Even the most hardcore travelers we know—the sort of people who plan their own hikes through Patagonia, ride motor scooters up and down Vietnam, and bareboat charter in the BVIs—get a little skittish when it comes to that most bucket-y of bucket trips, the ultimate African safari. And who can blame them? It’s tough to find legit info, the geography’s confusing, there’s a bunch of indecipherable lingo, and the price tag—oh, the price tag.
Which is why we always advise travelers to book their next African adventure with the help of a travel specialist, somebody who’s actually stayed in the tented camps, walked through the bush with the guides, and been on those puddle-jumpers you’re planning to take.
These experts know what’s up, because they’ve already been where you wanna go—and the other places you hadn’t even considered that may even be a little bit better. So whether you want to see the big five, track the Great Migration, paddle through the Okavango, or cruise the Skeleton Coast, these are the go-to experts that can help you pull it off.
Dan Achber, Trufflepig
Achber knows Botswana particularly well—he’s organized multiday paddles on the Selinda Spillway and game counts with zebra researchers working in the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Cherri Briggs, Explore, Inc.
Deborah Calmeyer, Roar Africa
With her far-reaching network that includes some of the region’s savviest guides, she can get you into private homes, gardens, and art collections you can’t otherwise see.
Julian Harrison, Premier Tours
He’s arranged trips with wildlife film-makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, as well as with lion and rhino researchers.
Most safari camps are only accessible by small propeller planes, which don’t allow hard-sided luggage. Pack everything in soft duffels that can be easily tossed into the back of the plane or the back of a Land Rover (weight limits are strict, too, so make sure you check with the outfitter before you go).
Our advice: have your camera handy for the views, and bring along some low-tech entertainment as well.
Hermès Play Tie Poker playing cards ($115, hermes.
com); Ghurka Cavalier III No. 98 Twill Duffel Bag ($1,595, ghurka.
Specialists disagree on the details, but you’re generally advised to avoid red and white clothing (as well as anything day-glo) while on game drives because it can attract insects or make you more visible to certain animals. Instead, go for clothing in shades of khaki, brown, and olive (which help you to blend in with the environment and hide dust and dirt).
You’ll also want to have plenty of layers, since it can be chilly in the early mornings when you leave and blazing hot a few hours later. A hat to keep you protected under the midday sun is an essential.
com); Vans Washed Canvas Old Skool ($65, vans.com).
You’ll also need a great quality pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses, plenty of extra memory sticks for your camera, and a bandana that you can dip in water and wrap around your neck if you get hot while out and about. An unexpected tip we got from a specialist? Bring bubble wrap to protect any new souvenirs you pick up (especially useful when you’re packing everything in a soft duffel!).
Ray-Ban Aviator Classic ($153, ray-ban.com); Truffle Clarity Clutch ($45, truffleco.
com); Leica X Digital Camera (Typ 113) and Protector Country Case ($1,149 and $150, bhphotovideo.com).
Some travelers like to have a more dressed-up option for dinner and cocktail hour back at camp—think flowy, breezy dresses, flats that can withstand a little dust, and a warm scarf to wrap yourself up in. In terms of accessories, leave any really bling-y jewelry at home and opt for a more pared down look.
Dr. Jart Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45 ($39, sephora.
com); Bobbi Brown Pot Rouge for Lips Cheeks ($30, bobbibrowncosmetics.com); Wilfred Elodie Blouse ($110, aritzia.
com); Eddie Borgo Kite Pendant Necklace ($225, eddieborgo.com); Wilfred Jallade Pant ($145, aritzia.
com); Aquazzura Brando flats ($500, matchesfashion.com).
Will Jones, Journeys by Design
A native of Africa, Jones has been working in safaris since 1994, managing camps, guiding trips, and planning way-out-there expeditions into tribal villages and stretches of untouched wilderness.
Wil Smith and Karen Zulauf, Deeper Africa
They take walking safaris seriously, pairing you up with leading researchers, game wardens, anti-poaching teams, and guides for itineraries in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
1 at Vumbura Plains), plus over-the-top extras like helicopter flights above the Okavango Delta.
Nina Wennersten and Daniel Saperstein, Hippo Creek Safaris
This duo pulls off spectacular trips in Kenya (to the Segera Retreat, for example), South Africa (where they’ll arrange private wine tastings), and Tanzania (where they recommend Roving Bushtops).