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first time safari tips

Planning your safari for the first time

Africa: a destination whose unique safaris and genuine adventure have inspired the daydreams of would-be travellers, and lived long in the memories of those who managed to make the journey.

Going on a safari for the first time is an unforgettable experience. Client feedback frequently includes descriptors such as "the trip of a lifetime" or "a life-changing experience". And once they've enjoyed the wonders of this first experience – they all want to do it again.

But planning your first safari can be a stressful and time-consuming process, sometimes. Where should you go? When should you go? What should you pack?

At Somak we don't want you to be daunted by these questions. Our safari specialists are here to answer all your concerns and plan everything for you according to your schedule, dreams and expectations.

To give you a few initial pointers, we've also put together some tips especially for first time safari goers.

How to choose your first safari

In order to decide on a particular safari, it's important to determine your expectations. What are you looking for? Is it only the big game experience or are you thinking of both game and culture? Is there a particular place you really want to visit? An animal you really want to see? Are you a photographer looking for your next big shot?

There's no place like the Masai Mara in Kenya to spot wildlife, and the landscapes are breathtaking. This is where the BBC's Big Cat Diary was filmed. Kenya is home to some great movies such as “Out of Africa” and “Born free”. It's perfect for close encounters with cheetahs, lions and leopards. It's also one of the best places to watch the great wildebeest migration, one of the new wonders of the world.

Tanzania also offers the chance to see the migration as well as wonderful views of Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.

Uganda is home to mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and the thunderous River Nile. If you're looking for unforgettable views, you need to see its rich rainforests, breathtaking gorges and striking savannahs.

Zimbabwe is one of Africa's unsung delights which offers magnificent views of Victoria Falls, the 'Big Five' and the outstanding rock paintings of the Matobo Hills.

These are just a few examples of the many different interests you might have, and options you can choose from.

By selecting the best safari company and talking to a safari specialist you can be confident that every little detail will have been perfected through experience, avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach of some of the more generic brands. So which company should you trust to plan your safari?

Make sure you only travel with an experienced tour operator. Somak has almost 50 years of experience in designing bespoke safaris. This expertise combined with thousands of happy customers has won us several industry awards and recognition of our status as ‘The Safari Specialist'.

Why choose a bespoke safari?

Is an off-the-shelf package holiday enough? For some, yes. For many, it's a missed opportunity, a trip that was great but just short of perfect.

Maybe adventures like white water rafting on the Zambezi, ballooning over the Masai Mara, or gorilla trekking in Rwanda would have been the magical extra ingredient. Perhaps Zanzibar's pristine beaches and azure Indian Ocean would have been the perfect place for some to let the excitement of the safari sink in before returning to the working world. For others a city break in Cape Town or Dubai would be the ultimate way to relax before the journey home.

We love to customise our safaris, and there's nothing more rewarding than an ecstatic client returning to plan their next inspirational trip with us. For special interest requests, or advice and consultation for those still unsure of where to go, contact our friendly and knowledgeable safari team.

What's the best time of the year to go on a safari?

This will really depend on the destinations you choose and what you want to see. This choice can be complex, and our sales team will, of course, go into specific detail while working with the customer on a booking.

For example, travel between July and October if your goal is to watch the great wildebeest migration in Kenya or Tanzania.

Keep in mind that August will be the peak tourist season, from a price point of view, and should be booked at the earliest opportunity.

If you want to escape the European winter, then January to March is a good option for amazing game viewing.

There is great flexibility on when to go as the off seasons (April, May and November) are relatively short.

What to pack for your first safari?

Comfortable clothes

The formality of traditional safaris doesn't apply to the same extent in the modern era. You're on holiday so make sure that you feel comfortable.

For a safari, it's wise to pack comfortable walking shoes, long trousers and a warm top or jacket for a cooler evening or a bush walk. Please note that while it is not essential, it is recommended that you choose light or neutral coloured clothing (not white). This helps to blend in with the surroundings in the bush, giving you a greater chance of good animal sightings. In some areas it might be necessary to avoid black and dark blue because of some species of mosquito.

