Before going to Africa, I had a vague idea of what to expect while on safari. Lyndon’s job is sending people on safari and I’ve heard him talk about it numerous times, but what I pictured in my mind was something completely different than what I experienced while in Botswana and Zimbabwe. The terms “sundowner” and “high tea” became part of my vocabulary by day two, and the early morning wake up calls, while still dreaded, was the norm by day 4.
While I like to think of myself as spontaneous, I am a planner through and through and luckily for me, being on safari is all about routine. Some national parks offer self-drive safaris in which case, you decide your own schedule. But if you do decide to stay at a safari camp or lodge, almost all of them keep to the same routine. Of course, you are the one paying so you are ultimately the boss so if you don’t feel like waking up early one morning, you can tell your guide you would like to sleep in that day. During our trip, we heard two separate families at two separate camps request a later wake up call. By day six, I wanted to sleep in so bad but my FOMO outweighed my need for sleep. I didn’t want to miss a cheetah or leopard sighting because I decided to sleep in.
While on safari, you will have a guide at each camp. He/She will drive you around during all your game drives, set up your drinks during sundowners, and even eat meals with you at some camps. During our trip, we were so lucky to have such amazing guides. They felt like our friends and were all so informative. You can really tell they love their jobs which makes it even more fun for all of us. Funny story, right after college, Lyndon and his brother went to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe as their first unofficial work trip. At one of their camps, they had a guide named Godfrey who they still talk about today. While we were at Davison’s Camp in Hwange National Park, guess who our guide was? Godfrey! And he still remembered Lyndon. The picture below with the pink cooler is a picture of Lyndon and Godfrey, small world.
So you’re interested in going to Africa but don’t know what to expect. Hopefully this timeline will give you a better idea of what a typical day on safari is like. Keep in mind that this is not set in stone and anything can be changed to your liking, but this schedule has been around for years and years and across numerous countries for a reason.
5:00 AM | Wake Up Call
Your guide will most likely be the person who wakes you up. He/She will go by your room and either knock on your door (if you have one), or call for you through your tent. If you stay at a less remote camp and they have phones in the rooms, they might call you like a normal wake up call. That only happened once for us and it was at Chobe Game Lodge and they woke us up at 4:30!
5:30 AM | Light Breakfast
This will consist of coffee, juices and pretty much a typical continental breakfast. Pastries, yogurt, and cereal will most likely be there with maybe some hard boiled eggs and/or cold cuts. It’s super early in the morning, so no one is really stuffing their face at this point.
6:00 AM | Morning Game Drive
Predators (and animals in general) are more active when it’s nice and cool outside, that is why game drives are in the mornings and late afternoons. Game drives are so much fun, and at least to me, never gets old. You might see the same animal over and over again, but it still neat to see them in the wild and in their natural habitat. Your guide will drive around the national park tracking animals, and they will teach you how to identify tracks as well if you ask them. Guides in the same area will also radio each other when they spot something cool. This way, everyone gets a chance to see something exciting especially since these natural parks are huge and you can’t be in the right place at the right time all the time.
9:00 to 10:00 AM | Tea (or Coffee) Break
During this time, your guide will find a nice spot for you guys to stop (making sure no predators are around) and he/she will make you coffee or tea and offer you biscuits, scones and other small bites. By this time, you are ready for a light nibble and to stretch out your legs a little. This break can be as long or as short as you want it to be.
11:00 to 11:30 AM | Brunch
After your morning game drive, you will be back at camp around 11:00/11:30. Brunch will be ready for you to devour. If you’re anything like Lyndon or me, you will be starving by this time (even after those tiny biscuits). They will usually have a nice breakfast spread with eggs, bacon, toast, etc. or at some camps, they will take your order for hot foods but you can grab a plate of fruit and other cold items at the buffet.
The picture below was our last morning with Imvelo. We stayed at two of their camps, Camelthorn Lodge and Bomani Tented Lodge, during our trip. As a treat, they served us breakfast while out on their private concession. They brought their chef out to us and he made us eggs and bacon right in the African bush.
