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How to Plan an African Safari: Frequently Asked Questions

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Observing elephants while on safari game drive in Kenya's Rift Valley

Safari game drive in Kenya

Remote lodges, endless stretches of secluded wilderness and wildlife surprises in an open theater, you can find answers to the most common questions travelers ask before embarking on the thrill of an African safari.

From Kenya to South Africa, Namibia to Uganda, Botswana to Zambia, Kenya to Zimbabwe, an African safari celebrates natural wonder. With most safari regions safely open to travelers, now is an incredible time to experience spectacular nature with no crowds and incredible hospitality.

Traveling as a couple or exploring as a family, you can find the information you need for your perfect African safari.

Which safari countries are open and best for a 2021/2022 safari?

Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and South Africa are best for a safari in 2021-2022.  With manageable entry requirements and guidelines, our Zicasso safari specialists can assist you with advice and guidance for the best experience based on what you want to see and do most.

Related: Countries Open Now to American Travelers

Where should I go on my African Safari?

Africa is a continent, not a country. You can fit the United States into Africa more than three times. Some of the national parks are larger than the state of New Jersey. You can enjoy fabulous safaris in eastern and southern Africa. Countries within these regions have specialties and each suits a different style of safari and visitor.

Most first-timers want to see the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos. You should try not to be too preoccupied with these animals because some safari destinations have more than 100 different mammal species that you can encounter. Often it’s the intimacy of the encounters that is more impressive than checking off five animals from a list.

What is each key safari country known for?

Kenya is the grand dame of the East African safari. This country has more safari destinations than any other. It’s a great choice for a private and exclusive safari and we recommend you explore beyond the famous Masai Mara. Kenya also has many divine Indian Ocean beaches.

Tanzania is home to more wild mammals than anywhere else in Africa. You can visit for the biggest herds and natural wonders, such as the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro. The north is easier to get around, but you should not overlook wild parks in the south.

Learn more: 6 Reasons You Should Choose Tanzania for Your Safari

Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world that are home to mountain gorillas. Although they also offer traditional big-game safaris as well, neighboring Tanzania and Kenya are better. A trip here is usually just for the gorillas.

South Africa offers the most diverse African vacation experience. The best South African safari can be found in the Greater Kruger, notably the Sabi Sands concessions. Most itineraries combine multi-day safaris with Cape Town and other stunning destinations.

Learn more: 5 Reasons You Should Choose South Africa for Your Safari

Botswana is a luxury safari. It has the largest private concessions, many of Africa’s finest camps and an incredible sense of wilderness. There’s not much here except for the animals though. You can experience the Okavango Delta oasis, ancient Kalahari desert, elephants in Chobe and concessions like Savuti and Linyanti.

Learn more: 6 Reasons You Should Choose Botswana for Your Safari

Namibia is mostly desert and home to majestic sand dunes, like those around Sossusvlei. Most Namibia itineraries combine wildlife safaris with desert camps and open plains.

Zimbabwe and Zambia are not as well connected and their tourism infrastructure is underdeveloped. Both countries offer exceptional safaris, but they are mostly recommended for visitors who are returning to Africa for a second or third safari.

Related: Top African Safari Destinations

How long do you need for an African safari?

Two weeks is a great amount of time to enjoy an in-depth African safari. When traveling to Africa from the US you should remember that two to three days will be spent commuting and adjusting to time-zone changes. With two weeks, you can fully explore different ecosystems and animals.

Most itineraries have around two-thirds safari and one-third other experiences, such as cultural encounters, hiking or beach time. Safaris involve a lot of moving and many intense experiences, so a few days at the beach can make your entire vacation more relaxing.

At Zicasso we have seen Africa trips as short as five days and as long as 45 days. With two weeks, it’s recommended you focus on one country or two neighboring countries.

How will I experience wildlife?

