When & Where for Safari?
An African Safari, the ultimate travel experience. Whether your interest is in one day experiencing a breathtaking Serengeti sunset, watching the annual migration unfold in the Masai Mara or the awe-inspiring sight of the Okavango Delta, it is about fulfilling a dream for many travellers, a dream often stoked at a young age.
But Africa is a continent that goes beyond just the safari, offering countless experiences and opportunities for all ages and thrill-seekers. The options are plentiful and we understand that for many first-time travellers to Africa, it can be a daunting task to understand what experience is right for them.
Let’s consider some basic questions that will help you to define what experience is best for you.
Budgets – both time and money
How long do you have to travel?
Africa is a considerable distance from North America and requires crossing several timezones. You will likely need to set aside at least three days travel time total as part of your ‘time budget’. Additionally, many travellers consider a stopover on their way to Africa. Most flights transit Europe and a stopover in London, Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt can be added for a little extra cost. This will allow you more time to adjust to the local timezone and break up the journey to arrive rested in Africa.
Ideally one should set aside at least three weeks including travel time for a pleasurable trip to Africa. However this will de dependent on what you want to see and what your total budget is likely to be.
Planning a Budget
Most travellers are aware that a trip to Africa is not to be viewed as a destination that can be done ‘on the cheap’. That being said, there are options which offer a much more affordable experience if you are willing to trade on the comfort and quality of the trip. However, regardless of whether you have chosen a more budget option, or a luxury trip there are common costs that must be considered. Here is a list of considerations that may form part of your larger travel budget:
- Airfare. Airfares from North America can typically run in the $2000 – $2500 range, depending on season and routing.
- Visas. Some countries require a visa for entry. Refer to our destinations guides for the latest info on entry requirements and visa costs.
- Vaccinations and precautions. Some travellers may require their vaccinations to be brought up to date, and depending on what you require, this could be a modest cost or could be considerable. Additionally if travelling to a malarial risk area, malarial precautions may also be advisable. It is always best to consult your local travel health clinic for the latest information.
- Travel Insurance. At the very least, we require proper medical insurance for all passengers travelling on our tours, with proof of emergency evacuation and repatriation coverage. However, for further peace of mind, many travelers will opt for comprehensive insurance which covers trip cancellation, trip interruption and baggage insurance.
- Gratuities. Gratuities for many services, especially those of your guide and your lodge staff are expected as part of your safari. You should generally aim to budget approximately US $10-20/day for most safaris.
The good news is that on many of our safaris, especially those of a more luxury nature, most things are included in your upfront cost, including but not limited to, your safari experiences, meals and guides. Refer to each individual itinerary for a list of what is included.
Where To Go?
Where to go in Africa is an essential question you will need to consider carefully before you choose the right safari for you. We have all heard of the famed Serengeti National Park of Tanzania and a trip combining Kenya and Tanzania is often thought of as the ultimate wildlife experience, and in truth, it is. However many other countries in Africa offer a wildlife experience combined with some alternative activities that may also appeal to you, so consider your destination and the pros and cons of each carefully.
What is Your Focus?
The most basic question to ask yourself when determining which country or combination of countries is the right one for you is to define what is most important to you. Are you simply seeking a wildlife experience or do you desire to mix in some culture, hiking, cities or other activities to your holiday? Defining what you are seeking out of your whole travel experience will help you choose the right area and the right safari for you.
East vs. Southern Africa
One of most basic questions often asked is whether to consider a safari in East or Southern Africa. It’s a great question and again is defined by the focus of your holiday. If wildlife is your key, and perhaps only focus, then the vast plains of East Africa highlighted by the Serengeti and the Masai Mara teeming with game offer your best wildlife opportunities. While the landscapes can vary dramatically in East Africa depending on how much of the area you cover, the main activity is game drives.
Southern Africa, while often not considered as prolific an area to view wildlife as East Africa, does however offer perhaps more variety, depending on the area you have chosen.
Botswana for example and its breathtaking Okavango Delta, offers not only safaris by game vehicle, but you may also undertake game walks, canoeing safaris, boating safaris, mokoros (traditional dugout canoes) or even fishing as alternatives to your standard game drive.
Namibia has some excellent game experiences, especially in the salt pans of the Etosha National Park found in the central-north of the country, but also has some of Africa’s most scenic rugged beauty from the shores of the Skeleton Coast to the ochre-coloured dunes of the Namib Desert.
South Africa is called ‘the world in one country’ for good reason, not only does it have excellent game viewing opportunities throughout its national parks system and the countless number of private reserves that dot the country, but offers so much more. Cosmopolitan cities such as Cape Town offer some first-class infrastructure and shopping opportunities, and just outside, some exquisite wineries. The ruggedly beautiful Drakensberg Mountains offer some of the continent’s best walking and trekking opportunities that may not be as daunting as tackling the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The famed ‘Garden Route’, a six-hundred kilometer stretch from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth provides a number of touristic opportunities. Additionally, South Africa is home to a malarial-risk free safari by visiting some of its private reserves. A consideration if taking malarial precautions for you or your family concerns you.
In summary, Africa is not only about wildlife, so consider carefully what your holiday goals are. We have put together a handy matrix below that may help you choose the best county for you by defining the two most important characteristics of your holiday. Below we have outlined the best countries depending on your focus, if you have two or more reasons for travelling, find that point in the matrix where these two interests meet.
When to Go?
When to go to Africa is of course most dependent on the weather patterns. However, don’t let it all be about weather, there are reasons you may want to consider off periods that can be less busy and more affordable.
When seeking a wildlife experience, generally speaking it is best to travel towards the end of a dry season whether the long or short dry season. This is because the vegetation has usually become less ubiquitous, and the grasses are short, allowing for easier spotting of game. In addition, when water is scarce the animals will often seek to congregate at one of the area’s watering holes making it easier to predict where they might be.
The Great Migration
In East Africa, one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles takes place, the Great Migration where wildebeest and zebra make their way across the plains in the hundreds of thousands. The event happens in a cyclical manner across the border of Kenya and Tanzania and we have provided a map detailing the general expected flow of the migration on a monthly basis. Our recommendation if you wish to experience this awe-inspiring sight is to do so in Kenya in the Masai Mara where the game tends to get concentrated and the experience becomes profoundly moving. It is important to understand that wildlife patterns can be unpredictable and thus no guarantee can be made, but generally from late July – late September is best for this experience with mid-August to mid-September offering your best chance.
Choosing A Shoulder Season
Choosing to go in shoulder season can offer great benefits. The rains may not have come yet, or will often be short and light. Additionally, you will find far fewer travelers at this time of year thus your game viewing experience will not consist of a myriad of vehicles parked up along a small number of game. Considerable savings can be realized as well as many properties will greatly reduce their rates during this time, allowing you to save money or perhaps lengthen your holiday.
Consider Other Nationalities
Africa is a big draw for Europeans and make up a major portion of travel to Africa. Commonly Europeans will travel in the northern hemisphere summer, particularly in the months of June – August. You will find, especially in Southern Africa, that pre-booking well in advance becomes essential and prices will be at their peak. And interestingly this does not always match with what is considered the best time to go, so if you can avoid this peak period you are likely to have more of the wildlife opportunities to yourself and you will likely save some money as well.
There Is No Rule
While we have provided information as to when is the best time to go, including a handy weather guide below, please remember this is a guideline only. Weather patterns can be unpredictable; events such as the recent World Cup in South Africa, among other factors may influence the reality on the ground. Consult any of our destination guides for more information on the climatic conditions of each country.