Viewing elephants from within a safari vehicle on an African Safari in Botswana
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An African Safari is the Ultimate Outdoor Experience For Animal Lovers

11 min read
Published on Aug 16, 2016
Guest Contributor
By Guest Contributor

I am betting that when you were a small child, you were taken to the zoo.  I certainly was; in fact, many times and the outings were always very enjoyable. I rather think from memory that I took the animals for granted. As far as this child was concerned, they lived in the zoo and came from an exotic destination somewhere. Perhaps, it was those zoo experiences that caused me later in life to want to travel much further afield and to see these creatures in their natural habitat while on several African safaris. I fully realize that these aforementioned animals came from several different continents but one stands out as exceptional for animal viewing or to put in a more appropriate way, game viewing. This is Africa, a continent that lends itself to being the natural home for many exceptional creatures.

What exactly is a Safari?

The word Safari is a Swahili word meaning journey. As the first safaris were based on hunting and killing animals, I presume the undertaken journey was to provide food, hides etc for the native people.  Today’s African safari is now a responsible journey to see and not harm the local wildlife. I have written about the benefits of safari travel as a part of ecotourism. Your visit will not only give you an experience of a lifetime but it will have a positive impact on and benefit local communities through employment for local people as guides, lodge employees etc.

Tourists on a African safari viewing a cheetah from the safari vehicle
An African safari - the ultimate outdoor experience.

I have experienced safaris staying in upscale lodges and in communal accommodation sharing very basic dormitory accommodation.  Your style of travel is your business. However, the animal viewing experience is for everyone’s budget. There are benefits to staying at a private game lodge, especially in Southern Africa, but more about that later. In Africa, there are 1100 different species of animals (beats any zoo I have ever heard of) and 2600 different bird species.  Now, you are not going to see anywhere near these numbers in any one specific game park but you will definitely see a satisfyingly large number during any African safari vacation. By the way, Africa has the fastest, largest and strangest animals anywhere in the world. This also includes sadly, a number of endangered species.

What is a Game Drive?

Wherever you stay, most of your game viewing is pretty certain to be in a small vehicle with open sides and possibly an open top. You will usually share it with several other African safari-going participants. The average size of a safari vehicle can vary but my ideal is anywhere from 6 to 10 passenger vehicles.  We know animals can be very dangerous so two key questions need to be answered. The first is how safe is it to be in a safari vehicle while surrounded by wild, sometimes ferocious and unpredictable animals. When you are in the hands of a professional experienced driver/guide, you will have no problems. However, it makes sense not to stand up or lean out of the vehicle. I am reminded of some personal experiences on African safaris where I was totally in the hands of my driver/guide. The first one was on a game drive in East Africa during the rainy season. Our vehicle got stuck in some mud and our guide asked the male members if they would kindly give the vehicle a shove from behind. I looked out across the plain and could see several lions in the far distance. I thought I should point this out to our guide. He simply asked, with a smile, if we wanted to be here all night. He knew we were in no danger. I still had one eye open for the lions while I helped to push the vehicle out of the mud. The second one was a little more serious. During a night drive in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, we encountered a male elephant coming towards us as we drove along a road. Our driver/guide advised that this particular elephant was in must. To explain, I quote “Must is characterized by highly aggressive behaviour and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones”. In other words, it was the mating season.  We carefully backed up and continued to do so until finally, the elephant decided to amble off into the undergrowth. If we had driven up to him, we could have been charged by this very large creature. Again, the professionalism and experience of the guide were of paramount importance in this instance. The second key question is how come the animals don’t run away or hide from safari vehicles. Well, being so accustomed to the constant game drive vehicles in their territory following them and not harming them in any way, they are not concerned.  I remember an African safari I took in Tanzania. A couple of baboons decided to jump onto the hood of our vehicle and look at us as if to say, okay you are staring at us, so we can do the same. One lady in the vehicle stated, “Oh look, aren’t they cute!” At that precise moment, one of the baboons urinated all over the windshield. I am sure the lady changed her mind about their being cute.

A safari vehicle on a game drive with animals around it in Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania
An African safari vehicle travelling through Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania

What Happens on a Game Drive?