You will cover the most distance and see most animals in a vehicle. These are known as game drives. Vehicles have open sides or an open roof so you can enjoy an unrestricted view of the landscape. Vehicles are great for getting close to the Big Five and the largest animals. Most species are more active after dark, so there’s plenty to see on these drives.

On walking safaris, you will focus on smaller animals. You can experience animal tracking and pick up more of the sounds and smells. Rangers and guides will ensure you avoid big cats and other dangerous animals. Even so, it’s a thrilling experience, whether a short 30-minute game walk or a multi-day walking safari.

Motorboat safaris follow rivers and waterways, providing a perspective of animals as they head to the riverbank for a drink. These safaris can be excellent for photography because you can view the wildlife from relatively close proximity.

In a hot-air balloon, you can see the herds from the sky. Scenic flights are another possibility. These provide you with the best views and perfectly complement all the on-the-ground activities. Soaring over the landscape will also showcase the scale of the African savanna.

Related: Types of African Safaris | How to Get Around on Safari

How can I ensure I see my favorite animal?

Wildlife encounters are never guaranteed. You will see lots of animals on any safari and it’s not considered an unsuccessful safari if you miss one on your list. It’s best to discuss your animal passions or special interests with your travel planner because the different parks are known for different animals. For example, the Sabi Sands or Mara North are incredible for leopards, Okavango is hippo central and it seems like there are lions everywhere in the Serengeti.

Related: The Big Five, the Little Five, and How to See Them

What is a day on safari like?

Most days on safari revolve around the best times to see wildlife. These are in the early morning and late afternoon. Usually, you will have a pre-dawn alarm call and a light breakfast before a morning activity. Wildlife rests in the middle of the day and so do you, with lunch and downtime. You will have afternoon activities that last until sunset and sometimes even later.

On days when you move between camps, the actual travel tends to take place during the middle of the day, so you don’t lose too much valuable safari time. The exact program will depend on where you are. Some destinations only allow daytime game drives, while others offer a wide variety of other activities for a customizable itinerary.

Related: What A Day on Safari is Like?

What is the difference between a safari camp and safari lodge?

It’s a misconception that three stars equals a camp and five stars is a fancy lodge. There are three-, four- and five-star options for camps and lodges.

A lodge is a more permanent structure than a camp. Most camps have hybrid tents with some sort of additional structure, like a wooden deck or frame. Tents can be as luxurious as any hotel room. Some have air conditioning. The key difference is that the walls are canvas.

It’s highly recommended to try at least one, if not more, tented camps. They provide a superior experience as you’re closer to nature. You can also hear all the sounds and it always feels like you’re in the moment. Camps are typically smaller than lodges, so there will be fewer other guests.

Related: Why to Stay at a Tented Camp | Why to Stay at a Mobile Camp | Why to Stay at a Luxury Camp

How many days should I stay in each location?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended you spend three nights at each safari location. This will provide ample time to experience the different animals and activities. With three nights you can really settle into the environment and indulge all your senses.

In some smaller parks, you may only spend two nights. Some destinations can be fully explored in a day, such as Ngorongoro Crater.

Usually, it’s only recommended to spend one night if it’s upon arrival. Most domestic safari flights depart early in the morning, so on most itineraries, you will need to sleep in a city for a night before starting the safari.

How can I travel responsibly?

As you move up the three- to five-star ladder you will have a greater positive impact on the local environment and community. Five-star accommodations tend to be very ecologically friendly and are actively involved in anti-poaching and community development.

An African safari is a very responsible vacation choice. Much of the money you pay is used for conservation fees. This generates the money that’s required to keep the wilderness wild and pristine. Without people going on safaris, some of these species probably wouldn’t still be alive in the wild.

What is the best time to go on an African safari?

The best time for a safari tends to be in Africa’s winter, from June to October. Think blue skies, sunshine and an endless variety of animals. The safari experience changes throughout the year and such a large continent is home to lots of subtleties.

Related: The Best Time for an African Safari

How does the safari experience change during different seasons of the year?

