Lions chasing zebra across the plains. Elephants walking straight past the camp. The serenity of escaping into nature. You can have it all, even if your time is short.
While we typically recommend a multi-destination safari program, we also appreciate that not everyone has the luxury of time. A short safari isn’t a shortened version of a longer safari program. It’s something more specific – a tailored experience that maximizes the time you have and ensures you still can have it all.
What is a Short Safari?
At Heritage Africa we’ve never subscribed to the idea of a long safari. Long is too subjective – we could spend two months in the bush and not think that a long period of time. However, a short safari is as the name suggests. Ranging from 36 hours to four days, short safaris provide an intimate wildlife experience in a single destination. They are more than just a glimpse. Think of them to be more like a best of experience, combining a multitude of wildlife and experiences into a relatively short amount of time.
You can’t see all of Africa even if you had many lifetimes. Every safari program must be customized to your interests and time frame. A short safari limits your options. Some destinations simply take too long to get to, or they don’t provide the diversity of experience or wildlife that’s required. When visiting multiple destinations you can delve into niche habitats and realms. When there is only time for one destination it must be a nicely rounded destination, with a little of everything that makes safari so special.
Short Safaris vs Other Safaris – What Difference Does Time Make?
Go on safari for 24 hours and it can be remarkable how much you encounter. A leopard hiding in lush grass. Hippos grunting and yawning. Springbok skipping, wildebeest rutting, kudu grazing and a rhino wandering past. There is rarely ever a dull moment, especially when you safari in the world’s greatest wildernesses. But double the time you spend on safari and you double the quantity of encounters. Spend one day in a park and you’ll experience some of it; spend four days in that park and you’ll experience a lot more of it. That’s not to say it’s better. It’s just to state the obvious – more time equals more safari, more animals, more experiences.
But time is a luxury that must be cherished. For many, it’s a pleasure obtained only rarely. And if you don’t have time for a longer safari, let’s make sure you visit a destination that is best suited for a short safari. Remember, you’re not going to the zoo. You can’t turn up for two hours expecting to see every animal you dream of – not in the wild anyway. If you want the wild you must acknowledge that wildlife is unpredictable. Don’t think a safari is unsuccessful because you missed out on a certain animal sighting. Even if you were to see just a tiny fraction of what exists in a park or reserve, it will still be an experience of a lifetime – these wildernesses really are that special. So even though a short safari is short, expect a superlative experience.
You Can’t Go On Safari For Just One Day
While some reserves claim to offer the full safari experience in a day, or even half a day, we simply don’t agree. A single game drive isn’t a safari. You have to spend at least 24 hours to appreciate how the wilderness changes at different times of day. 36 hours is as short as we can accept, providing two days and one night to explore. Ideally we’d recommend 72 hours, so you can fully discover what is going on, and not feel that everything is massively rushed.
The reserves offering big five safari in a day are a step above a zoo. They are fenced, usually with the predators living in separate enclosures (animals are expensive so these reserves can’t afford for lions to maul one of their buffalo – they feed the lions instead). So while a number of private game reserves promise the best luxury private safaris, we stick to authentic wildernesses, where wildlife lives freely of human interaction and influence. A short safari does not mean half a day on a game drive. A short safari can still create an immersion in what make Africa so special.
The Best Destinations for Short Safaris
With a multi-destination safari there isn’t as much pressure in choosing the best destination. You will visit more than one, and naturally, you will prefer one over the other. A short safari is all about a single destination. You must minimize the journey and explore a destination that is best suited for your unique conundrum – how to see and experience the best African safari, without having the luxury of time. Here are our suggestions.
Accessibility and Minimizing Travel Time
Wasted travel hours are always a frustration, and they are a disaster when your safari is already short. The first priority for a short safari destination is that is must be easily accessible, minimizing both travel and layover time. Almost exclusively this is achieved through light aircraft, taking careful note of transit time when arriving in Africa.
Touch down, clear customs and immigration, take off again and land in the wilderness. Having to overnight in a city means one less evening on safari, one less night spent in the wild, one less early-morning game drive. So while it may be wonderful to safari in South Luangwa National Park, logistically it’s not going to work if you only have 48 hours to spare.
