I’m back in the US, though I have no idea what time it is. It’s going to take a few days to recover and adjust to this time zone and lifestyle again. I really wanted to get this post up for you guys yesterday, but let’s just say, the struggle is real.
We took a red eye 16 hour flight back earlier this week, and fortunately, I was able to get some sleep. While I’ll have some more specific recaps and post to come detailing our trip to South Africa, I thought it would be fun to share some helpful tips about safari’s. You know, in case you ever get the itch or urge to go on one or plan a trip to Africa! Also, if you want to see a fun video chronicling South Africa, here is one my sister made.
This trip truly was the trip of a lifetime. More details to come, but today, we’re discussing some key points about safari’s in general. And of course, how to pack for them! If you’re like me, you have no idea what to pack or think beforehand. I was googling everything weeks before – the weather, the food, the animals, what to wear, what not to wear, what vaccinations are needed, bug spray preferences, etc. So much that I hope to break down in this post for you.
This one deserves a full post on its own. It can be hard to totally gauge what the weather will be like, as there is always unpredictability. But, you want lightweight clothing and layers. I actually ordered quite a few things on Amazon beforehand. This hat is great for keeping your face protected from the sun and bugs. I ordered a few shirts like this (pictured below) and this because they were light weight and airy. Stay away from blue as the color seems to attract tsetse flies. You’ll also want to get yourself a good pair of compression socks for the long plane ride. They will help with blood flow and movement.
I felt like I could have done a better job packing. It was much hotter than I realized. If I could do it over again, I would have brought more summer-type clothing, a few long sleeved shirts and jackets for layering. These pants are great because they unzip into shorts. Forget style, safari’s are all about efficiency.
I’d also recommend packing sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, a rain jacket, boots (for thick grass, deep mud), heavy socks and binoculars for sight seeing. And of course, lots of snacks (obviously). Sometimes, you’re out on the safari’s for 3-4 hours, and while we usually had a half way stopping point for either coffee or cocktails and some light snacks, it’s best to be prepared with your own things to eat as needed.
Expect to Sit Alot
A safari is not your typical “active” vacation. Most vacations for me revolve around activity – running routes or walking through cities, but that was not the case this time around. You’ll find yourself sitting in a “safari van” for the majority of the time looking out at the animals.
How much you sit may vary depending on what part of Africa you travel to, and how you’re traveling. For us, we stayed at private game reserves, where animals could basically walk up to your rooms if they wanted to. That being said, it was dangerous to expect to go exercise outside. A gym wasn’t always available and even if it was, it was pretty limited. Additionally, they are entering summer in Africa right now so mid day temps were in the 90’s and dry. So, exercise wasn’t a huge part of this trip, due to both the animals and risk of bugs/diseases.
Like I said, this may vary depending on what regions you go to and what’s accessible for you. But expect to sit a lot and move when you can. I found that some jumping jacks, air squats and light stretching on the floor helped reduce some of the tightness from sitting. I would even consider some hotel room style workouts and yoga to do in your room.
I would definitely advise getting a workout in the day of your long flight though – your body will thank you later.
Invest in a good camera
Iphones will work, but consider the chance of a lifetime you’re embarking on. Something that can help capture those memories in a beautiful way. I used my Nikon camera. You can also find reasonably priced refurbished cameras if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Or, you could also hire a photographer as another option. Among my family of 8, three of us had nice cameras, and we all used our iphones.
One thing I hadn’t thought of ahead of time but would have come in handy were a good pair of binoculars. Fortunately, the drivers and our tour guides had some that we passed around, but would have been nice to have my own pair.
Research on all fronts. Find out what vaccines you have to get and medication precautions. For example, we were in a malaria risk area but not a yellow fever risk area. So, I took malaria pills (that were safe for pregnancy), and invested in proper bug lotion. Had any of us gotten sick, we were prepared with antibiotics for diarrhea. We also had to get some other vaccines, like Hepatitis A, B and typhoid fever. Allow enough time ahead of time to meet with your doctor or go to a Passport Health clinic, which may be cheaper.
I’d also recommend researching the area. I think I could have benefited from doing some more research ahead of time, about the country, animals and culture. It would have been nice to have a stronger appreciation of how rare some of the species are and what to expect beforehand.
Definitely learn the Big 5 – the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, and why they earned that name.
Obviously, you’re going to learn a ton while you’re on your safari. We hired a specific tour guide going in, which I’ll discuss a little more in the next point. The safari guides are very knowledgeable about the animals and everything about them in the habitat, so they will be quite helpful in helping you understand what you’re looking at. But I think you’ll have much more of an appreciation if you can have some knowledge beforehand.
Consider a Tour Guide
There’s so much to know and learn. If you’re making the investment and time to go on a safari, you want to do it right! If it’s within your budget, I’d definitely recommend hiring a tour guide or someone who can help you plan things and make the transition a little more smooth. You’re traveling from another country, so there’s so much to think about. Having someone local in the country you’re traveling to, or familiar with it who has traveled there frequently, can make your life so easier.
This person can make sure you make the most out of your experience and hit up the memorable spots. They may know the best places to stay and eat, when is the best travel season, and the best time/places to find certain animals. They can also worry about the minor details (like, what happens if it rains, or booking a hotel close to the airport if you have an early flight, or the language barrier).
We ended up having someone help us plan our entire trip. He goes on safari’s with families, so he is very familiar with the culture and people of South Africa. He organized most of our accommodations and daily activities so we didn’t have to spend time researching them, planning them, wondering what was worth it, etc.
Be Flexible About Food
One of my favorite intuitive eating principles.
By this, I mean what you’re eating and when you’re eating. You can’t exactly go out to restaurants of your choosing when you’re out in safari land. I assume most places will be feeding you. I never worried about a meal. However, we had to conform to their normal meal times and options and eat what was served, which I had no complaints throughout except that it was so much food. We were often eating a large lunch before our afternoon game drive, after still being full from breakfast. Dinner would sometimes go until 10pm, right before bed, before awaking at 5am for the early morning game drive. Timing was not what I was used to, but that’s what we had to do. This is probably relative to all of the sitting and inactivity, so it was difficult to eat it all.
I also ate so much meat on this trip that all I want are veggies and grains this week.
All in all, I think this is a DEFINITE MUST DO for anyone with a bucket list. Or, anyone who enjoys travel and seeing the world. Never did I think I would even have the opportunity to travel to Africa. Now that I’ve scratched the surface, I want to eventually go back to places like Egypt, Tanzania, Morocco and more.
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