What is the Best Safari Vehicle?
The best safari vehicle is probably a combination of an entirely open (modified) Land Cruiser with no roof, and an entirely closed vehicle or mini-bus.
Some Safaris are booked where the clients will be using a single vehicle from the time that they are collected from the airport on arrival to the time they are dropped off on departure.
These minibus vehicles (eg. Toyota Hiace), are used when there is a requirement to travel some distance to the game reserve and are usually used when the roads are paved and in good condition. Their benefits include a more comfortable ride and protection from sun, rain, wind and dust. They are not usually the best vehicles to view game from. These are not the most common vehicles in South Africa, Zambia, Bostwana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, as you will generally use an open style 4×4 once you take the game drives from the camp.
The next option is more typically used in East Africa, and these are modified 4×4 vehicles (usually Land Rover or Land Cruisers) that are more closed have comfortable seating for 6 or 8 passengers and also allow for a shaded stand-up game viewing experience. The size of the open roof system does not usually allow everyone to stand at the same time. The benefit of these is that they will allow good game viewing and also allow reasonable comfort to travel the fair distances to and from the game reserves. As the roads here are not the best, the more rugged 4×4 vehicles are used, but they still let the dust in!
The last option is the fully open 4×4 game viewing vehicle. These allow the most interactive game viewing experience as you will certainly be able to see, hear, smell (and almost touch!) the animals.
These vehicles sometimes have a tarpaulin roof to provide shade, but often not, as that can limit their mobility. As these offer little protection from the sun, wind and dust you will need to consider these irritations when dressing and carrying equipment such as cameras. Be aware (as discussed in the What to Wear FAQS) the dawn game drive can be extremely cold in these open vehicles. Unlike the other vehicles that may be fitted with small fridges for drinks, these open vehicles usually have a larger, loose cool-box for when it gets extremely hot!
Open safari vehicle. Photo – AfricaGeographic.com
In my opinion the open style is by far the best option, these allow for the best overall experience and the best photo opportunities. Sometimes there is a seat out at the front of these vehicles for a tracker to sit in, but mostly that is not a real necessity, and the tracker will often have to come back to the cab if you are close to lion.
Be aware that the ride is more bouncy and rough at the back where it is more elevated, note this in particular if you have back problems.