Ever since watching Africa the Serengeti on IMAX in 1994, we’ve had dreams of spying herds of wildebeest migrating across the massive Serengeti plains. Going on Safari in Africa is unlike anywhere else on earth. We’ve seen wildlife around the world, but we are never as excited as when we see a lion in the wild or a herd of elephants crossing the great plains. It can be exciting and overwhelming when planning an African safari. It is a trip of a life time and on everyone’s travel bucket list. To help ease the stress, we have compiled some tips to help you prepare for an African safari.
African Safari Tips
We’ve taken safaris in Africa from Kenya to Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. We have done the down and dirty three day budget safaris, luxury private game lodges in South Africa and tented camps on the Serengeti. What type trip you choose is up to you, but no matter which way you decide to go, you will love going on safari in Africa!
1. Choose Where You are going on Safari
Africa is a huge continent and there are so many places to go on safari. The main places for an African safari are in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. Other amazing places for safaris in Africa are Botswana, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Safari in Tanzania
Tanzania is famous for the Serengeti National Park which has all the Big 5 species (Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard) plus all the wow animals like cheetahs, hippos, zebras and wildebeest. But there is also plenty of other safari destinations and national parks. Read African Safari Animals: 34 Photos to make you want to visit Tanzania
Lake Manyara is famous for thousands of flamingos congregating on the saline lake and you’ll see plenty of giraffes and monkeys. In Tarangire National Park you have another classic safari destination with the usual suspects roaming the plains, and there is the Disney-like fairytale land of Ngorongoro Crater that has rhinos, lions, buffalo and elephants living in harmony within a giant volcanic crater. Gombe Stream National Park is the place to see Jane Goodall’s famous chimpanzees. Read more about 18 Amazing Things to do in Tanzania – Dream Trip
Safari in Kenya
A safari in Kenya is very similar to Tanzania. In fact, the Masai Mara shares its border with Serengeti National Park. Both of these national parks are the definitive African savanna safaris with vast plains, wildebeest migrations and the Big 5. Read more: Kenya Safari – The Masai Mara Experience
And as in Tanzania, the Masai Mara isn’t the only place to go on safari in Kenya. Lake Nakuru is beautiful and famous for its rhino population. It is also the place to see flamingoes and other bird species. Amboseli National Park sits at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and has an enormous elephant population. Read More: Incredible Kenya Pictures an Amazing Visual Journey
Safari in South Africa
A Safari in South Africa is very different from the other safaris in Africa. South Africa is filled with private game reserves. There are many different ranches covering thousands of acres of land where you are almost guaranteed to see the Big 5. Luxury camps built on private ground make for a luxurious experience. With rangers to take you out on daily game drives. Read more: Spectacular South Africa Wildlife Photos
South Africa also has national parks to view wildlife. Kruger National Park is the most popular place to go on safari in South Africa. You can do a self drive through this park in search of African wildlife for a very unique experience. Read more: Best Things to do in South Africa in 2021
Self drive safaris offer more freedom, but it can be more difficult to spot the wildlife in the first place. That said, you can go at your own pace, and you don’t have to compete with other people for views.
Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is a wonderful safari destination covering coast and wetlands. Here you’ll see wildebeest, zebras elephants and hippos. But it is most famous for its rhino population.
We took a safari on horseback here making for one of the most unique African safaris we’ve ever done! As we sat on horseback, zebras ran circles around us with wildebeest following suit. Read more: iSimangaliso Wetlands – Horse Safari
The iSimangaliso Wetlands in South Africa is fantastic for hippo and crocodile spotting and Addo Elephant Park is – you guessed it famous for elephants! Pilanesberg National Park is another national park to see rhinos and other famous African wildlife. Read more: 28 Reasons Why South Africa Should Be on Your Bucket List
Other places to go on Safari in Africa
Africa has an abundance of wildlife throughout the continent and there are many countries that have wildlife experiences.
Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC are popular choices to see gorillas and chimpanzees, but you can also see the typical Africa species of animals here too.Botswana is known for its river safaris in Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. These areas are teeming with wildlife. The Okavango Delta is a good place to spot cheetahs. Zambia offers incredible safaris along the Zambezi River and Zimbabwe has good wildlife viewing at Mana Pools National Park. Many safaris here cross the borders to Botswana.Check out: 27 Best Places to Visit in Africa
Once you have decided on your destination, it is exciting to start planning.
