How to Have the Best African Safari
I love elephants. The intelligence in their eyes is incredible. I’ve read about elephants’ mourning behaviours when one of their herd dies — they seem more human than humans. I can’t believe how gently and quietly they can walk with their huge bulk. On my African safari, I need to see elephants.
When planning the best safari, the first thing to figure out is exactly what kind of animals you want to see. This will determine both where, and when, you should go.
- Fascinated by the migration of wildebeest? You’ll want to go to the Maasai Mara and Serengeti from July to October.
- Do you dream of seeing hippos up to their ears in rivers? Then best pick a country during its rainy season.
- Want to maximise your animal-spotting? South Africa and Namibia during the southern winter (June-September) are ideal; there are fewer leaves on the trees making viewing easier, and the dry weather causes animals to congregate near waterholes.
A travel agent specialising in safaris will help focus your planning, and ensure that you best use your time. Trailfinders Canada is my go-to travel agent, even though they’re based in Ottawa and I’m not. They set up a three week trip to South Africa and Namibia that was nothing short of perfect.
There are two general options for a safari trip: staying at one lodge or moving around a country or region.
Depending on the type of animals you want to see, you might be able to stay in one location. A safari lodge like Thornybush Game Lodge, just outside Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa, is ideal because it has practically every animal you’d want to see.
The lodge is on 14 000 hectares of the private Thornybush Nature Reserve, where you can see not only my beloved elephants, but a wide range of wildlife including white rhino, Cape buffalo, giraffe, antelope and, with a bit more luck, big cats like cheetah, leopard and lion.
One of the big advantages of staying in one place is it is more relaxing. On safari, you need to keep the schedule of the wildlife if you want to see them. Many sleep during the heat of the day, and so should you, because you’ll be up before sunrise for the morning game drives. If you’re moving to a different place to sleep every few nights, you may miss some nap time, as well as enjoying all the services and facilities at your hotel. You could easily spend a week or two at Thornybush.
For my dream safari, I not only wanted to see elephants, but I wanted to photograph some spectacular landscapes. Namibia, with its otherwordly red sand dunes in the Namib Desert, was high on my list.
In Namibia, you can certainly stick to one lodge and be perfectly content. My favourite is Ongava Lodge, near Etosha National Park. You can be driven around the lodge’s well-stocked private reserve, or you can sit on the lodge’s deck above a waterhole and watch the lions and their prey come to you.
It is worth the time to see more of Namibia. Each region of this fascinating country has something unique to offer. And it is not much effort to explore it, especially if, like I did, you have a guide like Perez Kamukuenjandje from Ultimate Safaris.
Perez drove our LandCruiser all around Namibia, making sure we saw and learned about every cool bird, mammal, amphibian and plant, whether we were on the highway, back roads or on an actual safari. He explained Namibia’s geological interests like Burnt Mountain, the 3000 year old rock carvings at Twyfelfontein, and the 900 year old petrified trees at Deadvlei. He gave insights into the social, political and economic situation of Namibia, and entertained with hilarious stories.
Travelling with a company like Ultimate Safaris also gives the opportunity to meet local people, including touring a primary school which the company helps sponsor, and a rare visit to a settlement of the Himba, a semi-nomadic and traditional (and very photogenic) people.
If you’re more pressed for time, flights within Namibia are also possible. But you’ll miss out on what, at first glance, seems like an empty desert landscape. If you drive it, you’ll see it is full of treasures.
To create the best safari for you, do some thinking first about what you want to see and do. A good travel agent will translate those wishes into reality. And then you can relax and enjoy the experience of top safari lodges like Thornybush and Ongava.
If you are looking for the perfect Safari hotel then check out the Thornybush Game Lodge in South Africa or the Ongava Game Reserve in Namibia.
Blog and pictures by Johanna Read