Where & When
An African Safari, the ultimate travel experience. Whether your interest is in one day experiencing a breathtaking Serengeti sunset, watching the annual migration unfold in the Masai Mara or the awe-inspiring sight of the Okavango Delta, it is about fulfilling a dream for many travellers, a dream often stoked at a young age.
But Africa is a continent that goes beyond just the safari, offering countless experiences and opportunities for all ages and thrill-seekers. The options are plentiful and we understand that for many first-time travellers to Africa, it can be a daunting task to understand what experience is right for them.
Let’s consider some basic questions that will help you to define what experience is best for you.
Budgets – both time and money
How long do you have to travel?
Africa is a considerable distance from North America and requires crossing several timezones. You will likely need to set aside at least three days travel time total as part of your ‘time budget’. Additionally, many travellers consider a stopover on their way to Africa. Most flights transit Europe and a stopover in London, Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt can be added for a little extra cost. This will allow you more time to adjust to the local timezone and break up the journey to arrive rested in Africa.
Ideally one should set aside at least three weeks including travel time for a pleasurable trip to Africa. However this will de dependent on what you want to see and what your total budget is likely to be.
Planning a Budget
Most travellers are aware that a trip to Africa is not to be viewed as a destination that can be done ‘on the cheap’. That being said, there are options which offer a much more affordable experience if you are willing to trade on the comfort and quality of the trip. However, regardless of whether you have chosen a more budget option, or a luxury trip there are common costs that must be considered. Here is a list of considerations that may form part of your larger travel budget:
- Airfare. Airfares from North America can typically run in the $2000 – $2500 range, depending on season and routing.
- Visas. Some countries require a visa for entry. Refer to our destinations guides for the latest info on entry requirements and visa costs.
- Vaccinations and precautions. Some travellers may require their vaccinations to be brought up to date, and depending on what you require, this could be a modest cost or could be considerable. Additionally if travelling to a malarial risk area, malarial precautions may also be advisable. It is always best to consult your local travel health clinic for the latest information.
- Travel Insurance. At the very least, we require proper medical insurance for all passengers travelling on our tours, with proof of emergency evacuation and repatriation coverage. However, for further peace of mind, many travelers will opt for comprehensive insurance which covers trip cancellation, trip interruption and baggage insurance.
- Gratuities. Gratuities for many services, especially those of your guide and your lodge staff are expected as part of your safari. You should generally aim to budget approximately US$10/day for most safaris.
The good news is that on many of our safaris, especially those of a more luxury nature, most things are included in your upfront cost, including but not limited to, your safari experiences, meals and guides. Refer to each individual itinerary for a list of what is included.
Where To Go?
Where to go in Africa is an essential question you will need to consider carefully before you choose the right safari for you. We have all heard of the famed Serengeti National Park of Tanzania and a trip combining Kenya and Tanzania is often thought of as the ultimate wildlife experience, and in truth, it is. However many other countries in Africa offer a wildlife experience combined with some alternative activities that may also appeal to you, so consider your destination and the pros and cons of each carefully.
What is Your Focus?
The most basic question to ask yourself when determining which country or combination of countries is the right one for you is to define what is most important to you. Are you simply seeking a wildlife experience or do you desire to mix in some culture, hiking, cities or other activities to your holiday? Defining what you are seeking out of your whole travel experience will help you choose the right area and the right safari for you.
East vs. Southern Africa
One of most basic questions often asked is whether to consider a safari in East or Southern Africa. It’s a great question and again is defined by the focus of your holiday. If wildlife is your key, and perhaps only focus, then the vast plains of East Africa highlighted by the Serengeti and the Masai Mara teeming with game offer your best wildlife opportunities. While the landscapes can vary dramatically in East Africa depending on how much of the area you cover, the main activity is game drives. Southern Africa, while often not considered as prolific an area to view wildlife as East Africa, does however offer perhaps more variety, depending on the area you have chosen.
Botswana for example and its breathtaking Okavango Delta, offers not only safaris by game vehicle, but you may also undertake game walks, canoeing safaris, boating safaris, mekoros (traditional dugout canoes) or even fishing as alternatives to your standard game drive.
Namibia has some excellent game experiences, especially in the salt pans of the Etosha National Park found in the central-north of the country, but also has some of Africa’s most scenic rugged beauty from the shores of the Skeleton Coast to the ochre-coloured dunes of the Namib Desert.
