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Top tips for your first safari

If you’ve booked your first ever safari, or are in the early stages of planning it, the excitement will already be building. You’re probably dreaming of the landscapes, the animals and birds that you’ll see, and the life affirming experiences you’ll share with your guides and travelling companions. There are plenty of practical considerations during the preparation stage, too. Your destination specialist will likely take care of the majority of these, but you’ll certainly want to make sure that you’ve got travel insurance, checked in with the travel nurse about any vaccinations and malaria tablets that you need, sorted out who is going to feed the cat whilst you’re away, and so on. I have recalled some of my first safaris to give you the most useful tips to help you prepare. From clothing to guides, these are the things you need to know for your first safari. Clothes Bring stout shoes, long trousers, and long-sleeved shirts for those chilly nights and bush walks where you might get scratched by thorny plants or bitten by insects. It is recommended you wear neutral coloured clothes to blend in with your environment: anything beige, brown, or green will be perfect. This will increase your chance of seeing an animal up close. Don’t forget a hat with a wide brim, either: it can get very hot in the daytime, and the last thing you want is to get burnt or suffer from sunstroke. Equipment Don’t burden yourself down with equipment, but make sure you know how to use what you have. Guides will generally have professional quality binoculars you can borrow, so your priority will be your camera. A compact camera, smartphone, or small DSLR with an 18-200mm lens will be more than adequate for most people; only pack a tripod, specialist lenses, filters etc. if you take your photography very seriously. Whichever camera you choose, make sure you have a large memory card, plus a spare, the battery and charger, the appropriate plug adapter (NB South Africa uses different sockets to everywhere else!), and a lens cleaning cloth to wipe away dust and smears. Early starts Your days are going to start early! The birds and animals wake at dawn and tend to be most active whilst the day is still cool. This means that you will typically be woken at 5 AM, usually by a lovely member of staff bringing you coffee and biscuits. The early morning is definitely the best time of day for bush walks and boat safaris, and there are good game viewing opportunities during game drives, too. You can compensate for the early starts by having an afternoon siesta when it’s hot, and by going to bed relatively early at night. Trust your guides You need to listen, and trust your guides. They are the experts. The know what they are doing, and often have been doing it for a decade or more. Listening to your guide is a matter of safety – they may have seen, heard, or smelt something that you haven’t – but they also rely on their experience and intuition to get the most extraordinary sightings for you.   Ask questions Your safari isn’t just an amazing holiday, it is also an incredible opportunity to learn new things. The more questions you ask, the more you will find out about the different aspects of the extraordinary ecosystems surrounding you. Your guides and trackers have a wealth of knowledge, which often stretches from plant biology to animal behaviour, geology to folklore. Draw upon their encyclopaedic minds! No question is ever too stupid, and you’ll have a far richer experience if you delve into the fascinating small details your guide can impart. Laura Burdett-Munns is Managing Director at Africa Exclusive. Africa Exclusive has been creating the finest tailor-made safaris since 1990, specialising in luxurious accommodation in beautiful remote places. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. I’d like to add a little to the clothing. Africa can be surprisingly chilly on both morning and night game drives. Also suddenly storms can appear from nowhere so be prepared for all eventualities.

  2. Take gloves or a hat with you! It can be quite cold in Africa in the early morning when on safari! or guide called it a ‘Ferrari safari’ when they’ve been announced a sighting and try to get there as fast as possible. The speed causes a lot of wind in an open vehicle and that can be quite chilly!

  3. Excellent advice, we did 16 safaris mostly in Kruger National Park. Mornings were a little cool but warm up mid morning, the guides are all awesome, definitely ask questions they will hladly share their knowledge with you. Tip them well!! I can’t stress this enough. Most only work for tips. The experience was the best I’ve ever had, lifetime memories you will never ever forget.

  4. Although you don’t want to spoil the excitement and fun of a safari it is worth doing some research before you travel. Take a look at a map and get some sense of the distances that you are going to travel. It is also worth doing some research on the area’s history. Also pitch your expectations at the right level which animals are you likely to see and which are rare?

    1. It helps to know a bit about the area’s history / politics. You don’t want to be saying the wrong things to the wrong people. They might not put ice in your sundowner.

  5. Two people I used to go to school with about 15 years ago went on safari, then they ended up returning about 3 or 4 times for several weeks each time as they loved it so much, so they helped out there to help pay for the stay. A good point about considering a compact camera or smaller DSLR as I think too much equipment would really weigh you down and be such a nuisance, distracting you from enjoying the experience while you’re too busy trying to lug around lenses and tripods. As for the early mornings, I can’t think of a better way to be woken at 5am than by animals and birds.

  6. I think that there is a danger that you can let the photography get in the way of enjoying the safari. For my first safari I took a lot of heavy camera equipment and was obsessed with creating an album of pictures. Of course I never look at that safari.

    Recently, I took went on another safari and just took my phone to use as a camera. I’ve got to say that just looking with my own eyes has created more enduring memories than capturing everything on film.

  7. Packing the right type of clothing is very important in trips like this. Tourists have to consider not just the weather but also the kind of environment they will be exploring. I also advice that before heading to the area, tourists must do a brief research of what should they expect so they can prepare for it as well. Trips like these are also chance to be in touch with nature and its beauty. We must learn to appreciate it and do something to show our care for it.

  8. Probably the best tip that I can give for a first safari is stop reading this and book it immediately.

    I’ve only just been on my first safari and I regret not having gone sooner. There’s nothing quite like it. You feel so close to nature and so alive when you are on a safari. I just can’t understand people who spend their holidays with their eyes shut on a sun-lounger. If you really want to chill out on a beach you can usually easily take on a beach holiday afterwards. Though I’d rather go on another safari. Go on, book it now!

  9. For once a nice piece that goes right back to basics. Not only am I hoping to do my first safari this year, it will also be my first visit to Africa. As it’s my first travel adventure out of Europe I will need all the help and advice I can get. Getting more and more excited by the week.

  10. You’d definitely want to be prepared for something like this. I see a safari as a once in a lifetime kind of thing but I’ve known people who have done it a few times in Africa. I think they caught the bug because once you’ve seen it you can’t wait to go back for more. And there must be so much to explore and new things to see each time. I’d definitely want to invest in a better camera and that’s a good point about asking questions, not to feel shy or embarrassed at not knowing things because the whole experience would be a learning curve if you’ve never been before.

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