As someone who’s been to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia multiple times, I feel at least somewhat qualified to provide these tips to the first time safari traveler. Follow these tips and your safari adventure will be unforgettable!
- On game runs, I always liked to sit at the front of the vehicle so I could hear the ranger and tracker better. In my experience, the rangers are the ones who have the formal training, but the trackers know more. So ask the trackers lots of questions!
- Always lock the door to your room at the lodge or the monkeys will get in!
- Don’t miss the nature walks the rangers provide in the afternoon — they are fascinating.
- At night while at the lodges, DO NOT WALK AROUND OUTDOORS UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY A RANGER OR OTHER ARMED STAFF MEMBER.
- Use LOTS of sunscreen — even when it doesn’t feel hot, the sun is much stronger than it is here.
- You might want to take a cheap extra camera in case yours gets lost or stolen. It’s very expensive to buy a new one in Southern Africa.
- For game runs, dress in layers so you’re warmer in the early morning and then can peel off layers as it gets warmer outside.
- It is VERY COLD on the morning game drives. 40 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t uncommon, plus you’re in an open vehicle that’s moving. Dress accordingly. Gloves! Scarves!
- Don’t stand up in the vehicle. Don’t be too noisy in the vehicle. Always listen to your guide and tracker while in the vehicle.
- If you should happen to come across a lion while on foot, DO NOT RUN. Back slowly away.
- Hippos are very dangerous. What looks like a cute yawn is actually a warning. And you don’t want to be warned by a hippo because by that time it’s too late — you can’t outrun them. A good rule of thumb is to keep your distance and especially never get between a hippo and the water, as that will freak a hippo out. And a freaked out hippo is a dangerous hippo.
- While in Johannesburg, if there’s any way you can take a short tour of SOWETO, do it by all means. You may hear that it’s dangerous, but I’ve been several times and didn’t find it so.
- South Africans will probably try to convince you to try something called biltong. It’s a kind of jerky made of various dried meats and they’re quite proud of it. You may want to try it — it won’t hurt you. But, in my estimation, it tastes kind of like dried dirt.
- At lodges, there will be lots of baboons around, looking for human food. They get used to being around people and can seem almost tame. They’re not tame — in fact they can be incredibly aggressive. DO NOT APPROACH THE BABOONS! Same goes for the hyenas.
- When you’re in the bush, make sure to take note of the sky at night. The stars are SO much brighter than in the Northern Hemisphere, and there’s no light pollution to get in the way of seeing the starts at their best.
E.T. Carlton is a freelance writer who has around the world traveled extensively