Safari 101 – Newbie General Safari Guide

Hello and welcome to this, my first blog entry.

My name is Pieter and if you want to find out a bit more about me, go here.

This is just a general post on some information on Safaris. For a guide on how to plan a safari, see my “How To Safari – 9 Easy Steps”.

Safaris are one of the most popular holidays in the world, however very few people really know what is a safari, what makes it different from other types of holidays, what to expect, what to bring and a variety of other things. In this blog, I will provide you a basic “Newbie Safari Guide”.

 

Do you even Safari Bro? 

In the old days, the term Safari was used to describe a hunting trip in East Africa. It comes from the Swahili term Safari, which means a journey. The term came into the English language thanks to an explorer named Richard Francis Burton. You can read about him here.

Today the term is used to describe a type of holiday found in Africa. In India, they also offer safaris but the experience is vastly different and in my opinion the African Safari is far better.

Boiled down to its barest bones, a Safari is a practice of staying at some type of accommodation in the middle of the bush with the aim of seeing animals in the wild.

The term Safari is now used as common slang as well to mean game drive. A game drive is an act of setting out with a vehicle inside a game reserve with the aim of viewing wild game animals.

 

Where to Safari 

Africa is huge, mostly poor by Western standards and every so often, certain areas can be unstable due to political strife.

So which areas are the best to go and get your Safari on?

I will briefly discuss the various options I would suggest based on my personal experience.

 

South Africa 

South Africa is one of the most developed of all the countries in Africa. It has great infrastructure, specifically tourism infrastructure as it is probably the number 1 tourism destination in Africa (in my opinion). There is such a large variety of destinations, sights, travel agents, tour operators, tourism brokers and various other things that not only makes it easy to travel to South Africa, but extremely enjoyable.

South Africa is also probably one of the top Safari destinations in the world  (in my opinion) with a large variety of well-developed game reserves specially designed to accommodate this type of holiday. Some of these parks include the Great Kruger National Park, The Pilanesberg Game Reserve (malaria free), The Madikwe Game Reserve (malaria free), Phinda Game Reserve, Shamwari Game Reserve (malaria free) just to name a few.

I know everyone hears about the crime in South Africa, but what the statistics don’t tell you is that the majority of the crime in our country is focused in the poor areas. Just like anywhere in the world, there are places you just do not go. Furthermore, using a professional broker who has the experience will provide you with an itinerary that will keep you away from these areas. For the most part, tourism is very safe in South Africa.

Here is a list of some great Safari places in South Africa:

 

Botswana 

Botswana is one of my favorites. A little trickier than South Africa as their development has not yet reached a similar level, I feel this adds to its charm. There is a wild feeling to Botswana and the locals are incredibly friendly, creating a feeling of stepping back into time while on Safari.

Botswana is also world renowned for their beautiful game reserves, including Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta (a definite bucket list item…trust me).

Some of my favorite Safari destinations in Botswana:

 

Namibia 

Being mostly desert, Namibia offers a truly unique safari. From viewing specially adapted elephants in Etosha to viewing amazing creatures on the Ivory Coast who exist by the ocean, but have to contend with some seriously low rain falls. This stark country is beautiful in a way that beggars belief. I would suggest that a safari in Namibia is either combined with another destination, such as Botswana or done as second or third safari.

Zambia 

Zambia is beautiful. It is currently going through some instability and if you choose to go there, I would suggest that you use a VERY GOOD operator or broker. DO NOT  use a travel agent. In my experience they do not have the necessary knowledge to help you with this type of holiday. More on this here.

 

Tanzania 

Another bucket list item is Tanzania. After spending a month in Tanzania, I have to admit that I felt unsatisfied, however the country is quite expensive and I could only afford a month.

With the Serengeti Park, Ngorongoro Crater and all the other places to see here, one can spend a lifetime in this country and still feel like you are missing out.

The locals are very friendly, helpful and every time I have been, they treat me with a level of friendly respect that I only find in South Africa. Maybe that is why I love this country so much…it feels like my home.

Safaris here are legendary and with good reason. With the wildebeest migration, the open plains of the Serengeti, this country is what safaris were made for.

I must warn you though, infrastructure is limited…very. Bring lots of cash and if you do self-drive, a 4×4 is a must. I would also suggest that you do a 4×4 course in your local country before departing. Some of the roads are harrowing.

 

Zimbabwe 

Another country that is absolutely gorgeous and just a tiny bit unstable. Safaris here are magical.

Victoria Falls is the main attraction here and the tourism infrastructure there is fairly well established. It is safe to travel to by booking online.

Zimbabwe is an up and coming safari destination, with more lodges being established. The Zimbabwe government is also very…for lack of better word…strict on poachers, however poaching remains a serious problem within the country.

I would not suggest a self-drive safari in Zimbabwe. The police are quite corrupt and they are known to try to extort tourists with made-up violations which result in fines or jail. If you decide to go to Zimbabwe, fly into all of your destinations or use a trusted local transport company. Trust me on this one, I found this out the hard way.

 

Other places 

There are other places to go on Safari, such as the Congo and Kenya. For these places I would suggest you use a very experienced operator or broker (not a travel agent). Political unrest can at times be a tad on the sensitive side and one does not want to get caught up in the middle. An experienced operator or broker will provide you with safe travel, trusted guides and the best options…going at it alone can be done, but I would recommend using someone intimately familiar with travel within these countries.

 

The Nat Geo expectation

 

National Geographic is truly an amazing platform that has provided the world with amazing wildlife drama for years now. If it wasn’t for National Geographic there wouldn’t be such a large safari industry creating the resources for sustainable conservation efforts within Africa.

