You have found the best flights to East Africa, and you have booked your safari! How exciting! You have been to a travel doctor to discuss your personal needs for vaccinations and other medical needs, or you have made an appointment already (make sure you read our ‘Ultimate guide for vaccinations in Africa’ if you haven’t yet).
And now you want to know more, you want to get all the insider’s tips and tricks to make your African safari the best ever. We have brought together the best advice from experts in the field, people who have been on dozens of safaris, with and without kids.
This is the ultimate list of everything you need to know before your first safari. But also if you have been on safari before, this is a great overview to make sure you don’t forget any of the essentials. It is packed with the best tips and general advice so you can be sure you are prepared well before heading out to East Africa on your safari.
And remember, when you board that safari vehicle, this is your safari and you should ask as many questions as you like. And if you want to stop, just ask the driver. Maybe you saw a lion (it might have been just a rock, but there is only one way to find out!) or you just want to take a picture of the setting sun, or the beautiful savannah. This is your safari and your driver and guide are very happy to answer any question you have and stop when you want.
Other activities on your safari
Ask the camp manager if there are other options to explore. You might be able to go on a walking safari, book a hot air balloon ride, do a night game drive, go kayaking or tubing. You never know what the options might be until you ask. At some places they have horses or quadbikes and you can go for a ride amongst the wild animals, or there might be a hide to watch animals without them seeing you. Sometimes there are animal enclosures (for example rhinos or chimpanzees) or a hippo pool you can visit on your game drive or there might be hot springs or a waterfall nearby for a dip.
The best time to go on safari
Early morning and late afternoon are prime animal viewing times. Leave camp as early as possible and return to camp as late as they allow you to stay out. Those times provide you with the best light for photography as well as the potential to spot nocturnal animals that are still up in the morning, or have already come out at night.
It is worth to stay out the whole day as you do see animals in the middle of the day too. But if you are travelling with kids, or you just want a break from sitting in a vehicle then the best hours to relax at camp are from late morning to late afternoon.
So, get up early, have a cup of tea or coffee with a biscuit, hop in the car around 6-6.30am and explore. Come back for a late breakfast around 9.30-10am and then relax in camp until the afternoon drive around 3.30-4pm. Stay out until 7-7.30pm (or later if allowed to catch the nocturnal animals becoming active).
Picnic breakfast, picnic lunch, sundowners
Lodges and camps often offer the option to have a picnic breakfast on your drive. And if you want to stay out all day, you can even add a picnic lunch. Imagine yourself sitting under an umbrella tree, looking at the wide-open savannah and the animals in the distance as you eat your breakfast. Pure magic.
In the evening, before returning to camp, you could have a sundowner. A sundowner is literally a drink you have as the sun goes down in a spectacular African sky. Guides always know the best spots with a great view and if your accommodation offers sundowners, make sure you don’t miss out!
Packing your suitcase for an African safari
Actually, it is best to leave the suitcase at home and pack a duffle bag instead, a soft bag. Soft bags can be moulded to fit into limited luggage space on a plane or your safari vehicle. Especially for the smaller airlines this is sometimes compulsory.
Also, pack light. Domestic airlines and tour operators usually have a 15kg limited and you don’t want them to leave your bag behind because it is too heavy.
The clothes you need will depend on your exact destination and how long you plan to stay there. Think comfortable clothes and bring layers so you can add or remove a layer when you need to.
For daytime hours it is best to go with light coloured, not bright, clothes. Tsetse flies love dark colours, especially dark blue and black so they are best avoided. Whites are hard to keep clean so might not be the best choice either and leave the camouflage gear at home as this is not always appreciated by police and the army in African countries.
However, at night it doesn’t matter what colour you wear so your entire bag doesn’t have to be full of khaki clothes…
If your accommodation offers a laundry service, you can bring fewer items and have them washed on location. But remember, this is nearly always done by hand and not a good idea for delicates. Washing powder is usually provided to wash those and your own underwear as these are not washed at camps.
Yes, you are going to Africa and yes, daytime temperatures might be warm or even hot. But at night it often cools down and away from the campfire, it can be quite chilly. Also remember that many vehicles are open. When you drive back in the evening, perhaps after a lovely sundowner, it is going to be fresh or cold (depending where you are) on the drive back.
And if you are lucky enough to be in a location where night drives are allowed, you will also need your warmer gear and bright (head) torch then. Thick socks, a woolly hat, and a rain or wind jacket to stop the wind chill can all come in very handy.
If you have a head torch, bring it. It is great as a hands-free light. If you have a good, bright torch, bring it. Having a personal light at night will come in handy and it is fun to spot animals around your tent or in camp. You’d be surprised what you can find with a torch and a bit of patience. Porcupines, genets, white-tailed mongoose, bush babies or owls and many more nocturnal creatures can all be found around camps with a bit of luck. Your safari doesn’t have to stop the minute you step out of the safari vehicle after your game drive!
The African sun can be fierce and you need to make sure you don’t get sunburnt. Especially in open vehicles where the wind can also cause ‘sunburn’, it is important to be prepared. Suncream should be applied to all exposed skin, don’t forget your ears, hands and feet. A sun visor, cap or other sun hat together with sunglasses will protect your eyes, but they also keep long hair out of your face when driving along.
Pick up a kikoy, a local scarf made of 100% cotton, and add it to your travel kit. Or bring a similar wrap, sarong or scarf from home. A kikoy is incredibly versatile and can be used to protect you from wind, sun, the cold and even mosquitos and tsetse flies when needed. And when you are back home your kikoy will always remind you of your amazing African safari.
First aid kit
Pack any personal medication you need into an easily recognisable bag. And don’t forget to include a letter from your doctor if you need to carry any medication that might be a reason for concern at border crossings.
A first aid kit should contain things like:
- your personal medication – check with your doctor to discuss what you need to pack and if you need a letter to carry with it
- your antimalarial medication
- mosquito spray or roll-on
- painkillers – for example aspirin and ibuprofen
- motion sickness tablets
- antihistamine – to relieve the reaction to a bite or pollen
- immodium – to reduce the frequency of needing the toilet when you have diarrhoea
- ORS (oral rehydration salts) – for treatment of dehydration
- something to stop the itching from a mosquito or tsetse fly bite, for example, tiger balm or pawpaw cream
- ointment to relieve the skin from sunburn, for example, aloe vera
Talk to your (travel) doctor to discuss what else you need to add to your travel first aid kit.
keep reading below….what binoculars, camera, books, keeping children entertained, electrics, tips, park rules……………..