Your first safari

Date published: 12 Jan 18

167 people found this feature helpful

I hesitate to advise anybody on safari-type holidays. They are so variable in more ways than one. It depends very much on your expectations. My personal vision of a safari was a group of people sitting in a dusty old jeep in the middle of nowhere looking at a herd of buffalo or maybe those wildebeest that everyone seems to know about. And yes, it can be just like that.

LionFor Lions, and other cats such as leopards, cheetahs and the smaller cats, along with the huge variety of other birds and beasts on the menu, Africa is the best place. No travel company or travel writer would guarantee you seeing a particular species of wildlife anywhere … simply, the wonder of wild animals is that you go to see them in their home, where they are free to wander and do exactly what they want, and when. Whilst tourism is rightly criticised, it does help the economy and limits the time for poachers getting in and out unnoticed, but for us it habituates the animals, i.e. they get used to us, and providing we adopt the rules of the guides, safe distances, etc., they are not dangerous and you can often experience these creatures quite close. Remember that cats (big and small) are inquisitive by nature, they will often come to inspect you!

Where to go in Africa - a big choice

There is Uganda and Rwanda if you have a burning desire to see mountain gorillas. Just to see them on a short 3/4 day trip is very expensive; to extend it with general wildlife would be better value. Please remember, you will be told that there are guides who will carry your bags and camera gear if necessary, but you may have to trek for 2/3 hours on fairly rough tracks and it is very hot. You need to be quite fit.

HippopotamusMany holiday companies will offer you Namibia and Botswana, names like Chobe National Park, Etosha National Park, and more recently the spectacular Bale Mountains in Ethiopia are all musts on any wildlifer’s bucket list, but maybe not for the first trip.

For a virtually guaranteed abundance of wildlife viewing, Northern Tanzania is hard to beat. The vast plains are home to a huge variety of animals; probably the best place to see the ‘Big 5’. From the Western Corridor, near Lake Mwanza, through the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater, Tarangire to Lake Manyara, and Arusha near to Mount Kilimanjaro, is a magical journey through variable terrain of breathtaking beauty. The term ‘animal paradise’ is not misplaced here.

For tigers, there is only one place, India. There are Amur (Siberian) tigers in the wilds of Eastern Russia and China, but that is for the very experienced and they are rarely seen; definitely not your first wildlife holiday. The other big cat, the Asiatic lion, can be seen in the Gujarat in Western India, but again this is a little remote and difficult to link in with other destinations in that vast country.

TigerSo, if tigers are the most important animals on your bucket list, and you only have one opportunity, you must include Bandhavgarh National Park on your itinerary. It has always yielded good sightings for us over many trips, but you need 3/4 games drives over a period of 2/3 days to maximise your chances. There are a number of good National Parks in the same state of Madhya Pradesh, such as Kanha, Pench, Panna and Satpura. Combining some of these will minimise internal journey times, but India is a huge country and even those places mentioned are quite a few hours apart. If you wish to combine some culture with your wildlife, Ranthambore NP in Rajasthan, with visits to the Taj Mahal, Jodpur and Jaipur are in most travel companies’ brochures.

South America, Brazil for example, has the fabulous jaguar and a myriad of exotic birds. Chile has the equally wonderful puma.  Either of these locations are well tried and tested.

The important things

If this is likely to be your one and only safari, think seriously about what you would ideally like to see. Are you a birder, a big cat lover, or just a lover of all wildlife?

CheetahThen, where is the best place to go? For how long? And, importantly, what time of year?

Source a specialist wildlife tourist company. Many UK travel companies will ‘subcontract’ you out to a local ground service agent. This can be risky.

Identify the type of vehicle(s) you will be in for the duration. This is important, particularly if you are a photographer.

What type of terrain you will be covering, and importantly ensuring you are fit enough, even if it is only climbing in and out of a jeep.

Hawk-eagleAll good wildlife travel companies will advise you on clothing, footwear and other essentials, but don’t forget vaccinations, make sure they are all up to date with your GP.

Think about the cost last, as this may put you off before you start your initial planning. It is difficult to compare ‘like-for-like’ anyway, unless you prepare a bespoke itinerary and get more than one company to quote.

Currently, we use the following companies:

For India –  - based in Delhi

For Tanzania – - based in Arusha

For South America – – based in UK

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Somak Holidays.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 7 Comment(s)

  • Cruzeroqueen1
    almost 2 years ago
    Thanks for re-posting this, Graham - I enjoyed it just as much this time round!
  • MaryEssex
    almost 2 years ago
    An excellent comprehensive guide to a first safari. This article certainly got my interest and answered many questions I had about what to expect and touches on all the important issues I need to decide on before booking a safari. It also makes me realise that a safari holiday is like no other. Clearly Africa has many stunning places to go on safari too so I will read the itineraries carefully and check I know what I am booking for. I think the number of people in the group, what animals and the type of accommodation and vehicle would be top of my list now. I want to see animals in the wild behaving naturally where I am the guest in their world. A safari ticks all the boxes for me.
  • Cruzeroqueen1
    about 3 years ago
    Only just discovered this article, Graham, (think I was away for a month around the time
    it was first published) and found it very interesting and informative.
  • Fossil
    almost 4 years ago
    A great article. You travel to some fabulous places Graham which are always backed up with photographs that really set the scene. Thank you and more of them please.
  • Barrowman
    almost 4 years ago
    As a non-safari type bloke myself, it's always interesting to read of your expeditions whether it be on the forum with the brilliant photo's or in a review such as this.

    Enjoyed reading the review, so much so I read it twice, and the good lady has just finished reading it as well. A well written and informative article as usual..... I look forward to reading many more in the future.
  • GDB1
    almost 4 years ago
    Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Whilst I know a lot about Chobe, it remains on the bucket list..... for now. It is a magical place, you definitely will see lots of wild animals in their natural surroundings. I look forward to your review.
  • coolonespa
    almost 4 years ago
    Enjoyed this article Graham, well rewritten and very easy to read. Absolutely packed with useful information. I'll be in Chobe National Park this year, so it will be interesting to see how I get on, it will be my first Safari.