Where To Go On Your First Safari?

By Julian 31 December 2016

With so many first-class countries to consider, and so many different companies enthusiastically selling all destinations, many of our clients approach us having attempted their own research on the internet – and often they are completely confused!

So, first things first – talk to us!

Without doubt, the best way to start researching your holiday is to talk to one of our safari specialists. Safaris are highly specialist trips designed for clients with very different expectations and demands. Our team have worked across the continent as professional safari guides and camp managers, or we are simply passionate Africa travellers – we will be able to break down the different areas and refine the search for you. Only then is using the internet a good idea – you need to have a basic knowledge of the different destinations before you start researching on the super web!

One of the first suggestions we will make is that you choose between East Africa and Southern Africa. If you have longer than two weeks for your holiday, then combining both Southern and East Africa is possible, but for less than a two-week trip we recommend clients choose between one area or the other.

East Africa consists of Tanzania and Kenya as well as the mountain gorilla countries of Rwanda and Uganda. Southern Africa consists of South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia and Mozambique.

Weather and time of year are obviously two important considerations. East Africa’s long rains happen in April and May, so this tends to be the time we encourage clients to stay away from the country. In Southern Africa, the rains fall between December and March, so January, February and early March are the months we prefer to avoid. Interestingly, Cape Town, being so far south, is excellent at this time of year, but the safari parks of Southern Africa are not nearly as good as they are during other periods.

Many of our clients phone up asking, ‘What game will I see?’ The first thing to note here, is that we are a company that specialises in getting you into the thick of it all wherever you go, so please do not worry about seeing game – we guarantee it!

The reality is that the wildlife species found across the vast majority of ‘Safari Africa’ is essentially the same. Getting technical, there are different species from East Africa to Southern Africa, but overall the predators and big game animals are the same across all the countries where we operate safaris. However, if you are passionate about particular species, then by all means let us know! There are certain camps that are better for lion, for elephant, or for rare species such as African wild dog, for example.

Some countries cater well for first timers, whereas others offer an experience that’s better for experienced safari hands, or simply adventurous travellers. Here’s an introduction to their differences:

EAST AFRICA

Tanzania

A superb destination for a first trip to Africa. Famous for its immense game concentrations, endless open skies, plus excellent safari-and-beach breaks, Tanzania is home to a number of Africa’s finest parks. Tanzania’s famous northern circuit, including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater as well as Mount Kilimanjaro, is a trip that everyone should do once in their life! It is the region we recommend most often for a first-time safari.

The northern circuit is the site of the Great Migration and home to Africa’s highest concentration of cats. You will never see as much wildlife as you do in the Serengeti ecosystem! Safaris tend to be by vehicle, with less opportunity to get out on foot or take boating safaris – but the cultural experience on offer with tribes such as the Maasai makes up for the lack of other safari activities.

Tanzania’s safari-and-beach holidays are the best on the market – easily combined, authentic and affordable. Many clients head north, but the diversity of Tanzania’s parks is probably the country’s greatest asset – there are plenty of superb big game areas away from the busier parts!

Top parks The Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro… and excellent quieter parks that are off the beaten track – Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale in particular.

Plus points Huge game densities, the Serengeti and the Great Migration, cultural safaris with local tribes, and excellent beach options. Excellent off-the-beaten-track parks also.

Negative points Limited walking and boating safaris (Southern Africa is the place to go for this) and high visitor numbers in some parts of the famous parks.

Kenya

Yet another superb destination for a first-time safari! Huge concentrations of game, excellent parks, some of the best conservation stories in Africa… all contribute to Kenya’s success as one of the most advanced tourism destinations. Infrastructure is first class here, access is easy, and the general level of service and accommodation across the entire industry is set very high.

The only negative to Kenya is that the country has taken a deliberate mass-market approach to its tourism, which has negatively affected some of its parks. Areas within the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Nakuru, Naivasha and others are incredibly busy – more so than any other destination in Africa. However, there are private reserves virtually everywhere here, enabling tourists to stay away from the hotspots. The only problem is that these reserves are expensive, so if you are looking to avoid the crowds then the Kenyan product tends to be pretty pricey!

Top parks The Maasai Mara, Laikipia, Lewa, Amboseli & Chyulu.

Plus points Huge game densities, the Great Migration (August to October), cultural safaris with local tribes, and excellent beach options. Exceptional standards of accommodation and service.

Negative points Some parts of certain parks are incredibly busy and many reserves are fenced. The busiest safari market of all!

Rwanda and Uganda

The mountain gorilla countries! Viewing these Great Apes is a truly phenomenal experience, but for Big Five safari both countries come up short. We often design itineraries featuring the gorillas, most often as an add-on to a Kenya or Tanzania safari.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

South Africa

Known for its diversity of experiences, South Africa is a stunning destination for a great all-round holiday. This is a first-world country with the most advanced safari industry on the continent. Exceptionally high standards of accommodation and good prices across the board make South Africa a genuine contender for the best destination for a first trip to Africa.

