You are on the cusp of booking an African safari, your dream of diving into a David Attenborough documentary and coming face to face with the greatest wildlife on the planet is about to be realized! Where do you start? Google? A google search “African Safari” comes up with over 24 million hits! There are some important elements to consider when selecting the perfect safari for you.
We sat down with John Barclay and James Stenner, co-owners of the appropriately named Barclay Stenner Luxury Safari Expeditions. These legendary lads have spent their entire lives in the business and have seen it all. They’ve helped us demystify the lingo so you can narrow down your choices ensuring that you choose the ultimate safari adventure no matter what your budget or appetite for adventure.
Each African country offers a different set of animals, climates and terrain, each with their own unique set of experiences. You may choose to select the country first and then which time of year is best or perhaps you have a specific time of year you’d like to travel, which will change which countries are best during those times.
Kenya is the classic wildlife destination, recommended up there with the Kruger for those taking a first time safari. The Masai Mara offers excellent big cat encounters and is the setting for the yearly wildebeest migration. Palm-lined beaches offer a perfect place to relax after an action packed safari. Best time to catch the wildebeest migration is June – October.
Tanzania has 3 main circuits and each one of them would make Tanzania a top wildlife destination. The Northern circuit with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater offers one of the best classical safaris in Africa, especially if timed with the annual wildebeest migration, usually Dec, Jan , Feb and May – July for the river crossings in Grumeti all depending on rainfall though.
Uganda is a great destination to experience wildlife viewing in both forest and savannah. Not to be missed is gorilla tracking in Bwindi; while chimps can easily be spotted in Kibale National Park. Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks offer wonderful savannah safaris with good wildlife viewing, but animals are not as abundant compared to the top parks of Kenya and Tanzania. Best time to visit is when it is not as wet in Jan, Feb and Jun, July.
Namibia is characterised by its desert habitat. This harsh environment forms a magnificent backdrop for a different kind of safari. Animal populations are smaller, but sightings in this sparse setting tend to be rewarding. Not to be missed is Etosha pan, a seasonal wildlife magnet. Apr – Oct is the best time at these waterholes as they concentrate here for the water.
South Africa is a great destination for a varied holiday. It offers fantastic wildlife viewing, beautiful beaches, trendy Cape Town and much more. Kruger is its flagship park with many self-drive and budget options and all of the Big 5 are often seen on a single game drive. The parks can be visited all year round although game viewing is best in the dry season from May – October, but the beaches of Cape Town are best Nov – March.
Because of the political situation in Zimbabwe, tourists are few and prices are competitive, but the main parks are still cared for and well worth visiting. Hwange is not to be missed and Mana Pools offers great canoeing safaris on the Zambezi. Again the game viewing is best as the animals concentrate around the waterholes in the dry season from May – October. This is also the best time to visit Victoria Falls as they are at their fullest and most impressive.
A safari in Zambia is not about ticking off the big five. High quality guides will share their knowledge on game drives, night drives and walking safaris. A canoeing safari on the Zambezi is not to be missed by the more adventurous. Best May – October, once the rains arrive the muddied roads become impassable.
Botswana is the leader in low-impact upmarket tourism. This eco-friendly approach promotes a true wilderness experience in this unspoiled country. No fences and the beauty of the Okavanga delta is best discovered by Mokoro or boat while abundant wildlife can be encountered in Chobe and Moremi parks. The best time to visit for game viewing is all year round, with the Okavango and Chobe best around May – October in the dry season and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve best Dec – April.
Game Lodge or Tented (Mobile) Safari?
One of the biggest things to consider when planning your safari is how much you want to be immersed in the wild.
For those who enjoy all the amenities of a hotel, a permanent camp or game lodge is the way to go. These camps, or as we like to call them “spa-faris” often have swimming pools, wifi, spa facilities, etc. You’ll sleep in a proper bed inside of a building which is usually surrounded by fencing to prevent any animals to get inside the premises. Some of these camps are in trees or in front of watering holes, which makes for some easy game viewing whilst eating your daily breakfast.
Tented (Mobile) Safari
If you’re up for a bit more adventure, you may be more interested in a tented camp. A tented camp is exactly what it sounds like, in tents, which are not surrounded by any fences or walls. Just you and nature. These mobile safaris are often setup in different places throughout your safari, which means that the entire camp is set up and taken down each time. This is a true reflection of what the original safaris used to be like. You might find yourself surrounded by elephants with just a thin canvas wall to separate you. Whilst it is completely safe, we would not recommend this option for the easily spooked. These camps vary drastically with regards to cost. The low end being more rustic and the high end (what we offer) can be as ornate as you can imagine. For example, we provide porcelain loos and 4 poster beds that are moved to each new location. One of the greatest benefit of the mobile safari is that we can create custom itineraries across Africa focusing on different types of wildlife or terrain, based upon the client’s personal preferences.
Outside the Box Safari Options
Make sure you request additional activity options when booking your safari as these offer a great alternative experience to a game drive and can be a more holistic approach to your safari experience. All of these experiences are wonderful and without an engine rumbling can provide a much more natural feeling to your experience. Depending on where you choose to go on safari, these options can be added onto most itineraries.
Get up close and personal on a guided walk with a professional walking guide
Experience waterways by a traditional canoe called a mekorro
Experience the bush on horseback
Hot Air Balooning
View game from above in a hot air balloon