fbpx
Going on an African safari is an incredible experience. Many adults can recall childhood storybooks filled with images and adventures of Big Five animals roaming the vast grasslands of Africa. To actually bring these memories to life is truly a special event. Nothing can quite compare to seeing for the first time a lioness teaching her cubs to hunt in the African bush, a herd of elephants making waterspouts at a waterhole, or a leopard eating a kill high up in a tree. A great safari will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

Choosing the right African safari, however, can be a mind-boggling experience. From the endless savannahs of Kenya and Tanzania to the exclusive reserves of South Africa and Botswana to the exotic fauna and flora of Madagascar, Africa offers a wide array of safari destinations. Whether you want to migrate with the thousands of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles on the Serengeti, or experience close-up encounters with the Big Five, or pamper yourself in beachside luxury, there’s an African safari for every budget and time frame.

Because an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people, choosing the right African safari is essential. It becomes important to consider the differences across diverse wildlife destinations, the various types of safaris available, and where you have the best chance of seeing the particular animals you want to see. Since everyone has their own idea of what they want from their safari experience, here are a few guidelines on how to ensure you have a successful and rewarding African safari experience.

Selecting a Wildlife Destination

Whether you’re interested in migrating with the herds on endless savannahs, tracking encounters with Africa’s famous Big Five, watching elephants splash around at a waterhole, relaxing in the luxury of a private beachside resort, or sleeping out under the African skies, you’ll find a safari that gets your pulse racing and your spirits soaring. That’s the magic of Africa.

Big Five Game Viewing

Without a doubt, the “Big Five” animals of the African bush – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, and buffalo – are high on most people’s bucket list of things to see on their first safari. The savannahs of South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania are the most popular destinations for Big Five first-timers – expansive grasslands filled with Big Five herds where lions and leopard hunt, and natural waterholes where elephant, zebra and giraffe gather. Whether taking in a game drive in an open-topped vehicle at sunrise or sunset, a safari in these locations will yield close-up encounters with the Big Five and a newfound respect for the humbling hugeness of Africa.

The Great Migration

Each year, the Serengeti and Masai Mara play host to the migration of 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, and 350,000 gazelles. In June and July, the wildebeest migrate into the northern Serengeti crossing the Grumeti River – these bloodthirsty river crossings have been made famous in many wildlife documentaries. In December, the herds start to make their way back down south to the southern Serengeti to feed on the short green grasses of the plains. By late January and early February, perhaps the greatest spectacle of the Serengeti takes place with the wildebeest calving season. Approximately 8,000 young wildebeest are born every single day during the peak of the Serengeti calving season, and there is truly nothing that compares to seeing a baby wildebeest take off running just minutes after being born.

Along with the calves come the predators. During calving season, the Southern Serengeti and Western Ngorongoro Conservation area host the highest concentration of predators in Africa. Lions, hyenas, and cheetahs show up in large numbers to patrol the grasses. But an easy kill isn’t always guaranteed. Female wildebeest instinctively know to head to the short grass plains so that they can see approaching predators. There they form a barricade around birthing mothers to protect them and the young when they are the most vulnerable, ensuring that the majority of the young survive. The hunting of young wildebeest by large cats during calving season is part of nature, and during the few weeks of calving season, you’re sure to see some magnificent kills, especially from the agile cheetahs.

Tourists can choose to stay in luxury lodges strategically located along the route, or in mobile tented camps that follow the herds during the migrations, positioning themselves close to the wildebeest during calving season. The mobile tented camps offer a true “Out of Africa” authentic luxury Tanzania safari experience with the promise to see exceptional game and predator activity. Whether you choose to stay in a luxury lodge or a mobile tented camp, you can be certain that game viewing during the calving season is one of the best times to be in Africa.

Taking Roads Less Travelled

If you want to stay away from the crowds, then the Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti are probably not going to be the right destinations for you, as these locations get very busy (it’s not uncommon to have 30+ vehicles at an individual animal sighting in the Ngorongoro Crater). On the other end of the continuum, the majority of the private reserves in South Africa and Botswana have tight restrictions on the number of tourists and safari vehicles allowed into their conservancies and at an individual sighting. As a result, the quality of the wildlife viewing is significantly improved and the experience is also less intrusive for the animals as well.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of Africa’s most exclusive safari destinations. Many lodges and camps are only accessible by light aircraft, and whether you are tracking wild dogs on an open game viewing vehicle, or exploring the waterways in a dugout canoe, you’re unlikely to see other visitors. Zambia is still an undiscovered safari gem despite the prolific game found there. Finally, Tanzania’s Southern Safari Circuit is less visited than its more popular Northern Circuit cousin, so you can include a stunningly remote safari in Selous and Ruaha, or take in the isolated Katavi National Park.

Specific Wildlife Interests

If large herds of elephants are “your thing,” then consider the Chobe National Park in Botswana, home to an estimated 100,000 elephants and the highest concentration of elephants found anywhere in the world. Other destinations famous for their large elephant populations include the Amboseli National Park and Tsavo in Kenya, the Tarangire in Northern Tanzania, and the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa.

