Most Popular Activities on an African Safari

A white rhino emerges from the trees. Then another, a calf following her mother to the river. You watch, spellbound. Silence reigns as the horns scroll past and you realise that these are amongst the final of their species. But you’re not even on a game drive.

Amazingly on safari, this is the sort of scene that is often witnessed from your camp or lodge. In most safari destinations there are no fences and no boundaries. It’s just you and the wild. So even when relaxing at your accommodation the safari continues.

The parks and reserves feel like giant adventure playgrounds. There are many different ways to explore and you’ll often be able to build your own program of safari activities.

Each activity has a different feel and different advantages. This is another reason why multi-day safaris are so special, as you’ll get to combine all the activities.

Game Drives

The classic and most common safari activity, game drives are a timeless means of exploration. The four-wheel drive vehicles provide an elevated vantage point, ideal for seeking out animals that hide in the grass.

You can cover large distances, so game drives are usually when you’ll see the greatest abundance of habitats and animals. The game is more important than the drive and you’ll travel slowly, rarely faster than 20 kph.

Then the vehicle will stop and the engine will be turned off when you find a particularly impressive scene.

Sometimes lions circle the safari vehicle, then lie down in the shade that’s been created. Often the elephants walk past and stand far higher than the vehicle! Game drives are a brilliant introduction to a safari and the mainstay on most days.

In some destinations they are the only activity that is permitted. Game drives are also the safest way to encounter nature’s giants, such as the big five and any of the predators.

Nighttime Game Drives

Travel in the same vehicle after dark and the atmosphere changes completely. Under the cover of darkness you’ll find the wilderness to be a completely different place. It’s intimate and almost haunting, following mammal silhouettes and strange sounds.

Nighttime is the coolest time of day and is when many animals are at their most active, particularly big cats and all the nocturnal creatures you can’t experience during the day. It’s an unpredictable experience and the guide will use a spotlight to illuminate particular scenes and animals.

You won’t see as many animals as in the day but you will enjoy some incredibly intimate moments, as well as gaining a new perspective on the landscape.

Safaris on Water

Everything in the wilderness revolves around water. Animals can’t carry water in bottles like we can, so they must plan their day around when and where they can drink. So the water becomes a hive of activity.

It’s where the big cats hang out as well, hoping to lay an ambush for unsuspecting prey. In many parks it’s not possible to do a safari on the water, because the animals wander between a series of waterholes.

However, in others the landscape is defined by a river or lake. It’s here that you can go on boat rides, canoe or kayak trips, even traditional vessels like a mokoro dug-out canoe in Botswana.

You’ll travel slowly and quietly looking at all the animals drinking from the banks. And you’ll usually come across a great number of water dwellers, notably big, raucous hippos. Just beware: hippos are dangerous, not cute!

Walking Safari

Walking in the wilderness! Isn’t that dangerous when there are lions and elephants around? Well, yes and no. Indigenous tribes have coexisted with these wild animals for hundreds of generations, so they know exactly how to guide you away from danger.

With a walking safari they lead you away from the cats to places where nature’s cute and colourful characters reside; zebra, wildebeest, impala, warthogs. And they are just the start.

With a walking safari you travel almost silently, which means you don’t scare the animals and they rarely run away from you. That means you can get closer to many of them. You’ll also appreciate their true size; zebra and buffalo are much bigger than you think!

Aerial Safari

From the air you get an incredible impression of scale. The most famous experience is hot air ballooning in the Maasai Mara or Serengeti, following the great wildebeest migration. Hot air ballooning is possible in all the main safari countries and is usually done at sunrise or sunset.

Serene and sublime, it’s a luxurious extra to complement all your discovery on the ground. You can also cruise on a micro flight, or watch Africa unfold on short flights that hop between safari destinations, particularly in East Africa.

Self Driving Safari

On most safaris you’re expertly guided by those who know the landscape best. That’s the guides and local tribes who impart their knowledge and ensure you see as much as possible. However, in Southern Africa it’s possible to take your own vehicle into many of the national parks.

It’s exhilarating, especially when coming across elephants and lions. But you’ll definitely need a four-wheel drive, and a self driving safari works best when you’re visiting a national park on a longer self drive holiday.

Horse Riding, Mountain Biking and Other Adventures

Many of the smaller parks have introduced new activities like horse riding and mountain biking. These are typically available in areas that aren’t populated by dangerous cats or giants like elephants. It’s always an adventure, especially when you’re galloping along with the zebra or biking past great herds of antelope.

You might even stop at a lake where hippos are wading and bathing. If you’re a keen rider or biker then there are some exceptional places for multi-day experiences, although for many, riding and biking can be a nice interlude that changes the pace of the safari experience.

Design Your Own Safari Program

It’s very rare that all these activities are possible at the same destination. National parks tend to be stricter about what’s possible; for example, game drives are the only way to explore the Serengeti.

There’s usually more choice at private concessions and reserves, with guides that will design a program specifically to your interests and mood. Any of these activities can be the core of your experience.

Imagine a seven-day walking safari in the Kenyan wilderness, a week canoeing through the Okavango Delta, or game driving through four connected Tanzanian parks. You could also have a program that combines many different activities.

One of the highlights of a safari is that there is all this choice. So while it’s easy to be preoccupied about where and when to go, there’s always so much to do and see you will always connect with your wild side.

What are you waiting for? Start planning and customizing your own safari here.