Safari tips – Budget to Extravagant

Here are 8 tips that I recently read from ‘Lonely Planet’ which I would like to share with you so that you can plan and enjoy a safari that so many people dream about:

   1.When is the best time for a safari

For wildlife watching, winter (June to September) is ideal as many trees and shrubs are leafless, which aids spotting. Limited food and water also means that animals are out in the open more  or grabbing a drink at a waterhole where one can park, wait and enjoy.

2. Choosing a wild life experience

South Africa has over 600 parks and reserves. From utter desolation, to verdant savanna’s rich with life in all forms. You can join guided safaris, go on your own or find serenity at a campsite far from others.  You will find options for every budget. Most have good roads and you can tour in your own rental car but guided tours in an open game vehicle with experienced game rangers is what we would recommend.

3. Choosing a private reserve

There are two main reasons not to choose a private wildlife reserve: cost and too much comfort. These are not places for people on a tight budget, nor are they places for travellers who want to live frills-free –But for people who want the ultimate safari-experience, a lodge in a private reserve offers:

  • Close proximity to wildlife. Not only do you avoid long drives before your safari starts but that bump you hear in the night may be an elephant looking in your window. Sabi Sand, which adjoins Kruger National Park, is widely considered to be the best place in Africa for spotting animals. If you need something close without venturing too far away when based in Johannesburg the  Pilanesberg  is a great malaria free option and Moonflower Cottages an affordable self catering base to use as ‘home from home ‘ accommodation in the northern suburbs of Victory park in Johannesburg
  • Fewer crowds. Safari jeeps may hold only six people compared to a dozen or more in big parks, guides will be able to give you individual attention and when, say, a pride with lion cubs is spotted there won’t be a feeding frenzy of jeeps.
  • Luxury. Some of the private reserve lodges are merely comfortable but others, such as Ulusaba in Sabi Sand are the retreats of the famous, such as the owner Richard Branson, and feature every amenity.
  • Customisation. Since you’re staying amidst the wildlife, you can easily create your own menu of activities on the fly, such as guided walks through the bush or tours that focus on particular species. At Samara Private Game Reserve in a verdant valley amidst desert in the Eastern Cape, there are treks to track cheetahs on foot.

One way to save on the costs of a private reserve is to spend just a few nights at one at the start of your trip. Take advantage of the talented guides and abundance of wildlife to see a lot of animals quickly and learn a lot about South Africa’s wildlife. Then, with your wildlife urges somewhat sated, try a completely different experience in a national park, where you can concentrate more on appreciating the rhythms of life and natural beauty.

4. Use a guide

The first time your guide shows you easily-missed leopard tracks crossing your path, you’ll be glad you’re not wandering aimlessly on your own. Although guides can keep you safe from marauding lions, their great value is simply in explaining the vast complexities and subtleties of the African bush. Animals carry the colours they do so they will be easy to miss.

5. Don’t be a ‘Big Five’ cliché

Sure, it’s great – and a reason to go – to see lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffaloes and rhinos.   But there are obviously a far greater veriety out there: zebras, hippos and giraffes are just a few and the list goes on.

6. Drive or fly

You can fly close to Kruger park, connecting from Cape Town or Johannesburg. If you’re pressed for time this is essential for having plenty of safari time. Most other parks and reserves are equally well served by local flights and you can work out itineraries where resorts or lodges handle all your transfers. But if you can afford the time, driving in South Africa is rewarding. Outside of parks and reserves there are wine regions, spectacular natural beauty and all manner of interesting small towns and cultural attractions. As an example, from Johannesburg you can reach Kruger or Sabi Sand in a full day of driving or you can break the journey at Pilgrim’s Rest, a charmer of an 1880s gold-rush town that hasn’t been over-restored.

7. Bring the right stuff

Dawn safaris during the winter in and around Kruger can be surprisingly cold; layers (even gloves and a warm hat) can be shed as the sun and temp goes up. Binoculars are an obvious choice and don’t expect your lodge or guides to provide them. A compact pair will let you see that big cat skulking in the distance. Don’t count on wi-fi in the bush, so a good book about the land and life around you is essential.

8. Just relax

Besides shivering in the cold dawn air you should be ready to simply chill out. Guides will be doing their best to hit a checklist of animals but this doesn’t always happen. Take time to appreciate the land around you, the beauty of a deserted waterhole reflecting the vast African sky or the sounds of a bird far in the distance. Don’t fret about picking off a checklist of critters and certainly don’t spend all your time hunting for them through a tiny viewfinder. Get out of your vehicle and simply revel in the quiet. Sometimes the most magical moment on safari is when you see nothing at all.

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