About African Safari Game Drives

Everything you need to know about an african safari game drive

A safari game drive is a real-life adventure. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the untamed beauty of nature, witness majestic wildlife in their natural habitats, and create unforgettable memories.


In this blog, we’ll explore the essence of game drives, their typical types and itineraries, categories of game drive vehicles, what are the essential items to pack, and look at some of the best game drive destinations in Africa (other than our favoured South Luangwa, of course!).


So, buckle up and get ready for an exhilarating journey through the wilderness!

Lion touching our safari vehicle

What is a game drive?

A game drive is a guided expedition into wildlife-rich areas, such as national parks, game reserves, or conservation areas, conducted in specially designed vehicles.

The primary aim is to observe and photograph various species of animals and birds in their natural habitat. Unlike zoo visits, game drives offer a unique opportunity to witness wildlife up close in their native environment, providing a thrilling and immersive experience.


And unlike safaris on foot (also known as bush walks), a vehicle-based safari allows us to approach animals safely and observe them from a close vantage point (as they tend to get used to vehicles); it also allows us to cover more distances.

Game Drive

What are the basic types of game drives?

  1. Guided Game Drives: Led by experienced safari guides, these guided and shared game drives offer invaluable expertise and insight into the park’s wildlife and ecosystems. Participants travel in specially equipped safari vehicles, maximizing wildlife sightings and ensuring a safe and enriching experience. Safari lodges typically offer these. They can also be booked as part of à la carte activities near the bigger national parks such as Kruger National Park in South Africa.


  1. Private Vehicle Hire: To fully control your game drive experience, you can opt to hire a “private vehicle.” This grants you exclusive access to a dedicated vehicle and safari guide, ensuring personalized attention tailored to your specific interests and preferences. Safari lodges may offer this option at an extra cost.


  1. Self-Drive: Self-drive allows visitors with their own 4×4 vehicles to explore the park independently when allowed. However, self-drive visitors will lack the expertise of a trained safari guide, potentially impacting their wildlife viewing opportunities and overall safety.
Safari Planning Tips

What is a typical game drive itinerary?

They will vary depending on the location and duration of the activity. However, it usually follows a similar pattern throughout Eastern and Southern Africa:

1. Morning Drive:


Game drives often commence early in the morning, at dawn, when animals are most active. A small breakfast is usually served before setting off with experienced guides. As the sun rises, the savannah comes to life, offering excellent opportunities to spot predators on the hunt or catch sight of elusive nocturnal creatures returning to their dens. The plains animals welcome the daylight and start browsing and grazing after an (often restless) night.


A morning game drive will typically last for three to four hours and include a short break where the guide will stop so everyone can get out of the vehicle, stretch their legs, and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a snack. And probably take a quick loo (behind a tree) break too.


At the end of the game drive, your guide will bring you back to your lodge, in time for an early lunch. Most often, he or she will have lunch with you and everyone can share stories of the wildlife encounters of the morning.


2. Midday Drive:


Some lodges may offer a short midday activity, although usually not a full game drive. It can however include a side trip to a secluded photographic hide.

Read our blog about the advantages of using photographic hides.

Safari with Kafunta

3. Afternoon Drive:

After lunch, a relaxing siesta or a dip in the pool, the lodge is likely to offer an afternoon game drive. It typically departs between 3 and 4 pm, once the heat of the day is behind us (animals tend to rest during midday hours). You’ll join your safari guide again, and board the vehicle for an activity that will last another three to four hours, depending if the park allows for “after dark” drives.  The afternoon light casts enchanting hues over the landscape, creating ideal conditions for photography. Guides often navigate through diverse habitats, from open plains to dense forests, in search of a variety of animal species.

4. Sundowner:

An African sundowner is a cherished safari tradition (not just on a game drive!) when we take a pause just before sunset to witness the breathtaking spectacle of the sun descending on the horizon. Typically, the guide will select a picturesque spot, often overlooking sweeping vistas, tranquil waterholes, or a special bend of a river. Here, we raise a glass (filled with your preferred beverage) to toast to the natural beauty of the African bush.    


5. Night Drive:


In some parks, regulations allow for game drives to take place after dark. This is the case in South Luangwa, where we are based. So, when possible, afternoon drives continue into a night drive (after the Sundowner break), and we can then experience a nocturnal safari unveiling a whole new world of wildlife activity under the cover of darkness. The safari guide is often accompanied by a “spotter”, a colleague sitting in the front of the vehicle or on the passenger seat equipped with a powerful spotlight.


