Safari Vehicles – Everything You Need to Know About Cars for the Bush

May 10, 2021

Safari vehicles come in all shapes and sizes and offer different ways to experience the African bush. The car is something that you would probably overlook when choosing one for your safari, but it can be the pivotal factor in how you experience your safari.

From the safari enthusiast who knows nothing about cars to the weekend explorer who has the 4×4 with all the extras you can imagine, this is a guide on everything you need to know.  It breaks down what to expect from the safari vehicles you will be using when going on your first safari trip.

If you haven’t quite got as far as booking your first trip, then this guide to the best safaris in Africa for first-timers is the perfect starting point.

guided safari trip in the bush

What is a Safari Vehicle?

You might be asking yourself what African safari cars are and why they matter? In general, they are large 4×4 vehicles that have been modified to ensure the passengers’ safety. It is worth remembering that the regulations about the vehicles differ from national parks to private reserves and from province to province.

Big, small, open, or closed — there are a few different types of vehicles for safaris that the different national parks use. The vehicle should suit your needs or what you want to get out of the safari.

Unfortunately, you don’t always have a choice when it comes to what safari cars are available. So here is everything that you need to know to help prepare you for what to expect and how to choose what vehicle is best for you on safari.

If you are more of the adventurous type and would rather rent your own vehicle, this will also help you in understanding what vehicle would be best. All safari vehicles should at least have some, if not all of these features:

  • Snorkel to handle deep water
  • Upgraded suspension for extra comfort and durability
  • Upgraded wheels and tires suited to the terrain

safari guests on safari in car

African Safari Vehicles

When it comes to an African safari car, there are a number of different types of vehicles that could be used on your drive. Most safaris however will be in a 4×4 safari where the terrain requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle to pass through. But there are other routes that will allow you to travel in a much larger group in more comfort, such as in a sprinter van on a hardpack road.

Some National Park’s offer a pickup service for a private tour where the guide will pick you up in the safari vehicle, with the canvas sides closed. They will then open the sides once you start your safari. You wouldn’t exactly want to be in an open vehicle driving along the freeway but on the game drive, it is perfect. A closed vehicle would be more comfortable in that scenario but not as good on the game drive itself with limited viewing available.

The two most common vehicles used are either safari Jeeps or Toyota safari vehicles. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages but are some of the best for the job.

Toyota Safari Vehicles

The legendary and most reliable of them all, most game parks use Toyota Land Cruisers as their vehicle of choice. Having replaced the trusty Land Rover Defender and the African safari Jeep a few decades ago, Toyota changed the game forever.

There are both enclosed and open Toyota safari vehicles, depending on the location and guidelines of the park. Fully open vehicles provide unrestricted views of the world around you, perfect for the photographers who want to get that perfect shot. An open vehicle has no doors, windows, or frames to block your view. You also have the ability to listen and talk to your guide, ensuring that you don’t miss a thing and know what is going on at all times.

The closed version offers more protection from the elements on those colder and wetter days. The downside, though, is that your view is more restricted and you have to look through windows. This isn’t ideal for those wanting to take photographs but perfect for those who want a comfortable experience.

Land Rover driving through landscape

Safari Trucks

If you really want to go off the grid and live in the bush, then a safari truck is the answer. These beasts are normally caravans on wheels with either 4×4 or 6×6 capabilities and can live in the middle of nowhere for weeks on end. Other safari trucks that are used are normal vans, such as a sprinter van. These will take you and a group of your friends in amazing comfort on more maintained and established tracks.

safari cars next to watering hole

Types of Safari

The type of safari that you choose to do will have an impact on the type of safari vehicle that will be available to you. Not only that but the location of your safari will also be a factor in what vehicle is available.

Kenya and Tanzania prefer to use fully enclosed vehicles with their passengers but with the added modification of an expanding or opening roof. This means that if you get tired of looking through the window with limited visibility, you can stand for an uninterrupted view. The roof is then closed once the safari is over. This is different in South Africa where mostly open-air vehicles are used for a much better experience.

Guided Game Drive

The most popular of the safari options are the guided game drives on private game reserves and National Parks. These are the go-to for anyone who is visiting a game reserve.

The professional guides will either use an open or enclosed vehicle depending on their rules and preference. If you visit during the summertime, don’t forget a hat to protect you from the sun. If you brave the winter months then layer up as it can get really cold in the bush at all times, especially when the sun goes down.

If you are wanting the full open vehicle experience then this short afternoon safari in the Kruger is a beautiful and quick excursion into the African landscape. Don’t forget to wear a solid pair of boots and clothes that you wouldn’t mind getting dirty as well, as you can expect a lot of mud and dust.

Self-Drive Safaris

For the mavericks and explorers among us, the self-drive safari is one of the top bucket list adventures. Renting or taking your own vehicle through a national park and going at your own pace to explore the landscape is the perfect option. It is possible to do a self-drive safari in any car with plenty of accommodation options in National Parks. For the ultimate experience, you’d want a 4×4 with all the bells and whistles.

land cruiser safari vehicle

Different Safari Cars for a Different Experience

Now that you know that a safari car isn’t just a car and that they are different, you will be able to choose the perfect safari to suit your needs. If you are wanting a photographic excursion into the wild then an open safari car is the best.

If you want to feel a little more protected then an enclosed vehicle is your car of choice. If you are planning a trip to Africa or Kenya in particular, then this guide on all you need to know about safaris in Kenya will help plan your trip.

Why not give this 3-day safari adventure in Nairobi a try? It is a beautiful drive into the Kenyan landscape.

Don’t forget to dress appropriately for the car that you will be driving in and enjoy every moment of your safari.

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