Picking the Best African Safari
What type of safari experience are you looking for? “I want…”
“A classic wildlife safari — my first and maybe only time in Africa.”
The best choice for a first-time safari is Tanzania for many reasons. Tanzania is home to the famous Serengeti migration and a wonder of the natural world, the famed Ngorongoro Crater. It’s also the home for climbing Kilimanjaro, an inspiring summit that is Africa’s highest. Lesser known parks in Tanzania offer other unforgettable sights and experiences. Lake Manyara is a scenic rift valley lake. Magical baobab forests circle East Africa’s largest elephant migration in Tarangire National Park. The remote south features unique parks (closer in habitat type to what you’d find in Zambia or Zimbabwe) like Ruaha and Selous. Chimpanzees haunt the forests of western Tanzania. Cultural opportunities to see real tribes, like the Maasai and Bushmen people, are found throughout the country. The sunny beach-heaven of Zanzibar is conveniently located just off the coast. In Tanzania, safaris are generally affordable and can be as short or as long as you wish. It’s a safe country with friendly, diverse people with a stable civilian government. Tanzania is a great year-round destination.
“The ultimate wildlife experience and I am willing to pay for it.”
Africa is positively loaded with remarkable choices for lucky travelers with the resources to enjoy the ultimate safari of a lifetime.
One option is to combine a classic luxury African safari in Tanzania or Kenya (with some little touches, like a hot air balloon ride over the migration, etc.) with a visit to the precious mountain gorillas of Uganda or Rwanda. You can top this amazing experience off with a relaxing visit to lovely Zanzibar or Lamu along the coast.
Another “ultimate” experience is a Southern Africa fly-in safari that combines all or parts of the following: A luxury Botswana fly-in safari, Victoria Falls, the storied deserts of Namibia, a private game reserve in Kruger, and Cape Town.
Another option is to choose a safari with elite accommodations wherever you go. For example, you can stay in luxury properties that rank the most famous in the world, like the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania; Greystoke in the chimp-dwelling forest of Mahale (Tanzania); Governor’s Camp in the renowned Mara of Kenya; Sabyinyo Lodge in Rwanda; Singita in the Kruger area of South Africa; Mombo Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta; and many more. If you are looking for the ultimate safari, we can match you with the best combination of parks, experiences, and accommodations to fulfill your dreams.
“To see Victoria Falls.”
To see Victoria Falls, which is found in southern Africa, you’ll want to visit Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, both of which share the falls between them – Victoria Falls is found on the massive, border-defining Zambezi River. The best choice then is to consider a safari in one or all three of the border countries around it: Zambia (which is home to the revered South Luangwa National Park and rising Kafue), Zimbabwe, and Botswana, our favorite safari destination within Southern Africa. Other options include a quick visit before or after South Africa or Namibia. Because of the time and expense of inter-Africa air, we recommend including Victoria Falls only as part of a southern Africa safari.
“To see the gorillas!”
Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is an experience you will never forget! In Rwanda, you an see the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. However, with the increase in the price for gorilla permit. Uganda is now more popular to sit among the mountain gorillas is in Rwanda. This is an ideal extension to a classic safari in Kenya or Tanzania (or a Kilimanjaro trek).
Another wonderful option, especially for travelers who are keen primate enthusiasts or have on safari before, is a 12-day safari that visits Uganda’s highlights, like Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest, and the gorillas in Bwindi. Travelers can see up to 9 species of primates on this safari, including active and vocal chimpanzees, which some travelers consider an even better time than sitting with the gorillas.
“To see elephants!”
The premier reserves in Africa to see lots of elephants are Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, Amboseli National Park in Kenya, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and private reserves (especially Mala Mala) in South Africa.
All of these parks have significant populations in a safe, protected environment. Most of the larger safari parks have elephants, so even without seeing any of the above parks, seeing elephants is usually not an “if” but a “when.”
“To see wild dogs.”
Wild dogs are one of the more elusive and rarer predators in Africa. Parks like Selous in southern Tanzania and private concessions like Chitabe in Botswana are among the best spots to see them. Committing to three nights in a specialized area is the best idea to increase your chances.
“To be as far away from people as possible and be as remote as I can be.”
Several places vie for most isolated in East and southern Africa. Katavi National Park in south-western Tanzania is one of the most removed parks in Africa, requiring flights and mobile camps. Game is prolific whereas humanity has barely touched the area. Kidepo National Park, found in the wild and wooly northeastern Uganda, is another extraordinary option for people with the time and money to cover the ground necessary (2 days by car each way). It borders Kenya & Sudan so it is truly “out there.” Easier remote places include the Skeleton Coast in Namibia and a number of private concessions in Botswana, like those you will find in the water wilderness, like around Jacana Camp. In East Africa, private concessions make finding an exclusive experience easier, while parks like Ruaha and Selous also present opportunities for getting away from it all.
“The best safari possible without spending a lot!”
The best countries to safari in without breaking the bank include Tanzania and Kenya. The most affordable style is the basic camping safari, where you use dome tents, cots or a sleeping mattress, and sleeping bags in public campgrounds. Some private concessions are also now offering use of their land for camping safaris. Travelers with limited budgets will want to consider a shorter safari, from 3 – 8 days, though most enjoy a minimum of 4 to 6 days. To maximize a visit (and justify the cost and time for all your flights), budget travelers can always fill the rest of their time with other activities and experiences like volunteering for a local non-profit, visiting the beach e.g. on Diani Beach in Kenya or on Zanzibar, or staying in a small town like Moshi and make interesting day trips.
