I’m certainly no expert, but after experiencing a few safaris I believe it should be on everyone’s bucket list. Witnessing wild animals in their own neighborhood brings sheer awe and joy to adults and children alike. There’s so much to see, small and large, beautiful and ugly, but the “Big Five” are the coveted creatures that visitors want to spot – the elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros. When I am bumping across the stunning savannah or lush forests in a Land Cruiser with the top popped up, my eyes peeled for another creature, I feel like life is simpler and we can truly see God’s handiwork without any interference from man.
1. Prepare to be amazed.
The African landscape is stunning, and it’s only outdone by the magnificent animals. Up close and in their natural habitat, safari visitors get to see what wildlife really looks, interacts and lives like. I’m always surprised to see different species co-habitating – lions and rhinos, baboons and impalas, warthogs and zebras. Without fences, cages or manmade boundaries, this is the best way for humans to experience animals up close.
2. But spotting isn’t always easy.
You will see an unbelievable number of animals on your safari, guaranteed. From the plentiful and hilarious warthogs to the lumbering, majestic elephants, your guide should be well-versed and experienced in tracking and showing you everything (ask for the longest tenured guide when booking your trip). But, don’t be disappointed if you don’t spot a cat on your first day, or even your first safari trip. They are elusive, but it builds the anticipation and keeps everyone on their toes as they peer out the windows, searching high and low for a sly cat snoozing on a tree limb or sunning in the long savannah grass. Rhinos can also be hard to find as there are fewer and fewer in the world and in every national park.
3. The investment is worth it. Don’t skimp.
While there are budget options for safaris like camping in tents and self-driving, we’ve always found it’s worth the investment for expertise, comfort and peace of mind to book our safari with a reputable company. There are many online, so do your research, read reviews and, if possible, use a personal recommendation when choosing your safari company. There are various options for accommodations and levels of service, but we found we enjoy “glamping” in tented cabins. These soft-sided tents give the outdoor vibe and safari ambience but have real beds, hardwood floors and a fully-functioning ensuite bathroom.
For most safaris, kids under 12 are half price or reduced, an incentive to take them while they are young! However, I wouldn’t recommend younger than 7 or 8 years old, because they need to be able to stay quiet and contained in the vehicle for several hours at a time. Always check with your tour company as some have age restrictions.
4. Enjoy every moment. Even the early ones.
Usually your guide recommends departing your camp before sunrise to see lots of morning activity. Plan for an afternoon nap and agree to an early start. Some of our favorite moments came early. When we safaried one spring, we witnessed a newborn baby gazelle—just about 30 minutes old— leaning on wobbly legs beside his mama. While it may not feel like vacation when you are setting your alarm, the reward is observing animals out in the open and active.
5. Expect the unexpected.
We’ve witnessed some pretty unexpected sights while on safari, and you have to be ready for anything. One night our guide interrupted our pre-dinner cocktails with news of a kill, so we hopped into the Land Cruiser and spied on two lions feasting on antelope dinner. On our most recent safari, our 10-year-old son got a firsthand science lesson when our guide brought us to a pride of lions and we watched a female and male mating…talk about a Nat Geo moment!
One afternoon, we were surprised to encounter a break in our day when our 4×4 got stuck in some serious mud. Instead of fretting or being frustrated by the slowdown, we chose to take in the scenery (nothing dangerous nearby, thankfully!) and count it as another part of the adventure. Trust your guide to take good care of you and enjoy whatever unexpected turn of events comes your way.