What to expect from a South African Safari Lodge
Typical Activities and Daily Programmes
The safari lodges in the private game reserves and the National Park concessions offer what most visitors agree is the best all-round safari experience.
Most lodges offer a fully inclusive rate, which includes outstanding accommodation, all meals, and morning and afternoon guided game drives in 4x4 open safari vehicles each day. Some may also include unlimited drinks or other activities such as guided walks, but whatever is included, there are 2 elements that you will be certain of, wherever you stay - the hospitality and the service. The lodges all go to incredible lengths to make sure that their guests feel welcome and comfortable, and nothing appears to be too much trouble for your hosts.
In terms of a recommended length of stay, a minimum of 2 to 3 nights is ideal. This gives you time to relax into the experience, get to know your fellow guests, and gives you at least 4 game drives to enjoy the wildlife.
While some restrictions do apply to avoid damaging some of the more fragile ecosystems, the thrill of tracking a leopard through the bush in your safari vehicle is unsurpassed. Many lodges have agreements with their neighbours regarding driving rights, and therefore the area your guide can drive in can be extremely large.
Your Guide and Tracker
Your guide (and tracker if the lodge use them) are highly knowledgeable about the bush and the animals, and will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you and answer any questions that you may have. The guide drives the vehicle and will give you information about the animals, birds and other points of interest you see, and the tracker usually sits on a chair right at the front of the vehicle and specialises on spotting and tracking the animals.
All the game drive vehicles are in radio contact with each other, so whenever something exciting is spotted or tracked, everyone else in the area is notified of its location.
Only 2 or 3 vehicles are allowed at any one sighting at a time, so don't get too impatient if you have to wait your turn, or be too disappointed if your guide asks if you are ready to leave the sighting after a while to let another vehicle come in.
05:30 - Morning Wake up, Game Drive and Breakfast
Each day is very structured, and this can feel quite regimented to begin with. Early morning game drives begin with a wake up call at around 05.30, and from then on, your entire day is meticulously planned out for you.
After a refreshing cup of strong coffee and biscuits to help you fully wake up, you leave on the first game drive of the day at around 6am. If the coffee hasn't woken you up yet, the crisp morning air certainly will!
Depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long, and most times will involve a brief stop for another cup of coffee and a chance to get out of the Land Rover and stretch your legs.
When you return to the lodge, a delicious breakfast will be waiting for you - normally buffet style, followed by a cooked offering if you are still hungry!
09:30 - Between Game Drives
After breakfast, the next few hours are yours to spend as you wish. The lodges generally all have their own waterholes, and watching a herd of elephants drinking or wallowing a mere 10m away is a lovely way to relax between game drives and eating!
Of course, if you have a private pool in your room then this is the perfect time to have a dip and soak off the dust and escape from the heat!
Whilst this time is your own to fill as you wish, many lodges also offer a guided walk on foot to explore the African bush with your guide or tracker, which usually lasts for about an hour. Walking in single file, you will be introduced to how to spot tracks in the sand or mud, the uses of many different types of trees, and much more.
If you are extremely lucky, will come across wildlife such as impala, giraffe or even rhino. Don't worry, though - your guide or tracker will be armed with a gun, just in case the animal you stumble across happens to be a agitated lion - but this adds to the excitement and anticipation of what you may see on your adventure.
If you have the chance to go on a bush walk, make sure that you take a sunhat and some water with you, as walking through the bush in the late morning sun is hot and tiring - but definitely worth the experience.
Lunch is generally served from 13:00 to 15:00 and then there is time for a quick chill before the safari excitement begins again.
16:00 - Afternoon Game Drive and Sundowners
Your afternoon game drive will normally depart around 16:00, sometimes earlier depending on the time of year. Some lodges will serve tea and cakes before you depart, just in case you didn't eat enough at lunch and you are still feeling a bit peckish!
It is often very warm when you head out on the afternoon drive, but you should still take a fleece or other warm clothing as it will feel chilly on the back of the moving vehicle one the sun goes down.
At dusk, your guide will normally stop at an open area, and unpack the cooler box and offer you a sundowner. There is something magical about enjoying a cold beer or chilled glass of wine while standing beside your Land Rover, watching the sun setting over the African bush.
The game drive will usually continue for an hour or so after sundowners, giving you the chance to look for leopards, lions and other nocturnal animals. You generally return to the lodge for dinner at about 20:00.
20:00 - The Evening Dining Experience
Most lodges will try to vary the setting for the evening dinners to give guests a varity of different experiences.
As an alternative to the main dining, dinner will sometimes be served outside under the stars in a 'boma' around an open fire, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting. Some lodges even set up tables in the middle of the bush for a bush dinner away from the lodge, and this really can be a magical experience.
For the dining room and boma dinners, many lodges will seat everyone on the same tables, giving you the opportunity to really get to know your fellow guests. Chatting about your game drives and sightings during the day with your fellow guests is a perfect way to round off the day, and a great feeling of camaraderie soon begins to exist between everyone.
Some lodges, especialy the more expensive ones, prefer to seat guests on individual tables, but they are always happy to seat people together if you would prefer.
For special occasions, or just to have a bit of a change, many lodges also ofer the opportunity to have dinner in your room or on your private deck. This really can be wonderfully romantic and is highly recommended for honeymooners and other romantic types.
There is no need to tip during the course of your stay, however it is customary to tip your guide and tracker when you leave, and also leave something for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have done an exceptional job of looking after you.
The lodges normally leave envelopes in your room, so the amount you give is not on 'general view' to everyone else. What you leave is totally at your own discretion, but the lodges will generally give you a guideline if you ask them, or you can use these general guidelines.
Your Ranger - by the end of your stay at the safari lodge, he or she will probably be your new 'best friend'. And of course you want to thank them profusely for having shown you the best ever lion/leopard/elephant/rhino sightings in the entire history of mankind. However, there is no need to go overboard and give them the equivalent of a month’s salary (even if you CAN afford it) as this could set a level of expectation that future guests just could not match.
What we normally recommend is think about it in terms of what would your ranger really appreciate, and that could be something like the money to cover a nice meal out for 2, with a bottle of wine, so that he/she can treat themselves (and their partner) on their valuable time off. We would suggest basing this amount on what YOU personally would be happy to pay at home if you were to treat yourself and someone else to an equivalent night out.
Your Tracker – he will have proved himself to be invaluable, as he will no doubt have spotted things that the normal human could never hope to see – a chameleon on the lowest branch of a tree on the way back to the lodge at night, or a leopard hiding behind a rock – again, tipping too much would not be appropriate.
We would therefore recommend tipping something equivalent to giving him a good night out in a local bar, where he can buy himself and friends a few round of drinks. Again, maybe base this amount on what you would be happy to spend at home in your local pub.
Cleaning Staff - if they have kept your room spotless, then a tip is certainly a nice gesture – but maybe just the equivalent of a couple of drinks.
We do hope this helps – but please note this is just a personal opinion, and we are not for one minute promoting the partaking of alcohol beverages...but we have found, having been on a lot of safaris, that this rule of thumb works pretty well and it is a relatively easy way of estimating a tip amount that should not offend anyone.