If you have been setting your sights on Africa then look no further than our ultimate guide to the wild continent. Using over 25 years of safari and adventure travel experience, we have put together this comprehensive tool to help you plan your own adventure to some of the world's preeminent
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Learn African safari travel 101: best times to go, how to get there, and what to expect.
There's something magical about this continent that transforms, inspires, and offers a new perspective on life. It can trigger a subtle yet powerful shift in your daily view of the world around you, causing you to think deeper about what really makes life so special.
Oftentimes travelers find themselves visiting more then once, for they have found a place that moves them, grounds them, and ignites that fire, a burning passion, to go deeper and truly engulf themselves in nature, in the ancient traditions, the rich cultures, and perhaps the most amazing diversity of life on Earth.
Many travelers trek to Africa in search of abundant wildlife. The chance to get close to iconic African animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but there are many factors to consider to get the most out of your safari. In this guide, we’ve outlined some important safari basics to help you start planning a successful African adventure, from choosing a destination to essential safari gear.
Africa’s wondrous wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes—as do its safaris. From camps, lodges, and countries, to guides, activities, flights, and services, the considerations seem as numerous as the species in the Serengeti. With seemingly endless choices, planning an African safari can be overwhelming. While you can certainly organize a safari on your own, working with a reputable safari operator can be invaluable, saving you time and money by designing an itinerary that suits your interests.
Many destinations offer a range of accommodation options, though choices will be limited in the more remote wilderness areas. Your safari experience will be greatly influenced by the type of accommodation you choose:
Your transportation options will be dependent on where you choose to go on safari. While some countries—like Kenya, South Africa, and Namibia—have extensive, well-maintained roads, many wilderness areas have no roads, and can only be accessed by plane.
You may scan the Serengeti from an open jeep or horseback, cruise Okavango waterways by mokoro canoe, get an aerial view from a hot-air balloon or helicopter, ATV on Namibia dunes, track gorillas in rain forests, meet tribes people like the Maasai and Himba, visit an elephant refuge... The list goes on and on! Though spotting game is typically the main focus of any African safari, each country offers its own unique experiences.
In the 'Things To Do' section, you will find details on Africa’s top safari destinations, broken down by country.
Any time is a great time to go on safari. Africa’s wildlife is easier to spot in the dry months, when grasses are low and waterholes offer vital refreshment. But the green season is also splendid— landscapes are lush, wildflowers bloom, and baby animals frolic (enticing predators). With that said, each country experiences its own weather patterns, so be sure to check out the When section at the end of each destination below.
Typically, the longer you stay, the less you will pay on a per night basis. Most safaris are priced based on double occupancy; single supplements can be high, sometimes twice the double occupancy rate. Budget-minded adventurers should seek self-drive or overland safaris as opposed to all inclusive package tours—but be prepared to camp in tents and navigate a 4x4 through the African bush.
Probably the best-known tribe in Africa, the Maasai are found primarily in East Africa. Many traditional villages dot the countryside of Kenya and Tanzania, often near national parks, which make for a popular additional activity on safaris. Though mainly involved in herding and raising cattle, the Maasai also have a reputation as skilled hunters and fearsome warriors. In the early 20th century, the Maasai were pressured to give up their semi-nomadic lifestyle in favor of farming or moving to larger cities and towns. While many people did move into permanent homes, many more still chose to live the life of their ancestors. Known for their colorful costumes and fascinating customs, the Maasai are also famous for their jumping form of dance, usually performed by warriors. While on safari in East Africa you may have the opportunity to witness this dance, meet with school children, chat with elders, browse handicrafts, or go on a walking safari with a Maasai guide.
Read more about the Maasai here.
The traveler who goes on safari in Kenya is a bit like a golfer hitting the links at St. Andrews. Beyond the sheer enjoyment of their experience, there is an ever-present awareness of the history and heritage surrounding them.
Kenya’s vast savannas were, after all, where the African wildlife adventure was veritably born—in fact, safari is a Swahili word for “journey,” adapted from the Arabic safari.
The first travelers across Kenya were nomadic tribes and merchants along the ancient trade routes from the Middle East. Safaris as they are known today began in the mid-1800s, when Europeans arrived in the country to document—and dominate—the local fauna. While these early adventures were filled with fascinating discoveries of new species, they were mostly about the inauspicious thrill of the hunt. (They also would establish the daily game drives and other elements that still define the safari experience (link sends e-mail) to this day.)
Hunting safaris in Eastern Africa soon became the diversion du jour of Europe’s high society, which organized huge parties in its pursuit of ever-greater “trophy” kills. In 1909, former US President Theodore Roosevelt headed a troupe of some 250 Africans that would extinguish more than 500 animals, including dozens of lions, buffalo, elephants, and rhinos. Roosevelt’s book, African Game Trials, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa detailing his own exploits, helped foster the public’s fascination with safaris. So too did images of Hollywood stars on big game hunts, which filled the big screen and the imagination.
While today’s safari experience still holds the same allure, much has changed since those early expeditions. First and foremost, those trophy kills would, ironically, inspire a fervid commitment to conservation. Recognizing the importance of wildlife tourism to the Kenyan economy (it accounts for 10 percent of the country’s gross national product (link sends e-mail) ), the government vastly expanded the number of national parks and preservation efforts. Indeed, the Kenya Wildlife Service stands as a model for other African nations protecting their animal populations.
Even as modern lodges and camps keep the safari legacy alive with their lavish amenities, many, like the award-winning Encounter Mara Camp in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, are recognized for their environmentally sound practices, as well as for creating a sustainable livelihood for local communities.
Found in northwest Namibia and southern Angola, the Himba are a relatively recent tribe whose origins can be traced back to the early 16th century. Semi-nomadic herders, the Himba are most famous for the elaborate hygiene rituals of the women.