South Africa is called ‘the world in one country’ for good reason, not only does it have excellent game viewing opportunities throughout its national parks system and the countless number of private reserves that dot the country, but offers so much more. Cosmopolitan cities such as Cape Town offer some first-class infrastructure and shopping opportunities, and just outside, some exquisite wineries. The ruggedly beautiful Drakensberg Mountains offer some of the continent’s best walking and trekking opportunities that may not be as daunting as tackling the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The famed ‘Garden Route’, a six-hundred kilometer stretch from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth provides a number of touristic opportunities. Additionally, South Africa is home to a malarial-risk free safari by visiting some of its private reserves. A consideration if taking malarial precautions for you or your family concerns you.
In summary, Africa is not only about wildlife, so consider carefully what your holiday goals are. We have put together a handy matrix below that may help you choose the best county for you by defining the two most important characteristics of your holiday. Below we have outlined the best countries depending on your focus, if you have two or more reasons for travelling, find that point in the matrix where these two interests meet.
When to Go?
When to go to Africa is of course most dependent on the weather patterns. However, don’t let it all be about weather, there are reasons you may want to consider off periods that can be less busy and more affordable.
When seeking a wildlife experience, generally speaking it is best to travel towards the end of a dry season whether the long or short dry season. This is because the vegetation has usually become less ubiquitous, and the grasses are short, allowing for easier spotting of game. In addition, when water is scarce the animals will often seek to congregate at one of the area’s watering holes making it easier to predict where they might be.
The Great Migration
In East Africa, one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles takes place, the Great Migration where wildebeest and zebra make their way across the plains in the hundreds of thousands. The event happens in a cyclical manner across the border of Kenya and Tanzania and we have provided a map detailing the general expected flow of the migration on a monthly basis. Our recommendation if you wish to experience this awe-inspiring sight is to do so in Kenya in the Masai Mara where the game tends to get concentrated and the experience becomes profoundly moving. It is important to understand that wildlife patterns can be unpredictable and thus no guarantee can be made, but generally from late July – late September is best for this experience with mid-August to mid-September offering your best chance.
Choosing A Shoulder Season
Choosing to go in shoulder season can offer great benefits. The rains may not have come yet, or will often be short and light. Additionally, you will find far fewer travelers at this time of year thus your game viewing experience will not consist of a myriad of vehicles parked up along a small number of game. Considerable savings can be realized as well as many properties will greatly reduce their rates during this time, allowing you to save money or perhaps lengthen your holiday.
Consider Other Nationalities
Africa is a big draw for Europeans and make up a major portion of travel to Africa. Commonly Europeans will travel in the northern hemisphere summer, particularly in the months of June – August. You will find, especially in Southern Africa, that pre-booking well in advance becomes essential and prices will be at their peak. And interestingly this does not always match with what is considered the best time to go, so if you can avoid this peak period you are likely to have more of the wildlife opportunities to yourself and you will likely save some money as well.
There Is No Rule
While we have provided information as to when is the best time to go, including a handy weather guide below, please remember this is a guideline only. Weather patterns can be unpredictable; events such as the recent World Cup in South Africa, among other factors may influence the reality on the ground. Consult any of our destination guides for more information on the climatic conditions of each country.
Game drives are the classic way to experience the African wildlife. Typically a game drive takes place in a custom-built safari vehicle (with either a pop-up top or open sides), which offers comfort, panoramic viewing, dedicated safari guide, optional refreshment on-board and radio-links for fast location of game.
The best time for wildlife viewing is 6.30 AM – 9.30 AM and 3.30 PM – 6.30 PM; this is due to the fact that most of the animals retire to the shade to rest during the middle (hottest) part of the day. For best viewing, the trick is not to look AT the bush but THROUGH it. Focus your eyes at mid-range distance, look under bushes and into the shadows, and watch out for those subtle changes in colour and continuity that may indicate the presence of wildlife.
A uniquely specialised activity, which is usually not permitted within the boundaries of the national parks and reserves, a night game drive is the ultimate safari luxury. Generally we have the opportunity to experience a night drive when staying within the boundaries of a private reserve. Some national parks have organized night drives which you can join for an optional cost while staying within the park.
Night drives are an exhilarating experience, leaving your accommodation after dinner, you will set off to discover the creatures of the night. This is the exclusive domain of hunters such as lions and leopards, and the only time when you may catch a glimpse of such elusive nocturnal creatures as aardvarks, civet cats, white-tailed mongoose and cape hares. Your vehicle will also be equipped with a powerful hand-held lamp, which can be used to sweep the bush for likely sightings.
Experiencing the African bush whilst on a game walk is one of the most special experiences in Africa. Leave behind the noisy vehicle as you follow your experienced ranger on and adventure of a lifetime. Guides are equipped with a rifle and armed with great knowledge on animal behaviour. Game walks need not be an activity that should give you pause, but instead viewed as a special experience.
