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How to Plan An Unforgettable African Safari in 7 Easy Steps

By Kelsy Chauvin
December 2, 2019
Safari Elephant
Andreas Zeitler | Dreamstime.com
Few trips are as complex – and exciting – as an African safari, but with these steps you can be sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Gearing up for an African safari requires more planning than most trips. Strategies around everything from clothing and photography, to safety and basic comforts are key – not to mention savvy luggage-packing to suit small airplanes and bumpy jeeps.

For some, simple travel considerations can be doubly daunting when it’s a first-time visit to Africa. But with the right basic planning, a safari will not only feel comfortable, it can be the ultimate adventure. Check out these seven essentials for planning your dream safari in Africa.

1. Plan far in advance.

Since an African safari is likely a bucket-list sort of trip for many travelers, planning well in advance is essential. There are many great safari countries to visit, including South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and others. To determine which is right for you, consider things like: which airports and airlines you prefer; what vaccines and visas are necessary for that nation; what animals dwell there; what currency and languages are most common; and what types of accommodations are offered.

Once you narrow down the right destination, consider when to go. Prime animal viewing occurs during the dry winter months (usually June-August), when animals are forced to congregate around water sources. During the wet season, the bush is greener and wildlife is usually more dispersed around each reserve, but you'll likely find better rates and fewer tourists

Just be sure that no matter when you go, stay flexible. Being on “Africa time” means going with the flow, and enjoying an easy pace – just like the animals you came to visit.

2. Pack the right wardrobe.

Versatility and utility are the name of the clothing game. Above all, pack and wear layers, because you may be chilly for sunrise or sunset game drives, and baking in the midday sun. If your trip brings you to the city as well as to safari bush, you’ll want outfits that serve both scenes. (Fortunately, the safari look is always on trend in Africa.)

For the safari itself, wear earth-toned colors like tan or natural green to serve as camouflage when spotting wildlife and to keep cool when the African sun heats up. Most pros believe that white and brighter pastel colors are the worst for safari, so leave the hot pinks at home.

Cotton is comfortable, but you may find greater value in fabrics that are insect-resistant, offer SPF sun protection, and wick away moisture to feel cooler in the sun or warmer at night. Outdoorsy retailers like REI, Cabela’s, and LL Bean carry good safari-smart clothing lines.

3. Don't forget the essentials.

You'll want sunglasses, a full-brimmed hat with a chin strap, and boots or thick rubber-soled shoes that are comfortable enough for short or long hikes. Wise travelers also know the value of a good buff (a stretchy tube of thin fabric), which can be worn as a scarf, headband, or face cover on dusty roads.

Pay close attention to your travel toiletries. Many basic products may be hard to find in African stores, so pack favorite items that will cover your entire trip duration (including shampoo, lotion, soap, tampons, and toothpaste). And whatever you do, don’t skimp on sunscreen; but do try to use a fragrance-free one since mosquitoes are drawn to fresh scents.

Across Africa, you’ll likely rely on bottled water. But you can easily avoid single-use plastic bottles if you bring your own reusable bottle, and refill with store-bought (or hotel-refilled) jugs of spring or purified water. (FYI Klean Kanteen makes sturdy, insulated stainless-steel bottles with good handles.)

4. Remember safety basics.

When it comes to pre-trip vaccines, every country is different. So check with the US CDC’s travel site for which vaccines and medicines are recommended in your destinations, and consult your physician. (Note that where yellow-fever vaccines are required, you may need to pack your official “yellow card” vaccination record.) The US State Department also has an up-to-date international-travel site worth reading; plus it has a page dedicated to emergency preparedness while abroad.

Here are a few core safety tips: drink only bottled water, avoid eating raw foods without peels, mind your sun protection, use hand sanitizer, and apply insect repellent and/or take antimalarial medicine (where needed). Also, pack a basic first-aid kit with medicines to help with headaches, heartburn, diarrhea, sunburn, bug bites, sore throat, and dry eyes.

5. Bring the right gear and tech.

No matter where you go in Africa, never forget an electrical outlet adapter. A quick search on Amazon will turn up dozens of affordable choices, and it’s easy to score one that works in any country, with multiple USB plugs. While you’re at it, consider bringing a lightweight USB battery pack too, so you’ll always be able to recharge on the go. (Extra points if your USB battery doubles as a flashlight!)

Safari is undoubtedly a top photography adventure, so the right camera and lenses are clutch. Having a great zoom lens is vital for capturing long-distance wildlife photos, so invest in a point-and-shoot with a killer zoom; or if you’re using an SLR body, then buy, borrow, or rent a telephoto lens. When you see your close-ups of elephants, zebra, rhinos, lions, and other African wildlife, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

And while you’re thinking about cameras, consider bringing along a shower cap or plastic grocery bag, both of which make handy dust covers in an open-air jeep.

