Skip to main content

9 not-in-the-guidebook Africa safari tips

By Narina Exelby, for CNN
November 4, 2013 -- Updated 0650 GMT (1450 HKT)
Thorns easily penetrate soft rubber, says Nic van Rensburg, biodiversity manager at Lugenda Wilderness Reserve (pictured in lead). Thorns easily penetrate soft rubber, says Nic van Rensburg, biodiversity manager at Lugenda Wilderness Reserve (pictured in lead).
HIDE CAPTION
Bring shoes with hard rubber soles
Break in shoes for a month
Be considerate of your bush babies
Bring dental floss
Pack a showercap
Don't wear white
Ditch cotton
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Must-bring items: needle, shower cap, floss (not necessarily for your teeth)
  • Don't pop blisters: pierce a threaded needle through them instead
  • Cotton isn't the best option for clothing

(CNN) -- Things you should be worrying about on an African safari -- how to get better pictures of wildlife, where to pick up cool, authentic souvenirs.

Things you shouldn't be worrying about -- aching feet, dusty lenses, clothes aren't only the wrong fabric, but the wrong color.

When it comes to safaris, the best advice comes from people who've learned the hard way.

We asked pros whose careers have revolved around the bush to share their most practical tips.

1. Break in the right shoes

"Bring shoes with hard rubber soles," advises Nic van Rensburg, biodiversity manager at Lugenda Wilderness Reserve in northern Mozambique.

Having racked more walking safari miles than most, van Rensburg says thorns penetrate soft rubber easily, so hard rubber is far more suitable for bush trekking.

"Wear your shoes in for at least a month before you go on safari so you know they're comfortable," he says.

More: 26 of the most stunning spots in Africa

2. Treat blisters the right way

Blisters are the silent destroyer of many walking trips, but they don't have to be.

If you get a blister, don't pop it, says van Rensburg. That will cause the top layer of skin to rub off and leave the extremely sensitive new skin exposed.

Instead, pierce a threaded needle through one side of the blister and out the other, pulling the needle through so that only thread remains in the blister.

Then, cut the thread so that there's a thread "whisker" on either side of the blister.

The liquid will drain out slowly via the thread, allowing time for the new skin to harden underneath.

Knowing the various ways of protecting your camera is key on safari.
Knowing the various ways of protecting your camera is key on safari.

3. Leave your black camera bag at home

Travel photojournalist Mark Eveleigh suggests taking a roll-top waterproof bag for camera equipment, to keep out dust and sand.

Color is key.

"Choose one that's light in color, not black," he says.

"Dark bags will heat up your equipment."

4. Bring a shower cap

Not for your head. For additional camera protection.

It should be kept in your camera bag, along with a spare T-shirt.

"A shower cap is perfect for protecting your camera in the rain, and a T-shirt will help keep the dust off your camera when you're driving," says Eveleigh.

Stick a needle in there, too.
Stick a needle in there, too.

5. Bring floss

Eveleigh -- who's led expeditions through Ghana, Uganda, Panama, Borneo, Madagascar and Oman -- says he never travels without floss and a needle.

As an extremely strong thread, dental floss comes in handy for stitching on buttons, repairing a daypack or even mending shoes.

The floss box is great for storing the needle.

And you can always use it on your teeth.

6. Rethink your wardrobe

"Your clothes can help you remain unseen, and in doing so increase the chance of viewing animals' natural behavior," says Steve Adams, a game ranger who founded online safari clothing company, The Safari Store.

White is the worst color to wear when you're in the bush, he says, because it stands out the most to animals.

Clothing colors should be chosen based on landscape and vegetation.

"For savanna, bushveld and forest areas like many parts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique and northern and eastern South Africa, wear darker green," says van Rensburg.

"If you're heading to drier areas like the Kalahari deserts, or Botswana, Namibia and western South Africa, then brown or khaki is more suitable."

More: Southern Africa's best boutique safari reserves

7. Consider going solo ... for the sake of your photography

Travelers serious about taking great pictures on safari should be selective of the people they travel with.

"There's nothing worse than feeling like you're being hurried along by people who don't appreciate what you are wanting to achieve with your camera," says wildlife photographer and guide Dale Morris.

"Travel solo, join a photo safari or travel with someone who shares your passion, or at least doesn't mind sitting around in shrubbery for hours and hours on end."

8. Think about your bush babies

On that note, spending hours searching for animals can be torture for kids.

Parents should consider picking lodges or camps that run special programs for children.

"Samburu Intrepids in Samburu-Buffalo Springs, Kenya, has a brilliant setup for children," says Wouter Vergeer, founder of SafariBookings.com, an online marketplace for safari tours.

"They have an adventurers' club on the premises run by a Maasai naturalist who will entertain the young ones and educate them about nature and survival skills."

Another destination for families is Riverdene Lodge in malaria-free Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, where a children's coordinator entertains kids with activities between game drives.

More: 10 things to know before visiting South Africa

She\'s so cool -- she\'s wicking moisture.
She's so cool -- she's wicking moisture.

9. Ditch your cotton clothing

While many guidebooks say that cotton clothes are ideal for safaris, there are newer fabrics that are typically more comfortable when for sweating it out in the African bush.

"The key to a great garment is the way in which that garment reacts to your body's cooling -- and heating -- processes," says Safari Store owner Adams.

"Your body is cooled when perspiration evaporates from your skin. An all-cotton garment retains about 20% of the sweat it absorbs before allowing it to be released to the immediate environment. More technical fabrics retain much less water before it evaporates."

Particularly recommended: clothing with labels that say "moisture-wicking," which helps sweat leave the skin faster, keeping the body cooler.

If your clothing isn't teched up, you can keep cool by wetting a bandana or sarong and wearing it as a scarf.

Another option is wetting a hat.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
In honor of Canada Day, a look at some of the country's most incredible manmade and natural beauties.
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 2140 GMT (0540 HKT)
A 666-meter-long bridge shaped like a fire-breathing dragon heralds a new era of prosperity in Da Nang, Vietnam.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
There's a chance of being trampled or even gored, but thousands flock annually to the Spanish fiesta immortalized by Ernest Hemingway
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 0854 GMT (1654 HKT)
Alcazar castle in Spain will stand in for Water Gardens of Dorne in the popular HBO series.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1638 GMT (0038 HKT)
Before you join the masses in the hopes of snapping a geisha on her way to work, it's worth learning a few unwritten rules.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 0808 GMT (1608 HKT)
Baptiste Dubanchet poses with food he's recovered from a trash can.
To highlight food waste, Frenchman travels across Europe fueled only by food recovered from trash cans.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Tour companies are cashing in on demand from timid thrill seekers who want to safely experience Bangkok's infamously raunchy nightlife.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
Dreading airport security, lost luggage or that middle seat? These travel headaches could be a thing of the past by 2024, according to a new report on the future of travel.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
Latest model of aircraft affectionately known as the Queen of the Skies gets the red ribbon treatment, but jumbo jets are facing tough times
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
A former soldier plans to trek every country in the world, having been diagnosed with PTSD.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0004 GMT (0804 HKT)
Sometimes the travel industry gets it right, sometimes it leaves us with a pillow chocolate stuck to our face.
June 28, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
A rocky, battle-scarred island, a beach that looks like a cathedral and a watery gold mine make new list of Spanish national treasures.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects hope their design for a one-kilometer tall building in the Chinese city of Wuhan will be completed by 2017.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
From holy water in ancient Egypt to burritos and gold bars -- how vending machines have evolved.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Featuring white beaches and turquoise waters, Cambodia's islands are finally starting to get the attention they deserve.
ADVERTISEMENT