By Anne-Marie Weeden
One of the closely guarded secrets of the safari business is that clients can get bored of the wildlife.There, I’ve said it.
No one likes to admit it, but the reality is, despite all the dreaming, scheming, saving, and planning you’ve done for your luxury African safari, safari fatigue can happen. You can pack your trip full of wildlife encounters that would make David Attenborough jealous, but when you face a third day in a row of game drives over seemingly endless plains, all you really want is a change of scenery.
Children are to safaris what canaries were to mining, and are often the first to say what everyone is thinking but dares not say out loud. “Oh, not more lions,” your little angels will pipe up, “we saw them yesterday”. While your first instinct may be to apologize profusely to your guide and force your kids to observe the lions in a stony silence characteristic of family holidays everywhere, somewhere deep inside, you have to admit, they have a point.
Prevention is, as they say, the best cure, so here are my top five tips for keeping safari fatigue at bay:
I obviously do not mean for you to disembark whilst watching the afore-mentioned lions, but to plan activities that take a fresh approach to enjoying the African wilderness. Ask your agent about walking safaris, lunch cruises, birding walks, horseback safaris, mountain biking, hot air balloon safaris, etc. Even camel safaris are sometimes offered in Lewa in Kenya. In Uganda, you can ride through herds of zebra on a horseback safari in Lake Mburo National Park.
Interspersing traditional game drives with alternative wildlife viewing activities is a great way to keep the mind and body fresh – and your kids happy – as you experience the bush from every perspective.
African wildlife lives cheek by jowl with local tribes. This proximity inevitably results in human-wildlife conflict, but conservationists and tourism operators are combating this is by developing tourism activities that enable communities to benefit from the presence of the wildlife.
This not only offers villagers a livelihood (as opposed to, say, poaching), but also encourages the communities to see the value of wildlife and national. It’s a winning situation for visitors too, as they can incorporate all sorts of authentic cultural encounters in their African wildlife safari.
You can learn about bee-keeping and mould your own beeswax candle, learn to jump like a Maasai warrior, follow the bean from crop to cup at a coffee plantation, meet a pygmy tribe, take a drumming lesson, or try your hand at basket-weaving.
For one thing, those early mornings on safari take their toll (you are on holiday, after all). For another, if you’re staying at a high end, luxury safari lodge, it seems a real shame not to make the most of it. When you plan an itinerary, always try and build in some rest time.
It’s tempting to cram lots of activities in, and an ‘afternoon relaxing at the lodge’ can look uninspiring when planning your journey, but trust me, it’s not. After a week of 6am wake-up calls, you deserve an afternoon lolling in the pool with chilled glass in hand. You will thank me for it.
Accept the inevitable. However great your children are, it’s unlikely they will be as tolerant as you of long drives and transfer times. Wildlife is unpredictable, and for every hour spent watching a pride of hunting lions, you can spend several more trying to locate them.
When planning a family safari look for a safari that uses scheduled flights (or private charters if you have the means) to avoid long transfer days, and try to choose a destination that can reliably deliver wildlife in big numbers, such as the Maasai Mara in Kenya or the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Take care to choose a lodge where there are plenty of options for extra-vehicular activities. Consider booking a lodge in a private conservancy or game reserve that borders a national park as these often offer a greater variety of activities (also make sure it has a pool).
Finally, it also helps to have a back-up plan. Be sure to pack a few things that are guaranteed to keep your kids occupied when you need it most. And yes, iPads are allowed. Their long battery life makes them ideally suited for the bush, and you can load them up with wildlife-themed apps before you go, like this incredible WWF app which educates the user about endangered species, as well as giving instructions as to how to make an origami elephant, rhino, and gorilla amongst others – hours of fun!
Some of the best safari guides seem to be totally intuitive, apparently knowing exactly what you want and when you want it. But not all of us are that lucky. You may not have the same guide for your entire trip, or you may be someone who is perfectly lovely but needs to brush up on their telepathy skills.
If the latter is the case, do not be afraid to speak up. Tell your guide what you would like from your safari. If you are not enjoying an aspect of the experience, tell your guide what you would prefer to be doing.
Finally, if you feel like going off-piste and changing the itinerary, make sure you ask. It’s not always possible but the best tour operators should be able to offer a little bit of flexibility if you change your mind.