However, this has also resulted in some newbies to a Safari expecting that type of drama and excitement the moment they leave their lodge on a game drive. So here is a reality check:

  • 99% of a herbivores life is spent eating, sleeping or mating.
  • Most large predators spend around 75% of their lives sleeping…especially during the day.
  • Most hunts by predators are unsuccessful (except wild dogs, those things are amazing).
  • A single lion hunt on National Geographic takes months to film due to lions spending so little time hunting. Some of them are even footage put together of more than one hunt filmed.

I have been going on safaris since I was three. I have seen around 12 hunts in total. 6 of them were barely visible, 3 of them had good visibility and the rest were about medium visibility. Of these 12, only 4 were successful. To put this into perspective, I am at the time of writing 32 years old.

I am not saying you won’t see something exciting…I am just saying it is rare and if you do see it, enjoy it for its rarity.

 

Safari Accommodation 

Safari accommodation is almost never in a hotel. There are a few here and there that qualify as a hotel, but the majority of the time you get two types of lodgings and calling them a hotel would be an insult.

 

Lodges 

Lodges tend to be proper buildings made from walls and roofs usually built from stone or cement. They consist of the main lodge where you have meals, meet for game drives and usually spend leisure times.

The rooms are usually apart from the main lodge with each guest (or couple) gets their own room (often called a suite) complete with bed, usually a bathroom and some sort of living area. Some of the more exclusive lodges include an outdoor shower and outdoor private pool.

Lodges tend to be the most common type of accommodation available and vary greatly in their experience and price. The rule of thumb is, the more expensive the lodge, the better your levels of service, food and accommodation. However, there are some extreme exceptions to this rule with some lodges being quite pricey but not offering what their counterparts in the same price range do. Speak to a broker who specializes in safaris in order to get the best for your buck. For a post on why to use a local broker for your safari, check here.

 

Tented camps 

The second most common type of safari accommodation is a tented camp. These range highly on quality. Some of them are very rustic and offer a true safari experience and others are tents in name only, being honest to God fit for a freaking queen. I am being serious, I have seen a tent so luxurious that it has put some of the top hotels in Europe to shame. These types of ultra-luxury tented camps have given rise to the term Glamping.

Tented camps tend to follow the same layout as lodges, with the main area for all of your meals, leisure time and meeting up for game drives. The main draw of a tented camp is that feels more like a true safari, giving you a glimpse of what camping might be like.

 

Hotels 

There are very few of these “hotels in the bush”. They do range in more family friendly (read cheaper) versions such as Kwa Maritane and Bakubung Bush Lodge in the Pilanesberg to the ultra-luxurious 4 Seasons Serengeti. Speak to a broker on advice on all of these.

 

Different experiences 

Depending on where you go (countries and game reserves) you will get vastly different experiences. I usually rate them as follows. Please note that these terms are my own.

  • True bush bush experience
  • Moderate luxury
  • Superior Luxury
  • Super Luxury

 

True bush bush experiences are usually limited in infrastructure such as electricity, stone buildings etc. These experiences are aimed at the true adventurers, usually with meals cooked over a fire and evenings spent telling bush stories around the fire. Lodging is simple, but usually clean and the service levels are very informal, but still friendly and high in quality. Food is simple bush fare such as meat, salads and vegetables prepared in a less stylistic way. A good example of such a true bush adventure is Mosethla Eco Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

Moderate luxury is usually lodges and camps that provide you with a higher quality of lodging, usually with electricity, gourmet meals and a high level of service. The lodging usually does not include a private swimming pool. This is the most common form of lodging that you will find for your safari.

Superior luxury is like the moderate luxury, but just more of it. For instance, almost every single one of these lodges’ suites has a private splash pool. They tend to also have award winning spas, gyms and chefs that are trained to the highest standard. These places, one and all, make most luxury resorts and hotels look like jokes. The level of quality one receives at these lodges and camps are truly amazing. Add to that the entire bush experience and you get a recipe like none other.

Super luxury is the ridiculously high levels of luxury that only the truly rich can afford. These places tend to be on an exclusive hire basis. The suites are usually no longer suites, but rather entire houses or apartments. You usually have an entire army of people taking care of very few guests, including cleaners, private butlers, spa therapists, award-winning chefs, game rangers, lodge managers and various other people ensuring that you and your party has the best time that money can buy. There are no hotels or resorts that I know of that can come close to this experience.

 

Service with a relaxed feel 

One of the key differences between service at a safari destination when compared to a resort or hotel in Europe is the differences in style of service. In the bush, everything is relaxed…I explain this further lower in this post. Even though the service levels are as high or in some places even higher than the best levels of service in Europe, it has a relaxed feel about it. It isn’t as stiff and nothing is a problem. It just lends itself to the true magic of the bush, and that magic is to completely unwind.

 

Accommodation final thoughts 

Most of the medium luxury lodges and camps offer superior experiences when compared to most resorts and hotels. They tend to be smaller, with 10 guests or less and this lends itself to an attention to detail that you cannot get in larger hotels. Each guest feels special because each guest IS special. This is why calling a lodge or tented camp a hotel is technically an insult…because they are so much better.

 

Safari magic

Most people who go on Safari once will usually go again. This is because the average Safari is such a unique experience.

The mood is always one of relaxation, recuperation from the stresses of the world, natural beauty and high levels of service.

Every game drive is a true adventure, going out into the wilderness trying to find something interesting to see. The more you go out, the more you learn about our truly fascinating world. For the truly experienced safari goer, they start to see the intricate web that nature has spun that forms the local ecosystem, from the tiniest termite to the largest elephant and everything in between, each connected to the others’ survival. It is magical and special and completely unique.

 

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