Best African safari books – Wildlife & travel guides

African safari guide teaching about wildlife in his book

Looking for the best safari guidebooks to inspire your next vacation? The following compilation features some of the top African safari books and travel guides that’ll help you level up your safari experience. 

This list of safari guidebooks was handpicked by the Africa Freak community and our experienced editorial team.

All you need to do is pick the best African wildlife books for your trip and remember to add them to your African safari packing list.

Let’s dive in!

Top African Animal Books

This is one of the first safari guidebooks I ever bought. The classic African safari field guide to large African wildlife is a great starting point for budding safari enthusiasts.

Larger Animals of East Africa was written by two wildlife experts with over 20 years of experience leading safaris in East Africa. It covers an impressive 76 species and boasts around 200 color photographs.

What I love about the book: Great illustrations, key facts, distribution, habits, conservation, and status. Very easy to use.

Criticism: The edition is considerably outdated as it was published in 1997. A refresher could only be beneficial to this quality item.

NB: For a similar but more up-to-date animal guide, consider buying Wildlife of East Africa by Martin B. Withers & David Hosking.

This African animals book is a popular favorite amongst the Africa Freak editorial team, and it’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more than the physical characteristics of African mammals.

The unique African safari guide compiles many years of fieldwork and research into the behavior of African mammals.

Whether you’re an amateur naturalist or closer to an expert, you’re sure to find this safari guide informative and handy. This guide, beautifully illustrated by Daniel Otte, delves deep into animal behavior and much more.

What we love about the book: It’s very informative and features detailed illustrations. This safari guidebook is a great African safari companion for amateurs and experts.

Criticism: This safari guide is harder to read than most guides due to its academic nature.

I will always remember the day I first got this book from my parents. I was only 5 or 6 at the time, but it is perhaps the one book that truly made me fall in love with Africa and its extraordinary wildlife.

Mitsuaki Iwago is more than just a photographer. He is an artist. While this isn’t exactly a guide, it’s a fantastic book to have for every African safari enthusiast.

Serengeti by Mitsuaki Iwago is a compilation of stunning photography that makes for the perfect coffee table read and conversation starter.

What I love about the book: Published in 1987, it’s a classic compilation of brilliant photography. 

Criticism: This animals of Africa book doesn’t offer much more than wildlife and landscape imagery, as well as photographic inspiration.

Signs of the Wild: A Field Guide to the Spoor & Signs of the Mammals of Southern Africa is my “bible” when it comes to field guides for Southern Africa.

Anyone who has spent some time in the African wilderness knows that animal sightings often start with spoor, tracks, and small signs.

This handy guide contains insightful information on animal identification, distribution maps, and color photographs of Southern African mammals.

Here are some of the features that make this guide absolutely special:

– The environmental glossary for key terms and definitions.

– Stunning illustrations for each species.

– Concise descriptions and distribution maps.

 Animal names translation into the main local languages: Afrikaans, Shona, Ndebele, Zulu, Siswati, Venda, Tswana/Sotho, and Nama/Damara.

What I particularly like about the book: feces and spoor sections (illustrated) + comparative spoor illustrations.

The most complete guide to watching African mammals. This incredible guide has it all, including behavioral displays of species (territorial marking, aggression, courtship rituals), illustrations, extensive maps, wildlife photography tips, and vegetation zones.

It is one of the best African safari guides for anyone who wants to understand a little more about African mammals. Safari experts will love the black-and-white illustrations and detailed information.

What I love about the book: The beautiful illustrations and comprehensive information.

Criticism: This volume can get a little too technical and lacks color photography. It’s also fairly robust and isn’t easy to travel with.

If you’re going on an African wilderness excursion without a safari tour guide, this is a fantastic safari guide book to take with you. Game Ranger in Your Backpack is a practical and interpretive identification guide for wildlife in South Africa’s Lowveld. 

Our editorial team loves this book for its valuable information on mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, plants and flowers, and more. If you’re planning an African self-drive safari, this guide is worth getting.

What we love about this book: Game Ranger in Your Backpack is easy to read, and it includes color-coded chapters and hundreds of stunning pictures.

Criticism: The book was published in 2011 and could use a revision only because it’s such a great African tour guide substitute. 

Everyone from first-time safari-goers to experienced guides could use this African safari field guide on tracking animals in Southern Africa.

