For a first-time safari traveler, the abundance of information can be overwhelming. This can cause you to overbook activities, spend more money than necessary, and have a chaotic itinerary that will only tire you out.
With nearly 15 years of experience living and working in the South African wilderness, I'm here to give you tips on how to pick an African safari.
How to Pick an African Safari
To pick an African safari, you must first set your travel goals, consider the travel season, determine your budget, and know your transportation preferences. In this way, you can choose your lodge style, pick the wildlife you want to see, and select the bucket list activities you want to do.
This beginner's guide on choosing your trip locations or activities will help you plan every step of the way. Find Your Africa can assist you in discovering and navigating the best destinations for your first safari.
Set Your Safari Travel Goals
What type of African safari do you want? Setting goals is the first step to choosing an African safari tour.
The preferences of your travel companions will affect the focus of your trip. These are the types of trips you can explore.
Overland safari: An overland safari is a classic tour. It's the best way to discover African wildlife with old-school camping. This is perfect for small groups who like to embark on thrilling outdoor adventures.
Beach safari: When clients ask me about safari trips that balance relaxation and action-packed activities, I typically recommend a beach tour. A day or two at the beachside is an excellent way to wrap up your holiday.
Family safari: Traditional trips may not be suitable for families with younger children. However, young adventurers can still explore the beauty of Africa's wildlife. You can opt for family-oriented packages that include activities and accommodations that can cater to the needs of little ones.
Honeymoon safari: A luxury tour is one of the perfect ways to have a honeymoon. Relax at comfortable high-end lodging while having guided tours to witness Africa's breathtaking views.
Birding safari: East Africa has 63% of endemic species of birds. If you're an avid birdwatcher, you can also choose a package to visit areas where you can spot birds easily.
List Your Must-Do Experiences
With vibrant city life, magnificent sceneries, and breathtaking wildlife, there are so many things to do and witness on African tours. Listing your must-do experiences is one way to select your trip activities and places.
Game Drives and Walking Tours
Going on a game drive or a walking tour is the heart of every safari. You'll spend the majority of your time doing this. Book guided drives or walking tours on a country's national park or private game reserve.
Surf along Madagascar's Libanona Beach or bungee jump at the Bloukrans Bridge in the Garden Route of South Africa. There's also the ultimate adrenaline rush of whitewater rafting on the Nile River.
From halal meats and various fruits and vegetables, North Africa will keep your belly full of delicious food. There are also protein-packed local meals in Central Africa. Meanwhile, you can try traditional dishes like thieboudienne and groundnut stew in West Africa.
You can score cheap finds like traditional clothing, spices, and souvenirs in markets. Some of my favorites include the Bakaara Market in Somalia, Khan el-Khalili in Egypt, and the African Craft Market in South Africa.
Cultural and Heritage Immersions
Africa is home to some of the earliest civilizations, including the seven influential empires that shaped the world. From museum hopping to village visits, you'll learn about the everyday living of locals and appreciate more of their customs, histories, and lifestyles.
Think About the Season
Timing is one of the most crucial factors that can help you pick a destination in Africa. The date or season you choose to travel can either make or break your whole experience.
Weather patterns depend on the country. So, be sure to check each country's dry season to find the right time to visit them. As a beginner's guide, these are the different travel seasons in the continent.
The peak season results in more abundant and visible wildlife. For instance, you can spot plenty of animals on the Masai Mara National Reserve from July to October as they migrate from Tanzania's Serengeti Park.
Water holes also have a superb viewing experience. It's ideal to go to these places during the dry season. However, expect bigger crowds and higher tour prices.
Another way to choose a safari is to consider the cheapest time to visit Africa: the green season. However, know that this is also the rainy season when more foliage appears. Thus, it's much more challenging to spot wildlife.
Aside from that, some parks are close to visitors because the dirt roads become impassable for game drives.
The shoulder season happens between the peak and green seasons. It's the transitional period between the wet and dry seasons, around May and November.
While there will be light rains, you can still experience excellent wildlife viewing, possibly with smaller crowds.
