Go at the right time of year for you
At the end of Namibia’s dry season (October) water is scarce so animals cluster around the waterholes. In May/June, the grasses are dying back in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, making the game easier to see. In February, the wildebeest calves are born and come August, the Great Migration across Kenya’s Mara river takes place. Discuss with Africa Sky what you’d most like to see and use their expertise to secure the safari that will tick the all boxes for you.
Check your vehicle
If you can, it’s worth paying a little more to have fewer people in the safari vehicle with you. As a minimum, check whether everyone can have a ‘window’ seat – no-one wants to be stuck in the middle. If your hearing is not so good, turn up early and sit as near the safari guide in the front as you can. They not only spot the animals first but have a fund of fascinating stories and info to relate.
Much as we love them …
If you are travelling as an older couple, check whether any under 12s will be sharing your safari vehicle. It’s one thing if it’s your grandkids who shout and frighten off the big cat you’ve just caught sight of. It can be frustrating if they are someone else’s. Many companies make special arrangements for family groups.
Enjoy the jungle sounds at night
The croaking frogs, the giggling geckos, the territorial roar of a lion if you’re lucky – the soundtrack of an African night will remind you of just how far from city life you have travelled. Bring ear-plugs if you really can’t sleep through it, but you’ll miss one of nature’s most glorious dawn choruses too!
Dress for the bush
You will feel much more part of the scene and at one with the animals if you wear colours found in nature – khaki, subdued shades of green, brown and beige. Do not wear red (unless you are a Masai warrior), pink, white, black or jazzy patterns. And don’t wear army-style camouflage – in some countries, such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, it is banned. Your ranger guides will dress in beige or dark green; you’ll fit in just right – and look like an old hand at this – if you dress similarly. Don’t be tempted to take too many clothes either; the lodges and camps offer overnight laundry and it provides extra jobs for the local people.
Don’t get bitten
You’ll have mosquito nets provided and most places also supply bug sprays but to be absolutely sure, bring your own 50% deet mosquito repellent and use it religiously. And cover up, especially after sundown. Wear socks, long trousers and long-sleeved shirts in light colours. And remember to take the malaria pills a few days before you enter a malarial region and for a week after you leave – it’s not worth taking chances.
Take the Game drives
Most places will include – or offer – early morning and late afternoon game drives. You may think getting up at 4am to go on a drive is a bit much, but you don’t want to be the one who missed seeing the baby elephants or the rhino. Rest instead in the heat of the day, like the animals do, so you’re ready (once you’ve had afternoon tea, of course) for the later game drive, when animals will be up and about again. The safari vehicle will shake, rattle and roll – which is part of the fun – but they usually also come equipped with blankets and those all-important sundowners in the cool-box.
Listen to the people who live there
The ranger guides, the camp managers, the waiters – the people who live and work in the properties all have stories to tell that will amaze, amuse and sometime appal you. Keep asking and keep listening – it’s how you’ll gain a real understanding of the people, the wildlife and the special places you are visiting.
Do not run
In almost every situation in the bush, this is the wrong thing to do. The only exception in my experience was when we were surprised on a walking safari by two rhinos that had doubled back on us. All of us, the silver travellers included, found that we could quickly climb trees when necessary.