african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going

African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going

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A traditional African safari has been high on my list for a long period of time. It seemed pretty standard and what was not to love? 

After arriving in Tanzania, I realized very quickly that this wasn’t just a standard bucket list check-off. This soon turned into one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life! 

I don’t love to hype things up (okay maybe I do), but this is an activity that I will hype up to the moon and back…because it is that cool! 

As with everything though, I wish I was more prepared in some aspects…therefore, if I had to do it all over again, these are thing things I wish I would know (hint: number 9 was my biggest lesson).

So before you pack your bags on this bucket list adventure, make sure to read these 9 vital things to know on your African safari!

Watch the Full African Safari YouTube Video

My Bucket List Review of an African Safari

Who Needs to Add This to Their Bucket List?Anyone who loves nature
and wildlife.
Best Time to GoLate June to October
Traveling DifficultyDifficult
Physical DifficultyModerate
Popularity Rating8/10
Group/Tour RequiredDepends on location in Africa
Wheelchair AccessibleMaybe depending on safari you choose.
Favorite Place to Stay (Tanzania)Meliá Serengeti Lodge
Favorite TourTanzania to Zanzibar: White Sands & the Wilderness
Traveler’s InsuranceVisitorsCoverage

If you need more information about the categories of this table, please check out the Bucket List Reviews guide.

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
A herd of zebras in Tanzania.

1. Best Places To Go on an African Safari

Did you know that Africa has around 600 parks and reserves? This means that it can accommodate any traveler. With that being said, this is a highly personal preference. I would ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to be on a guided tour or private?
  • What wildlife do you want to see?
  • Do you want to be in the middle of nowhere?
  • What is your budget?

After you have answered all of those questions, I would narrow it down to a region, then a park or reserve, and then a company. Because tyring to pick from 600 options right away just sounds like a headache.


For my first safari, I decided to go to Tanzania in the Serengeti. I cannot complain about the experience. Between the wide plans of the Serengeti and the magnificent Ngorongoro crater, I was obsessed! The diversity of the landscapes was unimaginable. Besides, after the once-in-a-lifetime safari, I could head over to Zanzibar for idyllic beaches and crystal-clear blue water. I chose to go through G Adventures and I honestly could not have been happier! 


Next on my list is Kenya! I met a few travelers who had gone to Kenya before making their way to Tanzania. They had nothing but good things to say! 

  • Kenya is the original safari and it is known for its luxury hotels and authentic camps with tents
  • The Masai Mara is known for their big cats! 
african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
The Serengeti at sunset!

South Africa

Before I decided on Tanzania, I was originally going to check out South Africa

  • South Africa seemed to be the definition of a complete holiday and their tourism industry is booming. 
  • It consists of bushveld terrain.
  • They offer a chance to see the Big 5 at luxurious lodging and a picturesque coastline. Not to mention it has some of the world’s most habituated leopards.
  • If I wanted to do other activities besides a safari, I would have chosen this but instead wanted to focus on just the safari.
    • Just for reference, I was looking at Kruger National Park because there was a bigger chance to see the Big 5.

If it is your first safari, Kruger National Park is one of the most recommended and highly rated for newcomers.


I always told myself that once I had a little more financial freedom I would go on a gorilla safari in Uganda

As I suggested, Uganda is the place to go for gorilla trekking

  • I got the chance to meet a few people who trekked the emerald rainforests and the pictures of the gorilla were something out of National Geographic. They all agreed that it was one of the most powerful wildlife experiences they had had. 

2. Accommodations for an African Safari

Adventure Camping

If I am being completely transparent, I went on my first African safari straight out of college. Translation: I didn’t have a lot of money. But I still wanted to experience an African safari. Therefore, I decided to camp

Although this was not as luxurious as the other options, I could not have been happier! I cannot even explain how cool it was to camp in the Serengeti. 

During the night I heard lions roaring, hyenas laughing, and thunderstorms raging. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had! 

We also had a member of our group pay more to have private accommodation, so I automatically got upgraded. And yes…that meant that I was in my own tent alone. Although it was a bit spooky, I was very proud of myself and the whole experience was very empowering. 

Keep in mind that there are limited facilities, running water is scarce, and basic sanitation…but that just adds to the adventure! We did have a team that would help us cook and set up the tents. 

There are some upgraded options based on the location that might be fancier. Some even have en-suite tent extensions, swimming pools, and bars! 

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
Our camping tents looking over Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.


Accommodation ranges from 2-4 stars and is quite basic. 

