You’ve seen the David Attenborough nature documentary, bought a pair of binoculars that cost more than an entry level car and you’ve had all your shots. Before you board the plane to Africa, read this first.
Leave the pith helmet at home
There is no need to look like an extra from Out of Africa when you’re on safari. I always get amused when I see first-time African travellers dressed from top to toe in khaki, some complete with correspondent jackets. And yes, I’ve seen someone wear a pith helmet as well (although I’m not sure if it was done ironically). Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, three pairs of chinos, linen or cargo pants, two pairs of shorts, a few shirts and T-shirts in light neutral colors and a wide-brimmed hat would be more than enough. Think basics that you would wear on an outdoor holiday at home. You don’t have to splurge out on fancy safari gear that will end up in the closet back home after your journey. Pack light and leave the leopard print coat at home at well, unless you’re okay with the local travellers sniggering behind your back.
It gets cold, really cold in Africa
Yes, we know the brochure says the average temperature is 90 degrees in the shade, but keep in mind that most game viewing activities get conducted on an open game viewing vehicle, just after dawn in the morning and just before dusk. Throw in a wind chill factor, and your teeth will be chattering in no time. In winter the temperature can fall below freezing, especially in desert areas. Most safari lodges do provide blankets and fleece-lined ponchos on their vehicles, but I will strongly recommend that you pack some warm clothes as well, even if you’re going to the equator. A warm but light fleece jacket, scarves and beanie hat will serve you well. Dress in layers on the safari vehicle, you can peel the clothes off as it gets warmer.
It’s not all about the Big Five
Everybody wants to see a lion, leopard and elephant on their safari and your game ranger will probably go out of his way to show you these majestic animals. However, if you’re only looking out for the big, famous animals, your safari will be a very shallow experience. A game ranger once gave me a fascinating lecture about dung beetles and how these little guys use the stars to navigate. Or just stopping and taking the time to study the vivid colors of a lilac breasted roller, one of Southern Africa’s most common but beautiful birds. If you are patient and look deeper, Mama Africa is always willing to reward you.
You might strike it lucky…or not
Going on safari is a bit of a gamble; it is not like going to the zoo and knowing that you are going to see a lion, elephant and rhino, all in one afternoon. Game viewing is dependent on so many things; the time of day, the time of year, seasons, and the weather. During a recent visit to the Central Kalahari Game reserve in Botswana we saw very little game, despite it being one of Africa’s best parks to view predators. On a former visit, it was quite different. Ebony maned lions reclined under every second acacia tree. Cheetahs pranced on the savannah. It’s the luck of the draw. And as most rangers tell you, the more you want to see an animal, the less are your chances of spotting it in the wild.