Know What Animals You Want to See
African safaris are home to several species of animals, some you'll only see on the continent. The best part is that you see them up close in their natural environment, not zoos.
Your visit wouldn't be complete without seeing the world-famous Big Five, consisting of the lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and rhino. It's best to visit East African countries like Tanzania and Kenya to observe them in their natural habitat.
Prepare a Budget
Setting a budget will greatly influence what activities you can do and how long you can stay in Africa, especially for your first safari. Operating a safari involves intensive logistics to provide high-class services to many travelers. Luxury packages will cost more than traditional tours.
When you make a vacation budget, make sure that it covers everything, especially the flights, accommodation, food, and access to activities and attractions. You may also have to prepare for tips, optional activities, extra food, and souvenirs.
Whenever I explain options to clients, I also discuss their budget preferences. I generally recommend booking a luxury tour package where you'll only need to pay a fixed price, saving you the worry of expenses during the trip.
Set the Number of Days
Creating an itinerary is hard when you don't set how many days you'll spend in Africa. Knowing the number of days you need for an event or activity will help you pick what kind of tour to choose.
Three to four days could be too short, mainly when you include air travel. A good rule of thumb is to spend at least seven to 10 days on a safari. Within this timeframe, you should be able to visit at least two countries and do a range of activities.
Your budget, the number of countries you want to visit, group size, and preferred activities can influence the number of days you can spend on your vacation. This is why I host an exclusive luxury tour lasting 10 days and nine nights.
Consider Your Meal Preferences
Gastronomy tourism is growing in Africa, helping visitors enhance their cultural understanding of the local regions. Century-long trading and customs have resulted in a distinct and diversified classification of African meals.
Whether it's to energize to start your day or a refreshing meal to stir up your appetite after a long game drive, knowing what you want to eat will also help you choose African packages.
Most lodges offer scrumptious cooked meals and a couple of snacks. Meanwhile, some camps will let you cook food. To give a delightful and savory eating experience, my luxury tour includes nine breakfast meals, nine lunches, and six hosted dinners to let you try local cuisines.
Determine Your Lodge Style
Knowing your sleeping arrangements can also help you choose an African safari. These are some types to consider:
Traditional camps: Go old-school with small tents that can accommodate two people. While this is a good option for travelers looking for a budget-friendly stay, it often comes with shared bathrooms and limited amenities.
Lodge-style: A lodge is a luxurious accommodation where you can sleep in comfortable rooms surrounded by a gorgeous African interior. This is perfect for families who want to prioritize safety and comfort for a good night's rest after a day filled with activities.
Luxury tents: Also called glamping, this lets you experience semi-traditional outdoor camping with some grandeur.
Treehouse lodging: Treehouses are gaining popularity because the open air is the perfect opportunity to sleep under the stars.
Consider Who You Are Traveling With
When deciding what kind of safari to do and where in Africa to stay, your travel companions will also have an impact on your final decision. For instance, South Africa usually suit families, even those with younger families. The Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta have fun activities for kids.
If you're on a honeymoon or anniversary trip with your partner, your options will be pretty flexible depending on your interests. Meanwhile, if you're a solo traveler who wants to join groups, you can benefit from fixed tours.
Decide Whether You Want a Tour Package or DIY Trip
A safari tour isn't exactly ideal for DIY itineraries. However, there may be parts where you can join tours and have a bit of time on your own.
For example, have a guided tour when you want to explore the African wilderness. Then, if you want some alone time in the city, you can opt out of group tours. Some also consider self-drive games.
Overall, a tailor-made package covering the best African experiences is a good starting point. In this way, you can have group discounts on activities and accommodation to reduce the final cost of your vacation. You'll also have an ease of traveling wherein everything will be prepared for you.
Check Transportation Options
The African savanna is a rugged landscape you shouldn't underestimate when driving. Once you hit the trail, tracks can get rough and bumpy.
Most tours use 4x4 drives that can withstand the challenges of the African terrain. They also have pop-up roofs for the ultimate game-viewing experience.
