Updated: Aug 21, 2019
If you mention your desire to do a "safari" to a South African, he may look at you puzzled for a few seconds. "Safari" does not exist in South Africa, people rather talk about "Game Viewing". If on weels it will be called "Game drive", if on foot it is called a "Game walk". Both experiences are very different and equally magic. Let me unfold each type and where to do them.
In every park, you will have the opportunity to book a "game drive" or "game walk". The usual schedule is as follow:
6am-9am: Sun rise. The most magical according to us. Starting in the dark and cold, gaze upon the sun slowly rising on the african savana. Hear the wildlife awaken. Observe the animal going to the water holes for their first drink.
9am-12am & 1pm-4pm: Day. The sun is high up in the sky. Its bite keeps all animals under the trees and bushes. This time of day is good to spot big animals such as elephants and all types of grazers. But forget about the cats and other predators who will be hiding in the shades.
4pm-7pm: Sun set. The most picture-friendly time of day. Golden hour. All animals are in activity and going for a last sip at the nearest water hole. Finishing usually with a glorious african sunset.
Picked up by a ranger in his huge Toyota Hilux, you join a group of approximately 9 to 12 people for a 3 hours long drive across the bush. Ranger being professionals of the bush will instruct you on all aspects of the local flora and fauna. Do never hesitate to ask question and show your specific interests. If you like birds for instance, notify it to your ranger so he can adapt his tour. Otherwise, most tourists only want to spot lions and rangers tend to focus on these.
Game drives are great to cover big distances. Also, rangers are all in touch via their radios. Allowing them to always be aware of the latest animal spotting and to go on site quickly.
Usually accompanied by 2 armed rangers, this experience is absolutely magical. Being on foot and clearly at the bottom at the food-chain, the rangers only bring you in areas where no predators have been recently spotted.
After a short security brief (if they have to fire their riffles, it's because you messed up!), you are being driven to a clear area. There you step out of vehicules and proceed in line (groups of usually 5 to 10 people max) towards a point of interest in total silence. During the frequent stops, one of the two rangers explains you how to identify animal tracks and dungs, how to recognize noises/smells and what smaller "invisible" animals do.
It is an unreal experience, especially at sunrise when you are in the middle of the silent bush and you can hear each species wake up one after the other.
Everywhere in SA you have the option of staying in your vehicule and drive through the park yourself.
Always beware of the security ground rules (always ask when entering a park, they may have specific rules):
no coming out of the car unless indicated so
no loud music