The Ultimate Dream Holiday: Is an African Safari Right for You?

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

Who doesn’t want to go on their dream holiday? The question is, what does that mean to you? For me, it means an African safari, a spectacular, otherworldly experience, that (and I warn you), left me wanting more. So much so, that after my first trip to South Africa, I went to Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia.

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

Is a Safari Right 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.)

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

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 was 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 is Standard

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.

It’s Great for 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 for Your Dream Holiday 

  • 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.

43 thoughts on “The Ultimate Dream Holiday: Is an African Safari Right for You?

  1. Maureen Reilly says:

    This post is extremely informative and accurate – I wish I’d found it before our first safari trip a couple of years ago. Your comment about it being “the most thrilling scavenger hunt you’ll ever undertake” is the perfect description. We lost all sense of time while out on game drives – you might search for hours and it feels like minutes. When you suddenly come upon a sleeping lion or a pack of painted wolves, you can stop for hours and feel like you haven’t taken a breath the whole time. It feeds the soul in a way nothing else does; for us anyway.

    A couple of additional recommendations from my limited experience – booking far in advance, up to a year even, is strongly recommended to get exactly what you want. Popular camps book up very early. Also, try not to come with a checklist of animals you want to see – with limited time, you could be missing amazing sightings while your guide drives around looking for the specific animal you’ve asked to find. Our best sightings were almost always happy accidents – like turning a corner (sounds weird but it really happened like that) and finding a pack of painted wolves, with 14 pups! finishing up breakfast. Also, having breakfast ‘on the road’ so to speak, allows you to start your drive early enough to see the busy morning animal ‘activities’. Later in the mornings, the predators have usually fed and are sleeping it off so harder to find. Lastly, I know that multiple camps and 2-3 nights in each is popular but be aware of the time you’ll spend in transit – it can be quite long because you leave camp in a truck that takes you to an air strip where you board a small plane which may make multiple stops before you arrive at your destination. And it may take multiple transport modes, with multiple interim waits, particularly if crossing borders, as we did. Something to be aware of when booking to be sure you’re getting the most amount of time possible actually on safari.

    Thanks for your posts, Susan. You’re an incredible writer as well as photographer. Can’t wait for the next one!

  2. Charisma says:

    Hi there! I’m just starting to do research for our honeymoon and this is exactly what we’re looking for! Thanks for this!

    We’re hoping to see the great migration and are planning to travel to the Serengeti. Our trip will be in early to mid July. Any recommendations for where we should go? We’re deciding between Kenya and Tanzania. I’ve read somewhere else that we would have better luck with Kenya but I’d like to hear your thoughts! Also, any specific recommendations for companies we should look into?

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Hi Charisma – I’m so glad you found the article helpful.

      I agree that you are most likely to have success with the migration in Kenya in July. In regard to companies to suggest, are you looking for a recommendation for a travel specialist (which is what I would recommend first) or specific owner/operators in Kenya. I can suggest both but want to make sure I understand what you want. It might be easier for us to speak over email. Perhaps you could answer me through my blog’s Contact page and we can go from there? 🙂

  3. SommerKunst says:

    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?

    • Lorenda Beumont says:

      Some camps (high end) have camera equipment that guest can use. In South Africa, Botswana and Kenya there are, and I’m sure in Tanzania too. Perhaps the &Beyond camps. In Bots and Kenya the Great Plains camps (Zarafa in Bots is fabulous). In SA, Londolozi ( and probably a few others).

      If you want to stay in remote camps where you will be flying to in small plane and are a very keen photographer, look for camps that allow guests to hire (not sure if there would be additional cost) camera equipment. The luggage restrictions on small planes are tight.

      However, of course you may take your own equipment. You carry-on bag must be soft (no HARD suitcases or frames allowed). The planes are SMALL!!

      Enjoy your safari – it will change you, and prepare yourself for the Africa addiction. There is no cure for the Africa bug’s bite.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Thank you very much for checking out my blog post. And I truly appreciate that you feel positive enough towards my site that you would want to nominate me.

  4. Shibani says:

    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 🙂

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      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.

  5. Michelle says:

    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! 🙂

    • Susan Portnoy says:

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

      • K.M. Sutton says:

        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 🙂

  6. tecnicotaGustavo Salazar Longas says:

    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

  7. Angelyn says:

    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!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

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

  8. Whitney says:

    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!


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