2. Choose Your Budget
When choosing a safari in Africa you will need to determine your budget. There are several different budgets for an African Safari.
Budget Safaris start at about $1500 and offer basic accommodation. Usually these safaris are for students and the younger crowds. Mid-Range safaris can range from $3000 – $6000 and cover many different safaris and national parks, plus have a variety of accommodations and offer game drives. Luxury safaris start at $10,000 and have luxury tented camps and accommodations, private or very small group game drives and cater to your every need.
We have experienced safaris with all three budgets and each was wonderful in their own right. It all depends on where you are in your life, what you are in the mood for and what your travel style is.
3. How to Choose a Safari Company
There are so many companies to choose from that run safaris in Africa. We can recommend a few, but it is important to do your own research. Do they cater to your age and demographic, are they in your budget, and do they follow responsible tourism practices? We have used local guides and well known companies to go on safari in Africa and they have all been fantastic. Just make sure to ask a lot of questions and do your research.
When choosing a safari company, it can be as easy as doing a simple Google search. The regular suspects like GoAhead Tours, Intrepid Travel, Go2Africa and National Geographic will all pop up, but if you want to look around, that is a good thing. We had an amazing private safari with Wilderness Zones Safaris in Kenya owned and operated by local guide James Makau. You should never settle on the first thing you see and should do your research to compare prices and experiences.
When searching for a company check the reviews, the age of the company is always a good thing to look for, check to see if they are a part of an organization and ask for some recommendations. It is easy to ask questions on social media or to check out travel blogs and places like TripAdvisor.
Our Safari in Tanzania with Go Ahead Tours was one of the best safaris we ever experienced. We had like-minded travelers in our party in a similar age bracket to ours.
4. What is Your Travel Style?
Think about what type of travels you enjoy? Do you want luxury trips that will fly you between parks? Or do you love being in nature experiencing overland travel in tents and lodges? Do you only want to see wildlife, or are you looking for other things to do? Check out: Incredible Kenya Pictures an Amazing Visual Journey
If you only want wildlife viewing, it is easy to book a local tour company to take you out on game drives. We have simply walked down the street looking for a wildlife game drive and booked strictly by going with our gut and feeling about the company.
Whenever we have gone on an organized safari tour in Africa, they have offered a mix of game drives mixed with cultural experiences. Most African safaris will include visits to villages, historic sites and other interesting stops on the tour. In Kenya we went to the elephant rehabilitation center and the Born Free Foundation. Both were spectacular experiences. Read more: Born Free Lives on in Kenya
Also, consider the maximum size of the group that they offer. We have been on private safaris and this is by far the best. If you can have the safari vehicle to yourself you are free to do whatever you please. But we have also done small group tours with 4 -6 people in a truck. These work great as well and it is fun to have the camaraderie of making new friends.
You don’t want to be in a huge group. They may be cheaper tours, but you won’t get the best experience as you’ll be jockeying for position to see the wildlife. Sitting in a hot and crowded truck looking over people’s heads can be an awful experience. Read more: The Maasai Tribe: What a Visit is Really Like
Accommodations on Safari in Africa
Safari companies offer several different options of accommodations on safari from tented camps to hotels complete with buffet meals and swimming pools to complete luxury resorts.
If you are on a budget, you may be staying in basic tents. Mid range safaris usually stay in lodges and hotels. Luxury safaris are usually in tented camps that feel fit for a maharaja.
Our last safari with GoAhead Tours was more of a mid-range safari costing $6100 USD per person and it had a mix of luxury tented camps and mid-range safari lodges to luxury hotels. It gave the guests the chance to experience all different types of accommodations. This was ideal for us as a couple in our 40s.
But when we were younger our basic safari in a tent was totally fine. And another safari in mid-range hotels suited us well too.
What to Expect on And African Safari
When you arrive in your location, you will be picked up at the airport and taken to your hotel where you’ll either stay overnight or go right into orientation. Orientation will go through your tour, and what to expect. You’ll meet your fellow travelers and then you’ll be separated into groups. Usually you will be with the same people on a truck for the duration of the trip. You’ll have the same guide and driver and you’ll really get to know each other well.