6. Enjoy all wildlife.

So you’ve heard about the “big five” – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo – allegedly the most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Today, most safari-goers are only hunting to shoot pictures, but the big five remain the hot subject matter.

In reality, an African game drive offers many more animals that will dazzle and delight you. So instead of obsessing with just five animals, be open to beholding the countless other magnificent creatures in their natural habitat: hippos, warthogs, giraffes, kudu, pythons, eagles, baboons, crocodiles, and so many more.

7. Explore both land and water.

On land, jeeps can access remote corners of game reserves, change course if animals are tracked elsewhere, and alter speeds for better photography. But then, so can boats (though they’re admittedly less agile). Even better, river cruises let guests unpack only once while touring several areas, and connect to land safaris in various areas – so visitors can check out waterways and parks too, the best of both worlds.

African river and lake cruising is growing more popular each year, especially with companies like CroisiEurope Cruises newly expanding their tours to Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But if you prefer a land-only experience, be sure to research a few different game reserves and lodges to gauge which is right for you. For example, in South Africa, Jaci’s Lodges in the more compact Madikwe Game Reserve may suit you better than narrowing down the many tour operators inside sprawling Kruger National Park.

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Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge Reaching this coastal Alaskan lodge on Fox Island requires a 12-mile boat ride from Seward to arrive. The eight guest cabin property and its main lodge are nestled in the woods between a pristine pebble beach and a quiet lagoon. Relying on renewable energy as a power source, but backed up by propane generators, the cabins go without electrical outlets, TVs, radios or phones (emergency communication access is available, in case of a serious issue). Guests can also hike or kayak or learn more about the area’s marine life from on-staff naturalists. Osprey Cabin in Lake Metigoshe State Park This backcountry cabin within this state park in northern North Dakota is accessible by one of two ways – a 2-mile hike or a 1.5-mile canoe ride and short portage. It’s also retro in a rural way. It sleeps up to six with two full beds and two twin beds and includes a wood burning stove, with supplied wood to fuel it, and a lantern with propane cylinders. 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Timberlock This camp-style retreat within New York State’s Adirondacks region provides a nostalgic experience for those who fondly remember spending their summers away from home and time in the woods with their loved ones. The family-owned retreat has rustic cabins ranging in size from small to extra large, but having views of Indian Lake’s shoreline. Note that none of them have electricity. Propane both provides light and warms up the hot water heaters, and a wood stove helps out with chilly nights, but complaining about not having wi-fi or TV is little to none. Visitors are kept busy through kayaking, canoeing and other waterside activities along with ops for biking or playing tennis covered. Pioneer Cabins in Kumbrabow State Forest Situated on top of Rich Mountain, along the edge of the Allegheny Highlands, this West Virginian state park provides the opportunity to stay in one of six West Virginian pioneer cabins. 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For a full-on Western experience, it’s possible to also partake in horseback trail riding, go on a stagecoach ride and join fellow Westerns in a communal Old West Dinner Cookout. Appalachian Mountain Club Maine Wilderness Lodges th century, the pondside Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins d has four deluxe cabins with private bathrooms and eight shoreline cabins with woodstoves and gas lamps plus a bunkhouse.>span class="s2"> The Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins contains nine private cabins, with a combo of doubles and bunk beds plus a porch, a woodstove, and gas lamps; for an additional fee, dogs can camp out here. Medawisla Lodge & Cabins (meaning loon in Abenaki) has five private hilltop cabins and four waterfront cabins with electric LED lighting and a woodstove. Len Foote Hike Inn You reach this Georgian backcountry inn via a hike to Amicalola Falls State Park. 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If you’re keen to enjoy the great outdoors but not interested in roughing it, then glamping is for you. Thanks to upgraded accommodations and actual beds, glamping is a more luxurious experience, with amenities that may include running water, electricity, personal chefs, fine linens, and en suite bathrooms. Plus, you don’t have to worry about packing toiletries, bedding,and towels – it’s all part of the package. From deluxe safari tents to small cabins and bungalows, this classy getaway not only lets you gently commune with nature, it also allows you to participate in activities you may have missed if you were staying at a hotel. Ready to upgrade? Here are six top picks for when tents and sleeping bags just won’t do. Sandy Pines Campground: Kennebunkport, ME Located near Goose Rocks Beach and Dock Square, this seaside campground is the epitome of high-low accommodations. Meant to evoke an old-school tableau of New England communal camping, Sandy Pines is a family-friendly destination teetering on the Atlantic. For true glamping, 16 luxe safari tents are available; each has a different design theme and includes a king-size bed, deck, mini-fridge and beverage cooler, and a combination heater/fan. For