Where to go on Safari in Africa

Safari jeep in front of African elephants

Once you’ve decided an African safari is your dream holiday (and who can blame you?!) the fun can really start. But where to go on safari?

There are numerous places in Africa that offer opportunities aplenty to see all of the Big 5, as well as many other endangered and beautiful species. 

This post shares the best places in Africa to head out on safari, to help you choose the best destination for you. We’ll share the pros and cons of each African safari destination, as well as our own opinion on our favourite safari destinations. We’ll round it all off with a dedicated quiz, to guide you through the decision-making process based on your budget, your tastes, when you’re travelling and your favourite animals too. 

So keep reading, and you’ll soon know where to go on safari next. Let’s get started:

South Africa

Best for: A multi-activity holiday, where safaris form just one part. 

Whenever I’m asked to recommend a good first-timer’s safari destination, I always say South Africa.

It was the first place we headed, and therefore where our love of safari began. Not only is it more budget-friendly than a lot of other African destinations due to the sheer amount of choice available, but it also offers lots of other things to do in case you tire of wildlife viewing (though, how could you?) 

Pair a safari holiday to South Africa with a road trip along the Garden Route, where adrenaline junkies can bungee, photographers can marvel at the scenery, and wine and culture lovers can enjoy South Africa’s mother city of Cape Town. What’s not to love?

Sightings of the Big 5 are common in the major national parks and game reserves, but smaller private reserves offer a more intimate experience with sundowners, off-roading and bush walks too. It’s well worth searching these lodges out. 

Giraffes in South Africa

Struggling to choose between South Africa and Botswana? Our guide compares the two, so you don’t have to!

Fast facts about South Africa: 

  • Regular sightings: South Africa is home to all of the Big 5, but you may also be lucky enough to spot a pack of wild dogs, cheetahs, meerkats and hippos. 
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris.
  • Budget: £-£££££
  • Best time to go: May-September. The country’s winter months are best for wildlife viewing as there’s little rain or vegetation cover, meaning animals congregate around watering holes to feed and drink.

Kenya

Best for: Sightings of the Big 5 and the big cats. 

If animals are your top priority when choosing your safari destination, there’s nowhere better than Kenya

Some of the most traditional game reserves and lodges can be found here, in prime position for safari-goers to witness the largest mammal trek in the world – the Great Migration. Thousands of zebra and wildebeest make the treacherous journey from Tanzania to Kenya to find the most plentiful grasslands in July and August. Outside of these months, visitors are treated to exceptional sightings of big cats, huge herds of elephants and birdlife too.

Lodge staff and guides/trackers are often hired from local Maasai villages, offering a unique perspective on the Maasai lands as well as the flora and fauna that live there. Safaris are often accompanied by visits to traditional villages, where you may see mud huts, farmland and displays of music and dance from the villagers. 

Young male lion with cub

Fast facts about Kenya: 

  • Regular sightings: All of the Big 5 and the Great Migration, with sightings of big cats are particularly common in Kenya. 
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Visit Kenya between June and September as well as January and February, thanks to the great weather and wildlife spotting opportunities around the waterholes. If it is your dream to see the Great Migration, go in August.

Tanzania

Best for: A twin-centre safari + beach holiday.

Home to the world-famous Serengeti, Tanzania is a dream destination for wildlife lovers in Africa. 

The other half of the Great Migration starts here between late April and June when immense herds of zebra and wildebeest head north after giving birth to their offspring. Visitors line the river banks and predator-rich plains as they watch the most incredible wildlife spectacle in the world. 

Besides the wildlife, another huge draw for visitors to Tanzania is its natural beauty. In the north of the country, you’ll find Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro, while just off the eastern coast, the tropical island of Zanzibar makes Tanzania an ideal twin-centre destination for both a safari and the beach.

Two cheetahs next to a road with safari jeep in the distance

Fast facts about Tanzania: 

  • Regular sightings: All Big 5, predators including cheetahs, hyenas and jackals.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Visit between July and October, when Tanzania is at its driest. This also coincides with the Great Migration river crossings but, just like in Kenya, the dry season offers amazing wildlife sightings across the whole of Tanzania at this time.

Botswana

Best for: An unforgettable water-based safari in the Okavango Delta. 

Botswana is widely considered to be one of the best places in Africa to go on safari thanks to its beautiful landscapes, varied wildlife and exceptional hospitality.

If you’re heading to Botswana for the wildlife, no trip would be complete without taking in the Okavango Delta. Here, lucky visitors can spy on elephants, hippos and other water-based animals from a serene trip on a dug-out canoe or a motorised boat, while traditional game drives in the area are also filled with sightings of the big 5.

For an experience almost polar-opposite to the Okavango Delta, Botswana is also famous for the Makgadikgadi Pans. A dried-out lake, this is considered to be the largest salt flat in the world, and a wonderful place to see hardy species including meerkats, aardvarks and brown hyenas, as well as dark-maned lions and cheetahs chasing their prey.

Two elephants splashing through the water in Okavango Delta, Botswana

Fast facts about Botswana: 

  • Regular sightings: All of the Big 5, as well as many other popular African safari animals like cheetahs, wild dogs, hippos and thousands of species of birds too.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris, and boat safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Head to Botswana during the dry season between June and September, which brings high water levels in the Okavango Delta and beautiful weather.

Uganda

Best for: Coming face-to-face with primates in their natural rainforest habitat. 

Uganda is one of the only countries in the world you can see gorillas in their natural rainforest habitat. 

Visitors flock to Uganda (and neighbouring Rwanda) to lay eyes on a gorilla family as they rest groom and chew on bamboo shoots. The aptly named Impenetrable Forest is where you’ll find them, but you’ll need to rise early, climb difficult terrain and trek in humid conditions for this experience that will stay with you forever. 

Uganda’s rainforests are also home to incredible populations of other animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys and many bird species. But those in search of a more traditional safari should head to Queen Elizabeth National Park for encounters with the Big 5, away from the crowds.

Gorilla snacking on plants in Ugandan forest

Fast facts about Uganda: 

  • Regular sightings: Gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys in the rainforests, as well as the Big 5 in the National Parks.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, photographic safaris, gorilla trekking safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Visit during its two dry seasons: between December and February, and between June and August, when conditions are particularly good for gorilla trekking.

Rwanda

Best for: Gorilla trekking through Volcanoes National Park.

With its spectacular landscapes and gorillas among its mountains, Rwanda’s not called ‘the land of a thousand hills’ for nothing. 

For many, the biggest draw of a trip to Rwanda is the opportunity to see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, but Nyungwe is also a wonderful place to spot chimps and 12 other species of primate. Here, the Canopy Walkway (a large suspension bridge) offers beautiful views right across the park.

More traditional safaris in Akagera National park make it possible to see the Big 5 – but only if you’re very fortunate! Buffaloes and elephants are most common here, with leopards sometimes seen at night. Following the reintroduction of black rhinos and lions in the last decade, sightings of these are becoming increasingly regular.

Family of gorillas in Rwanda national park

Fast facts about Rwanda: 

  • Regular sightings: Gorillas, elephants, buffalo, zebras, giraffes, monkeys and antelope.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, photographic safaris, gorilla trekking safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Visit Rwanda during the drier period from June to September, when you have the best chance at spotting the mountain gorilla.

Namibia

Best for: Viewing wildlife against surreal landscapes and bright red sand dunes. 

What Namibia lacks in greenery, it more than makes up for in spectacular wildlife sightings and scenery. 

The country is home to almost half of the world’s remaining population of black rhinos, while Etosha National Park is the place to spot four of the Big 5 (everything but buffaloes lives here!) Sightings of cheetahs, giraffes and hyenas are also common. Marine lover? Head to the coast to find Mola molas, whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on tours from Walvis Bay. 

Aside from the wildlife, Sossusvlei’s Mars-like landscapes make for beautiful photos. Surrounding this huge, white salt and clay pan and its skeletal trees are some of the highest sand dunes in the world at almost 400m tall. No trip to Namibia is complete without a climb to the very top!

Sossusvlei landscapes in Namibia

Fast facts about Namibia: 

  • Regular sightings: Lions, elephants, cheetahs, seals, oryx and the gemsbok – an antelope only found in Namibia.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris, and boat safaris.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Travel to Namibia between July and October for bearable temperatures and dry weather. This is also the best time for wildlife viewing.

Zambia

Best for: Combining wildlife spotting on walking safaris with trips to the world’s largest waterfall. 

Blending a rich history and culture with beautiful natural sights and animals, Zambia may just be Africa’s best-kept secret.  

Zambia is considered to be the home of the walking safari and is where many guests ditch the game vehicle and head out on foot. Accompanied by exceptional guides, safari-goers in South Luangwa National Park are often treated to sightings of elephants, antelopes and big cats. Traditional game drives and walking safaris are also on offer in Zambia’s other national parks, so there’s something for everyone here!  

Beyond the wildlife, head to the border with Zimbabwe for an exhilarating experience at the spectacular Victoria Falls. Here, you can enjoy a bungee jump, join a walking tour, take to the skies in a helicopter or negotiate the rapids of the Zambezi in a raft.  

Mother and two children sat in front of watering hole with elephants in Zambia

Fast facts about Zambia: 

  • Regular sightings: Elephant, hippo, buffalo, zebra, lion, leopard and hyena. 
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, night drives, photographic safaris, and boat trips.
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: The best time to visit Zambia is during the dry season between June and November. At this time of year, the days are hot but the nights are cool.

Madagascar

Best for: Witnessing one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. 

A place unlike any other, Madagascar is home to animals you simply won’t find anywhere else in the world. 

The island’s rainforests are teeming with wildlife, including over 100 species of lemur which are native only to Madagascar. Lucky visitors can spot the cuddly ring-tailed lemurs and ruffed lemurs among many others, swinging from the trees in search of fruit. Carnivore fans will be in constant search of the fossa, Madagascar’s top predator, which, despite its resemblance to a small cougar, isn’t actually a cat.

Madagascar’s position in the Indian Ocean makes it an ideal wildlife destination for those in need of relaxation, thanks to its beautiful landscapes, coral reefs and tropical sandy beaches. 

Lemur clinging to a tree in Madagascar

Fast facts about Madagascar: 

  • Regular sightings: Lemurs, cat-like fossas and many species of birds and reptiles.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, photographic safaris, boat safaris
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Travel between September to October when the weather is mild and the lemurs are more active.

Zimbabwe

Best for: Mixing elephants with natural wonders, including the thundering Victoria Falls.

Home to one of the largest populations of elephants in the world, Zimbabwe is a mainstay on many safari lovers’ bucket lists. 

Occupying an area similar to Belgium in size, Hwange National Park is the largest wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe, perfect for game-rich safari sightings. As well as elephants, the rest of the Big 5 can be found here, along with one of Africa’s largest surviving populations of wild dogs. 

For those looking for more, Zimbabwe offers a range of natural wonders to see alongside its wildlife. Head to the northern border to view the thundering Victoria Falls. Adrenaline seekers will love the adventurous activities available nearby, including zip lining, abseiling and white water rafting on the Zambezi.

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

Fast facts about Zimbabwe: 

  • Regular sightings: All of the Big 5, wild dogs and unusual antelope like sable and roan.
  • Types of safari: Walking safaris, game drives, sundowners, night safaris, photographic safaris, boat safaris
  • Budget: ££-£££££
  • Best time to go: Visit Zimbabwe between July and October, when game viewing is at its peak around the lakes, man-made waterholes and rivers.

If you’re still not sure where to go, spend a few minutes taking the interactive quiz coming soon. Just know that, wherever you choose, you’re in for a real treat and it won’t be long before you tick them all off your list!

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