Water is not allowed to be used for washing, which includes clothing. Instead, women will take a daily smoke bath and apply otjize, red ochre mixed with butter, to their skin and hair. This is thought to protect against the sun, arid climate, and mosquito bites, while the rich red color symbolizes the earth and blood and plays an important aesthetic value in Himba society. Hairstyle and jewelry are also important and indicates age and social status. Married women wear an ornate headpiece called erembe that is made from leather. A visit with the Himba offers an interesting glimpse into life in this harsh climate and is especially recommended for avid photographers. Learn more about the Himba here.
This San people are indigenous hunter-gatherers that represent the first nation and oldest culture in Southern Africa. Populations are found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and South Africa. Beginning in the 1950s, San people abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of farming due to government-mandated modernization programs, though there are a number of communities that continue to cling to their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Namibia and Botswana are the best places to arrange a visit with the San, and may include an introduction to local plants—about 400 - 500 species are used by the San for food and medicine—tracking and hunting demonstrations, traditional games, and dances.
While the variety of African wildlife could fill its own guide, here are a few of the most popular wildlife experiences that travelers seek and where to find them.
A term originally coined by early game hunters as the five species that were the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot—elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and Cape buffalo—today the Big Five are the species that safari-goers are most anxious to shoot with cameras. You can spot the Big Five in many safari destinations including Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, and the Republic of the Congo.
Every year, more than two million herbivores (wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, and antelopes) make an epic journey from the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania to the grasslands of the Masai Mara in Kenya. Though their movement is largely determined by grazing and weather patterns, herds typically start to converge in the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area from January to March where females give birth to their young. From April to June, the rains begin and herds are drawn north toward the first river crossings on the banks of the Serengeti’s Grumeti River; by July many are crossing the Mara River, the final barrier to reach Kenya’s Masai Mara. The herds remain in Masai Mara and the northern Serengeti from August to October, before the herds begin the return south to their birthing grounds, and so the cycle continues.
The African wild dog (also known as the hunting dog or painted dog) is one of the most successful predators in Africa. They hunt in packs with incredible speed and stamina, and are known to cover large distances while pursuing their prey. Wild dogs occur in many of Africa’s big game reserves, but among the best areas
to find them are the Linyanti and Kwando regions in Botswana and Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa’s Northwest Province. Other areas where the dogs are known to hunt are the Luangwa Valley and Liuwa Plains, Zambia; and Mana Pools and Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Cheetahs, the fastest land animal, are most at home on the wide open plains. Your best bet for finding these elusive cats (an estimated 8,000 individuals left in the wild) are the Masai Mara in Kenya; northern and central Botswana; Etosha National Park and Okonjima in Namibia; Kafue National Park in Zambia; and Ruaha National Park in Tanzania.
No other wildlife encounter in Africa can match the experience of coming face to face with a wild gorilla. Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of the Congo are the best places to seek these primates, though don’t expect to find them from the comfort of your safari vehicle. As the title suggests, trekking through the forest is the only way to view these gentle giants in their natural habitat. Along the way, you’ll likely spot colorful birds, unique forest creatures, and a variety of primate species. Learn more about the Gorillas of the Congo here.
Africa is a fantastic bird-watching destination. With the sheer diversity of habitats, nearly 2,500 species are at home somewhere on the continent. If you would like to do some birding during your safari, the most popular and rewarding destinations include Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The best time of year is usually during the African summer, November to March, when local birds are joined by thousands of migratory species from the north.
Botswana offers one of Africa’s top safari experiences. A ‘high–revenue, low–volume’ tourism policy has resulted in considerable protection of the country’s wilderness areas. Together, Botswana’s national parks and huge private game reserves protect around 40% of the country’s total area! Vast tracts of wilderness in pristine condition are home to huge herds of game, roaming unrestricted between the Kalahari’s plains and the waterways of the Okavango. With its network of private concessions dotted with just a handful of small, well-designed safari lodges, Botswana safaris offer near exclusivity.
Okavango Delta – This inland delta hosts Botswana’s greatest concentration of habitats. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland lies at the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari, yet supports an abundance of wildlife within a setting of dazzling natural beauty. Protected by the Moremi Game Reserve and numerous private wildlife concessions, the Okavango Delta is home to huge numbers of elephant, buffalo, lion, hippo, giraffe, and zebra plus every kind of antelope you can think of. A predator paradise, the Okavango is a world-famous stronghold for leopard and wild dog as well as many rare and unusual mammal and bird species—if it’s wildlife you want, an Okavango Delta safari will deliver! Many camps also have access to wet areas; you’ll usually explore deep water areas using motorboats, driven by a guide, while shallower floodplains are best seen from a mokoro, or dugout canoe.
Kalahari Game Reserve – The vast, flat saltpans at the heart of the Kalahari are host to expansive landscapes and big, open skies. Huge tracts of wilderness in pristine condition support large herds of game, roaming unrestricted between the Kalahari’s plains and the waterways of the Okavango. With its network of private concessions dotted with just a handful of small, well designed safari lodges, you are unlikely to come across any other visitors. The game here rarely disappoints, the bird life can be spectacular, and night drives are a compelling further option.
Chobe National Park – This is the country’s oldest public park and forms the core of northern Botswana’s protected areas. The wildlife and scenery here are often superb, but you will share the area with other vehicles and people. Strict park rules forbid anyone in these parks from driving at night, conducting walking safaris, or driving “off road.” This park is famous for a large elephant population that has been estimated at 50,000 individuals.
Linyanti Wildlife Reserve – This private reserve borders Chobe National Park’s western boundary. It is an enormous reserve, teeming in wildlife. There are a limited number of lodges and camps here, which creates an unrivaled atmosphere of remoteness and seemingly unlimited expanse. The three main features here are the Linyanti River, extensive woodlands, and the Savuti Marsh, all offering a unique safari experience. This is one of the best places in Botswana to find wild dogs.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park – This park protects one of the largest salt flats in the world, the bed of ancient lakes that evaporated millennia ago. Very little wildlife can exist here during the harsh dry season but following a rain, the pan becomes an important habitat for migrating animals including wildebeest and one of Africa’s biggest zebra populations, as well as the large predators that prey on them. The wet season also brings migratory birds such as ducks, geese, flamingos, and great white pelicans.
