What Countries are Best for Safari
Fortunately there are a number of countries that deliver outstanding safari experiences. The key is for us to consider your interests and share how the various countries would meet your needs. Then together we can arrive at an educated decision on the best choice for your safari.
Here is a quick sketch of the top countries but for a more detailed view click on the country to read a complete profile. They are listed alphabetically, and each has their own ‘best of’ factors that could fit your interests. For a strong wildlife focus for first time safari goer our four favorites are Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Botswana is considered by many to deliver the overall top quality safari. It features pristine wilderness and has an admirable model of low-density tourism. There is a brilliant private concession system where there are typically just 2 to 3 safari camps with exclusive rights to tens of thousands of acres. The private concessions provide more freedom than most national parks allowing for full off-road game driving, night drives and at many camps walking and boat/mokoro/canoe activities.
The low-density model has led to most camps going with upscale luxury. This luxury makes Botswana the most expensive safari destination in its peak season. Interestingly, if planned properly Botswana is a great safari destination any month of the year and during the green season from November through March it goes from the most expensive destination to one of the most affordable. In fact we consider it the best value for quality safari in Africa at that time. We conduct lion research in Botswana and have been there every month of the year so can fully plan for the seasonal nuances and explain the different times of year to you.
Kenya is the classic safari country where it all began. The Masai Mara Game Reserve remains the most prolific area for big cat viewing and arguably the best game viewing overall. Seasonally the already top wildlife viewing is augmented by a portion of the great migration pouring into Kenya.
Kenya is diverse, with vibrant culture and a wide range of activities possible. Quality walking, biking, horseback riding, and cultural experiences are all available. The creation of Community Conservancies has really lifted the quality offered in Kenya. The Conservancies bordering the Masai Mara often have even better game viewing than being in the reserve and they have a restricted number of camps with rights to use the Conservancy areas ensuring a non-crowded experience. This allows for quality with off-road driving, night drives, and walking at many camps. Laikipia in Central Kenya, has become an outstanding place for game viewing of rare species like African wild dogs and Grevy’s zebra, as well as offering great adventure with diverse activities which is outstanding for active travelers who want more variety than a heavy dose of game drives.
Kenya has been the target of terrorist attacks from a Somalia based group Al-Shabaab that are affiliated with Al-Queda. No attacks have occurred in any of the safari areas. They have been mostly confined to the Kenyan coast and northeastern Kenya near Somalia, those are places we do not send any guests. There has been a few incidents in Nairobi, though none that target tourists. Nairobi security is now excellent and city hotels have airport like security so we believe our itineraries in Kenya are very safe and we continue to recommend safaris in Kenya. In fact, the downside to Kenya used to be crowding, now we often have game drives inside the Masai Mara with less vehicles then we see in Botswana making it the best game driving in all of Africa.
Mozambique is an exceptional destination for beaches, island paradise, and scuba diving. There are pristine islands delivering the dream settings of near deserted islands with gorgeous beaches, turquoise waters and almost no people. The diving and snorkeling is equally impressive with excellent reefs and diverse marine communities. Mozambique has a coastline that stretches for over 1,500 miles, almost double the length of California (840 miles) and runs from a border with South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north making it a possible beach addition to both East and Southern Africa safaris. In the Southern half of Mozambique there is the paradise of the Bazaruto Archipelago, while the north has the incredible Quirimbas Archipelago. Both areas have astounding islands with supreme marine environs.
For mainland wildlife safari Mozambique is a recovering destination that receives very low density tourism. The Niassa Reserve in the far north is one of the largest protected areas on the continent and has large populations of many species. Gorongosa National Park is another potential safari destination. It suffered great wildlife losses during civil war times but restoration efforts have been impressive. Unfortunately, at this time it is a challenge to visit these locations as there are not high quality operations available. The best way to visit would be with a private guided expedition that we can make special arrangements for.
Namibia is a special destination as it has some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa with the Namib desert pushing against the cold Atlantic ocean coastline. The Skeleton Coast is one of the most desolate and remote places on earth. The red sand dunes at Sossusvlei are one of the most spectacular scenic areas on the planet. Etosha National Park is an outstanding park and Namibia’s best place to see most of the traditional safari species. In general Namibia is best for its scenic landscape, remote wilderness adventures and wildlife specialties like tracking black-rhino on foot or searching for desert adapted elephant. Namibia also has a great diversity of cultures that can be experienced.
We have found a nice combination can be to visit Namibia for the scenery and some active adventure, but combine it with a shorter traditional safari in Botswana or South Africa to increase the game viewing.
