Best Safari Destinations for a First-Time Visit to Africa

Elephant on 7-day group Tanzania safari

An African safari is often next on the minds of our returning travelers from Peru, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and elsewhere. However, Africa is a huge continent, with almost limitless options for a wildlife enthusiast. Here is some advice to help you pick the right safari destination for a first-time trip to Africa.

Here is how to choose between:

  1. Tanzania
  2. Botswana
  3. Kenya
  4. South Africa
  5. Less Traveled Africa

Northern Tanzania

A safari in Northern Tanzania has outstanding scenery, classic African parks (the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and more), thrilling wildlife, and unique ancestral cultures that still cling to their ways even to this day.

As if this wasn’t enough,  you will also find an exotic tropical island – Zanzibar – that is a short flight off the mainland as well as Kilimanjaro, the quintessential trekking destination in Africa.

Tanzania is relatively easy to reach with numerous flights at Kilimanjaro Airport and Dar es Salaam from Europe, Qatar, and other half-way points from North America. It has a stable government, friendly nationals, and outstanding services for travelers, including fabulous guides, world-class lodges and tented camps, and fine food and drink. Visas are available on arrival so the red-tape is minimal for entry.

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Botswana is different altogether. Here you find little unique culture or epic mountains, but what you do experience here is on a par with an Antarctica expedition — it is that special.

Here, travelers fly from luxury tented lodge to tented lodge on small light aircraft. The flying adds to the heady sensations of marvelous starry nights, close encounters with lions and elephants in open vehicles, and sweet relaxation during memorable siestas around the lodge pool mid-day or around the campfire at night with a glass of fine wine.

The luxury lodges here are small and intimate while the remoteness breeds a sense of seclusion and offer unparalleled private interactions with wildlife. Activities here are more varied than many other safari destinations, with mokoro rides, game walks, boat safaris, fishing, and night game drives all possible plus traditional game drives.

The top settings here to see wildlife are in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, the Savuti, and Chobe National Park, with some travelers making the trip to experience the true Kalahari as well. Trips almost always include 1-3 nights to majestic Victoria Falls, an original natural wonder of the world. For travelers with more time, a visit to cosmopolitan Cape Town is one you will not soon forget.

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One of the least expensive safari destinations is Kenya. Especially if a traveler is open to basic camping, Kenya provides excellent value. It is a lot like Tanzania only with more tourists yet also an expansive variety of parks to visit (such as the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Nakuru, and more).

If a traveler has a passion for rhinos, in particular, Kenya makes a great choice.  Game drives here are often in mini-vans with open hatches on top for viewing, and similar to Tanzania, most travelers get around by driving between safari parks.

Nairobi is the major gateway and features more daily flight arrivals and departures than Tanzania.

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South Africa

An outstanding destination for a traveler who simply wants a taste of African wildlife coupled with a more varied urban and scenic experience is South Africa, often combined with 2-3 nights in Victoria Falls.

On a South Africa trip, travelers often do a 10+ day trip that combines

  • 4 days of excellent wildlife viewing in a leading private game reserve (such as Sabi Sands or Thornybush)
  • 3+ days in and around Cape Town – a leading city in the world –
  • 2 nights in Victoria Falls (in either Zimbabwe or Zambia, the experience will be similar)

The best private reserves in South Africa are renowned for making seeing the Big 5 routine (it’s remarkable).  So even with just 4 days on safari, travelers get an excellent introduction to Africa’s amazing wildlife.

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Less Traveled Africa

Usually after a traveler visits one or two or three of the above, travelers expand to more “niche” locations like Uganda, Namibia, Zambia, Southern Tanzania, and the like. However, travelers make their own calls all the time. It’s countless how many people have visited Uganda first and not looked back, and we have travelers that do head to Southern Tanzania on first trips to Africa. There are no hard and fast rules.

Sometimes the destination is obvious in, like if you want to climb Kilimanjaro, then that makes choosing the destination very easy. Other ways to choose, though not always, are when you can go (best times can vary slightly), specific wildlife or experiences that might be critical for you, personally, to see and enjoy, and any personal special interests you might have.

A good second step after reading this is simply to contact us >> and tell us more about what you are looking for. We are objective specialists who will guide you in the right direction. No matter where you choose to travel Africa, we assure you it will rank among the best trips of your life!

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