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What Do Safari Guides Do?

September 18, 2023  By: Gretchen

A safari is one of the most exciting vacations on earth. Your adventure is made possible by your guide who is not only the driver of your safari vehicle, but the one who makes the magic happen – using expertly honed skills to read the signs of the bush, such as tracks or bird calls, to find the animals you traveled so far to see. Oftentimes, guests can be so absorbed in the excitement of seeing Africa’s incredible animals, it’s easy to fail to notice the incredible thought and care that goes into each moment of the day. This is especially true of how you are cared for by your guides. From your wake-up call to the late hours that find you dreaming into the starry night, guides are hard at work making sure you have the best safari experience possible.

We sat down with two senior guides from Camelthorn Lodge and Nehimba Camp in Zimbabwe. Vusa Ncube and Harris Mupedzi shared what a day in the life of a safari guide is like – and it’s more than any of us ever see!

Sara and safari guide by vehicle

While you will wake before sunrise while on safari, your guide will get an even earlier start! Many safari guides get started an hour before guests wake up so that they have time for vehicle checks, which includes ensuring that everything that is needed for the morning game drive is ready and loaded on board. This includes a hot box – where guides keep tea, coffee, biscuits and muffins, a cooler box with cool drinks and water, ponchos and hot water bottles in the winter. The guides then sit down with the guests for breakfast, though this happens only at some lodges and camps.

Diana talking guide

This is the real beginning of your day, just before your guide takes you out to explore the wilderness. They will walk you through the day’s plan, as well as provide a safety briefing. Vusa notes that he shares as much information as possible while taking note of his guests’ interests, making sure he caters to their desires as he is able.

guide and guest with lion

Vusa and Harris spent years on guide training in order to qualify. Zimbabwe has some of the most stringent guide certification requirements on the continent. Guide candidates from every country are expected to accumulate great knowledge on flora and fauna – both from reading and experience; become experts at firearm handling and safety if, in a very rare instance, they need to ensure the safety of their guests; develop a wide knowledge of history and general country knowledge; fully understand the law in different areas that they will be working in; and most importantly, to always put safety first. They then must pass a series of tests – written, oral and practical – before becoming fully licensed. These elements are part of every moment that you are out on safari with your guide.

All of this rigor goes into making a safari with a professional guide an unforgettable experience! Their days are long and very involved, but they have great passion for their work and their wild places, and treasure showing this to guests.

Chris with guide

When it’s time to stop to stretch your legs and perhaps have a cup of coffee or tea, your guide sets up and makes your preferred refreshment. Again, depending on your interests, they might then take you on a nature walk, or if they had spotted a fresh track, you might then follow that, tracking the animal on foot, hopefully for a closer view!

guides with guests

After your morning activity, your guide will take you back to the lodge for lunch where you might enjoy your meal under a tree or a thatched roof. After lunch, you will generally have a few hours at leisure to rest and recharge. Your guide might be doing vehicle maintenance during that time – whether it be cleaning it up for the afternoon drive or checking tire pressure – it’s always paramount for the guide to keep the vehicle in top shape! Many guides are also capable in other ways, and in remote camps this is especially important. A guide might fix a plumbing or electrical issue that has occurred around camp while you are having a nap!

elephants in camp

A guide is never exactly sure what a day might bring. We saw this in evidence at Nehimba Camp in Hwange National Park. We heard Harris early one morning ‘asking’ an elephant to leave one of the paths in the camp where it had been feeding on a mopane tree. It was time for guests to wake up, so Harris needed to ask him to leave in order for guests to get to the main lodge safely. He did it without any fuss, and by the time we were on the way to the main area, the elephant had moved off.

guides with sundowners

The afternoon/evening on safari follows much the same pattern with a game activity based on guests’ interests, followed by a ‘sundowner’ drink to enjoy the scenery and the day’s end. This will be followed by a dusk drive back to camp, or where allowed, a night drive. All the while, your guide will be listening to the sounds of the bush while watching for tracks and other signs of wildlife, hoping to show you the best of what the area has to offer.

“The most rewarding part of my job is to meet different people from around the world, learning different cultures and standing in as an ambassador for my country, sharing all the knowledge of our flora, fauna and my culture.”- Vusa Ncube, Zimbabwe Pro Guide
Harris holding reptile

When we asked Vusa and Harris if they wished there was anything guests knew in advance of going on safari, they shared these suggestions.

  • Coming for safari with a list of animals you would like to see is great but remember that nature is unpredictable. Come with an open mind, enjoy your safari and see what comes your way.
  • You can tell your guide what you want to see but remember that some animals are very easy to find, while others are very challenging. You don’t want your guide to avoid showing you all that an area has to offer just to concentrate only on what you wanted to see.
“Guides are the true ambassadors of our country. For the first-time visitor to Zimbabwe I would say they should always have a good guide to introduce them to our country and connect them with nature.” - Harris Mupedzi, Zimbabwe Pro Guide

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Photos courtesy AAC Tanzanite Circle member Gretchen H., Imvelo Safari Lodges, AAC Journey Specialist Sara Stark, AAC Marketing Director Beth McCabe and AAC Livingstone Club member Kris S.