First time safari: the complete guide

Travel + Leisure - World's Best Awards 2019
Written by
Byron Thomas, Rebecca Cook, Jody van Merode, Emily Hunter & Tessa Van der Walt

For several centuries, Africa has attracted the most intrepid explorers. To this day, the African continent still holds areas that are rarely visited.

However, there are plenty of well-trodden paths through Africa that make for the perfect first-time safari. With the best guides, conservations and helicopter pilots on hand, you can be sure you’re in safe hands with Jacada.

From the plains of the Maasai Mara to the greatest wildlife show on earth in Tanzania’s Serengeti, there’s plenty to discover in Africa for first-timers. Read on for our experts’ guide to your first safari.

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What to pack

Clothes

When it comes to clothing, our safari experts all agreed on one thing – layering is key! Despite potentially scorching midday temperatures, the mornings and evenings can be surprisingly chilly, so it’s a good idea to pack a pair of trousers and a lightweight jacket, or warm fleece. For rainy and windy days, a waterproof rain jacket is a must, whilst a wide-brimmed hat is perfect for protection from gloriously sunny days. 

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When it comes to the colour of your clothing, anything goes but most people tend to opt for khaki, beige or olive. Lighter colours will help you stay cool, so a white shirt – although it may get muddy – wouldn’t go amiss either. If in doubt, speak to your travel designer. Whilst it’s good to ensure you’ve packed a few essentials, you’ll also want to pack light – and preferably use a soft-sided bag. By just taking what’s needed, you’ll make travelling from one lodge to another as hassle-free as possible. You don’t want to get caught out with luggage weight restrictions, but don’t forget to pack polarised sunglasses and a swimming costume for the inevitable plunge pools! 

Equipment

Photography: For photography enthusiasts, a safari is the perfect chance to practice your wildlife photography skills. With the advent of smartphones, there’s no need to invest in expensive cameras or hefty tripods. Now, all you need is a good quality camera phone and a pair of binoculars to help you get that perfect shot. 

camera-binoculars

Torches: Torches (flashlights) are great for children and adults alike for evenings at the camps. Despite the fact that the guides will have torches and that the area will be well lit, a torch is just an extra bit of comfort if you wake in the night or just want more light. 

 

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Binoculars: Again, the majority of the time on Jacada tours there will be a spare set of binoculars on the vehicle. This being said, your own pair of binoculars is something you’ll cherish on the trip and will not want to leave the lodge in the morning without. We recommend a magnification of at least 8×30, so you’ll never miss out on the perfect photo opportunity! 

Chada Katavi Game Drive, Katavi National Park, Tanzania

Batteries and chargers: This sounds like we’re stating the obvious, but things like torches will depend on an extra set of batteries, as cameras will depend on their chargers. You wouldn’t want to be up-close and personal to any of the Big Five and not have your camera fully charged and at the ready. A great tip here is to take a fully charged back-up power bank – these can be small and compact and yet hold a lot of charge for recharging on the go without access to power points.  They often come with multiple adaptors to charge all your devices.

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Where to stay

Tented camps

Tented camps are a great option while on safari. But if you thought that meant wrestling with poles and hammering pegs into the ground, then think again. Luxury camps are a wonderful way to connect with your surroundings and experience the true spirit of the African bush. Hearing the melodic chirping of the birds, the rush of the river, and roars that travel for miles across the plains is a really special experience. Some tented camps can even be packed up and moved to wherever is best for wildlife at that particular time of year, so they’re a great way of being in pole position for a wildebeest sighting during the Great Migration

nayara tented camp

Luxury lodges

The other option is to stay in a luxury lodge. These tend to have more facilities as well as air conditioning in the rooms, great for those that worry about the heat. There are camps and lodges perfectly suited for families, with private plunge pools and activities tailored towards children, and others that offer the privacy sought after by honeymooners. All will offer morning and evening game drives, as well a range of activities such as birdwatching, visits to local villages, horse riding and guided bush walks. Some even offer spa treatments. Our Travel Designers have hand picked their favourites, chosen for their location, service and unwavering commitment to conservation. For families on safari, luxury lodges combine comfort with just enough adventure to keep the kids entertained. 

 

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Where to go

We often get asked about where to go on safari, and whether you end up visiting Southern Africa or East Africa depends largely on what you’re after. East Africa, which encompasses Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, is famed for its incredible native tribes and impressive wildlife encounters such as the Great Migration and the mountain gorillas.

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Southern Africa includes Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique. Safari experiences across Southern Africa are varied, from Botswana’s lush Okavango Delta to the plains of South Africa. The region also offers a lot beyond safaris, from world wonder Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border to Mozambique’s pristine beaches.

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For incredible landscapes, huge herds of elephants and immersion in the Samburu or Masai cultures, head to East Africa. For year-round destinations, guaranteed Big Five experiences and more densely populated wildlife, then choose South Africa. Whatever you’re after, the safari experiences on offer in both Southern and East Africa are truly inspirational. To help you choose between the two, we’ve written a whole handy travel guide pitting East and South Africa against one another. 

 

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Feeling inspired? Our expert Travel Designers are always on hand to help you plan your first safari.