“To see a Maasai tribe.”
The best places to visit the Masai are in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, where their traditional homelands are located. Some of our favorite spots include Tanzania’s Ngorongoro highlands, plus the region around the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, as well as Lake Natron in northern Tanzania.
“A little bit of safari but also hot air balloon, tribal visits, and culture.”
Tanzania and Kenya are two of the best countries to visit for a wide variety of safari experiences, wildlife, culture, and scenery.
Tanzania alone has over 120 tribes. One of our favorite cultural hot spots is Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, a hard to get to region that requires 2 nights to properly visit, but yet is easy to add to any safari. Here travelers can go hunting with a nomadic hunter or visit a remote village of the unique Dotoga people.
“To safari and go shark cage diving.”
For shark divers, the best places to go, bar none, are False Bay (an hour from Cape Town) and Gaansbai (two hours from Cape Town). Where we would recommend you go specifically depends on the time of year. Gaansbai does have the advantage of being home to 2 islands with huge seal populations (hence the attraction for sharks).
“To safari and relax on a beach too.”
Zanzibar is the most popular beach area for our travelers. It is easily reached by daily flights from Kilimanjaro Airport in northern Tanzania and Nairobi. Nearly the entire island is fringed with shining white sand beaches, though some areas have much better beaches at high tide than others.
On the island, travelers can visit the UNESCO site of Stone Town and enjoy some laid back touring, like visiting spice farms or enjoying a walk through Jozani Forest, home to the endemic red colobus monkey. Lots of ocean activities are available too, like dolphin tours and scuba/snorkel trips. Lamu Island and Diani beach in Kenya or other favorite spots on the Indian Ocean coast.
“To go on night-game drives and walks.”
These are great experiences if you can fit them into your itinerary. Game walks and nature walks allow you to get a close-up view of the bush, especially the rich variety of plants, insects, and birds. It’s a relaxing way to learn more about the fantastic ecosystem all around you and a chance to stretch your legs after all of those game drives.
Night game drives are special since predator activity often picks up at dusk, just when a normal ‘day’ game drive would end. Especially for fans of the big cats, night game drives help increase your chances of seeing unique actions, like hunting, reproductive behaviors, and territorial behaviors.
Easy safari countries to add these unique types of activities include Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Kenya. They are especially widely available in Botswana and Kenya. In Tanzania, they are possible however in select locations and select camps largely due to park regulations. Some of our favorite Tanzania camps for these activities include Grumeti and the Ikoma private game reserves in the north and west of the Serengeti, which are best between mid-June and late-October.
“To climb Kilimanjaro.”
Only one country has famous Kilimanjaro: Tanzania. The treks themselves range from 5 – 8 days in length, with the most popular treks lasting 6 or 7 days. We offer all the routes on the mountain.
It is easy to arrange trips solely for Kilimanjaro (plan on 8-10 days in the country, total, if your sole focus is the summit) or in conjunction with a Tanzania safari, a trip to Zanzibar, a volunteer experience, or cultural tours.
“To see chimpanzees.”
Three places are ideal: Kibale Forest in Uganda while in Western Tanzania you have Gombe Stream and Mahale. Kibale is the natural choice if you are looking for a combination of chimps and gorillas (plus other primates). Mahale and Gombe Stream are the best choices if you want to combine chimps with a big game safari and gorillas are not on the agenda.
“To go canoeing in Africa and see lots of wildlife on the way.”
The best combination for a combination of canoeing and maximum wildlife viewing is the unique Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. Mana Pool is in the northern part of Zimbabwe, on the massive Zambezi River. It’s easy to arrange a 3-4 day canoe safari as an add-on to a Zimbabwe or Botswana land safari. Another place to canoe is Botswana, in the Okavango Delta, on the 3-day Selinda canoe safari, though here the emphasis is on the overall wilderness experience, not necessarily big game. Shorter canoe trips can be found in Arusha National Park in Tanzania and (seasonally) Lake Manyara. One can do other types of boat tours too. Boat safaris are offered in places like Murchison Falls, Uganda; Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana; Lake Manze in Selous, in southern Tanzania; and a number of other places. Uniquely, Botswana offers a poled canoe experience in the delta, on a craft called the mokoro, which is one of the most relaxing experiences imaginable.
“To go to Africa for sheer rest and relaxation.”
When on safari, you can always make the simple decision to stay in camp or at your lodge and indulge in the tranquility and solitude one can find in many of these properties. However, to maximize peace and relaxation, it’s best to plan extended stays of 3 nights (and sometimes more) at particular camps, hotels, and lodges, freeing up time to relax instead of moving to the next location. While some cities, lodges, parks and reserves are best for only one or two nights, we can suggest reserves and accommodations for more extended experiences, promoting time for winding down. Some accommodations also offer spa and massage services, or include ample siesta time in the middle of the day for R&R. Other lodges also offer serene activities you can decide on the spot, like horse riding or easy nature walks.