While most tours use a 4x4 Land Cruiser, other ways exist to explore the African wilderness. You can go on hot air balloons, boats, and small airplane rides.
Decide on the Number of Countries You Want to Visit
Whenever you travel, it's understandable that you'll want to visit as many places as possible to maximize your time and expenses. When deciding on African trips, a significant factor to consider is whether you'll pick a single country or visit multiple countries.
Whether in Kenya or Botswana, staying in one country is suitable if you want to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle, tradition, and culture. This is also perfect for travelers who wish to save on expenses and avoid multiple rides.
However, the downside is that you may limit yourself to attractions and activities, mainly if the season isn't favorable.
There's the temptation to go to South Africa to see Table Mountain and Boulders Beach at Cape Town. The next thing you know, you want to experience a helicopter ride in Zimbabwe. When you research, there's the urge to fly to Seychelles for a quiet beach trip.
My team's luxury tours focus on two countries only: Zimbabwe and South Africa. These are two of the top locations that let you experience everything the continent offers. Still, there are other countries that are worth exploring.
Where to Go in Africa for a Safari
Africa has a safari experience that will suit every kind of traveler. However, where should you go with such a vast area and many activities to choose from aside from safari? For a beginner's guide, here is a list of the top countries to help you select a destination in Africa.
Southern Africa should be on your list when planning your first trip to Africa. It is the first port of call for most tours, making it a gateway to other countries.
Botswana is one of the most popular tourist destinations, as it's home to the Big Five. Its vast wilderness is perfect for travelers seeking pristine, unfenced surroundings. Consider adding Botswana to your travel list if you're any of these kinds of travelers:
Travel and wildlife photographers who want to photograph animals at Okavango Delta or the Chobe National Park.
Birdwatchers who want to explore the 12 sites listed as Important Bird Areas.
Foodies who want to experience world-class dining and supreme comfort at impeccable luxury lodges.
Luxury travelers who prefer unbeatable exclusivity, high-quality services, and customized trips for small groups.
South Africa is often the first country of choice for many travelers, particularly first-time safari-goers. It's home to vast game reserves where you can do extensive activities.
Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts will have unforgettable underwater experiences, especially between May and August.
Game drives to witness the Big Five along Kruger and Sabi Sand Nature Reserve.
A dining experience where you can taste local cuisine that highlights beef, chicken, and goat.
This country is a hidden gem that offers a unique combination of safari and beach experiences, making it an exceptional destination for travelers seeking adventure and relaxation.
This vibrant country boasts an abundance of diverse wildlife, including elephants, lions, zebras, and more, making it an ideal destination. The pristine wilderness of Mozambique's national parks and reserves allows visitors to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats.
Mozambique is renowned for its stunning coastline and idyllic beaches. With miles of white sand and crystal-clear waters, it's a great place to unwind and soak up the sun.
Shop at the bustling capital city of Maputo. Here, you'll see landmarks and markets where you can hunt for unique souvenirs while mingling with locals.
Namibia is famous for its dramatic sand dunes for nomadic travelers. Consider adding Namibia to your itinerary if you want to balance landscapes, jaw-dropping wildlife scenes, and local activities.
Formed over millions of years by winds from different directions, Namibia has the world's oldest desert sand dunes. The perfect way to explore this is through a hot air balloon flight over the Namib Desert at sunrise.
See the largest colony of cape fur seals, cheetahs, and lions.
Visit villages to learn about history, culture, and local cuisines.
Zambia is a great destination for those seeking hospitable people, plentiful wildlife, and a real and raw safari experience. These are among the many reasons to visit Zambia.
Victoria Falls, which marks the tail end of the Zambezi River and is known to be one of the largest waterfalls in the world.
There are many great national parks to choose from, especially if you are seeking a traditional tour. South Luangwa is one of the best, with incredible wildlife viewing and beautiful lodges.
Zambezi River is a beautiful stretch of water for game drives and canoe riding.