something more low-key, check out one of the 12 wooden A-frame Hideaway Huts, each equipped with a full-size bed and fire pit. This year, Sandy Pines unveiled six unique retreat options, including a decked-out Airstream, a glass house, and a Conestoga wagon. Entertainment, like bocce and badminton, movie nights, and even a Kid’s Kamp, ensures that everyone keeps busy. Resort-style amenities like the heated saltwater pool and laundry facilities add to the sense of luxury. The property’s Grand Lodge is a hub for the glamping community, while the General Store sells groceries and essentials like bug spray, sunscreen, charcoal, and propane. Make your way to the snack bar for freshly baked goods and sandwiches, plus local beer and wine. Eastwind Hotel & Bar: Windham, NY (Courtesy Eastwind Hotel & Bar) A lively and welcome addition to New York’s Catskill Mountains, Eastwind deftly straddles luxury and nature with design-forward glamping accommodations alongside a boutique hotel. There are three Lushna Suites, and seven Lushna Cabins which are Scandinavian-inspired standalone wood cabins with insulation for year round stays, and glass windows for panoramic views of the mountains. Built on stilts, these tiny cabins include a queen-sized bed, private bathroom, posh Frette linens, and Wi-Fi. A BBQ kit is available on request to use at the fire pit on the property. Glampers also have access to all the hotel’s amenities, like the sauna and the Salon, a sprawling living room–like space with huge windows, a bar, couches, a dining area, and an expansive outdoor deck. Seasonal prix-fixe Saturday Evening Suppers and a bar menu with small plates are available. Eastwind also has a year-round calendar of programs and activities, like concerts and foraging walks. To explore the surrounding Catskills, take a refreshing hike to Kaaterskill falls and Saugerties Lighthouse, or hang out at one of the plentiful water holes like Woodstock’s Big Deepa. Leanto Orcas Island: Washington Orcas Island’s modest glamping grounds are situated near the south-end loop of Moran State Park. An ferry ride from the port city of Anacortes lands you on the 5000-acre island, which boasts five freshwater lakes and more than 30 miles of hiking trails. Sunrise Rock and Cascade Falls are walking distance from each other, but if you want to catch a panoramic view, the summit of Mount Constitution is about five miles away. There are five glamping sites to choose from, the smallest featuring one tent with a queen-size bed and the largest offering two tents, one with a queen-size bed and the other with two twin daybeds. All accommodations also come with a table and chairs, dresser, and luggage rack. Outside there are Adirondack chairs, a grill and fire pit, a picnic table, and tents are equipped with flashlights and lanterns. There is no running water on the site, so you’ll be sharing the grounds’ toilets and coin-operated showers with the visitors on the old-school camping grounds. Meals are not included, though grilling utensils are available for loan, and you can add the “morning coffee” option when you book if you need that initial shot of caffeine. There are plenty of restaurants and markets on the island if you want a night out or need to replenish supplies. Collective Governors Island, a New York City Retreat: New York, NY (Courtesy Collective Retreats) Just a few minutes by ferry from both Manhattan and Brooklyn, Collective Governors Island, a New York City Retreat, lets you escape the bustle of the city and sleep under the stars – albeit in a luxury tent inspired by Scandinavian minimalism. Governors Island, a former military base that opened to the public in 2004, is filled with historical buildings, pop-up art and cultural exhibits, and green space like the Hills, which feature four giant slides and British artist Rachel Whiteread’s permanent installation of a New England-style concrete cabin, not to mention dazzling skyline vistas. The Collective is nestled on the western side of the island, and its accommodations are contained on a central lawn. All tents include plush beds, electricity, WiFi, and a French press for coffee; Journey tents are the basic option, but you can upgrade to the higher-end Summit tents, which come with 1,500-thread-count sheets, private decks, and en-suite bathrooms. At the highest end are the Outlook Shelters, non-tent shelters that feature larger floorplans and stunning views of the NYC skyline. Have dinner at the quaint Three Peaks Lodge, a restaurant offering a farm-to-table cornucopia, or opt for something more casual and grab the BBQ-in-a-Box or a wrap, salad, and juice from Magic Mix Juicery. Nighttime brings campfires, s’mores, and the knowledge that you’re safe from run-ins with bears or moose in this urban enclave. Under Canvas Grand Canyon: Valle, AZ (Courtesy West Elm) A 25-minute drive into the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Under Canvas is the perfect way to get up close and personal with one of the Seven Wonders of the World. An extravagant campsite with nearly 100 safari tents offers access to varied activities, like horseback riding and hiking through the campgrounds, which cover 160 acres of juniper forest. The two main tent styles – the Deluxe and the Stargazer – are furnished with a king-size bed and feature ensuite bathrooms, wood stoves, and private decks, but the Stargazer stands out for its groovy viewing window. A third option, the Suite Tent, has an additional lounge area with a queen-size sofa bed for a family or group. Package options include guided tours by foot, bike, helicopter, and jeep, plus meals served at the camp’s fast-casual restaurant. (Boxed lunches are available for those planning to spend the day out and about.) The communal firepit offers gratis s’mores and a prime view of the stars.

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