The safari lodges in the game reserves and National Parks of the Africa offer visitors an outstanding wildlife experience and what is, for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity to get close to some of Africa’s most exotic and dramatic animals in their natural environment.
Most lodges offer a fully inclusive rate, which includes outstanding accommodation, all meals, and morning and afternoon guided game drives in 4×4 open safari vehicles each day. Some may also include unlimited drinks or other activities such as guided walks, but whatever is included, there are 2 elements that you will be certain of, wherever you stay – the hospitality and the service.
The lodges all go to incredible lengths to make sure that their guests feel welcome and comfortable, and nothing appears to be too much trouble for your hosts.
In terms of a recommended length of stay, a minimum of 2 to 3 nights is ideal. This gives you time to relax into the experience, get to know your fellow guests, and gives you at least 4 game drives to enjoy the wildlife.
Generally speaking you should aim to arrive at lunchtime on the day you check in to give you time to settle into the lodge before going out on your first game drive that afternoon/evening.
The main attraction for wildlife enthusiasts is that, unlike self-drive visitors to African National Parks, the guides who take guests out on their morning and evening game drives from safari lodges are permitted to take their vehicles off-road in order to get closer to the wildlife.
While some restrictions do apply to avoid damaging some of the more fragile ecosystems, the thrill of tracking a leopard through the bush in an open Land Rover is unsurpassed.
Many lodges have agreements with their neighbours regarding driving rights, and therefore the area your guide can drive in can be extremely large.
Your Guide and Tracker
Your guide and tracker are highly knowledgeable about the bush and the animals, and will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you and answer any questions that you may have.
All the game drive vehicles are in radio contact with each other, so whenever something exciting is spotted or tracked, everyone else in the area is notified of its location.
Only 2 or 3 vehicles are allowed at any one sighting at a time, so don’t get too impatient if you have to wait your turn, or be too disappointed if your guide asks if you are ready to leave the sighting after a while to let another vehicle come in.
What will your Day be like?
Each day is very structured, and this can feel quite regimented to begin with. Early morning game drives begin with a wake up call at around 5.30am, and from then on, your entire day is meticulously planned out for you.
After a refreshing cup of strong coffee and biscuits to help you fully wake up, you leave on the first game drive of the day at around 6am. If the coffee hasn’t woken you up yet, the crisp morning air certainly will!
Depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long, and most times will involve a brief stop for another cup of coffee and a chance to get out of the Land Rover and stretch your legs.
When you return to the lodge, a delicious breakfast will be waiting for you – normally buffet style, followed by a cooked offering if you are still hungry!
Between Game Drives
The next few hours are yours to spend as you wish. The lodges generally all have their own waterholes, and watching a herd of elephants drinking or wallowing a mere 10m away is a lovely way to relax between game drives and eating!
Many lodges also offer a guided walk on foot to explore the African bush with your guide or tracker, which usually lasts for about an hour. Walking in single file, you will be introduced to how to spot tracks in the sand or mud, the uses of many different types of trees, and much more.
If you are extremely lucky, will come across wildlife such as impala, giraffe or even rhino. Don’t worry, though – your guide or tracker will be armed with a gun, just in case the animal you stumble across happens to be a agitated lion – but this adds to the excitement and anticipation of what you may see on your adventure.
If you have the chance to go on a bush walk, make sure that you take a sunhat and some water with you, as walking through the bush in the late morning sun is hot and tiring – but definitely worth the experience.
Lunch is generally served from 1 – 3pm, and then it is out again for your afternoon / evening game drive at around 4pm.
Afternoon Game Drive and Sundowner
At dusk, your guide will normally stop at an open area, and unpack the cooler box and offer to mix you a sundowner. There is something magical about enjoying a cold beer or chilled glass of wine while standing beside your Land Rover, watching the sun setting over the African bush.
You generally return to the lodge at about 8pm, where you will find a sumptuous dinner awaiting you.
The Evening Dining Experience
Sometimes, this is served outside under the stars in a ‘boma’ around an open fire, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting.
Chatting about your experiences and adventures during the day with your fellow guests is a perfect way to round off the day, and a great feeling of camaraderie soon begins to exist between everyone. Many lodges will seat everyone on the same tables for all meals, which gives you the opportunity to really get to know each other.
You do have to be prepared to be sociable all day – you are generally only alone for a few hours, and the rest of the time you are in the company of your hosts and the other guests.
For the keen photographer, make sure you take rolls and rolls of film or have plenty of space on your memory card, as a photo opportunity is around every corner. The lodges generally have a small curio shop where you can buy extra film and memory cards, but they may not have exactly what you want, and prices are usually higher than you would pay at home.
Finally, it is customary to tip your guide and tracker when you leave, and also leave something for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have done an exceptional job of looking after you! The lodges normally leave envelopes in your room, so the amount you give is not on ‘general view’ to everyone else. What you leave is totally at your own discretion, but the lodges will generally give you a guideline if you ask them.
Enjoy your safari!