Scanning the surroundings, we look for smaller nocturnal mammals such as genets, bushbabies, porcupines and the like. All those creatures remain hidden during the day, so this is a safari not to be missed when available. This is also the chance to observe elusive predators like leopards and hyenas, as well as lions, on the hunt.


Note that the spotlight is not shone on diurnal animals as the rays can temporarily blind them and make them vulnerable to predators.


6. All-Day Drive:


True to its name, the all-day or full-day drive extends from dawn till dusk and sometimes beyond. This immersive adventure takes us deep into the heart of the park, venturing into remote areas inaccessible during shorter drives in search of diverse animal species and hidden natural wonders. A picnic lunch is provided by the guide, allowing for a leisurely break amidst the wilderness. It’s common to pause for an hour or more, indulging in the serenity of the surroundings and perhaps even nodding off to the soothing symphony of the wild.


Full-day drives can extend for up to 12 hours, posing challenges not only for the safari guide but also for our own endurance in coping with the heat and rough terrain. While these extended drives offer a fantastic opportunity to explore deeper into the park, they require special acknowledgement of the guide’s efforts in facilitating such lengthy excursions. Not all lodges offer them, or they may come at an extra charge.

Wildlife night photography

What kind of game-drive vehicles are commonly used?

The vehicles used for game drives are specially designed to navigate rugged terrain and provide optimal wildlife viewing opportunities.


Common types of game-drive vehicles include:


  1. Open Safari Vehicles: These vehicles feature open sides and elevated seating, offering unobstructed views of the surrounding wilderness. They are ideal for photography enthusiasts and provide an immersive safari experience. They may or may not have a canvas roof to protect passengers from the harsh sun rays or the occasional rain.


These open vehicles are typically 4×4 Toyota Land Cruisers, Hiluxes, or Land Rover Defenders that have been converted to add seating arrangements in the rear, allowing for 4, 6, or more guests across two or three benches.


  1. Closed Safari Vehicles: Enclosed vehicles offer protection from the elements and are equipped with large windows for panoramic views. Some models include a pop-up roof, enabling passengers to stand when stationary for optimal wildlife sightings. They are suitable for game drives during inclement weather or in areas with safety concerns. The type of vehicles used in activities often depends on the park regulations themselves.


Whatever the type of vehicle used, it is always a good idea to check the maximum number of passengers that the safari company will embark on, as this may impact the quality of your game drive. Or as mentioned above, you can often opt to hire a private vehicle and guide.

Open vehicle
Open Vehicle
Closed vehicle
Closed Vehicle (Kenya)

What should I bring on a game drive?

Packing the right essentials ensures a comfortable and enjoyable game drive experience. Here’s a list of items to consider bringing along:

  • Binoculars: Enhance your wildlife viewing experience by bringing a pair of high-quality binoculars to spot animals from afar.
  • Camera and Zoom Lens: Capture stunning photographs of wildlife encounters with a DSLR or mirrorless camera equipped with a telephoto zoom lens.
  • Sun Protection: Shield yourself from the sun’s harsh rays by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and lightweight, long-sleeved clothing.
  • Water: Stay hydrated by bringing plenty of water. Add some snacks if these are not included in the activity.
  • Insect Repellent: Keep pesky insects at bay by applying insect repellent to exposed skin areas.
  • Field Guide and Notebook: Brush up on your wildlife knowledge with a field guide and jot down observations or interesting facts in a notebook. Some safari lodges may offer wildlife checklists which are particularly handy.
  • Light jacket or Fleece: Even in warmer climates, temperatures can drop significantly during early morning or evening game drives, so it’s wise to pack a light jacket or sweater. And if it is the rainy season, make sure to grab a poncho too!
  • Sturdy Shoes: While you may not do much walking during the drive itself, sturdy shoes are more comfortable for getting in and out of the vehicles, and can be useful for short nature (loo) breaks.
  • Headlamp: When participating in night drives, it’s advisable to bring a small torch or headlamp. These handy tools are helpful at the end of the activity when gathering your belongings.  

Read our blog detailing what to bring on your safari adventure, including our practical checklist.

Kids on safari

Hmmm.... What if "I need to go"?

Indeed, let’s address the “call of nature” – quite literally! It’s essential to remember that when you’re out in the wild, there are no fancy restrooms to be found! Mother Nature becomes your restroom, and while the idea might raise a few eyebrows or prompt a nervous laugh, it’s all part of the adventure.


