Expert Tips and Inspiration for Planning Your Next Safari Adventure

Words Inga Krohn
Date

The experience of observing wild animals roam freely and being immersed in some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems can be life changing.

Witnessing the fastest animal on earth hunt down a kill, having a close encounter with a gorilla, and gasping over the sights of baby elephants are unforgettable experiences. If you are planning your first safari adventure, this article will give you tips on where to start. If you are a seasoned safari enthusiast, it will offer inspiration on where to go next.

Along with showcasing properties that honor regenerative principles, we have compiled tips from our Agency of Change members who have witnessed the magic of Africa. Gayle Higginbotham was raised in South Africa and runs Oculus Travel, specializing in trips to Africa. “We’ll work with you to download the image in your mind’s eye and develop an itinerary that brings your vision to life.” With its convenient marketplace, Viatu takes a data-driven approach to regenerative travel, allowing travelers to book trips to Africa with a net-positive impact. Their co-founder, Bárbara Büchel, believes strongly in their mission to make sustainable travel accessible to all. Soul of Africa Travel is run by Richelle Lavin, a born and bred South African who loves seeing the transformational experience a safari can bring. “With a focus on sustainable travel and conservation, we believe safaris can change people at the core.” Melanie Dannhauser works for the travel company andBeyond. She has over 20 years of experience working with guests from various backgrounds, countries, and cultures and planning blockbuster experiences that are a force for good.

 

“I’m about to plan my first African safari. Where do I start, and what should I keep in mind while I’m there?”

Although an African safari can offer memories to last you a lifetime, planning it can be stressful. Gayle explains how many moving parts are required to plan a successful trip and how easy it is to get lost in the enormous product range. Working with a travel advisor who has African safari expertise can make all the difference, making sure you can relax and enjoy your adventure. 

Once you are on the ground, Melanie recommends keeping your eyes open for more than just the “big five,” which are elephants, rhinos, African buffalo, leopards, and elephants. Elephant shrews are tiny and quick creatures. She describes discovering one as “finding a hidden gem in the bush!” She also mentions the quirky social habits of giraffes and endangered wild dogs.

“Everyone tends to focus on the big cats – the dogs are far more exciting. Wild dogs, bat-eared foxes, all the jackals, side-striped, black-back haired, and the elusive golden! I once saw one in the Serengeti, and it was so special. Hippos are also just the best – so communicative and interesting to watch during a safari. Nothing better than waking to chortling hippos along a bend of some remote river.” Melanie Dannhauser, andBeyond

 

 

“When is the optimal season to go on an African safari? “

Deciding when and where to travel to Africa is a starting point when planning your adventure. Timing can be everything and depends on the type of experience you want. Traveling during the low season means better prices and fewer crowds, especially in popular destinations. On the other hand, if you want to experience, for example, the Great Wildebeest Migration, high season is the time to go.

On low-season travel, Richelle says,Botswana would be my #1 choice.  Known for its wildlife and warm-hearted people, Botswana’s vast savannahs, wetlands, and deserts offer visitors contrasting landscapes and incredible close-up wildlife encounters. Botswana is home to 40% of the world’s elephant population and is an African leader in sustainability and regenerative travel. This country offers unforgettable experiences, including land and water safaris, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, cultural immersion, meerkat encounters, and quad biking in the pans.” December through March is the low season in Botswana, also called the “green season,” due to higher temperatures and more rain. The rain is, however, often short rather than constant, and during these months, you can witness the zebra migration along with fantastic bird life. 

Another lesser-known Botswana destination is the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, recommended by Barbara. Some scientists claim that this location, once a lake covering an area the size of Switzerland, is where modern humans first appeared 200,000 years ago. Today, the landscape is awe-inspiring and lunar-like, with a large contrast between the dry and wet seasons. This area has beautiful lodges and although it might look inhospitable, it is home to the world’s largest breeding sites of flamingos along with one of the world’s largest zebra populations, followed by predators. 

African Bush Camps has set up one of its Botswana camps, Khwai Leadwood, by the winding Khwai River in the Moremi Game Reserve. The river attracts a range of thirsty animals, like hippos and elephants, who find shade under the trees. This location allows you to observe them from right outside your tent while enjoying a snack and your drink of choice. One of the camp’s unique offerings is a safari by Mokoro, a canoe traditionally used by BaYei people of the Okavango Delta when the water level is high enough. You will silently glide through glassy water observing hippos and elephants bathing, while birds stalk their prey through the native reeds. 

