As an animal lover, traveling to Africa for a safari was a dream come true. Seeing those majestic animals roaming freely about in their natural habitat was an very moving experience. There are a few things to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of your safari and make it more enjoyable.
When planning your trip will want to put some serious thought into where you will stay. Are you looking for the “resort” hotel experience or are you looking for something more unique that will enhance your interaction with the animals. For me, I wanted a real bush experience and as much interaction with the animals as possible so I chose to stay in a remote treehouse that was located on a private game reserve. All of the treehouses on the property were spread out so you had the feeling you were alone in the bush which was exciting as well as a little nerve racking. Our treehouse had electricity, a private bathroom, a viewing deck, bed mosquito nets and ceiling fans. However, it did not have internet, a phone in the room, cell phone reception, air conditioning, or heating and the walls were made of bamboo sticks and canvas with a thatched roof. Being on a game reserve the animals were free to roam around the grounds at will so there was the possibility you would come across some kind of animal.
Weigh the pros and cons of where you will stay. I highly recommend a place that is en-suite. Even though it may cost a little more it will be worth the extra money. Some of the treehouses we stayed in were en-suite, some were not. I was so glad we got an en-suite because even though there was a toilet and shower located just a few feet away, I would not have wanted to have to sprint those few feet in the middle of the night when all the more dangerous animals such as hyena’s, lions and leopards were out and about. On one night of our stay we had a pack of hyena’s roaming around our treehouse so there is no way I could have made a bathroom run so really think about where you are staying and what will happen if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Not being a fan of bugs, I brought a small bottle of bug repellant with me and before going to bed at night I sprayed it on the mosquito nets over the beds. We were in a mosquito free area but it wasn’t really the mosquitoes I was afraid of. I just knew as soon as I turned out the light that net was going to be covered with creepy bugs! I am happy to say we never had an issue with bugs.
There are many options for more traditional hotel style rooms that also offer that remote feeling and are located on game reserves. Some have wire fences which keeps the larger animals out while still allowing viewing of passing animals, while others have no fences so the animals are free to roam around as they please. The accommodations you choose can really enhance your experience so choose carefully.
Some people choose to drive themselves on game drives however there are great perks to going with a tour or having a guide with you. Many of the guides will communicate with each other to let others know where the animals are at. Guides also know the best spots for animal viewing plus they are much more adventurous and will get you into places you would never drive into yourself. They know what to do if they come across an agitated animal or know when a situation is dangerous and when it’s not. Their job is to make sure you have an unforgettable experience and they usually deliver.
While on a guided game drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa we saw several compact rental cars filled with tourist wandering around in circles looking for animals. With our guide we saw animals within the first ten minutes of entering the park. On one game drive we came across a herd of elephants. There were several cars pulled to the side of the road to view them. At one point a very large female elephant got tired of us and started chasing the cars and of course out of fear the cars would take off, sometimes having to drive backwards just to get away from her. However our guide told us this was the wrong thing to do because as long as they were running the elephant would chase them and possibly ram their cars. When she charged at us our guide stood his ground and revved the jeeps engine which simulates a roar. The elephant ran at us but veered off at the last minute and she quietly walked away. It was all very exciting and we were all very confident in our guide’s ability to handle the situation. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in one of those small cars, being chased by a huge elephant and not sure of what to do.
While on game drives its best to wear neutral colored clothing. Stick to colors found in nature, you don’t want to be wearing a bright red shirt which will attract the animals. You might as well be wearing a giant red target. Wear closed in shoes. Even though you are on a “drive” there may be times when your guide has you get out of the vehicle to get a better look at something and you will not want to be walking around in flip flops. There are plenty of thorns and bushes that will stick you.
Keep your camera ready, animal encounters can come and go quickly. You won’t want to miss something because you are fumbling around for your camera. If you are going a night game drive, don’t forget to spray on a little bug repellant.
One of the best purchases I made prior to our leaving home was small pocket size flashlights about 6 inches long. I only paid about $3.00 for them at Walmart. They were easy to carry in my bag or in a pocket. Our walk from the main building at our accommodations to our treehouse was long and dark. Every evening after dinner we had to make the trek and at night it is pitch black out there. Having those little flashlights provided an amazing amount of comfort and security. We also used them on a sunset game drive when a herd of buffalo came right up to our jeep. It was very dark so the buffalo were hard to see but with the flashlights we got a good enough view to take pictures.
Also on one night drive our jeep ran into a giant sink hole and got stuck. Since there were no cell phone signals out there we had no choice but to walk back to our resort. It was so dark you could only see about two feet in front of you, I was never so grateful for those flashlights. Thankfully we made it back without encountering any dangerous animals or at least we didn’t “see” any animals, of course that’s not to say they didn’t see us. May be it was a good thing it was so dark out!
Many tours include at least one game walk. These walks can be very exciting, and heart pounding. Again, wear closed in shoes, preferably walking or hiking shoes. Long pants are best as you will be hiking through the bushes which can scrape up your legs. You may get mud or dirt along the bottom of your pants so you may want to wear an older pair you don’t care if they get stained or wear a darker color that won’t show the dirt as much. Do not wander away from the group or be overly loud while walking around. Even though your guide will have a rifle with them, you do not want to attract any animals or scare them. Do exactly as your guide tells you. You will be walking around in an area where wild and possibly dangerous animals are, it is important to follow your guides instructions.
While on a game walk we began to hear lions groaning. At first they were behind us but then we heard them to the side of us. I noticed the two guides we had with us kept stopping to listen to the lions and looking at each other. After a few minutes we were told we needed to leave the area. The lions were stocking us and beginning to circle us. It was getting to be a dangerous situation and we needed to leave. We calming walked back to our jeep and continued our walk in another area. We did hear that another group a few days earlier had encountered a group of lions who blocked them from reaching their jeep. There was a several minute standoff which was pretty intense. We also hear another got chased up a tree by a rhino. The entire group had to climb a tree and stay there until the rhino got bored and left them alone. These game walks can be exciting and at times intense but as long as you listen to your guides it will be an experience to remember.
- · * Choose your accommodations carefully
- · * Bring a small flashlight
- · * Bring bug repellant
- · * Wear neutral colored clothing
- · * Wear walking or hiking shoes
- · * Listen to your guides
Marc’s Treehouse Lodge
Driving into a sink hole in South Africa