The dry season runs from May to October, and as the months progress and surface water becomes scarce, animals congregate in huge numbers along the river. Game is at its most dense and easily visible at this time. October is the hottest month, while nights can be chilly between June and August. Rain falls during the warm months, November to March, create high temperatures and humidity. This is also known as the “green” season, with lush landscapes, newborn animals, and lots of migratory birds. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance during this time.
Not to be overlooked in favor of its more well-known southern neighbors, Ethiopia is a land of dream-like safaris, a distinctive cuisine, and two of the world’s oldest Christian and Islamic communities. The country is a biodiversity hotspot and though you won’t find the Big Five here, it is home to a variety of endemic wildlife such as the rare Ethiopian wolf, walia ibex, grass-eating gelada monkeys, and an amazing 23 bird species. Combined with a long history and variety of unique cultures, a trip Ethiopia is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Bale Mountains National Park – A biodiversity hotspot, this park has one of the highest incidences of animal endemicity of any terrestrial habitat in the world. The most famous residents include the Ethiopian wolf, mountain nyala, giant mole-rat, and Bale monkey. Of Bale’s 1,300-plus plant species, 160 are endemic to Ethiopia and 23 are unique to the park. The park is also considered to be one of Africa’s top five birding destinations, it is home to over 280 species of birds, including six species endemic to Ethiopia—the blue-winged goose, spot breasted lapwing, yellow-fronted parrot, Abyssinian long claw, Abyssinian catbird, and black-headed siskin. In addition to residents, there are also almost 200 species of migratory birds that have been recorded in the park. It’s also a butterfly utopia with as many as 22,000 different species, often in eye-popping colors and patterns. There are many unique habitats to explore including the world’s most extensive Afro-Alpine moorland, evergreen forest, stands of giant bamboo, and sheltered river valleys. With miles of trails, the park is best explored on foot to appreciate the unique vegetation, insects, and shy species, but safaris by vehicle and horseback are also possibilities.
Bahir Dar Blue Nile River Millennium Park - The Blue Nile River originates in Lake Tana. About 19 miles from the lake, the river pours over a 140-foot drop and explodes into drenching mists and shimmering rainbows. The continuous spray from Tis Abay, “Nile that Smokes” supports a perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation filled with monkeys and birds.
Simien Mountains National Park – As the name suggests, the park is quite mountainous and includes Ethiopia’s highest peak; Ras Dashan at 14,930 feet. Some of Ethiopia most dramatic scenery is found here with towering pinnacles and rock spires and deep ravines and gorges. The steep cliffs and cool climate make this the perfect habitat for the endemic walya ibex, as well as a number of endangered species, including the Ethiopian wolf, kippspringer, bush buck, and the engaging gelada baboons. More than 180 bird species are found in the park including such notable species lammergeyer, Verreaux’s eagle, bearded vultures, tawny eagles, and thick billed ravens.
In the capital Addis Ababa and the northern central highlands, the rainy season falls between June and late September with the wettest months being July and August. Further south, the rainy season starts a few weeks earlier, and the South Omo region is very wet between March and June—the roads can be very muddy and rough during this time. The best time to visit starts from the last week of September through January, with pleasant temperatures, blue skies, and low rainfall in most of the country. If you are interested in adding an amazing cultural component to your trip to Ethiopia, consider visiting during the annual Timket Festival, a country-wide celebration of Epiphany that occurs on January 19.
Straddling the Equator, and stretching from the Indian Ocean’s coral reefs and white-sand beaches to the colossal spread of the Great Rift Valley and beyond, Kenya is a country of huge variety and exceptional natural beauty. The country’s lush grasslands, riverine forests, high plains and moorlands, mountain slopes, and semi-deserts provide an amazing range of habitats for the full panoply of East African wildlife, and an equally wide choice of options. In fact, the concept of ‘safari’ was invented here—the word means journey in Swahili.
The wildlife in Kenya is often remarkably approachable. While never tame, Kenya’s wild animals have lived with a comprehensive hunting ban for the last 35 years, meaning their fear of humans is greatly reduced. There are few other places on earth where you can easily watch large predators hunting, or megafauna such as giraffe, elephant, and hippo interacting and behaving quite naturally while you quietly observe them.
Maasai Mara – The location of one of the natural wonders of the world, the Great Migration, the Maasai Mara is Kenya’s top safari destination. And deservedly so—the Maasai Mara is a gloriously beautiful, wildlife-rich savanna landscape, where traditionally dressed Maasai pastoralists herd their cattle and goats. However, it’s also where herds of minibuses jostle for the best photo opportunity amid a panorama of African wildlife.
Laikipia National Park – On the other side of the Great Rift Valley, northwest of snowcapped Mount Kenya, the high plains of Laikipia are increasingly recognized as one of the best wildlife regions in Kenya for their sheer numbers of animals. With the occasional exception during high season, you won’t need to escape from any crowds here; this huge park has plenty of room for everyone.
Meru National Park – This is the place where George and Joy Adamson released their most famous lioness, Elsa, back into the wild (a story immortalized in the book and film Born Free). For more than a decade in the late 1980s and 1990s, this entrancing wilderness was virtually off limits due to out-of- control poaching. Then, championed by the French Embassy, the park became a Kenya Wildlife Service cause célèbre and was comprehensively restored, with newly cut earth roads, a dedicated force of rangers and, near the main gate, a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary that is home to both black and white rhinos.
