Africa Safaris – All you Need to Know to Plan the Vacation of a Lifetime
This page gives you all the information you need to plan Africa safaris or Africa vacations. From the very first night you spend under African skies deep in the wilderness of this wild continent, you will be in love with Africa. And, you will long to come back here… If you are very lucky, you will get to visit all the wonderful places discussed in this section of my website.
This page is about general safaris to Africa. I cover safaris with a specific wildlife photography focus on my African Photographic Safaris page…
On Africa safaris — no matter what kind — you will get very good opportunities for nature photography. However, first you need to know where to go.
Most foreign visitors get the opportunity to visit Africa only once in their lifetime. You might be more blessed and go on Africa safaris more often, especially if you actively plan to get here while you are still young. However, it is still of utmost importance that you are well informed about your options beforehand, and get to make the correct choice.
The preparation and planning for your safari can be quite a challenge, but you will most probably find it very exciting because you are looking forward to it so much. Some careful research here and elsewhere on the web will enable you to make a decision on each of the following questions:
- Which countries offer the best Africa safaris?
- Which country do you want to visit?
- What type of safari would you want to embark on?
- What time of year will you be visiting?
- What will you need to take?
Which countries offer the best Africa safaris?
There are, in my opinion, only a few countries in Eastern and Southern Africa worth spending money on for an Africa safari:
- South Africa*
* — The countries marked with an asterisk offer very good wildlife viewing opportunities and are suitable for first time visitors to Africa.
Click here to see a Map of Africa. You can click on any of the countries for country specific map.
For the African vacation ideas, there is a wide range of options including luxury safaris, custom safari, Uganda wildlife tour, budget camping safaris, walking safaris, mountain climbing, family holidays etc.
If you are looking for a fully inclusive vacation package there are several tour operators who sell packages at discounted prices.
Activity Based Holidays
Are you looking at engaging in a particular adventure activity in africa. There are several safaris that are themed on several adventures such as
- gorilla tracking in Uganda,
- bird watching tours,
- game viewing safaris to several national parks such as Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Lake Manyara,
- wildebeest migration
Which country do you want to visit?
You will most probably already have an idea as to which of the countries listed above you want to visit.
Those marked with an asterisk are ideal for first time visitors to Africa, and offer you very good wildlife viewing. South Africa also offers much more than the normal Africa safari itinerary, and you can consider some of the other attractions in conjunction with your safari. You will not be the first person to spend a week in Cape Town before flying in to a luxury lodge in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve.
From a nature photography point of view, consider what each country has to offer. Botswana offers extremely good wildlife and bird photography opportunities, while Kenya offers similar opportunities (and the wildebeest migration) albeit in a totally different type of habitat. The whole of Eastern Africa offers good natural landscape opportunities, while South Africa offers arguably the greatest diversity. Namibia is certainly one of the world’s best places for desert photography. If you are looking for wild gorillas, you need not look further than Uganda.
What type of safari would you like to embark on?
Your answer to this question will most probably be influenced by your budget constraints. While all of us would like to visit one of the luxury fly-in game lodges in the Okavango Delta for four weeks, this is not always possible. However, Africa can be explored on a reasonable budget as well.
My preferred method of traveling is self-drive Africa safaris. The cheapest option is to be self-sufficient and prepare your own meals, have enough gas and pitch your own tent (easy with rooftop tents). It is however not necessary to be totally self-sufficient. There are organized self-drive tours available, where an experienced guide with an excellent crew looks after you in terms of tented accommodation and food. You just have to bring a vehicle (a rental is fine), a passport and some drinks. You will still be doing quite a bit of driving though.
The only guided safari I undertook was with Frank Carlisle, an experienced 4×4 tour leader and friend of mine. He has an excellent crew, will make you feel right at home, and will remove all the fear surrounding your visit to Africa. He is co-founder and of Bhejane 4×4 Adventures. I assure you that any trip you embark on with Frank will be a memorable and safe one. Unfortunately Frank does not at present offer any safaris to Eastern Africa.