All of the key safari destinations show remarkable seasonal diversity. Vegetation becomes sparse and scarce during the dry season. You can see for miles and the animals have nowhere to hide, which is perfect for spotting normally elusive creatures. Animals congregate around the few remaining water sources, so they’re easier to locate.

The rains typically last for three to four months. Landscapes flourish and the grass grows. This is known as the green season and it’s beautiful. However, high grass and thick foliage makes it more challenging to see animals. Animals spread out to explore fresh pastures, rather than hanging around a few watering holes. Most species have their young during the abundant green season, so you may see lots of cute youngsters, as well as lots of predators as they hunt the easy prey.

Months between the dry and green seasons are known as the shoulder season. During this time the landscape is under transition and the experience is halfway between the dry and green seasons.

Dry season in east Africa runs from June to October. The short rains then replenish the grasslands from November to January, coinciding with the wildebeest calving season. A short dry season follows from February to March, followed by the long rains from April to May. Many camps close during the long rains as trails become inaccessible.

Southern Africa’s dry season is during the winter, when it is cooler and more comfortable to be out on safari. This is from May to September. October and November can be very hot and humid before the rains start in earnest from December.

How long in advance do you need to book for the best accommodations and safari?

For a complete choice of accommodation and guides, we recommend booking a safari 12 months in advance, especially for the more popular dry season months. Twelve to 18 months in advance is ideal if you want complete choice over the best camps and wildlife locations.

The size of your group is a key factor. Most camps are very small, with space for less than 20 guests. It’s more straightforward to find space for a couple than for an extended family of 10. Bigger groups require more planning time.

What are the best airports to fly in and out of Africa?

The largest and best airport in southern Africa is O.R. Tambo International in Johannesburg. It has connections to safari locations across southern Africa, including Sabi Sands and Maun for the Okavango Delta. A safari anywhere in southern Africa is likely to pass through here. You may wish to leave or enter the region from Cape Town, which has another well-connected international airport.

Nairobi in Kenya is the best connected east African airport. There is an increasing number of flights to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania.

Domestic Flights

On most safari itineraries you will fly between different destinations. Wilderness areas are very remote and traveling by road is time-consuming and uncomfortable. Some camps are only accessible by air. Most concessions have their own airstrips and large national parks have multiple airstrips. Sometimes these airstrips must be cleared of passing elephants!

Each country has its own safari flight operators. Flight schedules are very flexible and aircraft travel in a set direction rather than on a specific route. Different passengers will get off and on along the way. Exact routes are decided on the day and based on who is traveling. This is brilliant because you can catch a glimpse of a new destination on an aerial flyover before continuing to your destination.

Planes are small and rarely take more than 20 passengers. They also have strict 33lb luggage restrictions. Contrary to American practices, you don’t need to show up two hours before a flight. You’ll take a game drive to the airstrip, drive directly up to the plane and soar off to another destination.

The exception is in South Africa, where larger aircraft run scheduled routes between Sabi Sands, Johannesburg and Cape Town. South Africa has other domestic air routes that are useful for longer itineraries.

Is Africa safe for travel?

Africa is very safe for tourists. There are some unsafe areas, but you won’t visit such areas when you travel with Zicasso. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and not visit places with which you're unfamiliar. Guides will provide you with up-to-date information on no-go areas, as will your accommodation. Throughout eastern and southern Africa you will find the locals to be very friendly and keen to help visitors stay safe.

On every safari you will be provided with a detailed safety briefing. This covers any dangers relative to where you are, such as what to do when an elephant is in the camp. The basics of staying safe on safari include never running, never walking anywhere alone, not going anywhere at night without a guide and not doing anything to annoy the animals. Rangers and guides will always be on hand to help you stay safe.

Should I be concerned about my health when on an African safari?

Camps and lodges have great standards of hygiene. Most visitors find that Africa is far cleaner than their experiences in parts of Europe and Asia, especially the accommodation.

