Safari Travel Tips and Advice
Find out when to go, what to bring, what to avoid, and general travel tips that will make your African safari more rewarding and enjoyable. If you book with us, we will also send you a detailed safari guide which will give you plenty of useful information for your safari, including information about tipping, what to do if you need the toilet while on a game drive, the daily itinerary you can expect, and lots more.
For the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office including security and local laws, plus passport and visa information click here.
What is the best time of year for safari?
Each season and each area is different, and your interests may affect which time of year is best to go. Generally, the dry season (May to October in Southern Africa) is considered best for game viewing, because the animals congregate near water sources. The bush is dry, the grass trampled down and many trees and shrubs have lost their leaves, so visibility is good.
That said, the bush is at its most beautiful during the rainy season, from November to April. Everything is lush and green. Migratory birds return which makes summer the best time for birdwatching. Many animals have their young in November and December, when there is an abundance of water and fresh new grass. This makes for some excellent game viewing, and the predators also make the most of this season of abundance. To find out what to expect in each season, have a look at our safari travel calendars for different areas.
Another consideration is what else you plan to do on your trip to Africa. If you plan to visit Cape Town or spend some time at the beach, generally the warmer months from September to early May are best for this. At Victoria Falls, the Zambian side of the falls is completely dry from around September to November. Our travel calendars provide more detail on each season and when to visit.
Self-drive or guided safari?
Some game reserves, like the Kruger National Park, can easily be visited on a self-drive basis. So how is a self-drive safari different from a guided safari, or a safari at a private game lodge? Let's compare them.
- A self-drive safari is the most affordable way of going on safari. We will arrange a rental car for you, give you driving directions, a map and useful safari guide, and off you go! Accommodation and entrance fees will be pre-booked and included in the price we quote you, but meals will be for your own account. The advantage of a self-drive safari is that your daily programme is completely flexible, and it costs less than a guided safari.
- A guided safari is still reasonably affordable, and gives you the benefit of having an expert guide with you who can help you make the most of your safari. Each game drive is made interesting as the guide has a wealth of knowledge and interesting stories to share about the bush and the wildlife you see. You can ask questions and your guide will help you not only to spot the animals, but also to interpret their behaviour and even anticipate their movements. A great example of how this helps is with leopard sightings. Very often, our guides find a leopard after first hearing the alarm call of a bird or other animal. Most people would not recognise or stop for such a sound, and therefore miss the leopard. The guide who hosts your safari will do all the driving and also arrange the meals, so you can sit back and relax.
- A safari at a private game lodge is one of the most popular ways of going on safari. The cost will depend on the choice of lodge, and the price includes all meals and game drives. At some lodges, drinks are also included. Game drives are conducted on open safari vehicles (4x4) by an experienced guide and, in most cases, assisted by a local tracker. At lodges situated on private land, the vehicles are able to go off-road to get closer to the animals. Bush walks and night drives are also included, making this the ultimate safari experience.
Game viewing tips and expectations
If you are planning a self-drive safari, for example to the Kruger National Park, a few basic guidelines will help you to see more wildlife and make the most of your trip. Here are some safari tips:
- Drive slowly. The faster you drive, the more you miss. A good speed is about 30km per hour.
- Look around, scan the bush from side to side. Pay particular attention to shady areas. Look for shapes or colours that stand out, or look for movement. Animals that stand still are sometimes very difficult to see.
- Use the early morning and late afternoon for game drives. This is the best time for game viewing. During the heat of the day, the animals are less active and hide away in the shade.
- Drive slowly along rivers or dry river beds, the game viewing can be very rewarding here.
- Stop at waterholes and wait a while, especially in the dry season. Animals often come down to the water to drink, so sometimes it pays off to sit quietly and wait at these spots.
- Don't have too many expectations for game viewing. Just enjoy whatever you come across. The animals roam around freely and no sightings are guaranteed. If you don't see much in the first couple of hours, don't despair. If your only goal is to see lions, you may miss a lot of other interesting sightings because you don't stop to enjoy them.
- When you see an animal, stop the car, switch off the engine, open the window and spend a few minutes observing it. Watching baboons play or a giraffe drink can be more exciting than watching a sleeping lion.
- Don't make a noise. The human voice scares off animals.
- Also never feed the animals, or throw anything at them.
- When you book a safari through Wild Wings, we will send you a useful safari guide with more game viewing tips.
What to bring on safari
What to bring will depend in part on where you are going and what time of year, but here is a basic checklist:
- Comfortable summer clothes for hot weather.
- Long-sleeved clothes for evenings and early morning game drives.
- If your safari is from May to September, bring a warm jacket, earwarmers/beanies and gloves for the early morning and evening game drives. Dress in layers, because the day will warm up.
- Light raincoat or windbreaker.
- You won't need heavy hiking boots. Casual walking shoes are fine. Bring open sandals too.
- Hat, sunblock and sunglasses.
- Insect repellant (although many lodges supply this).
- Malaria medication, any prescription medication you may need, and perhaps some basic medical supplies for personal use. All lodges and vehicles have proper first-aid kits available.
- Camera, spare batteries and enough film or memory cards. A camera with a zoom function is best.
- Binoculars (essential on safari).
- International 220V adapter if you wish to charge camera batteries.
- Your travel documents! Passport, booking confirmations, travel insurance details.
- Cash: for Victoria Falls, USD in small denominations. For South Africa and Botswana, USD or South African Rand will do. Most places accept credit cards so you will not need much cash. There are cash machines throughout South Africa, but not at the game lodges.
- Travel light. For charter flights, the luggage limit is 20kg in soft bags. If in doubt, leave it at home. Leave some space for curios you may want to take home.
- In certain areas (like at Victoria Falls) you can trade clothes or shoes for curios, so you may want to bring a couple of items to trade with.
Related Trip Ideas Botswana and Victoria Falls Safari - 11 Days
It is easy to combine Botswana with Victoria Falls. This trip idea combines 4 of Botswana’s top safari destinations with 2 nights at Victoria Falls. The duration of the trip is flexible, and you can easily stay an extra night at any of the destinations on this trip. There are lots of lodges in Botswana to choose from, but we always recommend using lodges in the same group or chain, so you can benefit from long stay specials. This trip idea is based on Desert and Delta lodges, which are reasonably priced and based mostly inside the national parks.
More about Botswana and Victoria Falls Safari - 11 Days