A safari spent in the African savanna will enchant you with unforgettable experiences and wonderful sights. Provided below are just a few rules and advice you may want to consider to improve your game viewing chances.
1. Wake Up Very Early
Rule number ONE! I know this might sound strange (especially while on holiday), but out in the bush this is probably the only recommendation you should stick to. Early mornings and late afternoons are just THE best times of the day to encounter wild animals. At noon, the sun is at its highest peak and animals tend to hide under the thickets.
A typical safari game drive begins at around 5:30 AM (6 ish at the latest for lazy bees), and lasts around 3-4 hours. Make sure you wear warm clothes as mornings can be very chilly. Especially if you’re in an open vehicle.
Afternoon game drives usually start at 5:00/6 PM and will last until 7-9:30 PM depending on the safari highlights of the day. Some lodges even offer night drives, which is a huge bonus. Highly recommended.
NB: You will have plenty of time to rest in the afternoon. Siestas are more than welcome in the heat of the day. 😉
2. Be Quiet
While animals have somewhat become habituated to car engines, they will run away if you are too loud. So it’s in your best interest to stay calm and discreet at all times.
3. Be Patient
Unlike zoos, national parks and African game reserves are wild areas where animals roam free and unattended. In other words, do not expect to see lions, rhinos and elephants every square kilometer. More often than none, you may drive hours and hours without seeing anything (or at least not “much”; just the usual impala or occasional warthog). Do not panic! Persistence is key, and it is usually when you least expect it that you bump into the most exciting and rewarding sightings.
4. Scan the Horizon
Open your eyes. And if your eyes aren’t good enough, a pair of binoculars are always handy. Stop often and scan the horizon, even though you might not see anything at first sight. I have spotted lions this way on numerous occasions.
Also look for small details like unusual movements in trees, strange shadows in the open or awkward sounds. Look for everything and anything.
Sometimes your imagination might play you a few tricks (“It’s a LION”… oops nope, only a darn rock 🙂 ), but it will also reward you with interesting findings. Even the smallest creatures such as chameleons, dung beetles, snakes or even tree iguanas can be so much fun to watch.
5. Talk to Your Guide
If you have decided to go for guided safaris (instead of safaris in your own vehicle), spend some time chatting with your guide prior to departure. The idea is to ask questions about the area, and to be curious about what to expect from the game drive. Depending on the guide’s response, tell him what you’re keen to see. What are your interests? Animal lover, cat lover, birder?
Be very specific. The more specific you are, the higher the chances you’ll be satisfied with the overall experience.
In this way your guide will take you to areas where you are more likely to see your favourite wild animals.
Let’s say you’re a huge cheetah fan, for instance. If your safari guide is qualified enough, he’ll concentrate his efforts in areas that are suitable for cheetahs, such as plains and open grasslands. I am not implying that you can ONLY find cats in those types of habitat, but of course there is a higher probability to spot them there.