Best Time to Visit Africa
Best Safari Destinations in Africa
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 animals: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalos. You should try not to be too preoccupied with these five 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?
East African Safari
Kenya is the grand dame of 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 that 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.
Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world that are home to mountain gorillas. Although Uganda and Rwanda also offer traditional big-game safari as well, neighboring Tanzania and Kenya are better. A trip here is usually just for the gorillas.
Botswana is a pure 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 Savute and Linyanti.
Namibia is purely desert and is home to majestic sand dunes like those around Sossusvlei. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s best safari destinations. Most Namibia itineraries combine wildlife safaris with desert camps and open plains.
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.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are not 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 traveling and adjusting to time zone changes. With a total of 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 that you focus on one country or possibly two neighboring countries.
Essential Safari Experiences
Different safari activities provide unique perspectives of the animals and their home. On a safari itinerary, you will have the opportunity to combine different activities.
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 that 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 that 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, and they provide 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 are the perfect complement to all the on-the-ground encounters. Soaring over the landscape will also showcase the scale of the African savanna.
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 from 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.
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, including lunch annd 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 Choice Do I Have With Accommodation on a African Safari?
The accommodation rating system for each country is different. As you will expect, the quality of accommodation increases from three to four to five star properties.
You should also consider that higher rated camps will have better guides. The higher-rated camps are also in the most premium locations. The biggest difference between a three-star and five-star camp is the wildlife experience. You’ll see more animals from the camp and, perhaps, have nighttime visitors like elephants (yes it’s safe).
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 both 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. It provides 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 and the scene. Camps are typically smaller than lodges, so there will be fewer other guests.
How Many Days Should I Stay at Each Location?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to 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 only 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-star 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.
Best Time to Visit Africa
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.
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 find.
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 onwards.
Cost of a Safari vs the Season
Dry season is also the high tourist season in every safari destination, and it is the most expensive time to go on safari. The green season is a less popular time of year, and the prices of camps can be less than half of what they are during the dry season. You can enjoy excellent safari deals during the shoulder months.
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. 12 - 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 ten. Bigger groups require more planning time.
Modes of Transportation in Africa
How you get around Africa will depend on the destinations you wish to visit. There are very few roads and most safari areas are not located along any major road.
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 the 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 is 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.
On most safari itineraries, you will fly between different destinations. Wilderness areas are very remote, and traveling by road is both 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 travels 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 the Sabi Sands, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. South Africa has other domestic air routes that are useful for longer itineraries.
Flights Via Zicasso
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 & Support, and Complimentary Consultation of Routing vs. Pricing with an Expert Flight Specialist make finding the perfect flight for your trip effortless.
Overland travel in Africa takes time. Even the best roads are rough and bumpy. Dust is high, and it’s not always comfortable. Google’s estimation of travel time tends to be very ambitious, and overland travel will take longer than anticipated (it’s just a part of traveling in Africa).
What to Consider When Traveling in Africa
The following information covers important travel considerations so that you can have a stress-free travel experience.
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 to visit places with which you’re not familiar. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Specific Travel Considerations For Your Group
Taking children on safari is okay! 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 to everything else.
Private vehicles are a great option for your game drives, especially in the case that 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. Both Tanzania and Kenya can be ideal with older children.
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.
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.
Mobility and Accessibility
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.