Safari Vehicles: Open vs Closed

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What kind of vehicle do you picture when you think of an African safari? Some of you might picture an open-air 4X4 while others might think of a minibus type vehicle. It turns out both are options when it comes to African safaris. However, determining which one is right for you can be a bit tricky.

While open safari vehicles and closed safari vehicles both have unique advantages, they offer considerably different experiences. Learn more about the pros and cons of each and discover which safari vehicle you want to take on your African safari adventure.

Open Safari Vehicles

If your safari takes you to countries like Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other places in southern Africa, you’ll likely be venturing in an open safari vehicle. These 4X4s lack a roof altogether and perform incredibly well in the African brush and savanna. The openness of the vehicles leaves nothing in between you and the African countryside. You can more easily hear and see the gorgeous wildlife as you travel through the brush. The vehicle will be moving, and animals certainly aren’t going to stop for you. Thus, simply being able to turn your head without anything blocking your sight makes it much easier to keep track of the wildlife.

The downside of an open safari vehicle is that you’re left exposed. You don’t have to worry about the animals as your vehicle can easily outrun anything you might encounter though the chances that animals will come after you in the first place is incredibly low. What you really have to worry about is the rain. If your African safari is during the wet season, an open safari vehicle leaves you completely exposed. Some vehicles are equipped with sunshades that can help keep the rain at bay. The sun will also be bearing down on you the entire time, so make sure you pack sunscreen and insect repellant.

Closed Safari Vehicles

When your African safari takes you to eastern Africa into countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, you’ll be more likely to encounter closed safari vehicles like minibuses. This is in large part due to the extensive system of roadways in eastern Africa not being as prevalent in southern Africa. It’s common in eastern Africa for the same vehicle to pick you up from the airport and take you on the safari tour.

While these vehicles are better equipped for traveling on the road, they offer limited visibility when you’re trying to see wildlife. You need the walls and roof to protect from the wind when going at highway speeds, but those same walls and roof leave small openings for you to take pictures or even catch a glimpse of the animals. Most vehicles have a roof that can be propped up in the middle to allow a viewing space of sorts for rear passengers. To make use of this, however, you have to stand up and poke your head through which can be uncomfortable and still offers limited viewing capabilities.

No matter which vehicle you travel in during your African safari, you’re in for an experience like no other. Book your African safari today for an exciting adventure you’ll never forget.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Game Drive Tips for Your African Safari Trip

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Those looking for ways to make the most of their African safari trip should consider going on a few game drives, one of the best activities for maximizing your time.

If you want to get the best photos during your game drives and increase your chances of seeing Africa’s most famous animals, you can follow these tips that can ensure you have a good time while respecting wildlife and respecting others.

Follow the Most Important Rules: Stay Inside the Vehicle, Keep Quiet and Don’t Feed the Animals

Game drives disrupt the typical experience of wildlife in the bush, but guides and safari tour companies do their best to compromise with nature. By sticking mostly to set paths, taking steps to not stress the animals and keeping interactions to snapping photos, the natural experience can be preserved as much as possible. Most animals even get used to the site and sound of 4x4s.

Uphold your end of the bargain by staying quiet during drives. Do not call out to animals to get their attention, and try to talk softly the entire drive. Definitely do not feed animals, since this can get them sick and encourage them to associate humans with food — not a good connection!

Also, most importantly, keep within the confines of the vehicle at all times. Leaning out or, heaven forbid, exiting the vehicle can stress animals and place you in a very dangerous situation.

Dress in Layers, Wear Sunscreen and Bring Repellant

Game drives can be chilly in the morning and hot in the afternoon sun. Dress in layers so that you can prepare for these temperature changes. Also, wear a brimmed hat and cover yourself in sunscreen to prevent getting burned.

Biting insects are common in many parks, especially during open air drives, so bring along plenty of repellant to reapply during your drive.

Take Along a Guidebook

During your drive, you will probably see a ton of animals you do not recognize but that look interesting. Take along an informative guidebook with photo identification of bush animals so you can know as much as possible about the world around you.

For younger safari-goers, you can print off a checklist of animals so that they can stay engaged and focus on seeing the most interesting species.

Bring Binoculars

Binoculars help you spot far away animals and set up your photos more quickly. Being forced to share binoculars can mean watching a speck by a drinking pool while everyone else sees a lion, so bring a pair for each person to ensure no one misses out.

Wait for the Vehicle to Stop Before Taking Close-Up Photos

The powerful engines in 4x4s tend to vibrate, which leads to blurry pictures if you have your lens zoomed in. Feel free to snap wide angle shots as you drive, but for the best photos wait until the engine is cut off.

Look for More Than Just the Big Five

Everyone wants to see lions, elephants and other famous “big five” animals on their trip, but you should recognize that there are plenty of beautiful species on the African continent, both big and small. Use a guidebook to help you spot birds, tell the difference between antelope-like species and appreciate sights others might miss.

Talk With Your Ranger

Your ranger has gone on hundreds of drives and has likely spent much of their life living in the bush. Feel free to ask them questions or to get them to describe their experiences, especially if you want to know more about a specific animal.

Let Nature and Your Spotter Be Your Eyes

With the tallest necks in the bush, giraffes tend to be amazing lookouts, helping you identify big cats crouched in the grass where you cannot see. Other animals like antelope tend to focus sharply when they see possible dangers. Your spotter guide will also help keep everyone focused either by staring at their target, quietly pointing or informing your ranger.

Tip Your Guides!

Game drive guides earn some wages, but they get much of their income from tips. They also tend to get motivated to do more for groups that tip generously, so if you are particularly keen on seeing something elusive like a leopard, then be a little more giving.

Tip amounts are at your discretion, but R30 to R50 or $8 a person is considered fair. No matter how much you give, be sure to thank your guide since they are providing you a service few others are capable of rendering!

Go on Several Drives to Get a Diverse Experience During Your African Safari Trip

Morning drives are usually the most productive times of day, but afternoon and nighttime drives offer differing experiences. Regardless of when you go, recognize that each drive is a dice roll in that you never know what you will see — or if you will see anything. If you have a disappointing drive one day, do not think that means you will not see more than the average group on your next drive.

You can ensure that you go on as many different drives as possible while enjoying other amazing activities like bush walks and boat rides when you book an African safari tour package and start planning your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui