Safari in South Africa: a mandatory experience if you visit the African country. The only country in the world where not only can you see the Big 5 even the Big 7. Here is my experience with some useful tips to make the most of this emotion.
Taking a safari in South Africa means immersing yourself in a wild and unspoiled nature that can excite you wherever you look at it.
In this wonderful country you can do numerous types of safaris from the classic ones of “land” to the less conventional ones of “sea”. Unlike most other African countries, South Africa is the only one where you can see BIG 7 in the wild, the seven most dangerous and legendary animals on the planet.
In this article I clarify what to expect from a safari in South Africa and I will tell you some curiosities and difficulties that you may encounter.
When choosing to take a trip to South Africa it is natural to immediately think about Safari.
Although the country offers an endless series of things to do, Safari is South Africa’s most popular attraction. A country where you can not only see the legendary Big Five in the wild but even admire the Big Seven (the seven largest and most dangerous animals on the African continent).
Taking a safari is an experience that nothing has to do with those that you can do even in Italy in some theme parks (parks that after doing a real safari you won’t want to see anymore…) but that entails rules and attentions that it is essential to follow and respect. If it is also, like me, an obvious motor problem it is advisable to know all the information possible to get prepared for one of the most beautiful and exciting experiences that you can do in life.
If you approach the world of Safari for the first time, you’ve probably never heard of the Big Five or the Big Seven. Well Big Five is a term that is used in Africa to identify the five largest animals on the African continent. With this term, however, we limit ourselves not only to the size and size of the animal but also to the difficulty of hunting and killing it.
The word Big Five began to be used in South Africa, mainly in South African parks where settlers hunted and referred to the Big Five Game,the game of the big five that was all but a game.
The Big Five Game was a competition among hunters who competed to see who could kill all the most dangerous animals in Africa and then fill their homes with hunting “trophies”. The Big Five Game quickly became a challenge without borders and many headed to the savannas of South Africa, rich in those animals, to try to kill them. The Big Five are: the lion, the elephant, the leopard, the buffalo and the rhinoceros.
After some time it was decided to coin a new term, Big Seven,which expands the list of larger and harder-to-hunt animals with the whale and white shark. There is only one place in the world where all seven animalscan be found: South Africa.
In South Africa you can do 3 types of safaris. Let’s see what it is.
Safari in 4X4
The classic safari, the one that is practiced on board 4X4 vehicles capable of spinning smoothly in the savannah.
The most famous is without a doubt is what you can do in Kruger National Park which is flanked by equally exciting safaris that you can do in the private reserves immediately bordering the Kruger.
Boat safaris can be done in Walker Bay,the bay not far from Cape Town and a prime vantage point for fantastic white sharks, perhaps the most difficult animal to see in nature.
Safari on foot
You may not know that South Africa is also the only country in the world where you can see whales comfortably from land without taking boats. Whale sightings allow you to walk along the Whale Route, a coastal road dotted with distinctive towns, famous throughout South Africa for being excellent vantage points from the mainland.
The ideal whale-watching towns are Betty’s Bay, Kleimond, Hermanus, Pringle Bay and Stanforde Gansbaai.
The quintessential vantage point is certainly Hermanus, a small and picturesque town overlooking the ocean coast.
Every type of Safari, whether in the savannas or in the middle of the ocean, needs a precise means of transport. Leaving aside the Safari that you can do on foot (for whale watching) in which the only means of transport will be your legs (supported in my case also by prosthesis) here are the two main means of transport in detail.
The Jeep features that are used by South African rangers are vehicles that can carry as many as ten customers plus the driver and ranger who spots the animals that is placed on the hood.
They are practically unstoppable means that allow you to proceed smoothly in the dirt roads and allow you to make small fords and off-road even of medium difficulty when it is necessary to follow an animal.
The most striking feature is to be completely free of protections and therefore seemingly dangerous to the safety of passengers.
Why it’s soon said: These discovered Jeeps are mainly used in private reserves where animals are accustomed to their presence. It is essential to sit when we are close to a potentially dangerous animal: staying together and all at the same height allows to be perceived by the animal as a larger animal than him and not as 12 people to be attacked. That is why it is essential to respect the rules of conduct and avoid rash gestures such as screaming, standing up or, worse, getting out of the vehicle without authorization.
Accessibility rating: medium/poor.
