What to Expect on an African Safari Game Drive

Cape buffalo ( Syncerus caffer ) Family-order - Bovidae on savannah, Artiodactyla, Serengeti National park, Tanzania, Africa
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Cape buffalo ( Syncerus caffer ) Family-order – Bovidae on savannah, Artiodactyla, Serengeti National park, Tanzania, Africa

A typical day on a safari game drive in East Africa

is an exciting and unforgettable experience.  Actually, there’s no ‘typical’ schedule. Instead, there are many options, chosen to provide the best wildlife viewing in each park. Daily schedules vary. There are 2 basic sorts of itineraries, but both use the same type of vehicle. These are usually 6 passenger 4-wheel drive vehicles. Everyone has a window seat. When the top opens you can stand up to get a wider view.

  • In the first and most common, you’ll have the same van throughout your trip.
  •  In the other type you fly into a park and a shuttle from your lodge picks you up. A lodge van takes you on the game drive.
  • And, while not a ‘drive’ it’s possible to short hikes in some parks.

Wake-up times vary: 

  • Some days start with a drive to a new park where you’ll have lunch & then game drive before moving to your new lodge.
  • The day can also start with an early morning game drive, returning to your lodge for breakfast.
  •  Or you might have breakfast first, then go for a morning game drive

If you’re on a group tour the itinerary shows you the daily schedule.  If making independent arrangements, you’ll have much more flexibility as you work with the agency to build your safari.

Be prepared for what can sometimes be a rough ride. 

Be prepared for what can sometimes be a rough ride.  The parks are mostly dirt washboard roads. The van bounces and it can be dusty.  Occasionally there’ll be deeper ruts, or a stream crossing and your driver will carefully and slowly navigate the hazard.

Leopard ( Panthera pardus ) resting in acacia tree, Family-order – Felidae Carnivora Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, Africa

As they drive, your experienced guide points out the various animals and plants that you encounter. They’ll identify the many species of birds you’d otherwise just file away as LBJs (little brown jobs). The guide is aware of the best angles for photography. You might see majestic elephants roaming through the savannah, graceful giraffes munching on the leaves of acacia trees, or a pride of lions basking in the indicate a nearby kill.  Drivers are in contact with others and sometimes you’ll leave a herd of zebra to quickly go to see a leopard in a tree. On our drives we saw dozens of different species each day.

Sometimes the wildlife can be very close.

Wide mouth (white) rhinoceros ( Ceratotherium simum ) Family-order – Rhinocerotidae Perissodactyla, Lake Nakaru , National Park,Kenya, Africa

Herds of zebra & wildebeest cross the road in front of you. Elephants, rhinos or lions ignore you as they need walk past your as if it were an merely a minor inert obstacle. Rarer, rather than being ignored, you make direct eye contact with a huge tusker 10’ away or a lion resting while staring at you with the enigmatic look of all cats.

Lion ( Panthera leo ) resting, Family-order – Felidae CarnivoraNgorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa

The length of the drive also varies

As described above you may return to the lodge for breakfast or lunch, have a siesta and take another drive in the late afternoon. But when it involves a long drive back to the lodge, you’ll stay out all day.  Each park has several safe areas where the vans can park, with covered picnic tables.  Some lodges provide a boxed lunch.  Our safaris, however, provided a complete lunch, carried in warming pots of several courses –chicken, fish, pork or beef dishes, with various vegetables, along with drinks and fruit.  Some places even have a small gift shop where you can buy beer ($2-4 for the great local lagers)

 Again, depending on the schedule, you return to your lodge or camp and have the rest of the day to relax and reflect on the incredible sights and experiences you had on your safari game drive.

However the day unfolds

the day is filled with adventure, beauty, and the thrill of seeing some of the most incredible animals on earth in their natural habitat. And no blog can really describe the experience of seeing the huge herds of the wildebeest migration. Or a herd of elephants with youngsters ranging from a few weeks to several years old.

3 comments

  1. Great account, Steve. Is there a difference between a tour for photographers versus a more general safari tour? I guess most people are after photos after all. Lovely images to illustrate it

    1. Thanks – this was a tour for travel folk to show us what’s available (FAM trips & their differences a topic for future posts). Just about everyone took pix, but the majority on mobiles. A specifically photographer’s tour would have a different schedule. I did one in ’95 in Namibia/Botswana & we’d leave before dawn for best shots, come back for bkfst then go out again around dusk. Most pix i ever shot! some days I’d even shoot 3 rolls! (100 slides)

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