Choosing the Best Safari Zebra by Safari Guru Deon De Villiers
Choosing the Best Safari lion cubs by Safari Guru Deon De Villiers

Choosing the Best Safari

Travel Information

"The natural environment sustains the life of all beings universally"
Dalai Lama

Choosing the Best Safari

An African safari for many is the ultimate adventure, but planning a trip can feel overwhelming. Africa is a vast continent, varying considerably by region, season, culture, topography, and experience, and choosing the best safari can be challenging. The African attractions most often depicted in inspiring nature documentaries are often wildly remote, where factors like seasonality, budget and travel companionship should be considered. Creating an itinerary that meets your expectations comes down to understanding what experiences each region of Africa has to offer and the best time of year to travel. Whether you’re seeking bucket-list moments or experiences in lesser-known, off-the-beaten-track destinations, planning your safari begins with research. 

Key factors to consider when choosing the best safari: 

  • What time of year do you plan to travel; 
  • Deciding which part of Africa to explore;
  • Deciding what you want to see and your must-do experiences;
  • Considering who you are travelling with (some locations and experiences restrict children); 

Take it from safari professionals; one size does not fit all in the safari world! When choosing the best safari trip, you’ll contend with over a thousand safari camps across East and Southern Africa, ranging from $300 per person per night to over $5,000 per person per night. The options are endless. 

It’s important to empower yourself with the knowledge of the most critical factors when choosing the best safari destinations. Safari Guru will guide you in making a decision that aligns perfectly with your safari dreams, ensuring a truly personalized experience. 

CHOOSING THE BEST SAFARI: SEASON AND WEATHER

Before you start the complex process of choosing the best safari, it is worth considering the time of year you intend to travel. Season and weather can have a huge impact on the safari experience, the wildlife you see, and your overall comfort. Seasonality can also be a huge deciding factor on the price you would need to pay.

Southern Africa: Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe & Zambia

Summer is from December to February, when you can expect hot, and sometimes quite humid weather, intermittent thunderstorms, and the vegetation becomes lush and green. This is considered the cheapest time to travel in this region.  Some regions in Zambia and Zimbabwe are closed during these times.

Winter is from June to August. Cold and dry conditions with sparse vegetation results in the best game viewing as animals are more easily seen and tend to accumulate at water sources to drink. While open-air game drives can be cold in some regions, days tend to be sunny and clear. Winter is the most expensive time of the year to travel in this region. 

Other months between these are sometimes considered shoulder season, but high season pricing is often drawn out well into the shoulder month periods. Still, it remains a good time of year to watch out for special offers and value-adds from the operators.

East Africa: Tanzania

Tanzania boasts warm days and cool evenings year-round thanks to its tropical east coast location. Here, temperatures only drop below zero on Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tanzania experiences two rainy seasons per year, the first being between April and May with long tropical downpour periods, while the second season is between November and December when brief showers can be expected. Peak season, between June and October, has cool, dry weather and is regarded as having the best game viewing conditions, but it is an extremely busy time of year. Booking is required well in advance and is the most expensive time to travel in Tanzania. Low/shoulder season is between November and March. At this time of the year, you can expect warm, occasionally wet weather with green vegetation that attracts an abundance of migratory birds. During November and March, the rates and the crowds are at their lowest. 

Serengeti Migrations 

  • January – March: Calving season, high big cat activity as well as rutting season. 
  • May – July: Grumeti River Crossings
  • July – September: Mara River Crossings

East Africa: Kenya

Between January and February is the best time to visit Kenya’s beaches, when the temperatures are high. With low rainfall, you can expect good game viewing in the Maasai Mara where animals congregate in large numbers at water sources. 

March to May is the rainy season in Kenya, which results in lower rates and less crowds.  

June through to October is Kenya’s dry season which is regarded as the best time to visit for safari experiences. At this time, animals congregate at water sources and the arrival of migratory mega herds associated with the great migration is underway.

Kenyan Migrations 

  • Mid-end July: Migratory herds start to arrive in the Maasai Mara. 
  • August-September: Migration at its height 
  • October: Migratory herds start leaving the Maasai Mara

East Africa: Rwanda

Rwanda’s dry season is from June to September, which is the best time for viewing mountain gorillas, due to the best hiking conditions and reduced malaria prevalence. Prices are generally higher during this period and bookings are required well in advance. 

