The saying, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all” is one understood by no one more deeply than a safari specialist. The bush has a magical quality that can only be felt by immersing oneself in the open plains of Kenya, singing “Africa” by Toto at your tented camp in Tanzania, experiencing the iconic South Africa circuit, and beyond. And whether you’re looking to plan your first African safari or coming back for your annual pilgrimage, the expertise of a safari specialist allows you to tap into their hyper-specialized, nuanced knowledge to in turn nail your customized itinerary.
The paradox of choice is only amplified by the fact that endless Google search results make it difficult to discern whether you’d be better off chasing the big five in South Africa, tracking the Great Migration in Kenya, paddling through the Okavango, or cruising Namibia’s impressionable Skeleton Coast. Partnering with a SmartFlyer safari specialist ensures you’ll be paired with the destination that best suits your tastes. This includes aircraft configurations, lodge preferences, and a safari guide on the ground who matches best with your personality.
When working with a safari specialist, clients’ initial questions range from “When to go on an African safari?” to “Where to go on a safari in Africa?” But as you delve further into the process, it’s about so much more. A safari helps to deepen your connectivity to sustainability as you learn about preserving the land and the wildlife that makes a safari so impactful. And within that connection lies a deeper understanding of how the lodges within your itinerary support their communities.
What many travelers fail to recognize is that your safari doesn’t need a dedicated charitable component–that is, in the form of a community visit or portion dedicated to explicit voluntourism efforts–in order to contribute to the uplift of local communities and protection of the environment. Simply staying at a socially responsible lodge means that a portion of your trip is being funneled into the protection of wildlife and long-term sustainable employment for those who do this critical conservation work.
Considered the Jewel of Africa, safari specialists will agree that Botswana is one of the most underrated destinations on the continent. The country offers intensely rich wildlife across its inland river, the Okavango Delta (above). In addition, it’s home to the earth’s most impressive salt pan, the Makgadikgadi (below) in addition to the largest continuous desert, the Kalahari. For committed conservationists, the management of the land here offers a case study to be admired; nearly a fifth of Botswana’s territory is protected as national parks.
While the answer to the question, “what does a safari cost?” has a range of answers depending on the level of luxury you are looking for, there is a consistency when it comes to this region worth noting. Botswana remains one of the most expensive destinations to take an African safari. However, one of its many benefits is that Botswana is a year-round destination.
Best Time To Visit
The dry winter season in Botswana runs from May to October. During this time, the bush thins out from its lush summer landscape and the animals flock to the Okavango Delta. This time also offers the most comfortable to visit since days are warm and nights are cool. As an added benefit, with the rains not being prevalent, there are fewer mosquitos.
You’d be remiss to speak to a safari specialist who didn’t tout the benefits of a safari to Kenya. This East African gem is the home to the iconic landscapes from “Out of Africa.” In fact, a stay at Angama Mara lodge will place you right in the heart of the film’s 19ZZ shooting location. Beyond the movies, Kenya is a place where you can expect superb game viewing and some of the top safari lodges on the continent, many of which are family-owned and operated with conservation at their heart.
Kenya is home to Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo – as well as the amiable Masaai people. The Masai Mara is famous for its vast savannahs and the final destination in the annual migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania. While the migration is a popular time of year to visit but can be hard to pin down since the time of year varies as it depends on rainfall; it ranges from June and July to October. Though, there are benefits to visiting Kenya at any time of year with exclusive experiences like walking safaris and night drives available thanks to private concessions.
Best Time To Visit
The peak of summer in Kenya falls in January and February when the climate is hot and dry. Like other safari regions, this is when wildlife is most easily found as they congregate around waterholes. Conversely, the most rainfall occurs during the winter from March to May. Visiting during the rainy season equates to more favorable rates and the chance to soak up fewer fellow guests at camp.
Located in Southern Africa, Namibia is a striking country defined by its dramatically contrasting landscapes. The Namib Desert (above) is heralded as the oldest desert on earth; trekking its dunes offers active travelers an exciting physical challenge. Flying between the various regions of Namibia to reach regions like the Skeleton Coast showcases the variety on offer in the country. One moment you’ll be flying over barren ghost towns dotted with abandoned mining villages – the Diamond Coast is the stuff of legends – and the next, you’re floating over estuaries with flocks of flamingos.
Reaching the Skeleton Coast (above) is the ultimate demonstration in contrast. Its unforgiving harsh coastline seems like no place where wildlife could thrive, yet, against all odds, game drives reveal desert-adapted elephants and giraffes. No matter where you find yourself in Namibia, safari specialists will note the importance of dedicating some time stargazing in this region.
