The success of safari holidays is generally judged by the kind of animals that you have seen. Although many travellers venture to Africa in search of more than just a breathtaking encounter with one of nature’s most iconic creatures, it is this underlying desire that fuels much of our enthusiasm when thinking about an African safari.
We can all appreciate the frolicking energy of the antelope and the vibrancy and chaotic murmur of a large herd of zebra but the species I am of course referring to are of course the ‘Big Five’ those animals that have become synonymous with safari adventure and that define our expectations of what a true safari should entail.
The Big Five consist of elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffaloes, some of the most spectacular specimens of large mammals in the world can be found across Southern and Eastern Africa’s vast plains and savannahs and this is not to mention other species such as cheetahs, giraffes and the mighty river dwelling hippopotamus.
Although with the right kind of preparation and understanding you can come away from your African safari with an unforgettable experience, memories that will live with you forever and a catalogue of breathtaking photographs to entertain family and friends and have them green with envy; it has of course been known, perhaps all too often, that some people have come away from their safari with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction. Seeing only smaller or (what are considered to be) less impressive animals can leave enthusiastic holidaymakers with a real sense of disappointment but there are certain ways to help ensure that you get the most from your experience and by taking a few careful considerations, who knows, you could soon be ticking all five off your list!
One of the most important factors to take into account is the time of year that you travel. The dry season is a popular period for safaris for a reason and this is due to the fact that limited water makes the remaining water holes that offer a constant source become prime grounds for animal watching. Park rangers and safari guides know where these areas are within the grounds of the various game reserves and conservation districts so this period certainly becomes the optimum time for travel.
In Southern Africa the dry season generally falls around May to October, in the East this span runs earlier, from March to July. What the dry season also promises is a thinning of the vegetation, and although this may at first seem like a disadvantage, if the bush is too thick, with trees, tall grass vines and plants, then the chances of seeing animals is severely diminished.
Travel with an accredited guide, many of whom are often associated with a particular lodge or reserve. They will advise you on where to look, when to approach silently and how to stay down wind of any animals. Although it isn’t everybody’s favourite time to be up and about, be prepared to rise at the crack of dawn as it is this time and at dusk when the animals are most active. And whatever you do, don’t leave your binoculars behind!