Cape Town, the Winelands, shark diving, whale watching, Zulu battlefields, rock art, fishing, the famous Garden Route… all are examples of what the country offers outside its excellent Big Five safari. It is this range of experiences that puts South Africa firmly on the map for a first-timer’s trip to Africa. Safari is almost a bonus for this destination!

However, safari itself is first rate, especially for the ease of seeing the Big Five in a short period of time, which makes South Africa the continent’s best destination for a short safari. The country also boasts the only malaria-free safaris in Africa, making it the first choice for families! The only negative to South Africa is that some believe the country does not offer truly authentic safari and that feeling of ‘real’ Africa found elsewhere. However, the quality of Big Five viewing is undeniable and the diversity of attractions a compelling reason to travel here. Unquestionably a great holiday destination overall!

Top parks The Kruger including the Sabi Sands and Timbavati, Madikwe, Phinda, and the malaria-free eastern cape reserves.

Plus points The sheer diversity of experiences on offer, the highest accommodation standards anywhere, excellent guiding, and malaria-free safari areas.

Negative points Debatable lack of authenticity on safari.

Botswana

Probably most famous for being Africa’s most expensive safari destination, Botswana is a great destination for a first-time safari… but you have to pay a high price for it! Known primarily for the Okavango Delta, this is a country that focuses on high-income, low-impact safaris as opposed to the mass-market safaris on offer in other destinations. The result is an unbeatable level of exclusivity, high-quality sightings, and a personal approach to safari where clients will see very few other travellers. It is also worth mentioning that Botswana is undeniably beautiful – a truly stunning ‘pure’ safari destination!

Botswana is busy in its main parks, but this country is most renowned for the private reserves of the Okavango Delta and Linyanti – areas where only people staying in those reserves are able to go on safari. These private reserves offer all the safari activities – boating, walking, night safari, canoeing, fishing, and so on. It’s this sheer quality of safari experience, in beautiful private areas, that is the country’s strength.

Top parks The Okavango Delta, the Linyanti, Moremi, Chobe, the Makgadikgadi Pan, and Kalahari.

Plus points Exclusivity, privacy, and high-quality safari camps in beautiful areas.

Negative points Price!

Zimbabwe and Zambia

The adventurous choice! Known for seriously good guiding and passionate, often family-run, small safari camps, Zambia and Zimbabwe have long been known as the destinations for safari connoisseurs.

Home to the best guides in Africa as well as the continent’s best walking safaris, Zambia also offers excellent night safari and seriously good boating/canoe trips. It is this focus, on more adventurous activities, that means most clients leave the region to their second safari. Victoria Falls is also a major attraction, easily accessed from both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Choosing between the destinations is tricky, as they are similar in the style of safari they offer. Accommodation standards in Zambia are more comfortable than Zimbabwe overall – Zambia has a more developed industry and is home to a few spectacular individual camps. Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is also the official home of the walking safari – extensive walking trips from camp to camp are encouraged. It’s for these reasons that the majority of our trips focus on Zambia. Zimbabwe, however, can be slightly more affordable overall – and it is the home of the wildest camps we offer!

Top parks The Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue (all Zambia), Hwange and Mana Pools (Zimbabwe). Victoria Falls is accessed from both countries.

Plus points Small camps, great guiding, wide diversity of safari activities, well priced. Africa’s wildest destinations overall!

Negative points Too adventurous for some, whilst seasonality means that some parks and camps are shut for the first few months of the year.

Namibia

Namibia is a country I truly love, but it does not stack up to its competition in safari terms alone. Namibia is famous for its deserts and phenomenal scenery, but not for its quality of safari. The country has only one major safari park – Etosha – where the safari experience is much more commercial than elsewhere. There are private reserves on its borders, where you can stay away from the crowds, and including a few days in Etosha as part of a larger Namibia trip is still a superb holiday, but choosing Namibia for the quality of its safari is simply the wrong way to go about choosing your destination.

The exception to this rule is the country’s amazing desert rhino and desert elephant. Both are endangered species, true rarities that make for exceptional wildlife sightings!

Plus points The desert and the country’s scenery. Desert rhino and desert elephant!

Negative points Debatable lack of authenticity, lack of quality safari parks. This is not a safari destination.

I hope this assists as an introduction to Safari Africa, helping you to gain more of an understanding of the differences among the destinations. I’ll finish all this with what I first mentioned on this blog – speaking to us is the best way to start the whole process! I cannot recommend this highly enough – we are a friendly and experienced bunch, who simply love talking Africa!