March to May is the rainy season in Rwanda, mountain gorilla trekking is still an option but expect wet weather and more difficult hiking conditions.

October to December is the short rainy season with lower rates for accommodation. At this time of year, mountain gorilla trekking is still possible but expect wet conditions.

CHOOSING THE BEST SAFARI: AFRICA’S POPULAR SAFARI REGIONS

Southern Africa: 
  • Botswana: Botswana is undoubtedly one of the most diverse countries in Africa, and a regular got-to for the team at Safari Guru when choosing the best safari. Here, the vibrant Okavango Delta enchants visitors with its seasonal flood where mammals and birds descend on its rich channels and palm-fringed islands, creating one of the most thrilling and rewarding safaris on the continent. In contrast, the vast Makgadikgadi Pan boasts stretching otherworldly landscapes and the impressive yet lesser-known zebra migration, second only to the East Africa’s infamous migration. Botswana can be a stand-alone safari destination, but because of its proximity to South Africa and Zimbabwe, it can form part of a classic three-country safari circuit. Botswana’s popular safari environment is minute in comparison to East Africa’s Serengeti, but with a well-thought-out low-volume tourism model, it can make for a much more pleasant experience with fewer crowds, less vehicles on sightings and more intimate camps. With so much to offer, Botswana generally comes with a higher ticket safari cost.
  • South Africa: Known as the “Rainbow Nation,” South Africa offers a very broad safari experience – from the lush North Coast of KwaZulu Natal, the woodland and open savannah of the Kruger and the semi-arid Kalahari Desert – and the added advantage of one of the world’s most prominent wine regions surrounding Cape Town: Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. South Africa is a perfect destination for first-timers and families with children due to its non-malaria safari zones and the multi-generational activities on offer, creating an opportunity to encompass several destinations in one rewarding experience. South African safari destinations are all fenced, keeping wildlife from roaming into villages and towns. While fences can detract from the experience, the wilderness areas are vast and offer exceptional wildlife viewing with proactive conservation efforts.
  • Zimbabwe: Like Botswana, Zimbabwe has several safari destinations. Although it doesn’t have a strict low-impact tourism model, the camps are in vast areas, making for a very intimate safari experience. Zimbabwe also boasts the UNESCO-listed Victoria Falls, a spell-binding sight for any traveller. The mighty Zambezi River borders the country to the north and along on its stretching banks, you can uncover countless luxury lodges, camps and boutique hotels offering a myriad of water-based safari activities. Remote, yet notable destinations also include Lake Kariba and Mana Pools National Park. In Zimbabwe’s interior, Hwange National Park is known for its large elephant populations with luxury lodges and expedition-style camps peppered throughout.
  • Namibia: Unlike any other safari region, the drawcard to Namibia is its infinite deserts and desert-adapted species, such as lions and elephants. Here, dramatic desert landscapes cascade into the formidable Southern Atlantic Ocean to the west. While wildlife viewing is more limited in comparison to Botswana and Zimbabwe, Namibia is an ideal destination for landscape photographic safaris and star and planet enthusiasts, boasting one of Africa’s two Dark Sky Reserves. In Namibia, safari lodge prices are generally lower.
  • Zambia: Like Zimbabwe, Zambia’s safari regions are remote and vast. In the valley of the Lower Zambezi National Park, visitors will discover one of the most intriguing wildlife areas, generally only accessible by light aircraft, promising a quieter safari experience. The vibrant country offers off-the-beaten-track safaris with abundant wildlife and exceptional viewing opportunities in Kafue National Park and across Luangwa National Park. Zambia is the home of walking safaris, and most lodges will lead this closer-to-nature experience along with land and/or water-based activities. Because of its remoteness, Zambia is a seasonal destination that experiences a high level of rainfall.
  • Mozambique: Under-the-radar and remote, Mozambique’s coastline is undoubtedly the drawcard. While wildlife havens are few and far between, you can expect endless beaches and pristine islands with untouched reefs. Promising island-style relaxation, Mozambique is an idyllic ending to any safari pursuit with experiences ranging from charming barefoot villas to luxury lodges.
East Africa: 
  • Kenya: Inimitable Kenya, the birthplace of the safari and home to one of the most popular safari parks in Africa, the Maasai Mara. As the name suggests, this is where the Maasai people roam, and a safari in this region can also make for a vibrant cultural experience. For the latter quarter of the year, Kenya plays host to the annual migration, as a million-plus animals thunder across the plains and rivers in pursuit of rainfall and lush, fertile grazing. While this is undoubtedly a bucket-list for many, because of its popularity, a safari in Kenya can be busier. In this region, you can find expedition or mobile-style camps that follow the migration and all-inclusive luxury lodges in some of the most spectacular concessions. 
  • Tanzania: Safari overload. Tanzania offers several well-known safari destinations, but none greater than the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Tanzania is home to the great migrations’ populations for most of the year and sees masses of tourists following the herbivores and predators in tow, creating a thrilling – albeit busy – safari experience. Just off the east coast is Zanzibar Island, a beautiful addition for any Tanzanian safari circuit, and although a lot more commercial than Mozambique, you can explore the ancient Stone Town where the world’s spice traders and merchants docked, as well as post-card worthy beaches and eclectic seaside hotels.
  • Rwanda and Uganda: Few moments compare to seeing endangered mountain gorillas in their natural forested habitat. Rwanda is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, mostly found in the Virunga Mountains. Here, you can explore Volcanoes National Park where dense mist-covered rainforests give way to enriching trekking opportunities. In contrast, Akagera National Park’s offer iconic Big 5 wildlife and bird sightings on traditional game drives across stretching savannah grasslands and woodlands. In neighbouring Uganda, visitors can experience enchanting gorilla treks as well as sighting chimpanzees. The most renown location for trekking is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where half of the world’s mountain gorillas are found. To see gorillas in the wild, trekking takes place in the morning. Chimps on the other hand can be seen during the morning or afternoon in varying destinations, most notably in Kibale Forest National Park in Western Uganda and in Kyambura Gorge.

