Tips for a top safari

“Africa seeps under your skin. It is at once seductive, a land ripe with promise and vitality, yet laced through with an undercurrent of primal fear. Such is the nature of the beast, for Africa is forever a tale of beauty laced with danger.”

I grew up in Africa. Since leaving to live elsewhere I’ve re-visited countless times, as both tourist and travel writer. So I’ve got a good idea about what makes for a tip top safari experience.

The wildlife safari is the most popular of Africa holiday options. You can go on a luxury lodge safari, a camping safari, a fishing or canoeing safari, by train or even elephant back! The choice of how you’ll bed down for the night ranges from the outlandishly luxurious and exclusive private game lodge to permanent tented camps to mobile treks during which you pitch your own tent, do some cooking and help wash up. Whatever comfort level you select, at some time do make sure you walk on the wild side.

Best foot forward: A safari should involve getting to close grips with Africa. One way to ensure this happens is to spend time walking through the bush with an experienced, armed ranger because, unquestionably, on-foot is the most thrilling way to see wild creatures. A rhino or elephant at 100 paces will appear to be twice the size – and doubly dangerous – to one viewed from the relative safety of a Landrover. A walk in the wild certainly provides the most heart-thumping moments and also the most treasured memories. Always ask about your chances of walking in the bush when booking your adventure

Sleep under canvas: Opt for the tented camp. Nothing beats the sensation of having just a sheet of material between you and any wildlife that might roam through the campsite at night. I’ve slept in the most fabulous lodges and thoroughly enjoyed the comfort, food and fine service, yet have often felt far removed from what I consider the real thing.

Go for wet: Choose a camp located near or beside water, if not a river then at least a waterhole. The presence of water practically guarantees the presence of creatures. The end of the dry season, between October and January, sees animals gathered close to rivers and waterholes in numbers not witnessed at other times of the year.

Big ain’t always best: Small is equally beautiful. You’ll hear people banging on about the Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo – a grouping of the most prized trophies for 19th Century hunters. And of course you want to see these amazing animals. But it’s often the tiny things that are most fascinating, especially when there’s no big creatures to be easily seen. In this respect, it’s crucial to have a guide who is able to point out and explain the ecology of little things, be they plants or insects.

Rise early: Africa is at its best at first light. Dawn brings birdsong, a lightening sky and aroused sensibilities. Thorny black silhouettes transform into acacias with grey trunks, gnarled branches, dark green foliage and spiky thorns. Morning game drives require pre-dawn starts as wild animals know these first hours of each day are when it’s best to be on the move.

Be informed: Purchasing the appropriate regional field guides to African wildlife and birds will prove invaluable both before and long after your trip.

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