The great safari destinations are wild. And they’ve stayed that way through isolation and inaccessibility. There are no highways through the elephants’ woodland and no easy way to reach lost wildernesses.
Perhaps Africa’s greatest highlight is the continent’s sheer number of unknown and unseen places. Even in the 21st century, conservationists and biologists haven’t got close to discovering it all. Even today there are places that outsiders don’t know about.
With a safari you’re going into the land of the animals, and the animals don’t want to be anywhere near a shopping mall or highway intersection. So naturally, all this wilderness and inaccessibility can make getting around Africa a headache.
It’s important not to be too ambitious about where you can go, especially if you have two weeks or less. Remember, Africa is a continent not a country, and the safari destinations are the hardest places you can get to.
However, transport has improved immensely since the turn of the 21st century. So Africa is more accessible than ever.
Traveling by Air
Every country has its hub to start from. Intra-continental flights are getting cheaper and cheaper, making it expeditious to travel between countries by plane. From these major hubs you can continue by road or fly to a domestic destination.
Kenya – Nairobi is the busiest and most connected airport in East Africa.
Tanzania – Kilimanjaro International is the best choice for a northern circuit safari. Dar es Salaam is closer to destinations in Southern Tanzania.
Uganda – Entebbe is the major airport but it’s far from the safari destinations, meaning you might consider Rwanda’s Kigali as well.
Rwanda – Kigali International Airport is within a three-hour drive of everything in Rwanda.
South Africa – Fly to Cape Town for a holiday. Fly to Johannesburg and onwards to Nelspruit for the best South African safari.
Botswana – It’s common to fly into Victoria Falls / Livingstone and continue overland, but also try flights to Maun, a desert town in the middle of the safari wilderness.
Namibia – Direct flights connect Europe with Windhoek. From there it’s always a long journey in the desert.
Zambia – Fly to Livingstone for Victoria Falls. Lusaka is closer to Luangwa.
Zimbabwe – Use Victoria Falls for Victoria Falls, easier and quicker than the larger Harare International Airport.
Flying Directly into the Wilderness
Flying was the earliest mode of safari exploration. Conservationists would fly over the wilderness, estimating the number of mammals by sight.
These small planes still hop around the continent, taking visitors between safari destinations. They are expensive but they can save you days of travel time. And every flight in Africa is a scenic flight.
Airstrips are cleared of mischievous wildlife and you touch down in the wilderness, so the safari starts from the moment you land. The downside is the cost. Flying around East or Southern Africa is prohibitively expensive for most people wanting to go on safari.
Traveling by Land
Driving 200 kilometres in Africa could take two hours, speeding along a straight desert road. It could also take two days, meandering through swamps, dust and wilderness.
But every journey is memorable, with images of African roads quick to inspire: ochre-hued dirt roads, mud-brick villages, goats and cows in the road, smiling children and sizzling street food stalls.
You can travel by public transport before meeting a safari operator at a main town. Or you can travel with a tour operator, in the same vehicle used for your game drives. It’s cheaper than flying but it takes time, so you must always weigh up the cost – time benefit.
Visas for African Countries
Traveling to Southern and East Africa shouldn’t pose a challenge if you have a European, Canadian or USA passport.
Botswana – No visa required.
Ethiopia – Pre-arranged visa essential; this typically needs to be obtained in your home country.
Kenya – Visa on arrival at all international airports and borders.
Mozambique – Visa required, obtained in advance from any Mozambique embassy or consulate.
Namibia – No visa required.
Rwanda – Electronic visa required. Apply online here.
South Africa – No visa required for 90-day stay. An unabridged birth certificate is required for all under 18s traveling.
Tanzania – Visa on arrival at all international airports and borders.
Uganda – Visa on arrival at international airports. Some international land borders require a visa in advance.
Zambia – Visa on arrival at all international borders and airports.
Zimbabwe – Visa on arrival at all international airports and borders.
Do you still require additional info? Here’s everything you need to know about African visas.