An African safari is a true adventure - a journey crafted in the tradition of wealthy 13th-century traders who first hunted the plains of Africa for wild game trophies to hang on their walls. Today, travelers hunt for photo opportunities instead of occasions to kill, but they encounter the same scenes that have fascinated explorers throughout history: thousands of zebras migrating across emerald grasslands, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining lake, lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.
Many travelers trek to Africa in search of the ‘big five’: buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses. The chance to get close to these animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but your trip to the Africa is anything but a trip to the zoo. Safaris can be physically taxing and strenuous, and you may not see all the animals you expected. If you are planning a safari, be as prepared as possible. We have outlined some important safari basics to help you start planning a successful African adventure.
Types of safaris
For the most part, safaris are a costly vacation. But as with any other type of travel, you can tailor your safari to suit your personal budget. The length of your safari will affect its cost - although you may want to cut your trip short to save cash. If you are looking for luxury digs, prepare to pay more. Also, be ready to camp in tents or navigate a 4x4 through the African bush. If you are traveling alone, you will probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.
Pick a public game park, rent a car and tour the African bush on your own! Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you need not worry about getting lost in the plains of Africa or becoming food for a hungry lion. For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can pay for a la carte for meals, tours and accommodations, enabling you to opt for the most inexpensive lodging you can find.
Where to go
Each country in Africa is different. It is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started.
- Kenya: The most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve, where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. Others include the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, where thousands of colorful flamingos reside.
- Tanzania: Like Kenya, Tanzania houses part of the Serengeti National Park – where you can see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro, marine parks off the coast and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world.
- Uganda: The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country's many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.
- Botswana: Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government's push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous ‘big five.’
- Namibia: Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert.
- South Africa: Here you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure - as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world.
When to go
Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. You would also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya.
You may imagine that hungry crocodiles or packs of ravenous lions are the biggest dangers on safari. The truth is that humans rarely get attacked by wild animals, but they routinely fall victim to safari scams, dehydration and illness, or crime while traveling to Africa. Read through and take necessary steps to keep yourself safe.
- When selecting a package, beware of safari scams. Research your prospective safari package provider; ask them for references and if they belong to professional organizations. Finally, always be aware of your package provider's cancellation policy.
- Safaris can be physically strenuous and mentally taxing. You could be at a risk for dehydration as your body may not be accustomed to the hot sun and dry air of the bush. Drink lots of water and make sure you have the necessary arrangements.
- Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is virtually a necessity on an African safari. Be sure to look for emergency medical coverage and financial protection when booking your policy.