Proper Safari Etiquette for Your African Safari


Safari—the word itself derives from the old Swahili word for journey. And that is exactly what a modern day Safari is. Gone are the days of game hunting the “Big 5” (the five most coveted kills for the 19th century big game hunter, so-named for the danger of the kill, not the size of the prey: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and black/white rhinoceros). Safaris now are a sight-seeing dream come true, and the only hunting you’ll be doing is for the perfect photo opportunity.

Making the Most of Your African Safari

You’ve planned, picked out your safari, chosen a date. Your passport and visas have arrived. You’ve been vaccinated and arranged for someone to water your plants and feed your cat. You’re ready to go. Or are you?

Before you leave on the African Safari adventure of your dreams, it is important that you take note of some universally accepted truths…there is accepted etiquette to follow while on Safari. And while there is no real-life Ms. Manners or Protocol Police to arrest you, following these simple guidelines is sure to make your journey a more pleasant one.

Be on time: virtually any and all tours or trips that you plan will not be 100 percent private. Which means you will be sharing your trip and your guide with other paying adventurers. Be on time. That means being at the vehicle/meeting point at the agreed upon time with all your things and ready to go (have been to the toilet, have eaten your meal, etc.)

Tipping: For many of the guides/servers/hotel workers etc. you will encounter on your African safari, tipping makes up the majority of their livelihood. While tipping is certainly meant to be compensation for a pleasant experience, it is almost guaranteed that you, will not receive shoddy service anywhere while on Safari and should plan on tipping.

  • Wait staff in restaurants receive around 10-15 percent of the bill (but just as in the U.S. and other places, for large groups this may be added to the bill)
  • Hotel staff generally are tipped $1 to $2 a day
  • Tour guides and specialty drivers should be given $10 a day
  • Taxi drivers, as in the U.S. and other places, are tipped 10 percent of the fare, or $1 to $2

Tipping should be done in cash, U.S. dollars usually, or sometimes local currency. You should plan for this ahead of time and bring smaller bills, as exchanging money can be hard if not impossible.

Don’t over pack: While you are likely to be in an unfamiliar environment, a little research can go a long way. You do not need to bring every outfit and piece of sporting equipment you own on safari. Stick to a few tried and true, versatile clothing options that you can re-wear. You should plan for cool early morning/late evening with temperatures high in the middle of the day, but keep in mind the time of year you visit. You don’t need to bring mountains of film or numerous books-digital cameras and books have made this unnecessary. Spare batteries for your electronics are not a terrible idea, but pack in moderation, as recharging can be done at the hotel or lodge, and many Safari jeeps are now equipped with charging ports.

Don’t overshare-turn off your phone: You are on a vacation. And not just any vacation. A once-in-a-lifetime journey to the African wilderness. Put. Down. The. Phone. Not only can Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram wait until you get back to the hotel, the noise of constant updates and typing is distracting to your fellow adventurers. Not to mention, sound carries across the flat, open plains, and could be scaring off the wildlife you are here to see.

Be polite: The African culture is politer than that of Europe or the United States. People are friendly and say hello. Don’t just jump into your question, when you have one. There is typically expected to be a small amount of chit chat. When you ask someone how they are, they expect you to want to know—and that means waiting and listening to their answer.

If you are hesitant to talk to locals because of language barrier, ask your guide to translate for you. One question you should be prepared to ask is for permission to take someone’s photo. Do not photograph anyone on your journey without first obtaining their permission. And asking for permission means waiting for an affirmative. No answer does not mean it is ok.

Reasonable expectations: It is important that you have realistic expectations when it comes to your visit. While your guides are trained and have a good idea where the animals will be, the African plains are not a zoo. There are no timed feeding schedules and nothing is guaranteed. If you do not get to see the animals you were hoping for, do not throw a fit or blame the guide. This is nature at its finest. Keep an open mind, and experience the wonder that is around you. You might see something you never expected.

Follow directions: This is more of a safety tip than etiquette, although it fits in both categories. Your guides are trained. Listed to what they say and follow those instructions. Do not exit your vehicle until, and unless, they say so. They are here to keep you, and the animals safe.

Leaving for Your Trip

When you leave for your African Safari adventure, along with your camera, don’t forget to bring common sense and basic etiquette, it will go a long way to making your journey an unforgettable one. Contact us at Roho Ya Chui today to learn more about making the most of your safari. Happy voyaging!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

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