Clients gain a special appreciation for the bush on a game walk. Generally no more than a couple of hours in length and conducted at a leisurely pace, they offer a special insight into the flora, fauna and wildlife of the African bush. Many game reserves (especially throughout Southern Africa) offer the experience and some trips have are especially tailored just to clients who wish to conduct the majority of their game experiences by foot.
Qualified rangers will make frequent stops to explain how animals are tracked in the bush, explain how plants may have been used by traditional cultures and if lucky, we may have the opportunity to view some great game from a vantage point which is just not possible within the confines of a vehicle.
Best Countries for Game Walk: Botswana, South Africa
Safaris by Water
There are some great waterways and water-based ecosystems in Africa and conducting game viewing from a boat, canoe or mokoro (traditional watercraft) can be both peaceful and exciting.
Boating safaris are often conducted in the evening as the sun starts to set over the African horizon. We cruise at a leisurely pace, making frequent stops to view game along the way. Whether we are viewing hippos, elephants as they come to the river to drink or to appreciate the prolific birdlife of Africa, a boating safari can be a relaxing way to experience a late afternoon game experience, perhaps with a ‘sundowner’ cocktail in hand!
Canoeing safaris are an active way to explore some of Africa’s great waterways. Choose your level of involvement from a few hours paddling down the Zambezi or a multi-day trip combining an appreciation for Africa’s spectacular natural surroundings and game viewing. It’s a great way to be active while at the same time drawing up your paddles to get some great shots of your surroundings and any animals that may be swimming just off in the distance or have found their way down to the riverside for a drink.
Mokoro safaris are conducted in Botswana in a traditional Mokoro. A Mokoro traditionally was a canoe carved from a large tree used by the people of the Bavei tribe of the Okavango Delta region. Today mokoros are made of fiberglass for environmental reasons. Your mokoro safari will be accompanied by a ‘poler’ who is a local equipped with a pole about 3 metres long that allows for navigation of the delta waters. So sit back and enjoy as you take in the besutiful ecosystem and its prolific wildlife and picture-perfect sunsets.
Best Countries for Safaris by Water: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia
If you have limited time and wish to skip the long drives that often accompany a traditional African Safari, a flying safari may just be for you. Flying safaris can are ideal for maximizing your vacation time. Many of the major reserves in East Africa and parts of Southern Africa have airstrips nearby that allow for direct access to a multitude of lodges.
Flights are generally undertaken in small light aircraft ranging from 4 – 12 guests and not only does it shorten travel times, but they also offer a glimpse of Africa from the air. It is not uncommon to fly over parks and reserves where wildlife can be spotted from above. Flying over Botswana’s Okavango Delta can be one of the most rewarding experiences where clients can appreciate the vast and unmatched ecosystem of the delta.
You can expect to pay considerably more for a flying safari, but the reward can be well worth the cost, especially if you desire to see as much as possible in a short time.
Best Countries for a Flying Safari: Kenya, Botswana
Balloon Safaris typically begin with a dawn wake-up call, a cup of tea, and a short drive to the take-off site. Here guests can watch as the balloon is inflated then, as it rights itself, they are invited to climb into the 8-10 person basket (which is equipped with safety belts). Piloted by a qualified balloon pilot, the balloon will drift in the direction of the prevailing wind and can rise up and down according to the pilot’s wishes. An ideal way of viewing game, it is an unforgettable experience that usually lasts around 45 minutes to an hour before coming down to a controlled landing. Traditionally a champagne breakfast is then served (usually a full English breakfast) as flying certificates are handed out. The support team then load the balloon while the guests enjoy a game drive back to the lodge in another vehicle.
Best Countries for a Balloon Safari: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia
Bird-Watchers will delight in visiting Africa. Some of the most prolific birdlife in the world is on offer whether you choose East Africa or Southern Africa. The diversity of African birdlife is startling in its colour and vibrancy and will be sure to be a memorable experience.
There are specific trips that are designed just for the bird-watching enthusiast, but any safari that visits some of Africa’s great bird habitats will offer some great opportunities. Whether it’s the lakes of the Great Rift Valley such as Lake Nakuru, home to thousands of flamingoes or pelicans at times of the year, or the Okavango Delta with its enormous diversity of bird-life, any birder novice to expert will be left satisfied.
Special multi-day safari experiences with a focus on ornithology can be easily organized with a dedicated ornithologist.
