The Best Countries for Safari

Choosing the Best Safari Countries

Africa has long been known as the best continent in the world for wildlife viewing. Within Africa, there are a number of countries that deliver outstanding photographic safari experiences, each with their unique benefits and differences. The key when choosing a country or countries for your safari is to consider your specific wildlife interests, and any other priorities for the trip, such as activities other than wildlife viewing, or landmarks you want to visit. From there, our planning team can share how each of these various countries would or would not meet your needs.  Together, we arrive at an educated decision on the best choice for your safari.
Below is an overview of the top safari countries listed alphabetically. For a more detailed view, click on the country to visit a complete profile page with regional details and sample itineraries. Each country has its own “best of” factors that could fit your interests. However, our top recommendations for the wildlife enthusiast and first time safari-goer are  Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Zambia.
The Best African Safari Countries:

Botswana

Packs of charismatic African wild dogs (painted wolves) can be observed in Botswana.
Northern Botswana is considered by many wildlife enthusiasts and experts to deliver one of the highest quality safaris overall. It features pristine wilderness in vast, remote private concessions, along with nationally protected parks and reserves. One factor making Botswana one of the best safari countries is the admirable model of low-density tourism. There is a brilliant private concession system in Botswana.
Typically, each concession is home to just two to three safari camps with exclusive rights to tens of thousands of acres of untouched wildlife habitat. The private concessions provide more freedom than most national parks allowing for full off-road game driving and night drives. Many camps also offer walking, boating, and ‘mokoro’ (traditional canoeing) activities.
This low-density model has led to most camps increasingly offering upscale luxury. As a result, Botswana is easily the most expensive safari destination in its peak season of July through October. However, with a properly informed and customized plan, Botswana is a fantastic safari destination year-round. During the Green Season from November through March, Botswana 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. Typically the wildlife viewing in the Green Season is around 85 percent of the Peak Season, while the price is nearly 50 percent. This offers incredible value. Our founder, Bill, has conducted lion research in Botswana and, as a staff, we have visited during every month of the year. This depth of experience allows us to plan appropriately for the seasonal nuances and explain the different times of year to you, rather than offering the same ‘off the rack’ Botswana itinerary year-round.
Learn more about Botswana Safaris on our Botswana Page.

Kenya

An elephant comes to the river to drink in Kenya's Masai Mara.
Kenya is the original safari country. It maintains its rank among the best wildlife viewing countries today, offering the classic safari experience. The Masai Mara Game Reserve remains the most prolific area for big cat viewing, and arguably the best game viewing overall. The top quality year-round viewing of resident wildlife is further augmented by a portion of the Great Migration pouring into Kenya from June through November.

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 lifted the quality and diversity of activities offered in Kenya. The Conservancies bordering the Masai Mara offer the high quality game viewing of the reserve combined with a restricted number of camps with rights to use the Conservancy areas, ensuring a non-crowded experience. This allows for quality and exclusivity with off-road driving, night drives, and walking at many camps.

Outside of the Mara ecosystem, the Laikipia plateau in Central Kenya has become an outstanding place for game viewing of rare species like African wild dog, reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra. This area also offers great adventure with diverse activities, such as hiking and horseback riding, that appeal to active travelers seeking more variety than a heavy dose of game drives.
Learn more about Kenya Safaris on our Kenya Page.

Mozambique

Enjoy pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters in Mozambique.
While maybe not one of the best safari countries in a classical sense, 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). It runs from a border with South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north, making Mozambique a possible beach addition to both Eastern and Southern African safaris. The southern half of Mozambique is home to 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, for which we can make special arrangements.
Learn more about Mozambique Safaris on our Mozambique Page.

Namibia

Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia
The stunning Sossusvlei Dunes fill the horizon.
Namibia is a special destination with some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa. The Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world, pushes up against the cold Atlantic ocean coastline and forms The Skeleton Coast, 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 Namibia’s best place to see most traditional safari species.
In general, Namibia is best for its scenic landscape, remote wilderness adventures, and wildlife specialties, such as tracking black rhino on foot or searching for desert-adapted elephants. Namibia also has a great diversity of cultures that can be incredible to experience.
A recommended combination is to visit Namibia for the scenery and some active adventure combined with Botswana or South Africa for a short, traditional safari to increase your game viewing.
Learn more about Namibia Safaris on our Namibia Page.