All of these options were mostly en-suite (I wouldn’t hold your breath for hot water) and had bedding/linen provided. 

There are several styles including traditional huts, permanent tents, or chalets. 

Although this might be more appealing to some people who hate sleeping in a tent, I would recommend the adventure camping experience any day of the week. 

African Safari Lodge

If camping is completely not your thing, then I would go for a luxurious safari lodge

These can range in luxury, size, and structure, but will provide you with more of a hotel feeling. 

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
An African elephant showing us its magnificent tusks!

Tented Camps

Again, once I am more financially stable this is my next splurge: the luxury tented camps. Aka is known as the true safari experience. 

Most are in pristine environments and offer large living quarters including hot showers! You know you are in the lap of luxury when you get hot water on a safari! Ooh, la la! 

*As always, please make sure that whatever accommodation you choose is eco-friendly and has minimal impact on the environment and the animals. Do your part to keep this Earth beautiful and these animals protected! 

Parks vs. Reserves

National Parks are owned, protected, and regulated by the local government. They have hours and you can go on a tour or by yourself. There is no off-roading allowed and there can be many vehicles in there at all times.

My National Park Picks: Serengeti National Park and Kruger National Park.

Private reserves are privately owned. There are strict amounts of vehicles, fewer people, and strict wildlife viewing procedures. Off-roading, guided nature walks, and after-hours drives are allowed, giving you an enriched and exclusive safari experience.

They also might provide you with chances of seeing animals that you mights not always see. For example, Ngala Private Game reserve is known for its lions and even a rare white lion! Or the Phinda is known for cheetah and black rhino.

My Private Reserve Picks: Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari.

The obvious downfall of a private reserve is cost. The cost can go up into the thousands per day!

When I embarked on my safari adventure, I went to a national park and it still was one of the most amazing experiences on my bucket list. So if a private reserve isn’t on your bucket list, don’t panic. You will still have an incredible time!

However, if you do have the means, a private reserve may be exactly what you are looking for to get that ultimate luxurious bucket list safari experience.

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
Looking into Ngorongoro Crater getting ready to go on my first African Safari!

3. Animals You Might See and When to Go on an African Safari

You might be aware of the Big 5 on safaris, but I sure wasn’t! I soon learned this when I started doing some research before I chose a location. Here are the big five:

  1. Lion
  2. Leopard
  3. Rhino
  4. Elephant
  5. African Buffalo

Although it is not necessary to see the Big 5 for it to be considered a successful safari, it certainly doesn’t hurt. In the long run, there are plenty of other animals to see out there besides the Big 5! No matter what animals grace you with their presence, you will no doubt have a fantastic time.

I would encourage you to think about what animals you would like to see and pick the place and time accordingly. 

  • For example, this might be seasonal. Maybe the Big 5 doesn’t matter to you but you would love to see the wildebeest migration? That would be highly dependent on the season and location in Africa. Pro Tip: the Masai Mara from July to October is considered the peak time and place for the wildebeest migration.
  • Maybe instead of seeing the Big 5, you just want to see the gorillas? You can go to Rwanda, Uganda, or the Congo.

Personally, I wanted to see the Big 5 and actually managed to see all 5 during the 3 days that I went on safari. It was truly magical and would have been magical even if I didn’t see those chiché animals!

These are wild animals and there is no guarentee that you will see what you want. My biggest tip for an African safari is to be flexible, keep an open mind, and don’t stress about things you can’t control.

When to Plan Your Trip

The general time that most travelers choose to go on an African Safari is from June to October. This is ideal for most wildlife viewing because the shrubs and trees are leafless. There is also less food and water so you might see more animals wandering about for resources.

As I mentioned before, the timing of your trip might also be influenced on the location in Africa and what animals you want a chance at seeing.


african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
Spotting one of the Big Five animals (lion) on an African safari during sunset. I may or may not have cried…

4. Understand that an African Safari is a ‘backward zoo’. 

In a zoo, they take the animals, put them in cages, and put them in your environment. Out there, they take you, put you in a cage (car), and put you in their environment. 

This seems pretty self-explanatory but when you are in a jeep watching hippos bathing, it really puts it into perspective. Thinking like this made me feel constant gratitude and respect for the location, culture, and wildlife

5. Since the animals are free ranged…just be careful! 

Again…another self-explanatory one. These are wild animals, not toys. Don’t be foolish, follow the rules of the guide, and respect the animals.

Embaressing story: I was in a tent by myself and had to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Imagine my surprise when a hyena was staring right at me from 2o feet away when I exited my tent!

