What to Expect on Your First African Safari

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“Experience an African safari” is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that tops almost every traveler’s bucket list. It’s wild, exhilarating, and unlike anything else on earth. But, before you embark on your first safari, there are a few things you should know.

Set Your Wake-Up Alarm Early

Most lodges host two daily game drives — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Morning drives run very early: expect to start around 5:00 a.m. Because the drives typically last between 4-6 hours, this scheduling is done to avoid the blazing midday heat (and trust us, it’s worth it). If you’re the sort who frequently oversleeps, set a backup alarm because most lodges simply won’t wait if you’re a no-show.

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Pack Smart & Layer Up

Remember to pack in layers. Before sunrise, Africa can be surprisingly cold, even frigid, with temperatures dipping into the 40s Fahrenheit in some places like Kruger National Park. Once the sun comes up, however, it heats up fast. Moisture-wicking clothing is your friend — it’s lightweight, packs down small, and can be easily layered for warmth.

Silence Your Gear

Imagine: your game driver spots a rare African leopard. As you inch ever closer to the beautiful creature, relaxing calmly in a nearby tree: SKKKKKRAAAAATCH! One of your safari cohorts tears open his camera bag to dig for a zoom lens, scaring the cat off into the brush for good. This happens more than you might expect, so don’t be the one who makes this mistake. Pay attention to the gear you bring and, most importantly, make sure you can use everything silently. This means leaving anything with Velcro (or other noisy closures) — camera bags, pants pockets, or water bottle holsters — at home. Your safari mates will thank you.

Prepare to Be Fully Exposed

Televised African expeditions depict carloads of cameramen and TV personalities riding in enclosed, air-conditioned, and (mostly) secure Land Rovers. While some lodges indeed use such vehicles, most are open-top and exposed to the elements. Prepare for every day to be fully exposed to the African sun — pack ample sunscreen and dress accordingly. Also, remember the lack of windows is much better for photographing and incidents between wildlife and humans are virtually non-existent. It is, of course, in every safari lodge’s best interest for their guests not to get eaten.

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Be Patient

Nature is unpredictable, but isn’t that part of the fun? The only way to guarantee you’ll see The Big 5 (that’s elephants, lions, leopards, African buffalo, and black rhinos to the layman) is to visit your local zoo. While on safari, be patient and keep your eyes peeled during every drive. The wildlife, particularly on the open African plains, is incredibly well adapted and camouflaged. You’ll likely miss ten times as many animals as you see. But, that just makes those rare, close-up shots of a leopard or sleeping lion all the better because you had to earn them.