What is a safari | Safari Destination | East Africa vs Southern Africa
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What is a safari?

A safari is an exciting and adventurous way of seeing the ‘real Africa’.  It is a way in which you will get to see a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat and get an authentic experience of African culture. It can be more challenging and you need to be young at heart and open-minded to get the best out of a safari. All safari vehicles are custom-built to travel to remote places where you can have view the wildlife from a safe distance in comfort.

Safaris can involve walking through the wilderness, driving in 4×4 vehicles or by air in light air craft. The purpose of a safari is to allow you to slow down and become more at one with the earth and our wildlife.

Why go on a Safari?

  • Slow down and get in touch with the earth
  • Experience wildlife in their natural environment
  • View and engage with local cultures
  • Take part in outdoor activities

The accommodation on safaris vary greatly from basic 2 man tents through to tented camps and luxury lodges with en suite bathrooms (caters for all types of travellers).

Types of Safaris?

As mentioned above, the term safari is a type of experience. Over time, specialist forms of safaris have developed to cater for a variety of needs and budgets (such as migratory safaris, birding, medical safaris, hiking, culinary, family, horse back, photographic, etc). The simplest being a camp or lodge safari of a couple of days, to longer overland trips that traverse over numerous countries.

Camping Overland Safaris

A camping overland safari is for travellers who want a hands-on experience of Mother Nature. Setting up your campsite and helping build a campfire whilst surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and scenery. During an African camping safari you will stay in large two-man dome canvas tents which are spacious enough for two adults and your luggage. Most camping safaris include a sleeping mat and you only need to bring your own sleeping bag, pillow and towel. The African campsites are basic and comfortable. Most have warm showers and flushing ablutions, while others may have natural ablutions.

Accommodated / Comfort Overland Safaris

Accommodated safaris are designed for travellers who prefer to experience African wildlife and adventure with extra comforts. You are surrounded by vast landscapes and wildlife, curiously roaming at your door-step. It is comfort, without the price tag! Our accommodated safaris make use of a combination of lodges, hostels, bungalows, chalets, permanent safari camps, hotels and traditional huts. Our properties are ideally located at each destination for an authentic experience with incredible views. The standard of the properties varies along the trip. The Southern Africa properties are much more established than the East Africa accommodation. They vary from basic (but comfortable) to lovely properties.

Lodge Safaris

Lodge safaris allow travellers to access wildlife over a shorter period of time. The Lodges are located close to the wildlife and allow you more comfort. Most lodges can be accessed by air (fly in Safaris) or by land transfers thus allowing you to maximize your time and experience. The quality of lodges vary for budgets and level of comfort.

Mobile Tented Safaris

These mobile tented safaris were designed to allow for less impact on the environment where tents are set up in previously disturbed areas and then dismantled to ensure only footprints are left behind. Guides will drive the support vehicles ahead of the travellers and set up the camp by erecting the tents, en-suites/ ablution tents and dining/kitchen area. By the time you arrive all you have to do is unpack, sit back relax and wait for dinner to be served. You will sleep on stretcher beds where a sleeping bag and a pillow are provided. Bucket showers are provided with heated water.

Some of the camps are luxury camps where there are spacious tents with beds and crisp good quality linen. Resident chefs will prepare all your meals and there is a designated guide to organise and maintain the campsite.

There are a few permanent tented camps which are erected seasonally in wildlife-dense areas for the best game viewing experience. Once the season is over these tents are dismantled and moved to another area for optimum game viewing.

What is a typical day on safari

You will have early mornings so that you can enjoy a cup of coffee/tea and a light breakfast such as rusks or fruit before heading out on a game drive. The mornings can be crisp and cold, but refreshing with the reward of watching nature awaken. The morning game drives are usually between two and a half to three hours which will give you plenty of time to explore the area before returning to the campsite for lunch or enjoying a picnic lunch in the bush. Another game drive may be planned or an afternoon activity such as canoeing, birdwatching or an optional activity such as white water rafting depending on the area you are in.

Dinner will be prepared for you and you can sit back, relax and chat to your fellow companions over sundowners while a crackling fire is prepared to keep the chill off. An early night is usually encouraged so that you wake up refreshed and ready for a another adventurous safari.

When to go on a safari?

The Winter months (June to October) offers the best game viewing throughout East and Southern Africa. It is also ideal for a beach vacation on the East coast of Africa with moderate daily temperatures – perfect to soak up the sun. On a game viewing front, it is when herds of game graze freely on the drier golden stretches of savannah during the day, whilst watering holes and riverbeds call for a ‘happy hour’ at sunset to quench their thirst. It is also the opportune time to see and experience the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara Game Reserve – it is known as one of Africa’s greatest phenomena.

