Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go on safari and see the most beautiful wild animals out in their natural element? If you’ve ever watched National Geographic, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the incredible wildlife that African safaris have to offer.
I’ve been lucky to experience a few game drives in my life, but was particularly excited to have the opportunity to experience one with the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. Nestled in the heart of Serengeti National Park, the Lodge is surrounded by nothing but wide-open plains, with the promise to get up close and personal with lions, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, crocodiles and more during once-in-a-lifetime excursions in the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world. What more can you ask for? And while the experience is absolutely unlike any other, rather than spend this post telling you how incredible and luxurious the experience was in 10 different ways (which it was), I’d rather give you some practical tips that will help you plan and prepare for your own trip here.
A FEW THINGS TO KNOW
Best time to go: For a general game experience, June to October is best but for the Wildebeest migration November-August is ideal.
Make sure you have your visas and vaccines. As with any destination you’re going to, make sure that all your visas and vaccines sorted out ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute to handle this or you’ll end up disappointed when you’re not allowed to board the plane to your destination. Tanzania offers visas on arrival (check your home country on their list to verify your home country is qualified), but you likely will not be allowed to board to the country without showing at least your yellow fever card if traveling from certain regions.
Check the luggage requirements and baggage allowances before you go. You will need to take a connecting flight on a small plane while en route from Nairobi or Kilimanjaro into the Serengeti, so be sure to triple check your luggage and baggage allowance. You will likely only be allowed allowed only 15 kgs / 33 lbs (including hand luggage), so be sure to pack as light as possible. I made the mistake of not only overpacking for the trip but also bringing it all in my hard-shell suitcases. I rarely ever use soft-sided cases anymore, but would highly recommend one of those or just a simple duffel bag instead for this kind of trip.
Bring the best camera lenses & equipment you have. Be sure to bring the very best camera and lenses you can afford/have available to you for this kind of trip; 200mm is minimum (most of the wildlife photos in this post were taken on a 600 mm lens). To be honest, there is no way you will be able to capture great photos from just a smartphone since the animals move quick and can be quite far in the distance. Pack an extra memory card or two and always have extra batteries and charge them every time you can. One of the great things about staying at the Four Seasons Serengeti was that they have a camera center where they rent out amazing equipment to guests. We ended up using one of their tele lenses which completely transformed our experience and allowed us to get super close up shots of rare moments like a leopard hanging in a tree and a cheetah with her three cubs.
A FEW THINGS TO KNOW CONT’D
You’ll start early. Most of the animals are active at night or just before sunrise (cooler temps make it more comfortable for them), so this means that you can expect some very early starts to your safari game drives. Our first drive drive began between 5:30 and 6 a.m. (we had a quick & deelish breakfast before), so we also got to see a beautiful sunrise on our ride.
Dress Comfortably. While there is honestly no dress code for a driven safari (you don’t need to wear khaki or light brown clothing but avoid dark blue and black as they attract tsetse flies), I would highly recommend you bring along neutrals and clothing that can be layered. Something I wasn’t aware of on my first ever safari was how COLD it can be in the bush before sunrise and after sunset. It can also get very hot well after sunset, so make sure you are prepared for both. For shoes, definitely go for closed toe shoes (sneakers, boots, etc) or your feet will be freezing cold in the open truck in the morning or evening. In a worst case scenario, the Four Seasons will provide a warm blanket and drive you in the truck with a retractable roof, so don’t be afraid to ask your driver for help if you get cold.
Take every opportunity you have to go on a game drive. Because you’re not guaranteed to see anything, make sure to take advantage of every game drive available on your trip. Do not skip out on any of the drives (even the early morning ones) because you never know what you’ll miss. No two game drives will ever be the same since you're dealing with wild animals in a non-controlled environment, so make the most of every situation. For instance, we were blown away by how many elephants and lions we saw on our ride from the airport to the Four Seasons property. Even though we had been traveling for over 24 hours at that point and were so exhausted, we still whipped out our cameras and took it all in. And I’m so glad we did, because that was the only time we were that close up to so many elephants.
THINGS TO DO
Hot Air Balloon Safari. Can you imagine a better way to take in the stunning Serengeti landscape than from the air? Something I would have loved to do but didn’t have the time to was a hot air balloon ride. The Four Seasons offer an hour-long, sunrise, hot-air balloon flight over the savannah, followed by a Champagne breakfast in the bush - definitely do this if you can!
