Skip to content

Going Small on Safari

The thing most people don’t know about safari in Africa is that it’s not all about seeing the big animals. Of course the sight of your first elephant in the wild is impressive (even more so if it’s charging you), and hearing a lion’s bellowing roar will rock your eardrums like nothing else. But when the shock and awe subside, you realize that it’s all the little details coming together that make for a truly great safari. Here our Africa expert Dan Achber shares a few of the subtler details that he finds most interesting while exploring the bush.

1) Desperate for water—The dry season is a stressful time for elephants, particularly in places like Hwange National Park, and a mother elephant’s need to keep her young safe competes with her need to get to water.

2) Here’s looking at you—Lions are a staple on safari, but unless you go to the Kalahari, you’d never learn that lions there are bigger and darker than their cousins elsewhere.

3) Hitching a ride—Giraffes are wonderfully graceful animals who have a close relationship with oxpeckers; these birds keep them clear of ticks and other parasites, and giraffes wouldn’t survive without them.

4) It’s all in the details—It’s worth spending the time and sitting with elephants until they relax. Once you have a front row seat, you come to appreciate the dexterity and gentleness with which they use their trunks.

5) A fisher king—Rushing from sighting to sighting of the big five means you might miss smaller things, like this brilliantly coloured malachite kingfisher.

6) Not your everyday zebra—Only in Kenya and Ethiopia will you have the chance to see the awesome Grevy’s zebra, the largest of all wild equine animals with a distinctive pattern of close-set stripes.

7) Opulence under canvas—Africa can be home no matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for. Sometimes it’s one with extensive wine lists and high thread count sheets…

8) Sleeping under the stars—Sometimes the adventure features bedrolls and a dome tent under all the dazzling detail of the African night sky.

9) Stuffing their faces—A truly great guide can not only show you the great East African wildebeest migration, but explain why the animals migrate in the first place.

10) Terrific texture—Getting up close to an elephant will make you realize how badly in need of moisturizer they are.

11) The end of a long day—Nothing beats a camp fire out in the bush at the end of a long day tracking wildlife.

12) What, you don’t use a bullet for a pipe?—Taking time with the San Bushmen can be a welcome break to big game spotting in the back of a 4×4.

Dan is foolishly working as an Africa planner for Trufflepig, instead of taking his safari photography straight to National Geographic. If you need a hand organizing some travel details of your own, just give him a shout.

But when the shock and awe subside, you realize that it's all the little details coming together that make for a truly great safari.