Night time safari drives: 5 reasons to embark on a twilight journey

Lion cub silhouette in the night, standing on a tree stump

Twilight is one of the best times to observe and track animals of the night. Many of them are nocturnal, meaning it would be impossible to see them any other time of the day. Picture twinkling eyes gazing at you from afar. Or the sight of a creeping leopard making its way through the grasslands.

Night drives offer you the chance to see the bush for what it really is. The reality of predators stalking their prey. As well as nocturnal primates, like bush babies, hiding in the tall trees, and feasting on insects who wake up at night.

With an experienced guide, a night safari can be as thrilling as early morning or afternoon drives. Let’s take a look at what makes these ventures so special.

Key Reasons for Going on a Night Drive in Africa

As the night starts to darken, the excitement begins to kick in. Your guide will take you through scenic routes to prepare you for the action of the night.

Seeing a kill is not always a guarantee, as this is an extremely rare occurrence for humans to encounter. However, here are some things you can always expect with a night drive.

1. The atmosphere of an African safari game drive

Baby impala and her mom on a night drive safari

There’s something spectacular about a safari at night; something that you can only understand once you’ve experienced it for yourself. Whether that be the excitement of the darkness, the twinkling eyes in the distance, or the slight breeze and cool African air. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar noises and sounds of the wild.

At night, it feels as though the roles are reversed. During the day we may feel like the observers, fascinated by nature. Yet, come night time and the animals have the upper hand of spying upon us and their prey.

2. Night time game viewing of weird-looking animals

Cute lesser bushbaby going about its nocturnal activities

A night drive in the African bush provides the opportunity for unusual and unique animals to come out and play. Along with their weird and wonderful looking faces, their names can be quite extraordinary, too. Like the aardvark with the nickname “earth pig”.

During the night, you have the chance to see the shining eyes of the beloved bush baby. Or the lonesome porcupine that proves to be a rare sighting during the day.

As well as small mammals, you may see your fair share of larger beasts. These include the whimsical spotted hyena and the mysterious leopard.

Perhaps you’re a bird lover who doesn’t want to miss out on morning viewings, and so aren’t keen on staying up for a night drive. However, even bird enthusiasts will find the night to be thrilling.

Nightjar sitting on the road, illuminated by the light of the game drive vehicle

You can spot various species of nightjars after dark. These birds usually enjoy the warmth of dirt roads and camouflage well, so it’s important to take extra caution not to drive over them.

Other typical nocturnal bird species to be on the lookout for in Africa at night:

  • Marsh owl
  • African grass owl
  • Barn owl
  • Spotted eagle-owl
  • Freckled nightjar
  • African scops owl
  • Rufous-cheeked nightjar
  • African wood owl
  • Cape eagle-owl

3. Stargazing during your night time drive

Game ranger silhouette at dusk

If you ever want to enjoy views of an uninterrupted starlit sky, then going on a night drive safari is a must. African skies are usually clear after dusk, and it is such a unique spectacle to observe them from your open vehicle. With a lack of light pollution, you’ll be in for a real treat.

“I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent van Gogh

After a busy day and night of wildlife viewing, stargazers have the added bonus of seeing the Milky Way. Can you see Scorpius? What about Orion, or even the Southern Cross?

4. Sounds heard on a night drive

Majestic lion silhouette calling in the night

This is perhaps the most special feeling about night drives. All you can hear is the chirping sound of crickets, bizarre noises coming from the thickets, or howling animals. Which is sure to bring on a thrilling feeling.

Ever slept in a tent surrounded by wild creatures? It’s something you’ll want to try. Often, you’ll hear the footsteps of wandering warthogs and the distant cackle of a hyena. Perhaps even the ominous sounds of trees crashing from the trunk of a lonesome bull elephant.

Some more sounds you can expect to hear in the darkness of Africa:

  • Grunts of lions and leopards
  • The eerie sound of a nightjar
  • The sound of a reed frog during sundown
  • Dried grasses crushing under the foot of an elephant
  • The enthralling sound of the pearl-spotted owlet

5. The safari lights brightening up the grasslands

An elusive aardwolf encounter on a night drive safari

Night drives are only possible with one essential item: a spotlight. Typically speaking, a tracker flashes the light left and right from the front of the 4×4. By scanning the area with a torch, it’s easier to catch glimpses of the animal’s eyes, to help identify where they are.

Remember not to shine directly into the eyes of animals (especially non-nocturnal ones), as this may blind them. And in some cases, they are more than 6 times more sensitive to light than we are.

Another thing to note is the use of a flash camera. Nighttime drives are a good chance to put down the technology and be alone with nature. But this isn’t to say that a good camera is not needed.

Unfortunately, it’s only high-quality cameras that can catch these night-time creatures in action. Take caution when using the camera’s flash, as, much like a flashlight, it can scare the animals. And in some cases, cause damage to their eyes.

Ready to Journey on a Safari at Night?

Opting for a game drive as the sun begins to set, or after a couple of hours after dark, can transform your understanding and experience of the bush. Although often overlooked with the option of day drive, the night time shows off animals you would never have dreamed of seeing.

Listen to the sounds of Africa at night, or witness a pride of lions stalking antelope under the moonlight, by booking a custom-built safari.

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