Destination: South Africa: Safari
A Typical Day on Safari in South Africa
A safari day begins with a 5:30 wake up call; then a staff member will escort you from your room to the lodge (since it’s still dark). A 6 am, the lodge will have coffee, tea and biscuits or muffins laid out. You’ll have a quick snack, then be in the Land Rover by 6:15 am. Some safari camps will have hot water bottles and/or blankets on each seat, as it will be chilly. (Read attire for a game drive.) You might see nothing but birds for the first 45 minutes of your drive, but even the birds in Africa are extraordinary. (Our favorite was the lilac crested roller, with resplendent plumage.) Then suddenly you’ll come around a corner and be in the midst of something amazing—perhaps a parade of elephants or a crash of white rhino. In most parts of Kruger National Park and surrounding reserves, the game has grown up with Land Rovers and is very accustomed to them. They see them as large and imposing, hippo-sized things that come and go and don’t take their food or hurt them, so they not only tolerate the Land Rovers but in many cases completely ignore them and behave just as they would on their own. This means the guide can drive the Land Rover right up next to the animals (off-roading as needed), so that you are watching a rhino eat from ten feet away. You can talk in a normal voice in their presence, so the guide can answer questions as you watch. (What you cannot do is stand up or get out.) Most game drives last three or four hours.
Each Land Rover will have a guide, who drives and explains what you are looking at, and a tracker, who has a special seat on the hood of the car, where he can spot animal tracks. The guide will likely be armed with a rifle or handgun for emergencies. To be a good tracker, you need to have grown up in the area. At Royal Malewane, our guide grew up in Johannesburg but fell in love with the bush at an early age. Our tracker grew up in Mozambique, speaks Tsonga, and spent his youth catching food in the wild for his family. The guides have radios and they will all be in touch with each other to call in game sightings so everyone can get a glimpse of the good stuff.
We had days where we saw the entire Big Five before breakfast, and others where it seemed like we were driving endlessly and seeing nothing but giraffes and zebras and a few rhinos. The cats are the most fun to watch. Leopards and cheetah are the rarest to see, leopards because they are nocturnal and shy, cheetah because there are only about 200 of them in the whole park. Over the course of four days, our group saw lions several times; rhinos, giraffes, hippos and zebras every day; a leopard twice; wildebeeste, Cape buffalo, and a zillion impalas. The highlight was seeing a mother cheetah and her three cubs frolicking on a hillside. We sat and watched them for ages as they chased each other in circles and wrestled.
At 9 or 10 am, you’ll head back to the lodge, where a large hot breakfast will be waiting for you. Then you’ll have some down time to shower and change, maybe go to the pool, download your photos off your camera to make room for more, read in your room and have some lunch. Afternoon game drives start around 3 pm. At sunset, most guides will set up sundowners, with cocktails and snacks. You’ll then drive back to the lodge in the dark, with more stars than you’ve ever seen splashed across the night sky. You’ll have dinner around 7 or 8, then head to bed early, exhausted from the day’s excitements.
Note: It is extremely dangerous to walk around at night by yourself in the bush. During the daytime, game like lions and leopards do not consider you prey, but at night, when they can sense your hesitation, you become an easy target. Some lodges have the rooms down walkways from the main lodge, and it is imperative to have a staff member escort you after dark. As one of our guides noted, “we want you to enjoy dinner, not be dinner.”
Safari Packing Advice
First, you should pack in a soft, weather-resistant duffle bag as you will most likely be taking charter flights, and there are often strict luggage limits of no more than 33 pounds per passenger for checked pieces. Bags may need to be stuffed under seats or in small holds. (You will be allowed one carry-on; I suggest a backpack that fits your toiletries and camera equipment, which you should NEVER check.) As there is no reason to dress up (even for dinner) and laundry is done every day at camps, you only need pack comfortable clothes for the bush. Safari outfits and khaki colors may seem cliché but they are practical; they don’t show dirt, don’t stand out in the bush and keep you cool and protected from the sun.
Leave valuable jewelry at home. You can honestly stick to the following list and not need anything else.
3 pairs of light cotton pants (khakis; skirts are not practical even in evening because of bugs)
1 pair light cotton shorts
4-5 pairs of underwear
4-5 pairs of cotton socks
1 work-out outfit that can double as pajamas
4 cotton shirts long sleeved and short (I prefer button down-style because they breathe and provide good sun cover and work day or night)
1 fleece (mornings and evenings can be chilly, especially in July, August)
Trail shoes or sneakers (weather-proof, light-weight Merrells are great)
Sandals (Tevas or flip flops for going to the pool or even wearing as slippers in your tent)
Bathing suit (if your lodges have pools)
1 Sarong/kaftan (for reason above only)
Hat (wide-brimmed sun hat with a tie so it doesn’t blow off on game drives or boat rides are best because cover neck and ears, which baseball caps don’t.)
Backpack (You’ll want to have cameras, binoculars, tissues etc… with you on game drives, and on flights you will want to keep valuables and toiletries with you—NOT CHECKED)
Tip: Micato Safaris gave me a fantastic safari vest with lots of pockets, and I highly recommend a safari jacket or photographer’s or fishing vest because you can keep lens caps, sunglasses, memory cards, lip balm, sunscreen, wipes etc… on your person.
Camera (definitely bring telephoto lens of at least 200 feet, plenty of extra batteries, memory cards, chargers etc…) Bring a camera for each person in the group, even a simple digital ones for kids, so they can “shoot” the animals too
Medicines (see below)
Scarf and gloves
Gifts (Pens, small figurines, little notebooks make nice presents for children in local villages if you will visit them.)
Africa-related books (A Kindle is great for traveling because you can download a wide selection of books as well as favorite daily newspapers each day and it weighs virtually nothing) See our Library for suggestions
See your doctor before you leave for advice on what to bring, but, in addition to regular prescriptions, mine recommends the following: Cipro (a strong but all-purpose antibiotic), Imodium, benadryl cream and pills, Neosporin, Band-Aids, aspirin, motrin, Pepto-Bismal (chewable for kids and pills for adults) and cold medicine. I found traveling baby wipes great to have as well as granola bars and fruit strips (from health food store) for when the kids got hungry on a long game drive or plane wait.
Read more safari packing advice from a member
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