This handy photographic guide is filled with insightful images and detailed information that makes tracking easier.

It works well as a reference to pass around on group safaris, a self-drive safari companion, and a refresher for experienced guides.

Like many African wildlife books, the guide comes with distribution maps to illustrate where each species is found in southern Africa. 

What we love about this book: The photographs of droppings and tracks are handy, and the distribution guide provides valuable information.

Criticism: While this guide is still valuable to have, we’d love to see an update, especially on the distribution maps. Much has changed since the book’s publication in 2001.

  • Tracker Manual (Paperback) by Alex van den Heever, Renias Mhlongo & Karel Benadie.

Tracker Manual is one of the most recently published African wildlife books that focuses on tracking animals in southern Africa.

This safari guidebook provides practical information on tracking around 160 African animals, compiled by industry experts.

Written to be an on-the-go guide, the manual features excellent color photos and simple bulleted text, as well as detailed descriptions for more in-depth information.

What we love about this book: Tracker Manual is easy to read and offers accessible information for levels of safari fans.

Best Safari Guides on Birding

Roberts Bird Guide is the ultimate compilation of information on birds in southern Africa. This African guide covers 1000 bird species through photographs and illustrations accompanied by detailed information to make identification easy.

What we love about this book: It is one of the best African safari books on birding, and is suited for both amateurs and experts.

This book is similar to one of the earlier versions (which I have) but is completely revised and updated to include bird species name changes, distribution maps, and revised bird taxonomy.

Criticism: It is fairly large and hard to carry around when birding in the wilderness.

  • Birds of Southern Africa (Princeton Field Guides) (Paperback) by Ian Sinclair (Author), Phil Hockey (Author), Warwick Tarboton (Author), Peter Hayman (Illustrator) & Norman Arlott (Illustrator).

This impressive guide features around 950 beautiful species of African birds and over 4000 illustrations by experts. While it’s a fairly old publication (2002), it’s still a great reference for birding in southern Africa.

What we love about this book: The guide is written by ornithologists and beautifully illustrated. It’s also easy to carry around and has a glossy cover to resist water splashes.

NB: For birds of East Africa, the fully revised and updated new edition (2020) is worth checking out too.

Trees, Plants & Flowers – African Safari Books

If you’re traveling through South Africa’s Mpumalanga province and Kruger National Park, this guide to the region’s trees and shrubs is one of the best safari books to take along with you. 

With easy-to-read information and beautiful illustrations and photographs, it’s great for both beginner naturalists and seasoned botanists.

The ideal read for beginner tree enthusiasts, this field guide is simply written and illustrated by two of southern Africa’s leading tree experts.

The paperback includes detailed information and wonderful color photographs of around 900 tree species in southern Africa, making it one of the best safari books.

General Africa Travel Books

  • East Africa (Multi-country African travel guide) (Paperback) by Mary Fitzpatrick, Tim Bewer & Matthew Firestone.

‘Best for curious and independent-minded travelers’ — Wall Street Journal

  • Southern Africa (Multi-country African travel guide) (Paperback) by Alan Murphy, Kate Armstrong, Matthew Firestone, Mary Fitzpatrick, Michael Grosberg, Nana Luckham & Andy Rebold.

‘For sheer global reach and dogged research, attention must be paid to Lonely Planet…’ — Los Angeles Times

Safari Tales

  • Don’t Look Behind You!: A Safari Guide’s Encounters with Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos by Peter Allison.

“The best compliment you can pay a travel writer is to read his work and feel like you’re right there with him. For more than two hundred pages, I felt like I was in Africa, up to my neck in danger. I don’t even know this guy, but more than once I lay awake at night, worrying for his safety. Enough adventure, action, life lessons, and laughs to fill a movie and four sequels. The fact that Allison survived to write any of this down is a miracle in itself.” — Cash Peters, author of “Gullible’s Travels”.

“His misadventures make Whatever You Do, Don’t Run an absorbing read… The material is rich, and Allison is a gifted storyteller. And the only thing stranger than African fiction is African truth.” — National Geographic Adventure

“After reading this entrancing memoir, an African safari may move to No. 1 on your travel wish list. The only catch is you’ll want the author as your guide.” — Chicago Sun-Times

Electronic African Wildlife Books

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