The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your African Safari
If you’re planning a long awaited and highly worthwhile Safari trip to Africa, you might have noticed there are about as many locations and safari styles as there are breakfast cereals on the supermarket shelf. After all, being such a large continent, Africa is made up of strikingly different and diverse countries, cultures and environment, with each region offering a stunning array of scenery, landscape, culture and, of course, animals!
There are plenty of Safari options to choose from: from the sprawling, wildlife-rich landscapes of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, to an authentic safari experience in the majestic parks and reserves in South Africa, to trekking the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in search of Mountain Gorillas. Yes, that’s right, contrary to what many believe, no two safaris are the same, and you can get a whole different experience depending on where you go!
From regions rich in diversity, or places fun for the whole family, or parks and reserves that are a photographers dream – or even the classic safaris guaranteed to give you a good time, we’ve got you covered!
Perfect for first timers: Kenya
Why? Perfect for first timers, Kenya’s long-standing reputation in the Safari scene is built upon its diverse wildlife, wide range of safari options for all budgets, and, of course, the fact that seeing the Big 5 is fairly likely!
How? With over 26 different safari parks and reserves, Kenya has a huge range of different Safari options, which mean a higher likelihood to see the animals you want. To get the best introduction in the Safari scene, find a safari that incorporates the Masai Mara and Nakuru. These classic Safari parks are home to the Big 5, and with opportunities to see the Wildebeest migration and flocks of Flamingos depending on the season!
Combine these parks with somewhere like Samburu or Amboseli, which are a little off-the-beaten track, and also feature the Big 5.
When? To avoid the rainy seasons, we suggest travelling between December-February, or June-October for prime viewing months!
While you’re there: A fantastic addition to your trip is to set aside a week or so to climb Mount Kenya. It’s the second highest mountain in Africa, with only one-tenth of the climbers that Mount Kilimanjaro has, and even more picturesque than Kili with an opportunity to spot wildlife.
Highlights: Huge herds of wildebeest and zebra cross into the Masai Mara from July-Sept. Also there’s nothing better than watching flamingos perched on Lake Nakuru while the sun sets. Or keep an eye out for the Masai Mara’s black-maned lion. The males can grow up to 3 metres long, and are fairly common in Southern Kenya.
Next stop? If you’re still hungry for adventure, consider making your way to Tanzania’s Northern Circuit or South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
Best for photographers: Namibia
Why? Known for its desert habitat, the harsh environment of Namibia forms one of the most stunning backdrops for a unique and different safari. Though animal populations are smaller, the sightings are hugely rewarding, particularly with the contrasting colours of the land, sky, salt plains and waterholes. In essence, it’s a photographers dream!
How? The 13 vastly different parks and reserves provide a number of Safari options. We recommend spending a couple of days at Etosha National Park, renowned for its excellent wildlife viewing during the dry season, as well as Sossusvlei, home to incredible giant red sand dunes.
When? You’ll no doubt take some incredible photos year round, however if you are particularly interested in wildlife viewing, head there between July to late October.
While you’re there: Be sure to take some time out to visit the famous Skeleton Coast – a majestic stretch of beach strewn with rusted shipwrecks and bleached whalebones. For one of the most impressive natural beauties Namibia has to offer, head to Fish River Canyon – you won’t be disappointed!
Highlights: Keep an eye out for the elusive Black rhino, hordes of gemsbok and of course, the endearing meerkat.
Next stop? Take a flight to Madagascar, once labelled as the world's most photogenic country with one of the world's richest ecosystems that boasts 90% of the known species of lemur! An encounter with the majestic Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda is one of life's most amazing experiences. Or if interested in other photographic opportunities, the dramatic mountains and fascinating tribal groups of Ethiopia will be sure to delight.
Why? Aside from the huge bonus that South Africa is Malaria-free, you’ll also find South Africa has a huge range of additional activities that can make for an incredible varied holiday. The family-friendly game reserves, beautiful beaches and vibrant cities make it a perfect destination to get your safari fix along with a truly South African holiday experience.
How? Kruger is the flagship park, not only because it has a huge variety of wildlife, but also because it’s the size of a small country! You’ll see the Big 5 in large numbers here, but ensure you stay long enough to get the most out of this beautiful area!
When? Unlike some of the other parks, you can take a safari in South Africa year round! Whether you love or loath summer, keep in mind that November-March are the hottest and sunniest months to visit.
While you’re there: Don’t miss a trip to Cape Town, home of the famous Table Mountain! Other must-visit areas include the African continent's most southwesterly tip at the Cape of Good Hope, a nostalgic trip to Robben Island, and a journey along the stunningly beautiful Garden Route. For those short on time, a Cape Township tour is a great introduction to this pleasant, intriguing and ultimately inspiring town.
Highlights: Without a doubt, seeing the Big 5 will make for a unforgettable trip with memories to last a lifetime. Marine life lovers will also be captivated at Boulders Bay, home to a colony of penguins!
Next stop? A trip in Africa is never complete without visiting Tanzania, home to the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro. Also consider Namibia, famous for its desert landscape and incredible photography opportunities.
Best for diversity: Tanzania
Why? In a nutshell, Tanzania is the top wildlife destination in Africa. The wildlife-rich areas of the Northern Circuit, Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater offer a classic safari that is almost unbeatable with regards to diversity of animals. As an added bonus, the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro is a perfect backdrop for photographers, and the annual wildebeest migration is not to be missed!
How? A spare two weeks can get you into the Northern Safari Circuit, which will take you through the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.
When? If you’re busting to see the annual migration, head to the northern areas of Tanzania between May-July and late October-November. Otherwise, you won’t be disappointed with the Serengeti from December to February or May to October – it’s absolutely teeming with wildlife.
While you’re there: Why not climb Mount Kilimanjaro - the tallest freestanding mountain in the world? Also, Tanzania’s ultimate coastal island is Zanzibar – renowned for its stunning beaches and historical “old town”. Or the lesser visited Southern Parks of Ruaha and Selous offer some of the most diverse wildlife sightings and is home to Africa's largest populations of Wild Dog.
Highlights: The Serengeti’s annual migration is an unforgettable sight and not to be missed. Just picture: two million wilderbeest and zebra blanketing the African plains.
Next stop? Take a trip along the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta or a Walking Safari in Botswana. For a completely different vibe, visit the stark saltpans of the Kalahari, recognised for its moon-like landscape. Or combine with the Masai Mara in Kenya, and the Mountain Gorillas and Golden Monkeys in Rwanda for an unforgettable East Africa safari experience.