Amboseli National Park – On the broad, flat plains south of Nairobi, Amboseli is Kenya’s elephant park par excellence. One of the oldest parks in Kenya, originally part of the colonial era’s Southern Maasai Reserve, Amboseli became a wildlife sanctuary in the 1940s and was declared a national park in 1974. It is rightly one of Kenya’s most popular safari regions and offers iconic views of the wildlife against a backdrop of majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Tsavo East National Park – By far the largest of Kenya’s parks, it is nine times bigger than the Maasai Mara National Reserve—indeed, you could fit the whole of the Mara reserve into the southern tip of the park, south of the Voi River. Most famous for its huge herds of dust-red elephants (more than 10,000 of them bulldoze their way around this vast park), Tsavo East has another big draw—while on safari, you can set off on a game drive across the seemingly empty wilderness and return to camp three hours later, without ever having seen a single other vehicle.
The best wildlife viewing months are during the dry season from late June to October. Though constantly shifting, this is typically the best time to witness the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara. Kenya’s well-justified popularity means it has some very large and busy lodges, with certain areas especially busy from July to September, and over Christmas and New Year. The rainy season runs from November to May, which offers lush landscapes, newborn animals, and fewer people. March, April, and May can be particularly wet and cloudy.
Though it doesn’t immediately come to mind as a safari destination, Madagascar offers an exceptional wildlife experience and boasts some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. You won’t see the Big Five here, but you will see colorful chameleons, unique birds, amphibians, insects and, Madagascar’s star attraction—lemurs! Dramatic geography produces a variety of habitats, and the climate varies noticeably from north to south, east to west, and from coastal to highland regions. You can explore both coastal and highland rainforests, sandy beaches, mangroves, and spiny deserts.
Andasibe & Mantadia National Park – Due to its proximity to the capital, Antananarivo, Andasibe is one of Madagascar’s most popular parks. The most famous resident here is the indri, the largest of all living lemurs. While most lemurs make a grunting sound, the indri sings, an eerie wailing sound which carries for miles as the troops call out to one another. Other lemurs in the park include woolly, gray bamboo, brown, red mouse, red-bellied, and black-and-white ruffed lemur, as well as diademed sifaka and the nocturnal aye aye. Over 100 species of birds can be found here, along with 50 reptiles, and more than 80 amphibians.
Masoala National Park – Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007, Masoala consists of primary rainforest, mangrove, marsh, and flooded forest, ranging from sea level to 4,200 feet, and includes the adjacent marine habitat. This is the country’s largest protected park and is home to over 50% of all the plant and animal species found in Madagascar. It is also the sole habitat of the endangered red-ruffed lemur and stumptailed leaf chameleon.
Anjajavy Private Nature Reserve – Located on a peninsula on the northwest coast, this reserve boasts mangrove, beaches, and deciduous forest. Along with a number of birds and reptiles, the park is also home to common brown lemurs, Coquerel’s sifaka, and mouse lemurs. And, with luck, you may spot the elusive fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore.
Amber Mountain National Park – Located in the far north, this park has its own micro-climate with mountains reaching nearly 5,000 feet. This huge tropical forest is brimming with endemic fauna and flora, luxuriant vegetation, and is laced with waterfalls and volcanic lakes. There are eight species of lemur including Sanford’s brown, crowned, and lesser bamboo lemurs. There’s also an abundance of smaller inhabitants—frogs, lizards, butterflies, and the tiny brookesia chameleon which is just less than an inch long. This is not to mention that 75 species of birds can be found here, 35 of which are endemic!
Ankarana National Park – This park features spectacularly eroded limestone spires known as tsingy, creating a landscape of sharp ridges interspersed with patches of dense tropical jungle, deciduous forest, and the largest network of caves and underground lakes and rivers anywhere in Africa. Its dense forests support crowned, Sanford’s brown, Perrier’s sifaka, northern sportive, and dwarf lemurs; ring-tailed mongoose; fossa; tenrecs; and striped civet. Almost 100 bird species, 50 reptiles (including some endemic and threatened snakes and geckos) and 10 frog species cohabit in the park. Inside the spectacular and huge labyrinth of caves, 14 bat species, endemic blind shrimp, and the world’s only known cave-dwelling crocodiles can be found.
When In general, the period between May and October is the most pleasant time to travel to Madagascar, with cooler temperatures and little rain. However, the weather patterns have been changing over the last few decades—you may experience rain during the dry season and vice versa, so be ready for anything!
This arid country of surprising contrasts is home to two great deserts, the Namib and the Kalahari. Along its length, the vast shifting sand sea of the Namib sprawls inland along the Atlantic coastline. In the interior, the plateau slopes away to the north and east to meet the Kalahari Desert. Over the years, there have been a number of cultural influences that have all added to the unique atmosphere of Namibia. At various times Germany, Great Britain, and South Africa have all governed the territory, but it was with the eventual independence of Namibia in 1990 that the country was able to develop its multicultural character and reinvent itself.
Etosha National Park – Translated as the Place of Mirages, Land of Dry Water, or the Great White Place, Etosha appears to be an endless pan of silvery-white sand. One of Africa’s best game reserves, Etosha protects a vast shallow salt pan the size of Holland, and its surrounding bush. During the dry season, huge herds of animals can be seen amidst some of the most captivating and photogenic safari scenery in Africa. As the dry season progresses, the waterholes around the southern edges of the pan draw large concentrations of game. Along with all the usual plains species, several endemic species, and some 340 species of birds can be found here.
Namib–Naukluft National Park – One of the oldest deserts on earth, the scenery here is stunning, with the impressive Naukluft Mountains rising from verdant valleys and dramatic, rocky ravines. Though there are many animals, large and small, living in the park, the rugged terrain makes them difficult to spot. The park’s scenic highlight, and possibly Namibia’s most popular and best-known attraction, is the Sossusvlei area, where enormous apricot-colored dunes are framed by impossibly blue skies. These dunes are among the highest in the world, with several reaching nearly 1,300 feet!
