What to Expect on an African Safari

Expect to have the experience of a lifetime! Anyone who gets to experience raw nature in this way is truly fortunate. I hope you have a brilliant time and I hope the info below helps with your trip planning! Please feel free to reach out with any questions or add them in the comments below.

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The first time I went on an African safari I had no idea what to expect…about anything. This article is for safari first-timers. My objective in writing this was to give people a sense of:

  • what a typical day on safari looks like
  • safety
  • what the food is like
  • what to pack and luggage restrictions

My most recent safari was at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. But the info below is applicable whether you’re going on safari in Southern or Eastern Africa.

Note: this article does not cover topics related to gorilla trekking. This article is only about safari drives.


{Getting to Camp}

I flew from Victoria Falls Airport to the local airstrip near Linkwasha on a small plane (I mean very small – 5 seater including the pilot). From there, a guide took us to the camp where we we were greeted and shown around the lovely camp.

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fly vs. drive: We could have driven ourselves or we could have hired someone, as those flights are quite expensive ($~$300USD per person). Depending on where your camp is, the drive from Vic Falls could vary anywhere from 5-8 hours and we just didn’t want to do that.

Last year I went back to Hwange after 12 years and I found that not much had changed. From the airstrip we were whisked way in an open 4×4, directly to Linkwasha. Along the way our guide, Morpheus, told us about the flora and fauna. My husband was enthralled by the huge anthills.

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When we arrived, we were greeted by a beautiful Shona woman who gave each us a warm, moist toilette to freshen up after the dusty drive and invited in for a drink as we got settled in before orientation.

{Daily Schedule}

  • Breakfast
  • Morning game drive (3 hours)
  • Lunch + siesta
  • Afternoon game drive (3 hours)
  • “Happy hour”
  • Dinner
  • Chill out at the camp or in your room

I found this to be a pretty consistent schedule across all of the camps I researched and nothing had changed in the twelve year gap between my first and second visits to Southern Africa. Our camp offered walking safaris but that was in lieu of one of the drives, not in addition to, so we didn’t do any walking safaris.

{Accommodations}

Accommodations across Africa range from basic to luxurious. The vast majority provide pillows and towels. After that what is/is not included will vary. Linkwasha is an all inclusive, luxury camp with modern fixtures, hot running water. (Unfortunately most of my photos of the camp got destroyed except of course this dark one of the swimming pool and lounger. But click the link above to see photos or just Google it; it’s BEAUTIFUL!).

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Pool and loungers at Linkwasha

Our cabin even had a hairdryer. I had to capture the moment in my brain, when I was blowdrying my hair on our final day there, and a few zebras walked by. That was my view while I was blowdrying my hair.

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Bird joining us for dinner at Linkwasha Safari Camp, Zimbabwe

{Meals}

Throughout the day they fed us delicious meals and snacks accompanied by wine, beer, spirits – pretty much anything…even during the game drives. There’s something magical about sipping on a glass of wine in front of a waterhole where animals such as buffalo, elephants and giraffe are sipping their water too.

All of the meals were delicious. My husband and I are vegetarian and they made gourmet, custom meals for us. And they constantly fed us.

Breakfast was a lovely spread of breads, cheeses, pastries and other things for non-vegetarians.


On the safari drive we stopped out in the field to enjoy coffee with biscuits and other snacks.

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Upon returning to camp we were served a big lunch.


Before heading out on the afternoon drive, everyone gathers again for more snacks and beverages.


During the drive we enjoyed sundowners overlooking a waterhole, again with more snacks.


Before dinner there’s a cocktail hour where all your fellow campers gather to share sighting stories from the day, enjoyed over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.


Followed by dinner and dessert.


In our cabin there was a jar of freshly made cookies everyday. That was my first time trying rosemary sugar cookies. One taste and I was hooked. I was so inspired I make them now myself! (They don’t come out as good as Linkwasha’s but every time I make them I always think of it).


