African Safari: How To Choose Your Ideal Safari Destination

Outdoors & Animals

Two Lions up close in the bush
You have decided to go on or are thinking about an African safari but might possibly have a problem deciding on where to go. In this article Goway’s Robert Glazier, a veteran of many safaris, points out things for you to consider when deciding which part of Africa to visit for your ultimate African safari experience.

The world is teeming with wonderful and colourful wildlife and there is no better way to experience it than on an African safari. Africa is an immense continent and has the biggest population of large animals in the world plus an awful lot of smaller ones too.  I would not be so bold as to single out any one destination, especially as each country offering safaris has its individual attractions. What I would like to do is point out, purely from my personal perspective, what I have seen, know and experienced.

Let’s first list the countries known for their safaris. In East Africa, they are Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. In Southern Africa, they are South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The number one attraction in both places is of course, the animal life.  I hasten to add that you are not going to be disappointed with any choice you may make.

You have heard of the Big Five (lion, leopard, African buffalo, elephant and black rhinoceros).  Well, you can see them in either East or Southern Africa. If Lions are the big attraction, it is true there are way more in East Africa than Southern Africa. If it is elephants you enjoy, Botswana is home to approximately 80% of Southern Africa’s elephant population and huge herds are quite a common sight. If you are wanting to see gorillas and chimpanzees, head to Rwanda or Uganda.

One of the most magnificent animal sights in Africa is the Great Migration which takes place between Tanzania (Serengeti) and Kenya (Masai Mara). This is when the Wildebeest migrate in huge numbers in search of food and water. It is an amazing occurrence taking place twice a year, one north to south around October and one south to north around July.  Another fascinating sight is a “kill”. I was spellbound once in Tanzania when I saw a pride of lions gnawing away at a recently killed impala. Surrounding them were several hyenas keeping a respectful distance awaiting their turn to enjoy some of the leftovers. Circling above this scene was a number of vultures hovering overhead waiting to eventually pick the bones clean to eventually leave almost nothing. That was the food chain in action.  Other amazing and rare sights were of lions and leopards sitting quietly in trees.

The Varying Landscapes of Africa

There are definite differences in the various terrains. My general impression in both Kenya and Tanzania was that of vast plains teeming with herds of animals. In South Africa, it was more a case of often seeking out animals in the bush. Now you might think that’s not very exciting. Well, it certainly is, because your vehicle driver/guide knows exactly where to find the animals and when he does, it adds to the thrill of discovering them.  Don’t get the impression all animals in Southern Africa are hiding, they are not. They just blend in more with the terrain. In Botswana, the terrain varies from arid desert to lush grasslands. The latter is particularly conducive to attracting wildlife due to the amount of water available through water channels and lagoons.

And the Weather?

When considering an African safari, the weather can be a factor. In East Africa, October and April are considered the wet seasons and are, for the most part, the off-season pricewise. However, the animals are still very much in evidence. In Southern Africa, it is rainy generally between November and March.

Hippopotamus fighting it out in Kenya
Hippopotamus – the semi aquatic herbivores of the sub-sahara
African Safari Vehicles

For some reason, the types of safari vehicles used differ in East Africa from those in Southern Africa. In East Africa, the most common vehicle is the min-van with a pop-up roof allowing passengers to be able to take pictures standing up. In Southern Africa, you will usually travel in an open sided jeep with no roof. In certain game reserves in South Africa and Botswana, the form of transportation can be on elephant-back which gives the opportunity to get really close to the wildlife.  It seems, as far as the animals are concerned, the smell of the elephants is greater than that of humans resulting in the ability to be closer to them than in a vehicle.

Different types of safari vehicles are available on your african safari
The type of safari vehicle used will vary depending on the location of your African safari

In Southern Africa, all the wildlife reserves and parks have strict rules about how many vehicles can view a herd of animals at the same time whereas, in East Africa, there is no limit.  There is a difference between the way in which the wildlife is controlled (if animals can be controlled) between East and South.

In East Africa, they are somewhat freer to roam within reason (no borders or boundaries). The Great Migration is one example crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. In South Africa, there are usually fences keeping them restricted to certain areas, large though these may be.

Accommodation Aspects on your African Safari

Another difference is the style of a safari. In East Africa, the game drives will be within a reasonable range from the lodge or camp in the game park in which you are staying. To maximize your African safari, you really must travel to other game parks which can and do offer quite often a different set of animals.

Bathroom view overlooking a pool and wooden deck at a lodge in Africa
Accommodation in Africa can be very luxurious

In Southern Africa, you can experience maximum enjoyment staying at just one location. When it comes to accommodation, there can be a difference. Southern Africa is known for its luxury accommodations sometimes with its own landing strip and territory. Before you get the impression you would be restricted to the lodges’ own terrain, let me stress there is a mutual arrangement between lodges which allows vehicles to roam freely throughout each other’s territory.

