When we booked our flights to South Africa, I took it for granted that organising the details of our safari would be the least of my worries.

Having travelled quite a bit, booking hotels seemed like second-nature, the hardest part really was finding a place that you like (which is easy enough in itself), the rest just involved securing that booking on my trusty Hotels.com (mostly because you get a free night for every 10 stays, something that came in handy when we did our American road trip). Booking.com would be another option I’d consider but the lack of a loyalty scheme means that I end up comparing prices on TripAdvisor and go with the cheapest for the same place & number of nights if Hotels.com isn’t an option.

7 Unexpected Things You Need To Know Before Booking Your Safari In South Africa (1)
But I digress… my point was the fact that I assumed booking in the safari would be very easy and it was very far from the case. If you’re looking to go on safari soon and want to have a brilliant time and save yourself the stress that I encountered when we did it, here are 7 things worth knowing in advance of booking your trip!

Midnight Lions, Skittish Giraffes And The Deadliest Of The Safari Big 5 In South Africa (37)

1.) You can’t book online for a lot of places.

This was the biggest surprise of the lot as I assumed that even if the safari lodges couldn’t process payments online, they would work with a 3rd-party vendor who would process payments and bookings for them. What I ended up finding was that you had to email a lot of places to find out if they had availability and once that was confirmed, it was aback and forth via email (or via phone) to sort out payments and booking arrangements.

Of course, sending card payments via email or over the phone is far from secure so this closed off quite a lot of lodges until finally, I found one of the rare places that did accept payments online and looking like an amazing place to spend a week in! The place we stayed in was the Kapama Private Game Reserve and initially we were looking to book Southern Camp (where each place has its own pool and a HUGE lodge) but Southern Camp was unavailable for the start of our trip so we stayed in Kapama River Lodge at the start (its the biggest) and we then moved on to Southern Camp later on.

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What's It Like To Be Stuck In A Pride Of Lions On Safari In South Africa? (14)

(*Actually, the first time we saw it, Kapama Karula was where we wanted to stay which would have worked out perfectly as there were 3 of us and we would have gotten a family suite but that was totally gone by the time we got round to booking).

2.) There’s a big difference between private and public game reserves.

The public game reserves (like Kruger National Park) are ones that are open to nearby safari lodges that don’t have their own game reserves (effectively like a hotel without the grounds) and allow visitors to drive through the park with their safari rangers in search of wildlife. The private ones own their own game reserves (which are smaller than ones like Kruger – Kruger is like 1.9 million hectares) but are still so huge that you could easily spend a week here and feel like you haven’t seen it all; for instance Kapama Game Reserve is more than twice the size of Manhattan.

The biggest difference (and the one that matters to your safari experience) is to do with the paths you’re allowed to take when you drive through the safari parks. The public ones are only allowed to stick to their driving paths while the private ones can go off-road. Going off-road is almost essential to ensuring you see as many animals as possible as a lot of the animals won’t be found just walking on the main driving paths. They’ll be stuck in bushes, hidden in thickets and perhaps even perched on trees for a nap.

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Long story short – you can see a lot on safari regardless of if you’re go off-road or not but to increase your chances of seeing the animals (or indeed of seeing them close up), staying in a private game reserve is highly recommended and sooooooo worth it!

3.) The drives start very early.

Like waking up at 5am early! The norm is to have two game drives a day (lasting about 3 hours each). One in the morning (at 6am) and one in the evening (at 4 or 5pm – I can’t remember which) – both of which include drinks stops about halfway through. Tea/coffees in the morning with snacks and alcoholic drinks for sundowners in the evenings.

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What's It Like To Be Stuck In A Pride Of Lions On Safari In South Africa? (57)

Point is, in the morning, you get woken up at 5am (via a phone call) and you then meet downstairs at 5.30 for coffees and a light breakfast of sorts (you have proper breakfast when you return later on).

I never feel like I need 30 minutes to get ready usually but on safari, you probably will. You’ll need to dollop on that sunscreen and insect repellant; not to mention getting your cameras and any other gear sorted along with whatever other morning routines you might have – 5.30 will be around before you know it.

By the way, if you’re wondering what to pack on safari – we’ve got you covered in this post here.

4.) The temperatures will change quite quickly and fairly dramatic.

For starters, it’ll be quite cold in the morning. Like seriously cold (okay, not ‘snowing’ cold but cold enough that you t-shirt and shorts/trousers just won’t cut it), somewhere halfway through, the sun will be out and you’ll start to get ridiculously warm as temperatures begin to creep into the 30Cs (86F)! The reverse happens on your evening drive so the advice is always to go for the onion dress code – dress in layers.

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Put on your layers in morning and take them off as the morning gets brighter and hotter and in the evening, take your layers with you so you can slowly wrap up warmer as the evening chill starts to set it. (You will most likely have blankets on your safari jeep so the evening one is the better of the two for staying at the right temperature).

5.) Malaria isn’t really as big a concern as you’d think here.

Most people just think Africa = Malaria risk but the risk of malaria can be quite low in a lot of places where you go on safari in South Africa. For starters, most lodges take a lot of precautions to help avoid it (its bad for business if people go home sick) and there’s the fact that mosquitos tend to be active at night not during the day so you’re not likely to get bitten by mosquitoes during your game drives so you’re covered on both fronts.

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The Last 24 Hours In South Africa's Eastern Cape, Port Elizabeth, Addo National Park (23)

Additionally, there are some places in South Africa where the risk is literally 0 as the mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite have been completely eradicated but if you’re really worried about malaria, the least riskiest time to visit is between the months of May to November as this is the dry season. In any case, taking anti malaria medication before you go is totally worth it and definitely recommended for you to have a fun-filled, stress free time on safari.

Read more: See more from our time on safari in South Africa here.

6.) You end up with a lot of free time during the day (about 7 hours worth, give or take).

This is NOT a bad thing! In fact, its quite the opposite – this is the point when you catch up on sleep from getting up early, make the most of the pool and spa facilities (we booked massages for almost ever single day we were here, except for that one time we splashed around in the pool and drank wine all afternoon. It’s also perfect for catching up with family and friends back home along as your evenings will be spent dining and perhaps even dancing around the camp fire (at least that’s what happened at ours). 😉

An Afternoon In Addo Elephant Park - A South African Must-Do! (16)

7.) Buffalo are by far more dangerous than lions.

Given any luck, this should never concern you but its still worth noting that buffalo are not just as docile as cows back home (despite the obvious similarity). Their herd protection mentality and need for revenge has earned these animals the reputation of being the most dangerous of the big 5 and indeed, its only a really stupid (or really desperate) lion that would even attempt to attack a herd of buffalo.

By the way, here’s our video from our time on safari below so you can see first-hand some of the stuff I’m talking about. 😀

With that, I wish you good luck on your safari adventure! Have an amazing time (and don’t forget to share some photos with us when you get back 😉 ).

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