What a Difference a Guide Makes
An expert safari guide can take a game drive from good to great.
Put simply, the better the guide, the better the trip.
Beyond wildlife, a professional private guide can also elevate an urban or regional experience.
Wildlife Safari Guides
While there is some truth to the notion that a game drive in Africa is a lot like pizza (no one’s ever had a bad one), it takes a day in the bush with an expert guide to understand how quickly a game drive can go from good to great in the right hands.
Professional guides are the backbone of any safari and, put simply, the better the guide, the better the trip. Even a day that’s light on wildlife sightings can be fascinating with a skilled safari guide. And on those days when the forces of nature are aligned, a great guiding experience approaches transcendence, which is one of the many reasons so many of us start out saying, “this is my one and only trip to Africa,” yet end up traveling back again and again.
Wildlife guiding is such a specialized profession, many countries have created standards to indicate levels of expertise and excellence, such as levels 1 – 2 in Southern Africa nations and bronze, silver and gold in Kenya.
If you’re on safari in South Africa, you’ll also enjoy the services of both a safari guide and a tracker, who rides on the front of the vehicle, and acts as expert eyes and signals to the ranger guide who is driving and gives clients the context for what you are seeing. When something catches his eye, be it a fresh footprint or the flicker of a lion’s tail swishing above the grass, the tracker often gets out of the vehicle to trace any signs of wildlife hidden from plain view.
And there are several types of guides within the wildlife category, including “overland guides” – professionals who guide while also driving you from location to location in your private safari vehicle (found in Tanzania and Uganda, primarily); camp and lodge-based guides who take you out for morning and evening game drives (typically shared with a handful of other guests at the camp).
Usually reserved for families, small groups or “uber finest” safaris, a private guide will accompany you throughout the entire trip, acting as both guide and escort, flying everywhere with you and working alongside the local guides at each camp, eating meals with you and adding a cohesive element to the whole experience. Expect to pay 30% above the cost of your trip for a private guide as well as for all their accommodations, flights and park fees. Bios of some of the top Africa private guides are available on request.
If you’re on safari in South Africa, you’ll also enjoy the services of both a safari guide and a tracker, who rides on the front of the vehicle and signals to the guide when something catches his eye, be it a fresh footprint or the flicker of a lion’s tail swishing above the grass.
A Few last words…
Guides can also make a big difference for families…working with the children to engage them and enhance the experience. Additionally, many more woman guides have joined the profession.
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Beyond the Bush: City and Specialty Guides
Beyond wildlife, if you’re visiting Cape Town, Johannesburg or Nairobi (to name just a few), engaging the services of a private city guide can fundamentally impact your appreciation of the location. A professional’s deep knowledge of the city’s history and culture, coupled with an understanding of your interests can transform what might otherwise be a cookie-cutter drive around town into an insider’s look into the very essence of the place.
In addition, whether you’re visiting a city or a bush location, a specialty guide is often recommended to further deepen your experience. Visiting the Cape Winelands for the day? A South African wine guide can weave your preferences for red or white, private estates or village tasting rooms and everything in between into a tailor-made day to remember. Hiking to the top of Table Mountain? A private hike guide not only knows the best routes to take based on your fitness level but also where to stop for the most glorious photos you’ll ever take. And if your itinerary includes gorilla or chimp trekking, a specially trained primate guide will ensure you capture every opportunity to witness these awesome creatures in the wild.