There are certainly luxury accommodations in East Africa but one special type comes to mind and that is the luxury tented camp. I have described this in a related article regarding African safaris.

African Safari: The Ultimate Outdoor Experience for Animal Lovers

Outstanding Wildlife Parks to Consider for Your African Safari

There are an awfully large number of wildlife parks, large and small in Africa. Let’s look at some specific game reserves which, in my opinion, are special, unique or unusual.

Tanzania 

One of my favourite game reserves in Tanzania is the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area which was formed when a giant volcano exploded and then collapsed around two to three million years ago. The crater, and it is a crater, hosts some of the highest densities of lions in the world and is a good place to see the endangered black rhino. The rim hosts leopards, elephants and buffalo. In total, the crater houses a permanent population of more than 30,000 animals.

Another game reserve in Tanzania which has a unique attraction is the Lake Manyara National Park. The lions here are famous for climbing trees. It is also an excellent bird-watching area with more than 400 species having been recorded here.

Then there is Serengeti. I have already made mention of the Great Migration. This park is the best place to view it. Imagine 1,300,000 wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 200,000 zebras and thousands of other similar animals on the move.  The park is still exceptional outside of this phenomenon.

Panorama photograph from the wildebeast and zebra migration in Africa

Kenya

The Mount Kenya National Park is home to Africa’s second highest mountain, Mount Kenya at 6000 metres/19,500 feet and is also an amazing place to not only view this majestic mountain but to indulge in some excellent animal and bird viewing.

The Lake Nakuru National Park is famous as home to around 2 million flamingos (gasp!) Interestingly enough, it is the only fully fenced park in Kenya, not to keep the animals in but to keep poachers out.  Also, there are about 50 rare tree-climbing lions in the park.

The Masai Mara Game Reserve is the other recipient of the Great Migration. It is also a good place to view birdlife as it hosts over 570 recorded species.

South Africa

South Africa has many game reserves but, of course the best known is Kruger National Park and quite rightly so. In some ways, it can be confusing as the park is made up of two sections. The first is the public eastern section which has mainly somewhat basic accommodations – camping, tents huts, bungalows and cottages. It is possible to stay just outside the park in a more upscale hotel.  Safaris here are such that all vehicles must stay on the roads and not traverse the bush. In the western section, known as Sabi Sands, the opposite is the case as vehicles can travel anywhere.  This is the home of the upscale luxury private game lodges each of which has its own territory.

Baby elephant trunk smelling while protected by attentive mother
A baby elephant and attentive mother

The third largest game reserve in South Africa is the Addo Elephant National Park with its 600 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo plus the Big Five.

Botswana 

Chobe National Park in the north of the country is home to some of Africa’s highest concentrations of game and has the largest continuous elephant population on the continent of Africa, some 40,000. But what is unique is one method here of viewing animals. You can embark on a boat cruise along the Chobe River and experience great views of not only elephants but also hippos and crocodiles. An African safari with a difference.

The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world. It is vast and as such, it attracts thousands of animals making it one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. And for birders, there over 400 different species of birds.

Namibia

The very attractive Etosha National Park is located in the north of Namibia and is home to some rare and unusual animals and 300 different bird species. It is also one of the best places to see the endangered black rhinoceros. During the wet season (November to March),  Etosha is filled with a swathe of green grass and flowers.

Rwanda

One of the most endangered animals a great silverback Mountain Gorilla
The mountain gorilla’s of Rwanda

Yes, gorillas are mainly found in Rwanda or Uganda. One very special place to see these amazing creatures is the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda which is about a 2-hour drive from Kigali, the capital and largest city in Rwanda. During a gorilla trek, it is possible to get within just a few metres/yards of a family of gorillas. However, be prepared for a full day of trekking.

Here Are Some Animal Facts to Entice You to go on an African Safari
  • 4 of the 5 fastest land animals are found in Africa – the lion, the cheetah, the wildebeest and the Thomson’s gazelle. The cheetah can reach up to speeds of 112 kilometres/70 miles per hour
  • The weight of an African elephant can reach 6350 kilograms/14,000 pounds.
  • The gorilla is the largest primate on earth but very shy
  • The most dangerous animal in Africa is the hippopotamus. They are very territorial and will attack anything that enters their area. Funnily enough, they are herbivores
  • Elephants only eat vegetation and are not carnivorous
  • Giraffes have tongues that are dark blue and average around half a metre/20 inches in length.
  • The female lion does most of the hunting for food

So, if I have confused you as to whether to try East or Southern Africa for your African safari, just bear in mind, no matter what your decision, you will definitely experience nature and animal life at its best wherever you go.

For more travel information on Africa or for African safari travel ideas contact one of our African destination specialists or visit us at www.goway.com.