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Planning Best African Safari - How Much Time Do You Need
How much time do you need for a safari? It’s a question we hear all the time when planning the best African safaris. We prefer to rephrase it: how much time do you have for an African safari?
After more than 25 years we’ve come to certain conclusions. The best time for an African safari is now. And you should go on safari for as long as you can afford. It truly is that special.
Planning Best African Safari – Give Your Best Time To This Once In a Lifetime Experience
One way to start thinking of how much time you need is to think of one of safari most revered and popular sights.
Consider the scene. A rumpled mane flutters on the breeze. The lion stands majestic, surveys his realm, then returns to a posture of repose. He’s still watching you, probing eyes giving you goosebumps from ten meters. The lion closes its eyes and appears to drift off. Now everything is still. It’s like a photograph, nothing moving. But still you watch the lion, captivated and compelled by what might happen next.
This is a classic lion scene. They are lethargic animals spending most of the day slumbering or sleeping. However, lions are the kings of their territory so they bask in the open, usually in prides, making them the easiest of the apex predators to find. Almost all multi-day safaris will encounter lions. By planning best African safari you will encounter multiple prides, sometimes upwards of 100 lions over a week. But do you get bored? No. Even after 1000 lions there’s still a thrill when you come across another on the savannah. Because you can never be certain what is about to happen.
7 REASONS YOU NEED MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK FOR A SAFARI
Every Day and Every Time on Safari is Different
The same applies with all the iconic animals. In Botswana you might see 1000 elephants on a single game drive but they always have a capacity to surprise. We can never get bored of spotting leopards or cheetahs in the world, nor an animal that’s critically endangered like the rhino. Encounter a lion pride and it will probably be resting – that’s what lions do 20 hours a day – yet there’s always something new; distinct family interactions, playful cubs, battle scars, searching stares, lionesses coming to rest in the shade created by your safari vehicle.
Planning Best African Safari – New Lion Encounters
And then there’s always that prospect of encountering hungry lions, a much rarer sighting. Easy opportunities aside these big cats only eat once every four days. Lionesses move surreptitiously, necks dipping into the grass with the solemn precision of a hunter. Bones are ripped from a carcass as a lion looks at you with blood-stained whiskers. Prowling, prowling, prowling, then pouncing. That’s the way of the lionesses anyway. The big male postures powerfully and eats first, scaring off younger males with resonant roars.
You won’t watch it all. While the lions may only eat once every four days, it might be six hours from identifying the menu to falling asleep with full bellies. So on a multi-day safari you can piece together the lions’ life through all the snippets and scenes you experience. The same applies with elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalo and other iconic creatures. You won’t follow a single herd for the full day, but by spending a few days on safari you come to recognize different behaviors and how these animals live in the wild. So if you have an interest in wildlife you won’t get bored encountering the same animals on multiple occasions. There is always something new to discover when you are exploring their natural habitat.
It seems to be that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest course of so much in life that makes life worth living.
Planning Best African Safari – How Much Time Do You Have?
If you don’t like wildlife you can go to the zoo, poke your camera lens through a fence and say you have seen a lion. Safari is a moving theater. You could travel Africa for a lifetime and only scratch the surface of what is going on. After 25 years in the safari business we’re as eager as ever to keep exploring and experiencing what is out there.
So how much time can you afford to give to this magical world where wildlife rules? How much time can you dedicate to the world’s most unique travel experience? Cost is usually the main factor you must juggle with. Over the last 25 years we can count on one hand the number of guests who said the safari was too long. Many are happy to leave the wilderness but want to go back to the wild within six hours of being in the normal world. Most wish they had more time and are starting to plan when they will return. That’s why we say the question isn’t about how much time you need, because you can never have enough time.
Practical Considerations For Planning Best African Safari
Okay, let’s be less whimsical and more practical here. We can’t disappear into the bush for three months just to track lions. We’ve got lives to live and places to be and all those other things that mean a vacation is a vacation and not a way of life. How much time you can afford is a very personal question. How much time you need can partly be answered through these considerations.
You Can’t Go on Safari for One Day
Well you can actually, in small fenced reserves that keep the predators separate from the rest of the animals. That isn’t our take on safari. We think safari is unfenced wilderness and natural theater, free of human influence. And that type of experience isn’t possible in one day.
Stop. Relax. Escape.
While safari is an adventure it’s also a chance to getaway and do nothing in the most beautiful of surroundings. Gaze out on endless horizons, fall asleep to nature’s soundtrack, and wake up to see an elephant walking past. The safari will continue when you are relaxing at the lodge and the sense of escapism can be absolute.
Africa’s Wildernesses Are Far From Home
The biggest strain on your vacation time is getting to and from Africa. Planning the best African safari must recognize this travel time. Land at an international airport and you need to keep traveling, small planes taking you out to the wilderness. When you’re investing in the airfare and travel time just to reach Africa, we think it’s worth maximizing the continent’s most unique attraction: safari.
