You’ve got your beige cargo pants, moisture wicking shirt, sun protective hat, underwear that you don’t have to wash for 3 days, serious hiking boots and are ready to tough it out in the African bush! Yes, I giggled as well when I realized it was called the Bush, but let’s try and stay mature here, alright?
So where do you even begin to plan this amazing trip of a lifetime? Like in college, let’s start with a 100 level class, except this time with 15,000lb elephants instead of your Freshman 15 (Not to gossip, but I’m pretty sure I saw those elephants at the cafeteria gorging on the unlimited ice cream…they totally looked bloated).
Here are 5 key planning points to ace your African Safari adventure without the risk of summer school:
- Season: Safari is season dependent in many areas so if you know your travel dates start by looking at the Game Viewing Calendar to choose a destination that will give you the best chance of being face-to-face with large and potentially hazardous animals. You can safari on the African continent all year round, but the locations tend to shift like poop smells in the wind…I swear it’s more magical than it sounds.
- Operator: Africa is like your crazy uncle who is rich with wisdom but completely wild, and is best enjoyed when your Aunt Safari Operator is around to tame him. The right safari operator can make or break your African adventure really quickly. You want an operator who sets up the best lodges and seamless travel plans so you aren’t left stranded in an African airport or the middle of the Serengeti (both could be equally dangerous for your health). Wilderness Safaris is one of the best in the business because not only are they expert operators, but they have world-renowned camps in 8 countries with exclusive access to nearly seven million acres of Africa’s best wildlife areas. That means they’re not that unwanted third wheel you’re stuck with at a party, they’re the hostess with the mostest.
- Time: Contrary to common belief, you don’t need 2 weeks to catch a glimpse of Simba and Nala or avoid standing down wind of Pumba. 3 days per safari camp is the ideal amount of time. The best safari trips combine multiple lodges to mix up the landscape and animals. This is where your safari operator comes in handy as they can stuff you in…I mean book you on…small (and I do mean SMALL) private African planes to get from one camp to another to maximize your experience.
- Budget: While there’s a wide range of lodges for every kind of budget, if you’re going to splurge on one trip in your life make it this one, where you get big value (and the big 5) for your hard earned cash. The level of safari lodge determines a lot, like whether you’re stuck on paved roads not able to investigate that pride of lions in the distance or if you’ve got an experienced tracker listening to the birds sharing the evening news that can lead to amazing moments. The best ones can probably even tell you when the birds are gossiping about the elephants recent weight gain as well (I swear I heard one chirp “Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt!”). Beyond the game viewing, great lodges come with amazing staff, food, amenities and environments that will truly make you pinch yourself.
- Activity level: Safaris by definition are low on the activity scale, unless sweating in the African sun counts as a workout (if you have no AC or fan in your lodge then you’ll definitely think you’ve sweat out a few pounds by the end of your trip. But mostly you just stink…believe me now when I say “amenities”?). If you want to do more than just jump in and out of the safari vehicle for sundowners, then include places like Namibia where you can hike sand dunes, or Zimbabwe where you can hurl your body off an old bridge while you bungee with the safety gear of towels around your ankles. And if you think you’re going to keep up your evening runs like at home, do yourself a favor and stay safer by choosing a less risky safari activity by reading the hilarious book “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales Of A Botswana Safari Guide” by Peter Allison.
Now in case you slept through this 101 course because it was at 8am and haven’t studied for the exam (I don’t know anybody who has done such irresponsible things), here’s your cliff notes: Look at a calendar, talk to a great safari operator, schedule some time off, cough up some cash, and whatever you do, don’t run.
Oh and for extra credit points – mega hiking boots and Nilla wafer-colored clothing are not actually required. But bring clothes that you can layer because it goes from AFRICA HOT to freezing real quick. And don’t pack too much – many lodges offer free laundry.
Safari 102 suggestion – don’t watch the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness” unless Val Kilmer or Michael Douglas are in your travel crew.