impala in the highgrass - An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

 Things to consider

  • A camp’s operation is different depending on whether it is on private or government-owned property. Private camps, among other things, are able to offer nighttime game drives to view nocturnal species or go “off road,” meaning that if you see an animal 300 feet to the left of the road, you can drive closer to view it. Camps on government property have restrictions, but they are spectacular nonetheless.
  • Some camps don’t have Wi-Fi or offer the use of a computer, so if you can’t stand being off the grid you’ll want to double-check ahead of time.
  • If you love to pack half your closet when you travel, a safari will not be your cup of tea. Transport is often by small plane and your luggage must follow suit. In Botswana, for example, bags are limited to 24 inches long, and wheels are prohibited. There are often strict weight limits as well. Prior to your trip, you’ll receive clear guidelines. Don’t fret; camps usually offer free same-day laundry service, making it easier to pack light.
Two male lions almost hidden by high grass at sunrise, Okavango Delta, Botswana--An African Safari is it Right for You? A Guide to an Ultimate Dream Holiday --The Insatiable Traveler

Two male lions almost hidden by high grass at sunrise, Okavango Delta, Botswana

How to book your trip

To plan your perfect trip, I recommend two strategies: Booking directly through a safari company that owns its own camps or consult with a travel specialist. African safaris are one of the few trips that benefit from the knowledge of someone in-the-know. Each camp has its own personality and attributes, and there are transport nuances that require prior experience to be successful the first time around.

Organizations I love with their own camps who can help you directly include: AndBeyond, Great Plains Conservation and Sanctuary Retreats. They’ll brief you on the best camps to visit based on your desired country, activities, timing, and budget.


Specialists I know and have worked with are:

Dan or Nina Saperstein at Hippo Creek Safaris based in New Jersey.

Cathy Holler at African Dreams a division of Tully Luxury Travel based in Toronto.

Linda Friedman at Custom Safaris based in Washington D.C.

If you want to concentrate on wildlife photography, I recommend Wild Eye a photographic safaris company based in South Africa.


If you have any questions about safaris don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. If I cannot provide the answer I’ll speak to someone who can.

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37 replies »

  1. I am planning on a trip to Tanzania. My first time in Africa. What I wonder about is what kind of photo equipment I should bring. I want to take great pictures but then I might have to carry a huge bag around for 4 weeks… But you write that packing lightly is essential for safaris. Plus, I will probably be travelling some of the time completely self-organinized and independent. So how does that look when I as a tourist walk around with an oversized camera bag all the time? Do you have any suggestions? I was wondering whether a small but good camera might me an alternative, but I have no knowledge on that so far. Maybe I can use camera stills as photos later?

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  2. Honestly Safari was something not much on my immediate list, yet I feel after reading your post that I should increase its priority! I like to travel solo, and it’s a great relief to know that its’ completely safe that way too. I guess need to plan for it soon, wonderful tips 🙂

    • It will truly blow your mind, and as a solo traveler, I can tell you it’s a fabulous adventure for someone alone. Best of both worlds. Independence as well as interesting people to meet. Very safe.

  3. Thank you for such a beautiful post. Your photos are amazing and make me want to book a safari immediately! I had no idea there were fenced and unfenced camps, I definitely would want to stay in an unfenced camp! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Kate. Safari is a true gift to oneself. There’s nothing like it and it will stay with you forever.

      • Thank you for sharing your experience and these gorgeous pictures especially for those of us who have yet to be on one! Ahhh I can not wait to go on one! Thanks for the advice! <3 🙂

    • Definitely go! You’ll be so very happy you did. It’s not the cheapest trip but worth every penny and then some.

  4. Colombia es un país maravilloso, tiene muchos potenciales turísticos, se definen muchas etapas productivas para que la gente salga adelante, se desarrolle sin muchas complicaciones. Yo no estaría dispuesto a exterminar la flora y la fauna que conforman la biodiversidad

  5. Susan, I loved this post! And I so agree with you….Africa is addictive and I do not believe there is a cure for it! Well, maybe going regularly helps! Cheers!

    • These shots are from various trips but if you haven’t considered an African Safari before, I HIGHLY recommend it. 🙂

  6. Hello Susan,

    You and I corresponded via your blog last year about my family going on safari, and I now have a rough estimate of when and where we would like to go. We’re thinking of Tanzania for 10 days or so, during June, July, or August to experience the Great Migration. There are four of us traveling, two being 13-14 years old. I like the idea of a more private safari as opposed to a large group. Do you have other recommendations aside from Hippo Creek? I see they haven’t been active in their blog as of late. Your blog continues to be such a delight and I’m fascinated as to how you even make dung beetles intriguing!

    Sincerely,
    Whitney

    • Hi Whitney! How exciting. I am thrilled that you are going to go. I’m heading back to Kenya myself on Monday.
      Hippo Creek (Dan & Nina) is a travel company and they don’t have a blog as far as I know, so I’m wondering if there is another Hippo Creek something out there. Also, if you want to see river crossings I would make it Kenya not Tanzania during those months. Linda Friedman at Custom Safaris is lovely and if you’d rather go through on organization, Sanctuary Retreats can set up a safari for you with their camps or AndBeyond that can sell their camps as well as others. If you speak to Hippo Creek or Custom Safaris, please let them know we spoke. Let me know if this is what you needed, if not, I’m happy to give you more info. 🙂

      • Thank you for your speedy reply and recommendations. I will check out those companies, but am wondering if you’re familiar with Africa Dream Safaris?…I’ve been looking into them as well. Have a fantastic and safe journey back to Kenya!…can’t wait to see your new posts!

      • No problem Whitney.. I’m not familiar with Africa Dream Safaris but there are many great outfitters I don’t know about. Let me know what you end up doing and thanks for the good luck!

Would love to hear from you!