Summer (November to March) is known as the green season when the bush transforms into lush green long vegetation, set against the dramatic backdrop of dark thunderstorm clouds. It is the ideal playing field for energetic young grazers, with intensified predator action. It is the most popular season for birding enthusiasts with big flocks of migratory birds returning south.

East Africa Safari vs Southern Africa Safari – Which is best?

The big question when people consider a safari holiday in Africa is where to go – and how to choose between East Africa and Southern Africa.

Southern Africa (which includes the countries of South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi and Mozambique) and east Africa (which includes the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) are the two main regions for safari holidays in Africa, and each region offers different landscapes, wildlife experiences and attractions.

Here we cover the pros and cons of a safari in each region, to help you decide where to go on your African safari trip.

East Africa Safari

Northern Tanzania safari

When people think of images of an African safari, they’ll usually have scenes from an East African safari in mind, thanks to countless nature documentaries set on the vast savanna of Kenya and Tanzania. These two countries, with their classic postcard-perfect landscapes of rolling savanna dotted with acacia trees, are home to the wildebeest migration, an annual migration of millions of animals that takes place between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti – truly one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth.

While both east Africa and southern Africa have the Big Five, and an amazing diversity of animals, East Africa has a higher concentration of game than in southern Africa, and the wildlife is easy to spot on the open savanna plains. National parks aren’t fenced in East Africa, which means animals are free to move in their migratory patterns.

While Kenya and Tanzania are the top countries in East Africa for safaris, Uganda and Rwanda have their own attractions – namely, wild mountain gorillas. Along with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda are the only places in the world where you can see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Tracking mountain gorillas is thrilling and hugely rewarding, and undoubtedly a bucket list wildlife experience to try and tick off. Coming face to face with a huge silverback gorilla can hardy be beaten! You can also go chimpanzee tracking in Uganda and Rwanda, which doesn’t get you as close as you do to the gorillas, but it’s still an amazing wildlife encounter.

In terms of mixing up experiences on your safari in East Africa, you can hike up Africa’s highest mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro – in Tanzania in a few days. Tanzania and Kenya have beautiful coastlines and idyllic islands for some relaxing beach time, snorkelling and diving after all that driving around on the savanna.

A few downsides of east African safaris are the number of vehicles at sightings in the popular parks, such as the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. There’s no limit to the number of cars at a sighting, so if it’s something special, then you will likely be sharing the view with more than 10 other cars.

Ready to plan an east Africa safari tour? Check out our range of East Africa Safaris, including: 

10 day best of Tanzania and Kenya overland tour

15 day Kenya and Tanzania safari

7 day Uganda gorillas safari tour

Southern Africa Safari

While southern Africa doesn’t have the same concentration of wildlife as east Africa, what it does offer is a much greater diversity of landscapes. In southern Africa, you have the vast wetland of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the beautiful Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa, the tallest sand dunes in the world in the Namib Desert in Namibia and Africa’s largest waterfall – Victoria Falls – which straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe. And then there’s Mozambique’s long and beautiful coastline with its postcard-perfect palm-fringed archipelagoes.

With its incredibly varied landscapes and climates, South Africa is the most popular safari destination in southern Africa for good reason – you can go on an amazing Big Five safari holiday (most safari goers head to the country’s flagship park, Kruger National Park) and get to experience a wide diversity of other experiences in the country on the same short trip, from city sightseeing in beautiful Cape Town, a beach holiday on the Garden Route, mountaineering in the Drakensberg or wine tasting and gourmet food in the Cape Winelands.

Apart from Etosha National Park in Namibia, many of the national parks and reserves in southern Africa have denser bushveld than in East Africa, making game viewing a little bit harder. However, you can often get much closer to the wildlife in southern Africa, so you’ll get to see those elephants or lions up close.

If you travel to a private reserve or concession in southern Africa, then there are strict rules about how many vehicles can be at a viewing, which means that you get more of an intimate experience at a sighting than you might do in east Africa.

If you’re looking for a malaria-free safari destination, then east Africa is out. Africa’s only malaria-free safaris are in South Africa and Namibia (read our list of the best malaria-free safaris in southern Africa).

Inspired to do a safari in southern Africa? Here are our budget overland Safaris to southern Africa. Some of the most popular southern Africa tours are:

42 day Cape to Cape Southern Explorer

36 day Cape Town to Victoria Falls

25 day Southern African Overland Adventure

If you can’t possibly choose between east Africa and southern Africa for a safari, why not explore both regions on one of our long overlanding tours?

Our 58 day Nairobi to Cape Town overlanding tour starts in Kenya and takes you through Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia before coming to an end in Cape Town, South Africa. Along the way you’ll visit most of the best national parks and reserves in both east and southern Africa.

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