Part of the allure of the African safari experience is its incredible diversity – not just in landscapes and wildlife, but the experiences on offer. Whether your idea of a dream African safari is that of lounging in an elegant safari lodge or pitching a humble tent beneath a baobab tree, there's a way bring all your dreams to life. When deciding on your safari style, there are a few things to consider, and each can have their own appeal. Honestly, there's no "bad" option in enchanting Africa – it's just about discovering what works best for you. To help you out, we've put together our guide to finding your ultimate safari style.
Step 1: Type of Safari
How would you like to get around? The traditional way, or on your own two feet? Here are some popular options to consider.
For most people, the quintessential safari is in a jeep or similar vehicle, hurtling along the potholed roads of the expansive landscape in search of wildlife. There's undoubtedly a certain charm about this kind of safari.
River & Mokoro
For a more sedate option, a river safari can allow you a different perspective as you spot wildlife while cruising along a river such as the Chobe or Zambezi. If you're lucky, you might even float right by animals as they come up to drink or bathe at the river.
For an even more relaxed option, a traditional mokoro safari is a real treat. Cruise down slow flowing water such as in the Okavango Delta in a traditional carved boat, rowed by your expert guide and marvelling at the animals both in the water, and on the banks.
Don't worry, you'll have a guide to keep you away from hungry lions! The benefit of a walking tour is that you sound like little mice (as long as you can keep your gasps of wonder hushed!) and may have an opportunity to get closer to flighty animals such as birds. Of course, it's a little more strenuous, but the sore legs are sure to be worth it for the views of the animals!
Step 2: Guide or no guide
There's no doubting that your itinerary and guide can make a huge difference to your safari. Here are some considerations when choosing whether to go with a guide, or adventure alone.
Do you want the freedom to explore the plains of Africa, literally at the steering wheel of your own destiny? If so, self-driving may be the perfect option for you. There are a few considerations for a self-drive itinerary: firstly, you'll want to grab a park map and do some research to seek out all the secret spots that guides know like the back of their hands. Secondly, consider an SVU type hire car to give you a little bit more height and comfort during your game drives; and thirdly, pay attention to the rules about not going off road and not getting out of your car or even half getting out (such as the popping your head out of the roof so that you look like one of Africa's curious meerkats)! This can be a really great option for those looking for a cost-effective safari option and who love their independence and are up for a bit of an adventure.
In many ways, private safaris offer you the best of both worlds – the knowledge and skills of an expert guide who can easily discern a shy leopard from an oddly-shaped tree branch, along with the freedom to choose your own itinerary and focus on the wildlife you really want to see. Although it can be a bit of an expense, it's likely to be well worth it for how a private guide can enrich your trip, without sacrificing any flexibility.
For a more budget-friendly option and the opportunity to make some new safari friends (and, you know, friends that safari together, stay together), consider a group safari. Many companies run safaris that have set departures, which are perfect for solo travellers or smaller groups. You can join private drives like the one pictured here, or even join group game drives organised by the national parks themselves which tend to involve bigger groups and therefore bigger vehicles (think army truck!). Either way these represent great value for money if you want to keep costs down but don't fancy the self-drive option.
Step 3: National Park vs Private Game Reserve
The ever-popular debate amongst travellers and guides – national parks or private game reserves? Here's our two cents.
Chobe – Kruger – Addo – Masaai Mara - the Serengeti: these are the celebrities of the safari world with expansive and diverse terrain filled with Africa's incredible wildlife. Chances are, when you think of a safari, you think of visiting amazing animals 'in the wild', and therefore think of national parks, whether it be the big names listed above, or the more off-the-beaten-path options. National Park safaris are generally more affordable if there is a self-drive or group safari option. If you opt for one of the parks where self-drive isn't an option, you'll find it similar in cost to a private reserve, just a bit more restrictive in terms of when and where you can go. Fun fact - Kruger is actually the size of Wales!
Private Game Reserve
The other major option for safaris is in private game reserves. While some would-be safari adventurers are turned off by the fact that they are privately owned, in reality there are many upsides to visiting a private game reserve. For starters you usually get a ranger and a tracker duo, which ensures the highest chance of spotting as many animals as possible in a short space of time. Plus, in many parks such as the Sabi Sands, animals from national parks are free to roam into private territory. Another upside of private game reserves is that there are usually fewer tourists at each sighting, combined with less restrictions on things such as opening times or where you can go, giving you a unique safari experience. Oh yes, and you get sundowners in private reserves - a special stop each evening to enjoy a G&T or a Pimms in the bush whilst watching the sun set. This little slice of paradise comes at a cost though and one night can often be the same as a whole week's worth of self-driving in a national park.
Step 4: Accommodation
Close your eyes and picture this: your safari has drawn to an end, and you're about to be dropped off at your accommodation for the evening. What does it look like? If you're not sure, here are some ideas.
Luxury Safari Lodge
For some, the perfect image of an African adventure is that of an elegant safari lodge, featuring rustic charm yet all of the modern conveniences to make sure you have a comfortable stay. Think luxuriously warm baths to soak your tired safari muscles and dinner with a spectacular view stretched out in front of you. Of course, a luxurious lodge is not the cheapest option out there, but surely your dream African safari is the time to splurge! For a lodge that doesn't break the bank but is sure to become one of best places you've ever been to, check out one of our favourites - Sausage Tree Camp in Balule.
National Park Rondavels
If you can't quite justify the luxury lodge but want something clean with a decent bed to fall into each night then check out the national park accommodations. SanParks in South Africa offer reasonably priced bungalows (rondavels) and a range of slightly more expensive cottages and guesthouses which are a great options for the budget conscious traveller.
For others, it is the adventure of climbing into a humble tent under the stars and falling asleep to the distant cry of the savannah that truly appeals. After all, nowhere is more synonymous with adventure than Africa, and sometimes it is about foregoing the mod cons and getting back to the basics to experience a truly epic journey. Of course, for those who want the adventure of camping with perhaps a better night's sleep – there's many midway options such as 'glamping' in permanent tents which can offer the best of both worlds.
Still not sure what you're safari style is and wondering what the best way to work it out is? Why not join us on one of our group tours and experience the mid-upmarket version without breaking the bank, and witness for yourself what the different options look and feel like for when you really want to come back (like every year)!