Tips for planning your African safari
Regarded as one of the top safari locations in the world, an African safari ticks all the right boxes if you’re looking to venture off the beaten track, explore the great outdoors, witness magnificent wildlife in their natural habitat and experience the many thrills that only safari life can deliver.
With so much to offer, how do you plan your dream safari trip to Africa?
Here are four great tips for planning your African safari that will help you optimize your travel experience for a bucket-list African safari holiday you won’t forget.
#1 Where to go
Africa is a massive continent with several pristine safari locations. From the 54 countries that make up Africa, 9 are renowned for their world-class safari and wildlife destinations. These countries include South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, and Rwanda. Depending on the type of safari you’re looking to experience, each country varies greatly by region, season (including seasonal highlights), wildlife and safari experiences. Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding where to go on your safari trip.
#Have a goal
A great tip is to have a specific goal for your safari trip to Africa. Have you always dreamt of seeing the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve or witness the renowned Big 5 in their natural habitat while exploring the Kruger National Park? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go Gorilla trekking in the forests of Rwanda and Uganda? Or go on the ultimate safari adventure in the evergreen jewel of the Okavango Delta? Each African country offers safari-goers an exciting and vastly different safari and wildlife experience.
#Number of parks & lodges you want to visit
Some countries are home to multiple national parks, nature reserves, conservation areas and game lodges, whereas other countries are single-activity destinations with only a few parks and reserves. The number of national parks and game reserves you’re looking to explore on your safari trip will have an impact on the country/safari destination that is best suited to you.
#Duration of your trip
If you are planning a short safari getaway, we suggest you rule out Africa’s more remote destinations. These destinations not only demand additional travel time but are generally much larger and require several days to explore. Choosing a smaller park like the Nakuru National park in Kenya versus larger parks like the Serengeti in Tanzania (where you could easily spend a full week or more) is recommended for shorter safari trips.
To ensure you choose the perfect safari destination for you, it is vital to do thorough research beforehand.
#2 When to go to Africa
When planning your bucket-list safari, timing is everything. Every country in Africa has different seasons and weather patterns, which in turn affects your overall experience and wildlife sightings. Most of Africa’s top wildlife experiences and spectacles depend entirely on naturally occurring factors such as seasonal rainfall.
Dry season VS Wet season
While there is no ‘bad’ time to go to Africa, there are certain times of the year that may be better suited to your safari-style and what you’d like to experience on your trip to Africa. Dry season is considered the best time of year to go on safari in both Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia) as well as East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda). Southern Africa typically experiences its dry season from May – October, whereas East Africa’s dry season takes place from January to March and June to October.
#Dry season highlights include:
- Prime time for wildlife sightings as game viewing is at its peak (apart from Namibia which is great all year round).
- Optimal visibility for wildlife sightings due to sparse vegetation.
- The concentration of animals around water sources are at their highest. As the water levels are extremely low during dry season, wildlife will gather around the park’s surrounding water sources, providing visitors with incredible and rewarding game viewing opportunities.
- Lovely and mild day-time temperatures and minimal rain.
- The risk of malaria is at its lowest during dry season.
- Dry season is the best time of the year for walking safaris, offering visitors a unique perspective of the region’s wildlife and surrounding scenery.
- Water levels reach its peak in the Okavango Delta, creating waterways and channels Botswana is famed for. The Delta floods also makes it the prime time for mokoro, boating & canoe safaris
- The dry season is the peak migration period for animals to the Okavango Delta.
Although the dry season is typically regarded as the best time of year for an African safari, the wet season offers safari-goers its own amazing wildlife sightings, stunning landscapes and exciting safari experiences and seasonal highlights. Southern Africa’s wet season takes place from November to April while East Africa’s wet season is from April to June and November to December.
#Wet season highlights include:
- Lush greenery and surrounding scenery due to high rainfall.
- Parks are filled with new-born wildlife.
- Great time for bird watching as migrant birds are present and in breeding.
- Excellent photography opportunities due to scenic surroundings.
- The wet season coincides with the park’s low season which means the parks are far less crowded and lower rates apply.
- Peak predator season due to increased new-born wildlife.