CHOOSING THE BEST SAFARI: AFRICA’S POPULAR SAFARI CIRCUITS

Southern Africa: 
  • South Africa (single destination): This generally includes the Kruger National Park and its surrounding private reserves: Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Timbavati, Mala Mala. Other options include malaria-free destinations for family-friendly holidays like Madikwe and Tswalu for those wishing to indulge in a high-end, all-inclusive safari with personalised daily activities.
  • South Africa, Zimbabwe (or Zambia) and Botswana: A very popular choice when choosing the best safari, if you wish to tick off some of Southern Africa’s most iconic destinations, like Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, and the Cape’s spectacular wine regions. There are several ways to explore Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa in a convenient classic safari of 12 to 18-day or longer itinerary.
  • Bush and Beach: The best of both itineraries that combines either a Southern African or a classic safari circuit, coupled with the verdant coast of Northern KwaZulu Natal or the pristine islands of Mozambique for post-safari rejuvenation before your journey home.
East Africa: 
  • Kenya (single destination): Combining the high-altitude areas of Laikipia with the Maasai Mara provides a diverse safari experience that showcases the great migrations and cultural immersion as well as Kenya’s lesser-seen endemic species: the reticulated giraffe and the threatened Grévy’s zebra.
  • Tanzania (single destination): Offering multiple safari circuits, Tanzania is huge. The popular circuit is that of the north, combining the Serengeti with Ngorongoro Crater for both a visual and wildlife-rich experience. Some of the lesser and ‘off-the-beaten-track’ circuits are in the south and west of the country, which include fly-camping experiences and chimpanzee trekking.
  • The Great Migration: The Great Migration: Witness the most spectacular wildlife displays on the planet. The Great Migration sees millions of wildebeest and zebra follow the rain while crossing vast distances in search of mineral-rich pastures. To follow the Great Migration, travellers can journey across Tanzania and Kenya in a thrilling safari pursuit that promises dramatic wildlife action and stretching scenery while often staying in expedition-style camps that follow the herds clockwise through the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
  • Bush and Beach: A very popular circuit offering the more well-known safari experience of the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, and a hop skip and jump to end on the cultural island of Zanzibar

FEELING INSPIRED? Ask our passionate experts for advice and guidance to start planning your African safari. We’ll remove the complication and bring excitement back into choosing the best safari.  CONTACT SAFARI GURU

Deon and his team planned our African adventure for my family of 4 (wife and 2 kids aged 7 and 11) through Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. We had am amazing time and everything was perfectly planned and executed without a hitch. The camps and accommodation were 1st rate and we couldn't be happier. We can't wait to plan our next African holiday with Deon and the Safari Guru team.
~ Adam Skelly & Family, Newcastle Australia

Family Safari Specialists

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