The Ultimate Guide to Planning an African Safari
Imagine camping out under the African stars by night, perhaps listening to Mozart aka Robert Redford in Out of Africa, and waking up the next morning to see wildebeests, lions, giraffes and elephants and all the great animals of Africa.
An African safari is truly one of the world’s great travel experiences and fortunately modern day safaris have long since evolved from the days when they involved pumping animals with lead and wearing khaki.
Today they incorporate just about any form of transport be it 4WD, bicycle, motorbike, riverboat, quad bike, cruise or elephant trek. The common factor is that you’re out there seeing it in real life and not on a television documentary.
Often the best time to see wildlife is during migrations, breeding periods or dry spells when animals congregate around waterholes. However do note these times do differ across the continent. In Kenya the huge wildebeest migration occurs on the Mara plains from July to October, while the dry spells are January-March and July-October.
In Tanzania the dry season is June-November, while February-March is another good time to visit when you can see the wildebeest and zebra young. In Uganda where you come to see the mountain gorillas, you should avoid wet periods high in the misty and often wet heights of their abode. So don’t visit March-April or October-November.
You will therefore need to decide where you want to go, what you want to see and then plan your trip accordingly to give you the best chance of seeing those animals.
Given the costs involved in getting to Africa and then onto some of the wildlife parks, you might not be able to afford a long trip. However obviously a longer trip is better if you can afford it. It will also give you more chance of seeing the animals as their movements are not always predictable and the reserves are also very large so it can be possible to miss them. If you are short on time, do still go, but consider paying a little more to fly to the lodges and camps to save time rather than driving.
Given the choice of tours available it can be hard to make a decision about where to go and where to stay. The level of comfort offered may help you choose between the options. While luxuries out in the wilds of Africa aren’t going to be of five star quality, they probably aren’t as bare bones as you think.
However if you have children, are elderly or need a more comfortable experience you will find a minivan more comfortable than a four-wheel drive and a lodge safari with its mod cons more suitable than a tent safari. However for others nothing will beat getting out where the action is and sleeping in a tent in the wilderness with lions roaring outside or hyenas sniffing about. If you opt for one of these, they are still well catered for.
Going with a tour operator is a good idea because the guides will teach you the protocol of animal observation and about local culture. When choosing an outfit try to pick a private safari or a small group tour. Animals are very sensitive to noise and smells and a large group could scare them off. Also views in a vehicle will definitely be obstructed the more people are packed in.
You may also like to choose a tour based on a particular style of safari or type of transport. For example a canoe safari on the Okavango Delta in Botswana is a fantastic way of gliding up to lions, antelope and hippopotami. While in Uganda you will have to trek on foot to see the gorillas but in other places you could travel by hot air balloon or on elephant back.
While it’s impossible to give a full itinerary of what to see and do all over Africa, here are a few options to consider (please also note the places we’ve already mentioned above).
Kruger National Park in South Africa is the best place to see the Big Five of the African animal world. This means elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Travellers often enjoy balloon safaris over Great Kruger National Park.
The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is a 1.5 kilometre caldera packed with herds of zebra, wildebeest and flamencos. For this reason it’s known locally as the “Garden of Eden”.
The Kalahari in Botswana is another massive game reserve with giraffe, brown hyena, warthog, cheetah, wild dog, leopard, lion, blue wildebeest, eland and springbok.
If you like bird life you should head to the Djoudj Bird Sanctuary in Senegal where 1.5 million birds live along the wetlands in the Senegal River delta including white pelicans, purple herons, African spoonbills, great egrets and cormorants.