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Night gives way to dawn as the first streaks of daylight peak over the horizon. Civets, servals, giraffes, and all wildebeest awaken to a morning song of the river birds. The whole safari comes alive on cue, ready to give you the real-life experience you waited for since you first watched The Lion King. That probably sums up what you’re expecting from an African Safari doesn’t it? Reality however, can be quite different! We're here to give you the A to Z of an African Safari and how you can prepare for it for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This is going to be a life-changing experience for sure. Even if it may not always be as exhilarating or action-packed as you imagine it to be, just being exposed to how life works outside our man-made hours will give you a new appreciation for nature and our planet. That alone should be enough to convince you to get your flight ticket - pronto!
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This term originally referred to the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Five of the hardest animals to hunt on foot. But today, safari rangers use that term as part of the lingo of the job. You haven’t been to an African safari if you haven’t seen at least three animals out of the five!
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Don’t compromise on these two. Bring a really good camera, ideally over 22 megapixels and one that has an extensive zoom function for those times where you spot a hyena, cheetah, or a gazelle far off in the distance. Remember to adjust your shutter speed accordingly. Capture as many photos as you can and sort through them later. As for clothes, temperatures can change quite rapidly throughout the day - from very cold in the morning to very hot in the afternoon. So layer up! Wear closed-toe shoes and bring a good windproof jacket and a shawl. A good warm blanket will be useful in the morning or evening, especially if you feel you need to be wearing shorts for the hot afternoon.
The weather can be very dry in many parts of Africa and you’ll want to keep hydrated. Most tours will provide water for guests but it is always good to have your own bottle of water handy.
That saying is also applicable to us humans. Many wild animals hunt throughout the night and are still active at the break of day. Tours can start as early as 5.30am just to get a glimpse of these creatures before breakfast is served back at the lodge around 9am. Temperatures are also cooler in the morning which means a more comfortable ride or tour for you too. As the afternoon sun takes prominence, many animals retreat to rest or take shelter from the impending heat so you won’t see that many around. Make the effort to catch the earliest tour to get a real bang for your buck.
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Yes, a first-aid kit is absolutely essential because you’re out there in the wild. There are no paved roads for a smooth ride or walk. Minor cuts or scratches from plants can happen. Mosquito bites too. You can also ask your safari tour guide if they will be providing one. What you should bring on your own though, is your own sunscreen. With all that exposure to the sun, you don’t want to get sunburnt. Bring a good hat that protects your face and neck from the sun, and sunglasses to spare your eyes from a constant squint. A pair of binoculars will come in handy too.
Kruger National Park in South Africa and Etosha National Park in Namibia are two out of many national parks that offer self-drive tours. On a guided tour, you get access to more information simply because you can ask the park Ranger or tour guide questions which may not have answers in the guidebook. You get to learn more about his or her culture, which adds to your overall experience and education of a safari. On the other hand, a self-drive tour makes things more flexible for you and your family. You can stop wherever you like and spend a longer time in parts of the park that you enjoy the most. Both experiences are worth trying and for us, we say the company is what matters the most!
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You should remember there are multiple national parks all across Africa. Of course, it’s a whole continent! Each national park would be known for sighting a certain group of animals or have a highlight feature of its own. Do your research to choose which one will allow you to see what you’d like to see, and to find one that fits within your budget. Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was voted as the number #1 park in Africa this year. It is known for being the perfect setting for the Great Migration and has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is closely followed by Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. Both parks have 4-5 of the Big Five, and a varied landscape offering different activities throughout the day (tip: bring your swimwear!). The best time to visit is during the drier months of June to October. Packages start at RM11,800 per person for a 7-day tour, inclusive of accommodation and meals. Better start saving up!
A safari is not a zoo. That means that animals are free to roam, following nature’s timing for being active or asleep - and that can happen anywhere, within your view or not. There can be times where the animal you want to see may not be out in the open at that very hour that you’re there, or in that very location. It’s good to know this so you can manage your own expectations. Above all, if you know you’re in for the full experience of just being outdoors and enjoying nature’s whole package - not just viewing animals - then you’ll still be able to have a good time!
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Another thing about seeing animals in their natural habitat in real life is that nothing is censored. If you’re lucky enough to catch a pack of lions or a family of cheetahs enjoying their kill of the day, it can be a pretty raw and gruesome sight. You’re not going to get all the polished camera angles that you’d normally see on National Geographic. So be mentally prepared or feel free to just look away.
Remember our tip on being flexible? This goes for trusting what your park Ranger has to say. They do this every day and know best when it comes to the best time of day to spot certain animals or how to behave when you’re around them. Listen carefully to their briefing and explanation, and be flexible enough to go with the flow if they call for a change of plans. At the end of the day, they just want you to have a good time while also protecting the animals.
A safari is where you’ll witness natural instincts kicking in. Not just for animals, for humans too! It can be very exciting when you’re seeing a pride of lions or a herd of buffaloes for the first time. But fight the urge to whip out your phone and shout about it on your Instagram story because that kind of behaviour could come across as being aggressive to some wild animals. The last thing you want is for them to get defensive and respond to you and your whole tour group with a fight. Always keep safety as a priority and look out for one another throughout the trip. No (man)cub should get left behind!
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Don’t rush through your safari tour, especially if you’re on a self-guided drive, Allow nature’s timing to welcome you into one of the most relaxing and delightful experiences you’ll have. This is because taking it slow allows you to observe more and notice things that you may not see in the city or even on TV - like two cute zebras nuzzling each other affectionately. Let that be part of the package too - after all, it’s not cheap. So savour every moment!
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Remember that a safari is also a place of work for local staff and there may still be indigenous tribes living within the reserve too. Every country in Africa has its own identity, language, and cultural norms. So be respectful of their culture and way of living as you enjoy what the safari experience has to offer.
Check if your passport requires obtaining a visa before you travel. Do this when you’re looking for the best flight ticket deals as well so it won’t come as a surprise later on. Malaysian passports require a Visa to any African country. It’s called a Visitors Visa and you can find more information here.
Relax, there are none to be found in an African Safari. Got you there! So we skipped a few letters but included the most important parts in the A to Z of an African Safari. Now all that’s left is for you to buy your next flight ticket to an African national park, or better yet - check out our popular tour packages for Africa!