Perplexed potential guests often ask our consultants which destination in Africa is best for a once-in-a-lifetime safari. It’s the most complex question to unpack. And there really is no clear cut answer. I’m afraid there is no linear answer for the flummoxing question of “Which is best for a safari – Botswana, South Africa or East Africa?“. Each destination offers something unique to its visitors, and each place is wildly remarkable in terms of wildlife and landscape.
To help answer this question, the most we can do is look at your options. This requires an understanding of your budget, time of year that you want to travel, length of time on safari, accessibility in terms of flights, and wildlife that you’d like to see.
It’s a process to find the perfect safari region and destination for our guests, but one that we’re pretty good at doing. In this blog post, we’ve examined a few popular safari destinations to shed a bit of insight about each area – hopefully this will make your decision easier!
Uganda and Rwanda
Primate Central. Home of the jungles, gorillas and chimpanzee.
Uganda and Rwanda are unchartered, exceptional destinations ideal for the adventurous at heart. There are exquisite luxury lodges sitting on the edge of tropical rainforest carpeting dormant volcanoes. Locals are welcoming and friendly; and it goes without saying that the coffee is heavenly. Getting around requires the services of a local driver, who is at ease with navigating winding dusty roads criss crossing past coffee plantations.
The verdant rainforests are home to the only wild mountain gorillas in the world, and the forests provide a perfect habitat for gangs of chimpanzee. It goes without saying that tracking and trekking with the primates of the area is a must. In these jungle regions there also dwells the rare forest elephants, golden monkeys and colobus monkeys. Both Uganda and Rwanda also offer exquisite birding opportunities – look out for the great blue turaco and shoebill. Sightings of which are always celebrated.
Of course, both regions are peppered with national parks home to abundant predator and big game activity. We recommend you look out for the ever famous tree climbing lions in Uganda’s premier safari destination, Queen Elizabeth National Park.
If primates and birding are your thing, then these jungle destinations are for you. Both countries are accessible and have international airports. You don’t need a long period of time to trek with the primates, but you will need quite a high budget. Because the regions are so remote, lodgings can be pricey, as can the permits to trek with gorillas. Good news is that the money from the trekking permits helps to protect and preserve the primordial montane forests and its inhabitants.
Botswana : Land of Giants.
Home of the water safari, elephant herds and baobabs.
Botswana is famed for its mokoro trips in the Okavango Delta, high concentrations of elephants and mind-blowing predator sightings. It is home of both the land and water safari and offers unsurpassed game viewing opportunities in contrasting regions.
The Okavango Delta is the home of the water safari. Deep within the Delta’s open waters and papyrus-lined channels there moves a wealth of wildlife. Waders, raptors, elephants, hippos and crocs dominant the waters of the Delta.
The Moremi Private Game Reserve is part of the Okavango Delta – the large stretch of land sort of “juts” into the waterways. The Moremi is where you’ll spot brutal lions and elusive leopards while out on gamed drives in open-topped game viewers.
Staying in the Moremi also offers up ample opportunities to enjoy a traditional mekoro and boating safaris; which means the best of both worlds. The remote islands within the Okavango Delta do offer a sense of paradise and it’s here where you can experience walking safaris. We do recommend staying in the Moremi and combining it with an island stay.
The mighty Chobe River courses its way through the Chobe National Park, and the “waterfront” region is the most popular area to view wildlife. This is the second largest park in Botswana, and offers plenty of sightings of cats, wild dogs and more.
In the hidden corners of the Chobe there is the mysterious Savute and Linyanti regions, both at the mercy of tectonic plate movements that have caused the erratic flow of water in the channels that govern the region. For now it’s dry, and no one knows when it will flow again. This is the area that was well-documented for its elephant killing lions. The region is still rife with big game sightings, despite the drying up of the erratic channel.
Further afield is the contrasting hardy landscape of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an endlessly flat landscape home to Botswana’s original inhabitants – the San Bushmen. The reserve was founded to protect the San. An arid reserve worthy of exploration – try and find the ferocious and infamous black-maned lions.
Botswana requires a high budget (fewer lodges means a low impact on the environment, but higher rates) and you should spend at least a week in the country to explore all of the unique landscapes.
Lodges that come to mind include : Oddballs Enclave in the Okavango Delta, Chobe Game Lodge – the only game lodge inside Chobe National Park, and the Kalahari Plains Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
South Africa : Big five.
Easily accessible luxury safaris in open-topped game viewers.
South Africa is the most cosmopolitan safari country in Africa, and also one of the most accessible. With so many options available, it’s quite possible to do a safari on a comfortable budget. The main area in South Africa for a safari is the Greater Kruger, where there are plenty of private game reserves. The Kruger is home to mixed savannah vegetation, riparian vegetation on the banks of rivers and plenty of wooded areas.
Activities in big five reserves centre around open topped game drives, bush walks and sundowner sessions. There are numerous airports in the Greater Kruger, making it a perfectly accessible destination. It’s not quite as remote as East Africa, but the game viewing is unsurpassed.
There are other areas in South Africa offering safari experiences, which are mainly confined to the Eastern Cape. The vegetation here is a heady mix of fynbos and coastal cover. Eastern Cape safaris work well if you combine it with a road trip self-drive trip from the Garden Route. If this is your choice of safari region, we’d say that Shamwari Private Game Reserve comes highly recommended.
Kenya : Bucket List migrations.
Maasai warriors, Kilimanjaro Views and walking safaris.
Kenya is an iconic destination home to sought after wildlife reserves. Together with the Serengeti, the Masai Mara forms part of the annual migration route. The brightly dressed Maasai people are the guardians of the landscape, and protectors of wildlife. It’s worth joining one of the many guided Maasai walks on offer throughout Kenya. This is a great way to learn about the wild from the locals.
The second most popular reserve to the Masai Mara is Samburu, an option for those looking for a quieter safari experience. The park with the famous, postcard views of Kilimanjaro is Amboseli National Park – a region that embodies 5 main wildlife habitats: open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush, swamps and marshlands.
Kenya is a premier safari destination with a high price tag because the regions are vast and remote. Kenya embodies the perfect safari experience : culture and wildlife coupled with two iconic bucket list items – views of Kilimanjaro and sightings of the predator kills, and abundant plains game during the migration.
We recommend you stay in both Amboseli and Masai Mara for contrasting scenes and sightings.
Tanzania : The Famous Serengeti and Big Cats
The perfect beach and bush destination.
Combine the annual migration safari to the Serengeti with a tropical island getaway to Zanzibar. Tanzania’s landscape is remarkable and popular destination in Tanzania include Mt Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. The Serengeti, together with the Masai Mara, forms part of the migration route in East Africa.
The Ngorongoro Crater, an ancient volcano, is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The Serengeti National Park is one of the top 5 safari destinations in Africa, and Mt Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa. Tanzania truly is an award winning country !
Combine these popular areas with a quick hop across to the gleaming beaches, turquoise waters and rich culture of Zanzibar; and you have yourself a unique safari and beach combo.
There are alternate destinations to the below, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique; but the above tend to be ideal and popular for first time safari-goers.