Rwanda

Gorillas in Rwanda
A mother mountain gorilla with her young in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
Rwanda is best known for mountain gorilla trekking which is the driving force for the bulk of tourism in the country. Gorilla trekking is one of the pinnacle wildlife experiences on Earth and well worth the trip to Rwanda for that reason alone. Rwanda has excellent logistics for high quality gorilla trekking. Because it is a very small country, it is possible to experience a good deal of the ‘flavor’ of the country during a brief 2 to 3 night stay focused on the gorillas.
Rwanda is forever linked with the tragic genocide that occurred there during 1994. However, 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 who 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 recounts just how often genocide has happened throughout the world. Shocking reminders still exist at many sites where atrocities occurred.
Often logistics make it necessary to stay a night in the capital city of Kigali. Including the Genocide Museum and a city tour rounds out a full picture of Rwanda during your visit. Travelling 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 communities. Small villages give a glimpse into local culture, with the possibility to visit local businesses or schools to expand your cultural experiences.
Beyond the gorilla focus, other wildlife areas have recently gained traction. Nyungwe National Park features a unique forest that is ecologically important. It is an outstanding park for a variety of primates, but sightings are not reliable enough to compete with other chimpanzee trekking regions such as Kibale, Uganda and Mahale, Tanzania. However, travelers to Nyungwe are helping to protect the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa.
Akagera is the only general safari game area in Rwanda, and has recently undergone extensive investments with African Parks. The park now features Big Five viewing opportunities, however most of our clientele combine gorilla trekking in Rwanda with traditional game viewing in Kenya or Tanzania.
Learn more about Rwanda Safaris on our Rwanda Page.

South Africa

Coastal View of the Western Cape near Cape Town
A coastline view near Cape Town, South Africa.
South Africa has a bit of everything, earning it the moniker “A World within a Nation.” There are beaches, mountains, cities, winelands, culture, and, of course, great safari areas. It can also feel 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, such as the Sabi Sand and Timbavati reserves.  We typically avoid recommending the Kruger National Park as it tends to be crowded with day-trippers, campers, and public self-drivers, whereas the private reserves offer a more exclusive experience with only guided vehicles and guests staying at the limited number of lodges.
This is without a doubt the easiest quality area in Africa to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), and often times you may see all five species in a single day. It is also, without argument, the premier location to see leopards. The area feels a bit tamer and more managed than some other safari destinations. The lodging tends to be very upscale, consisting of permanent lodges and chalets. Tented camps are rarely found in South Africa. It is common for lodges to have internet connections, gyms, and spas to use between game drives. Many options are akin to being at a fine hotel or resort, but 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 also 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 Town region is particularly attractive for its cosmopolitan flair, scenic Table Mountain, and the stunning Winelands, which feature fine wines and world-class gourmet restaurants. Cape Town is considered by many to be one of the top five cities in the world and is 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, some of the world’s most luxurious trains, and much more. 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.
Learn more about South Africa Safaris on our South Africa Page.

Tanzania

Great migration in Tanzania
The Great Migration herds of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra gather in Ndutu and the Southern Serengeti of Tanzania during the Calving Season.
Tanzania is often considered the ultimate safari country.  In Tanzania, you find the classic safari of most people’s dreams: staying under tented canvas and traversing wide, open plains teeming with animals in amazing quantities. Tanzania is loaded with famous destinations, like the 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, Tanzania is home to 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 visit within the Serengeti change throughout the year in accordance with the movement of the Great Migration. As such, many of the best camps are seasonal tented camps that move with the Migration. A special feature of a Northern Circuit safari is that  travelers will have a private guide and vehicle that stays with them throughout their entire safari.
The Wild Source Tanzania is a government-licensed safari operation with an office in Arusha, Tanzania. Our Managing Director, Deo Magoye, has nearly 30 years of experience guiding safaris within Tanzania. He has developed our own elite team of guides that work exclusively for The Wild Source, our own fleet of customized safari vehicles, and a full ground operations team based in Arusha.
Safaris in southern and western Tanzania are very different scenically from the typical northern circuit area and can provide unique experiences in remote wilderness. At Lake Tanganyika, you can experience the magic of Mahale National park with white sand beaches, thick jungles, and the thrill of hiking to view chimpanzees. Katavi and Ruaha are among Africa’s best kept secrets, offering astounding big game viewing in very wild areas.
Learn more about Tanzania Safaris on our Tanzania Page.

Uganda

Chimpanzee in Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda
Chimpanzee trekking is a highlight of visiting Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda.
Gorilla trekking is the driving force of tourism in Uganda even though the country is full of other safari gems. Many people combine mountain gorilla trekking with excellent chimpanzee treks in Kibale Forest for the ultimate primate safari. Between Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (where the gorillas are) and Kibale Forest (where the best chimp viewing is) lies Queen Elizabeth National Park, making it a natural inclusion to see general game on a primate-focused safari.
Murchison Falls is a popular addition for those looking for an extended safari in Uganda. Possibly the best-kept secret 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.
Bush flights between destinations are available for those who want to avoid long drives over poor roads. Comparatively, Uganda safari lodging and activities are lower cost (and more rustic) than most other safari countries, but the high costs of logistics equalize many of the savings on lodging. Gorilla trekking permits cost about half of what they cost in Rwanda, and Uganda really stands out for its overall diversity of scenery, experiences, and wildlife.
Learn more about Uganda Safaris on our Uganda Page.