Another way to select your tour is to balance wildlife viewing and other activities. Long known as a top destination among travelers, you can experience the best of both worlds in Zimbabwe.
Across the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe shares a border with Zambia and boasts the impressive Victoria Falls. Visitors can choose either country to experience the falls, and daredevils may consider visiting Devil's Pool on the Zambian side.
Take the chance to visit Hwange in the west, renowned for its large elephant herds and predators that call this bushland home.
Walking tours at the Mana Pools, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can get a close-up experience with aquatic birds, crocodiles, elephants, and hippopotamuses.
Embarking on an East Africa safari is a timeless, worthwhile adventure. Get ready to immerse yourself in the origins of safari experiences and brace yourself for an unforgettable journey!
Seychelles boasts some of the world's most beautiful beaches. It's the perfect choice for safari travelers who want a side trip to the beach while having traditional tours. Consider adding Seychelles to your travel list if you want to experience the following:
For unique trips, you can see the diverse marine life, including giant tortoises, in Aldabra.
Schedule a trip to the National Botanical Garden for exotic and endemic tropical plants that you can only see in Seychelles.
Dress up and have a night out in Mahé. The island has extremely lively nightlife at bars and clubs.
Uganda is another top choice for tours, especially for game drives and walking tours. From diverse wildlife to witnessing rich cultures, it's an opportunity to explore unique destinations and events.
Uganda should be on your list of options for gorilla trekking.
Experience local festivals, including the Nyege Nyege Festival every August.
Explore snow-capped and glaciated Rwenzori Mountains, volcano climbing on the Muhabura Ranges, and beginner-friendly climb at Mount Elgon.
Kenya is a top destination in Africa. It's a focal point for the Great Migration and a range of outdoor activities.
Nairobi offers the opportunity to see wildlife at Giraffe Manor.
Maasai Mara is a popular park with a vast area and diverse wildlife.
Lake Nakuru is a beautiful destination with flamingoes.
Mount Kenya and Tsavo East are great for adventurous travelers.
Amboseli National Park offers glamping under the African sky.
Tanzania is another great option to consider when choosing a safari because of its national parks, game reserves, ancient towns, and geological sites.
Witness the breathtaking wildlife of Tanzania, highlighted by the renowned Serengeti National Park. A visit during the Great Migration, where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra migrate annually.
Explore Mount Kilimanjaro for an exhilarating trek to the summit. For those seeking adventure, the unique landscape of Ngorongoro Crater provides an opportunity for exploration.
Zanzibar is an exceptional destination for private island getaways that give time to unwind after a traditional ride.
Rwanda is your best bet if you want to get involved in conservation initiatives and visit sanctuaries. This is another chance to have close-up encounters with wildlife and experience other activities.
Cultural experiences and shopping for handmade souvenirs and colorful fabrics.
Astonishing landscapes and forests for classic game drives, including the Akagera National Park.
Classic lunch buffet to taste Rwandan cuisine, dominated by homegrown organic vegetables and artisanal food.
What to Pack for an African Safari?
For the best clothing options for African safaris, you'll need to pack proper clothing, including sleeved shirts, trousers, jackets, sleepwear, swimwear, dinner clothes, quick-drying socks, and closed-toe shoes. It also helps to pack essentials like sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, scarves, binoculars, medication, and toiletries.
How Do I Plan for a Safari Trip in Africa?
To plan African trips, consider the tour operator to book with for a seamless planning experience. You must also pick the right season, location, and activities based on your travel goals. In this way, you can set your budget and how advanced you should book.
Where Should I Go on My First Safari?
I recommend visiting Southern and Eastern Africa for first-time safari travelers. South Africa is a great place to spot the Big Five in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, East Africa provides the perfect balance for wildlife viewing and other local activities.
When planning a safari, Find Your Africa takes time to understand your preferences and craft a personalized experience. Witness magnificent wildlife and breathtaking landscapes, and immerse yourself in vibrant African cultures. Trust Find Your Africa to turn your travel dreams into an unforgettable reality.