So, if nature calls, don’t be shy to answer it behind a bush or a tree. But make sure to ask your safari guide to select and inspect the “loo” spot first; that’s a basic safety rule.

Elephants in South Luangwa

Game Drives in different parts of Africa

Game Drives in Different African Countries: Game drives offer unique experiences in various countries, each renowned for its diverse landscapes and rich wildlife populations. Let’s explore some top destinations:

  1. Zambia: 

Zambia boasts pristine wilderness areas like South Luangwa National Park, Kafue National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park, where visitors can enjoy thrilling guided game drives. Highlights include sightings of lions, leopards, elephants, and hippos along the banks of the parks’ respective rivers. In addition, Zambia is renowned for its exceptional safari guides, known for their exemplary knowledge, professionalism, and ethical conduct. Most game drives are organised directly by the safari lodges or camps and take place in open vehicles. Night drives are allowed for guided safaris but not for self-drives.


Have a look at our blog on the 21 national parks of Zambia.


  1. South Africa:

South Africa is home to iconic game reserves such as Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Game Reserve, offering world-class game viewing opportunities. Visitors can expect to encounter the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard) and a plethora of other wildlife species against breathtaking African landscapes. The downside is that the parks can become crowded with visitors and self-drive vehicles, potentially diminishing the quality of safaris.


  1. Kenya & Tanzania:

Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti are renowned for their spectacular wildebeest migrations, often referred to as the “Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth.” Game drives here offer the opportunity to witness vast herds of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles crossing crocodile-infested rivers and thrilling predator-prey interactions. The particularities of Kenya and Tanzania are the huge savannah plains, which allow for extremely large herds, but they are also overcrowded with tourists. For more intimate experiences, one should consider lesser-known parks such as  Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu (Kenya), and Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and Ruaha (Tanzania). These two countries do not usually allow open vehicles or night drives.


  1. Botswana:

Botswana is renowned for its vast and pristine wilderness areas teeming with wildlife. Game drives are common but often paired with water-based activities, especially in the iconic Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.  With strict conservation measures in place, including low visitor numbers and exclusive safari experiences, Botswana will ensure a more intimate but expensive safari adventure.


  1. Namibia:

Namibia’s Etosha National Park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with its expansive salt pans and waterholes attracting a myriad of animal species. Game drives in Etosha offer close encounters with desert-adapted elephants, black rhinos, lions, and endemic bird species against the backdrop of starkly beautiful landscapes. Namibia is perfect for self-drive journeys and offers a great variety of landscapes.


  1. Malawi:

While Malawi may not be as well-known for its wildlife as other African countries, it offers stunning landscapes, diverse scenery, and a range of outdoor activities. Game drives are offered in parks such as Liwonde, Nyika, and Majete. But Malawi is most famously known for its stunning lake, Lake Malawi, which, of course, is best discovered while snorkelling or boating.

Morning tea break

Ethical Game Drive Practices

Ethical safaris are founded on principles of respect for nature, wildlife, and fellow travellers. While on safari, it’s essential to adhere to certain guidelines to ensure minimal disruption to the environment and wildlife habitats. Do’s include maintaining a respectful distance from animals to avoid causing stress or altering their natural behavior, staying quiet to minimize noise pollution, and following the guidance of experienced guides. 

It’s crucial to remain patient and allow wildlife to dictate the pace of the safari, rather than rushing or pressuring guides to find specific sightings.


Additionally, limiting off-roading to designated tracks helps preserve vegetation and prevent soil erosion.


On the other hand, don’ts encompass actions like feeding wildlife, littering, or getting too close to animals for the sake of a photo opportunity.

Embarking on a game drive is an adventure like no other, offering a glimpse into the mesmerising world of wildlife in its natural habitat. From the savannahs of Kenya to the deserts of Namibia and beyond, each game drive destination holds its own allure and surprises waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time safari-goer, the thrill of encountering wild animals in their element is an experience that will leave a lasting impression.


So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an unforgettable journey through the untamed wilderness on your next game drive adventure!


At Kafunta Safaris, we offer game drives at all of our properties – Kafunta River Lodge, Three Rivers Camp and Island Bush Camp, along with bush walks and other cultural visits. We can also help you design your dream safari by combining South Luangwa with other parks in Zambia.


Have a look at our selection of packages, keeping in mind that we can customize them to fit your needs.


More questions? Check our Frequently Asked Questions page for answers!

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