A game drive is the highlight of any safari, providing the opportunity to experience Africa’s natural beauty and see wildlife in its natural habitat. But what exactly is it? Continue reading to learn more about game drives on safari.
A Safari Game Drive
The definition of a game drive on safari is a guided excursion or self-drive in an open-sided 4WD safari vehicle. A game drive usually takes place in a National Park, a game reserve, or a conservancy, and offers the opportunity to spot and observe African wildlife and birdlife in their natural habitat. In national parks and game reserves that allow self-drive, a safari game drive can be taken in your car, or it can be a guided drive in a specialized vehicle led by a professional ranger who will explain the wildlife and surroundings. Self-drive safaris give you the freedom to go on your own game drives whenever and however you want.
What to Expect
Every game drive is unique, which keeps things interesting, even though the format of a game drive is likely to remain consistent regardless of where you go. Most animals are active during the coldest parts of the day, which are typically early mornings, late afternoons, or late evenings. Depending on the length and distance, game drives often take between two and four hours and include a break. Ideally, you’ll come across a variety of wildlife species and have the chance to watch and photograph each one on camera. A ranger should have plenty of opportunities to answer your questions about the wildlife and surroundings while you’re on a guided game drive. You can also learn a ton about the environment, flora, birds, animal tracking, and, if you’re lucky, an amazing animal tale or two.
Safari guests can expect a break where they can get out of the car and enjoy a drink and a snack. This stop is typically located somewhere with a stunning view of the wildlife or the wilderness. On afternoon drives, the break will be timed to allow you to enjoy the sunset with a superb sundowner. On morning drives, you’ll probably have a hot beverage.
Types of Game Drive Vehicles
There are generally two types of specialized safari vehicles used. The country you are in determines which type you will use on safari. A 4WD Land Cruiser with a roof that can be raised so you can stand and have a better view of the animal is typically used for game drives in East Africa. This provides a good vantage point for spotting wildlife and offers some stability for roof-top photography. In Southern Africa, safari vehicles are usually open-sided 4WD vehicles without sides or roofs. This setup offers fantastic 360-degree game viewing even while you’re moving.
National park vs Game Reserve
While the animals on a game drive in a private game reserve or a national park may be the same, there are more rules to follow in a national park. This can sometimes impact the quality of your wildlife viewing. National parks require visitors to stay on established roads or tracks, whereas game reserves allow visitors to go off-road to follow a significant sighting. With a few exceptions, game drives in national parks are usually limited to the hours of sunrise and sunset. You can go on game drives after dark at a game reserve, where the guide will often use a red light to avoid causing wildlife distress.
The Big Five on a Game Drive
Finding the Big Five—the leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, and rhinoceros—is typically considered to be a difficult task, although this is not always the case. The location and your guide will determine how many days it will take you to see the Big Five. You will likely see the Big Five in just two days if you are in an area where they are abundant and you have a knowledgeable guide. However, whether you’re in Southern or Eastern Africa, it’s advised to give yourself at least three to four days to find the Big Five.