How to choose an African safari


Whether you grew up watching Born Free, Out of Africa or singing along to the Lion King, it’s hard not to be captivated by the myths of the African savannah – and the big game that roams some of the earth’s last wildernesses.

Safari has come a long way since colonial times; the days of the “white hunters” and dozens of porters, where killing was prized over conservation. Today, there are more ways to go on safari than ever before – and as the continent opens up to tourism, with better infrastructure, qualified tour guides and a wide range of accommodation, there are more destinations to choose from as well, with West Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia being added to the list of more traditional safari hotspots.

Tracking down the right safari may seem as tough as spotting a leopard in the bush – but our guide to how to choose a safari pushes back the branches and focuses your lens on the right African vacation for you.
Bush camp safaris 
The original safari choice, camping harks back to the days when hunters spent months tracking game across the continent. Bush camps bring you up close to Africa’s wildlife, separated by just a sheet of canvas. Camps may be permanent or mobile, luxurious or bare-bones wilderness camps – all add that extra spark of adventure as night falls and the savannah comes to life. Mobile camps have minimal impact – vanishing without a trace come morning.
Lodge safaris
Lodge safaris embody rustic luxury – with comfy beds and traditional features, they also make the most of modern technology such as solar heated water and PV panels. You may be in a larger central lodge or individual cabins – with en suite facilities and private verandahs. You’re likely to travel between lodges during your safari – but we recommend at least two nights in each, to let you relax and explore your surroundings.
Family safaris
Kids love wildlife even more than adults – and a family safari is a great way to bring textbooks to life in a thrilling, open-air “classroom” as well as enjoying quality time together. Many lodges and tours cater specifically to children, with pools, family-sized tents and cabins and tour guides with youngsters in mind – Kenya and South Africa are two of the best destinations for this. See our Family safaris page for more.
Safaris & beach
Safaris are a thrilling yet busy way to vacation – with pre-dawn starts, and long, juddery journeys... get ready for the “African massage”! While the thought of the Big Five will no doubt have you bounding out of bed in the dark, a beach at the end of it all will be a welcome contrast. Zanzibar, South Africa, Mozambique and the East African coast are perfect for post-safari sea and sand.
Tribal cultures & wildlife
Where once a safari was synonymous with wildlife, in recent years there has been growing interest in the communities that share their land with the Big Five – from the Maasai of East Africa to the Himba of Namibia. Staying on a conservancy, visiting a local village or taking a bush walk with a native guide is an eye-opening part of any safari, giving you a huge insight into the wildlife – as well as daily life in Africa.
Walking safaris
A walking safari brings you up close to Africa – on its own terms. Your guide can show you how to track wildlife, and you’ll discover savannah and desert ecosystems. Meeting animals on foot commands a serious amount of respect! Your senses are heightened, and small things take on huge importance – a print, a plant, a curious insect. Zambia is the go-to place for walking safaris, but other top experiences include walking with the Maasai in Kenya and tracking rhino in Namibia.
Small group safaris
Small group safaris are ideal for solo travelers – placing you with a bunch of likeminded people to share your safari tales with over sundowners. Couples, too, will enjoy the peace of mind and expertise of the group leaders – having the kinds of experiences that would be hard to organise alone. Children will love making new friends – leaving their parents to relax and enjoy the vacation, knowing their kids are being taken care of.
Tailor made safaris
Tailor made safaris offer the flexibility of a self drive vacation with the security and ease of a small group tour. Perfect for people with specific interests, such as birding or photography, or for travelers who would prefer to spend a longer time in a specific place. Let your tour operator know what you want – and all the planning will be taken care of – with your guide meeting you at the airport.
Self drive safaris
See wildlife at your own pace, with time out when you want – and the opportunity to beat the crowds by touring the parks at less popular times of day. While the lack of infrastructure and hire cars makes self drive safaris difficult in many destinations, Namibia and South Africa are well set up. With your tour company taking care of all the logistics – and maps – all you have to do is remember to pack your driving licence.
Photo credits: [Namibia landscape & accommodation: Vicki Brown>] [Family Safari: Tim Williamson] [Tribal culture: Joachim Huber] [small group safari: Vicki Brown] [self-drive: Colin J. McMechan]
Written by Vicki Brown
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