Choosing a safari guide course

21st July 2015   •  By James Bailey

Twenty years ago when I left school there was no internet and therefore only a limited opportunity to find out about doing a safari guide course as a gap year.

But now school leavers or career breakers have no excuse. There are a plethora of suppliers out there that can be found through a simple “Google” or a select few can be found here. The only problem, which supplier to choose.

Based on my experience and preference here are a few things to look out for when choosing your course:

1. Course structure

The curriculum for each level one field guiding course is the same wherever you go or at least it should be as it will be built around the FGASA syllabus. There will be a series of lectures and field activities. My recommendation would be that whilst lectures are important you can’t underestimate the power of getting out into the bush. So opt for the ones that major on the practical such as drives and walks.

Bush walk on trails course

2. Good placement opportunities

Some safari guide courses offer a whole year. This isn’t a full year of lectures and practicals in the field. Instead the second half is spent on placement as a qualified guide. This can be just as fun if not more so. If you’re looking at trying to forge a career out of guiding then ask some direct questions as to what can come of your placement.

Walking safari

3. Disconnect

Only after you’ve been away and spent time in the pristine wilderness and then returned to “civilisation” do you understand how disruptive a phone and Internet signal can be. I would urge you to opt for a camp with no signal. Even if you don’t want to spend all day checking Facebook, email and chatting on your phone others in your camp may wish to do so. If needed the camp probably has a sat phone or a two way radio so there will always be the opportunity for incoming and outgoing messages. There may also be phone runs so you can get signal to upload emails, blog posts and download messages from home. The latter is great because it’s not a rushed two liner status update, instead it is a considered letter like in the “olden days” full of news and something to look forward to.

4. Feeding the mind

I enjoy cooking and at times I can be quite good at it. However, most professional safari guide courses are full on so you don’t want to be spending time locked in the kitchen when you could be studying or simply recovering from a hard day in “the office”. I would thoroughly recommend a course that doesn’t require its students to do the cooking. That being said taking it in turn to braai is good fun. But as soon as someone has a pop at your technique, usually a South African, hand them the tongs and sit back.

Around the camp fire on safari guide course

5. Fence or no fence

The bush is your classroom so living in an unfenced camp means that you are gaining knowledge 24/7 for six weeks at a time. And believe me there is a lot that you learn as you hold your breath whilst an elephant gently brushes your tent whilst feeding. Even walking back through the night after a few beers at the camp fire can bring plenty of lessons – the colour of a nyala’s eyes in comparison to a leopard’s. If you can, opt for an unfenced camp. But be careful, follow the advise and stick to the rules.

Young byala inspecting tent

Get involved

Here are a select few courses, check them out for yourself.
If you have a question please post it in the discussion box below.

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