Wildlife Experiences & Safari Highlights
The Great Wildebeest Migration
Deciding on the best time to visit a specific African country or safari destination depends on what you want to see, do, and experience on your trip. Here are the best times of the year to see some of the top wildlife experiences and seasonal highlights in both Southern and East Africa – all of which deserve to be on your safari bucket-list.
|Experience||Best time to go|
|Safari in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia||May to October|
|Safari in the Kruger National Park||May – November|
|Cape Town beach holiday||November to March|
|Victoria Falls in full flood||February to July|
|Zebra migration in Botswana||November to February|
|Whale watching in South Africa||July to November|
|Mozambique beach holiday||May to November|
|Okavango Delta||June to October|
|Chobe National Park||July to October|
|Namibia||August to December|
|Experience||Best time to go|
|Tanzania for the Great Wildebeest Migration safari in the Serengeti||January to September & December|
|Kenya Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara||July to November|
|Most Kenya safari destinations and the major Tanzania safari areas||January to March | June to October|
|Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda||Year-round | Cooler months of January, February, June, July, August, September are typically the best time|
|Tanzania’s coast, Zanzibar, and other islands||June to March|
Peak Season VS Low Season
When a country or safari destination experiences its peak season and/or low season will have an impact on when the best/most suitable time of year is to plan your safari trip to Africa. While some people prefer to travel in the peak or high season months, others like to plan their trips during the quieter months when the national parks, reserves and lodges are less crowded.
Both the high and low season offer safari goers a unique safari and wildlife experience – It simply comes down to your personal preference, safari style and travel requirements.
Here is an overview of Southern and East Africa’s peak season and low season months:
|South Africa||May to October|
|Botswana||November to April (excluding Christmas and New Year)|
|Zimbabwe||November to March (excluding Christmas and New Year)|
|Zambia||May, June, and November|
|Malawi||January to the end of April|
|Mozambique||March to June|
|Namibia||December to March, May, and part of June (excluding Christmas and New Year)|
|Kenya||March to June, November, and the start of December|
|Tanzania||March to June, November, and the start of December|
|Uganda||April and May|
|Rwanda||April, May, and November|
Being well informed regarding when the best time of year is to visit your preferred African safari destination and having pre-booked and preferred travel dates set aside for your safari trip is vital. There is nothing worse than being in the country or safari destination of your dreams at the wrong time, ultimately missing out on the safari and wildlife experience you travelled all that way to see. For example, you don’t want to be in the Serengeti when the Great Wildebeest Migration and its millions of wildebeest have moved on to Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Proper planning, research and budgeting are crucial factors when planning your trip to Africa. If the goal of your safari trip is to experience a specific seasonal event (such as the Great Wildebeest Migration), chances are that the best places will be booked up well in advance. It is thus vital to know the exact time of year and ideal/preferred travel dates as soon as possible to ensure you don’t miss out.
#3 Know your budget
Another top tip for planning your safari trip to Africa is to know your budget limits. Africa is home to a vast selection of safari destinations, game lodges, national parks and nature reserves, each catering to different budgets and travel requirements. By setting your budget limits you will be able to optimize your travel experience for a bucket-list safari holiday.
The following factors will have an impact on your budget:
- The country and/or countries you are visiting on your safari trip.
- The type of accommodation you choose to stay in: From exclusive villas, boutique hotels, ultra-luxurious safari lodges and 5-star resorts to one-of-a-kind treehouse escapes, eco-friendly tented suites, rondavels and wilderness camp sites, Africa boasts a wide variety of accommodation options to choose from – Catering to every budget and desired safari experience.
- The number of parks, game reserves, lodges, or conservations areas you will be visiting.
- Your mode of transport: Will you have exclusive transport or be sharing with other travelers?
- The total duration of your safari trip to Africa as well as how many days you choose to spend in each national park, reserve, or game lodge.
#4 Know your travel style
Knowing your travel style and the type of safari you’re looking to experience is key to planning your safari trip to Africa. The fact that Africa is home to such a remarkable diversity of safari destinations, as well as an endless variety of safari experiences and adventures, means there is something to suite every travel style.
Whether you’re looking to go on the ultimate luxury safari getaway, a private and personally tailored safari experience, a romantic African safari for two, a fun-filled safari holiday with the whole family, or an unforgettable off-the-beaten-path thrill-seeking safari adventure of a lifetime – Africa has it all!
As different African countries cater to different travel styles, it’s important to do your research and choose the country that best suits your travel needs.