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What To Expect: A Typical Day on Safari in Africa

Each day on safari in Africa is a magical experience, whether you’re exploring the savanna on foot or in a 4×4 vehicle in search of the Big 5, taking to the sky in a hot-air balloon to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration, or hiking through the thick rainforests of Uganda or Rwanda on a gorilla trek. Every single day is steeped in the promise of a unique adventure and cherished memories.

Although each day is unpredictable to a certain extent, based on the time of year or location, there is a general format or schedule that safaris tend to follow but, as a rule, safari does follow a familiar rhythm that combines thrilling game viewing with ample time to relax in between – a dream vacation in anyone’s book. One rule of thumb is that there are usually two game drives a day – one in the early morning and late afternoon when animals are at their most active.

If you want a more detailed look at what your schedule might be, we put together a guide that takes a deep dive into what to expect on a typical day on safari in Africa, when staying at a traditional lodge or camps that offers game drives in a national park, private concession or conservancy.

5.30am: Time for a Wake-Up Call

Woman has breakfast in bed at Saseka Tented Camp in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Depending on what time the sun rises, staff will wake you up in time for the morning game drive. If you are not a morning person, it might help that they usually arrive with a knock at the door and a tray of very welcome tea, coffee and cookies. Generally, they confirm the time and your order the night before dinner.

No matter your location, it’s always cool to cold in the early hours. It doesn’t help that you’ll be in an open safari vehicle for hours! So, you’ll want to dress warm and in layers to stave off the chill. It helps to lay out your clothes the night before so you don’t waste time getting dressed in the morning – you won’t want to miss a second of the early morning action!

If you’re wondering why early morning game drives are held at an ungodly hour, it’s because this is when the most activity occurs. Many animals (especially predators) graze or hunt before the sun rises. It gets very hot in the savanna – too hot for animals to do anything other than find a shady spot to laze. So, they tend to seek out food while it’s still cool.

6am – 9am: Morning Game Drive or Hot-Air Balloon Safari

Although you may set out before the first light, there is something magical about being out in nature as the moon sets and the sun comes up. The dawn chorus of birds is wonderful in Africa, and this is a great time to see nocturnal hunters like lions and leopards bedding down for the day or, in the case of lions, finishing off the last of their kill (leopards will stash theirs in a tree).

Animals like elephants, gazelle, antelope, buffalo and giraffes will all start moving to waterholes to quench their thirst. Their reflections in the water in the soft morning light make for beautiful photos. Wild dogs will try to make a kill now before it gets too hot and exhausting to chase down prey in the heat.

Your guide will generally serve coffee, tea and more cookies during a refreshment break during your drive.

If you are going hot-air ballooning (mostly in Namibia, Kenya or Tanzania), you will also have to get up early as dawn provides the best conditions (winds are usually at their lowest in the morning).

In private concessions and conservancies, you can head out at any time; in national parks and reserves, you will have to wait for the gates to open.

9am – 11am: Return to Camp for Breakfast or Brunch

Chef talks to guests about their breakfast at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

By mid-morning it will be too hot to be out (especially in South Africa where game-drive vehicles generally don’t have roofs) and the animals, having quenched their thirst, will be retreating to shade and will be hard to see and photograph in the dappled light.

You will return to the lodge for breakfast or brunch, depending on how late it is and whether you had a cooked bush breakfast. The latter is often laid on for special occasions or after hot-air ballooning. It’s traditional after a hot-air balloon safari to drink a glass of champagne – go for it if you like, you’re on vacation after all!

11am – 1pm: Relaxation Time to Read, Nap, Swim, Walk or Enjoy the Spa

Couple indulging in traditional canvas bush baths at Cottars in Africa.

After breakfast or lunch, do as you please. Free time between activities can be spent enjoying all the lodge or camp has to offer. Take a book down to the pool, go for a massage or pedicure, hit the gym or – quite frankly – take a nap. What you do will depend on the lodge’s facilities so if you like having lots of choices, ask your Africa Safari Expert to recommend accommodation with a spa, gym, pool, library, media centre, Wi-Fi, guided walking trails, kids’ clubs and so forth. Please note though, that not all camps have these elements.

If you are active and the lodge or camp offers it, enquire the night before about taking a guided nature walk during this time (if it is very hot, some guides prefer to do it instead of the morning drive). You will need closed shoes and preferably long trousers, and the focus will be on the little aspects of Africa that often get overlooked on a vehicle: how the wind ‘whistles’ through a whistling acacia tree, how dung beetles know which direction they’re going, how termites build those massive mounds and how yellow weaver birds craft such intricate nests.

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