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Africa Safari Planning Guide:
Which country to visit

Safari Planning Guide | Which Safari | Prepare to Go | On Safari
 


When planning your African Safari, you first need to decide on which region in Africa to visit and then which country or countries you'll be traveling to.

We've tried to address a number of these issues by means of questions and answers in the section below.

What is the difference between Southern Africa and East Africa?
Which country to visit?
National Park or Private Reserve?
Best time to travel?
What animals will we see?
What about crime & will I be safe?
Are there any medical precautions?
Is English spoken widely?


What is the difference between Southern Africa and East Africa?
East Africa is essentially Kenya and Tanzania whilst Southern Africa includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. However, due to the political instability in Zimbabwe, the relatively undeveloped tourism infrastructure in Zambia (except for the Livingstone-Victoria Falls area) and the lack of infrastructure in Malawi, we'll not recommend these countries for first time visitors.

The wildlife species found in the two areas are essentially the same. Most of the predators and plains game can be seen in both regions and only some birds and a few mammals and reptiles are distinct between the regions.

The differences
* The regions are quite different in landscapes and attractions:
- East Africa boasts Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti Plains / Maasai Mara ecosystem and the Ngorongoro Crater.

-  Southern Africa includes Botswana’s Okavango Delta wetland, the Skeleton Coast and Namib desert of Namibia, the miles of coastline, diverse wilderness habitats and the Kruger National Park of South Africa, the semi-arid Kalahari Desert of Botswana and northern South Africa, and the lower Zambezi River basin including Victoria Falls along the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

* The weather:
- In East Africa, October marks the beginning of the “short rains” while April brings “long rains.” Many of the safari camps close during the long rains due to difficult driving conditions.

- In Southern Africa, while each country varies, the rains generally fall between November and March with the rest of the year being mostly rain-free. Most of the camps stay open year-round. The rainy or “green” safari season in Southern Africa offers benefits such as herbivores having their babies, lush green landscapes and dramatic skies, all of which combine to create superb photographic opportunities.

Temperatures are similar between the regions with May through to August being the cooler months.

* The numbers of certain species and the general experience a visitor will have when viewing them.
- Kenya and Tanzania offered superb wildlife viewing with a well-developed safari infrastructure of operators with both permanent camps and mobile safari circuits. East Africa offers herds of zebras and wildebeests in the hundreds of thousands. The annual migration between the Maasai Mara in the north and Tanzania’s Serengeti in the south is a spectacle unequaled anywhere on earth today.

The most common safari vehicle in East Africa is the mini-van with its pop-up roof, whereby passengers stand up to take pictures while peering out of the roof or sit in the enclosed vans. The the density of tourists is fairly high during high season.

- In Southern Africa you'll generally find higher concentration of animals in smaller areas. Botswana and Zimbabwe are home to 80% of Southern Africa’s 300,000 elephants and huge herds are a common sight along their northern borders. The Addo Elephant Park in South Africa's Eastern Cape boasts the the highest number of elephants in a single park.

Northern KawZulu Natal in South Africa is home to the highest number of black and white rhino you'll find on the continent

Southern Africa is known for its luxury tented safari camps and huge tracts of wilderness areas with very low tourist densities, making for a private safari experience. The safari vehicles used here are modified, open-air Land Rovers which also add to the intimacy of the experience.

Private game reserves have an average camp size of only 10-16 guests and only two or three vehicles for the entire concession. You can drive all day and not encounter anything but wilderness and wildlife.

However, the National Parks in South Africa, similar to East Africa, also have a high density of tourists and the tourist authorities have started to control the number of visitors.
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Which country to visit

When you plan your safari, one of the first questions you should consider is which country you would prefer to visit. This depends on many factors, such as the other activities you are planning for your holiday, your budget, medical requirements, infrastructure, scenery, to name but a few.

In terms of wildlife safaris, Southern Africa includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent Malawi and Mozambique.

In Southern Africa, while each country varies, the rains generally fall between November and March with the rest of the year being mostly rain-free. Most of the camps stay open year-round. The rainy or “green” safari season in Southern Africa offers benefits such as herbivores having their babies, lush green landscapes and dramatic skies, all of which combine to create superb photographic opportunities. Temperatures are similar between the regions with May through August being the cooler months.

South Africa
With about 3 million hectare designated to conservation, South Africa has the largest number of conservation areas in all of Africa.

The country boasts a good infrastructure, safe drinking water, well-supplied tourist amenities, excellent communication and health services, extensive road and air network.

It is the only country that offers malaria-free Big Five game viewing (in the central and Southern areas). Because of the vast conservation areas, South Africa caters for all budgets - from low budget camping and self-drives (in Big Five reserves) to private safaris with luxurious 5-star accommodation in a number of world-class private reserves.

South African travel is also a great idea for family holidays, self drive safaris and activities-based excursions. The Kruger National Park is the most well-known South African game reserve and should most probably be the first to be included if you are a first time visitor to Africa.

Namibia
Etosha National Park is the country's most prominent wildlife reserve with the Etosha Pan providing a vital source of nourishment for the wildlife.

Namibia offers the traveller mostly a desert experience with wide open spaces and great scenery. It is excellent for self drive holidays and the country has most of the communication- and health services one might require.