 

Gayle Higginbotham

Founder

Oculus Travel

Enjoy yourself. Stay aware but calm. The guides have your safety and that of the animals at the forefront of their minds, so be sensible and trust the process. While you may push yourself out of your comfort zone at times, it will definitely be worth it.”

 

“Where do you suggest I travel for my first African safari experience?”

Every African country is unique, and choosing where to go first can be overwhelming. Gayle recommends the Masai Mara in Kenya or the Northern Serengeti in Tanzania to witness the Great Migration when hundreds of thousands of wildebeests cross the Mara River from Tanzania into Kenya on their annual cyclical migration. June to September is her favorite time to go. Alternatively, Kruger National Park in South Africa has consistent and reliable sightings of all of the “big five.” 

 

 

 

Cherero camp is located in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It offers front-row seats to the Great Migration when it comes through this area, moving north from May to July before returning south from September to March. This luxury camp is quiet and away from crowds, offering a peaceful retreat. After a long day seeing and learning about the wildlife, you can recap the day with a happy hour and an enchanting private dinner under the stars prepared by their excellent chef. The main focus at Cherero Camp has always been to maintain the health of the land and the communities that reside within it. The camp can be fully moved without leaving a lasting footprint in the national park, based on a “leave no trace principle”.

If you want to experience the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara, Emboo River Camp is a prime spot. The camp is sadly currently closed because of a catastrophic flood hitting Kenya in May. Their team is working around the clock to rebuild and ensure that they can host guests again in their luxury camp next year, with farm-to-fork meals, personalized service, and an immersive safari experience.

 

 

“Which essentials should be on my safari packing list?” 

On most safaris, you must pack in soft-sided luggage with a strict weight requirement as you might travel by smaller planes. Many camps offer laundry services; however, quick-drying fabrics are a good choice, as many don’t have dryers. Wearing neutral colors might seem cliche, but it is highly recommended and practical when looking for animals without attracting attention. Gayle recommends avoiding white, black, and navy in areas with tsetse flies, as they are attracted to these colors. She suggests bringing binoculars, which will enhance your experience by allowing you to observe wildlife further away. These are more important than a heavy-duty camera unless you are trying to take high-resolution wildlife shots. Your iPhone goes a long way and can fit in your pocket. 

The temperature can drop in the evenings and early mornings depending on where and what time of year you choose to go. Bárbara recommends a light scarf for warmth during chilly early mornings that doubles as protection from the scorching sun later in the day. Most camps provide mosquito repellents and reusable water bottles, but she thinks it’s a good idea to bring a power bank to keep your devices charged so you don’t miss capturing any of the safari wonders. 

“I am planning my honeymoon – which African destination should I pick?

Many newlyweds dream about celebrating love on an African safari. Whether you are the type looking for a more adventurous safari or an ultra-luxurious lodge, there are plenty to choose from. Bárbara has assisted countless lovebirds with their honeymoons, making them fall in love with Africa as much as they do with each other.

She recommends three destinations in particular. First is Namibia, with its otherworldly landscapes and remote tranquility. Couples can experience hot air balloon rides over the desert and sleep under the stars for a night to remember. Secondly, she recommends KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, an exclusive safari akin to the famous Kruger but with the added draw of tropical beaches. Lastly, Botswana offers an unparalleled connection to the wild. The skybed experience offered by Natural Selection invites couples to sleep beneath the vast African sky on platforms overlooking the untouched wilderness. This unique accommodation, combined with the best game viewing in the world in places like the Okavango Delta and Chobe, offers an intimate setting for couples to celebrate their new journey together.” 

If celebrating love by watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon sounds intriguing, Nimali Tarangire on the eastern border of Tarangire National Park can be a good choice for your honeymoon. Start your morning with a champagne bush breakfast before heading out to look for herds of elephants and other animals among the towering baobab trees. If you want to switch up your regular wildlife viewing drives, Nimali Tarangire offers night drives, a thrilling experience where your guide takes you through the dark, looking for nocturnal animals under the stars. Or you may prefer to feel grounded with a walking safari that provides a unique perspective on the Tanzanian landscape and wildlife.

 

 

 

“Can we take our children on safari?” 

Planning an African safari that considers children’s needs can be stressful and requires expertise, making it even more important to work with a travel professional. When done right, most children find an African safari trip both fun and thrilling while simultaneously learning about the different ecosystems, wildlife, and cultures. Many lodges offer excellent activities and programs tailored for kids. 