Rwanda is most known for wonderful gorilla trekking and that is the driving force for the bulk of tourism. Gorilla trekking is definitely one of the pinnacle wildlife experiences on earth and well worth the trip to Rwanda for that reason alone. Rwanda does have the best logistics for high quality gorilla trekking, and because it is a very small country it is possible to get a lot of flavor for the place during a 2 to 3 night stay to focus on the gorillas.
Rwanda is forever linked with the tragic genocide that occurred there during 1994. Surprisingly to most it has rebounded from that turbulent time to become one of Africa’s most progressive countries. Visitors comment on how friendly, welcoming and lovely the people are. This creates a real awakening opportunity for travelers as you are struck by the friendly culture and yet realize how shocking it is that horrific genocide occurred here, driving home the point that all human cultures are at such risk.
There is a great national pride and the country has made the decision to keep the genocide history out there to educate rather than shrink from it. As such there is an impressive genocide museum, which in fact recounts just how often genocide has happened throughout the world. There are also large numbers of sites of atrocities where shocking reminders continue to exist. Often logistics make it necessary to stay a night in the capital city of Kigali. It is certainly one of the cleanest cities on earth and feels very manageable and safe. Travel to the mountains where the gorillas reside is simple with just a 2 ½ to 3 hours of driving on good quality roads that wind through scenic mountain areas with terraced farming dominating throughout. Small villages give a glimpse into local culture and it is possible to visit local businesses or schools to expand your cultural experiences.
Wildlife beyond the gorilla focus is a point of emphasis for Rwanda’s future, but is not yet compelling for the typical safari goer. Nyungwe National Park features a unique forest that is ecologically important and has the potential to become a safari jewel in the future. It is an outstanding park for a variety of primates. Akgera is the only general safari game area and is rarely visited. Most of our clientele combine gorilla trekking in Rwanda with traditional game viewing in Kenya or Tanzania.
South Africa has the moniker of a ‘World within a Nation’ because it has a bit everything. There are beaches, mountains, cities, winelands, culture, and of course great safari areas. It also at times feels very much like being in the USA or a European country.
The best place for safari is in private reserves adjacent to the Kruger National Park. This is without a doubt the easiest quality area in Africa to see the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), and often times you may see all 5 species in a single day. It is also without argument the premier location to see leopards. The area feels a bit tamer, more managed, than some other safari destinations. The lodging tends to be very upscale walled chalets, and tented camps are few. It is common for lodges to have internet connections, gyms, and spas to use between game drives. Many options are a kin to being at a fine hotel or resort that is located in the bush with access to great wildlife viewing. This makes South Africa the best location to have a ‘soft’ safari, and it is excellent for those who need to be in constant contact with their home or business. Because of the ease of viewing this is a great choice for shorter safaris.
South Africa has so much to offer beyond safaris. It is common for people going on safari in other Southern Africa countries to combine some non-safari time in South Africa. The Cape region is particularly attractive. There are stunning winelands with fine wines and world-class gourmet restaurants. Cape Town is considered by many to be a top 5 city in the world (often compared to San Francisco and Sydney, Australia). There are stunning coastal drives, charming hamlets, and the famed Garden Route. There is even remarkable wildlife with outstanding whale and shark watching. Beyond the Cape there are many other compelling regions that have game parks, historic battle fields, warm water beaches, mountains and much more including some of the world’s most luxurious trains. Due to a good infrastructure South Africa is one of the best destinations for those who want to do some self-driving. It is a vast country though, and there is an excellent network of domestic flights making it easy to get around.
Tanzania can be considered the ultimate safari country. Here you find the classic safari of most people’s dreams, staying under canvas and traversing wide open plains teeming with animals in amazing quantities. Tanzania is loaded with famous destinations, like Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar and Mount Kilimanjaro. It also has parks that are barely known, yet would be the crowned jewel in almost any other country, like Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale National Parks. All of this supports the greatest wildlife quantities in all of Africa with an estimated 4 million wild animals, including the continent’s largest populations of many safari species such as lions. Tanzania is home to the legendary great migration of roughly 2 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle moving through the Serengeti ecosystem.
The majority of tourism takes place on the northern circuit, which includes the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire. The best locations to be in the Serengeti change throughout the year in accordance with the movement of the great migration and many of the best camps are also seasonal set ups that move like the migration. A special feature of a northern circuit safari is most travelers will have a private guide and vehicle that stays with them throughout their entire safari.
Safaris in Southern and Western Tanzania are very different scenically than the typical northern circuit area and can provide experiences in remote wilderness. At Lake Tanganyika you can experience the magic of Mahale National park with white sand beach, thick jungle and the thrill of hiking in to view chimpanzees. Katavi and Ruaha are among Africa’s best kept secrets, offering astounding big game viewing in very wild areas.
