What is it really like on safari? Here Stubborn Mule’s Liddy Pleasants describes a typical day on safari with her family. Activities are geared around getting the best wildlife sightings and whether you are in East or Southern Africa, the day follows a very similar pattern. Animals are most active at dawn and dusk, which inevitably means a very early alarm call!

“The alarm trills at 4.45am. Really? Already? Shortly after, there is a polite ‘knock’ on the tent door and a couple of mugs of tea are delivered. Bleary eyed we get the kids up and stagger out to the front of the camp. We climb into the jeep and our driver, ever solicitous, tucks warm blankets around us and we drive out into the early dawn.

The sun isn’t up yet but the dark has receded and we start to see the animals within seconds of leaving the camp. A family of warthog scuttle across in front of the jeep, a giraffe ambles slowly past, stopping to munch some leaves from the top of a tree and a few deer scamper away at the sound of our vehicle.

Sun rise on safari - safari diary

Soon, the sun gets closer to the horizon and we see the first rays hit the landscape. The warmth is immediate. The kids perk up. The guide tells us he has heard that there are a trio of lions near the river bed so we head that way. A lone elephant stares at us as we pass. Rounding a corner we see a long line of wildebeest, heads down in their distinctive style as they trudge across the landscape. A herd of zebra follow along behind. We reach the river bed and no sign. But we wait. The children scan the landscape with their binoculars.

Kids looking through binoculars for game on a safari - safari diary

Then we spot them, under a bush. Three of them. Two are sleeping but one starts rolling around in the dust. He scratches himself and gets up to have a pee. He yawns and lies down but another starts to wake up. They jostle each other. We are spell bound. One of them looks up at us and stares. Right at us. The children are enthralled. All three wake up. They stand up, stretch and slowly wander off. We watch them until they disappear in the distance.

lions dozing under a tree - Liddy's Safari Diary

Tummies are rumbling now and on cue our driver takes us to a look out point at the top of an escarpment. The views are incredible. The guide produces a flask of coffee and a flask of hot chocolate and some home baked rusks. We sit on the front of the jeep and drink from steaming mugs. Below us we can just make out a small herd of elephants slowly making their way across the plain.

Safari diary - morning drinks

Later we return to camp for breakfast. It’s a big affair and the kids wolf down pancakes, bacon, eggs and litres of orange juice. My husband and I get through pints of coffee, freshly brewed and a wonderful pick me up after the early start. We have a few hours off. Some of us read, some doze. By midday it’s warm in the tent and we make our way to the pool. We try not to disturb the other guests too much but the kids are thrilled when another family join us and make far more noise! Soon enough it’s lunch, which is a light affair, following so hot on the heels of breakfast. More fresh juice.

After lunch one of the camp staff teaches the kids a new game of cards. They also set up a bow and arrow making session. It’s clear that no animals are going to be harmed in the firing of this particular bow and arrow but the kids love it. They play more cards.

At 4pm the guide summons us for our afternoon game drive. Having seen lions this morning, he sets off in search of a family of cheetah that have been reported on the side of the escarpment. We drive by a waterhole and pull up sharply.

elephants approaching safari vehicle - safari diary

Ahead, a herd of elephant are slowly ambling down to the water. There are 11 of them. Most start drinking but the leader looks up at us. Stares at us then starts to walk our way. The guide urges us to be quiet. Completely quiet. We are not to move a muscle. We freeze and the elephant comes closer. Really close now. She is HUGE. We are statues. My daughter is on the edge of the jeep. The elephant comes right to the edge of the jeep. Her eye is less than 30 cm from my daughter. My daughter is beside herself with excitement. But she’s very still. We are all very still. I’m terrified but exhilarated. The guide murmurs that we don’t need to be worried, she’s just checking us out. There’s no sign of aggression. We remain still. The elephant sniffs, slowly blinks and slowly walks off. Phew. The adrenalin!

Excited young girl on safari

Later we see the cheetahs. It’s a Mum and four cubs. They are completely perfect. Gambolling in the grasses and playing much like my children did when they were younger. Rolling around, knocking into each other. Scampering around. We watch for ages. They are only a few metres away from us. All of the kids are completely entranced.

kids spotting cheetahs - safari diary

Round another corner, we cross a river to a plateau with lush grasses. Suddenly, right in front of us are two rhino. Chomping away on the grasses.

rhino grazing - safari diary

It’s now starting to get towards sunset. The driver finds yet another perfect look out point and we stop for a ‘sundowner’. G and T for Mum, beer for Dad, drinks for the kids and snacks.

Young girl enjoying a sundowner drink on a family safari

The sun goes down, the landscape bathed in a soft red glow. The first stars appear. This really is magic. Back to the camp where a camp fire is roaring. Marshmallows are produced to be toasted.

Teeneager and toddler enjoying toasting marshmallows on fire pit - South Africa for families

Dinner is a three course affair then we sit around the fire under the stars. We are too tired to talk much and soon it’s time for bed. The kids are asleep within minutes of their heads hitting the pillow. Outside we hear the sounds of Africa. Inside plenty of gentle snoring. Before you know it… trill… the alarm is going off again. It’s early and a safari is waiting for us…

Beyond the safari diary… 

If you are thinking about taking your family on safari, check out our comprehensive guide on the best family safari holidays, which covers our recommended destinations, when to go, safety and much, much more.

And please do always ring us if you would like to chat one-to-one about what would work for you and your family.

Liddy Pleasants
MD Stubborn Mule Travel
Telephone: 01728 752751
Email: info@stubbornmuletravel.com