Obviously, a foreigner going on a self-drive safari in Africa will need to rent a 4×4 vehicle, kitted with all the equipment necessary. Britz 4×4 Rentals for Africa safaris, based in South Africa, is one company supplying such 4x4s and have a very good reputation.
Luxury Lodge Safaris
Visiting one of the hundreds of luxury lodges in Africa is a very easy option — if you can afford the higher cost.
In 2006, I had the enormous privilege of spending three nights at the MalaMala Game Reserve. Ever since I jokingly tell people that these guys literally show you the Big Five on your morning game drive, and then again on your sunset game drive. And it’s almost true…
I visited MalaMala to get some leopard pictures. This elusive cat is my favorite animal, and I had to wait a long time to get leopard photographs. On my visit to MalaMala I had six different leopard sightings! If you know anything about how elusive these cats are, you’ll realize how significant that number is…
I can really encourage any nature or wildlife photographer to visit MalaMala without any reservations. You will get great sightings and, if you know what you are doing, even greater photographs.
What time of year will you be visiting?
My personal time of year recommendation for Africa safaris is the local country’s wintertime. This is the best time to visit since the discomfort levels due to heat is not as bad as in summer (Africa can get really hot!), and the risk of contracting malaria is lower. However, people embark on Africa safaris all year round. It is best to know what to expect of the different seasons…
The safari areas of Southern Africa experience rainfall mainly from November to March. May through to August is generally a very good time to travel, with May and June probably at lower rates. However, the Cape provinces experience winter rainfall, and spring or summer time is definitely the best time of year to visit. All the wildflowers of Namaqualand start blooming in spring, and is worth seeing.
In Eastern Africa long rainfall occurs from April to early June and it can be less expensive to travel at this time of the year. Rainfall also occurs in November and December, but then mainly as showers that pass quickly. As in the rest of Africa, July and August are the most popular months for visitors. At this time of year it is easier to see animals, because the grass and bushveld is less dense and also because animals flock around water supply as it is not readily available in the open veld.
What will you need to take?
The following list is not exhaustive by any means, and should be confirmed with your safari organizers before you depart. The list also do not cover the items required for self-sufficient, self-drive Africa safaris, as this will be a much longer list.
- Comfortable shoes (some form of hiking shoe is usually sufficient)
- A warm jacket (a light one and a wind proof one)
- Summer clothing for the day
- Trousers for evenings
- Tracksuit to sleep in
- Sufficient underwear and socks
- A hat for all round sun protection
- Swim suit
- Raincoat (when visiting during the rainy season)
Other personal items
- Camera equipment!!!
- Sun-block (a higher factor of around SPF 30)
- Medication (the usual plus precautionary for influenza and headaches)
- Small flashlight or headlamp (especially important if camping)
- Pocket knife or multi-tool such as a Leatherman
- Sunglasses are very important (polarized lenses are recommended)
- Bird and Mammal identification books, recommended:
- Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa
- Birds of Eastern Africa
- Field Guide to Larger Mammals of Africa
- Further reading for the evening — The Safari Companion or Beat Around the Bush Mammals or Birds
- Toothbrush and enough toothpaste
- Shaving cream and razor
- Soap (citronella soap if possible for mosquitoes) and shampoo
- Towels — one for bathing and one for swimming
- After sun soothing lotion
- Other items you usually travel with…
There are a lot of further important issues to be considered before jetting off on any Africa safaris. These range from taking along your offspring — to malaria tablets — to adapter plugs for charging your camera’s batteries. I plan on discussing these issues and specific destinations of importance in articles as the site develops. Here is a list of further articles on Africa Safaris:
- Luxury African Photographic Safari in East Africa
- Rwanda: A Great Destination for Primate Safaris
- Tips for Mountain Gorilla Photography
- Meet the Primates of Rwanda
- What Makes Photography in the Kalahari Such a Good Idea?
- The Kalahari is a Nature Photographer’s Paradise
- Cheetah Family – A Day in the Life of the Fastest Cats
- Exploring the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Best 10 Picturesque Sights in Uganda
- Wildlife Photography Technique is Where Most Amateurs Fail