Get a jacket that has lots of zippered pockets, you will be surprised how much stuff you may want with you, especially if you decide to go out for long game drives.

Don't forget your sunglasses and a sunhat.

Sunscreen

This can be difficult to find in some African countries and when you do find it, it'll likely be expensive, so it's better to just take your own. Hand sanitiser and baby wipes Also hard to find in some places so take your own from home.

Mosquito repellent

This is essential! Make sure you don't forget to pack it, unless you choose to travel to South Africa's Eastern Cape game reserves, which are family-friendly and malaria-free.

Neck pillow

In case you will be flying long hours.

Binoculars

It's the number one piece of equipment that usually travellers forget to bring along and that substantially improves the safari experience. They allow you to take in details that would be missed by the naked eye.

Camera

If you want to take amazing photographs then you should make sure you talk to an expert and get yourself set up with an SLR with at least two lenses. This will give you flexibility to take a wide range of shots. Pack some spare batteries and a charger, and don't forget an international plug.

Vaccinations

You might need some vaccinations before travelling to Africa and it's best to speak to your doctor at least 4-6 weeks in advance to ensure enough time to get everything sorted before you go. For online advice, consult Fit For Travel (fitfortravel.nhs.uk) or NATHNAC (nathnac.org), which is used by GPs to assess health risks abroad.

Somak is a member of AMREF (amref.org), the flying-doctor service that provides evacuation in medical emergencies and offers this service for free on every booking.

Money

To avoid carrying large amounts of cash try to use the ATM's where possible. They can be found throughout Africa's main cities. Most countries will accept US dollars (although notes printed before 1996 are sometimes not accepted and $100 bills can be difficult to change) but you'll need Rand (ZAR) for South Africa.

Most camps and lodges accept credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard.

Travelling with children

Some countries will require additional documentation for families travelling with children under the age of 18.

If you are concerned about distressing sights or violence involving the wildlife that children might witness you should take into account each child's sensitivities. This type of experience can also be very educational especially with the right guide. Somak works with the best family-oriented guides, who are great at keeping children entertained and at the same time teaching them about the wildlife, the environment, and local culture.

During your safari

Safety in the bush

By simply using common sense and listening to your guide, you'll be safer in the bush than in most European cities.

Usually camps are open to the wild but they are very secure. You may have elephants wandering outside so just remember to keep your distance.

When out on a game drive don't be noisy or make sudden movements. We know that excitement levels can reach epic levels at amazing sightings but by keeping quiet, you can actually improve your sighting by not disturbing the animals. Stay inside the vehicle (ask your driver or guide if you need to make a “bush stop”).

If you're on foot, don't run. Only prey animals run!

Travelling with a professional experienced guide like the ones from Somak can make a world of difference to your holiday.

A typical day on a safari

Be ready to wake up early because you don't want to miss the sunrise in Africa. The first and last hours of the day are the best.

This is when you can be out in the bush while the big cats are still active. Later, when the day warms up, they'll lay in the shade, and so can you after your first game drive of the day.

There'll be plenty of time for relaxing or sleeping before afternoon tea, after which you drive out again.

Be patient and let go of expectations

As you know animals are of course, unpredictable so you can wait fruitlessly for a couple of hours with 10,000 wildebeest standing at the riverbank, or they can cross the river just as you arrive. Just relax and enjoy! Don't put too much pressure on yourself to see big game. Take pleasure in just being out in the bush. Letting go of expectations and simply living in the moment is the number one way to increase your enjoyment of the whole safari experience.

At the end of the day, no matter how many wildlife documentaries you may have watched, nothing can really prepare you for your first safari. No experience can quite compare!

Overall the best piece of advice we can give you is to contact Somak directly and speak with our safari specialists. They will happily guide you towards a safari suited to you whether you are travelling as a family or a couple on honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary, travelling solo or going on a group tour, we have handpicked safari lodges and camps to make your first safari adventure one that you'll never forget!

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