A First Timers' Guide to Planning an African Safari

A First Timers' Guide to Planning an African Safari

One of the biggest travel trends for next year is going off-grid, and according to Google trend data, searches for “luxury safari” have risen by an enormous 4,100% in the last month. Whether you’re looking for the family trip of a lifetime, or an adventurous honeymoon, the experts at Go2Africa reveal their top tips for planning the perfect safari for 2023.

When to go

With an African safari, timing is everything. The high and low seasons provide very different experiences, and there are pros and cons to each; you need to decide what you want to see when you're working out when you'd like to travel.

High/peak season

The peak season is winter in Africa, which begins around May and ends in about September/October. The weather is cooler and drier, and it’s easier to see animals due to there being less vegetation. There is a fair amount of predator action when lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs take advantage of animals like zebras, antelope and wildebeest being weaker from lack of grazing.

Winter is the best time to do a multi-day walking safari, as the cooler days will be less exhausting, and the lack of rain will mean it's not so muddy. If you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, it's easier and more stable in winter. Make sure you go to Victoria Falls in the early half of the high season, when the water levels are still fairly high, as the lack of rains will often dry up the Falls by October.

Low/green season

The low season runs from about November to April, and most of Africa will experience spring and summer rain, meaning lots of water and food for the animals. The rain isn't constant or monsoon-like though, and clouds usually build up during the day and break in late afternoon with spectacular showers and thunderstorms in the evenings. The weather is much hotter and more humid, and there will be a lot of more insects than in the high season.

With the rains comes thicker vegetation, which does make animals more difficult to see, except in East Africa where game viewing is great all round due to flat and open landscapes. The animals you do get to see will include newborns – which you wouldn’t see in high season - and migratory birds as well as endemic species.

Where to go

For first timers looking for Big 5 sightings - lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard - Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater or private Kruger reserves like the Sabi Sands which deliver virtually faultless Big 5 safaris where you're more than likely to tick off each of the Big 5 after a couple of game drives. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya are perfect for the family trip of a lifetime.

For a romantic safari honeymoon, Kruger Park combines the perfect safari and white sand beaches for luxurious relaxation. East Africa's most romantic destinations will tick off plenty of bucket list experiences, like gorilla trekking in Rwanda, or a hot air balloon over Kenya's Masai Mara.

What to pack

The weather is cooler than you might expect in high season, ranging from around 5˚C to 20˚C, and even experiencing frost in some places. Expect cool morning with warm afternoons. Dress in layers for morning game drives, and bring gloves, a scarf, long trousers, a fleece jacket, and closed shoes. But don't forget sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen, even though it's winter!

In low season, the sun is very intense, and sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen are a necessity. Cotton clothing in neutral colors like greens, greys, and browns with keep you cool. Bring flipflops to wear around camp, and don't forget your swimsuit. Mosquitoes are more active in the evenings, so pack a pair of long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt to keep them at bay.

Consult your travel clinic about malaria medication regardless of your destination and inform them if you intend to go scuba diving at a beach or island destination to ensure they prescribe the correct prophylactic.

Make sure you've got the correct visas before you travel, and use the country's official website to obtain it, as some other sites may charge you more.

Check what vaccinations you need, and whether you need things like anti-malaria tablets - this will depend on the season and destination.

Learn the safari lingo

Having a basic understanding of safari terms and words is important before you set off, like knowing the difference between a boma and a braai, and knowing your pap from your ugali. Learning some basics, like how to say hello, please and thank you, in local languages and dialects will be really helpful - not to mention polite!

Use the experts

Especially if it's your first safari, speak to experts. Use a tour operator who has first-hand experience and inside information and will be able to get you the best flights and lodges at the best prices. Let them handle the entire trip so you can just go and enjoy the experience without stress. You'll be able to benefit from exclusive access to experiences and they will be able to tailor-make the trip to your specifications.