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manage the melting safari clock

Team Africa Geographic

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Picture it: you’ve arrived on safari, only to be greeted by a plethora of options (and wildlife) to keep you entertained for the duration of your stay at the lodge. Between meals, spa treatments and the obligatory gin and tonic by the pool, deciding how to spend your hours might turn out to be a challenge (it’s a tough life, we know…) So, what if you want to skip a drive? Have a look at our guide to the highs and lows, and decide how best to spend your safari time.

Morning

This is hands down the Africa Geographic team’s favourite part of the day. Ask any guide for their best time to be out in the bush, and nine times out of ten, they will say the morning, which should tell you all you need to know. If there is one game drive you should not skip, it’s this one.

Most of us wake with a standard routine ahead of us, and surprises are limited to mundanities such as the milk going off. Not so on safari. Nothing can top that pre-dawn feeling of a new day: the muzzy haze of an early start chased away by strong coffee, cool air and the excitement of not knowing what lies ahead. The nocturnal animals are still on the move, leaving their tracks in the sands of the morning bush newspaper, while diurnal animals stir to take advantage of the lower temperatures. For similar reasons, morning is also the best time to set off on foot.

No matter where you are in Africa, the sunrise is guaranteed to be spectacular (barring cloudy days). Dawn is a feast for the senses – smells are enhanced, sounds carry further, and the soft light makes for perfect photographs.

Safari Time
Sleep in and you may miss a magical sunrise

Midday

By midday, most game drives have deposited their guests back at the lodge to eat, drink, be merry or collapse during the hottest part of the day. Generally, midday is not the best safari time, especially in summer. All self-respecting wildlife retreats to the shade for a siesta (or to ruminate), and the high sun detracts from photographic opportunities.

But this is the wild, and there is always a caveat. This is a great time to check out the local waterholes in search of snorkelling elephants or to watch a wallowing rhino blowing bubbles in the mud. Wild animals are unpredictable (“they don’t read the books”, someone is bound to say), and there is always the chance of an unanticipated sighting made all the more special by having it to yourself. Cheetahs and leopards may decide to hunt in the middle of the day, when competition with lions and spotted hyenas is less likely.

Africa Geographic Travel
Safari time
There can still be action in the middle of the day

Afternoon

As the day starts to wane, the animals revive, and the bush shakes off its scorched languor. Even in winter, the starting afternoon temperatures are likely to be warm – but don’t trust anyone who says it doesn’t get cold in Africa. It does. Take a jacket – you’ll thank us as the sun goes down.

And speaking of sunsets, Africa’s are hard to beat. No matter where you find yourself, the array of reds, oranges and pinks is bound to entrance (and make pretty photos!) For those on the hunt for more unusual sightings of nocturnal beasties like aardvarks or pangolins – these are more likely to emerge early on a winter’s afternoon. Though dependent on luck, it’s a joy to see these rare creatures in daylight.

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At sunset, the wilderness comes alive

Under the stars

Night safaris are something of a mixed safari time. Yes, the big predators are likely on the move, and it does offer the chance to see nocturnal animals. However, the likelihood is sightings will be fleeting and sometimes chaotic if your guide attempts to follow them off-road while also trying not to throw you off the vehicle. Guides also need to be aware of their ethical obligations with spotlights, particularly during a hunt, so you will likely miss the real action.

Nevertheless, night drives can be rewarding for those on the lookout for smaller critters like chameleons, civets or bushbabies. The most enjoyable aspects of a night in the bush are the sounds (roaring, whooping and the like) and the stars stretching overhead. It is important to note that few national parks allow night drives, and guests looking to enjoy one should be sure to book at a private conservancy or reserve that offers these.

Africa Geographic Travel
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A star safari

FOMO

All in all, the morning game drive is probably the most consistently rewarding safari time. Of course, a holiday in the bush is meant to be relaxing and if you want to skip a drive to have a massage and watch elephants drink at the lodge waterhole, do so! Just be aware that Murphy has a sense of humour, and there is always a chance your crew will return with a triumphant “you’ll never guess what we saw!”

What is your favourite time of day on safari? Tell us by joining our private travel & conservation club and leaving a comment. 

Safari Time
Sometimes staying in camp is a great safari option

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We're the Africa Geographic editorial team – a diverse set of writers, editors, designers and social media natives, all united by our passion for this addictive continent.