These 13 tips will ensure you stay safe and comfortable while getting the most out of your safari trip of a lifetime.
So you’re heading to Africa, having booked your safari trip of a lifetime, and you are excited to see all the animals that have been scattered across your Instagram and Pinterest feed for ages! You’re ready to be driven across the rolling plains, snapping pictures of the Big Five, the Ugly Five, and more—but do you actually know what you should avoid doing while on safari?
We spoke to the friendly safari guides over at Easy Travel, Tanzania Tour Specialists to collate these 13 tips on what not to do while on safari—they are the experts, after all. A wealth of safari knowledge awaits you in these slides, but we’re going to add in one extra right here: safaris are often called “game drives” in Africa, so if you want to seem like you’ve got that insider knowledge, don’t call it a safari. Ready for more tips? Let’s go!
Top Picks for You
Don’t Forget to Dress Warmly
It’s logical, right? You’re going to be in an open-air vehicle that drives quite fast at times, so you’ll be blitzed with wind chill. Not to mention, most game drives happen at sunset and sunrise, where you don’t have the baking African sun to help you out with temperature regulation. So, even if you are traveling during summer, ensure you pack some fleecy clothes, a wind-resistant jacket, and perhaps a scarf or beanie.
Don’t Ask Your Guide to Take You to a Specific Animal
While this may seem like common sense, this request comes up a lot. While you are undoubtedly desperate to see a rhino or cheetah, game drives are very much a luck of the draw. Your guides are immensely skilled at tracking animals and communicating with each other across the park, but a game reserve or park is not a zoo. The leopards don’t stay in one place. That said, please do tell your guide which animal you would most like to see, as they do their utmost to make your dream a reality. It just may take some time to find them!
Don't Forget to Tip Your Guide
Most safaris take place in developing countries, which means that every bit of income counts. If you can afford the luxury of traveling to another country to go on a safari, you can likely afford to tip well. Often travelers do mental exchange rate conversions and decide that because the cost of living in the country they are visiting is much lower, they can then tip much less. A generous tip can make your guide’s day—or whole month! Please also remember that the country you are visiting relies heavily on tourism, especially as travel recovers from COVID. Your tip really can make a difference.
Don’t Yell When You Spot an Animal
Guides have eagle eyes and will spot an animal at the same time (or probably before) you do. If you do happen to see one that they have missed, keep your voice down while notifying the guide to stop the vehicle. Yelling at the top of your lungs will have one of two undesirable effects: you will either spook the animal into running away from the road you’re traveling on or worse, you will scare the animal into an attack because it believes the big vehicle you are in just made a noise deemed threatening. Ever seen a charging elephant in the flesh? Are you really sure that you want to?
Don’t Forget to Use the Bathroom Beforehand
Pulling over on the side of the highway on a long-distance road trip is one thing; pulling over in a game reserve that likely contains the Big Five is quite another. Peeing against a tree feels like less of an option when there is a very real possibility of a leopard hiding up that tree or a lion beside you in the long grass. Use the bathroom beforehand and try to limit how much you drink if you have a weak bladder. There are often stop-sites in game reserves but they are spaced apart.
Don’t Eat While in the Vehicle, Unless Invited To
Try to eat beforehand or, if you’re on one of those safaris where you get snacks and sundowners, wait until you reach the rest stop. When you’re merrily unwrapping your own packed lunch, the rustling could disturb nearby animals and there aren’t trash cans readily placed around the vehicle. During an organized stop, your guide will collect your trash in order to practice “leave no trace” principles in the reserve but you’re going to have to dirty your pockets with crumbs and wrappers if you’re going to eat a granola bar. You also run the risk of a nearby monkey being interested in the snack too.
Don’t Expect the Animals to Adjust to a Better View for You
Sometimes an animal gets spotted and all you can see is half the lion’s butt, or a dangling leopard tail. If that is the case, that’s the case. Your guide will try to get the best positioning possible for you, or you may need to take turns moving to a certain point in the vehicle for a good look, but the guide can’t make the animal move for you. A game reserve is not a circus and the animals aren’t trained to do tricks for you. Admire the tail and move along. If you’re very patient, wait a while to see what the animal does.