The Wild Source Tanzania is a government licensed safari operation and we have an office in Arusha, Tanzania. Our Managing Director, Deo Magoye, has nearly 30 years of experience guiding safaris within Tanzania.
Gorilla trekking is the driving force of tourism in Uganda even though the country is full of other safari gems. Many people combine excellent chimpanzee treks making this the ultimate country for safari focused on great-apes. Between Bwindi (where the gorillas are) and Kibale (where the best chimp viewing is) lies Queen Elizabeth National Park so it is usually included as well, to see general game for those doing both gorillas and chimps. Murchison Falls is a popular addition for those looking for an extended safari in Uganda. Possibly the least-known best park in Africa is Kidepo Valley National Park. It is hidden away against the border with Sudan and Kenya in an extremely remote corner of Uganda. Unfortunately, expensive flights are needed to include Kidepo Valley. Overall, many Uganda operators are turning to flying to avoid the very long drives over poor roads that holds Uganda back as a destination. Comparatively, Uganda safari lodging and activities is lower cost (and more rustic) than most other safari countries, but the very high costs of logistics wipe out the savings on lodging. Gorilla trekking permits cost less than in Rwanda but it becomes a wash by the time you add in the logistics costs of getting in and out. Still, for overall diversity of scenery, experiences and wildlife Uganda really stands out.
Zambia is often referred to as The Real Africa. Of course all other safari areas are very real too, but Zambian safaris are rightfully distinguished by the expedition of old adventure that they deliver under the care of exceptional guides, in out of the way wilderness areas teeming with wildlife. The atmosphere carries back to the camps as well, unlike other Southern Africa destinations, there is still a preponderance of bushcamps, The bush camps are small and intimate, roughly half the size of a typical Botswana luxury camp (which are considered small anywhere other than Zambia). They retain a rustic charm, yet still deliver extreme comfort and pampering service, while maintaining a wonderful on the ground connection to the wilderness areas where they are placed.
Zambian guiding standards are rivaled only by Zimbabwe. Problems in Zimbabwe actually led to many guides moving over to Zambia and the result has been exceptional skills being cultivated in the local Zambian guides. This top level standard of guiding is an essential strength of a Zambian safari, as the opportunity for diverse activities such as walking and canoeing requires outstanding guiding.
South Luangwa National Park is the birthplace of walking safaris. It is a rare treat to walk in areas where animals are habituated to humans on foot. In Lower Zambezi National Park river activities add to the adventure, with canoeing and power boating. Game drives can be exclusive with very few vehicles in the areas. Night drives are extremely good in the Zambian parks as well. Beyond these two prime parks there is also Kafue and Liuwa National Parks which would be near the top of Africa’s under radar safari areas. Livingstone lies at the Zambia side of Victoria Falls and with the demise of Zimbabwe it has become very popular to tour the Falls based from the Zambia side.
Zambia features a lot of smallish independent operations as opposed to larger safari corporations that are dominant in most countries now. That’s a blessing and nowhere else are there so many great operations, each offering their own flavor of accommodation. Many of these owners are very involved in conservation and with upliftment of local communities and it is possible to include cultural visits on Zambia safaris to fully round out the experience.
Zimbabwe is best known as the home of Victoria Falls, and that remains its biggest attraction. Many safari goers to Botswana and/or South Africa add on Victoria Falls but do nothing else within Zimbabwe. Safari insiders know that Zimbabwe is legendary for its guides. Zimbabwe has the most stringent guide exams, much of it focused on walking, and that has produced a rich legacy of guide quality.
Zimbabwe tourism has suffered greatly under the reign of the Robert Mugabe regime. As the years have passed safari tourism has begun to rebound. Zimbabwe offers a supreme experience for travelers with a high adventure quotient. Many safaris focus on finding wildlife on foot through active tracking. This is especially true in Mana Pools National Park, where you can add adrenaline on top of the walking by thrilling canoeing on the Zambezi River. Another fabled park is Hwange, where pumped water holes in a dry environment attract huge quantities of large species like elephants and buffalo. Part of the resurgence in Zimbabwe is the value. Despite the high level of guiding Zimbabwe is trying to rebuild its attraction, and thus costs can be considerably less than similar quality safaris in neighboring Zambia or Botswana. It is also growing in popularity as more safari goers are looking to be active on safari, and Zimbabwe excels in that area with lots of opportunities for walking, canoeing, and boating – even mountain biking is now being introduced.