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Africa Specialist Thea answers some frequently asked questions by our safari clients – what is a typical day on safari in Kenya and what should I expect?

by Thea Gillingham

An African safari is a magical experience, one that many people dream of and, when booking their safari experience, can become quite daunting.

Not only is there a wide array of options but a safari holiday can be quite mysterious if you don’t know what to expect.

Find below a detailed explanation on what to expect on a typical day on safari in Kenya and some of our most frequently asked questions.

What to expect on a typical Kenya safari?

Thea preparing for a game drive in Kenya

No matter where you are in Kenya, the most common experience is to have two game activities per day which is most frequently game drives.

Following my recent trip to the Masai Mara, below is a standard timetable for a typical safari day that can be translated to most safari experiences in Kenya.

6am – Wake Up Call

Start the day with the smell of fresh coffee or tea being brought to your tent. To get some of the best game viewing of the day, an early start is needed to beat the heat of the sun.

This is the time that the big cats are the most active and can provide some of the most dramatic photography thanks to the beautiful lighting. Although it might be tempting to stay in bed and wait till this afternoon to explore, I promise you this is a game drive you don't want to miss!

6.30 – 7am – Morning Game Drive

Slightly blurry eyed, climb aboard your safari vehicle with your expert guide to go on the hunt for cats and other game. It can be chilly in the mornings but do make sure you pack layers as the temperature will soon heat up after the incredible sunrise.

If you have any interests do inform your guide however it is common for them to either know of local sightings or perhaps even pass them en-route to pick you up so sit back and relax as you embark on your adventure.

The drive will last around 2-3 hours, depending on your sightings.

9 – 10 am – Breakfast

Return to your accommodation for a well-earned breakfast.

Often served in a communal setting and in the presence of your host, this is often a time to discuss your sightings with other guests, perhaps plan your free time and enjoy plenty of fresh food and drink prepared by your chef.

10 am – 1pm – Free Time

Whilst safari is a busy & long day, there is still free time incorporated to rest, relax or perhaps add an optional activity.

Many properties offer a range of additional programmes that can fit into your timetable for example local village visits, specialist sanctuary visits or even additional game viewing experiences.

Some even have spa facilities onsite so why not treat yourself to a well-earned massage! Personally, I often curl up with a good book on the viewing desk watching wildlife pass by.

1pm – Lunch

Refuel at lunchtime with further food and drink. Food is usually served over three courses and certainly will keep you full until this evening.

If you are a bit peckish between meals don’t worry, speak to your host or one of the staff and snacks can always be found.

1pm – 4pm – Free Time

Again, there is time of your own accord this afternoon. Continue with your book, perhaps nip into the pool if you are lucky to have one onsite or have a siesta.

You will never be bored during your stay and certainly all properties have a range of facilities and activities to fill your time.

4pm – 7pm – Evening Game Drive

Venture out in the 4 x 4 once more as the sun sets. Again, this cooler temperature means that animals are more active and less likely to be hiding in the bushes for some shade.

As the sun sets your guide will pause at a suitable point and bring out the cool box filled with your preferred drinks for a sundowner, a toast to the sun after a spectacular day on safari. This is a traditional end to any safari day and certainly the locations chosen often have a dramatic setting.

From Saruni Mara, watch the sun go down over Mount Kilelioni or perhaps watch the lion pride with a gin & tonic in hand with Ol Seki, I have certainly had many memorable moments.

Please note: At some locations it is possible to go on night drives. These will leave later than 4pm. Sundowners are often still incorporated or had at camp before venturing out.

8pm – Dinner & Evening Drinks

Upon returning to camp enjoy a tasty three course meal before settling under the stars and around the fire with a beverage in hand.

Whilst it may be tempting to stay up late in this beautiful location – don’t forget a 6am wake up comes calling next morning so ensure you get a good nights sleep and prepare for the adventure that tomorrow brings.

What happens on a game drive?

Cheetah spotted on a game drive

The above typical day on safari is based on game drive activities – the most common form of safari activity but what is a game drive?

There are small variations from location to location but the general rule is that a game drive is conducted in an open sided 4 x 4 vehicle with a maximum occupancy of 8 passengers (although it is not uncommon to have less passengers or even private use of a vehicle).

Your guide and often an additional spotter will accompany you and talk you through the area, the animals and their culture. Please don’t be offended if they go silent for a while after all their job is to keep an eye out for animals and this does require a certain amount of concentration.

You will be quite surprised what they can spot at such a great distance! There are no stops along a game drive unless for a bush meal or sundowner which must be conducted in a safe and pre-allocated space.

Unfortunately, there are no toilet stops on safari so please make sure you go before you leave.

Upon arriving at a sighting your guide will normally start a slight distance away to ensure that the animal is comfortable and calm before approaching to a closer distance. Whilst in the vicinity please ensure noise is to a minimum.

You will have as much time as you want at each stop to ensure you have enough photos and only when you are ready will you move on.

The only exception is in certain parks there is a maximum number of vehicles per sighting and if the maximum is reached then the first to arrive must move on.

Sleeping lions in Mara north

Sometimes it is permitted to off road to reach more isolated areas of the reserves. This offers a unique and wild encounter with a larger variety of animals.

It does however often mean a bumpy ride or a free ‘Kenyan Massage’. Hold on tight and ensure that all loose items are safely stowed away.

