A simple guide…
how to plan an extraordinary African safari for first timers and seasoned African travellers
Over the last 6 generations early settlers, hunters, missionaries and explorers were on safari as a way of life in East and Southern Africa. Today’s recreational travellers are generally led down mainstream avenues within Africa’s safari circuits as “tourists”. Why not simply break the mould, get imaginative and go beyond the obvious?
Don’t be a tourist, become an adventurer instead and explore Africa on safari…in ways that it used to be done!
Here’s how – where to go, why and when…
Recap on your Safari Geography
East Africa’s mainstream safari destinations are accessed via Nairobi into Kenya and Tanzania. This is where the annual wildebeest migration plays out on centre stage within the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystems. It’s touted as the “greatest show on earth”. Get it right and you’ll encounter great masses of wildebeest, zebra and antelope with a healthy dose of big game and predators in action. Get it wrong and you’ll be in the company of safari crowds being treated to an outdoor circus act – there’s no need for that in a region the size of Western Europe.
Southern Africa’s traditional holiday haunts favour South Africa. You’ll find Africa’s best metropolis, Cape Town; immense cultural diversity across the country; you can enjoy fine dining and first class wines, cold beers and BBQ’s the way they’re meant; you’ll find a wide selection of safari options within a multitude of game parks through South Africa. The best use of Johannesburg International Airport however is to get out into the wilder hinterlands of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia! This is where you’ll find greater habitat diversity, breathtaking outdoor vistas and immense populations of big game – fewer crowds in the right places too.
Central Africa is reserved for intrepid, generally well-seasoned and well-heeled adventurers with a few safari gems within Gabon and Congo.
Our safari seasons
East Africa’s annual migration is driven by the availability of fresh grazing and water which shifts as the rainy seasons pass through the year. We have a short and “shallow” rain in November, a long and “deep” rain from March to May. So the East African safari season is at its peak in Tanzania from December to March and across the entire eco-system in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda from June to October.
Excluding the “Mediterranean” climate in the Cape, southern Africa has 3 main seasons. A wet and warm summer from November to April, a cool and dry winter during May and June with a hot and dry safari season from July to October.
Migrant birds flock into the southern hemisphere’s summer between September and April and as a rule wildlife tends to concentrate in valleys and on river courses during the dry periods so the end of season from September until the start of the rains in November is prime time! This applies in East, Central and Southern Africa.
People make the difference on safari
Whether the interest is wild migrations or big game or perhaps the pursuit of rare species or unique landscapes or special cultures we’ll consistently point you in the direction of remote places with no crowds. The surest guarantee of an extraordinary safari experience in these wilder places is in the company of Africa’s top guides. This is what makes the difference on safari.
Safety always comes first and creature comforts can be taken for granted wherever we go but importantly you’ll meet some big personalities who’ve dedicated their lives to conservation, ecology and natural history. They’re passionate, inspirational and knowledgeable individuals who’ll share a great zest for life and invariably sport wicked senses of humour. Don’t expect to lose weight or to get a lot of sleep on safari but you can be assured of great stories that’ll raise smiles for years to come.
East Africa for first-timers
The annual migration is an irregular clockwise movement of approximately 1.5 million wildebeest, gazelle and zebra around the larger Serengeti eco-system.
To catch the action you need to look at Tanzania’s Serengeti or Kenya’s Masai Mara at any time of year except April and May when the “long” and deep rains have set in.
Main access is via Nairobi (Kenya), Arusha or Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and to keep costs in check you ought to concentrate on one or the other….
Tanzania’s northern circuit (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and Manyara) is best for the migration from January to April in the southern Serengeti and again from August to November in the north. Beyond the migration you’ll find outstanding wildlife with resident big game in the south and west of the country (Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale) with good beach options on Zanzibar and Pemba. If you’re after wildlife, volume and variety then Tanzania is a better choice than Kenya.
Kenya‘s Masai Mara is at its best for the migration from July to October and the area is ideally combined with other more diverse habitats (Amboseli, Laikipia, Meru, the Northern Frontier District and the Rift Valley) and the beach spots around Lamu and Malindi. If wildlife is an interest and you’re also interested in culture and a beach break then Kenya’s a better bet than Tanzania.
If planning a safari/beach combination then August/September is better for wildlife, February/March is better for beaches.
The one rule for East Africa is that the small and remote options are where you’re most likely to avoid crowds and have access to the best guides. When the migration is “on”, space is at a premium and advance bookings are essential.
