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8 tips for your first South African safari

If you’re planning a safari in South Africa, then you’re in luck. South Africa, with its top-rated game reserves and lush national parks, offers unbeatable access to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), and a stunning landscape to backdrop it all. The country is also home to Kruger National Park, far and wide the most popular safari destination in the entire continent. And while the country has some of the best infrastructure for anyone planning a safari, there are a few things you can do to optimize your trip.


1. Dress for the cold

Many safaris start quite early — with pick-up times as early as 5:30 a.m. — and African mornings can be frigid, especially in the wintertime. Dress in layers, including gloves and a hat, and shed as the weather warms up. Luxury tours might provide you with blankets, but don’t count on it. You don’t want to be spending most of your morning worrying about the weather, when you should be paying attention to the waking lions.


2. For the best visibility, visit during the winter

It may sound counterintuitive, but visiting during the African winter (June to September) will give you your best shot at seeing the most wildlife. That’s because the greenery won’t be in full bloom, clearing the way for perfect shots of all your favorite animals. If you do opt for summer months, though, you’ll enjoy a lush flowering paradise from increased foliage and scenic photography.


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Perhaps counterintuitively, a safari in the colder winter months may result in more wildlife sightings.

3. Watch out for baboons

Do not feed the baboons (or any other animal), and above all, do not underestimate these charming primates’ ability to steal all your snacks, your expensive DSLR camera, and your purse in one go. In South Africa, baboons are often considered pests, and for good reason: They’re known to mug humans carrying food and even injure them.


4. Aim to take most of your photos early or later in the day

You’ll probably take your best shots in the morning, when the sun hasn’t completely risen yet, or in the late afternoon, when you’ll be able to capture a majestic South African sunset. With everything in between, you’ll risk an aggressive midday glare.


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There’s something magical about the early-morning and late-afternoon sun on safari. (Courtesy Photo: Londolozi)

5. Choose your safari lodge and guide wisely

Guides are multitasking experts whose job entails keeping a watchful eye over animals, educating travelers on the terrain, all the while ensuring the safety of everyone in the group. They add a ton of value to any trip, so you’ll benefit from SA Expeditions finding one that works exactly for your travel needs, whether that’s identifying specifical wildlife, or educating you on your location’s historical context.


6. Look out for the birds

Everyone goes on safari to see majestic, large animals, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking all the birds out there. There are plenty of rare or lesser-known species with brilliant coats of feathers, intricate songs, all of varying sizes. Of course, don’t forget to bring a solid pair of binoculars for the best viewing experience.


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A kori bustard – one of the Big 6 for birders – just after sunrise. (Photo: Chris Stenger)

7. Be prepared for periods of zero wi-fi

Your safari lodge might have wi-fi, but don’t expect any connection once you’re out in the wild. Think of it as a reminder to keep your eyes on all the striking animals and sights in front of you — it’s guaranteed to be better than anything on your social media feeds.


8. Combine your safari with another memorable destination

The accessibility and excellent infrastructure of the Greater Kruger area means that a safari stay is easily combinable with other areas in South Africa including Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, and more. These add-on spots will help balance out all your sightseeing with a slower pace of tourism and leisure.


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Yes, it is possible to wake up in Cape Town one day and fall asleep in an exclusive tented safari camp that same night. (Photo: Chris Stenger)

Ready to start planning your next South Africa journey with SA Expeditions? Combine a relaxing winelands visit with a Kruger safari, or check out our South Africa to Botswana Safari for a visit to the famous Okavango.


About the Author: Michelle No is a Berlin-based culture and travel journalist who’s written for BuzzFeed, New York Times, NBC, Thrillist, and Apartment Therapy. She’s never been on a vacation she hasn’t overpacked for.

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