Best Countries for a Bird-Watcing: Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana
There are few experiences in the world that can match the exhilarating thrill of tracking a Mountain Gorilla family through the thick tropical rainforests of Uganda or Rwanda. George Schaller famously stated that “No one who looks into a gorilla’s eyes – intelligent, gentle, vulnerable – can remain unchanged, for the gap between ape and human vanishes, we know that the gorilla still lives with in us”.
Uganda is home to about 50% of the world’s Mountain Gorilla population within the confines of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Rwanda too has a considerable portion of the total population within the Parc Nationale des Volcanoes.
Well-monitored and permitted, the cost of a permit to undertake this experience is dear at $500 US. However, there is arguably no more intimate and interesting wildlife experience in Africa.
Gorilla-tracking can involve several hours walking to locate the families deep within the bush and clients should be aware that at least an average level of fitness required. However, the walk through the bush quickly fades into memory as we settle down to observe and gawk in awe at these magical creatures of nature for the next hour.
Best Countries for Gorilla Tracking: Uganda, Rwanda
Trekking / Hiking
Africa offers some great trekking opportunities. Africa’s most popular trekking destination is Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the continent. However lesser known ranges and mountains can offer a less travelled route, such as Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains or Mount Kenya or Mount Meru. Considerable in their difficulty level, preparation is a must.
Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,336 feet it’s Africa’s highest peak. The trek to the summit takes you through 5 different climatic zones. More than 20,000 people attempt the climb every year. Routes vary in degree of difficulty, traffic and scenic beauty. The least difficult routes are Marangu and Rongai; the more difficult routes are Machame, Shira and Limosho. The longer routes have more difficult hiking but you’ll be more acclimatized and your chances of reaching the summit are therefore higher.
However, trekking need not be so involved and less strenuous hiking offering some spectacular scenery can be had in Africa was well. South Africa is home to some great trails whether they wind their way through the Drakensberg Mountains, along the Wild Coast north of Durban or along the famed ‘Otter Trail’ in the Tsitsikamma National Park along South Africa’s Garden Route. Spectacular scenery and walks can also be found in the Fish River Canyon Area of Namibia.
Best Countries for a Trekking: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa
Africa is a great place to experience some of the world’s best adrenaline activities if that’s your cup of tea! Most centre around the Victoria Falls area where one can engage in a number of heart-pounding experiences! Whether you’d like to try jumping off a bridge with the Vic Falls Bungee jump experience, or perhaps raft one of the world’s mightiest rivers, the Zambezi, these are just two of a whole slough of activities available in the Vic Falls area. Also available is the electrifying Gorge Swing, microlighting over the falls, or perhaps undertaking the Lion Encounter experience. If getting your heart racing is a must for you, plan enough time in Vic Falls to tell stories for years!
The other major centre for adrenaline activity is Swakopmund in Namibia. Here you can go quad-biking through the red dunes, skydive against the picturesque landscape or try your hand at sand-boarding!
Oh, and don’t forget that the world’s highest bungee jump is in South Africa at Bloukrans at an astounding 216 metres! Any way you look at it, Africa is a great place to get your blood going!
Africa offers some of the most picturesque golf courses in the world. Golf is also a favourite pastime amongst the African business community, all of which adds up to the fact that countries such as Kenya and South Africa are a veritable golfer’s paradise. As well as offering specific golfing resorts, some lodges offer immediate access to the nearest golf course, many of which are either overlooking the Indian Ocean, or scenically located.
Some of the world’s best courses are located here and have been designed by the likes of Gary Player, a legend in the international golfing community.
Africa is also the only place in the world to have the following rule: ‘If a ball comes to rest close to a hippopotamus or crocodile, another ball may be dropped at a safe distance, but no nearer the hole, without a penalty’.
Whether you simply take in a game as an add on to your safari experience or you wish to partake in a specific gold holiday, the great courses on offer will leave you with a desire to return!
The Indian Ocean coastline of Africa is one of the most beautiful in the world. Silver sands, year-round clear-blue waters and tropical palms are hallmarks of this area.
Known as the Swahili Coastline, thanks to the unique mix of African, Arabic and Portuguese people who typify it, it also offers; a wide range of ancient cultural sites; mosques and ancient Swahili towns; a vibrantly colourful cuisine; a wide range of marine parks backed by coastal parks and the last remains of the African equatorial rain-forests; endless water-sports, child-friendly pursuits and nightly entertainments for all tastes; and one of the world’s most famous barrier reefs. As for the accommodation, thanks to its long-established tourism infrastructure, the choices range from 5-star resorts and world-class spas, to simple palm-thatched chalets on the beach.
