Choose The Best African Safari Location With These Tips From Travelers Who Have Been There

When we speak about African safaris, we tend to fall into the pit of discussing them the way we speak about the entire continent of Africa: lumping the continent's rich diversity into one pot. But, much like there are dozens of countries in Africa, each teeming with their own cultures, foods, and traditions, there are multiple safari locations that each offer their own set of wildlife, landscapes, and attractions. Each location has its own unique experience, making selecting the perfect safari spot a daunting task. 

To help you plan your safari of a lifetime, we've gathered insights and recommendations from seasoned travelers who have explored the diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife of Africa's most iconic safari destinations. Whether you're in it just to see the Big Five, seeking a culturally-enriching experience, or limited by budget, these insider tips will guide you in choosing the best African safari location for your next adventure.

Kenya

When envisioning an African safari, most people undoubtedly think of Kenya — and for good reason. Kenya is home to all of The Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Across Kenya's multiple game reserves, you have incredible chances of spotting these beasts. Of these reserves, the Maasai Mara is famed for the Great Migration every July to October. During this period, over 1.5 million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania in search of fresh graze. This migration offers a truly spectacular sight, often regarded as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. 

After witnessing the safari powerhouses, you can travel to Lake Nakuru National Park, where majestic fuchsia-pink flamingos scatter over the lake's surface. But beyond the incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, Kenya also offers stunning landscapes. Amboseli National Park is known for its large elephant herds that amble against the breathtaking backdrop of Mount Kilamanjaro, a mountain you can climb for some ethereal views from above the clouds. 

Despite its fame and well-developed tourism infrastructure, Kenya's safaris have maintained their "timeless" feel. According to Audley Travel, Kenya is the location for you if you want to experience nature in its raw form. Moreover, you can experience Kenya's natural beauty without breaking the bank, as per Haydar Experiences. In this regard, Kenya's popularity may actually be a boon, since there are so many tour operators available to work with. However, if crowds seriously irk you, you're better off choosing another location from this list.

Tanzania

In terms of major attractions, northern Tanzania is pretty on par with Kenya, with opportunities to witness the Big Five at Ngorongoro Crater, which, according to Hayard Experiences, lucky travelers could see "all in one day." Tanzania also offers sight of the beginning of the Great Migration through Serengeti National Park. However, for safari-goers who'd like to avoid peak season, there is another unparalleled experience in the Serengeti during the winter months, from January to March. This is calving season, when visitors can witness the miracle of life as thousands of young animals are born. From Tanzania, you can also gape at Mount Kilimanjaro, albeit, not from the same angle as in Kenya. 

Traveling south, Tanzania offers several lesser-known parks and reserves, including Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve. Selous (now known as Nyerere National Park) stands as one of the largest protected areas in Africa. Here, safari-goers can hop out of their vans and ATVs wan walk along the park or boat through the waterways, offering a refreshing perspective on the ecosystem. 

Rich cultural experiences are also a hallmark of Tanzanian safaris. Visitors can engage with the Maasai people or visit the Hadzabe tribe, one of the last hunter-gatherer groups in Africa. Like Kenya, Tanzania offers a wide range of accommodations, as well as a diverse range of tour packages. But, Tanzania's road infrastructure makes travel within the country super easy. This combination of convenience and unique wonder is why Hayard Experiences lists Tanzania as the top choice for first-time safari-goers. 

Zimbabwe

Though Zimbabwe is a lesser-travelled location for safari due to myths and misconceptions of political instability, it actually offers some of the best chances of witnessing The Big Five. Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, the largest game reserve in the country,  is renowned for its large elephant herds, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhinos, so you can see these large beasts with less crowds around you. This factor is quite appealing for those seeking a more adventurous experience, since Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park offers walking safaris and canoeing experiences, which can become dangerous if there is too much foot traffic. This park, situated along the Zambezi River, lets visitors get up closed and personal with wildlife so they witness water species such as hippos and crocodiles which are hard to come by on land-based safari locations. 

In addition to its rich wildlife, Zimbabwe is home to one of the world's largest and most spectacular waterfalls, Victoria Falls. The falls are most impressive during the wet seasons, from April to May, when the Zambezi River is at its fullest, creating a breathtaking display of water and mist.

If you're looking for a more rugged experience, and are open to traveling through a country whose tourism sector is still developing, then Zambia is the location for you, according to Elite Voyage. Though the infrastructure is not as developed as Kenya's or Tanzania's, Zambia's unique walking and canoe safaris, and lesser crowds make for intimate and special nature expeditions. 

South Africa

South Africa's high season for safari is a little earlier in the year, from May to September, which lines up well with summer vacations for those planning to travel with families. This time of year is when it is slightly cooler, making for a comfortable experience, and when game viewing is at its best. The country's most popular game reserve is Kruger National Park, offers diverse landscapes ranging from savannas to woodlands to riverine forests. Adjacent to Kruger is the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, known for its luxury lodges and high chances of leopard sightings. If you're keen on seeing majestic elephants, Addo Elephant National Park is famous for its elephant conservation efforts, and home to one of the densest African elephant populations on the continent. 

One of the unique aspects of a South African safari is the ability to self-drive, allowing you to take control of your own safari experience. This gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace, which is a draw for those who don't like to be rushed or feel that they are being controlled by a tour operator's itinerary. Of course, if you are by yourself, make sure you know what to do if you encounter dangerous animals, like snakes up close. 

Another drawing factor about South Africa is that it is home to bustling cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. If you're someone who'd like a well-rounded trip that doesn't limit you only to the wilderness, then South Africa may be the location for you, per Elite Voyage. 

Botswana

Last but not least on our comparison list is Botswana, a destination renowned for its unspoiled wilderness and commitment to conservation. Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, a unique inland delta that floods annually, creating a lush, water-rich habitat teeming with wildlife from the renowned giraffe and antelope, to lesser-known unusual animals like the lechwe and topi. The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is from June to October, during the flood season, when wildlife congregates around the water and the scenery is at its most spectacular. Outside of the Delta, Botswana also boasts large elephant populations, particularly at Chobe National Park, where you can see four of the Big Five (the rhinoceros is hard to come by here due to poaching in the past). 

If you're conscious about leaving no trace and want to participate in low-impact tourism, Botswana is the location for you. Though it will cost you a pretty penny, Botswana's safari expeditions are committed to ensuring their pristine environments are preserved now. The trade-off for these higher prices is that tourists are fewer in this part of the continent, allowing for a more exclusive, intimate experience at the lodges and camps, which for Audley Travel creates a truly immersive wilderness experience unlike any other. 

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