Damaraland – The rugged, rocky landscape is characterized by valleys and dry riverbeds that carve their way through deep gorges and ancient geological features. This area is home to the country’s famous desert-adapted elephants, black rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, and springbok. The area has been occupied by Bushmen for several thousands of years and still holds a wealth of their artifacts and rock paintings.
NamibRand Nature Reserve – This private reserve offers a vast diversity of desert landscapes to explore. Game species found here include gemsbok, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, red hartebeest, bat-eared fox, spotted hyena, Cape fox, and African wildcats. The more rocky areas are inhabited by kudu, klipspringer, baboon, and leopard. It is also one of the few places where you can find the rare blesbok, which have been introduced from South Africa.
Okonjima Nature Reserve – Situated halfway between the capital of Windhoek and Etosha National Park, this private reserve offers some of the best chances to spot cheetahs and leopards. The reserve is also home to the AfriCat Foundation, which rehabilitates cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, and leopards.
June to October is the dry season, where wildlife is concentrated around water, and temperatures are cool with little precipitation.
November to February is the green season, which features flowers, young antelope, great light and colors, and migratory birds in breeding plumage. March to May offers a moderate climate with some green remaining. Rain puts in a regular appearance only in the country’s more northerly regions, around December to March, while further south and along the Namib coast, rain is increasingly rare, and may not fall from one year to the next. Temperatures are extreme in the desert, with daytime averages around 75 - 95°F in the rainy season, cooling to 60 - 75°F in the winter months—sometimes plummeting below zero at night.
Home to half of the world’s endangered lowland gorillas, the world’s second-largest French-speaking city, and three lesser-known national parks, the Republic of the Congo is an emerging destination for the intrepid and active traveler. An untrammeled landscape of misty jungles, the vast Congo Basin, miles of river, savannas, and one-quarter of the planet’s tropical rainforests provide limitless opportunity to commune with forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates.
Odzala-Kokoua National Park – One of Africa’s oldest national parks, the 3.3-million-acre Odzala-Kokoua provides habitat for Africa’s highest density of primate species, including some 100 western lowland gorillas. The park’s vast range of landscapes include old-growth rainforest, dry forest, savanna, and numerous glades, with approximately 4,500 recorded species of plants and trees. In addition to gorillas and chimpanzees, nine species of monkeys can be found here—black-and-white colobus, Angolan talapoin, blackcrested mangabey, crested mona, De Brazzas’ greater spotnosed, mantled guereza, moustached guenon, and Tana River mangabey.
Nouabale-Ndoki National Park – Located in along the border with Central African Republic, this is the most pristine stretch of tropical rainforest in the country with no human habitation and the largest concentration of wildlife per square mile of anyplace in Africa. In addition to forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and bongos, the park is home to 300 bird species and 1,000 plus plant and tree species.
Conkouati-Douli National Park – This UNESCO recognized park covers over 1.2 million acres and consists of dense forest, wetlands, floodplain forests, lagoons, and coastal beaches. With so many habitats, this park is the most biodiverse in the country with large populations of chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, and forest elephants, as well as migratory and wetland birds. The protected beaches provide vital nesting sites for five species of marine turtles.
The dry season in the southern part of the country runs from May to September and is considered by many to be the best time to visit, though it is the wettest time of year in the north. If you would like to visit Nouabale-Ndoki, January and February are usually the driest months with better road conditions. March to April and October to December are the rainy seasons in the south and can still be a very rewarding time to visit, just make sure to pack your rain gear.
South Africa invariably wows visitors with its unique mix of beautiful contradictions. Stark mountain chains rise vertically from valleys filled with fields of fynbos (plants endemic to South Africa); deserts and tropical rainforests are separated by slivers of rolling farmland; giant elephant herds wander through savanna that overlooks warm Indian Ocean waves. South Africans themselves provide a marvelous celebration of individuality. This is a country with 11 official languages and a national anthem sung in four mother tongues. Meeting the locals is integral to the experience, and it’s impossible not to be buoyed by their boundless resilience and laughter. If you are looking for a safari plus more (read: wine tasting, surfing, shopping, beach combing, etc.), South Africa is an excellent choice.
Kruger National Park – This world-renowned park ranks among the best in Africa. The park itself is huge and its borders are shared with a number of private reserves. You’ll see a range of different habitats, scenery, and vegetation types, as well as a wealth of wildlife. In general, the number and diversity of animals you can expect to see in Kruger is greater than in the private reserves.
Greater Kruger Area – The private reserves that adjoin Kruger (Sabi Sabi, Sabi Sand, Mala Mala, Manyeleti, Thornybush,
Timbavati, Klaserie, and Balule) offer a more intimate safari experience with some of the most luxurious lodges in the country. Your game drives will be limited to a specific traversing area (relatively small compared to the vastness of Kruger), however, you will see many of the same species found in the national park.
St. Lucia Wetlands – The UNESCO-listed Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park is one of the jewels of South Africa. This unique combination of a subtropical coastline and a classic African game park, encompasses lakes, lagoons, freshwater swamps, and grasslands. St. Lucia supports the country’s largest population of everything from hippos and crocodiles to giant leatherback turtles, black rhinos, leopards, and a vast array of bird and marine life. There is plenty to do—from fishing, boating, and world-class scuba diving to hiking, horseback riding, game viewing, and whale and bird watching
Hluhluwe–Imfolozi – This is the flagship park of the KwaZulu-Natal Province. It is also one of the oldest parks in Africa which was originally protected as a sanctuary for one of the last tiny populations of southern white rhinos; this is where the species was saved from extinction. You will also find black rhino, the Big Five, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, cheetah, impala, and more. In addition to plentiful game, over 400 bird species have been recorded here.
Madikwe Game Reserve – The reserve lies on the edges of the Kalahari, where the Big Five, over 300 resident and migrant birds, and rare African wild dogs can be found. Although state owned, Madikwe operates like a private game reserve. No self- drive visitors are allowed and all drives are conducted by the private lodges dotted around the reserve. This makes for a very exclusive experience; even more so if staying in one of the lodges that has a private concession within the reserve.