Guided Driven Safari. This is the real highly of your trip. An expert driver guides on a morning or afternoon safari (you have the option to do a half day or a full day safari) and your guide will take you in search of the many fascinating creatures that inhabit the Serengeti. We were able to spot everything from lions after a fresh kill. leopard lazily lounging in tree (very rare as they’re shy), hippos fighting in the river, to a cheetah and her three cubs casually crossing over the savannah. Such an epic experience with the FS team.
Sunset Kopje Nature walk and meditation. A real treat and highlight for me was this signature yogic experience. We followed a Maasai trail to our sunset kopje (hilltop), where we were surrounded panoramic views over the plains provide the backdrop for a magical guided meditation. So surreal.
A Walking Safari. Another one of my highlights of my time here was the walking safari. I was initially very intimidated and scared but ended up very impressed and felt very safe the entire time. We saw hyenas feasting on a fresh carcass, lions in the horizon (ok, this one was super intimidating), vultures circling and fighting off hyenas on another carcass, and the skull and horns of a wildebeest (watch here, it was crazy). It was also incredible to see how well the guides were able to point out different tracks, spot different kinds of species by their feces, and spot the smallest reed frog hiding in the grass. Their knowledge of the region and its wildlife made the experience that much more enjoyable. It was also a huge relief to have a ranger armed with what looked like an AK47 guarding us at all times.
THINGS TO DO CONT’D
Enjoy a Bush Breakfast. After our 1.5 hour safari walk, we were driven a short distance to a stunning setting to have a quiet and serene breakfast out in the bush. It was a great way to unwind after the excitement of all we saw during the walk in a great (well guarded) setting. Highly recommend doing this or a sundowner if you prefer sunset.
Relax & swim at the Four Seasons Waterhole. Something I was really looking forward to ahead of my trip here, was spending some time at the incredible infinity pool at the property. Not only because the view was absolutely incredible, but because there is also water hole just behind it. I willed and wished and hoped and prayed I’d be lucky enough to have some wild elephants stop by like I’d seen in some pictures online, but unfortunately for me, nature is not so predictable. During the dry season, they have a lot less options for water so they come by pretty frequently to cool off, but I was there after some rains, so they didn’t have a real need to stop by.
Watch a traditional Maasai Ceremonial Dance. Another great experience I had that I highly recommend is going attending one of the traditional dance ceremonies the Maasai warriors out on. Typically done when celebrating special moments (a boy becoming a man, weddings, etc), it felt special to learn a bit more about the culture of the people local to the region. It’s something that I can only describe as enchanting.
what not to do
Stress about what animals you may/may not see. Every safari drive is unique and unpredictable, so there’s no need to stress about which game you may or may not see. There will be times where you won’t see much of anything, times when you’ll see some exciting and amazing things like a fresh lion kill, times when the ride takes longer than you expected and times when the roads are much more bumpy than you can handle. Just be mentally prepared to enjoy the experience and take it all in. Ask the driver/guide to stop when you see something you’re curious about, ask loads of questions, and take as many pictures as you’d like. Though I’d avoid taking 500 pictures of the same zebra; it will be a pain to sort through later. Be prepared for mosquitoes and flies (they follow the animals), and mostly for a potentially rough ride. While most of the time you will be driving on gravel or sand roads, there’s a chance the the driver might decide to cross a river, or through the bush.
Ignore your guide and ranger. Don’t forget that you are out in nature and dealing with WILD animals. Be sure to obey all the rules and stay safe. The rules are there for your own safety, so don’t put yourself at risk. There will be times when your driver will allow you to get out of your car, when they deem it appropriate, but know that animals can be very well camouflaged and you often wont see them until it’s too late. Don’t approach elephants too closely, don’t make a lot of noise, keep your hands and your camera inside the car at all times when near the big cats, and be aware that hippos are very aggressive and the most dangerous African animals (most assume it’s the lions).
RECOMMENDED SAFARI PACKING LIST
Soft-sided luggage and a small backpack to carry everyday things
Binoculars and camera equipment (strongly consider a tele lens)
Sunscreen, moisturizer, strong mosquito repellant, & lip salve
Sunglasses, a sun hat, light scarf, & lightweight waterproof windbreaker
Light long sleeve shirt you can use to layer & light short sleeve shirt you can layer
Shorts, jeans, khakis, and/or a jumpsuit
A sweater and/or jacket for early morning/evening game drives
Comfortable (closed) walking shoes
Swim & beachwear
Optional: A slightly formal/smart outfit to wear for dinner
Overall, if a safari is something on your bucket list I highly recommend you consider starting here. Not only because it’s truly an unfenced and 100% natural park, but the services and experiences paired with it were above an beyond.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Four Seasons for my trip - though all opinions, photography, and words remain my own.
Photos by yours truly & Nils Kaiser