The First Two Days Can be a Blur
It all happens so quickly at the start. You touch down in a foreign land, catch a connecting flight, then garner first impressions of the wilderness. There is too much to take in, a wild land enveloping and enthralling in equal measure. Even the second day is much of a blur as you slowly blend into your surroundings. And this is without recognizing that traveling halfway around the world can be exhausting and make the first two days of a vacation a whirlwind experience.
Settling Into the Safari Rhythm
On an African safari you gradually settle into the rhythm of the wilderness. It takes two or three days. Waking up with the sun, exploring in the cool morning hours, resting through the middle of the day, exploring some more, then falling asleep long before a traditional bed time. After five days this rhythm is so natural it’s hard to remember anything else. And you come to learn how to maximize the hours when the animals are most active and the safari is at its best.
Planning Best African Safari – Settling Into the Wilderness
Four days into a safari you can wake up to a herd of elephants and consider it normal. Normal? That wild elephants are your neighbors and trunk-swinging antics don’t have you reaching for the camera? This assimilation into the wilderness is probably our favorite safari highlight. Using all the senses you learn and discover far more about these precious landscapes. When wild elephants become normal you start to appreciate all the small and subtle wonders of the land.
Minimizing Travel Time When in Africa
Overland travel in Africa is slow, especially when your destination is home to animals, not people. There are no tarred roads to the Serengeti and no highways to the middle of nowhere. Planning how to connect safari destinations is a crucial consideration. With the best safari itineraries you never leave the wilderness, hopping between wild landscapes on small planes, savoring aerial vistas before landing on runways that often have to be cleared of passing wildlife.
Safari Isn’t Cheap
The really good safaris cost money and we think the costs are justified based on the inimitability and scarcity of the experience, along with their contribution to preserving the world’s most unique wildlife. Still, we find that budget rather than time becomes the key consideration and guests may need to simplify their plans to make a safari vacation feasible.
Since arriving home not a day has gone by that I have not thought about and felt this trip in Africa. I was literally in awe throughout my my time there.
We Always Recommend a Multi-Destination Safari
Every Destination Provides a Different Wildlife Experience
Every ecosystem supports a distinctive wildlife cast. Each wilderness changes with the seasons. Every habitat is home to its specialities. No two safari destinations are the same and it’s hard to know what you will enjoy most before coming to Africa. We always recommend multiple safari destinations as this will diversify the experience, particularly in terms of the wildlife and landscapes you get to explore.
Different destinations should be in different areas. For example, after a safari at Mala Mala we wouldn’t recommend another destination in the Sabi Sands area. However, you could stay in the Greater Kruger area and move to Royal Malewane or Singita Lebombo, as these lodges will provide new habitats and experience. Or you could combine the Greater Kruger area with an entirely new wilderness, perhaps Phinda or destinations in Botswana.
Each Destination Deserves a Different Amount of Time
There is no hard and fast rule on how long to spend at each lodge or destination. Our destination pages include some general ideas about the length of time you should spend on Africa’s best safari landscapes – South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, gorilla trekking, and more of Africa. These are a starting point and can be adapted based on your interests. In general, the larger the wilderness the more time you need, but also consider the landscape itself. If a concession features multiple habitats then life will be more diverse, so you need more time to explore it all.
Take Tanzania’s northern circuit as an example. 24 hours in Lake Manyara is ample time to get a feel for the landscape and its peculiarities. Tarangire’s premier experience often comes at night, staying in a private concession within the park; so allow two nights, one or two days. Conservation rules mean visitors are only allowed inside Ngorongoro Crater on a game drive for six hours; more than one night here would be futile. Then you get to the Serengeti where we would recommend an absolute minimum of three nights. Four to five will be better as you can stay in two different areas.
There Is More to a Safari Than Game Drives
It’s an immersive experience being out in the wild, all the senses aroused by the comings and goings of wildlife. Game drives are the most popular activity and the best for coming eye to eye with Africa’s large and dangerous animals, however they are just part of the program. Take time to try new experiences as it’s remarkable how different it feels when you’re on foot, exploring at night, or seeing it all from the water. Read more about different safari activities here.
Each lodge or destination will have its own range of activities and experiences. There will be new things to do – bush picnics, champagne sunsets, an exhilarating horse ride or an indulgent spa – and a variation on the safari rhythm. Most destinations also have a speciality, so with each stop you focus on specific experiences. That may be an elusive or endangered species (like leopards in the Sabi Sands), a safari activity (mokoro canoe trips in the Okavango), a rare event (the Serengeti and Masai Mara’s great wildebeest migration) or a conservation success (found all across Africa). It could even by lions on the highway!
Diversifying the safari program is also a key consideration when traveling with children. It’s possible to keep children entertained on safaris of ten days or more if the program can continually incorporate new experiences. See unique activity ideas for a family safari.
Planning Best African Safari – Maximizing the Time You Have
Safari is a Swahili word meaning journey. And that’s how you should think of a safari vacation. It’s not a destination or a place you can tick off. It’s a journey through rare and vulnerable habitats, where you come eye to eye with the greatest wildlife to ever walk our planet.
So we’d like to rephrase the question about time once more. How can we maximize the time you have for a safari?