Don’t Ignore the Guide
Your guide has undergone years of training and courses to be able to take you on safari. Trust their expertise regardless of what you may think is best. You can probably count the number of safaris you’ve been on using one hand, but this is their daily job. When your guide gives you the rules at the outset of the trip, listen to him or her. Be quiet when your guide asks you, sit down when instructed, etc. They will never issue an unnecessary instruction, your safety is in their hands, which is something guides take very seriously.
Don’t Wear Camouflage (or Incredibly Bright Colors)
It may make you feel like you look safari-chic, but here in Africa, someone in camouflage might want to hurt our animals and we take poaching incredibly seriously. If you see a guide in camouflage, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to wear it. They are professionals. Similarly, keep your bright pink and neon yellow outfits for dinner at the lodge. Something vivid may deter an animal from approaching.
Don't Even Joke About Hunting
It’s just not funny. Sometimes a guest on a safari will make a quip about how mighty fine that lion would look as a rug in your lobby, but it is not going to win you any points. The focus of game reserves is sustainability and preservation. We love our animals. They are in protected areas for a reason. Don’t joke about hurting them.
Don’t Forget That Animals Are Dangerous
This really should go without saying but truly, sometimes they can look so adorable that it’s hard to believe that they could do some serious harm. As tempting as it is to want to go up to baby elephants, remember that the mama elephant is just behind it. Elephants are known to flip cars that get too close (see the aforementioned point about listening to your guide). Similarly, cheetahs can seem small and cuddly—that is until you see one take down an impala.
Don’t Share the Location of the Animals You’ve Spotted on Social Media
There are signs on the fences and gates of some game reserves imploring you not to share your spotting on social media. In big reserves, sharing a picture of a rhino by a particular watering hole could prove disastrous, especially when it’s geo-tagged and time-stamped. Poachers monitor social media too.
Don’t Go on a Self-Drive
Even if you’ve rented a car, if you want to go into game reserves, it is better (and safer) to go in safari vehicles, accompanied by a guide. Roads in reserves tend to be dirt roads, and you run the risk of damaging your rental vehicle. There are also lots of dongas (potholes and natural ditches) and stones that are better traversed by the giant wheels of a well-maintained safari vehicle. Guides are also trained in vehicle repairs, which they can conduct if needed, but you don’t want to be switching out a tire on your budget rental in the middle of a game reserve. Additionally, you need the expertise of a guide in such unfamiliar territory. They know exactly how close is too close when it comes to approaching an animal because they do it every single day.
I've been on safari in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, and both times, I brought two camera bodies. One had a 400 fixed lens and the other a 100-400 lens. The fixed lens was on my crop sensor camera and the zoom on my full frame. It's good to have a backup in case one camera malfunctions, the battery dies or your memory card is full.
I've been on 3 photo safaris so far, and I'll be heading out next july to Rwanda to photograph Mountain gorillas, and then to Tanzania (Africa Dream Safaris- great company).
I would add some tips to be sure to do.
1. Take extra memory cards.
2. Shoot raw
3. take a computer and a backup drive to offload the cards and protect your images.
4. Put the camera down from time to time, be in the moment.
5. Don't forget that most cameras have video recording capabilities, and there may be times when you see something worth videoing. I forgot this and missed some once in a lifetime video ops
6. Check your camera manual. Many have "custom programs". I recommend studying the settings for video cartefullly. Plug in the best settings and save them (for Canon, it is C1 or C2, or C3). When you see some action, don't forget that video is right there for you! Just change to the custom setting for video, and shoot away!
One last thing. If you are anything like me, you love animals, econlogy, photography. This will be life changing for you. Have a greast time- I plan to, and cant wait until next July.
Hope this helps.
If you go when there could be rain, take rain pants if you have them. The camps have ponchos but my bottom gets wet as I move around in the seat.