South Africa is a year-round destination, with the weather rarely becoming uncomfortable or challenging. In the north you’ll find stark desert conditions and dramatic variations in temperature—except when you’re on the tropical coastline. In the south of the country, the Garden Route is officially one of the world’s most temperate climates. However, South Africa has an exceptional number of sunny days and the depleted southern hemisphere ozone layer can be unforgiving. Peak tourist season runs from Christmas to the end of January, primarily due to the South African summer holidays. Outside this period there is no easy distinction between high and low season. With so much on offer, it’s rare to visit anywhere that feels over-crowded.
Few destinations in Africa can rival Tanzania’s diversity of wildlife, cultures, and landscapes. From the classic savanna destinations of the Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro Crater to the beaches and coral reefs of Zanzibar and the tropical coast, Tanzania has a lot to offer. And that’s before you discover the off-the-beatentrack experiences such as chimpanzee trekking in the magisterial rainforests of Mahale and Gombe, or game viewing in the super-remote Selous Game Reserve.
Serengeti National Park – Few destinations can offer an experience to match the Serengeti’s Great Migration. Forming the centerpiece of most Tanzania safaris, the migration is regarded as Nature at her most extravagant and involves hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and antelope running the gauntlet of predators as they migrate around the Maasai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem.
Ruaha National Park – The largest national park in Tanzania
is named after the Great Ruaha River, which flows along the southeastern border. Noted for its large elephant population which numbers around 10,000, the park is also home to all the usual game species and more than 570 bird species. Katavi National Park – Remote and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness. The main focus for wildlife viewing is the Katuma River and surrounding floodplains; a haven for waterfowl and Tanzania’s highest concentration of hippo and crocodile. As the waters recede, huge herds of elephant and buffalo gather here, along with an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala, and reedbuck. Numerous lions and hyenas can be found here as well.
Ngorongoro Crater – The Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtakingly beautiful setting and one of the best places in Tanzania to see the Big Five. The world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera is also one of the most fertile and richest grazing areas in Africa, with the highest density of big game on the continent. However, as one of the world’s most astonishing and renowned natural wonders, the Ngorongoro Crater does get busy, and at times very busy.
Mahale National Park – This park is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees, a population of around 900 that are habituated to human visitors. The park also borders the world’s longest, second deepest, and least polluted freshwater lake—Lake Tanganyika. With its mountainous terrain, safari vehicles are left behind in favor of nature hikes through the dense rainforest, where nine species of primates can be found. Snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and relaxing on the sandy beaches round out your experiences here.
Selous Game Reserve – This large reserve was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1982 due to its diversity of wildlife and undisturbed habitats. There are no permanent inhabitants and typical savanna species—elephants, lions, wild dogs, cheetahs, buffalos, and giraffe—are found in large numbers here. Walking safaris and boat trips on the Rufiji River are popular game-viewing options.
December to March is summer in East Africa and temperatures are warm, with short, sporadic rain from early November to late March. Game viewing in the Serengeti is excellent during this time. The rainy season runs from early April through early June, however this is still a good time for safaris, when rates are lower and there are fewer crowds. July to November offers comfortable temperatures and is a popular time for travel because of summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere. It can get very busy, so do be sure to book well in advance.
The timing of the Great Migration can shift from year to year— typically from December to March animals congregate around Lake Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As the rains end in May, the animals start moving northwest to the Mara region, where they remain until June. The herds move to Kenya in July and August and remain through the dry season.
Still relatively undiscovered by travelers, Uganda’s wilderness is virtually untouched. Though relatively small, Uganda is a country of many contrasts with rolling hills, sparkling crater lakes, abundant wildlife, and of course, endangered mountain gorillas. Uganda is still authentically African, lush green, and home to some of the friendliest people on the continent.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – Located on the edge of the Rift Valley, Bwindi’s mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests. Home to an estimated 320 mountain gorillas, including several habituated groups, the forest also shelters 120 mammal species, including several primates such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. Close to 350 species of birds have been recorded in this forest! Coming face-to-face with a mountain gorilla is truly an experience of a lifetime.
Queen Elizabeth National Park – The most popular destination in Uganda, this park features sprawling savanna, semi-deciduous tropical forests, green meadows, sparkling lakes, and fertile wetlands, making it the ideal habitat for classic big game, 10 primate species, including chimpanzees, and over 600 species of birds.
Murchison Falls National Park – Situated at the northern end of the Rift Valley, Murchison is Uganda’s oldest and largest conservation area. It includes the Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Refuges and offers a combination of grasslands, wooded savanna, tropical forests, wetlands, and open water. You can find 109 species of mammals and 475 species of birds, including the shoebill. Boat trips on the Victoria Nile are a wonderful option for observing wildlife.
Rwenzori National Park – The Rwenzoris—the fabled Mountains of the Moon—lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo, and lush montane forest. The park hosts 70 mammals and over 200 bird species, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.
Kibale National Park – One of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda, the park is also interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primate including chimpanzees, red colobus, and L’Hoest’s monkeys, as well as 375 bird species.
Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time for gorilla trekking is during the country’s two dry seasons, January to February and from June to September. Game viewing in Uganda’s savanna parks is best at the end of the dry seasons, February, March, and September through early October, when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. Uganda typically experiences heavy rains in April and May. Remember, there are a limited number of permits issued for both gorilla and primate tracking, which must be obtained in advance.
Zambia boasts the largest area of land under the protection of national parks in Africa. Threaded with a number of permanent rivers, all of Africa’s iconic species are abundant throughout the year. Zambia’s enticing network of national parks receives far less visitors than their counterparts in Botswana, Tanzania, or Kenya, and some are considerably wilder. While traditional safari drives are a mainstay, Zambia is the birthplace of walking safaris. Night drives are a further draw, permitted in all of Zambia’s national parks, which offer the opportunity to see a range of nocturnal animals, from the lumbering porcupine to the normally elusive leopard. And creature comforts come courtesy of many small safari lodges, many of them still owner-run and highly individual.