Best Countries for a Beach Experience: Kenya (Mombasa), Tanzania (Zanzibar), Mozambique
The Indian Ocean coastline makes the ideal water-sporting venue and the majority of resorts offer a wide range of options, which generally include any or all of the following: wind-surfing, kite-surfing, snorkelling, fun-boats, glass-bottom boats, catamarans and dinghies, boogie boards, jet-skis surfing, pedallos and water-skiing Sometimes these are included in the cost of the resort – sometimes they are at additional cost. Usually lessons can also be taken (windsurfing, sailing, water-skiing in particular).
International PADI dive school offering equipment, training courses and guiding to local reefs and (in some cases) wrecks.
The Indian Ocean coast features some magnificent dive sites and a wide selection of dive centres, which cater for complete beginners and experienced divers alike. It is also possible to do a ‘fun dive’ where no experience is required and a guide takes you down to 6 metres. Due to the Indo-Pacific current, the Indian Ocean boasts the same fish species as Australia: manta rays; reef, hammerhead and whale sharks; turtles and multi-coloured reef fish in coral gardens. Wall and pinnacle dives with dramatic drop-offs together with wreck, drift and night drives are also offered. Divers must carry internationally recognized accreditation both PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) are acceptable.
Big game fishing for marlin, tuna, king fish, wahu etc using fully-equipped and crewed boats.
The Indian Ocean coastline of Africa is a Mecca for deep-sea fishermen, many world and all-Africa records being held in Kenya. There are six types of billfish in the waters, striped, blue and black marlin being the main species together with sailfish, swordfish, sharks, wahoo, yellowfin, tuna and dorado. Boats typically depart in the early morning, trawl for bait and then head out to the deep water to wait for the big catch. The fishing season is August to March (billfish season from November to March).
Most resorts offer boats which carry snorkellers out the short distance to the reef or can be done from the shoreline. Most supply snorkeling equipment and guides – however you may prefer to bring you own. If swimming a marine park, you will have to buy a ticket – which are usually available from the hotel or the boat captain. Snorkelling can be done at all times of the year, but conditions are considered best from December to March. The best visibility for snorkeling is at low tide just before the tide turns.
Options for sailing vary greatly ranging from hired catamarans and dinghies to trips on traditional fishing boats (known as ngalawa) or dhows. Sailing is good all year round, though October is particularly good.
There are some very unique and inspiring accommodations in Africa, from very basic camping in the wilderness to some of the most indulgent luxury available anywhere in the world. What accommodation is suitable to you (and within your trip budget) is a major consideration in choosing the right safari for you. Most accommodations can be broken down into basic categories which is some cases may offer moderate options right up to luxurious ones. Below is a list of these accommodation options:
One of the best ways to get close to the wildlife of Africa and experience the true African bush is to experience a camping safari. Traditional dome style tents are often employed and usually furnished with comfortable foam mattresses. Clients should be aware that this style of travel is usually of a more participatory nature and you will be required often to put up and take down your own tents, help with general camp chores and may even participate in cooking for the group on a rota-basis. There are some camping trips that offer the option of limited or no-participation, if you so choose.
Where we choose to camp may be of a more wilderness experience where facilities are limited, however the vast majority of campsites in Africa offer great amenities with ablution blocks, and in some cases, a camp bar where you can have an evening drink.
Camping holidays are not usually age-restricted, but travellers should be aware of their very basic nature and therefore are not for everyone. However, if you want to experience a truly African wilderness environment, this may be the best option for you.
One of our favourite styles of accommodation is a perfect marriage between comfort and remoteness. Comfort camping is an accommodation option that employs the use of large dome tents, often as large as 3m x 3m square and comfortable camp beds with duvets and amenities for a much more comfortable camping experiences. In some cases, facilities complete with porcelain chemical toilets may be affixed to the back of your tent, or at most two tents will share one set of facilities.
One of the great advantages of comfort camping is its intimate and remote experience. The whole environment moves with you on safari and all duties are taken care of by your dedicated camp staff. Often your group size averages just six people and rarely goes larger than ten. If you are looking for an experience that gets you away from the hustle and bustle of a larger African lodge, this is the perfect choice.
Comfort camping yields some of the best feedback from our safari travellers who remark at the great level of service they receive on their experience and appreciate its uniqueness in taking you into the heart of the African bush, while not compromising on comfort.
Most travellers will experience what is known as the classic African accommodation, an African safari lodge. An African safari lodge can differ quite dramatically from small intimate lodges that may only cater to ten to twelve guests right up to lodges that can accommodate over one hundred. They can be of a more basic (3 star) nature right up to very indulgent luxury that beckons for a 6 star rating if one existed! It is important then to consider each individual lodge on its own merits and what is right for you.
