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Travel Tips

8 Things You Need to Know Before Going on a Luxury Safari

From tracking elephants and leopards with your personal ranger to private plunge pools, fancy sundowners, and multi-course dinners in the bush, you get what you pay for at a luxury safari lodge. Ready to splurge on this life-changing trip? Here are 8 tips to know before you go, from recent safari-goer and JS editor Lindsey Olander.

Senior Editor, Jetsetter | @lindseytravels | lindseytravels.com

See recent posts by Lindsey Olander

Even in a Tented Camp, You’ll Be Far From Roughing It

Gone are the days of bare-bones campgrounds with no electricity, cold showers, and communal bathrooms. On a luxury safari, even tented camps have reached a level of luxury that would put your tricked-out city apartment to shame. We’re talking canopied four-poster beds, double vanities, deep soaking tubs, personal plunge pools, and white tablecloth dinners in the bush.

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Get Ready to Dine Like Royalty

As remote as your lodge may feel, the meals you’ll be served are as beautifully plated and prepared as any you might expect in a fine-dining restaurant. Award-winning chefs are eager to wow you at every meal, from beautiful breakfast spreads to tables of treats during afternoon tea and multi-course dinners—with wine, of course, or perhaps a taste of Amarula, a creamy liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula tree. Trust us—you’re going to want to pace yourself.

RELATED: The Most Luxurious Safari Getaways in Africa

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You Get Really, Really Close to the Wildlife…

One of the biggest perks of choosing a luxury safari experience over a self-drive one is access. Many luxury lodges are located inside private reserves or concessions, which limit the number of visiting guests and cars. That means far less competition between vehicles when trying to hone in on an animal’s location—not to mention the ability to go off-road to get a closer look. Higher-end lodges also discourage packing their 4x4s, despite having room to seat 11 or 12 people, so guests usually end up riding with just 4 or 5 others—allowing more room to maneuver around the car to secure that perfect shot. Hello window seat!

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…But Pack Your Best Camera and Lens Anyway

No matter how close you get, you’ll be wishing you had a solid camera with zoom capabilities. If you haven’t already, invest in a model and a lens that will get you the close-ups you want. The beginner Canon EOS Rebel T6 bundle comes with two lenses, while the Fuji X-T10 and Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G7KS are pricier but lighter alternatives. Not ready to fork out $2,000 for a telephoto zoom lens (a must for safaris)? It’s far more affordable to rent one before the hitting the road.

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Dress for Every Season—Just Don’t Go Overboard

Some luxury lodges deliver evening memos at turndown about what the weather is expected to be like the next day—but take them with a grain of salt. Dress in layers, as chilly mornings quickly warm up with the strong African sun while late afternoon drives begin in the heat and often end with sundowners in the dark. A brimmed hat, sunglasses, comfortable walking shoes, and a practical scarf you can put on and take off as the temperatures dip and rise are safari essentials. Another JS Tip: Research what your hotel provides beforehand. Some luxury lodges stock guest rooms with binoculars and bug spray and even rent out professional camera lenses, which can go a long way in lightening your suitcase (and freeing up space for keepsakes).

RELATED: What to Wear on a Safari

Be Prepared to Disconnect

While WiFi has become a luxury lodge standard, the connection can still be spotty—especially if your room is the furthest away from the lobby. All the better to tune out of the Instagram drain be present in the moment, we say.

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Your Ranger Will Become Your Best Friend

Safaris revolve around your time spent in the wild, but game drives aren’t just limited to animal encounters. Your ranger, who is often assigned to you for the duration of your stay, is your link to the park both physically and tangentially. Sure, they’ll track down the Big Five and win your heart with special extras like sundowner cocktails and snacks in the bush, but it’s their endless tales of time spent among the animals, growing up in the nearby villages (in some cases), and expert knowledge about the terrain (sometimes passed down through family members spanning generations) that offer the kind of insight you can’t explain in a photograph. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They are born storytellers.

RELATED: On Location in South Africa: Interview with a Safari Guide

Wildlife Sightings Are the Luck of the Draw

We get it: emptying your pockets for this once-in-a-lifetime experience should buy you something others can’t afford. When it comes to stylish and spacious digs, gourmet cuisine, and unparalleled service, luxury lodges guarantee all of that in spades. What money can’t buy? Control over the wild animals you’ve journeyed so far from home to see. Whether your week is worth $20,000 or $2,000 will not affect how many elephants emerge from the tree line, whether the lions are hungry enough for a kill, or if a leopard decides to show his face from behind the leafy branches of a tree. Flies, heat, and rain are more obstacles many safari-goers must face. Our suggestion: relax, be open-minded, and let your ranger and tracker do their work. You might just run into that elusive pack of wild dogs on the final minutes of your final morning in the bush. The wait will be worth it.

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