So you're ready to begin planning your African safari. But - where to start? The choice of destinations and activities is so vast that it may soon seem overwhelming. Do you want to see eye-to-eye with leopards? Track rhino through the desert? Walk with the Maasai? Accompany wild dogs on the hunt? Witness the drama of the Great Migration? Canoe the Zambezi?
You may wind up feeling like you want to see and do it all at once, cramming a lifetime's worth of Africa into your upcoming trip!
While we certainly understand the temptation, we recommend taking Africa one or two (or, for extremely long trips, three) countries at a time.
We believe that taking the time to get to know one country in depth makes for a more rewarding experience than skimming over the highlights of three or four countries. A slower pace enables you to get to know the people, animals, and environment. It gives you the opportunity to relax and really enjoy being in the places you've come so far to visit, rather than constantly feeling as if you've either just arrived or that it's time to pack up and leave. And you'll spend most of your trip in the Africa you've come to see, rather than in airports and on planes!
If you think there's far too much to see and do on one trip, you're right - we still haven't seen and done it all and we've been travelling to Africa for years. But don't despair - if you're bitten by the Africa bug (like so many people are) you'll be back!
Here are a few questions to ask yourself which may help you get started with your trip planning:
When are you planning to travel?
How long can you travel for?
- Game-viewing is best in different countries at different times of year, so if you must travel at a particular time due to other commitments (or to mark a special date such as a birthday or anniversary) this may influence which country will offer you the best safari experience.
- If you're flexible on your time of travel, you may want to take a look at the countries that interest you and use their Park and When to Go pages to decide when you'd like to travel.
- If you prefer to avoid very cold or very hot weather for reasons of health or personal comfort, you can also use the When to Go pages to find out what time of year will be most comfortable in the country you want to visit.
- The small, exclusive camps in some countries (notably Botswana) may book up over a year in advance, whereas in others, such as Tanzania, there is often good availability six months out. If you're planning to travel in the near future, this may influence where you go. But even if you want to go to Botswana next month, don't despair - contact us and we'll do our best to make your dream trip possible!
What are your priorities?
- This will influence how many countries you visit, as well as other aspects of your itinerary - you don't want to spend more time in airports than you do on safari!
- We recommend a minimum of three days at most camps and lodges to enable you to get to know the animals and environment in that area - and, equally important, for your guide to get to know you and your interests so he or she can tailor your safari experience. Beware of whirlwind trips which move camp every 1-2 nights - the constant packing and unpacking means you'll never have a chance to relax, and
you'll end up spending a large portion of your time (and your budget) on transportation rather than on your safari.
- If you have limited time, you may prefer to choose a country easily reached by direct international flights, rather than one that will require multiple connections and overnights.
- Don't underestimate jet-lag - we usually recommend a one-night jet-lag recovery day for people coming from North America prior to starting on your safari. Unless you have a super-human constitution, you're very likely to be a zombie on your first day in Africa, and it's definitely preferable to be a zombie in Johannesburg or Arusha than it is to be a zombie on your safari.
What non-game-viewing activities are you interested in while on your safari?
- In our opinion there is no such thing as a universal list of 'things you must see / do before you die', despite the number of books which have recently been written on the subject. Each person's must-sees and must-dos are unique to them. One person may feel that Victoria Falls is something they must see, whereas another person would be happy to go their entire life without seeing the Falls.
- Some activities are only available in one or two countries, which may influence where you go.
- If your must-dos include staying at legendary safari camps and lodges like Mombo or Singita, you'll need to plan early as they tend to book up quickly, particularly for longer stays.
What level of comfort do you want?
- While game-viewing (observing animals from 4x4 vehicles) is the main activity on most safaris, some destinations offer other activities such as overnight walking trails, sleep-outs in game hides, canoeing, fishing, and hot-air ballooning. If you're particularly interested in one of these options, you'll want to make sure they are included in your itinerary.
Do you have a budget in mind?
- Would you prefer to sleep under thatch or under canvas? Do you want air conditioning? What about a swimming pool? There is a wide range of safari accommodation, ranging from five-star luxury with private plunge pools and butlers to the extremely rustic. Take a look at the Accommodation on Safari pages to learn more about the options.
- Note that more rustic does not necessarily mean less expensive - some of the most rustic camps are among the most expensive due to their remote wilderness locations.
- Some countries are, generally speaking, more expensive than others, though this is affected by the itinerary you choose, the places you stay, and when you travel.
- Travelling in shoulder or low season (as opposed to high season) can result in substantial savings, putting that dream lodge or camp within your reach. It also means sharing your safari with fewer tourists. Many veteran safari-goers prefer shoulder season. Note that camps in the same country may not share the same shoulder and high seasons!
- Many people opt to splurge on their safari and save money on places like Cape Town, where there are lesser-known boutique hotels that are much less expensive (and have a lot more character) than the standard big tourist hotels. Why spend your money on a city hotel which could be anywhere on earth when you can be spending that money on your safari?
If you have questions or would like to discuss the options, please feel free to contact us