African lodges however do have one thing in common, they are built in an inspired style which is reflective of the African bush. They fit within the environment and endeavour to be a continuous part of the bush rather than an eyesore upon the horizon. Often you will find a watering hole located below the lodge, offering some great game-viewing opportunities right from the lodge itself. It is advisable to wander down to the terrace with perhaps an evening drink and watch intently for animals visiting for a drink.
One thing that is common to African lodges is that they do often offer the greatest range of amenities, which may include a pool for relaxation during the heat of the midday, a lounge, a library, among other things. So if having some of these amenities is available to you is important, this may be the best choice for you.
This style of accommodation was first made popular by Ernest Hemingway, and can be one of the most memorable types of accommodation experiences you will have in Africa! There are two types of Tented safaris, Permanent Tented Camps and Mobile Tented Camps. However, each have common elements such as a canvas roof and walls, full size and comfortable beds, amenities within the room and ensuite facilities.
Permanent Tented Camps
Permanent tented camps are affixed in one area. They do not move from year to year and are often constructed on raised platforms with comfortable furnishings and deck chairs for relaxation after your safari activities. Like African lodges they can vary greatly in their comfort from more basic (3 star) to luxury (5 star), so it is best to evaluate which level is best for you and your budget.
Generally speaking permanent tented camp environments are smaller than lodge-based environments and can offer from just five or six tents up to 32. Again, consider what type of experience you would like in defining the size of the tented camp. Some of the larger permanent camps do offer a lot of the same amenities as lodges and too may have a pool available for relaxation.
Mobile Tented Camps
Mobile tented camps are much like the comfort camping experience in how they operate. You are accompanied by a crew who will take care of putting up and breaking down the camp as you move along on your safari. The furnishings that are provided with a mobile tented camp are comfortable, but do not expect the same level you may expect with tented camps of the more permanent nature.
That being said, there are great advantages to a mobile tented safari. We can set up camp in more remote locations, closer to the game, requiring less driving to get out to see wildlife than may be common with the permanent style. Additionally, group sizes usually max out about ten safari-seekers, so you will experience in many cases a much more intimate safari experience.
Chalets, Guesthouses and B&Bs
Africa can offer a wide arrange of accommodations that are more classic in nature and can range anywhere from the very basic to luxury. One thing that is often common in this style of accommodations is we seek out places that are small and full of character.
More common in Southern Africa, especially in countries such as South Africa or Namibia, guesthouses can offer a comfortable place to sleep along our journey or in some very scenic locations. Exquisite B&Bs offering a smaller, intimate experience are common along South Africa’s famed ‘Garden Route’. Chalets are often found in some of the National Parks as basic accommodations that offer an upgrade to camping. They may also be found in the vast stretches of wilderness of Namibia in some classic scenic locations.
Vehicles & Transport
Vehicles used throughout Africa for your safari will be dependent on a few factors including where your safari is conducted, what style of safari you have undertaken and whether your game drives are being conducted within a private reserve or a national park. One thing they will have in common though is maximizing your safari-viewing experience by offering sliding windows, roof hatches or open sides allowing you to get some great photographs! Except on more basic and camping safaris, window seats are usually guaranteed so you don’t have to worry about crawling across the fellow passenger for that great shot!
On camping safaris and some of the more basic accommodated safaris, we will use traditional overland vehicles. These vehicles are often self-contained allowing us to put up camp wherever we are. The vehicles are generally 16 passengers and seating is two-by-two. Windows are large and slide open to provide viewing opportunities and while window seats cannot be guaranteed, enough rotation often occurs that this does not usually prove to be a problem.
Generally employed in Kenya, these vehicles will carry six passengers and guarantee a window seat to all safari-seekers. In addition, they have a roof hatch that opens up when we come across wildlife, allowing passengers to stand up and take advantage of some photographic opportunities.
Generally used in Tanzania and Uganda, these vehicles carry six passengers maximum, but are 4x4s allowing for the more intense road conditions we often may face within these areas. Sometimes these vehicles also offer a roof that pops open for a better look at the wildlife.
Small Safari 4x4s
In Southern Africa we employ the use of custom built safari vehicles that may carry up to nine or ten passengers. They are 4×4 in nature to handle any of the tough road conditions that may come our way. They will either have windows that drop out completely or canvas that may roll down to provide a completely open-sided experience that offers unimpeded views of the wildlife.
Open Game Drive Vehicles
Many of the vehicles used in Southern Africa while on your game drives, especially whilst in national parks or especially private reserves are completely open on top or may have a basic roof of canvas that can be rolled across during intense sun or rain, or open during good conditions. They are tiered with each row of seats slightly raised to enhance the game-viewing experience. Their sophisticated 4×4 systems allow us to get right through the bush when tracking the wildlife.
