Millions of travelers flock to Africa’s savannas and nature preserves every year to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that call them home. Nowhere else on Earth can you see the black rhino or the cheetah in their natural habitats. But the idea of taking a trip into the African wilderness can seem daunting to the inexperienced. How do you get there? What type of safari should you choose? How can you stay safe while viewing wild animals? Luckily, there are many types of safaris and game drives available for travelers of all experience levels.
What is a Game Drive?
Game drives are the safest and most popular way to explore the savannas of Africa. While there are several types of game drives, most of them involve traveling in an open-top vehicle, like a 4×4 Jeep or Toyota Land Cruiser, along the roads of Africa’s game reserves in search of the “Big 5”—lions, cheetahs, rhinos, leopards, and elephants.
Normally these drives are done in small tour groups of 4-10 people led by a guide and driver. However, there are options for people who would like to drive themselves through the reserve or for those who want to hire a private guide to avoid traveling in large groups. Each choice has its pros and cons. A private or self-guided game drive can give you more freedom to go where you want to go and to stay as long as you want to stay at each location, while a group tour caters to the group’s collective needs. On the other hand, if you are not familiar with Africa or its wildlife a guided tour with a group is safer and less stressful. You also have a better chance of seeing the “Big 5” on a guided tour since the guides are familiar with the terrain and they often share animal sightings with other groups via radio.
How should you prepare for a game drive?
You don’t have to be an experienced backpacker or in peak physical condition to go on a game drive or enjoy a safari. You will be comfortably resting in the vehicle during the game drives, standing only when you want to take pictures out of the top. Also, if you do your research and take time to purchase and pack the right items, you will be safe and comfortable throughout the entire trip. For example, if you decide to travel to the Masai Mara National Park you should keep in mind that it’s about 1300-1500 meters above sea level. This means that the nights and mornings can get cold, and temperatures can range from 50 to 80 degrees depending on the time of day. So you don’t want to wear shorts and a tank top on your morning game drive! Wearing layers is always a safe bet since you can remove them as the savanna begins to heat up around midday. It’s also important to wear comfortable, solid shoes such as hiking boots or tennis shoes. Sandals or high heels are strongly discouraged. And while it’s not necessary to wear traditional safari khaki colors, you should wear earth tones or neutral colors. Light pastels and bright colors can distract or spook the animals, making it hard to get close to them. Aside from clothing, you should make sure you bring bottled water, sunglasses, a good hat, binoculars, sunscreen, bug spray, toiletries such as hand sanitizer, and most importantly, a good camera.
Are Game Drives Dangerous?
When you see images of open-top vehicles parked just a few feet away from a pride of lions, you’re probably thinking that it can’t be safe, however, millions of people travel like this through Africa’s nature parks every year without incident. Statistically, you are more likely to be hurt in a traffic accident then you are to be injured while on a game drive. The animals there have become accustomed to the vehicles that drive around the park, so they don’t feel threatened or frightened by them. The key is to stay in the vehicle at all times and follow all of your guide’s instructions. Don’t make loud noises, don’t try to get the animal’s attention, don’t throw things at them, don’t feed them and don’t approach them on foot. While there will always be a small amount of risk when it comes to dealing with animals if you respect the fact that they are wild and follow the instructions of your guide you will be safe.
Gondwana’s Great Migration Safari
If you are interested in going on a game drive in Africa, you should consider finding an experienced tour company that can handle all of the logistics of travel while providing you with an exceptional and well-curated experience. Gondwana Ecotours has been creating small-group tours with unique itineraries in Tanzania since 2013. Their Great Migration Safari tours take you to Tanzania’s top 5 national parks where you can see an array of wildlife, including critically endangered black rhinos, black-and-white colobus monkeys, migrating wildebeest, giraffes, lions, elephants, cheetahs, and many more. You have the choice between a camping safari or a safari that includes a stay in a local lodge. You will also have the chance to meet with a local Maasai tribe to learn about their culture and life in the savanna. Check out our tour pages for more information on our Great Migration Safari to Tanzania’s top 5 national parks!