This article is written in collaboration with Bench Africa
Many of us dream of taking an African safari at least once in our lives. And to witness wild lions lazing in the grass, and elephants trekking across vast plains; to spend time watching a magical sunrise as the African landscape comes alive; this truly is the experience of a lifetime.
But just as there are many countries to choose from for an African safari, there are also many types of safari experience, and the key to planning a memorable trip is to choose one that aligns with your interests.
Whether you’re a wildlife explorer ready to track wildlife in a classic jeep, or a cultural enthusiast who wants to take a walking safari led by local tribes, there isn’t one set ‘African Safari’. That’s why it’s important to consult with an expert to get the kind of experience that suits you.
Safaris by Bench Africa can advise you on all of the safari choices we’re about to mention, from organizing a self-drive itinerary, to a traditional jeep tour, or a walking safari where you discover what an African expedition was like before the introduction of the 4×4.
There are a huge range of safaris suited to all types of travelers, and all types of budgets, so don’t be fooled into thinking that your destination is the most important choice to make. Here are a few other tips for choosing the perfect safari experience.
How to Choose an African Safari That’s Right For You
Think About Your Interests
As we outlined in the intro, travelers tend to make the assumption that there’s only one type of experience, and they typically don’t think about shopping around for something that really matches their interests.
For most people, this is a trip that’s likely only going to happen once in your life, so it’s important to make it as epic as possible. You should sit down and create a list of what you want out of a safari experience by thinking about these points:
What do you want out of a safari experience?
➡ Adventure / adrenaline
➡ Culture and History
➡ Group tour vs private experience
➡ Camping in the wild vs luxury lodge (or a combination)
➡ Beach retreat vs city stay
➡ Escorted tour vs self drive
➡ Walking safari vs Horse riding safari vs Jeep safari
As a for instance, if you’re an adventure junkie, perhaps you would be into a full participation adventure, where you pitch your own tent in the wilds, and help out around the camp. You spend a few nights under a sky of glittering stars amongst the wildlife of Africa.
Or, if the idea of sleeping on the ground with hyenas outside truly horrifies you, you’re going to have a much more enjoyable experience on a trip that includes hotel stays.
If you’re highly independent you might want to think about taking a private tour over joining a group, or hiring a car and organizing a self drive itinerary, which is easy to do in countries like South Africa and Namibia.
Think About the Wildlife
While there are a huge range safaris that cater to different interests, one of the main reasons everyone heads on safari is for the wildlife.
After-all, getting up close with iconic African wildlife is a rare and authentic experience which makes you feel as though you’re living a David Attenborough film. But it’s important to decide exactly what wildlife you want to see.
For instance, if you’ve been forever dreaming about seeing Mountain Gorillas in the wild, you’ll come away from a Kenyan Safari disappointed. You need to travel to Rwanda or Uganda instead. If you want to see lemurs, you’ll head to Madagascar.
Most classic safaris will include sightings of your main species; zebras, giraffes, gazelles, lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino (though note that Rhino’s are critically endangered so much rarer) and the largest mammal in the world … the African elephant. But check that the destination you’ve chosen is home to the wildlife you’re traveling for.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not at a zoo, so on a game drive safari you’re never guaranteed a sighting of a specific animal, for instance, you may not see a critically endangered rhino. So while you’ll definitely see animals, it’s important to keep your expectations in check as to which species.
Think About Your Budget
One of the most important aspects of choosing an African Safari that’s right for you is setting your budget. As you may only get one chance at this, you need to decide whether you’re going to save and splurge, or settle for something within your price range.
For instance, if you’re passionate about horse-riding, and your ultimate dream safari is to canter alongside the animals you’re seeing in the wild, it may be worth saving for an extra year so the money you do spend is on a trip you actually want.
Because the price range on different safari experiences varies greatly, and you can spend as much or as little as you want. Self drive holidays are typically the most affordable, as you can do 12 days in South Africa from $1,400, where-as a 6 day horse-riding safari might set you back $5,700.
If budget isn’t an issue, skip straight to thinking about the timing.
Think About the Timing
Safaris are available year round, but it’s important to think about the timing, both in terms of how many days you need to spend for the experiences you want to fit into your itinerary, and how seasonal trends might affect your trip.
After you’ve chosen your destination, research the peak and off peak seasons for a safari, and pull up a list of pros and cons for visiting during both. Typically, it will be a lot cheaper to visit during off peak, which in most countries is the rainy /wet season.
Dry season typically offers the best game-viewing as animals are easier to find (they congregate around the permanent water sources). Though wet season, or the ‘green season’, means you’ll save money, avoid the crowds, and typically find better photo opportunities.
In terms of photography, the Green season offers the best lighting of the year. Instead of heading home with boring clear blue skies, you’ll have glowing golden light and striking cloud formations with intense sunsets. Landscapes are lusher, so the colors truly pop, and mean you can capture really beautiful nature shots.
Consult an Expert
If you’re a little overwhelmed with all the choice, consulting with an expert can be a really great way to find a safari experience for your specific interests, budget and timeline.
Experts like Bench Africa can curate your experience to fit these considerations. When you jump to their website, click on the tab for experiences and you’ll be able to easily find safari options for the different types of activities you’re interested in.
This is a fabulous resource for conducting your research, and a really great way to ensure you make the right safari choice.
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