An African safari is, for many, a one-off dream. The luckier ones get to do it again and again ... But there are some common mistakes than can be avoided with a little extra planning.
1. Spending too little
Probably the most sensitive topic, but this is seriously one of the most common mistakes you can make. Let's face it, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make it special. By cutting corners you could end up with a very disappointing experience. Obviously, there are budget options and good operators can advise you about areas where you can save. Please be super cautious about offers that seem incredibly cheap - there is a very good reason why they are.
2. Joining group tours
Unless you're booking on high-end, super luxury tours, you could find yourself with some very objectionable fellow passengers - even if it's just the 'one'. Rather consider a custom option if there's a few of you travelling together. You'll definitely enjoy a better safari experience.
You must have heard the adage 'mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'. Most self-respecting game seek out the deepest shady areas to rest in during the heat of the day - a great idea for humans, too. Early mornings and late afternoon/early evenings are the best time for game viewing, when the animals are alert and at their best, going about the dramas of their daily lives.
4. Bad vehicle choice
Especially if using a hired car, get something spacious, comfortable, air conditioned and high enough for good game viewing. Of course, the custom open safari vehicles are just that - specially designed to give you the best views and comfort.
5. To drive or not to drive ...
Always a personal preference. However, as a driver, you need to focus your attention on the road and can miss out on some great game viewing opportunities. An expert, experienced guide knows where to find the game, explains their behaviour and habits, show you their various habitats, shares their intimate bush knowlege and generally makes your safari experience infinitely richer.
6. Take care of yourself
Don't forget the essentials to make yourself comfortable on your safari. The bush can be dusty. Pack some eye drops. Good walking shoes, sunglasses, sunhat and suncream - the African sun is unforgiving. Bring enough of any prescription medications to last for the duration of your holiday. Bring insect repellents and your favourite cosmetics. A little advance planning and aforethought can make a huge difference to your enjoyment.
7. Tented safaris
While styles can vary from budget basics to '6-star' opulent meru-style tents, if you're a light sleeper or easily disturbed by things that go 'bump in the night', rather opt for a solid and sturdy chalet or cabin where you'll get a better night's rest. Early morning rising and late evenings around a campfire could have you nodding off on game drives if you don't get your beauty sleep.
8. Do your homework
More and more people book online. While there are many reliable and trusted operators, there are also travel businesses that fold overnight, leaving you high and dry. Visit review sites like Tripadvisor and SafariBookings.com. Visit the operator’s Facebook page and Twitter account. Make sure you book with a company that is bonded, with the necessary insurances and safeguards in place to protect any deposits you've paid. Personal travel insurance is a must. Don't leave home without it.
9. Safari Gear
Avoid looking like the last of the big safari hunters. Pith helmets are definitely passé. The emphasis should be on comfort and easy-to-wear, cool fabrics. Your local camping or outdoor shops will show you the latest fabrics. White is the least-camouflaged colour in the bush, so rather opt for neutrals. Light khakis are good for dry bushveld areas like Kruger National Park and darker olives and khakis are better for more lush, tropical safari destinations like Zambia.
10. Making memories
Ask your guide or driver to switch off the vehicle before taking photos, unless you’ve got a serious camera with built-in stabilizer. If you’ve a long lens, remember to bring bean bags or you’ll get very tired on a long trip. If your fellow guest has a bigger, better camera, make contact. Perhaps they’ll send you copies and you may even make a lifelong friend. Sometimes it’s better to simply watch and experience the moment than constantly aim to capture that ‘ultimate’ safari shot.
Are there any big safari 'mistakes' you've experienced ... or things you'd have liked to do differently? Please let us know about it in the comments below.
[Inspired by an article by Howard Hillman on his blog: Hillman Wonders of the World]
By 20 Feb 2014,