Noon to 3:30 PM | Free Time
After a full belly and being awake since 5:00, you can use this time to take nap, go for a swim, read a book, or all of the above. The next few hours are yours to do whatever. Lyndon and I napped a lot. If the camp had a pool, Lyndon would go for a swim while I read poolside… and then we would take a nap. Days are long while on safari so any chance we had to catch up on some sleep, we took it.
3:30 PM | High Tea
Pretty much like in England but with better weather and more animals. This is your afternoon pick me up. Coffee and/or tea is served along with some small bites. People make fun at how much they feed you while on safari, some call it an “eating safari”. This is your warning, they feed you often and 99.9% of the time, the food is delicious! One afternoon while at Linkwasha Camp, we spotted a large male elephant on our way to high tea, you know the usual. He was just having his own afternoon snack right in camp. I freaking love Africa.
4:00 PM | Afternoon Game Drive
Morning game drives and afternoon game drives are pretty much the same thing but just at different times of the day. In the mornings, the sun is still low and sometimes it can be outright cold, while in the afternoons, the sun is high above and in the summer months, it can be hot. If you checked out one section of the national park in the morning, you might check out a completely different section in the afternoon. Game drives are pretty much just you sitting in the vehicle looking for animals, but no two game drives are alike. That is why I didn’t want to miss any of them. Game drives are both relaxing and exciting at the same time, and I miss having them in my routine.
Sunset | Sundowner
This is like the above Tea Break except it’s during sunset and there’s alcohol involved. African sunsets are gorgeous and you get a front row seat to it during your sundowners. Your guide will once again find a nice spot to park and will set up a table with wine, beer, gin and tonics, you name it and some hors d’oeuvres. You spend the majority of your game drives in the vehicle so these small breaks are a great way to break up the drive. Sundowners hold a special place in my heart… cause that was when Lyndon proposed to me! Getting engaged during an African sunset, surrounded by baboons is something I will never forget.
7:30 to 8:00 PM | Dinner
After your drive, you will come back to camp and have dinner. Dinner can be buffet style or plated, and seating can either be family style or individual tables, either way the food will be amazing. A lot of the time, your guide will join you for dinner and it’s a great way to get to know them “outside of work”. They have seen it all and have some great stories to tell.
9:00 to 10:00 PM | Bedtime
By this time, you are full and exhausted. It will most likely be dark when you finish dinner so a guide will need to escort you back to your room. You don’t know what might be lurking in the dark. Actually, if you need to run to your room before dinner and it is dark out, a guide will need to escort you then as well. At Camelthorn Lodge and Bomani Tented Lodge, they run on a generator so after a certain time, you will have no power at all in your room. They were flexible with us and let us keep the generator on until 11:00 one evening (we were the only guests that night). At all the other camps, we had power the entire night which is great cause a fan is much needed in the summer months. Plus I sometimes always have to go to the bathroom once or twice during the night and it’s much easier to do that without having to hold a flashlight.
Look at all those stars! The stars at night are big and bright in Africa as well. Typically, you will spend 2-4 nights at each camp, so after going to bed for the night, it starts all over again. Eat, sleep, safari, repeat. Your routine will change slightly when there is a transfer involved. If you are heading to the airport that day or you are heading to a new camp, they might get rid of one of the game drives depending on your schedule. For the most part, we always had two game drives during the day even when changing camps. We would go on our morning game drive, came back to camp afterwards, grab our stuff and head to our new camp and go on our afternoon game drive there. All the camps and lodges in Africa do a really great job at making the most of your time and being super efficient. Even on our last day in Hwange National Park, we had to make our flight back to Victoria Falls so they turned our drive to the airport into a mini morning game drive.
If you are heading to Africa for the first time and really don’t know what to expect, shoot me a message. Between Lyndon and I, hopefully we can help you out!