 

{Safety}

Any reputable camp’s number one priority will be your safety. During the welcome orientation they explained a couple of guidelines such as, after dark we had to be accompanied by a guide who would walk us back to your cabin/tent. Guides carry armed rifles at all times. Thankfully I’ve never seen a guide have to use one but they are trained and ready in case they do.

All cabins/tents will have some way (whistle, walkie/talkie, etc.) to call attention in case you have an emergency. This is a safety precaution. It’s HIGHLY unlikely that you’ll need it.

Note: Our guide had a rifle on all safari drives. We learned that it’s a 6-7 year process to become a safari guide as they require significant education, training and practical experience before they’re allowed to take out groups on their own.


Exercise common sense. You’re in the wild, not a theme park. So be smart.


The safari vehicles are rugged to withstand the terrain but very comfortable. For your maximum viewing opportunities they’re covered, but open all around.

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You can see the seats are very cushioned, elevated and designed in a stair case style so everyone has a great view. Also, notice this seats 8, including the driver. Every camp’s group sizes vary.

{Luggage}

My husband and I each had a carry-on roller suitcase plus backpacks. Those small planes cannot accommodate roller bags so we checked them in with the airline at Victoria Falls Airport and collected them when we returned. That process was smooth and thankfully we got everything back just as we left it. Obviously we didn’t leave any money nor valuables in those bags. Their “security” was putting our bags in someone’s office at the airport which the guy did right in front of us.

We chuckled at the lax security and decided to just roll with it.

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{What To Pack}

On safari it’s all about practical, modest clothing. Anything revealing or sexy, jumpsuits, rompers, high heels – save them for a different trip.

  • sturdy pair of shoes and socks – hiking boots or sneakers. You’re in the camp or the vehicle the entire time. There’s very little walking but there is a lot of dust. I didn’t buy my awesome hiking boots until a year later so I wore my regular sneakers and that was perfect.
  • siesta shoes – like slippers to wear in-between the game drives you might want to go for a dip in the camp’s pool or chill out on the veranda. And you won’t necessarily want to clunk around in your sneakers or hiking boots. You’ll be on proper decks throughout the camp.
  • pants – I have been on safari in May as well as September and both times I wore long pants or capris on the drives. It was a lot colder in Zimbabwe in May and I was really glad I packed pants instead of capris. My husband wore jeans on all the game drives.
  • tops – something you’re comfortable in. Throughout the drives as it warmed up I shed layers. For the ladies, I was really really glad that I packed sports bras instead of my regular underwire bras. The whole safari is pretty bumpy and underwire would just get really uncomfortable.
  • swim suit + sarong/cover – we went in the winter so actually didn’t pack our swim suits but if we had gone when it was warm, definitely would have.
  • hats – earwarmer and/or beanie for the morning drives.  And a wide-brimmed hat for the afternoon drive – you’ll be out in the sun for several hours. Make sure your hats will stay on while driving or if the wind picks up. I took a flimsier hat that I had to hold onto the entire time which got annoying.
  • Comfortable, airy clothes – in winter, the morning drives are really really cold. I layered on practically every piece of clothing I had brought with me including a winter North Face jacket, plus a hat and gloves and I was still so thankful that the camp provided really heavy duty, cozy ponchos.

Clothing Colors:

In general they say not to pack blue and black as they attract tsetse flies. White color- blinds the animals and scares them off and anything with bold patterns and colors as you’re creating contract which could scare the animals. You want to blend in so gray, browns, beiges and greens.

I did notice tourists wearing items outside of these color schemes and I did too at one point. No one will stop you from going on the safari but you may miss out on opportunities to see animals who got frightened by the color contrasts.

Definitely stay away from animal prints. Animal prints are not a welcome practice in Africa in general, plus I’ve heard stories of monkeys mistaking that for an actual animal, sounding their fellow monkeys about a predator nearby.

As you can see below we broke every clothing color rule. We’re wearing blue, white, and black. And we had the time of our lives with no issues with bugs, insects etc.

