While nothing can brace you for the sights and sounds of your first South African safari, approaching your adventure with a few key pieces of information will keep you safe and comfortable during your first experience in “the bush.”
Top 10 Questions from Safari First-Timers, Answered
1. What documents will I need to travel?
You will need a passport to enter South Africa, but not all countries require a visa (the United States and Canada, for example, are exempt). If your home country requires a tourist visa to visit South Africa, you will need to fill out an application form in addition to sending certified copies of your passport, two passport photographs, and pay a $50 application fee. Secure your visas at least four weeks before your trip. You can read more about the visa process in South Africa or work with a travel company to assist you with the process.
2. Will I need to get vaccines?
Yes. Make an appointment with your doctor at least one month before your South African safari. No one likes getting shots, but don’t leave them until the last minute! You will want to give the vaccines time to settle in your system and do their job before your arrival. Be sure to check the latest South Africa vaccine requirements as updated by the CDC and your local travel clinic.
The vaccines you will need to get are not that different from vaccine requirements in other countries. You should already be up-to-date with most of them: Hepatitis A and B, MMR, Influenza, Rabies, and Typhoid. Tell your doctor if you will be traveling to an area of South Africa that is a designated malaria zone. If so, she’ll prescribe you daily anti-malaria pills that you will begin taking before your trip.
3. Is a South African safari dangerous?
Safaris are perfectly safe. Staying safe on your safari requires a dose of common sense. Book your travel and your game drive with an established, reputable company. If you are traveling with children, there are a number of child-friendly safaris designed to keep your little ones safe and comfortable.
Your guides are not only expert naturalists — they’re also experts at keeping safari guests out of harm’s way. The easiest way to stay safe on safari is to listen to your guide and follow all the rules. Remember: you’re not taking a tour through a zoo. When you are on safari you are the visitor in the animal’s home. That said, you need to behave appropriately and show your guide the respect he deserves by heeding his advice.
4. What should I pack?
First, always pack light and confirm travel limitations for your safari company. All of the small prop planes that transport you to various game reserves have a 33 lb. weight limit on luggage. Choose softside duffel bag or backpack, not a hard-side rolling suitcase. Here are the basic necessities:
- Light, neutral-colored clothing: khaki, white, and gray will not only keep animals from spotting you and running away, they make you a harder target for mosquitos who can’t blend into your clothing.
- Dress in layers: It can get quite cold at night, so bring a light jacket and a waterproof layer for rain. No matter the season, mix in some long-sleeve options and pants to protect your skin from mosquitos at night and the sun during the day.
- Sun + Bug Protection: Sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and heavy duty bug spray are absolute musts.
- Footwear: Bring comfortable shoes that are either sneakers or boots, preferably rugged and water resistant. Just make sure that they’re broken in before your trip. Do not wear sandals or anything that exposes your feet and toes.
- Amusements: Bring a book, a magazine or two, cards — there is a lot of downtime at night after a game drive and during midday, when the animals are sleeping. You’ll want non-electronic alternatives to pass the time.
- Binoculars: High-end safaris will sometimes provide these, but most don’t. If there is a leopard in the distance, you’re going to want to be able to spot it. Basic binoculars will never be a wasted investment on safari.
- Wet wipes. It will feel refreshing to clean up a bit at the end of a long day outdoors.
5. Do you think I’ll want a “real” camera on safari?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Regardless of how fancy your phone is, you’re going to want the battery strength and memory power of an actual camera. Think about the number of pictures you think you’re going to take on safari… now triple it. Be sure to bring spare batteries and memory cards. Just don’t forget to put the camera down every now and again and be in the moment, enjoying the experience you came to South Africa to have.
6. Is the water safe to drink?
Water safety varies depending on where you are on safari and the source of the water. To be on the safe side, always drink bottled water anywhere you are in Africa. Your safari guide will provide you with plenty of safe water for drinking and for brushing your teeth.
7. Will we have access to electricity on safari?
Unless you have deliberately sought out a rugged off-the-beaten-path safari experience, you will in all likelihood have electricity at camp. If you’re concerned about your devices, bring extra batteries, portable chargers, or a solar charger just in case.
8. What’s the bathroom situation on safari?
Have you ever been camping? That’s usually the situation. You will make stops along your journey and your guide will scout out a safe spot for guests to relieve themselves.
9. Is it customary to tip in South Africa?
Tipping is not mandatory and is entirely up to each traveler’s discretion. Your lodge will be willing to provide recommendations should you have questions about tipping.
10. Is a safari fun?
With all these rules and safety precautions, a safari can start to sound like work! Your guide knows that you are on vacation. There will be plenty of food to enjoy and cocktails served throughout your trip. While you will need to stay alert, this is also a time for you to kick back enjoy the sights and sounds of nature in South Africa. Your guide will want you to have a relaxing, enjoyable experience. Fun will be had!
If you’re interested in learning more about safaris in South Africa, browse our various safaris for adventurers and families alike. For more tips, ideas, and advice for seeing all there is to see in South Africa, visit us at vacationtosouthafrica.com.