What You Should Know Before You Leave
South Africans rarely, if ever, refer to a game drive, or even an extended stay in the bush as a “safari”. Typically, they would say they are headed out to the bush, or going to a game park. While your European or American friends may not know what that means on your return, it is a good idea to use the proper lingo while in the country to avoid tourist scams.
Malaria is typically a concern for first time, international visitors. While most of South Africa is malaria-free, you should consult a health map before travelling. Preventative medicines often make people feel unwell during their stay, and should not be mixed with alcohol, and often prescription drugs. Speak to your doctor about the options available. Game lodges and parks in malaria prone areas will communicate any threats in advance, and they take extreme precautions to prevent mosquitos from entering guest rooms and common areas.
The tap water in South African cities is potable and does not affect most people. However, as you move out into the country, water is often supplied from boreholes. In these areas, bottled water is readily available. If you have any questions about the safety of your drinking water, guest services at any lodge or restaurant will be able to answer your questions.
South African guest accommodation has high standards of comfort and luxury. Three star and even two star graded lodges, farms, guest houses and hotels will typically provide more than what you could expect elsewhere in the world. Unless stated otherwise, basic necessities will be provided. This includes soaps and shampoos, as well as a coffee and tea service in every room. Unless you hire a smaller lodge for exclusive use, or you selecting a camping establishment, you can expect bathrooms to be en suite. Most South African hotels and game lodges, even in the bush, will have a television, a safe and other amenities (such as hair dryers) available in each room. Often you can request binoculars from guest services, though there may not always be a pair available, so you may want to pack your own.
In general, bush lodges provide incredible accommodation, along with breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least one game drive a day included in the price of your stay. It is recommended that you check which if any activities carry an additional fee. Usually beverages, gratuities and souvenirs will not be included in the cost of your stay. Anything you consume will be charged to your account. It is customary to tip servers between 10-15%, including bar tenders. Porters would expect ZAR 10 per bag, and it is customary to leave housekeeping around ZAR 100 for a weekly stay.
Packing for a Game Lodge
The main activities at a game lodge are the game drives. These are normally ranger driven. Unless you book private drives, you can expect to share a range rover with other guests staying at the lodge. Morning drives happen quite early in the day, around 7am, and night drives will typically begin at around 6 or 7pm. The sun rises early in South Africa, even in winter, so you can expect it to be bright and sunny. Light, neutral colours are always recommended, as are layers. Some of the range rovers may have open tops, and therefore, hats are almost compulsory. During the afternoon, the lodge may have other activities, but many guests prefer to relax by the pool. In addition, many game lodges have shaded viewing decks on their property that overlook watering holes. These will have a bar and usually a small kitchen for light snacks. Dinner is often served under the stars, and around a large campfire.
Because it becomes quite chilly on night drives (even in summer) and sometimes morning drives also start out quite fresh, you should anticipate needing a jacket, or a cosy sweater during this time. During the day, however, the weather is normally uncommonly warm and summer clothes are a must, even in the winter months. In general, game lodges are casual environments, however, the higher the grading, the more smart-casual it becomes.
Clothing: neutral colours: a selection of light layers. Sun dresses are commonly worn around the pool side. Sweaters and jackets are a must for night drives.
Footwear: sandals are common around the lodge, though flat shoes with toes are needed for the game drives (and many other activities).
Accessories: you may want to wear a watch as activities usually have set times. Sunglasses and a hat are necessities. Try to leave the rest of your jewellery at home as it can become a burden to look after.
Toiletries and healthcare: Sunscreen, antihistamines, and pain relievers should come with you from home, especially if you are unused to foreign travel. Your normal travel toiletries should also travel with you, including your toothbrush and toothpaste. These items will all be available through guest services or in your room, but it is simply easiest to travel with them.
Additional extras: Cash in South African Rands (ZAR). Rands are the only currency accepted in South Africa; you will not be able to trade in Euros, Dollars, Pounds, or any other currency. Some game lodges will provide an exchange service for you; however, the rate will be exceptionally high. It is better to withdraw from an ATM at the airport, or in town, before setting out to the lodge. Binoculars if you really want a good look animals in the distance (do not worry, you’ll see many of them without any difficulty). A book or magazine for lounging near the pool or in your room. Keep in mind that many lodges do not offer wi-fi, and then usually only in the common areas, so you can leave most of your gadgets behind.
Keep in mind that South African game lodges operate on a high standard of luxury and comfort. Just about anything you may need will be available on site. The most important thing to do is relax, and they make that easy for you, so there is no need to worry about getting bored – or having to do any work at all.