Taking an African safari can be the trip of a lifetime, so you want to do it right. To that end, there are two things you need to decide: where to go and how to go.
There are 20+ countries in Africa that offer safaris. Only a few of them have the type of infrastructure that allows for luxury experiences, but plenty of safari-goers actually prefer to camp and make their way through the bush on foot. Deciding what kind of experience you want to have will help narrow down where to have it.
Where to Go
Four of the most popular and well established sites for safaris are Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana.
There is so much beauty and excitement to experience in Tanzania. After being welcomed by awe-inspiring views of Mount Kilimanjaro, it will take days to explore the rest. Serengeti National Park is where you can witness the annual migration of almost 2 million wildebeest, plus elephants, zebras, lions and more.
In Tanzania you can also experience the stunning Ngorongoro Crater, a huge volcanic caldera in the midst of a larger conservation area that’s home to 25,000 different species. Lake Manyara National Park features an 89 square mile lake that supports 350 species of birds. And when you’re ready to kick up your sore and dusty feet, nothing’s nicer than the coral sand beaches on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar.
If you’re familiar with the BBC program Big Cat Diary, you know the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwest Kenya. This is probably the best possible spot for getting up close and personal with leopards, cheetahs, and lions. If you want to catch the wildebeest migration in Kenya, plan to go between July and October.
In the northern part of the country are several more renowned parks: Samburu with its elephants; Meru, the home of Elsa, the “Born Free” lioness; and Lake Nakuru National Park, teeming with flamingos and rhinos. Don’t forget to make time for a visit to Kenya’s lovely Indian Ocean coast with 300 miles of white sand beaches.
The largest safari destination in South Africa is Kruger National Park, with 22,000 square kilometers of wildlife, including lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, Cape buffalo, cheetahs, wild dogs, and more than 500 species of birds.
Kruger encompasses a huge variety of habitats from rolling hills to savannah, woodland, and riverine forest. The fact that water is abundant here ensures a good concentration of wildlife all year round, while all-weather roads keep them accessible.
You are guaranteed to have some awesome nature experiences in South Africa, but some visitors craving a rustic experience feel that Kruger is too crowded and “managed.” Still, first-time visitors and budget travelers will appreciate the ease of access and diversity of lodging options.
In Botswana the land is mostly dry, yet that fact makes it easy to find the animals. They’re by the water! Wildlife gathers along the riverfront portion of Chobe National Park, and you can see elephants and buffalo hanging out when you take a river boat cruise. Lions and hyenas, meanwhile, prowl the loop roads around the park.
In the southern part of Botswana, seasonal waterways in the Okavango Delta attract a proliferation of predators including wild dog. You can also take a boat cruise or canoe trip here to get up close to lumbering game animals and flitting birds.
Numerous lodges and safari packages are available to visitors. There is even an option to self-drive your safari, but this is only recommended for highly experienced guests!
How to Go
There are many types of safari experiences that you can have, from full-on luxury to rustic camping. Once you know where you want to go, you can hone in on how you want to experience it.
On a budget
If you want to save money on your safari, you can opt to travel by road from location to location. It’s time consuming, with the average drive between parks coming in at 5 hours. But you will see a lot of the country from a cozy 8-seater van with raised roof hatches for a better view. These van tours also feature an English-speaking driver/guide.
For overnights, look for campsites or inexpensive lodges. You may sacrifice a certain amount of comfort, but it makes your experience quite authentic.
Now if you want to go all out, African tour providers can certainly cater to those looking for a bit of luxury with their safari. Spending more can get you direct flights into the bush via light aircraft, cutting out those dusty road trips.
You can take intimate game drives with an experienced local guide in an open four-wheel drive vehicle and then relax at an upscale lodge with plenty of amenities. Some luxury safari packages also include airfare from home.
Best of both worlds
If you’re keen to get an authentic safari experience without necessarily sleeping on the ground, there are some great options for you, too. Mobile camping safaris take you from place to place in plush Land Cruisers and set you up at night in fancy tents with twin beds and upscale amenities.
Another cool option is a bush-and-beach trip. This lets you split your time between trekking in the bush and relaxing by the ocean. After enjoying several days of spotting Big Five animals, your group will retire to the east coast of Zanzibar for a few more days of sunbathing and swimming in the Indian Ocean.
Finding the best safari tour possible is about honestly assessing what would make the trip perfect for you. Are you looking to rough it with the animals or enjoy some creature comforts with your nature? What’s your budget?
Do you want to focus entirely on the animals or take in other African attractions as well? Knowing the answers to these questions is the best way to ensure that this trip really is a dream come true.