For many travelers, a safari is at the top of most travelers' bucket lists. Most dream of visiting countries in East Africa to experience the traditional "safari" first-hand, but there are safari opportunities around the world.
In short, a safari is the chance to observe wild animals in their natural habitat. Many safaris include seeing 'big game' animals such as elephants and large predator cats like tigers and lions. These kinds of safaris range from the African continent to the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. There are also opportunities to take a safari simply to enjoy the landscape. You can commonly find these safaris in places like North Africa and the Middle East. In almost all cases, a guide escorts you into the wilderness to experience the safari; sometimes you can also find a self-guided option.
If a safari is on your list to do someday, expand your mind to the wide variety of safaris in the world, and you're sure to find one that exceeds your expectations and shows you a new part of the world.
Where to Go
Many countries offer spectacular safari opportunities. What it comes down to is largely what time of the year you plan to travel, specific migrations you'd like to see, and your budget.
- When to go: April through October, the dry season, when animals are in between migrations.
East Africa is the quintessential safari destination, where the concept of safari itself was born. The iconic national parks in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, with names like Masai Mara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro, have the classic, vast savannah plains that you've probably seen in National Geographic safari coverage.
- When to go: May to September, the dry season when animals will cluster around water sources and make for easy spotting.
South Africa offers a huge variety of accommodation, from camping and basic government-run lodges to luxury camps. South Africa was where 5-star safaris were pioneered, so if you're looking for creative comforts, this would be the region for you. South Africa is also famous for open safari vehicles for easier game viewing and even providing walking safaris in the bush.
Botswana is big game country and offers less "touristic" safaris as far as some safari connoisseurs are concerned. If you want to feel secluded on the big plains, Botswana is the place to avoid the crowds of both South and East Africa. There's also a large diversity of activities: you can go on guided game drives, nature walks, river cruises, and canoe trips.
- When to go: October through April, when the weather in India is coolest and driest.
Many travelers overlook India as a safari destination, but if you're seeking 'stripes' instead of 'manes' on your favorite feline species, there's nowhere quite like India. Safaris which seek to help travelers see tigers in the wild are increasingly popular especially as tiger populations dwindle.
Middle East & North Africa
- When to go: November through March, when the weather is coolest.
If you seek beautiful expanses of land such as the wadis of Jordan or deserts of Morocco, a non-traditional safari in this region will fit the bill. Safaris here will be less focused on wildlife spotting and more on cultural and natural immersion.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Safari
ere are safari tour providers who range from world class to local and homegrown -- which you choose is up to you. If you're seeking a tour that provides a comfortable driving experience and luxury accommodation, this will come at an additional expense.
nce many safaris aim to show you wildlife but said animals may have alternative plans, you can't be guaranteed to see (or not see) wildlife. As such, reviews can be insightful but should be taken with a grain of salt -- simply because a past traveler saw a herd of elephants or never saw a lion doesn't mean you will have the same experience. Overall, look for reviews from past travelers which give you an insight into the accommodations, hospitality, and care with which the safari guides treat the natural environment you'll be traveling in.
Typical Safari Cost
An safari is not typically done on a budget, but tours do range from more affordable to 5-star luxury. Safaris are typically thousands of dollars for a week-long excursion in East Africa or high-end Southern Africa lodges, but one or two nights in a government-run lodge in Kruger can be done for just a couple hundred.
You can save by choosing a shorter safari with fewer drives and basic lodges or camping, doing a self-drive in parks with marked roads, or by selecting an overland safari where you share your vehicle with other travelers.
Typical Safari Length
The typical safari lasts between 3-7 days, but they can also be as short as one afternoon self-drive or as long as 4 weeks if you're loaded with cash. Most people opt for one week, but even that may be a little long unless you're a real wildlife nut. Most popular parks offer the opportunity to see the Big 5 and plenty of animals with 3 days of exploration and 7 days waking up at 5am and being bumped around in a 4x4 is the maximum most people can withstand while still having a good time.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
For clothes, dress in layers. Morning and evening drives will be chilly, while afternoons can be scorching hot. Avoid bright colors -- think about blending into the landscape and minimizing your visibility to the animals.
Pack lightweight fabrics -- cotton is best -- and opt for long sleeves to protect against the sun and insects. Don't forget to bring a bathing suit for the lodge pool, a hat (with a strap) to protect your face from sunburn, and a rain jacket, even in the dry season. Pack at least one nice outfit for dinners or non-safari excursions back in the city.
For toiletries and accessories, don't forget bug spray, sunscreen, anti-diarrhea medication, anti-malarials if necessary, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. A flashlight or headlamp could be handy, but check with your lodge or provider to see how far off the grid you'll be going.
As far as electronics go, bring extra batteries if you're going far out into the bush or buy a portable charger in case there's no electricity one or two nights. A local SIM card and some phone credit could be useful, too. Make sure you bring converters for all your gadgets.
There is a basic protocol for safety that's common across almost all safari providers and it's essential to listen to your guide for specifics for your particular safari. Remember, you may be entering into, and sometimes even sleeping in, close quarters with wild animals. Although safaris are able to be done safely on a regular basis, it's essential to take the recommended precautions.
In general, stay inside the safari vehicle at all times. The animals have become accustomed to the shape and size of the passing vehicles, so any dangling human parts interfere with the animals' perception of the vehicle and could result in a dangerous situation. As goes without saying, don't sit on the roof, feed the animals, or leave food out in your vehicle.
While viewing game, stay quiet and don't make any sudden movements. Don't provoke or call to the animals, especially monkeys and baboons. While in your camp, stay within the confines of your lodge or tent and don't walk around at night.
Besides safety on game drives, it's important to receive required vaccinations before travel to any safari destination. These include standard vaccines for travel in the tropics, and possibly yellow fever. Check with your medical provider. Also make sure to drink lots of water while you're on safari since the hot sun and dry air make be more taxing on your unaccustomed body than you realize. Always wear sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and bring an extra blanket. Game drives in the early morning, while primetime for animal viewing, tend to be very chilly. As with any trip, make sure you purchase comprehensive travel insurance in case of illness or emergency.
There have also been cases of safari scams, so do your research and make sure your provider is well-reviewed online and accredited by the local Ministry of Tourism or respective agency in-country. Always be aware of the terms of your cancellation policy.