Selous National Park in Southern Tanzania has one of the highest populations of wild dogs. There is also an active wild dog population in the Kwando Concession in northern Botswana which is fast becoming the place to see wild dogs. For huge herds of zebra and giraffe, the vast Etosha Plains are a primary destination.

Famous birding destinations include locations such as Selous, Ruaha, Serengeti, Mahale, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Gombe, Tarangire, Arusha, and Katavi in Tanzania. Often referred to as the “Eighth Continent” Madagascar is home to the Helmet Vanga, the Ground Roller, the Black and White Ruffed Lemur, and the Dancing Sifaka. The undisturbed wilderness areas of Kalahari, Okavango Delta, and Chobe National Park in Botswana are also strong bird watching destinations.

Types of Safari Experiences

Most safari travelers opt for some type of an escorted tour when planning a safari. In general, an escorted tour is a worry-free way to travel, providing personalized service with authentic activities and experiences. An escorted safari is conducted by a tour director who takes care of all services from the beginning to the end of the tour. They normally include transfers from/to the arrival/departure airport, lodging, transportation during the tour, most meals, and sightseeing. Some tours run with as few as one or two people, but the typical size of an escorted tour tends to be 10-15 people, not including your tour guide. Escorted safaris are especially popular in Kenya and Tanzania where the logistical dynamics of organizing a safari are more complex.

For travelers who wish to plan and manage their own trip, a self-drive safari may be the right choice for you. A self-drive safari gives you the opportunity to pursue wildlife in the bushland in your own vehicle and on your own timeline. Several parks, including Kruger National Park and Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa, or Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, offer visitors the chance to drive themselves through their network of roads, discovering the animals along the way. Self-drive safaris can be a great experience, and there’s nothing quite like watching a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of you while you’re behind the wheel.

Although not nearly as common, a walking safari in the African bush provides a totally different perspective of the safari experience compared to the normal view that most people enjoy from a game vehicle. In addition to seeing, touching, and smelling everything first-hand, you are able to get close to the wildlife on foot. Some of the best walking safari experiences can be enjoyed in Zambia, where you can even camp out in the middle of the bush at the end of a day’s walk, with nothing but a mosquito net and a blanket of stars above you.

Alternative Safari Experiences

When planning an African safari, it can be easy to focus on just the animals and overlook the extent to which game drives set off before the first light each morning will begin to take a toll physically. It can be important to build some well-earned rest, relaxation, and alternative activities into your schedule.

Blending your days in the African bush with some time on a tropical beach, enjoying sunset cocktails while overlooking the Indian Ocean, taking time for a hot air balloon safari, or a gorilla trek can enhance your holiday of a lifetime. Victoria Falls is just a short trip from many of the wildlife destinations, and you may want to include this Seventh Natural Wonder of the World into your trip itinerary since you are so close.

In Summary

Because an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people, choosing the right African safari is essential. Consider the diverse types of wildlife destinations, the various types of safaris available, and where you have the best chance of seeing the particular animals you want to see.

Selecting a Wildlife Destination

  • The savannahs of South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania are the most popular destinations for Big Five first-timers.
  • Each year, the Serengeti and Masai Mara play host to the annual migration of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles. In January/February, approximately 8,000 young wildebeest are born every day during calving season. During calving season, the Southern Serengeti and Western Ngorongoro Conservation area host the highest concentration of predators in Africa.
  • If you want to stay away from the crowds, the majority of the private reserves in South Africa and Botswana have the tightest restrictions on the number of tourists and safari vehicles allowed into their conservancies. Wildlife viewing is significantly improved and the experience is also less intrusive for the animals as well.
  • Chobe has the highest concentration of elephants found anywhere in the world. Selous has one of the highest populations of wild dogs. For zebra and giraffe, Etosha is a primary destination. Famous birding destinations include locations such as Selous, Ruaha, Serengeti, Mahale, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Gombe, Tarangire, Arusha, and Katavi in Tanzania. Madagascar is home to the Helmet Vanga, the Ground Roller, the Black and White Ruffed Lemur, and the Dancing Sifaka.

Types of Safari Experiences

  • Most safari travelers opt for some type of an escorted tour when planning a safari. An escorted tour is a worry-free way to travel, conducted by a tour director who takes care of all services from the beginning to the end of the tour.
  • For travelers who wish to plan and manage their own trip, a self-drive safari may be the right choice for you. Kruger and Addo in South Africa, or Etosha in northern Namibia, offer visitors the chance to drive themselves through their network of roads.
  • Although not nearly as common, a walking safari in the African bush provides a totally different perspective of the safari experience compared to the normal view that most people enjoy from a game vehicle.

Alternative Safari Experiences

  • Blending your days in the African bush with some time on a tropical beach, enjoying sunset cocktails while overlooking the Indian Ocean, taking time for a hot air balloon safari, or a gorilla trek can enhance your holiday of a lifetime. Victoria Falls is just a short trip from many of the wildlife destinations, and you may want to include this Seventh Natural Wonder of the World into your trip itinerary since you are so close.