Just a few weeks ago Victoria Philpott was hanging out with the lions, hippos, leopards and buffalos in Tanzania. Today she reveals what it’s really like to get the binoculars on, the long lens out and go on safari…
Since I’ve got back from the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater people keep asking me what it’s really like to go on safari. The simple answer is: incredible.
I joined a tour group and spent three days in a jeep bouncing over the rough plains of two of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world. As ‘Team Lion Watch’ the five of us frantically scanned the savannah for any sign of movement. Before long every mound of soil, tree stump and sparse hedge started to appear animal-like and it was hard to tell a branch from a bird.
Then, all of a sudden, you realise that the mass on the horizon was moving, and that there were a few smaller figures following too.
“Stop! Lion! Over there…”
Your heart races – this is what you came for. The driver carefully crawls the jeep forward for a better view and you get your camera at the ready. You get so close that you can see the sturdy muscles of the lioness bulge as she walks with her cubs at her side. She looks back and locks her eyes on the jeep. You hold your breath, but sneakily manage to click the camera shutter for evidence to show off to the folks at home.
The driver turns his engine off and you’ve got your photo – now it’s time to just watch as lion cubs lick each other clean, frolic in the grass and seemingly play up to the cameras. It doesn’t take long for the other jeeps that have been radioed to crawl up behind to capture the moment too.
It took me three days to see The Big Five – elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions and buffalo – in their natural habitat, but I did it! I also saw impalas, zebras, hippos, storks, jackals, hyenas and bald eagles and was even just an arm’s length away from several of the lions, buffalos and zebra. I stuck my head out the jeep window at one point to get a better shot of a lioness – not a good idea if you value your life.
What and how you eat depends on the company you travel with, but we made a stop at a supermarket beforehand to get supplies for the jeep. Then we enjoyed packed lunches at a picnic spot in the Crater. At the campsites we had delicious warming meaty dinners waiting for us cooked and ready when we arrived.
Drinking and amenities
You’ll need to take enough water for the few days that you’re out there as there are no supermarkets in the African plains! But take my advice and only drink it when you really need it, as you never know when your next toilet stop will be. Amazingly there were some toilets dotted around in the Serengeti and the Creater, but if you can’t hold on you’ll have to plead with your driver to let you out.
Here comes the fun bit: I slept in the Serengeti with just my sleeping bag and the tent for protection. We were warned not to go out the tent at night even if we needed the toilet. If we really had to we were warned to shine a torch out the tent first to check for eyes…
The jeeps hold 5-8 people and they’ve been specifically made with removable roofs for the best viewing opportunities. It’s not a comfy ride, and once the driver gets wind on his walkie talkie of a possible sighting he’s on a mission to make it there before the animal moves on, so hold on tight.
The early morning game drive was the definite highlight. We surfaced from our tents at 4:30am to see a dazzle of zebras just 50 metres away. The hot African sun was peeking out over the horizon and casting the most incredible colours over the camp.
Going on safari is known as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime holiday,’ but I’d do it again in the swish of a lion’s tail.
Have you seen the Big Five? Get up close (but not too close) to the Serengeti’s graceful predators from £999 with our Nairobi to Zanzibar Adventure.