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Fifteen questions you should ask when planning a safari in Africa

on safari in africa

Planning a safari is hard work - but we are here to help! Let's start with the basics - questions you should ask when planning a safari in Africa.

Why do you want to go?

Well, you might say, isn't that obvious? I want to go on safari, so I want to see elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, rhinos... OK, but what about birds, insects, reptiles? What about engaging with local people? What about plants and scenery? Hiking or boat safaris? Make a list of all the reasons you want to go as these will determine where you should go.

kilimanjaro in tanzania

Where should you go on safari?

If you are going to see as many animals as possible, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana are countries you should consider. If scenery is important, I would narrow that further to Tanzania and South Africa.

Interactions with local people are easiest in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. The latter also has an amazing variety of plant species. 20,000 Species to be precise, an astonishing 10% of all plants found on Earth.

As for smaller critters, these are best seen on walking safaris which are best done in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.

Birding is good in most African countries but if you pick a country with as many habitats as possible you increase your chances of seeing an increased number of different species. Botswana and South Africa offer outstanding bird watching.

If you are trying to get off the beaten track, private game reserves in Botswana, parks in Zambia and the desert of northern Namibia are good places to go.

cheetah in tanzania

When do you want to go

Make sure the timing is right for the reasons you want to go to Africa. For example, if you want to see as many animals as possible, your best bet is to travel during the dry season. This stretches from April through October in Southern Africa, whereas in East Africa there are two dry seasons: June through October and January-February. The short wet season, November and December, is still a good time to go to East Africa, so with the exception of March, no matter what month you target, there is always a good time to see animals.

Birders on the other hand are best off to travel from November to March which is the migration season when species from northern Africa and Europe are present in addition to domestic species.

The wet season is typically the best season to see young animals. It is also the best time to see flowers, although this can vary with individual species. August and September can see spectacular displays of the desert in bloom in Namaqualand in South Africa.

rhino in africa

Are there specific animals you want to see

If you are targeting specific animals, it is important to know not every species occurs in every region. For example, black rhino are best seen in Etosha and Damaraland in Namibia, while Kruger and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi in South Africa have both black and white rhino. Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya is a good place to see black rhino.

The rare wild dog is best seen in South Luangwa in Zambia, Linyanti in Botswana and Selous in Tanzania.

Mountain gorillas are best seen in Rwanda and Uganda.

Leopard meanwhile need trees and the best places to spot them are Kruger, South Luangwa, Moremi and Lake Nakuru among others.

I could go on and on so perhaps the best thing to do is to contact me if your wishlist includes a specific species.

remote exclusive wilderness safari experience

Is it all about comfort?

If comfort is important to you, then you'd want to stay away from camping safaris. But there's more to comfort than comfort. Let me explain.

A very successful business model in Southern Africa is that of the private game reserve. It works with low passenger volumes and to make that economically viable, camps and lodges are luxurious and pricey. It means comfort comes with a remote, exclusive and personalized wilderness experience.

Camping safaris meanwhile, while low cost, stay in campsites most often located outside of national parks. For a lower price you get less comfort but you also lose time travelling between campsites and park gates, where you line up with everyone else wanting to enter the park that day.

zebra in kruger, south africa

How long do you want to go

If you have only a week to spare it makes little sense to travel to Namibia or Botswana as distances within these countries are huge. Flights to get there go the long way around so you will find most of your time taken up with travelling.

The Kruger area in South Africa on the other hand is the perfect destination for a short safari. Not only is it very accessible, you also have a very good chance to see the Big Five (African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhino).

A week could also be enough to see the major parks in Kenya or Tanzania (but not both), but you might want to consider flying one way between the gateway city and the parks to maximize your time spent game viewing.

Do you want to go to the beach afterwards

A common extension for people travelling in Tanzania are the beaches of Zanzibar while travellers to Kenya may extend their trip to the Indian Ocean coast. For most other destinations people will fly to Mauritius, the Seychelles or the Maldives, which adds time and expense.

The cost factor

The minimum you should budget for an African safari is CA$5,000. For that you will get your international flight in low season to East Africa along with a 10-day basic camping safari.

With a larger budget you can get more comfort and a far better experience. Double that minimum budget (to CA$10,000) and you can have a 10-day lodge-based safari through the parks of northern Tanzania, including your airfare.

For CA$20,000 you can get an exclusive safari in private game reserves in Botswana, again including your airfare.

(All these are lead-in low-season prices per person, based on double occupancy)

How long do you want to fly

Africa is a long way away and the minimum required flight time (including layovers) is 18 hours from Toronto for both Nairobi and Johannesburg. Fly to Maun in Botswana and that can easily exceed 30 hours.

gud out canoe mokoro in botswana

What type of traveller are you?

Are you the kind of traveller that wants to see as many places as possible in a short trip? Then Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa are your best bet.

If however you prefer to have more of an immersive experience, and would like to spend a number of days in one location (but still have a variety of experiences), Moremi in Botswana is my favourite place to go. It offers a variety of activities such as day and night game drives, boating, dug-out canoe rides through the tranquil waterways and walking safaris.

The health factor

No matter where you go in Africa, you are going to need to take precautions to stay healthy. On a camping safari in East Africa you are probably at the greatest risk due to the absence of facilities and the general state of the country. On a lodge safari you will have access to soap and water as well as mosquito nets, drastically cutting your risk of disease. Southern Africa in general is cleaner than East Africa.

In some countries you may need a yellow fever shot (including Kenya and Uganda), whereas in most countries in Africa there is a risk of malaria transmission.

The safety factor

Southern Africa is generally a very safe area to travel to, although petty crime is rife in certain areas of South Africa. Some countries in East Africa are under travel advisory. Check this Canadian Government website for specific advice.

Are you OK applying for visa

Travellers to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda need a visa, although, depending on your nationality and travel plans you may be able to get this at the point of entry. Still, it brings an increased amount of paperwork and expense, so if this is not your cup of tea, consider South Africa, Botswana or Namibia.

Group travel or private?

Private, tailor-made safaris offer exclusivity and luxury at a higher cost, whereas small-group tours offer camaraderie at a lower price point. See also the cost factor above.

Where are my accommodations

As a rule of thumb, the more you pay, the better your accommodation is located. You should always ask. Are you staying outside of the national parks? It means you lose essential time travelling to and from the park and you will be entering with other travellers doing the same. This can lead to overcrowding.

Alternatively you might stay inside the parks, which means your game drive will start from your front door.

Private game reserves will give you the most exclusive experience and it is likely you will see very few other people during your stay.

sunset on safari in africa


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