Are you seeking a ferociously good holiday? Then its time to jump aboard an open roof safari vehicle and let your senses run wild as you rattle and bounce your way across the dry savannah plains in search of Africa’s most famed wildlife.
The word "safari" conjures up thoughts and emotions of adventure, noble lions, big open spaces, khaki and a place that is wild and untamed.
Back in May I was fortunate enough to go on a camping safari in Botswana, with my sister, exploring the Okavango Delta, Moremi and Chobe National Park.
“There is language going on out there - the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression... We have yet to become fluent in the language - and music - of the wild.” - Boyd Norton
The three nights we spent camping (yes in a pitched tent) in the middle of the National Park was by far one of the most amazing experiences of my life. No fences between us and the animals, just a deep respect for these wild creatures, a strict adherence to the park rules combined with awareness to never let down our guard. One small mistake and we could have been dinner.
At night we had lions stalk out our site, hyenas sniff the perimeter of our tent while hippos grunted and loudly munched on green leaves within spitting distance of our heads. Yes this was all happening outside the tent while my sister and I were balled up in a foetal position not sure whether to cry, scream out to our guide or focus on some relaxation breathing techniques.
Our guide Moses often looked at us with bemusement; he had a talent for reading animal behaviour and was ingenious in predicting what a city slicker would do next. Yes I made all the rookie mistakes like thinking I would spot a lion as soon as we drove into the reserve, deliberately not wearing khaki to avoid looking like a wannabe and thinking that every rustle in the bush was an animal wanting to eat me.
However I am happy to report that I took my rookie errors in my stride and reflecting back I realise that I am now just a little bit wiser on what to do and what not to do while on safari. So here are my top 8 tips for other safari virgins:
Keep a low profile: For the best chance of spotting wildlife stay inconspicuous at all times. Don’t even think about packing that neon coloured t-shirt, even if it is in vogue, bright colours will draw attention to you in the wrong kind of way. Be conservative and pack khaki or neutral coloured clothes which will make you less visible to the animals and help keep you cool from the African heat. A suggestion of khaki is by no means granting you permission to wear that cliché big-game-hunter safari outfit, that’s unless you want disconcerting smirks from fellow travellers.
Be quiet: Spot like a leopard, silent and stealthy. Don’t incessantly talk, share your know-it-all knowledge, tell bad jokes or irritatingly laugh, it not only scares the animals but it also annoys your fellow travellers (we can hear you even if you are in a different vehicle to us). The quieter you can be the more chance you have of sneaking up on some of the shyer game.
Be patient. Be mindful that you are not in the zoo and that your guide may need a little extra time to track the big game, the animals are wild and roaming after all. Remain patient and quiet, you're guaranteed of a more authentic viewing experience if the animals aren't reacting to you. Get comfortable with the idea that those idyllic animal encounters you so desperately crave could happen within minutes, hours, days or not at all. No matter what happens on safari, one thing is guaranteed, you will always take something of substance home with you.
Obey the rules: There aren’t many rules on safari and the few that do exist are there to keep you safe. The big one is to ensure you keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times and refrain from standing up. The logic behind this is that animals look at the car as one unit (or animal) and if you alter its shape then that could be enough for some animals to become curious and investigate. The other main rule is to never leave the vehicle except with the permission of a ranger/guide; the reason behind this is pretty self-explanatory.
Do a guided mobile camping safari: Camping in the middle of the bush where the wild things roam is an experience that will wake you up. There are no other tourists in sight, it’s just a vast space of pristine wilderness, and not knowing what lingers in the nearby bushes suddenly puts your senses on high alert. You realise how small and insignificant you are and get a new found respect for the animals that survive solely on their instinct. Don’t worry; camping is much safer than one would have you think. Read about my guided mobile Safari in Moremi and Chobe
Treat yourself to a little luxury: Africa knows how to roll out the five star treatment. Staying in a permanent tent that has a crystal chandelier, spa bath and a personal platform to sip wine and view the wildlife is something that can’t be simulated anywhere else in the world. Do yourself a favour and book in for at least a night or two. Your adventure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if you skimp and don’t make the most of Africa’s offerings then you will live to regret it later. Book early and you may qualify for an early bird discount.
Put your camera down. So you’re sporting a camera that Ken Duncan would be proud to own and you are now on the hunt to snap that winning photo that will make it on the cover of National Geographic. Don’t become so focused on getting ‘the shot’ that you forget to observe life in Africa. There are endless great photo opportunities to be had, do yourself a favour and take time away from the lens so that you can experience the wild with all five of your senses.
Have a guide: A good guide can make or break a safari. Don’t go on some frenzied hunt to track down the cheapest guide out there, the best guides come at a price and are worth every penny you pay. They have years of experience in the area, know how to track the animals and most importantly they will keep you safe. While self-driving can save you money it may not necessarily be the best or safest option. If you are looking for a professional guide Unlimited Safaris is renowned for being one of the best, we went with Moses in Moremi and can’t say enough good things about the experience he gave us. In Chobe we went with Anthony, he was super great also. Anthony has a small guide business and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org
“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it?" - Brian Jackman
No matter how you decide to safari the most important thing you can do is enjoy and savour the experience. Put your good fortune to use by sharing your African encounters with your friends and family, helping to raise awareness of just how magical Africa is and the importance of protecting the animals from poachers and other threats such as habitat loss. Enjoy your safari.
***This article was originally written by Claire to be posted on the Expedia Travel Blog