Before you start planning your safari take time to think about the type of activities you are likely to enjoy. Activities are often centred around twice daily game drives, although if you are normally very active you may soon get frustrated by the restrictions of a game drive vehicle. Guests often jokingly refer to their holiday as being an “eating safari”… great food and very little exercise isn’t a popular combination! But game drives are the high adrenaline activity and can be difficult to forgo, particularly on a first safari. If you are a serious photographer they are also the best option (combined with camps offering photographic hides). For first timers we recommend combining a few camps with different experiences, ideally including a camp with water activities.
If you are looking for a truly back-to-nature experience you could consider one of the camps that offer a sleep-out, whether sleeping on a platform, in a hide or around a campfire in the middle of the bush. A sleep-out isn’t for everyone but it may be the highlight of your safari.
So what safari activities are possible and how does the experience differ?
Game drives are a great way to cover lots of ground and see as much action as possible within a limited time. Being in a vehicle has the added advantage that you can take all your camera gear, binoculars, bird book, sun cream and other necessities with you, whereas with some other activities such as walking you need to travel light as you carry your gear. With game drives you can chase the action and with a number of camp vehicles generally in radio communication during a game drive your chances of seeing something exciting are multiplied.
When choosing your itinerary always try to include at least one camp that offers night drives. Many species are nocturnal, and you just won’t see them unless you venture out after dark. Also being able to drive off-road will transform your safari experience. Most National Parks have strict regulations prohibiting night drives and off-road driving so your experience will be enhanced by staying in a Private Concession where these activities are allowed.
Walking safaris offer a totally different perspective from game drives. You can appreciate the smaller things that you wouldn’t even notice from a vehicle. Feeling the earth underneath your feet provides a sensation of being at one with nature. You hear the sounds of the bush and watch life unfold around you. Your guide can take the time to explain medicinal uses of the plants and trees and the local traditions. Don’t expect big game sightings on a walk…they may happen but are usually deliberately avoided. From time to time you may have the privilege of walking with one of the elite band of guides who is confident enough, capable enough and experienced enough to quietly sneak you up to an elephant or through a herd of buffalo. These experiences are never to be forgotten and often life changing moments.
Walking safaris may be as brief and simple as a one hour walk close to camp, in addition to your normal game drives, or you may stay at a camp that genuinely offers walking activities as a substitute for game drives. A few bush camps in Zambia only offer walking activities as there is no game drive network, and it would even be possible to put together a whole itinerary which is purely walking. Walking safaris are not strenuous – the pace is slow with numerous breaks to point out things of interest. However, the terrain can often be quite rough so you need to be steady on your feet.
Water activities are highly recommended and give another different perspective. Again, there are options to suit all tastes: a sunset cruise on a motorized boat; drifting through the channels of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro; or perhaps canoeing the Zambezi River. Canoeing can take the form of an adventurous mobile safari over a few days or may just be one of the many activities to choose from if staying at one of the camps on the banks of the Zambezi.
A few safari camps now supply mountain bikes and offer cycling as an activity. Ballooning is popular over the Sossusvlei dunes in Namibia and the Kafue National Park in Zambia. Horse-riding safaris have long been popular, although for the more remote wilderness areas you will need to be an experienced rider.