South Luangwa National Park – The country’s most famous park offers superb big-game safaris by vehicle, plus some of Africa’s best walking safaris. Around the Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons, you will find some of the largest concentrations of animals in Africa. The bird life here is also exceptional, with over 400 recorded species.
Lower Zambezi National Park – Set along the languid Zambezi River, big game abounds, often backdropped by beautiful mountain scenery. Along with night and day drives, enjoy boat trips, canoeing, and walking safaris, all based at intimate safari camps perched along the riverbank.
Kafue National Park – Kafue is Zambia’s largest national park, protecting a wide variety of environments on an undulating plateau veined by rivers. Higher, cooler, and less developed than either the Lower Zambezi or the Luangwa, Kafue has species like cheetah, that are rare elsewhere in Zambia. Kafue’s Busanga Plains, a stunning wetland area, is the centerpiece of the park.
North Luangwa National Park – For a very adventurous element, consider the more remote sibling of South Luangwa. North Luangwa is one of Zambia’s great destinations for experienced safari addicts, with just a couple of tiny bush camps that focus almost exclusively on walking safaris. There are very few roads and you are unlikely to see anyone else during your time here.
Victoria Falls – No trip to Zambia would be complete without experiencing the majesty of Victoria Falls, (Mosi-ao-Tunya—the Smoke that Thunders), one of the wonders of the world.
Zambia’s altitude creates a temperate climate. There are three distinct seasons—cool and dry from May to August, hot and dry
from September to mid-November, and warm and wet from mid- November to April. Rainfall is higher in the north of the country. Most visitors travel from June to October, when the land is drying out after the rains and animals are seeking out water.
In the heart of southern Africa, land-locked Zimbabwe is a vibrant country with dramatic landscapes, impressive national parks, and welcoming people. After some difficult years, it is now returning to its rightful place on Africa’s safari circuit. Home to abundant wildlife, top guides, and good lodges, Zimbabwe has all the ingredients for the perfect safari. Zimbabwe is bordered by two rivers, the Zambezi to the north and the Limpopo to the south. In between is an inland plateau filled with kopjes (granite outcrops), beautiful national parks, rugged mountains, and lush forests. There is a huge variety of things to see and with relatively few visitors and no mass tourism, plenty of opportunity to find peace and quiet.
Hwange National Park – The largest game park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park offers a variety of scenery and game with over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 recorded bird species. It is great for walking safaris and game drives where you can see the abundant wildlife, particularly some of Africa’s largest herds of elephant.
Mana Pools National Park – Among the most scenic of Zimbabwe’s safari destinations—with a collection of ox-bow lakes surrounded by lush vegetation—Mana Pools National Park attracts large amounts of wildlife. You can take in the stunning landscapes by 4x4 vehicle, try a canoe trip along the Zambezi River to view the big game, or go on a walking safari.
Matobo National Park – An area scattered with huge piles of granite boulders, this park has some of the region’s most breathtaking scenery. Awarded UNESCO status in 2003, the park includes an intensive protection zone where a large population of black and white rhinos are successfully breeding. In addition to game drives, take a walk among the rugged and majestic Matobo Hills to view interesting rock formations and the superb Bushman rock art.
Matusadona National Park – Located on the shores of Lake Kariba, one of the world’s greatest man-made lakes, Matusadona has three distinct ecological areas. First is the lake and shoreline grassland; second, the Zambezi Valley floor, a mass of thick mopane woodland; and third, the extremely rugged escarpment area which rises 2,300 feet from the valley floor. The most popular safari area is the southern shore of the lake where game is most concentrated. Safaris can include wildlife viewing by vehicle, boat, canoe, or on foot.
Gonarezhou National Park – Three major rivers, Save, Runde, and Mwenezi, cut their courses through this park, forming pools and natural oases from which hundreds of species of birds, wildlife, and fish gather to feed and drink. Famous for its large population of elephants, this is one of the least visited of Zimbabwe’s safari parks, and has prolific birdlife, particularly after the rains.
Victoria Falls – No trip to Zimbabwe would be complete without experiencing the majesty of Victoria Falls, (Mosi-ao- Tunya—the Smoke that Thunders), one of the wonders of the world.
The best time to visit is from May to August, when the temperatures are mild and there is virtually no rain. Temperatures start to heat up in September and October. The green season, December to March offers newborn animals, migrant birds in breeding plumage, and excellent photography.
When packing for Africa, always put comfort and practicality ahead of style. Avoid bright colors and white, which on most safaris and destinations, will not stay white for long. Try to blend into the landscape with animal-friendly greens and khakis. Never dress in camouflage clothing, which is associated with the military. Black and dark blue should be avoided, as both colors are known to attract tsetse flies.
Light, breathable fabrics are most comfortable in tropical Africa. Bring long-sleeved shirts and long pants to wear during dusk and dawn, when biting insects appear and temperatures can be chilly. You will not need formal attire on safari.
Soft-sided duffel bags are preferred (and sometimes required) on internal flights in Africa. Small planes have limited room for
luggage and weight limits are typically 33 - 44 pounds, or 15 - 19 kilos per person, with one carry-on weighing 7 pounds, or 3 kilos.
Fueled by habitat loss and poaching, the rapid decline of wildlife in Africa has been making headlines for years now. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many people have become numb to the news.
Still, when you dive into the numbers, the statistics are staggering. South Africa alone is losing an average of five lions per day, five elephants per hour, and a rhino (whose horn is currently valued at around $65,000 per kg) every seven hours. The devastating decline of these key species, which could eliminate the continent’s entire wild population by 2050, threatens both the environment and the economy of myriad African nations.