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Other items:

  • scarf/bandana
  • sunglasses
  • socks
  • toilettes

Our camp provided soap, shampoo, conditioner, towels, and all bedding so we didn’t take any of those items. But I did take these little guys. They’re packable towels (and they’re biodegradable, yay Go Earth!) They expand when you get them wet. These are the best! They come in really handy and so light and easy to pack anywhere! Get than on Amazon.

Leave your expensive jewelry, and bangles that klink at home. The key here is to keep-it-simple.  Some ladies I know simply can’t live without their mascara and eyeliner but other than that you’re going to be out on the drive so just some sunscreen.

Some (very few) camps will have hair dryers and if you bring one it’ll take up valuable space and might blow out the electricity at the camp. You’re in nature! Let the wind naturally dry your hair! It’s good for your hair to get a break from al the heat anyway! It’s also not a good idea to bring curlers nor flat irons.

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My hair’s not the cutest, but who cares! There’a a family of elephants RIGHT behind me!

Laundry: Many camps have laundry service, so you can pack really light, which is good because those small planes have luggage restrictions. Most camps will give you instructions for laundry. Please do not put your underwear in the camp’s laundry bins as that goes against some African customs. Wash your “smalls” yourself.

{Facilities and Facili-trees}

Depending on your accommodation the facilities will vary. So make sure you look into that before booking. While you’re on the drive, you have the facili-trees. Follow any instructions given by your guide. They will likely check the area first for any snakes or insects.

{Ladies, Let’s Get Real}

If you will or expect to be menstruating while you’re on safari, the most important thing for you to plan for is: don’t assume you’ll have access to supplies at camp. You could be several hours away from the closest store so pack everything you’ll need.

Often the majority of camp staff are male so don’t assume you can ask the staff for anything either.

As I said above, know the facilities at your camp. If you’re out in the field, your guide will tell you where to go to “make your mark”. Some rules of thumb:

  • Don’t leave anything behind.
  • Pack tissues, extra napkin, toilettes, s, ziploc and small paper bags

Animals have a very keen sense of smell. The last thing you want is an animal eating anything left behind. Package and conceal everything and put in your daypack to throw away back at camp.

They’ll discourage you from wearing any perfumes as you don’t want to attract unnecessary attention from the animals.

{Health}

Going on safari isn’t strenuous, as you’re in the vehicle most of the time. Do check in with your healthcare provider several weeks before you go, to find out if you need any immunizations and/or medication to bring with you.

I personally recommend taking care of this at least 1-2 months before your trip because:

  • some healthcare providers don’t have appointments for a few weeks
  • in case you have a reaction to any immunizations you want to give yourself enough time to take care of that and recover.
  • some immunizations are painful for a few days in the shot area
  • delays to order the medicine etc. you just never know

{What To/To Not Spend Money On

Basically, you don’t have to go out and drop and a lot of money on safari-specific clothing.

What I would spend money on is a zoom lens. If you like taking photos on holiday and you carry a DSLR, I’d get a good zoom lens – either buy or just rent one. But this is one trip where you’ll be so glad you did.

I struck up conversation with a somewhat older couple from Pemberley (I know right?! The real Pemberley…be still my heart Mr. Darcy). Anyway this older British woman was telling me about how her husband went bananas buying really expensive camera equipment for their trip. He had some serious glass and it weighed so much that they had to restrict everything else that they packed.
Samta-DSLR


I hope you’ve enjoyed our dive What to Expect on An African Safari. And mostly I hope this helps you plan your trip there. Let me know if it did in the comments. I love hearing from our readers, as well as your fun, funny, interesting, and helpful stories from your travel experiences! You might like to follow us on Facebook and Instagram too, where we share a lot of different content and images.

Woman with long hair smiling
Samta, Founder of PassportPages

Other PassportPages articles you might like:

How to Select a Safari Lodge
Vegetarian in Victoria Falls

 

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