For those who have walking problems the ascent and descent are uncomfortable and tiring even if you will always find someone ready to help you. For a disabled person in a foldable wheelchair it is essential to use the front seat (you still need help to climb as the vehicle is very high) while those who can not leave their wheelchair won’t be able to go up in any way because the medium is not predisposed to more serious disabilities.
The Slashfin is the specific boat to go to spot the great white shark: its aerodynamics combined with its incredible power and stability allow it to cut the water and effortlessly withstand the most extreme conditions of the sea.
The boat can comfortably accommodate 40 passengers plus the crew at a time.
Equipped with two decks (connected by a double staircase on opposite sides to offer easy access to the upper deck) inside there are toilets, a dressing room closet for greater privacy and a
Convenient central food drawer in which lunch packs, snacks, water and seasickness remedies are stored. Once you reach your destination, the boat hooks up to floating cages anchored to the sea floor where you can descend to enjoy the spectacle of sharks swimming a few inches away (if you’re lucky you’ll see the white shark otherwise more shark species will come).
Accessibility assessment: poor.
For those who have walking problems the ascent and descent are uncomfortable but the staff is always someone ready to help you. For those who use a wheelchair (foldable or fixed) the ascent and descent prove extremely difficult:the boat is not equipped for severe disabilities and even the descent into the water is not accessible.
Whether you’re on board a 4WD or a boat the first time you go on safari, it will forever be etched in your best memories. Animals you’re used to seeing in documentaries or in some zoo now materialize in front of you, in their natural habitat, letting Nature show itself in its most beautiful side. What to expect from a safari? Some considerations.
A good deal of luck is key
A safari is not like going to a nature park or a zoo. Animals (thankfully) are free to go wherever they like and don’t always like to be seen or stay close to dirt roads beaten by off-road vehicles. Even more difficult when it comes to ocean safaris where the space available is practically infinite. Although it is virtually certain that you can see a large number of animals in the wild in order to be able to see the rarest species you often also need to be lucky.
Any advice? Trust the rangers and sailors. They are the first people to hope for the success of the excursion (a dissatisfied customer is one less customer) and will do everything to find as many animals as possible.
Don’t be impatient
Participating in a safari does not mean doing a speed race. Nature has its own times that must be respected and that may not coincide with ours. The search for an animal, especially the rarest one, requires time and a lot of patience. Very often you will find yourself going through (even endless) moments when you won’t be able to see any animals (or maybe always the usual…). This does not mean that the safari will be a disaster but simply that at that time there are no animals at that point. Rangers will not get in the same place and will look for a better one.
Any advice? Don’t get overwhelmed by boredom in those moments but keep looking and looking around. You will realize that even admiring those wonderful and immense views is part of the excitement of going on a safari.
Are the routes random? Not quite
The rangers or sailors will try in every way to convince you that every encounter is random and fortuitous. If it is true that a dose of luck is important it is also true that they know how their pockets the reserve or the park and know exactly what are the areas where the chance to see a specific animal is greater or lesser. Consider that a safari is generally made by multiple means of transport that divide practically from the beginning beating different areas. The first that seeing something generally warns everyone else thus managing to show all the same animals.
So don’t be surprised that a series of safaris is a continuous crescendo of sightings: the fact that in the first safari you see antelopes and giraffes and in the last the fiercest animals is a clever strategy to engage more and more the customer.
Any advice? Do not spoil your poetry by imagining safaris “piloted” as it is always Nature that commands and if it decides that a certain animal is not the time to see it you will not see it. Trust me. Just know that the organizers know all the rules to satisfy you. So get your camera ready because you’ll really see everything!
Few rules but that must be respected
It will be repetitive but a good outcome of a safari also depends on you. Unorthodox behavior risks ruining the experience for you (first) and everyone else. So avoid screaming, get out of the jeep, get off without permission, use the camera flash, call or feed a wild animal. In addition to being extremely dangerous for your safety and that of others is a good reason to let the animals themselves escape.
Any advice? Enjoy the silence (or whisper to your fellow travelers), sit back and take photos. Let the animals and the wind speak for you.
Morning or afternoon?
Safaris are generally done at sunrise and sunset (and early in the morning by boat) as they are the times of the day where the wildlife is most active and sightings are easier. Before dawn you see different behaviors than sunset and both moments deserve to be experienced.