All guides are expert drivers often undertaking advanced driving lessons so rest assured you are in very good hands. Sit, back relax and enjoy the adventure.

Besides game drives, what else is there to do on safari?

Whilst a game drive is perhaps the most common safari activity, there are plenty of other safari activities available. This adds a variety of experiences to your safari holiday to suit each individual's interests.

Find below some further options, as well as our Wayfairer recommendations, of where best to visit for each interest. Do speak to your Africa Specialist for more tailored ideas as certainly the below is not an extensive list of the vast range of activities available in the bush.

Bush walks

Bush walk

The second most common style is a bush walk, conducted with your guide and security. During a bush walk learn about tracks, dung and get closer to the residents.

It is also the perfect opportunity to talk to your guide about their lives and their culture, conservation programmes or even more detailed information about each animals that is perhaps harder to do in the vehicles.

Wayfairer’s Favourite: Saruni Rhino – Samburu

Saruni Rhino offers an incredibly unique opportunity as the first rhino tracking experience in East Africa. Get ready for a thrilling adventure tracking and meeting the 11 rhinos found throughout the 54,000 hectre-large sanctuary. Certainly, this is one of the most advanced conservation projects in Kenya!

Horseback safaris

Horseback safaris are an incredible way to see the bush and are often found in Northern and in some parts Southern Kenya. Suitable for novice and professionals alike with children often accommodated as well, this offers a unique way to travel through the plains and spot game.

Wayfairer’s Favourite: Ol Donyo, Chyulu Hills

Ol Donyo is located in the foothills of Chyulu Hills and is the only lodge in the vast space of the Mbirikani Ranch offering you the unique access to one of the last remaining true areas of wilderness in Kenya. More experienced riders will be assessed and then have the opportunity for the more freeing experience of fast riding and jumping over fallen logs.

Quad biking safaris

Quad-biking is a thrilling way to explore truly remote locations not easily accessed in larger vehicles. Whilst there are some incredible areas in Namibia to Quad-Bike, Kenya offers some fantastic alternatives especially up in the Lewa regions. Using the tiny tracks explore areas not usually visited for a wild and intrepid experience.

Wayfairer’s Favourite: Borana Lodge, Laikipia

The expert team of Jay & Amory will look after you at Borana Lodge and take you out on buggies & quad bikes. Explore the ‘singing wells’, have a picnic by the remote riverbed and explore the African Bush – this really is quite a unique day.

Mountain-bike safari

Perhaps the most active variation of a typical safari, mountain-biking offers an unusual way to explore the bush. Wildlife is relatively skittish around bikes in comparison to vehicles and horseback so up-close encounters are less likely however biking in the bush is an amazing experience and the perfect way to get a bit of exercise after eating all the fantastic food in camp.

Wayfairer’s Favourite: Ol Malo, Laikipia

Whilst Ol Donyo and Borana Lodge above also offer excellent mountain-biking, Ol Malo is certainly another option to consider. With low visitor density and attractive landscapes to discover, this is the perfect place to venture out to explore by bike. Travel at your own pace and explore the natural environment.

Hot air balloon safaris

Hot air balloon safari with giraffe

A bucket list moment for many is the hot air balloon safari. Sore above the plains before dawn, watch the sun set from high in the sky and view the wildlife from a completely different perspective.

Most often your hot air balloon adventure will last around 1 hour and end with a champagne breakfast upon returning to earth. What better way is there to start your day!

Wayfairer’s Favourite: Saruni Wild, Masai Mara

Masai Mara is certainly a notable destination to incorporate this type of safari into your itinerary. Saruni Wild offers close proximity to the start point but still isolated enough to provide a unique stay in the Mara. Game drive too and from your balloon with fantastic game available in the Lemek conservancy where Saruni Wild is located.  

Contact us about the availability of these safari lodges for your tailor made holiday to Kenya.

Thea’s top tips for your Kenya safari holiday

It is quite easy to be overwhelmed by the whole experience but as a frequent visitor to camp here are my top tips for visitors:

  • Charge your camera or smartphone - and most importantly know how to use your camera! I have seen many fellow travellers decide that a safari experience is the best time to learn to use a new camera only to be disappointed with the lack of usable photos. Please don’t fall into this trap! Whilst a good camera is a useful addition to your packing list it is important to know how to use it effectively to ensure you not only get good shots but also have time left spare to appreciate what you are witnessing. If in doubt a mobile phone will take a surprisingly good photo that can put larger cameras to shame nowadays otherwise leave the camera at home and simply enjoy the experience with your own eyes.
  • Don’t go into a safari with a checklist of animals - whilst it is good to have a rough idea of what you want to see, sightings are never guaranteed, and the worst thing is to be disappointed with your viewings. All our guides will do their very best to get you incredible sightings, but these are wild animals, sometimes the leopards are shy and won’t make an appearance. It’s all part of the thrill of not knowing what lies around the corner.
  • What to pack for a safari in Kenya? - whilst it is tempting to pack to impress, luggage on light aircraft flights is very limited and you will just waste valuable space if you fill it with make up, multiple shoes or a variety of shirts. Safari is a relaxed atmosphere – sensible shoes and fresh faced is the go to look in the bush.

If you'd like to plan a holiday to Kenya, call our Luxury Travel Specialists for a chat about your dream trip or fill out our no-obligation enquiry form.

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