Planning your Perfect African Safari In the
Article by Adam Scott Kennedy
Images by Vicki Kennedy
When it comes to day-dreaming about the ultimate vacation, an African wildlife safari is right up there on most travellers’ hit-lists. The allure of big cats and other amazing animals, breath-taking scenery and colourful tribes has captured our imaginations for well-over 100 years and it has never been easier to travel to, and around, Africa.
While a rewarding wildlife adventure can be enjoyed in many sub-Saharan countries, including South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, the true romantic heart of safari lies within East Africa, particularly Kenya and Tanzania. The shared ’jewel in the crown’ of these two nations is undoubtedly the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, where I had the pleasure of working for three years as a camp manager, photographer and guide. I was wholly immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a wilderness so beautiful that it never became ‘day-to-day’. This is because there is an excitement, an unpredictability and endless thrill that epitomises every safari, for every traveller; “will I see a Leopard, a Lion kill, a Rhino?” In nature, you can never predict what’s around the next corner but when it comes to planning your dream safari there are many things you can do to ensure it lives up to your wildest African dreams.
Firstly, do your own research about the places that interest you but make sure you book with experts that have genuine experience of the destinations you’re dreaming about – you won’t regret it. This may seem like an obvious thing to do but while managing a luxurious tented camp in the heart of the Masai Mara, I hosted more than one family who, upon arrival, were devastated to learn that they were sleeping under canvas and without air-con, simply because they hadn’t fully engaged with their chosen agent.
Secondly, be sure you know what your dream animals are and a fun way to explore this is to list your own ‘Big Five’ of African species that you most want to see. For example, Lion and Leopard are on the official ‘Big Five’ list but the Cheetah is not, even though this may be the cat you most want to see.
Similarly, I’ve driven so many guests that were far more impressed with Giraffe, Hippo and Warthog (not ‘Big Five’ species) than they ever were with Buffalo (a bona fide ‘Big Five’ member). In fact, it is rather unfortunate altogether that the ‘Big Five’, an old hunting collective, holds any significance because many driver-guides are so persistent in their pursuit of the ‘Big Five’ that they miss out on some wonderful behaviour and many amazing smaller creatures and birds. My advice is to go slow and take the time to enjoy the small stuff; the Lions are certain to be there when you go looking but a small spotted cat, known as the Serval, could be a once in a lifetime sighting!
For many, the experience of chimp- and gorilla-trekking in the tropical forests of Uganda and Rwanda is an unforgettable addition, as is a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise over the endless plains. With so much potential for things to see and do, you can begin to see why a little bit of research and planning beforehand is so important.
Other top tips from the bush…
Don’t forget the small stuff
From Bat-eared Foxes and Dwarf Mongooses, to Dung Beetles and Ant-Lions, each has its own amazing story that is sure to astound you.
Don’t rely on your guide to find you EVERYTHING
There’s no better feeling than finding and identifying a new animal or bird before your guide does!
Put the hours in
Sure, it may be your vacation but when’s the next time you’ll have the chance to catch a sunrise over African savannah or take in a spectacular sunset with a gin and tonic in-hand? Be prepared to start early and finish late and you’ll be rewarded with new species and different behaviours (and a fabulous tan!).
Take your time
Sometimes the real joy comes from just sitting and watching so try to relax and take it all in. Practice different shots with your camera or maybe do a few sketches to encapsulate your feelings of the moment; this will make the memories of your experience even stronger when you return home.
There are lots of considerations when planning your dream safari and it can all seem quite daunting, however, the best advice I can offer is to just do it!
About the Authors
The Kennedys are the authors of five photographic identification guides to the wildlife of East Africa, all published by Princeton University Press. Their latest book, Animals of the Serengeti, is hot off the press.