Love Nature and Animals? Tips For Visiting African Safari
A distant fantasy for many, an African safari isn't for the faint hearted. For although it provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience some of the most majestic animals on earth in their natural habitat, it also calls for you to step out of your comfort zone if you want the ultimate safari experience. Of course, how rewarding your experience will be depends upon the amount of time and effort you're willing to put in planning your perfect break. Here are just a few tips to help you plan a bespoke safari holiday you'll never forget.
1. Know the Best Time To Go
If you're considering a jam-packed safari trip to Africa, chances are that animal watching features highly on your to-do list. Safari excursions are offered year-round across the continent, but what many people don't know is that the timing of their holiday can have a significant impact upon wildlife spotting opportunities. South African wildlife safaris are best during winter months (June to September), as the dense shrubs and trees will have shed their leaves; making it easier to spot animals hidden in the brush. Food and water are also limited, meaning that many animals are forced to forage further afield, and go out in search of new watering holes.
Game safaris aren't seasonal, but there are key points in the year where you'll have better spotting opportunities. In East Africa, the mass migration of wildebeest across the Maasai Mara occurs in July and August, but this is also when the influx of European tourists reaches its peak. Local guides recommend visiting between January and March during the off-peak season, as the Eastern winter and early spring offers some of the best game watching opportunities.
2. Choosing a Destination
Whether you want to experience that edge of the world freedom that comes with camping on the edge of a savannah, or an all-inclusive ranch holiday on the edge of the desert, you're guaranteed to find it among Africa's dizzying array of 600 national parks and reserves. But, which is right for you? Every national park in Africa has something unique to offer: from singing sand dunes and inquisitive meerkats, to snow-capped mountains and majestic wild cats, there are few places on earth where you'll find such diverse topography, or wildlife. Most of the parks are specially adapted for tourists, offering both guided excursions and adequate facilities at even the remotest of campsites. The booming tourist industry has also funded the development of roads in many of the larger parks, so you can now explore larger areas by car. If you want an all-round safari experience, you can't go wrong with:
· Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Situated right next door to the infamous Serengeti in Narok County, Kenya, this huge National Reserve is immensely popular among tourists owing to its huge population of wild cats. It's also famous for the Great Migration; an annual stampede of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle from the Serengeti each October. The topography of the reserve, which covers an area in excess of 1,510 square kilometers (583 square miles) is largely flat, so its easy to get around, and wildlife spotting opportunities abound.
· Kruger National Park, Limpopo and Mpumalanga
Covering an area in excess of 19,633 square kilometers (7,580 square miles), Kruger National Park is one of the biggest wildlife reserves in Africa, and also has the most diverse variety of wildlife you'll find anywhere. If close encounters with the “big five” are high on your priority list, Kruger National Park is a must. The reserve is also home to the two-toned Burchell's Zebra, the fearsome Black Mamba, Spotted Hyenas, and an abundance of Blue Wildebeest. As one of the oldest game reserves in South Africa, Kruger has plenty of well-laid roads connecting the main wildlife spotting areas for both self-drive and guided safaris.
3. Private Reserve or Traditional Safari?
Once the exclusive playgrounds of the rich and famous, private reserves are fast catching on as a popular way of seeing the best of Africa - with minimal effort. It must be stressed that private reserves don't come cheap. In fact, a week-long stay at ones of these luxury retreats could easily set you back as much as $3,000! That being said, there are some benefits to this type of safari holiday. Firstly, you won't have to endure a five hour drive into the remote wilderness to catch a glimpse of the Big Five. Limitations on guest numbers also mean you won't have to share jeeps with twelve other people, and your guides will be able to attend your individual needs, rather than considering those of an entire group.
Although traditional safaris offer more freedom in terms of lodging arrangements, staying at a private reserve allows greater freedom when planning your itinerary. In essence, you can pack in far more in a short space of time than you might be able to on a group safari. If you really want to experience the benefits of both, split your holiday between three nights at a reserve, and three nights on safari. That way, you can enjoy the luxury of knowledgeable guides, and experience the freedom of sleeping under the stars.
4. Staying Safe on Safari
Wild animals can be unpredictable at the best of times. That's why, when on safari, it's important to remember that you are effectively stepping into their territory. The golden rule of any safari is never to stray too far from your camp. Africa's wild cats are large and predatory, and they often seek out game who have separated from the herd. They also have no set breeding season, so if you stumble into their territory, they may perceive you as a threat to their offspring and attack. If you're on a self-drive safari, never deviate from marked routes, or park up in an area not officially designated for public vehicles. You could unwittingly be parking up in a mating or breeding area for wild cats, elephants or rhinos – all of which can be dangerous if they feel threatened.
Perhaps the most important safety advice to adhere to is ensuring you are prepared for safari. Africa's outback is teeming with poisonous arachnids, snakes and reptiles, along with a host of irritating bugs. For this reason alone, solid walking boots and insect repellent are essential. African summers are quite unlike those in the West, so skin protection and hydration should be chief considerations, along with appropriate coverage if you're staking out mosquito-infested watering holes to observe hippotami and rhinos!
5. Come Prepared
The promise of endless sunshine and consistent high temperatures may seem like ample reasons to pack light, but it's not always warm and sunny in Africa. Dawn safaris can be particularly chilly, so it pays to layer up with clothes that can be easily shed later on. During summer months, the sunlight can also be pretty unrelenting, so be sure to pack at least factor 40 sunscreen, and good quality sunglasses offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Aside from clothing, you'll need to consider what type of equipment to take on safari. Be sure to invest in a high quality pair of binoculars, as these are rarely provided by guides. You may also need to upgrade your camera, or purchase a couple of light filters, if you want to get those money shots!