Research, research, research...
“People often show up with an idea of what they think their safari experience should be like, which hurts their experience because then they are constantly comparing it to this idea, rather than living in the moment and enjoying the safari that they have in front of them,” said Stefan Winterboer, who has been a field guide since 1999. “Make sure that the destination you choose can deliver the exact safari that you want.” Want to see the wildebeest migration? Then the Maasai Mara, a big park in Kenya, is for you. Hoping to see elephants? Check out Botswana.
For me, sticking to the Maasai Mara for my first safari was a solid choice. After a few days of driving, I began noticing patterns of the different creatures, and got familiar enough with the land that I found myself longing to stay. “Africa is a big place, so don’t try to do too much on a single trip,” said Brent Leo-Smith, a South Africa native and longtime guide. “Spend more time at one location and really get the full experience in that area, rather than bouncing around to different countries and trying to cram it all into one trip.”
I’ll admit though, even after thorough research, how do you decide where to go when it all sounds so good? “It depends on what I want out of the experience,” Hendry told me. “If I want stunning scenery, the space and landscapes of Namibia are unbeatable. If I want an abundance of wildlife, it is impossible to beat the Maasai Mara.” And the guides’ lists go on and on: the “hidden treasures” of Botswana, the “profound sense of peace” that can be found in the Kalahari Desert and South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
There is no right answer. There is no best place to go. But there are a lot of places, so spend some quality time with National Geographic back issues or with David Attenborough documentaries and decide what you most want to get out of your trip.