Best Time To Go
Summer rains usually start in November and run through April. During this time, the country is more verdant and becomes quite hot during the day. Winter extends from May to September. These are drier months and the best time to visit Namibia for prime game viewing. During the winter, expect animals to be concentrated around water holes. It’s warm during the day but freezing at night; be sure to pack your winter gloves and hat for early morning and late afternoon drives.
4. South Africa
Perhaps the most popular first-time African safari destination, South Africa offers a bit of everything including captivating wildlife across several distinct regions, wine country, world-class safari lodges, and rich culture. Honeymooners gravitate to South Africa for its ability to cater to romance, but families equally find the country a playground to showcase live lessons in sustainability, history, and art.
While every safari itinerary crafted by a SmartFlyer safari specialist is unique, typically, South Africa itineraries include a city component in Cape Town (above) and wine tasting in nearby Franschhoek before (or after) taking a bush plane out to Kruger National Park and/or Sabi Sands via Johannesburg. Each of these regions offers phenomenal game viewing and luxury lodges.
Best Time To Go
Winter runs from May to August during which you can plan for mild days full of sunshine in the bush. Temperatures will drop quite dramatically in the evening, but this dry season is heralded as the best time to go on safari in South Africa. Conversely, the best time to visit vibrant Cape Town is the summer which extends from October to March. Temperatures are well into the 80s (F) which makes for fabulous beach weather! During this period, South Africa’s game reserves are experiencing their wet season which is marked by summer rains that make their appearance during afternoon thunderstorms. During summer in South Africa, safari landscapes are lush which changes the prospects of spotting wildlife.
Amongst seasoned safari-goers, Tanzania ranks as a top returned destination. The East African country is home to an incredible range of experiences including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti savannah, Ngorongoro Crater (below), and the beaches of Zanzibar and Pemba Island. With flat plains abound, game viewing in Tanzania is starkly different from the rolling landscapes of other popular safari destinations like South Africa.
A big draw for visitors to Tanzania is the ability to easily combine bush and beach. While it may seem like Africa is an unlikely destination to prioritize beach time – particularly for those who only intend to safari once in their life – what’s often overlooked about the safari experience is how demanding it is on your sleep schedule. Each morning begins at dawn and evenings extend into sundowner game drives and dinner by candlelight. By the end of your time in the bush, you may very well want nothing more than to laze about the beach. Tanzania makes this easy with practically untouched places like Pemba Island as well as more well-known Zanzibar just a bush plane away.
Best Time To Go
The long dry season lasts throughout June, July, August, September, and October when rainfall is unusual. But perhaps the most exciting time to visit Tanzania is during the Great Migration from June to October. There are two rainy seasons—the heaviest rains usually fall from mid-March to May, and a shorter period of rain occurs from November to mid-January. This is the time of year when you may run into game vehicles being manned by TV crews the likes of National Geography; they film during the rainy season since landscapes are lush, dust is minimal and you can shoot better footage with fewer fellow visitors.
When it comes to bucket list experiences, gorilla trekking in Rwanda often ranks at the top of clients’ lists. With approximately half of the world’s mountain gorilla population living in Rwanda’s carefully managed Volcanoes National Park, this region offers a very specific safari experience. Those who have visited Rwanda know its people to be incredibly resilient and welcome. The complicated history of this country is an example of how one finds light despite darkness.
As the smallest country in East Africa, Rwanda is also one of the most progressive and fastest growing. It is a true testament to successful wildlife rehabilitation; Rwanda is the only place in the world where you can see the Big Five in addition to the famed gorilla. Itineraries typically being in the gateway city of Kigali – a sophisticated metropolis (above) – before venturing to Magashi National Park and/or Volcanoes National Park. Of course, working with a seasoned safari expert ensures that you’re able to secure a gorilla trekking permit, of which supply is limited and investment keeps these endangered animals safe.
Best Time To Visit
As far as seasonality, Rwanda is a very specific climate and timing is a crucial part of planning your trip. Safari specialists would advise that the best time of year to visit Rwanda for gorilla trekking is dry season. There are actually two dry seasons in Rwanda: mid-June to September and December to February. Conversely, for chimpanzee trekking, the rainy season is when they move about less and are easier to track. The short rainy season during October and November is ideal for avid bird watchers. During this time, rain comes down in short, heavy bursts.