Thanks to its stable government and progressive social policies, Botswana has emerged as one of Africa’s burgeoning ecotourism hotspots. Ecotourism in Botswana is big business, bringing in some $250 million in annual revenue, and its growth has surged dynamically in recent years. Here’s a look at why the conservation of Botswana wildlife has proven so successful:
As a nation, Botswana has been increasingly focused on wildlife conservation ever since the early 1960s. That was when the indigenous Batawana people established the Moremi Game Reserve (the first reserve of its kind in Africa) after seeing their lands threatened by illegal hunting and the development of cattle farms.
In terms of preventing poaching, Botswana has considerable natural advantages over safari hotspots such as Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. With just over 2.2 million residents, it has a much smaller population density than those nations. As a landlocked republic, it has no ports for smugglers to take advantage of, and a relatively low rate of corruption compared to other wildlife-rich countries.
In recent years the country has become considerably more aggressive in its efforts to nip poaching in the bud. Botswana banned commercial hunting altogether in 2014, and its anti-poaching laws are very strictly enforced. Botswana’s anti-poaching unit is largely run by the country’s military forces, with top-notch training, helicopters, military-grade weapons, and supplies. And the government-approved shoot-to-kill policy means poaching comes with serious consequences.
Perhaps most importantly, in Botswana, wildlife conservation is largely left in the hands of local communities. This provides the indigenous people with alternative revenue streams to poaching and wildlife trafficking.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about wildlife conservation in Botswana, have a conversation with award-winning filmmaker (and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence) Dereck Joubert
He and his photographer wife, Beverly, are the outspoken animal advocates who created NatGeo’s Big Cat Initiative. The project was designed to protect Africa’s beloved felines, and has since funded more than 60 different projects in 23 countries. Through their Great Plains Conservation and Great Plains Foundation arms, the Jouberts also launched Rhinos Without Borders, an attempt to protect rhinos from poaching by translocating 100 of them from South Africa to Botswana.
Dereck offers an excellent explanation of why conserving keystone African species is so very vital. “Africa generates about $80 billion in ecotourism revenue each year. Most of that is focused on seeing big cats, elephants, and rhinos. If we [have] no big wildlife, that model would collapse immediately. Without those tourism dollars, we’d see increased poverty in many countries and, as a result, increased poaching for bush meat. It’s like a plague that ends in the total eradication of natural wildlife structures, and further damage to sustainable economics in Africa.”
He believes that, for the reasons mentioned above, Botswana can serve as a role model for the future of wildlife conservation in Africa. “In Botswana, we have one of the best and last chances to create and maintain a pristine ecosystem that can be a profound example for the rest of Africa. It’s a model that can, in better times, be rolled out into the many beautiful ecosystems of this continent.”
Botswana’s eco-tourism attractions are wildlife varied, from arid deserts and salt pans to vast wetlands and remote cave systems. In the destinations section you can take a look at five of our favorites for those with an interest in wildlife conservation.
Read more about conservation in Botswana here.
For a hassle-free trip, here are some things to consider before you leave home so you can focus on the stress-free African adventure of your dreams.
Check with your doctor to see what vaccinations and medications you’ll need well before you depart. Many countries require a yellow fever vaccination which needs to be administered at least 10 days prior to entry. Anti malarial medication is recommended for most of sub-Saharan Africa, though not required. Be sure to bring a sufficient amount of your personal medications, as pharmacies are not found in remote safari areas. Other medications that may prove useful include antibiotics, painkillers, antihistamines, and hydrocortison cream. Consider purchasing travel insurance in case of serious injury or illness while traveling.
While most African countries are very safe, it’s always a good idea to keep the following in mind:
Credit cards are accepted at most hotels and large shops in cities, as well as most lodges and camps. It is a good idea to have some cash available if you wish to make purchases at smaller establishments and markets. Be aware that credit fraud is a problem in southern Africa. Keep an eye on your statement and keep all of your receipts.
ATMs are common in most large cities (including international airports) and are a great way to obtain local currency. Fees are usually minimal and you can generally withdraw enough cash for the duration of your trip. Make sure to bring you four-digit PIN code for your debit card. You may also obtain local currency before your trip by contacting your personal bank. Please note that it can take several weeks to fulfill requests, and not all banks offer this service or stock the currency of the country you are visiting. Be sure to call your bank well in advance of your departure date.
In the absence of ATMs, you can obtain local currency at banks and most large hotels. Know the exchange rate before using the services of a money changer. It is also helpful to carry a conversion chart as a reference when making purchases—this can be as simple as a scrap of paper kept in your wallet with $1, $5, and $10 converted into the local currency.
Always carry US dollars as a back up. Only bring newer-issue bills with no rips, marks, or creases, as these are more readily accepted. Small bills can be very useful when making small purchases, especially if you don’t want a lot of change in the local currency.
You must have a valid passport to enter all countries in Africa. Make sure it is valid for at least six months after your return home. Check the visa requirements for the country or countries you are visiting. While visas can be obtained upon arrival in many countries, obtaining your visa beforehand can save you time, and in some cases money. Unfortunately, corrupt border processes are not uncommon throughout the continent, so having your paperwork in order before arrival can save you the hassle of dealing with long lines, filling out confusing forms, and paying additional “fees.” In most cases, obtaining visas in advance using a visa service or applying directly with the embassy in your country will cost more than a visa on arrival, but many times, the peace of mind is worth the extra cost.
Though there are over 1,500 local languages spoken in Africa, English is the official language of many countries and is commonly used in the tourism industry. French is another language you may encounter, it is primarily used in Northern and Western Africa, as well as the Seychelles and Madagascar. German is spoken in Namibia and there are large German speaking communities in South Africa and Cameroon. Learning some key phrases in the local language can go a long way with locals—“Hello, Please, Thank you, How much? How are you? and What’s your name?—are a good place to start.
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