Guides & Staff
Guides are perhaps one of the most important elements to your safari experience. They are your eyes and ears offering a wealth of knowledge of the African bush. For many this is consider their career, having been qualified as wildlife rangers. It cannot be underestimated how important it is to have a knowledgeable guide who will add so much more to your safari experience. Their warm smiles and friendly manner will stay with you for years after your vacation has come to an end.
While not a hard and fast rule, generally speaking, the higher level of safari you are undertaking with regards to its exclusivity or comfort level will ensure a more qualified guide, since the best guides seek to work for the most respected and sought-after companies. However, other factors can also enter into this such as the country or area in which you are travelling or the continuing educational opportunities offered by the companies that employ them.
Safari guides are not the only ones that will make your safari as memorable as it will be, working behind the scenes or in front of them are a myriad of competent crew who will take care of your every need from preparing great meals to driving the vehicles to ensure your room has all the comforts you need, so don’t forget to offer a smile in return when they offer you theirs! It’s with good reason they call this the ‘warm heart of Africa’.
The reason most of us go to Africa is for the abundant wildlife! Discover some of it here. Do you know your Big Five? The term, ‘the Big Five’ was coined during the hunting era and referred to the five animals most desired by the ‘white hunters’. These days, the only hunting that is done of the legendary ‘big five’ is by camera. They are: the elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo.
The African Elephant
The African elephant lives in small family groups of 10-20 elephants, which often congregate in much larger herds at water or food sources. Elephant society is matriarchal, senior females dominating the herds while the bulls live alone or in bachelor groups. Depending almost entirely on its trunk for scent and communication, for washing, clearing, carrying, learning, drinking and eating, an elephant’s lifespan (60 -70 years) depends very much on its teeth, which are highly adapted to its mode of living. As one tooth wears away the next moves down the jaw to replace it, and when the last tooth has come forward and is worn down the elephant will die of starvation. Although their sight is poor, elephants have an excellent sense of smell and well-developed hearing. Like humans, elephants lead complex inter-dependant social lives growing from helpless infancy through self-conscious adolescence to adulthood. Surprisingly graceful on their padded and carefully placed feet, a large herd of elephants can merge into the trees and disappear within minutes; their presence betrayed only by the noisy cracking of branches as they strip trees and uproot saplings.
The lion is the largest of Kenya’s three big cats, weighing up to 280 kg. Inherently lazy, the lion is immensely powerful; at one leap it can clear fences 4 meters high and chasms 12 meters long. Its amber eyes, like those of the leopard, differ from those of other cats in so much as they are circular rather than oval. Lions hunt communally, running down their prey at a top speed of around 64 kph and, although they will kill almost any animal, they prefer large herbivores which are the mainstay of their diet. Sightings of lions are normally during daylight hours when the pride is at rest, having spent most of the night in hunting, patrolling and playing. Although they rarely attack humans without provocation, lions are extremely dangerous and should be treated with particular caution (you should never get out of your car in lion territory).
The African Buffalo
The African or Cape buffalo is closely related to the domestic cow. Generally docile, buffalos can be extremely dangerous when threatened or surprised and must be regarded with extreme caution – especially lone bulls or cows with calves. Intensely gregarious, buffalos form into herds of between 200 and 2000 animals. Voracious eaters (both grazers and browsers), they spend most of their 15-20 year lifespan consuming fodder to maintain their strength and stamina.
Ruthlessly hunted for its horn, which is widely used in Chinese medicine and much prized as a dagger handle in the Middle East, the black rhino came close to extinction at the close of the last century and still remains Africa’s single most endangered large mammal. The smaller of the two rhino species (weighing approximately 900 -1,400 kg), the black rhino has a more concave back than the white rhino, relatively small, three-toed hoofs, and a pointed prehensile upper lip, which is ideally suited to browsing in the bush and forest.
What is the difference between the black rhino and the white rhino? Contrary to popular imagination, rhino are neither black nor white; both are a similar shade of grey. The name ‘white’ originates from the Afrikaans word ‘weit’, which means ‘wide’, and refers to the width of the white rhino’s mouth, which is specially adapted to grazing. To tell the difference between black and white – look at the mouth of the animal, the white rhino is a grazer and has a wide mouth, the black rhino is a browser and has a pointed prehensile (capable of grasping) lip.
Thanks to its harshly rasping territorial call, the intensely secretive leopard is more often heard than seen. A supreme ambush hunter, the leopard is a solitary animal spending much of its time up a selection of favoured trees, which it uses as game larders for its kills. Mainly nocturnal and extremely unsociable, the leopard is very difficult to spot. Viewing tip: scan the trees for the telltale sign of the dangling tail.
