What to expect on your first safari

If you’ve never been on a luxury safari before, you might find yourself wondering what kind of experience it will be. What should you pack? What’s a typical day like? Fear not: we have some of the answers to the questions people tend to ask before they head off on their first safari adventure.

Safari game drive
Out and about on safari. Credit: Sasaab, Kenya.

What will I be doing on safari?

A typical day on safari tends to start early. Very early! In order to see wildlife at its most active, game drives start just after dawn, when the animals are finishing a night of hunting, and then just before sunset. Your wake-up call will likely be between 5am and 6am. Grab some hot coffee and a snack before hopping into your safari vehicle for your first game drive.

A dazzle of zebras. Credit: Saruni Mara, Kenya.

Drives usually take around two or three hours. Breakfast will be served back at the lodge, unless you’re treated to a special ‘bush breakfast’ set-up.

The breakfast buffet at Varty Camp, Londolozi, South Africa.

You can relax when you get back. Before or after lunch, you might choose to enjoy a spa treatment, take a nap or spend some time chilling by the pool.

Spend your afternoons relaxing around the pool deck. Credit: Tarangire Treetops, Tanzania.

At around 3pm or 4pm, you’ll be able to have afternoon tea (if you haven’t realised by now, being on safari involves a lot of eating), and then you’ll head out on your afternoon game drive.

Most evening drives will involve sundowners out in the wilderness, a quintessential part of every safari. Enjoy a gin and tonic, a beer or soft drink with some biltong and nuts as the sun sets in the African bush. Once it gets dark, you’ll hop back into your vehicle and head home to the lodge for dinner.

Lion. Will Burrard-Lucas, Shumba Camp, Zambia.
Photography is best at either end of the day. Credit: Will Burrard-Lucas, Shumba Camp, Zambia.

Dinners are sometimes communal affairs, but if you prefer privacy, that can easily be arranged, too. You’ll find most people turn in immediately after dinner or maybe after a nightcap around the fire. Safaris are all about early starts and early bedtimes!

Share tales of your day on safari around the campfire with your fellow guests. Credit: Zarafa Camp, Botswana.

Are the only activities game drives?

Not at all. Many places offer walking safaris or horseback safaris, both of which allow you to experience the bush from a different vantage point.

In Botswana, you can take a mokoro ride through the waterways. In places such as Kenya’s Masai Mara, you can enjoy a hot air balloon ride at dawn.

If you’re by a lake or river, there will always be an option for sundowners on a boat.

Walking safari
Exploring on foot. Credit: Ruckomechi Camp, Zimbabwe.

What should I pack?

Whilst a definitive packing list will depend on where you’re going, when and your personal needs, there are a few items that always come in handy.

First of all, let’s talk about weight restrictions. If you’re getting a light aircraft flight, you’ll only be able to take a small, soft bag with you (i.e. not a hard-shell suitcase). A weekend holdall is perfect, weighing around 15kg (check the exact weight limit before you leave). Top tip: wear your heaviest items, such as your boots.

A light aircraft will take you between safari camps. Credit: Ker & Downey.

Speaking of footwear, make sure you pack some sturdy boots for walking in the bush and a pair of flip flops or sandals for back at the lodge.

Most people won’t need reminding to bring their cameras, but binoculars will also be very useful on a safari. You can spot birds, get a closer look at animals, or see the distant wildlife that the rangers can somehow see with their bare eyes.

Binos are a useful piece of safari kit. Credit: Notten’s Bush Camp, South Africa.

Check the weather. You might think safaris are always in hot places, but it can be very cold first thing in the morning or when the sun sets, especially when you’re sat in an open-top vehicle. Warm gloves and a hat are often a good idea. When the sun is up, you’ll need sunglasses with UV protection and a hat or cap to keep the rays off your head. Layers are key! Don’t forget the sunblock.

Hats and sunnies are essential.

Dining in the bush is usually a casual affair, so there’s no need to pack your finery. Smart-casual is more than adequate for most lodges.

Bring a good book for your downtime and spare batteries for your camera, along with your charging cables.

Photographing flamingoes.

What is the food like?

You’ll be amazed at how good the food is on safari. Many places operate on minimal electricity, but still manage to create meals that are fresh, inventive and delicious. The fancier lodges often have fine dining menus in the evening, whereas the more casual ones will serve wholesome spreads, perhaps as a buffet.

Dinner at Kwandwe.
Dining at Kwandwe, South Africa.

Dietary requirements are not a problem and all luxury lodges are used to catering for guests with allergies or vegetarian/vegan diets. Just make sure to let the lodge or your travel planner know before you depart, so they have time to fly in the necessary produce.

In South Africa especially, the wine list is as good (if not better) than any city restaurant. The top lodges have highly trained sommeliers who help select the wine for the cellar and will be on hand to advise guests which vintage will pair best with their dinner.

Kuria Hills
Sundowners at Kuria Hills, Tanzania.

What will I see?

This is totally dependent on where you are going, as each region is different. What you see will also be down to luck – animals in the wild will be going about their own business and it’s up to chance as to what you’ll see and when (and a brilliant tracker – you’ll have a new respect for what these guys do after your first safari). That’s all part of the adventure.

Watching elephants from a hide. Credit: Little Makololo, Zimbabwe.

Is it safe?

Yes. Safaris have been running for decades and the people who live out in the bush, running these camps and lodges are experts in their area and its wildlife. You’re in very safe hands.

Paddling past hippos at a respectful distance. Credit: Ruckomechi, Zimbabwe.

Animals in the places we go on safari have become used to the sights and sounds of a vehicle and know that it does not pose a threat. Therefore, it’s easy and safe to get close to the animals. The guides and trackers know exactly when to move on, if an animal looks like it is getting irritable.

Respect is everything and this is how safaris stay safe for people and the wildlife.

Cape buffalo at Royal Malewane, South Africa.

What inoculations do I need?

It’s always best to check with your doctor about the vaccinations you’ll need, as it will depend on the region you are visiting and how cautious you want to be. Health advice can also change. Generally, you will be fine with the usual jabs you’d get for travelling and possibly anti-malarial medication.

Chobe National Park
Game viewing at Chobe National Park, Botswana. Credit: Zambezi Queen.

What about travel insurance?

Travel insurance with good medical coverage is a smart idea wherever you’re going and safaris are no different.

Hiking dunes in Namibia.

Got more questions? When we plan your first (or tenth) safari, we’re on-hand to answer all your queries before and during your travels. Let’s get started. 

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