Richelle recommends booking private wildlife viewing drives or other tours with children, which allows you to explore at your own pace with local guides. At the same time, you’ll support the local economy and encourage local communities to value tourism. She is also a big advocate for staying at smaller boutique and independently run properties, where families will get more personalized service from the staff, making your family feel like you are part of their family. She believes that smaller properties are also in tune with the local community, leading to richer cultural experiences. 

 

 

 

One of the perfect places to stay if you’re bringing your young ones is Matetsi Victoria Falls. This lodge offers The Cubs Club, an exciting opportunity for young adventurers to safely explore the wilderness and learn about nature, wildlife, and conservation with the Matetsi team. The program is customizable to fit the interests of the children and can include activities like nature adventures, cooking, and other creative outlets. Parents can participate in the activities, too. Alternatively, you may prefer some time alone, relaxing in one of their luxurious accommodations overlooking a private section of the Zambezi River. Because of its location next to Victoria Falls, Matetsi offers more action-packed activities for the older kids. They can get an adrenaline rush from zip-lining across the Batoka Gorge, whitewater rafting down the Zambezi River, or bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. 

 

 

“I’m an experienced safari-goer looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience – where do you recommend I go?”

If you are a safari veteran or just looking for something different, Gayle recommends walking safaris in the Parufi region in South Africa. The best time to go is from April to November, when the bush is the least thick. Imagine the grounding and thrilling feeling of walking through the bush with a guide, observing wildlife without the shelter of a car. This experience might not be for the faint of heart, but it will be one you will never forget. 

An off-the-beaten-path destination recommended by Melanie is Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia. The park is home to diverse wildlife and offers opportunities for cultural interactions with local communities, such as the Lozi people. “This park is remote and less visited compared to more popular destinations like the Serengeti or Maasai Mara. Liuwa Plain is known for its vast open plains, seasonal flooding, and diverse wildlife, including large herds of wildebeest, zebra, and rare species like the African wild dog and cheetah. The park offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching and a more exclusive safari experience due to its remote location and fewer crowds.” 

Gorilla trekking is one of the safari experiences described as “life-changing” and can be done in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. As a tourist, you pay a fee to enter, which contributes to conservation work in the area. Gayle recommends visiting the Congo Basin, the largest forest in Africa, where conservationists’ and ranger’s efforts have been instrumental in raising the gorilla population from 75 to over 300. Western Lowland Gorillas and forest elephants are just a couple of the species you can witness at this destination. Of the three destinations, Congo is the most affordable option for gorilla trekking.

andBeyond offers gorilla trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to around 400 gorillas. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is where primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey carried out her important research on gorillas from the 1960s to the 1980s. As one of the many offerings from andBeyond, the experience is easily combined with a different destination, like a trip to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Kigali is known for its sustainability focus, has outlawed plastic bags, and is arranging monthly community cleanups.  

According to Melanie, another place to visit in Rwanda is Nyungwe. You can find chimpanzees, golden monkeys, and other primates in this area. Although accommodations are limited, the stunningly beautiful nature and mosaic of tea plantations make this an extraordinary destination. You can also take a canopy walk, strolling among the treetops on hanging bridges while enjoying sweeping forest views.

The tips in this article from travel experts reveal the importance of planning well, ideally with an expert, to make sure your safari trip becomes one of a lifetime. As the popularity of African safaris continues to rise, the importance of choosing properties and experiences that align with regenerative principles grows with it. Whether you find yourself silently gliding through the Okavango Delta in a mokoro, bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, getting immersed in nature in the Serengeti, or venturing into the misty forests to look for gorillas, each trip has the potential to leave a lasting positive impact, both on you and the destination you visited.  

 

3 Things to Remember When Booking Your Safari

Plan Your Trip With the Help of an Expert: Planning a safari is a complex task with many moving pieces. Working with an experienced travel expert can make all the difference. A professional can also make sure that your trip has a net-positive impact on the environment and the local communities you visit.

 

Seasonal and Destination Considerations: The type of experience you want will decide where and when you should travel. Different countries offer various experiences at different times, so timing and location can be crucial. High-season travel to Kenya and Tanzania can for example give you the opportunity to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration, while low-season travel allows you to escape the crowds and experience lesser-known events, such as the zebra migration in Botswana or migrating birds.

Diverse Safari Experiences Beyond the “Big Five”: While the “Big Five” (elephants, rhinos, African buffalo, leopards, and lions) are a major draw, Africa offers many other unique wildlife experiences as well. There are experiences to fit any interest, from quad biking on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, safari by mokoro in Botswana, exploring South Africa by foot, to soaring over the landscape in a hot air balloon in Tanzania.

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