Any advice? The afternoon safari has a moment that doesn’t have the morning one and which I consider one of the most fascinating: the sunset. Watching the sunset in the savannah that starts to swarm with animals is one of the most beautiful things you will see.
How long does a safari last and how many safaris do you need to see as many animals as possible?
A safari tends to last two to three hours. The morning one generally ends when the sun begins to feel while the afternoon one starts in mid-afternoon and ends at sunset. There is no recommended number of safaris to do to be able to see all the animals. Maybe one is enough or maybe not even after ten we couldn’t see everything.
Different is the talk for boat trips where given the high costs you tend never to make more than one. Either he goes or he smashes it.
Any advice? generally the lodges all organize two safaris a day. Please note that a minimum stay in a lodge within a reserve is three days and on that are based the full safari programs. Being able to do five to six safaris means seeing pretty much everything and at the right times.
What to take with you?
Depending on the season you need proper clothing. Safaris tend to be organized in spring/summer so light clothing is mandatory even if you should not forget to always cover your legs and arms to avoid insect bites. The t-shirt or short trousers are therefore not recommended.
Any advice? Don’t forget your camera and, if the weather is unstable, also a k-way. Although the number of animals drastically shrinks a safari does not stop with the rain and staying a few hours in the pouring rain without protections is not pleasant…
National park or private reserve?
Good question. The safari purist would never go to a closed reserve but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice. The park offers immense views and Nature is the absolute protagonist (Kruger Park, for example, is a huge park) while the private reserves are made in less extensive spaces and closed from the outside by fences. If we just said this there would be no history but keep in mind one thing: in the reserves there are the same animals of the park and the fact that they are in a smaller place makes sightings easier and more frequent,which in a park is not guaranteed. Another consideration: when I talk about a smaller territory do not think of a zoo: we always talk about hundreds and hundreds of hectares available. Even with five safaris you won’t be able to see the reserve in its entirety.
Any advice? If it’s your first time on safari, prefer private reserve. You will experience the same emotions, see the same vegetation and cross more animals at the same time available to an immense park like the Kruger. If you return to South Africa a second time then stay and go on safari in the park and compare yourself.
The main reason for a safari, whether on land or at sea, is to be faced with the most famous and fascinating animals on the African continent. Here is the list of the most famous animals that with a bit of luck you can see in South Africa.
The king of the forest, the symbol animal of an entire continent: we are talking about the most famous feline, the lion.
The African lion, known as Panthera Leo,is one of the largest mammal predators in the world and one of Africa’s most distinctive animals. Today, unfortunately, lions are in serious danger and there are very few of them, precisely because of poachers and the continuous reduction of its natural habitat.
My experience: of all the animals that you can see on a safari the lion is undoubtedly the one that gave me the most emotions in one fell swoop. Shivering, fear, respect, admiration,being in front of a lion
it provokes a whirlwind of emotions that really amazes. We were lucky enough to see a couple (who really approached a few meters to our jeep continuing further, a pregnant female looking for a safe place to start labor and 3 young lions who began to learn the art of hunting.
When you think of Africa one of the first animals that comes to mind is definitely theelephant,the largest living mammal. The African elephant, which differs from the Indian one mainly for the largest size that can reach up to 6-6.5m in length and a height at the withers of about 3.2 – 3.5 m for a weight ranging from 3800 to 5100 kg. The elephant was one of the most hunted animals and that even today many poachers try to kill both for mere personal satisfaction and to resell the precious ivory of which the tusks are formed.
My experience: My contact with a herd of elephants was the most exciting thing I’ve experienced in South Africa. We were lucky enough to cross a pack of eight specimens (with a small one) that approached our jeeps intrigued by the canvas roof that we had mounted to shelter from the rain. Their grandeur makes the blood freeze and you feel tremendously small in the face of this incredible pachyderm.
Panthera pardus, more commonly known as leopards,is one of the most beautiful animals in the world, very similar to the jaguar because of the fulvo mantle studded with rosettes.
The leopard is a super predator that despite its very light weight, just 60 kg, is able to shake most African animals.
My experience: we were able to spot the leopard on the very last day and the satisfaction was so much. The leopard is definitely the most difficult terrestrial animal to see as it prefers to be in the trees and we can rarely see it walking on the ground.