“Guides change lives. They may not remember us once the trip is over but we will always remember their names and the special moments they helped us achieve on the African savanna.” Kenya Village Visit – Empowering People One Brick at a Time
Africa has safaris down to a science and safari vehicles are made for optimal viewing. We’ve been on open air jeeps and in vans that have roofs that open and close. We had a large jeep with a pop up roof that was perfect. It is great to keep the sun out while letting you look out at the wildlife unobstructed.
Safaris are long and hard days. You are up at sunrise and out until sunset so be prepared for long days viewing wildlife. But you don’t want to miss a thing because this is a once in a lifetime experience. There are opportunities galore for unique wildlife viewing and you will see different wildlife at different times of the day.
You may be tempted to stay at the lodge to enjoy a nap, but that one time you stay back may be the only time your group spots a leopard, or black rhino. You will want to go out each and every time.
When you are out on a game drive, be considerate of the people around you. Don’t hog the best spot and don’t stand in front of other people. When we are on the best viewing side, we duck down so others can see over our heads. (and visa-versa)
Communicate with Your Driver
When on safari, take advantage of your driver’s expertise. Your driver is also your guide and they are very knowledgable. They know their wildlife, the culture and the area. We constantly ask questions on safari and by the end of the trip, we are good friends.
It is also important to let your driver know your expectations. Do you want to see the Big 5? Are you a bird watcher, do you want to see cheetahs or ostrich? Let them know. They usually know where the lion’s regular watering holes are or where the hippos will be rolling in the muddy waters. The more you can tell your guide what you want to see, the more they can help you.
Don’t be afraid to ask your driver to stop when you see something. And if you need them to back up for pull forward for a better view, ask them if they can. They can’t read your mind, so let them know if a tree is obstructing your view or if you are only seeing the back end of an animal.
When on safari in Africa, listen to your guide for rules and tips for staying safe. We have had lions walk within inches of our cameras. Keep your hands inside the truck and don’t reach out to touch them. The animals could take a hand off in a heartbeat if they want to.
Do not get out of the vehicle unless your guide says it is safe. There are some opportunities to get out of the truck and when it is safe to do so, take advantage of it.
Don’t pressure your drive to chase animals. If you have a good tour company, they will never chase animals or get too close but you should also not ask your driver to go close. It isn’t cool to pressure your guide to get too close to animals. Let them have their space and try not to intrude on their lives.
Be quiet and don’t disturb other people, but more importantly, don’t disturb the wildlife. You are in their house.
Keep reasonable expectations
Remember, it is wild animals you are viewing. This is not a zoo and just because you want to see a leopard, doesn’t mean you will see one. You may not see everything you are looking for. We were once on safari in Kenya for 5 days before spotting a leopard.
There was another trip in Tanzania where we never saw a rhino. And on our first safari in Botswana, we never did see a lion. Be happy with what you do see and appreciate what you do encounter rather than dwelling on what you missed out on.
In the Vehicle
Be prepared for a bumpy ride. No matter how good the vehicle or how luxurious the trip, the roads on safari are rough and rugged. You will be bumped and tossed around. The vehicles will be open so you will be hot at times and in the mornings you will be cold. So be prepared for everything. The most important thing is to sit back, relax and look at your safari in] Africa as a great adventure. Because that is exactly what it is.
What to Pack on an African Safari
We have an entire post on what to wear on a safari in Africa that you can check out here. But to get you started, here are a few staples that you must pack for an African safari.
One of our favourite things to do when on Safari is to meet the locals and have cultural experiences. Visiting villages and local communities is an enriching experience. It is important to respect local culture and embrace the moment.
Take part in the dancing and singing, join in on any festivities and support the local artisans.
Food on Safari
When staying at lodges you will most likely be eating buffet dinners. There are some places that take orders and are proper restaurants.
There will be days where you will also have a packed lunch on the savanna. During one safari, we had a picnic lunch complete with beer and wine on the Serengeti. Many of our lunches were outside in designated eating areas.
We sat overlooking a watering hole watching elephants pass by in Tarangire National Park, we bought fresh coffee on the Serengeti from the local touring barrista and we dined in our trucks overlooking the lake in the Ngorngoro Crater. It’s moments like these that make things as simple as dining a memorable experience.
We have always wanted to stay in tented camps on safari and we did that! We have always wanted a luxurious villa to ourselves on safari, and we got that!
There are so many memorable moments. An African safari truly does create memories to last a lifetime.