Many travellers dream of going on an African safari. The chance to see the continent’s diverse wildlife in a natural setting is enticing and thrilling. But while the idea’s easy to embrace, it can be hard to pin down the detail. There’s so much choice that planning a safari can seem daunting. If you’re finding it hard to know where to begin, Mundana’s guide to how to pull off the perfect African safari is essential reading. Here’s what you need to know.
Where to go if you’re a first timer
If this is your first safari, then opt for somewhere well-established. It’s likely to reward you with plenty of wildlife sightings. One of the best places on the planet for safaris is East Africa. Tanzania and Kenya both boast national parks that are home to large concentrations of animals. No safari company will ever guarantee sightings – this isn’t a zoo – but if you choose to visit somewhere such as the Masai Mara or the Serengeti then you’d be extremely unlucky not to see some wildlife on a game drive. Patience is key, though. Manage your expectations as you’ll still need a little luck to tick off everything on your list. Once you’ve caught the bug, there is a plethora of other African countries that offer private and group safaris. Try Chobe and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, for instance, or explore the reserves and national parks of South Africa and Namibia.
Do some research about the wildlife you’re keen to see
There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to safari planning. Some national parks are especially good for seeing certain types of wildlife. If you’re a big fan of giraffes, for example, you’ll be happy you picked Murchison Falls in Uganda. Similarly, if you’ve always dreamed of seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat then Rwanda is a smart choice. There is a high concentration of elephants in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Huge herds are also found in Chobe National Park, Botswana. If it’s giraffes you’re after, make your way to Etosha in Namibia, where these ungainly long-necked creatures are often seen drinking from the area’s pools. Zebras are commont here too. For an easy introduction to the “Big Five”, try Kruger in South Africa, where it won’t take long to tick off buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros.
Boost your chance of wildlife-spotting by getting your timing right
One of the most crucial aspects to planning the perfect African safari is timing. Many popular safari destinations have distinct seasons and these can impact on wildlife viewing opportunities. In wet season, rivers can swell and dirt roads might become impassable. Time your trip for dry season and animals concentrate their efforts on finding water. Take a game drive to a watering hole or river bank and your memory card will be full before you know it. Vegetation also thins at this time of year, making it simpler to spot wildlife without their leafy camouflage.
If you’re keen to witness the Great Migration, then you’ll need to figure out where the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra are most likely to be as they make their way from the Serengeti over the border to the Masai River and back again. Regardless of when you visit, a knowledgeable local ranger is a must. You’ll see more and also be a lot safer in the company of someone who knows the landscape and its wildlife. If you can afford it, opt for a private guide who can cater for your own needs and wishlist.
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Consider visiting a wildlife sanctuary
Across Africa, wildlife is under threat. Climate change, population growth and poaching all take their toll and certain species are critically endangered. Scattered across the continent, you’ll find privately run wildlife sanctuaries that are doing their bit to nurture, conserve and educate. Showing your support through a donation or a visit is an easy way to do your bit too. On the edge of the Kenya capital Nairobi, you can call in to meet the orphaned elephants being cared for by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as they rehabilitate them before releasing them back into the wild. Pre-booked guests can watch the babies receive their bottles of milk and play in the mud, but you’ll need to grab a slot well in advance as they sell out fast. If big cats are more your thing, try Africat at Okonjima Nature Reserve or the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. There, you can learn about the challenges facing leopards and cheetahs.
Be prepared for early starts
One of the downsides of going on safari is that you have to be prepared to get up early. Early mornings are typically when the wildlife is at its most active. Those who sleep in will miss out on the action. Take that into consideration when choosing your safari lodge or tented camp. You’re most likely going to want to take leisurely lunches, relax beside the pool with a good book or indulge in a middle of the day nap. In some parts of Africa, early starts also mean you could be heading out in an open-sided vehicle when it’s cold. Thoughtful providers will supply knee blankets and flasks of hot drinks to keep you more comfortable. Layer up so you can shed a jacket or fleece when the sun warms up and check out our guide to packing for a safari to find out what else you might need.
Book an add-on
The disruption to your normal routine from those early starts (not to mention those bumpy roads) can be a little tiring. Mundana’s travel experts know how that feels, so we recommend booking an add-on for the end of your stay. Travellers to Tanzania, for instance, could consider a beach break on the idyllic spice island of Zanzibar, while in Uganda you could journey to the source of the River Nile. If you’re heading further south, perhaps combine your safari with a city break in glorious Cape Town, where you can hop on the gondola on Table Mountain for one of the most extraordinary views anywhere in Africa. Equally breathtaking is a visit to the mighty Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. There, you can swim in the Devil’s Pool, andbungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River.
Why not take the plunge and ask Mundana to help you plan the perfect African safari? Be warned, though – safaris are addictive. Once you’ve taken one, you’ll be itching to book another.
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