Africa is the continent where wildlife runs free. Like elephants, gorillas, lions and wildebeest.
You might be dreaming of gorillas, the wildebeest migration, Victoria Falls and Table Mountain. Unfortunately, these experiences are not found in the same place. Africa is not like going to a zoo and different wildlife is found in different parts of the continent.
This year we’ve already received multiple requests for an African safari holiday – everyone has a different dream for their first-time visit to Africa.
Here’s a short introduction to the seven main safari countries in Africa, comparing their key wildlife experiences, pros and cons.
Overview of Africa
Africa is a continent of contradictions, where bustling cities meet the world’s best reserved wildernesses. Africa is more than three times the size of Europe. The Serengeti ecosystem is the size of Belgium. Some national parks are far bigger than Slovakia.
We recommend two regions. Southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and upcoming Zambia. And also East Africa, where there is safari in Tanzania and Kenya, plus gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Now is the time for an African safari, before these great wildernesses and wildlife disappear. Understanding where to find the best wildlife experiences and destination is a great first step in dreaming your adventure. Remember, we wouldn’t recommend anywhere in Africa that doesn’t provide easy, safe and comfortable luxury holidays.
Typically we’ll use light aircraft and helicopters to get our clients around, so it doesn’t matter how bad the roads are.
All the countries we recommend offer outstanding five-star camps and lodges, from trusted operators. We regularly visit Africa to inspect the lodges and safari operation – read our most recent trips to Kenya and South Africa.
Although it’s often referred to as “Africa for beginners,” there’s nothing introductory about a South Africa safari. It’s the real deal with some of the very best safari experiences in the entire continent.
South Africa is the number one choice if you want to combine wildlife safari with many other holiday experiences. Like the city of Cape Town, the South African winelands and a beach holiday.
There’s no malaria, so it’s the only realistic choice for going on safari with children younger than 12 years old (we know safari lodges with special kids clubs!)
It has both of Africa’s biggest two airports, making it the easiest destination to include in a two-country African holiday. Plus, you have the widest choice of international flights.
Another big advantage is your choice of accommodation. South Africa has the best diversity and abundance of high-quality accommodation – there are over a dozen great places we can recommend, like Phinda, Singita Sweni and Royal Malawane.
The very best of the best in safari accommodation is a similar standard across different African countries. South Africa just has more of it.
In general, South Africa’s safari destinations are small and easy to explore. There’s a good variety of wildlife, especially the famous big five. However, other countries have much bigger wilderness areas and much larger wildlife populations.
Botswana is home to some of the wildest, most inaccessible and untouched wilderness areas on the planet.
This is a wealthy country. We love Botswana’s long-term approach to tourism is exclusivity – fewer people paying more to enjoy a more private experience.
The intimacy and rawness of a safari in Botswana is unparalleled. It’s enhanced further by an incredibly high standard of safari camps and dedication to high level luxury.
For a Botswana safari you need to have the luxury of time. Flying in and out takes longer than with other countries. You need to stay longer in order to explore safari destinations like the Okavango Delta, Kalahari and Chobe. Other than safari, there’s nothing to do.
If you want to be fully immersed and almost alone with many of the greatest animals to walk our earth (except rhinos!), go to Botswana. Just remember that such an experience isn’t possible in only a couple of days.
Other travel agencies complain about the high costs of a Botswana safari. It is typically the most expensive safari country. Botswana is worth it, especially when you consider the exclusivity and challenges of delivering genuine luxury in such wild places.
Namibia is not primarily a safari destination. It’s nature’s great outdoor art gallery, home to some of the most astonishing landscapes on the planet.
You don’t see much wildlife because the country is so inhospitable. It’s home to the world’s highest sand dunes and second biggest canyon.
Namibia is the destination for an adventure, most comfortably by chartering a light aircraft for around a week. If you want to get lost in wild open spaces and forget everything else, Namibia is the one.
Namibia and South Africa is a brilliant combination, as the two neighbouring countries create polar opposite experiences.
Etosha in north central Namibia is one of Africa’s best safari areas, similar in size and style to the best of Botswana.
Tanzania is home to more wild land animals than anywhere else in Africa. If you want enormous herds stretching further than the eye can see, visit Tanzania.
The Serengeti. Ngorongoro Crater. Mount Kilimanjaro. The great wildebeest migration. Tanzania is home to many of the icons we dream about for a holiday in Africa.
In contrast to Botswana, Tanzania’s approach to tourism is quantity over quality. Some of these famous places are being spoiled by overtourism and there are only a few private reserves to escape the crowds.
You will have astonishing moments with wildlife in Tanzania. You will be overawed by the scale of it all. However, you won’t be in the only safari vehicle.
We partner with trusted local specialists in all of Africa’s safari countries. It’s essential to ensure the highest quality of your experience. It’s extra important in Tanzania because the wildlife is continually moving, so we must know where it is when you want to travel.
After your safari, take a short flight to the Indian Ocean and finish your holiday on the island of Zanzibar, another African icon which is actually part of Tanzania.
Kenya finds a lovely balance between big wildlife numbers and private experiences. It’s our number two trending travel destination for 2023.
There’s the famous Masai Mara, home to the wildebeest migration from July to October – it’s paradise for encountering the big cats and simply unmissable on any Kenyan safari.
Kenya is also home to many private conservancies, each with their own specialities, like trekking with rhinos, elephants beneath Mount Kilimanjaro, or safari on camels in Samburu.
There are many places to explore, lots of varied experiences to try, and it’s all very easy and accessible thanks to domestic safari flights (both scheduled and chartered).
Kenya is a traditional safari destination. Until recently, many of the camps and lodges were feeling quite tired and old fashioned. Now there are new and contemporary places to stay, adding more luxury to the impressive wildlife. Our favourites include Angama Mara, the upgraded Giraffe Manor, Loisaba and Sasaab.
You can go chimpanzee trekking in a few countries, but Nyungwe in Rwanda is the best place for this experience.
You can only go gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda. We prefer Rwanda because the accommodation and travel connections are far superior.
Like Botswana, Rwanda is really investing in high-quality exclusive tourism, demonstrated by the amazing lodges close to the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, like One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, Singita Kwitonda and Bisate Lodge.
Now Rwanda is expanding its offer beyond the primates, with safari in Akagera National Park. However, Akagera doesn’t come close to the wildlife experience in Kenya or Tanzania.
Definitely visit Rwanda for gorillas and possibly also visit the chimpanzees. Then add a big-game safari experience in Kenya or Tanzania.
Zambia is an upcoming safari destination we usually recommend if you’ve visited Africa before. It’s not a big five destination, nor does it offer the variety nor scale of other countries.
Zambia excels for niche safari experiences. Like a walking safari in North Luangwa National Park, where vehicles don’t go. Or a canoe safari down the Zambezi River. Or exploring a national park that is only just opening to tourism.
Tourism is only just developing here, but we do know some good camps, especially those by our partners Time+Tide.
If you like countries way before they become trendy, Zambia should be on your radar. In one to two decades we fully expect this to be an exclusive and highly sought after destination. Right now it’s brilliantly raw.
Where Will You Go On Safari?
Remember, this is only an introduction to a big continent full of complexities. We can advise you personally.
Do you want the best encounters with endangered rhinos? Or to spend a whole day with the conservationists who habituate mountain gorillas? Do you love elephants and want to be surrounded by thousands of them? Or are you desperate to photograph a leopard up close?
Does your dream safari involve active days out exploring? Or short activities followed by cocktails at camp and elephants drinking from your swimming pool?
Whatever you dream in Africa, we will help you experience it.