Visiting Africa isn’t that complicated and there isn’t a long list of safari tips. Africa blurs boundaries into the surreal and it really gets the imagination going. It’s unique and it’s different and everywhere seems to have a wildly exotic name. But it doesn’t need to be daunting. Here’s some essential advice that we hope will provide some peace of mind.
Luxury Safari Tourism is Rife
Africa can be very wild, where iconic mammals roam freely and you wake up to buffalos chewing on the grass besides your tent. But Africa isn’t the backwards continent the popular media perceives it to be. It’s forward-moving and rapidly developing. Luxury safari tourism has been around since before British holiday makers swapped Scarborough for Spain, and you’ll find that it’s much more comfortable than expected.
Feel Safe on your Safari
Many people arrive with unresolved anxieties, perhaps about safety, toilets, health, or getting eaten by lions. Sometimes this apprehension puts people off visiting this incredible continent. Within a few hours of arriving, Africa will have pulled you into a spell of charm and surprise. Stresses melt away as you discover that it’s actually pretty easy to travel to Africa.
Our biggest tip is to relax. This is a continent where strangers greet each other, everyone makes eye contact, and there’s an enthusiastic happiness almost everywhere. On many African safaris, we’ve come back with the knowledge that Europe could learn more from Africa than Africa can learn from the West. For one, wildlife has disappeared from so many continents, yet in Africa, locals and lions have lived side by side since the origins of early man.
Be Flexible on Game Drives
Forget about time, settle into the unique rhythm, and appreciate the beauty that’s everywhere around you. Game drives don’t last from 7am to 10am. They leave somewhere around dawn, then follow the landscape’s clues and maximise the animal encounters. If you spot a leopard on the prowl you’re going to follow it, rather than the guide saying that the time is up. Likewise, the plan might change at the last minute, because the guides have been radioed an exclusive wildlife sighting in the opposite direction of where you were heading.
Get into the Natural Mindset
Especially in the wilderness, time is dictated by the movement of the sun, not the minutes on a clock. By relaxing into this mindset you’ll get much more out of the experience. While everyone will have their dream sights, we’d also recommend against coming with a definitive safari wish list. When you relax into the rhythm of the wild you learn that safari is about so much more than ticking off animals. It’s about savouring a unique world, one that will give you memories for a lifetime.
Safety Comes First
Safari puts you into the world of wild animals. And yes, some of them are dangerous. Just remember that many tribes have coexisted with these animals for millennia. They use their ancestral knowledge to keep you safe, so even when a camp has no fence and you can hear the hyenas, you will have nothing to worry about.
Local understanding forms the roots of a safe safari. Every safari activity will have its own set of rules. Things like not getting out of the vehicle unless the guide says it’s okay, not using the camera flash in the face of big mammals, or sticking to designated trails. Don’t worry too much about them as the guides will let you know everything once you arrive. Specific activities will start with a safety briefing, so you know exactly what to do (and not to do).
Across Africa, tribes and animals live in harmony because they respect each other. And that’s the fundamental of any rule on safari. If you respect the environment and your guide, safari is going to be extremely safe.
Feeling Safe in Camp
Camps and lodges use a variety of means to keep animals away from your tent or room. Almost all will provide a safety briefing when you check in, including information on safe areas to walk, what to do if you hear or see something unusual, even what to do when going to the toilet in the night. Everywhere is different and many camps have local warrior guides accompanying you from the room to the communal areas. Again, have respect for the wildness of your surroundings and there’s nothing to fear.
Respect the Environment
Respecting the environment naturally incorporates respecting the animals. Safari is not like being in a zoo. It is definitely not about interaction. You won’t be feeding lions, riding buffalos, chasing gazelle, or getting kissed by a giraffe. Witnessing so many wild animals in their natural habitat is a life-changing experience and you won’t want to do anything that interrupts the rhythm of the land. Remember you’re a visitor in their world. So keep the noise down around the four-legged residents and never approach any animal. For example, warthog or zebra might look cute, but they’ve got a lot of experience fighting off menaces much bigger than you!
Safaris are Low on Crime
Crime against tourists is extremely rare, especially on safari. Don’t think it’s strange for camps not to have locks. Relax, leave the passport in the room (rather than accidentally leaving it on a rock somewhere in the wild), and trust that rural Africa is as safe as almost any of the world’s destinations. It’s more likely that a baboon will steal your iPhone than anyone else.
However, some precautions will be needed
Some extra precautions should be taken in built-up areas. These include not advertising valuables, such as hanging a DSLR around your neck or having a wallet bulging out of your back pocket. Guides and hotels are very good at informing visitors over any places or areas that may be unsafe. They’ll tell you where you shouldn’t walk and can arrange transport for after dark, when the streets can be spookily quiet. Also, don't forget the travel app on your mobile phone to help you get around, technology in this area is fast moving and could be invaluble.
Paying for your Trip
Visa and Mastercard facilities are being rolled out at a rapid rate, so it’s no longer required to bring fistfuls of foreign currency into Africa. Many rural camps have a way for you to pay for drinks and additional services with plastic, although there will be a surcharge (3 – 6% is common). Local currency can be taken from ATMs and it’s good to stock up when in the cities. They’re generally more reliable in Southern Africa than East Africa but in both regions it is useful to have both a Visa and Mastercard account, as many ATMs accept one but not the other.
In all East and Southern African countries the guide will know a place where you can change British pounds. However, for East Africa travel, it’s worth considering taking US dollars instead. These attract a much better exchange rate as they’re used interchangeably with local currency. So even if the process means you have to change money twice, it’s likely to be better value. Note that it’s becoming very difficult to exchange traveller’s cheques and the commission charged is very excessive.