Usually, there are 3 types of game drives - morning, afternoon and night drives. The morning game drive is usually taken early before the sun gets too hot. Also, some animals tend to want to hibernate as the day gets hotter.  So, if you can wait for breakfast until after your game drive, you will not only have an enjoyable time but be really ready for your first meal. The afternoon game drive is usually taken later in the day for the same reasons.  For me, one very pleasant happening is the Sundowner experience. After your afternoon drive, you may partake in this. You are in the middle of the bush or plain.  Your vehicle stops and your driver/guide set up a table and spread out drinks and snacks on it. You leave the vehicle and enjoy a beverage while watching the sun go down over some spectacular and glorious African scenery – a perfect way to end a safari drive. A night drive is an animal of a different colour (please excuse the pun). I particularly enjoy these.  The dark brings out the nocturnal animals and the predators are on the prowl looking for their next meal. You will wonder how you can view the animals when it is so dark. Well, you will be equipped with a powerful torch and if necessary, your driver/guide will shine his headlights into the bush. Watch out for the excitement of seeing a pair of eyes gleaming back at you out of the pitch black. I recall one night's drive in Kruger Park in South Africa when our vehicle went crashing into the bush and followed a pride of lions out hunting. At that time, they had already decided on their prey and were stalking it.  We saw the whole thing happen before our eyes as we followed them along. And amazingly, they totally ignored us.

A Walking Safari, Anyone?

You don’t need to purchase extra life insurance to undertake a walking safari. Now, this is exactly what it says. You walk instead of drive into the bush. Nothing will bring you closer to an African adventure quite like this. You will walk with an experienced guide with the aim to learn and appreciate the intricate details of the nature that surrounds you. Yes, the guide carries a rifle, but to this writer’s knowledge, nothing untoward has ever happened during a walking safari. You will learn how to know which animals are or have been in the vicinity by studying their tracks and footprints. I personally have been very close to a group of giraffes as they snacked on the leaves of a very tall tree.

Private Game Reserves 

African Safari Lodge
On your next African safari treat yourself to an exclusive game lodge experience

I mentioned private game viewing earlier. There is no doubt that if you want to be spoiled, this might be the ultimate African safari experience. Living in the lap of luxury comes to mind when I think back to the time I stayed in a luxury private lodge in Kruger Park National Park.  To paint a picture, I had my own lodge with a wooden beamed interior situated about 100 metres from the Main Lodge. It contained an indoor and outdoor bathroom (the latter offered the opportunity to have a shower while observing the animals some distance below). I slept in a four-poster bed. I could sit on the verandah at any time and take in the idyllic scene of the Africa countryside unfolding in front of me.  In the evenings during dinner, my fellow guests and I, in the company of the guides regaled each other with the events of the day. Now, I do remember one awkward moment during the same stay. I awoke ready for the day and proceeded to open the door of my lodge in order to head to the Main Lodge for breakfast. As I did so, I was confronted by a huge elephant about 6 feet away from me. I slammed the door shut and after recovering from the shock, telephoned the Main Lodge and advised them of my predicament. I was told to sit tight and help would be on its way.  I watched from the window as a member of staff walked not too close to the elephant and began waving his arms around like a windmill. The elephant looked at him disdainfully and then decided to amble off. I was then able to have my breakfast.

Something Different - Tented Safaris 

A luxury tented camp on a Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
A luxury tented camp on a Serengeti National Park in Tanzania

Oh sure, you’ve been camping in your time and might wonder why would you even consider a tent for accommodation on an African safari. Well, first, it’s a totally different experience. You are virtually out there in the bush and at night, you can hear the thrilling sound of animals in the African night. Secondly, it is not basic. You don’t rough it as you get all the luxuries of a room with a comfortable bed and a complete bathroom more often than not.  You might wonder if it’s safe. Well, naturally, the tented camp is cordoned off from the outside world and there are guards watching to make sure no animal gets too close.  I recall sharing a tent in Kenya with someone who woke me up screaming.  Startled, I sat up in bed and saw my companion staring at the tent entrance. What I saw was a human head peeking through the tent flap and heard a voice say “Morning Tea?” My companion initially was convinced an animal had gotten into the tent!

How About a Fly-In Safaris? 

To avoid long road transfers or roads, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, which are not always in the best of condition, a fly-in safari is a convenient way to go. You land on a private airstrip from the nearest major airport and immediately start your African safari.

Tourists on an African safari arrive by small plane to the Okavango River Delta National Park in Botswana
Arriving by small plane to the Okavango River Delta National Park in Botswana

So there you have it. An African safari is like no other experience and will never be dull. There are many countries to choose from that offer exceptional game viewing. These include South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. And bear in mind, animals know no borders and are free to roam wherever they want (well within reason).  They are there awaiting your visit.

By Robert Glazier 

Related Topics
Nature & Wildlife
South Africa
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