What to expect on a safari

Going on safari is an incredible experience, one that I personally cannot get enough of. The more I go, the more I want to go. It is also unlike any other holiday you may have been on and it is therefore helpful to know what to expect when going on your first safari.

Note: This article refers to safaris organized by private game lodges – not self-driving safaris.  Although it is mainly from a South African viewpoint, it is similar in other African countries too.

1. Early wake-up calls and late evenings

Expect to be woken up before sunrise, while it is still dark. Game viewing is best around dawn and dusk because the nocturnal animals are out at that time. Sleeping soon after dinner is a good strategy to wake up early but if you’re still tired, you can catch 40 winks around midday, between game drives.Sabi Sabi

2. Close proximity to wild animals

You will be in an open vehicle with wild animals in close proximity.  Sometimes they walk so near to  your game vehicle that you can touch them – but don’t unless you have a death wish. As long as you remain quiet and don’t aggravate them you should be fine. When you return in the evenings, it can be pitch black in the bush, with only the stars above you. It is best not to let your imagination run wild. Many safari lodges do not allow children under a certain age on game drives for these reasons.Lion on Safari

3. Do not leave the vehicle

It is important to be quiet and stay seated – with all your limbs – in the game vehicle.  You are not permitted to leave the vehicle without your ranger’s permission. As obvious as this may seem, many game rangers will tell you stories about tourists wanting to get off vehicles to take better photos, and selfies with the wildlife (seriously!).

4. No toilets in the wild

Game drives are usually 3 hours or longer. The longest one I’ve ever been on was 5 hours. During this time, you will be out in the wild with no toilets. Go to the toilet before you leave, and drink minimally before and during the game drive, unless you don’t mind answering the call of nature behind a bush or a tree. Your guide will show you to the lava – tree (lavatory). Be warned though, I have heard tales of guests being approached by lions and other animals while doing this. If this ever happens to you, stand your ground and do not run -even though that may be your first instinct. Running is a sure way to get the lion to chase you.Toilet on Safari

5. You will stop for drinks

On morning game drives, you will stop for a tea/coffee break with some cookies or sandwiches. On evening game drives, cold drinks are offered with snacks, like crisp, dried fruit and biltong. This is a good opportunity to talk to the ranger and your fellow guests. Occasionally, on extremely exciting game drives, the ranger may forgo this break in order to maximize the game-viewing experience.Food Madikwe Safari Lodge

6. Safari guides can be entertaining

Safari guides, game rangers or field guides – whatever they may call them – usually have a lot of experience and can tell you the most fascinating stories about their encounters with wildlife. Speak to them. A good question to start off with is “What was the most interesting/dangerous experience you’ve had in the bush?” They are usually quite happy to start talking about this. It may be difficult to get them to stop though…

7. You will not see the Big Five on every game drive

Some days you may see a lot of animals and birds, and other days barely anything. There are no guarantees in the wild. When your ranger starts spending 20 minutes talking about a tree you’ve just seen, then you can expect a quiet drive. If you see rhinos, do not geo tag the locations. This helps poachers to find them. (Big Five refers to the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino).

what to expect on a safari

Rhino on safari


8. Game drives can get bumpy

Expect a lot of bumping and bouncing around because the roads are untarred. Game rangers refer to this as the African massage at no charge.

9. Game drives can get cold

No matter how hot it was at the camp, game drives can get quite chilly in the early mornings and late evenings – because you are travelling in an open Landrover at a fair amount of speed. Always carry a jacket.Safari

10. What to take with

Wear neutral coloured clothes and comfortable shoes. Long trousers are preferable to avoid being bitten by insects. Take a hat and a jacket. Use sunscreen. And do not forget your camera, and your binoculars.

Once you’re back at the camp, you can relax and enjoy the luxurious surroundings. You will be waited on hand and foot and will be fed gourmet meals until you feel like bursting. There isn’t anything quite like it.Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge bedroom safari


Can’t get enough of wildlife. Here are 30 Bucket List Animal & Wildlife Experiences .

Need a place to stay while you enjoy South African wildlife? Here are some amazing private safari lodges to visit in South Africa.

Tintswalo Lapalala

Morukuru Family

Mhondoro Game Lodge

Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge

Madikwe Safari Lodge

Jaci’s Safari Lodge

Clifftop Exclusive Safari Hideaway

Do you have any safari tips? Please do share them in the comments below.


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Thanks for sharing your safari experience with giant animals.


Thanks for sharing such a nice post about safari expectations. I really enjoyed your article. Here is what I experienced on safari
1. Safe environment
2. Full of entertainment
3. Tasty food
4. Beautiful views

Smita Rai

Hello – I can see that you are a really great blogger,    


This article is actually a nice one. It assists new visitors, who are going on safari.

Julie at FuninFairfaxVA

A safari is very high on my travel wish list and I found the info in your article very practical and useful. This will definitely help with my safari planning. Thanks!


Awesome post! I went on safari at Kruger Reserve about 4 years ago. Your list of what to expect was totally on point!


    Thank you Alex. Kruger National Park is one of my favourite game reserves in South Africa.

SamH Travels

Great post and I love the photos. Lots of really useful tips, thank you for sharing 🙂


    Thank you Sam. I’m glad you found it useful 🙂

Amber Pittman

Thank you for writing this! I definitely want to do a safari one day and I’m always on the lookout for having a better idea of what to expect during the experience. I really enjoyed this post! 🙂


Great tips! Too bad it has to be said to stay in the vehicle. I’d be minding my manners at “your going to see a lion” 🙂

Anthony Jury

I would do anything to go on a African safari, in fact I would love to get to Africa. I envy anyone who has done it and hopefully I can sooner rather than later. Nice post.


Yes. Excellent photos.

And pertinent – and funny – comments. You have a knack of giving the whole experience in a few words.

Paula - Gone with the Wine

Good tips and great tips! I can not wait to experience one the safaris myself one day. It must be such an experience… and is definitely on my bucket list!


I absolutely LOVE going on safari. My tip is to enjoy the wildlife. Don’t obsess about getting the ‘perfect shot’ (unless you are a professional photographer of course). Photos are lovely to look back on but you must live in the moment.


Great photos!. Thanks for this info. I would love to go on a Safari one day 🙂


Is it bad that every time I see a word ‘safari’ I just have to read the article… 🙂 Love going on safari, watching animals in the wild, waking up early and sitting in the freezing cold jeep wrapped up in a warm blanket watching the sun come up, and African sundowners… they are the best!
All good points, Sara, and beautiful lodges that you recommend! Can’t wait to go back and maybe we can even add one of these to our itinerary.


Going on safari is one of my favourite things to do, I can’t get enough!
My top tip would be if you have a good SLR camera, make sure you have a versatile lens with wide angle and good zoom capabilities or be prepared to have very quick hands to change lenses!

Katrina Luder

It’s my dream to go on a proper safari. I went on a day safari in Sri Lanka and experienced a lot of what you mention above. But Africa is my dream! Looks and sounds amazing! Apart from the toilets haha

Vickie Munton

Good pointers! Well worth getting up early for… we went to Murchison Falls and OH HOW I WISH we had taken a good camera! 🙂


    Thanks Vickie. Going to places like these without a camera is like getting a hole in one with no one to see it 😀

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