A typical day on safari begins between 4:30am and 6:00am. Your guide will knock on the door (or canvas wall) and say, “Good morning, time to get up!” From that moment forward, the day will be filled with tracking animals, only interrupted by a midday siesta when the sun is too hot for you or the animals to be roaming about. While a day of bird watching and searching for lion, elephant, buffalo and other popular game has many thrills, the safari experience does not end when the sun goes down. My latest adventure, an incredible safari in Botswana, proved that the African bush has much to offer after dark.
Creatures of the night
After a productive game drive on my first day in the Okavango Delta, my vehicle was heading back to camp after nightfall when a leopard leaped right in front of us, startling everyone. We quickly recovered from the surprise and followed her for some time as she beautifully maneuvered through the area. This is just one example of many encounters where an animal appeared out of the dark. I’ve found nocturnal creatures only by catching a golden eye with the front lights of the Land Rover, and hippos just from the noise of them rustling in the bushes. A night drive is exhilarating in a similar way to a haunted house: you never know what is around the next corner. It is a thrilling experience and a great opportunity to view nocturnal animals that you would not get to see otherwise.
Bush dinners under the stars
If you spend enough nights on safari, you might be lucky enough to be surprised with a bush dinner. On an afternoon-to-evening game drive, you are typically driven directly back to camp after sunset to freshen up before dinner. However, upon occasion, you might be transferred to an open area under the stars for dinner. My first bush dinner was while staying at Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge. As we drove home from our day out tracking, we saw a ring of fire in the distance, which as we got closer we realized were lanterns circling a dinner table. The Sandibe staff had set up a feast for the entire camp in the middle of nowhere, illuminated only by a vast sky of stars and a roaring fire on the ground. It was a breathtaking experience and a night I will never forget.
Whether in the bush or back on property, the setup in many camps is for the guides and guests to dine together. Although some camps do individual dining for a more intimate experience, many have communal dining. This is a great time to socialize and get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds. Some of my favorite experiences were the nights that ended with the staff and guests coming together around the fire pit to share stories after dinner. Listening to tales of what other guests saw that day out on their drives and what the staff has seen in the past reminded me of my days at childhood summer camp.
A unique experience that some camps offer is a chance to learn about astronomy. On an afternoon-to-evening game drive at Shinde Camp, we were on our way back for dinner when our driver turned off the car and lights. Everyone sat in silence and complete darkness for a few minutes as we looked up at the sky. After some time, our guide took out a laser point and started showing us constellations. Many guides have something to say about the African sky, whether it be a story or pointing out a constellation, so ask! Alternatively, on a clear night, just venture out onto your deck and gaze at the sky for a magical experience.
From surprise bush dinners and jolting animal appearances to stargazing and sharing stories, there is a lot of fun to be had after nightfall. For me, all my favorite memories and most breathtaking moments occurred after dark.
Photos by Kota Tabuchi.