A Mix of Habitats
Different mammals thrive in different habitats. They have differing diets, ways of living, and strategies for survival, whether they walk on four or two legs. Take antelope as an example. Klipspringer have evolved as nimble rock climbers – they live in rocky areas, evading predators through their dextrous climbing. Impala are a similar size – their tactic is to live in large herds on open plains, meaning many ears and eyes to detect predators, and less opportunity for the predator to sneak up on them. Some of the big animals have evolved to survive across multiple habitats, like elephant and lion, but your dream list of animals to see can’t all be found in the same place.
So for a short safari we prefer places where a myriad of habitats coexist in a single park or reserve. Diversity of habitat means diversity of animals, maximizing the opportunity to encounter the widest range of Africa’s wildlife. It’s not just different animals. Every habitat has its own atmosphere. For example, with 48 hours in the Greater Kruger you can go from open savannah grassland to woodland to sandveld to arid hills, so the safari feels like many destinations in one.
Beyond a Single Famous Scene
Visit Africa, even if it’s for a very short amount of time, and it’s difficult to ignore the famous postcard scenes. The classic has to be wildebeest crossing the Mara River, as part of the great wildebeest migration in Tanzania and Kenya. It’s a scene immortalized by various documentaries and thousands of photos, mass herds charging across a crocodile-infested river as lions look on. It’s definitely not the best place to be for a short safari. It is just a single, highly unpredictable scene. Some people spend three days waiting for the wildebeest to cross and all they see is wildebeest gathering and grazing. So if you’ve only got three days, that’s a very disappointing safari.
While it’s tempting to fly out for a short safari in one of Africa’s most famous destinations, we’d caution against it if you haven’t been on safari before. Yes the Serengeti is incredible, but you’ll probably only see five or six animals in two days – lions, zebra, wildebeest, elephant, Thomson’s gazelle and hyena. There are other wildernesses that are much quicker to get to, where you encounter five or six different animals in the first ten minutes.
Location, Location, Location
When time is short you can’t be on the outside looking in. It’s imperative you’re in the thick of the action, so the animal sightings can continue when you’re relaxing at the camp or lodge. Where to stay becomes an even more important question when it’s a short safari. Safari is a 24-hour-a-day experience at Africa’s best camps and lodges. Zebra wandering past, monkeys meeting your eye, that wild soundtrack that rocks you to sleep. You wake up in the midst of an animal world, looking out to all manner of herds and scenes. Even when you’re resting there is something to see, or at least something to smell and hear.
At some lodges that means bathtubs looking out on the river and elephants drinking from your plunge pool. But it doesn’t necessarily mean high opulence. For us the best lodges and camps are defined by location. You need to be in the middle of it all, maximizing your impressions of both the wildlife and the wilderness. Opening the curtains to endless plains, watching giraffe turn to silhouettes at sunset, feeling the rhythm of the wild course through your veins. Location is essential to every safari. It’s the most important factor when planning a short safari.
The Diversity of Experience
What to do in Africa on safari?Game drives cover relatively large distances, meaning you see more. Game walks allow you to get closer, as most animals don’t run off like they do when encountering a vehicle. It feels different at night, so we always recommend trying a nighttime game drive. It’s obviously different from the air as well, an impression of scale that can really boggle the imagination.
Every activity feels different, even if you encounter the same zebra or buffalo. For a short safari we seek to combine activities. You get to try more and experience new angles. Such diverse safari programs are not possible everywhere. In reality, there are only a handful of destinations that combine both diversity of habitat and activities. And are accessible. And offer accommodation that’s in the heart of it all. It’s these rare and special places that we recommend to you for a luxury short safari.
Planning a Short Safari in Africa
Every safari should be unique. At Heritage Africa that’s something we’ve believed in for over a quarter of a century. Just because a safari is short doesn’t mean it should be the same as anybody else’s. We don’t want to prescribe anything. There is simply too much choice and too much customization in creating a safari that is best for you.
Planning a short safari starts the same way we plan every safari. We are interested in what you are interested in. We want to know who is coming, what are your passions, and what most excites you about safari. By understanding your safari dreams we can start planning the short safari that is best for you.