Africa

The ultimate guide to the African safari

Dreaming of cruising through African savannas on the search for a glimpse of lions, rhinos and giraffes in their natural habitat? Want to sleep amongst the wildlife with nothing but the sheet of tent between you and potential hippos wandering into your camp?

It’s the ultimate bucket list adventure… but equally the ultimate mystery! So many questions about logistics, and so much planning! Have no fear – our travel insider, Hannah Marwood, is here to share everything you need to know about her trip to Botswana for an epic African safari. Read on… or skip to what you want to know by clicking below…

 

Where should I go on safari? | How to get around | How long do I need?| When should I go? | How much does a safari holiday cost? | What does the average day look like? | What to pack

 

Where to go on safari

Kruger National Park, South Africa – one of Africa’s largest game reserves, this heavily populated park boasts an incredible number of mammals, reptiles and birds, including the Big 5!

Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Botswana – the clue is in the name; these solitary creatures have huge territories so keep an eye wide open for black and white rhinos hiding away. They’re super hard to spot and we only managed to see one running away with a baby. If you want to see rhinos, this is one of the best places to do so!

The Okavango Delta, Botswana – the most incredible place I’ve ever been, hands down! Camping right in the heart of the action, with hippos, lions and elephants potentially wandering into camp. Our expert guide, Carlos the Jackal (I know, amazing), spotted lion tracks right by our camp and could even tell you how fresh they were by how much of them had been blown away by the wind. Whilst we only saw animals from a distance this was probably for the best as yes, Carlos had a big walking stick but no, I wouldn’t want that to be the only thing protecting us from a pride of lions…

Okavango Delta must do: a flight over the Okavango Delta was amazing! We saw herds and herds of elephants, a lone rhino, giraffes and hippos all from above.

Chobe National Park, Botswana the holy grail! We did a morning game drive and saw countless elephants, giraffes, a male lion eating an elephant (nature is scary!), lion cubs with their mum and hippos – we’d seen nearly all of the Big 5, except a leopard, which is notoriously the most difficult to spot.

Chobe National Park must do: a sunset Chobe River cruise – all the animals come down to drink in the evening so there were about 40+ elephants on the shore line, crocodiles, and hippos.

 

Getting there

Travelling across Africa can be a tricky one to navigate on your own. Visiting on an adventure tour group gives you the ease of ticking off national parks with expert guides, as well as giving you a real authentic experience. Because of the mix of terrain, most tour groups will travel by a specialist, overland truck, which really allows you to take the road less travelled.

 

Should I go on an adventure tour?

YES! Apart from the ease of it, they can work out to be super cost-effective. The Botswana & Falls Adventure 8-day trip takes you from Johannesburg, through Botswana and ending in Victoria Falls. It’s so valuable to have knowledgeable guides on hand who really know their stuff, plus most meals are included, as well as your transport and select game drives too.

We also experienced a project that supports employment and opportunities for women at Lusumpuko Women’s Club. They cooked us an incredible traditional lunch (I tried caterpillar and it was surprisingly delicious) and did some singing and dancing. You could really see the impact this tour has on communities and has helped these women create their own lives and support themselves.

 

How long to go for

We saw an incredible number of animals given the short time we were there; you really can cram it in if you’re short on time. Choosing an adventure tour is perfect for this, as your itinerary, guides and transport are taken care of – meaning you have more time to spend on spotting animals! Our 8 -day trip was perfect, although, maybe plan for a few extra days in Victoria Falls at the end as there are so many adrenaline sports and activities to do there!

 

The best time of year to go

The bulk of our trip went through Botswana, where the monsoon rains fall from November to March and it’s assumed that the Delta in wet season is best for spotting animals, however the rains take around 6 months to run through all rivers, so the flooding actually tends to happen in the dry season by the time all the water hits the delta! We went in October, which is meant to be one of the best times to go, as it’s within the dry season (April – October) and all the animals gather around the water sources.

 

How much does it all cost?

If you opt for an adventure tour, they can work out extremely cost-effective. The tour I did worked out just over £100 a day, which is amazing value considering you’re driven across a vast country, fed most meals, select game drives and camping equipment are included plus your local, knowledgeable guide.

 

What does an average day on a safari tour look like?

Like this.

Expect to rise early but it pays off to be up at the crack of dawn – you can pack your days full of adventure. Typically, you’ll be up and ready at sunrise to head out on game drives or get on the road to make it to the next destination in good time. The days are crammed with game drives, wildlife walks and canoe excursions with evenings spent around the camp fire playing games and chatting as the guides make dinner. On overland trips like this, you are split into teams with different responsibilities. For example, one day you could be in charge of washing up, helping cook, packing up the truck. Sometimes, you might even need to help pushing vehicles out of sand when you get stuck!

The meaning of average day will completely shift once you get into your safari life – seeing giraffes and elephants peeking around the foliage will become a ‘normal’ part of your mornings.

 

Safari accommodation

Expect to camp a lot on a safari – we stayed in a mix of campsites and lodges, however, if you are camping, sometimes there is the option to upgrade to a lodge room. As the campsites are usually part of resorts, they will have different stay options, but no matter which camp/room type you choose, you’ll still have access to the pools and bars.

If you’re worried about the comfort of camping, don’t! It’s pretty comfy, as you get a sturdy fabric tent (nothing like a glasto one) and sleeping mattress included – just make sure to pack yourself a good sleeping bag. It’s all super easy to set up and all gets stored away in the truck during the day so you’re not having to lug around heavy equipment. I loved the camping and really adds to the trip, being a nature filled safari trip! The camping in the Delta was slightly scary as we had seen lion track nearby and our mahouts told us about one time a hippo fell asleep in camp… there were some nervous toilet breaks that night! All part of the safari experience!

 

What’s the food like?

You’ll get some really delicious, local food. An average meal consisted of meat, veggies, polenta mash and often the odd creepy crawlie – see if you can spot the little caterpillar on my plate here!

 

What to pack

Essentials are earplugs, torch and bug spray – in that order! The nights are so loud with all the weird animals and bugs. You also won’t be able to make any midnight toilet breaks without your torch light – maybe try a head torch so your hands are free. And if you want a good night’s sleep, you’ll need your bug spray to avoid critters keeping you awake with all the biting! Don’t forget a sturdy pair of walking shoes, a hat if you’re sensitive to sun (it was up to 39 degrees!) and a good camera – for all the amazing wildlife shots, of course!

 

What to wear

Take lightweight, sports clothes like leggings, vests and any other basics that you don’t mind getting dusty. You’re in the middle of the bush so a maxi dress is not the best idea (no matter how pretty the insta-shot is!). Definitely make sure you pack some long trousers for bush walks – it might be 39 degrees, but no one wants to get bitten.

 

So in short? Going on safari in Botswana was hands-down the most mind-blowing trip of my life and I can’t encourage people to travel on an adventure tour as a way of seeing this region and its wildlife enough. If you’re short on time, these trips can cover so much ground without compromising on the experience.

Ready? Check out our Africa tours here.