To be able to see it is absolutely essential
rely on the skill and experience of the ranger looking for animals in front of the jeep. If it wasn’t for him we would never have been able to see him, especially at the beginning. The most beautiful animal of all those I’ve been lucky enough to see on safaris.
Up to 1.50 m, short snout, round head, very slender build and long running limbs the cheetah is the only felid that, at least in adulthood, has non-retractable nails. Its fur is ochre-colored, thickly spotted, with a small mane on the midline of the neck. Agile, the cheetah is an exceptional runner, holding the speed record among all Mammals: it can reach 113 km/h for short stretches.
My experience: on our safaris in South Africa we saw three peacefully lying down and resting. He was the first feline we saw and the excitement of seeing him is
it was strong although it gave me the impression of being a cat to caress rather than the hunting machine that made it famous in the wild.
The Black Buffalo, also known as the Cafro Buffalo, is one of the few animals in the world that can defend itself from lions, the most dangerous predators in the Savannah.
The Buffalo is equipped with an indescribable strength and powerful horns that manage to drive away even the fiercest predators. It can reach lengths of up to 250 cm and weigh between 700 and 1000kg.
My experience: we saw several during our safaris and luckily they never gave us the impression of being particularly aggressive. Their stag is impressive and I don’t struggle to think of the fear it must convey when it has to defend itself from the big predators.
Diceros Bicornis, known as the rhinoceros, is the most dangerous and violent animal in the savannah.
This is precisely why the rhinoceros was one of the animals most affected by hunting and the numbers have been drastically reduced. For this very reason, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the rhino as a critically endangered species, dangerously endangered.
My experience: we have not seen many of them and every time, just like buffaloes, they have given the idea of being huge pachydermes intent on being more interested in food than in our presence. Find them a few meters away
distance gives strong emotions. One of the most fascinating anomaly I’ve been lucky enough to see on South African safaris.
Featuring an elongated and hydrodynamic body covered with scales, usually dark on the back and light on the belly the crocodile has a triangular head with nostrils at the end of the jaw and protruding eyes. The long tail is flattened vertically and therefore suitable for swimming.
My experience: during the day they rest, from good reptiles, to sunbathe completely motionless on the rocks or to sleep in the water.
The excitement of seeing them live was tempered by the fact that we never got that close but we were always at arm’s length.
The hippopotamus is definitely one of the largest living terrestrial mammals, second only to the elephant and some rhinos. Adult males also reach 5 meters in length and a height at the withers of 150 cm. As for weight, on average hippos stand at 1,500-1,800 kg but old individuals that exceed three tons are not uncommon. To avoid drying of the skin, the hippopotamus spends the hottest daylight hours in the water where it remains most of the day to rest. Despite the size, for short stretches the hippopotamus can run up to 40 km/h. This ability combined with the very aggressive mole and temperament mean that it has not
natural enemies and poses a serious threat to man as well.
My experience: I can say that I was very lucky with hippos. They tend to be completely submerged in the water but we were lucky enough to witness a walk of a large specimen just a few meters from our off-road vehicle. Pure emotion!
What an experience! My final thoughts
come to South Africa and not go on safari is really a shame. A safari leaves you something inside that you will never forget and is the only way to get at least one idea of what life would be like if Nature were the only one to decide our destiny and not the man who is disfiguring it more and more with each passing day.
Whether it’s a lion in the savannah or a shark in the middle of the ocean the emotions will be the same and they deserve to be tried both.
Chapter Accessibility: Although I have not personally tried all the parks and private reserves I have got a pretty comprehensive idea about the difficulties that a disabled person or at least a person with motor difficulties has to face on a safari. The difficulties are not few: although the lodges are very often equipped and perfectly accessible even to a disabled person in a wheelchair it is the means of transport that are not.
While boats that set out in search of sharks the same accessibility problems as a common boat (with the aggravating that getting into the cages is an almost impossible operation for a wheelchair disabled person) 4X4 safaris use off-road vehicles very high and uncomfortable for a person in a wheelchair or otherwise with obvious walking problems.
If you have walking problems, more or less serious, be well informed with the reference tour operator or directly at the facility where you will stay to understand well how to deal with accessibility issues that are likely not to make you fully enjoy the excitement of a safari in South Africa.
A unique experience and so exciting that I recommend, with the necessary precautions, really to everyone.