Zambia

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
A view of Mt. Chilapira from Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia.
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 off-the-beaten-path wilderness areas teeming with wildlife. This atmosphere carries back to the camps as well. Unlike other Southern Africa destinations, there is still a preponderance of bush camps. The bush camps are small and intimate, roughly half the size of a typical Botswana luxury camp. These camps retain a rustic charm and a wonderful on-the-ground connection to the surrounding wilderness areas while still delivering extreme comfort and pampering service.
Zambian guiding standards are rivaled only by Zimbabwe. In fact, many guides from Zimbabwe have moved to Zambia over the years. The result has been exceptional skills cultivated in the local Zambian guides. This top standard of guiding is an essential strength of a Zambian safari.
Outstanding guiding makes diverse activities, such as walking and canoeing, possible in Zambia. In fact, 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 the Lower Zambezi National Park, river activities, such as canoeing and power boating, add to the adventure. 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 are Kafue and Liuwa Plains National Parks which would be near the top of Africa’s “under the radar” safari areas. Livingstone lies at the Zambia side of Victoria Falls and it offers a great option to tour the Falls from the Zambia side.
Several independent operations in Zambia, as opposed to larger safari corporations that dominate most countries now, each offer their own flavor of accommodation. Many of these owners are very involved with conservation and upliftment of local communities. It is possible to include cultural visits on Zambia safaris to fully round out the experience.
Learn more about Zambia Safaris on our Zambia Page.

Zimbabwe

Elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
A lone sable antelope shares a waterhole with elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is best known as the home of Victoria Falls, and that remains one of its biggest attractions. Many safari-goers visiting Botswana and/or South Africa add on Victoria Falls but do nothing else within Zimbabwe. Safari insiders know, however, that Zimbabwe is legendary for its guides. Zimbabwe has the most stringent guide exams, with a focus on walking. This has produced a rich legacy of the highest quality guiding.
Zimbabwe tourism has suffered greatly under the reign of the Robert Mugabe regime, unfortunately. 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 with a thrilling canoe trip 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 quality for value. Zimbabwe is trying to rebuild its attraction and, despite the high level of guiding, 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. Zimbabwe excels in this area with lots of opportunities for walking, canoeing, and boating – even mountain biking is now being introduced.

Learn more about Zimbabwe Safaris on our Zimbabwe Page.

Safari Areas Within Countries

Selecting your safari country is important. However, it is also important to compare the types of wildlife viewing areas within that country. Ordinarily, governments dictate what is allowed within designated land areas. Here some factors to consider when comparing publicly- and privately-held lands.

Private Concessions

Private concessions and private conservancies are exclusive to the camps that operate within their borders. This reduces the tourism density while also providing a wider variety of activities, such as night drives, guided walking safaris, boating activities, and off-road game drives. Because there are no night time curfew rules, you should never have to leave a great sighting to rush back to camp by dark, which makes the wildlife quality outstanding especially for predators and nocturnal species.
Oftentimes, private concession areas are owned by the local community, and they derive a lease fee from the camp/lodge operator. In the best cases, the local community also shares revenue from daily operations and receives the bulk of the employment as well. Lasting wildlife conservation is only possible if the community derives sufficient benefits. The Wild Source strives to support such community initiatives. Due to the exclusive nature of low-density tourism and expensive lease fees paid by the camps, prices are usually higher than they are on public land areas. Examples: Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara, Londolozi Private Game Reserve within South Africa’s Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, and Kwara Private Concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

National Parks and Reserves

National parks are often built around key wildlife concentrations and areas of great natural value. As such, they often offer the best wildlife viewing experiences and tend to have more infrastructure that allows for mass tourism to occur, such as larger lodges and/or many lodging options that help to serve tourism demand and keep the parks affordable. Because of the high number of visitors, there are restrictive rules that define road areas for drives and require a return to camp before dark. This results in more crowded priority sightings, such as big cats.
While there are some drawbacks, National Parks often feature must-see sightings and need to be included on some itineraries. Safaris within national parks tend to offer better value than private concessions. There are also some tremendous national parks that are greatly under visited. This provides opportunities to visit enormous wilderness areas without any crowding, such as Liuwa Plains National Park in Zambia. Another cost-cutting measure is to stay outside of the park boundary. However this can be inconvenient as guests must depart their lodging very early in order to queue up outside of the park gate. This can be seen in Kasane Town outside of Chobe National Park.
Most governments also have public lands that support photo safari tourism but are not designated as national parks. Rules of such areas can vary widely from being the same as national parks to being similar to a private concession. They generally fall somewhere in between, often with night or road restrictions but many fewer people than national parks. If you are interested in such an area, make sure to ask what the restrictions and allowable activities are. Examples: Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Kruger National Park in South Africa, and Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

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