All of east Africa is a malaria zone and you will need to take malaria medication. South Africa is malaria-free and this is a major consideration for families and senior travelers. Most other areas in southern Africa have only a nominal malaria risk during the dry season.

One challenge is the number of bugs. There are many that you may not be used to and the green season sees more insects and mosquitos. It’s important to take mosquito repellent and cover your skin around dusk, which is when bugs typically emerge.

What should I pack for an African safari?

Safari flights have 33lb luggage restrictions so you will need to pack light. The best clothes are the most practical. Lightweight and breathable fabric that covers your skin tends to work best, in addition to any neutral colors. Unfortunately, bright colors don’t stay bright for long due to the dust and can be an annoyance to some animals. Most camps have a laundry service included for their guests. Blue is best avoided in east Africa during the green season because it attracts tsetse flies.

Don’t bring walking boots unless you’re actually doing a walking safari, otherwise, it’s a lot of weight when lighter footwear will do.

Related: What to Bring on an African Safari: 6 Tips to Pack Your Bag

How can I take an African safari with my family?

Pretty much every child who goes on a safari says that it was their favorite vacation. Most families declare that a safari is their best ever family vacation because it’s fun for all ages and so unique.

Private vehicles are a great option for your game drives, especially if your children get tired and need to go back to the camp. You should also place a premium on camps with pools and other facilities because these are places where there is more space to play and explore. There are some camps, especially in South Africa, that are designed specifically for families, with interlinked rooms and other amenities.

Many camps have family-focused guides who are great with kids. Some even have children’s clubs, so your kids can learn ranger skills, bush survival tactics or how to track wildlife. These activities often take place in the middle of the day and then you all go out on a game drive together.

South Africa is great because it’s malaria-free and there is a superb diversity of things to do. Botswana is more high-end and there are less children-friendly areas. Tanzania and Kenya can be ideal with older children.

How can I take an African safari as a senior?

Heat and humidity can be unbearable during the hot summer months and this is often an issue for senior travelers. It’s also worth remembering that things take time in Africa. The roads are rough and bumpy, plus the dust is high. A travel specialist will often recommend a specific time to travel or destination based on camps and activities that are most suited to senior travelers. Safaris are definitely possible whatever your age. There are even camps that can accommodate travelers who need a dialysis machine.

Can I take a couple’s African safari?

A travel specialist understands the best camps and experiences for couples who are seeking something extra-special. Usually, these are not the most famous camps or the camps that are the most visible online. There are some very unique places and activities for couples, and it’s the travel specialists who know where.

Are there African safaris for people with mobility challenges?

Some African camps and lodges are well adapted for visitors with mobility challenges. It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of every safari takes place in a vehicle. Visitors rarely go walking anywhere, so you won’t be missing out if you can’t walk very far.

Can Zicasso help me with flights?

Zicasso Flights is an international air ticketing service that eliminates the stress of finding and booking the right flights for your upcoming vacation. By employing the same personalized service you can expect from planning a trip with Zicasso, our competitive flight pricing, 24x7 service and support, and complimentary consultation of routing versus pricing with an expert flight specialist make finding the perfect flight for your trip effortless.

Does Zicasso assist with travel insurance?

You’ve booked your dream vacation, now protect it with travel insurance. A wide range of factors can leave your vacation in limbo. Medical emergencies, inclement weather and unexpected cancellations can cause turmoil for your trip, so in the unlikely event of a disaster, get the travel insurance coverage that provides peace of mind. To get a quote, visit our travel insurance page.

Ready to start planning your African safari?

An African safari demonstrates the wonders of nature and the thrills of the open wilderness. Whether looking for lions on the savanna or exploring the jungle terrain for mountain gorillas, embracing a luxurious lodge overlooking a waterhole or finding the unfettered starlight above the wilderness, our African Safari Tours & Vacations can give you inspiration for your next trip. You can find helpful tips with Zicasso’s Africa Safari Guide or talk with an African Safari travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.

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