The cheetah is the least catlike and aggressive of the big cats; the weakest of the group, it often loses its kills to lions, hyenas and even vultures. When hunting (around dawn and late afternoon), cheetahs spend a lot of time moving into position before bursting from cover and running down their prey in brief bursts of speed of up to 112 kph (sustainable for only 200-300 meters at a time). Unlike the other big cats, cheetahs never climb trees but prefer termite mounds, leaning trees or even vehicles as observation posts.
Now one of the rarest large carnivores in Africa, the hunting dog resembles a long-legged dog with prominent rounded ears, a black muzzle and face, and white tail tuft. Almost exclusively diurnal, the strictly carnivorous hunting dogs are relentless and formidable pack-hunters. Relatively small, they are also capable of bringing down prey twice their size.
Rothschild’s, Masai and Reticulated. The world’s tallest mammal (up to 5.2 meters tall), the giraffe uses its unique 45 cm long tongue and agile lips to browse on the leaves of trees that other creatures cannot reach, its especial favourite being acacia. Widespread and common in savannah, open woodland and plains, giraffe have a lifespan of 25-35 years. Non-territorial, they gather in loose leaderless herds to browse by day, while at night they lie down and ruminate. Masai giraffe have a broken pattern of dark blotches on a buff background. The more solidly built Rothschild’s giraffe, is paler in colour and has distinctive white ‘stockinged’ forelegs. Both sexes have knob-like horns but can be told apart due to the fact that the males have bald horn tips while the females’ are hairy.
Did you know?Giraffe feed for up to 16 hours a day, and can consume up to 60 kg of leaves daily. They defend themselves by kicking and can run at speeds of up to 55 mph.
Star of the world’s greatest animal spectacular, the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, the wildebeest is an extremely gregarious animal, moving in herds that can number up to 150 females and young, headed up by 1-3 bulls. Unmistakable with their peculiar head-high, rocking gait, wildebeest live almost entirely on grass, and in the dry season a herd can cover up to 50 km a day in search of water. Males make a continuous cacophony of low moaning grunts and explosive snorts.
Did you know? A newly born wildebeest can run within minutes of birth.
Unmistakably marked with broadly alternating black and white stripes, zebra are primarily grazers. They also enjoy a complex social system, which is built up around small groups of related mares over which the stallions fight with much spectacular plunging, rearing, slashing and kicking during the mating season. The most common being the Burchell’s zebra, which is best-known for accompanying the thousands of wildebeest that make up the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara – and back again. East Africa’s other zebra species, the Grevy’s zebra, is larger than its cousin with finer stripes and large rounded ‘ Mickey Mouse’ ears.
Weighing up to four tonnes, hippos are the third-largest land animals in the world. True amphibians, they can stay totally submerged in water for three to four minutes at a time; they also eat, mate and give birth under water. Spending most of their day resting in water, hippo come up frequently to blow air and recharge their lungs. At sundown they leave the water in schools (or ‘sounders’) to spend the night grazing their home range which is usually marked by well-defined pathways, each animal consuming up to 60 kg of fodder per night. Hippos have fearsome teeth and on land can be aggressive and extremely dangerous.
The East African Oryx inhabits eastern Africa, and the closely-related Gemsbok inhabits all of eastern and southern Africa. Both are considered threatened species. The classification of these two animals varies between experts. One system has the Gemsbok as one species, and the East African Oryx as another with two subspecies of its own, the East African Oryx “proper” and the Fringe-eared oryx.
Few animals have sparked the imagination of man as much as the gorilla, the largest of the living primates. Most gorillas live in inaccessible regions in various dense forests in tropical Africa, and one subspecies, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), was not even known to science until 1902.
The mountain gorilla has a robust build with long, muscular arms, a massive chest, and broad hands and feet. It is the hairiest race of gorillas; its long, thick black hair insulates it from the cold of living at high elevations.
Noisy and curious, intelligent and social, the chimpanzee is the mammal most like a human. Chimpanzees fascinate humans and are favorites both in zoos and the wild.
In East Africa the chimpanzee is found in the wild in Tanzania and Uganda, but only in captivity in Kenya. Gombe National Park in Tanzania is the first park in Africa specifically created for chimpanzees.
The chimpanzee has a thickset body with long arms, short legs and no tail. Much of the body is covered with long black hair, but the face, ears, fingers and toes are bare. They have hands that can grip firmly, allowing them to pick up objects. The discovery that they used “tools” for certain purposes surprised the world.