Southern Africa for a big game safari
Southern Africa has loads of diversity and excellent wildlife with a broad range of safari options to suit all tastes and budgets. Unlike East Africa, the southern region is suitable for travel year round.
The main safari season runs from May to October with game conditions improving steadily as the season progresses. During the summer peak we have a “green season” from November to April with most rain falling in February/March.
Johannesburg is the main international hub and the iconic Victoria Falls offers simple access into the wilder safari regions.
Zambia: arguably southern Africa’s best safari spot with exceptional wildlife in the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi valleys. It’s renowned for walking safaris with some of Africa’s top guides.
Zimbabwe: home too many of the continent’s most well-known professional guides and particularly rewarding for big game and predators in Hwange and the lower Zambezi valley. Walking and canoe safaris are our favoured safari modes.
Botswana: traditionally regarded as southern Africa’s most exclusive safari destination with the best wildlife in the Moremi and Chobe. Whilst relatively high prices keep the crowds at bay Botswana offers excellent “green season” value from December to March.
Namibia: wildlife in Etosha is excellent but the real attraction in Namibia is its dramatic and rugged landscapes especially in the remote spots within the Namib Desert or on the northerly border alone the Kunene River. Best done on a self-drive basis especially if you have time on your hands.
South Africa: very easy, fairly tame and untouched in Africa for variety. Offers easy international access and simple routes to wilder safari destinations further north.
Safari tips for seasoned travellers
Birding: go anywhere is good from November to April! Uganda, Gabon, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa offer amongst the best safari habitats for birders. Absolute best is late October to mid-December.
Gorillas: permits for mountain gorillas in Uganda/Rwanda are easy; lowland gorillas in Gabon need time/patience/tolerance; options in CAR/Congo are good and as yet not mainstream. Doable at any time of year.
Chimps: Kibale in Uganda, Mahale in Tanzania offer totally different experiences. Any time of year. Expect some tough tracking in June and January.
Big game: Aim for the Luangwa, Mana Pools, Hwange, Moremi, Linyanti, Chobe, Katavi, Selous, Ruaha – the largest congregations are found in October.
Lions: Lower Zambezi, Okavango and Linyanti from May to November; Queen Elizabeth NP’s Ishasha area for tree-climbing lions; Katavi’s Kapapa River in September to November; Kidepo Valley in north Uganda.
Elephants: Mana Pools, Linyanti, Chobe, the Luangwa, Selous, Katavi, Amboseli.
Wild dogs: Moremi and Linyanti in June; Selous in July/August; South Luangwa during the green season.
Leopards: the South Luangwa and southern Kafue anytime between May and October
Cheetah: go to Okavango/Linyanti, Namibia or Kenya’s Mara from June to October
Wildebeest migration in East Africa: use a mobile camp or take a walking safari and go late October/early November to the northern Serengeti.
Wildebeest migration in southern Africa: join a small group and go to Liuwa Plains in western Zambia in December, May or June; visit the Makgadikgadi Pans around March.
Bats! Visit Zambia in November for the convergence of millions of “straw-coloured fruit bats” as they descend on Kasanka National Park.
History and culture: visit Ethiopia and the historical sites of Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar; explore Lamu or Stonetown for Swahili culture; explore some of South Africa’s recent past through battlefields and townships.
Safari-Beach combinations: go to Kenya or Cape Town in February/March; Zambia and Mozambique in September/October; Seychelles in May to September; Madagascar in October/November; and for fresh water beaches combine Katavi with Mahale or the Luangwa with Malawi between May and October.
Active safaris: canoe the lower Zambezi any time of year; take a walking safari in Mana Pools, the Luangwa or Selous between June and October; go trekking in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains or the Rwenzoris from Uganda.
Educational encounters: go to Victoria Falls to walk with lions and take an elephant back trail; do work as a chimp caregiver on Ngamba Island in Uganda; spend some time anywhere in the company of the best guides.
Family safaris: get the kids active in the Kenyan bush and beaches; combine Victoria Falls with Botswana or Zambia; take a malaria free safari to the Kruger and Cape.
Secluded spots: seek out some real gems in Tanzania’s western corridor; venture further north on Kenya’s coast or the northern Frontier District; visit the Kidepo Valley and Semliki in Uganda or Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.
The golden rule on safari: by all means use mainstream destinations for easy and inexpensive access into Africa but whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned traveller aim for the wild and remoter places for no crowds, best conditions and Africa’s top guides.
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