I grew up in Africa. Now I live elsewhere yet I’ve re-visited countless times, as both tourist and travel writer. So I’ve got a good idea about what choices help contribute to a top safari experience.
A wildlife safari is the most popular of Africa holiday options. You can choose a luxury lodge safari, a camping safari, a fishing or canoeing safari, do it by train or even on elephant back. It’s your choice how you’ll bed down for the night, which ranges from outlandishly luxurious and exclusive in a private game lodge or permanent tented camps to mobile treks during which you pitch your own tent, do some cooking and help wash up. Whatever comfort level you select, at some time do make sure you walk on the wild side.
Best foot forward: A safari should involve getting to close grips with Africa. One way to ensure this happens is to spend time walking through the bush with an experienced, armed ranger because, unquestionably, doing it on foot is the most thrilling way to see wild creatures. On foot, a rhino or elephant at 100 paces will appear to be twice the size – and doubly dangerous – to one viewed from the relative safety of a Landrover. A walk on the wild side provides the most heart-thumping moments and also the most treasured memories. Always ask about your chances of walking in the bush when booking your adventure.
Sleep under canvas: Opt for the tented camp. Nothing beats the sensation of having just a thin sheet of canvas between you and any creatures roaming through the campsite at night. I’ve slept in the most fabulous lodges and although I have enjoyed the comfort, food and fine service, all too often I’ve felt far removed from what I consider the real thing.
Go wet: Choose a camp near or beside water, if not a river then at least a waterhole. The presence of water practically guarantees the presence of animals. The end of the dry season, between October and January, sees all sorts close to rivers and waterholes in numbers not witnessed at other times of the year.
Big ain’t always best: Small is equally beautiful. You’ll hear people bang on about the Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo – a grouping of the most prized trophies for 19th Century hunters. And naturally you want to see these animals. But often the tiny things can be most fascinating, especially when no big creatures can be easily seen. In this respect it’s crucial to have a guide able to point out and explain the ecology of small things, whether they be plants or insects.
Don’t expect to sleep in: Africa is at its best at first light, which brings birdsong, a lightening sky and aroused sensibilities. Thorny black silhouettes transform into acacias with grey trunks, gnarled branches, dark green foliage and spiky thorns. Morning game drives require pre-dawn starts as wild animals are most the move during the first hours of each day.