I was once sent a meme that went something along the lines of “elephants, tigers and bears, oh my”. It was in response to my news that I was heading off on an African safari.
The person who sent it to me was, no doubt, very proud of themselves, but I wasn’t so impressed. You see, the thing that bothered me about that meme was that there are no tigers in Africa, I couldn’t see elephants, tigers and bears, it’s not possible, not in Africa anyway. And that’s the thing about heading out on a wildlife safari, and why it’s so important to do your research before you go, different wildlife is native to different parts of the world and depending on what you want to see, you want to make sure you end up in the right place. You know that, of course but this becomes vitally important when it comes to booking your wildlife safari.
Imagine turning up in Kenya expecting to see a meerkat, only to discover they don’t exist in Kenya, or looking for orangutans in India or gorillas in South Africa. And what if the wildlife you really want to see does exist in the country you want to go to, but it’s not the best place to see them.
You can technically see polar bears in Iceland, for instance, but they’re not native and it’s quite rare (apparently every now and again a polar bear swims too far and ends up close to the shores of Iceland). So really, if you wanted to see polar bears you should head to Canada or Norway, or even Greenland.
Seeing animals in the wild is awe-inspiring, there is simply nothing quite like it, but you’ll have a much better experience if you do some research before you. So, before you book your next trip, check out these five tips to help you choose a wildlife safari that’s right for you.
Know how you like to travel
We all like different modes of travel and different levels of comfort when we’re on holiday. Safari holidays will cater to all tastes, so it’s good to know what mode of transport and type of accommodation suit your needs best. While many wildlife reserves are in what may often be considered “developing nations”, there is generally no shortage of luxurious lodges. Would you prefer to be in a tent closer to the wildlife, or in a luxury lodge? Neither is right, but one will be more right for you.
Know what animals you want to see
Not all national parks, or all countries offer the same experience when it comes to wildlife so the more you can narrow it down to what you actually want to see, the better experience you’ll have. For instance, if you desperately want to see a tiger, then head to India, are orangutans on your bucket list? Then you’ll need to book a trip to Borneo, or are you desperate to channel Dian Fossey and see gorillas in the wild? Then you’ll want to head to Africa, and more specifically to Uganda, Rwanda or the Congo.
And once you have narrowed the particular wildlife down to a specific country or region, you’ll want to distill it down even further. Some national parks have larger herds of particular animals, Amboseli in Kenya, for instance is known for its elephant herds while Lake Nakaru is a great place to see rhinos.
Know what you want to do
Do you want to volunteer overseas? Take epic photos? Have a family adventure? There are tours that focus on volunteering, tours that focus on photography, tours that focus on experiencing as much wildlife as you can, tours that focus on hiking… The list is endless. You can visit coffee plantations, unbelievable water falls or stunning beaches alongside all that wildlife viewing. Thinking about what else you might like to do before you book means you’ll be better placed to pick the right experience for you.
Just because someone else spent five days chasing the Big 5 in the Masai Mara, doesn’t mean you will want to do the same. You might prefer to spend two days on a beach or in a resort swimming pool, two days on Safari and a day visiting local communities. Don’t be tempted to recreate someone else’s holiday unless that really is the way you like to travel and mirrors the things you are interested in.
Know what experiences you want
Before you pick a tour or organize your overseas adventure, think about your likes and dislikes and what travelling means to you. If you want to add a trek or a walking safari, be sure to factor that into where you travel to. Do you want to be able to bathe elephants, or take a walk through a wildlife reserve? Or do you want to observe from the safety of a vehicle? Do you want to explore local markets or spend time in a local village? There are many ways to see and experience wildlife and different cultures; thinking about what you might like to incorporate into your trip before you leave will help ensure you get the most from your adventure.
Who will you go with?
Because you’re here, we’re going to assume you’re a solo traveller, but more broadly, how do you want your travel to feel? Do you want to travel with a large group? A small group, on a private tour, or do you want to make your own way around? In some places it is possible to self-drive through national parks, in others you will need to have a qualified guide.
There are many different types of safaris that cater to all kinds of groups, there are different types of groups and tours that either allow you to join with other travellers or to create your own bespoke tour.
There are so many choices when it comes to planning your safari, but it really comes down to knowing yourself, knowing how you like to travel and knowing what you want to see. A little bit of research at the start will ensure you have the best experience possible – for you.
Diane Squires is writer and tour host with Two’s a Crowd.