Needless to say, I peed right outside the door of the tent and had no shame doing it!

Another time we had an outhouse and there was a zebra and a warthog right outside when we were brushing our teeth.

As you can see, this is not your typical animal encounter at the zoo and these animals are right there! So…be smart.

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
A giraffe wandering around the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

6. Respect the animals and the land while on an African Safari.

Banking on my last point, I believe that it is important to respect the land, the people, and the animals. 

A good traveler always tries to minimize their presence and not leave a trace

This extends beyond your personal actions and into good judgment when choosing a company, guides, and accomodation.

7. Realize that an African Safari is actually an emotional experience.

On my first day on the safari, I was comfortably nestled into the back right corner of the jeep. We had seen so many incredible displays of life and beauty. My jaw was on the floor with the landscape. 

Suddenly, there he was—a lion cub. Not too far away was his protective mother with his siblings. 

After the family migrated to a rock, it slowly turned into a scene from a movie. 

The mama lion lay leisurely on the rock while her baby cubs wrestled. Behind them, there was an unbelievable African sunset that seemed to envelop us. 

I am not a very emotional person, but it was hard not to break down. To see these animals completely free and living life in such beauty was utterly overwhelming. 

If this happens to you…just let it happen and enjoy the moment. It is not every day that you get to witness something like this.

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going

8. Use Your Guides and learn as Much as You Can

Of course, this is a personal preference, but I find that travel experiences are truly enriched when you can learn as much as you can about the culture and your surroundings. 

On an African safari, this can be translated into learning about all of the wildlife! My guides probably hated me by the end because I was asking them so many questions. 

But guess what? I learned SO much about the ecosystem I was exploring and it really did deepen my appreciation and heightened this bucket list item for me.

Although there are options for self-drives, I would still recommend hiring a company or guide. Not only is it safer, but they are a wealth of information about the routes, animals, and culture.

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
A hippo peeks out at us on our safari in Tanzania. Be warned! The guide said that they are some of the most dangerous animals on reserves and parks!

9. Bring a camera

Even if you aren’t into photography, bring a camera on your African safari! This is 100% the biggest regret that I had and something that I wish I had known before I went. 

I am not sure why I thought that my iPhone camera would cut it, but it did not…

You can definitely see the animals and feel close to them, but this does not translate well on a phone. They look very far away and the zoom doesn’t capture the details that an actual camera would. 

The only time that my phone captured something good was when the lions were right in front of the car. 

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
A pair of wildebeests running through the Ngorongoro Crater.

If You Aren’t into Photography

I know that some people are not into photography, but believe me when I say that you do want to capture what you are seeing…because what you are seeing is truly incredible

I wasn’t into photography at the time but I really didn’t expect it to be so…WOW! And I wanted to take pictures so that I could show my friends and family back home. 

Luckily, some people in my car had a camera, let me borrow their camera, or I jerry-rigged my phone and some binoculars (would not recommend but oh, well).

Professional Photography on an African Safari

If you do have a camera, bring your best telefoto lens you have with at least 200mm.

If you are a professional photographer or you just feel like it, it is recommended to get a private vehicle and guide for a more personalized safari experience. Or if you are feeling confident, maybe make some memories and do a travel photoshoot!

african safari, African Safari: 9 Things to Know Before Going
A viewpoint of Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

Adventure Bucket List Resources

I am here to help your travel adventures go as smoothly as possible! That way you can check off that bucket list with minimal complications and spending!

AIRFARE – It is no surprise that like many travelers, I have found that Hopper is one of the best resources to use when finding cheap flights. 

ACCOMMODATION – My two favorites are Booking.Com for hotels and VRBO for rentals. 

GUIDED TOURS –  If you are looking for quick and easy tours, check out GetYourGuide and Viator

MULTI-DAY TOURS –  For more in-depth tours that span several days, TourHub has many great options with reputable travel companies. Use my code (ALEXANDRA1GURU) for up to 5% off your next bucket list adventure. 

TRANSPORTATION –  You can either rent a car yourself with Discover Cars or do a guided bus tours like Big Bus Tours

CREDIT CARD –  I always use my Chase Freedom Unlimited card for all of my purchases. There is no annual fee and you get 1.5% cash back and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel. 

SIM CARDS –  Avoid expensive roaming charges with an eSim card with Airalo.

TRAVELER’S INSURANCE –  Check out VisitorsCoverage for affordable insurance plans.

Find More Adventure for your Bucket List

Going on an African Safari? Don’t forget to share it before and tag me so that I can cheer you on during your African Safari adventure!

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