Botswana
The Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and the Chobe National Park represent Botswana's most commonly visited reserves; these areas include flood plains and lagoons, dry bushveld and mopane woodland. The Okavango River Delta is world famous for its pristine beauty and abundance of bird- and animal live.

Botswana offers you the "real Africa" experience - huge game reserves with little or no inhabitants, a low number of visitors and a large number of game. For this quality experience you can expect to pay considerably more.

Guest are flown to the private lodges which accommodates rarely more than 16 people. Game drives are personalised and guest are accompanied during game activities by 2 or even more guides.

More affordable overland camping safaris are sometimes on offer.

Zimbabwe
Whilst an excellent safari destination, the unstable political situation is restricting safari activities. Victoria Falls remains a popular destination unaffected by the political situation.

Zambia
Zambia is a developing destination and offers great value for money. Game viewing is excellent and varied, and the Victoria Waterfalls may be viewed from Livingston town.

The popular parks are constantly been improved in the way of roads and infrastructure during the last few years which make them more accessible to the general public.

Safaris combining northern Botswana with southern Zambia are currently the most popular.

Tanzania
Tanzania offered superb wildlife viewing with a well-developed safari infrastructure of operators with both permanent camps and mobile safari circuits.

Major attractions include Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest peak), as well as the Ngorogoro Crater, the Great Rift Valley and the sprawling open plains of the Serengeti that lie in between. The great Serengeti Game Reserve is famous for its wildebeest migration.

Off the coast you will find the Spice Island of Zanzibar, an excellent destination for a beach and cultural holiday combination.
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National Park or Private Reserve?
There are a large number of privately owned game reserves in Southern Africa. There is not much difference between National Park (public reserve) and a Private Reserve in terms of game viewing, but the facilities offered differ substantially.

Private game reserves cater for a small number of visitors at a time, do not allow self-drive safaris and restrict the amount of game viewing activities to ensure that the park doesn’t get overcrowded with game viewing vehicles.

Game drives in public reserves can be much busier than in private areas. An animal sighting in a public area could lead to anywhere from one to ten vehicles excitedly converging on the same spot. In private reserves, guests enjoy game drives that are organised in such a way to ensure you enjoy the wilderness with minimal vehicle interference.

Accommodation in private reserves is generally of a much higher standard than the public reserves and facilities may include a private splash pool, a spa, library, wine cellar, gym and more.

The choice is determined by your budget.

Best time to travel?
This is not so easy to answer. All year round there is plenty of wildlife to see and great birding activities. The summer brings a multitude of beautiful migrant bird species and many newborn antelope species in thick green bush veld.

The dry season is, however, the most optimal season to see animals. In winter (June to September) with limited water sources, activity is generally around water holes, the bush is dry and thin and visibility generally better. This is probably the best time.

You'll get an excellent idea by studying the guide what to expect every month of the year in the Kruger Park.

The best time of the day to spot game is at dawn and dusk. At midday the sun is hot and most animals prefer to sleep under the shade of a tree, usually far from the roads you're driving on.

What about crime & will I be safe?
While staying at African safari lodges and tented camps you are typically far removed from human settlement and crime in the camps is virtually non existent. Valuables should be locked away or kept under the supervision of the camp or lodge manager. You will be visiting areas and regions that are remote and where the crime rate is low.

Even if your holiday involves spending time in the cities, we can safely say that you only need to take the same precautions as you would normally take in any other destination worldwide. Keep an eye on your purses, wallets, passports, money and cameras when walking in a crowd. Avoid walking in the cities at night and place valuables in your hotel safe. See our Guide on safety.

We do not recommend destinations that are not safe and only use operators that know the area intimately, have been in this business for many years and care about their clients.
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What animals will we see?
The variety of animals found in the Southern African Sub region is incredible. There are 337 different species of mammal and 480 different reptile species currently known to occur here. As for bird species, a recently compiled list of birds in Southern Africa gives a total of over 900, with all doubtful species not included.

Most visitors want to see "The Big Five". The term was originally used by hunters to refer to the five most dangerous prey animals to hunt: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, and Rhinoceros. It is possible to see all five of the Big Five in certain areas in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

African safaris are about more than the Big Five as there are so many other incredible animals in Africa, each with interesting behaviors of their own. African safaris offer experiences with nature and wildlife that is virtually impossible almost anywhere else on earth.

Are there any medical precautions?
The most important health consideration in Southern Africa is Malaria and it is strongly recommended that prophylactics be taken as a preventative precaution. Get advice from your local medical professional before embarking on a Southern African travel excursion. Make sure you have all of the information you need about malaria and the possible prophylaxes you can use.

Read more on malaria in Southern Africa and/or visit Centers for Disease Control's web site.

You are not legally required to have any vaccinations unless you are traveling from a region where yellow fever is prevalent, in which case an inoculation will be required against the disease. It is mandatory for Tanzania visitors be vaccinated for Yellow fever. You have to prove this so bring your inoculation card and it will be checked at the airport.

Be careful of the sun, especially during the hotter summer months. Protect yourself against sun burn and dehydration. Drink lots of water. Fresh bottled water is always available at all of the camps throughout the region and should be consumed regularly and in quantity.
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Is English spoken widely?
Language is not a problem and English is widely spoken in Southern Africa. Some of the guides also speak other languages such as German, French and Italian.
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