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How to Start Planning an African Safari

I love safaris. They are one of the reasons I’m an Africa specialist here at Adventure Life. My love for African safaris goes back before I ever had the chance to visit the continent, when I knew little and had zero experience. Marlin Perkins was my guide as reruns of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom played on the family TV.

Back then, I couldn’t tell you the difference between East African and Southern African safaris. Why are leopards so shy in the Serengeti but easy to spot in Sabi Sand? And if I was going to see baboons and vervet monkeys, why can’t I see chimpanzees and gorillas, too?

Well, the continent of Africa is huge, the second largest on the planet with an amazing array of wildlife living in many diverse habitats. You have the rainforests of Uganda, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and the Namib Desert in Namibia. And yes, there are even quite a lot of differences between the savannah grasslands of the Serengeti and the savannah woodlands of the Greater Kruger area. So before you pack your gear and head for that flight, we’ve got some questions.

What do you hope to see on your safari?

Yes, you’ll see some amazing landscapes and wonderful wildlife. But let’s be specific. Are you a big cat person? Do lions and cheetahs mesmerize you with their feline hunting skills? Or are you a fan of elephants? Would you prefer to see herds of pachyderms marching across the plains while you are huddling in a blind next to a borehole? And don’t neglect the antelopes. Personally, a Sable is one of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen.

And while you are out and about, do you want to experience some of the local cultures, more than just the folks working at the lodge? If so, don’t miss a chance to visit a village near where you are on safari. Or go to a local school and engage with the children. If you have any inkling of interest in the wonderful people (over 3,000 tribes!) living across the magnificent continent of Africa, I strongly encourage you to make at least one cultural visit.

But beware! Some wishes can get complicated. Are your top two animals you wish to see gorillas and cheetahs? Well, you will need to do a multi-country safari, as cheetahs don’t live in the areas where gorillas are found. Does the thought of crossing the border of some foreign country sound difficult? Fret not, dear traveler. Many safari goers cross borders on a single trip to Africa. There are 48 countries on the continent and another six island nations surrounding it. So we can get you from gorillas to cheetahs. All it takes is proper planning.

When to Go on Safari?

This is another question where it can get a bit tricky. Different parts of the continent are better for safari at different times of the year. If fact, some safari camps close during the off-season, packing up and leaving the area until the next season begins. While other parts of the safari circuit are open for “green season” visits.

Let me explain. For most, the best time to visit a safari location is during the dry season, which can vary due to the different climates and topography. With limited water, animals will congregate near available watering holes. This concentrates the game, making it easier to spot wildlife (both herbivores and carnivores). However, during the green season (when the grasses are growing and making the animals more spread out and harder to spot), you can experience a different sort of safari, one where you see far fewer (if any) other safari-goers while you are out in the bush. As an added bonus, the green season usually contains the calving season. Yes, baby animals are very cute, but please know that baby prey animals also attract predators. You’ve been warned.

Your best bet is a conversation with a specialist to talk about what you want from a safari, when you have free time available to travel, and what countries/parks meet those requirements.

And Finally, traveling Companions
Who are you traveling with? A couple on a honeymoon? A group of friends? A multi-generational family safari? Or a solo traveler? A safari—done the right way—can work for all these people.
The right group tour (at the right time in the right country) can give a solo traveler (or a couple on a budget) a wonderful experience. You need to be flexible with your dates to fit in with the group schedule, but you can see some incredible animals and meet some new friends.

Kids on safari? Yes! With the right preparations, you can have a super fun safari experience with kids. Load up the entire clan and head to the Serengeti and the cousins can head out one morning looking for painted dogs while the grandparents go looking for lions. The parents might want to stay by the lodge pool that morning, saving themselves for the afternoon safari game drive.

And for everyone—couples, kids, solo travelers—consider the classic “Bush & Beach” experience. After the safari is done, head to the water for some relaxation on the shores. You have a wide range of options for a beach destination: Zanzibar, Mozambique, Lake Malawi, one of the many beaches in South Africa, or even something further afield like the Seychelles, Maldives, or Madagascar.

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