Ultimate guide to planning your first safari in Africa

Guest Post by Katie Birtles.

For many years, going on safari meant cruising the plains in a jeep and staying in tented camps. While you can still have that classic experience, there are now more ways to go on safari than ever before.

From luxurious all-inclusive safari lodges, to family-friendly camps, or romantic honeymoon safaris; you can choose your style, budget and pace. Fly between camps, go on foot, bike or boat, or even embark on a self-drive safari.

Venture into the African wilderness on a walking safari in Zambia, climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, see the iconic wildlife of the Masai Mara in Kenya, take a hot air balloon ride over the breathtaking dunes of Namibia, and relax on the dreamy shores of Zanzibar; the adventure is endless.

To help you start planning your safari holiday in Africa, we’ve put together an in-depth guide covering everything from the types of safari and the top safari destinations to the must-see wildlife, accommodations and activities.

Types of Safaris

Luxury Safaris

A luxury safari allows you to experience the wilderness of Africa in the comfort of five-star facilities. This could be camping, but not as you know it. You’ll enter your lavish tent to discover spacious living areas, air-conditioned suites, full-sized beds, hot showers, flushing toilets and private decks.

The service is exceptional, with full teams of staff consisting of rangers, chefs and butlers, working to accommodate your every need. All-inclusive luxury lodges include your food, drink and activities, so all you have to do is kick back and revel in the experience.

Family Safaris

A safari can be an incredibly rewarding experience for children and adults alike. Watching your children’s eyes light up as they spot all their favourite animals from the Lion King is a magical experience. Your children will remember the awe-inspiring places and enriching cultural encounters for years to come.

Many camps impose an age limit (generally around six to twelve years old) for safety reasons, however there are some specialist camps that cater for families and children of all ages.

These camps also provide family-friendly activities, babysitting services and educational programs, ensuring your kids get the most out of their safari adventure.

Honeymoon Safaris

A safari honeymoon combines dreamy romance with thrilling adventure, perfect for a pair of intrepid explorers. You can stay in luxurious lodges, decked out with intimate details to make your honeymoon safari truly unique.

Experience relaxing sundowners with beautiful vistas and private bush dinners under the stars. Rise before dawn for a breathtaking hot air balloon ride and soak in romantic outdoor bathtubs in the heart of the bush.

Self-Drive Safaris

Not for the faint-hearted, a self-drive safari offers the chance for a solo adventure into the African bush. Many game parks offer private car rental, so you can roam the trails at your own pace. The parks are well marked with paved roads and signs, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally wandering into a lion’s den.

However, you do to need exercise a high level of caution – this is the real African wilderness. Get to know the safety procedures, stock up on guidebooks and maps, bring a good pair of binoculars, then venture out to spot the majestic creatures of Africa.

Overland Safaris

An overland or mobile safari is one of the most traditional ways of going on safari. You’ll join a small group in a safari vehicle, or overland truck, travelling through Africa’s remarkable landscapes.

It’s a great way to get immersed in the wilderness and they often involve participatory camping – you’ll help to set up the campsite and prepare meals.

If you prefer your home comforts, you can find luxury overland safaris offering the same intrepid experience, with all the luxury trimmings.

Safari and Beach Holidays

A safari is an exhilarating experience although the long, action-packed days can be energy-consuming. After a week or two on a thrilling safari, there’s nothing better than retreating to the tropical beaches of Africa.

See the Great Migration over Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, then escape to the island paradise of Zanzibar. Combine Kenya’s Masai Mara with the beautiful Diani Beach, or see South Africa’s Kruger National Park before flying to the blissful shores of Mauritius.

Top Safari Destinations


Tanzania is one of the most popular safari destinations and for good reason – it’s absolutely packed with treasures. From the Serengeti to the Selous, Mt Kilimanjaro to the Ngorongoro Crater, and the pristine beaches of Zanzibar, Tanzania is truly unforgettable.

Must-see wildlife

With around 20% of Africa’s large mammal population found within Tanzania’s 14 national parks and reserves, the wildlife is unparalleled. You can see the Big Five (lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhino) and other creatures including hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks, pink flamingos and an array of spectacular birdlife.

Witness the Great Migration of wildebeest (and many other beautiful animals) through the Serengeti National Park between June and July, one of the greatest shows on earth. See the breathtaking wildlife populations of the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater, including the densest lion population on earth.

Head to the Ruaha National Park to see the largest herds of elephants in East Africa, watch flamingos and hippos floating in Lake Manyara, and swim with whale sharks in the turquoise waters of Zanzibar. This truly is a wildlife paradise.

Top activities

Where to stay

Tanzania is full of safari lodges and camps offering incredible facilities and unique experiences. You can have breakfast with elephants at Lake Manze Tented Camp, where these majestic creatures wander past the dining room.

At Tarangire River Camp, you can sleep in luxury tree houses overlooking the Tarangire National Park or stay in a luxury tent by the river.

Wake up to the sounds of the Serengeti in one of the ten lavish tents at the Serengeti Pioneer Camp, or in the circular rondavel villas of the Serengeti Serena Lodge.

Enjoy your breakfast with views over the famous crater at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, where water buffalo wander the grounds.

Delve into the coffee-making heritage of Arusha at Arusha Coffee Lodge, a family friendly resort surrounded by coffee plantations.

Best time to go

The best time to visit Tanzania is during the dry season from June to October, when animals are easier to spot. You can witness the Great Migration during June and July, and these are also the best months to visit the sunny shores of Zanzibar.

The best time to climb Mt Kilimanjaro is between December and March or from July to September, as these months provide the warmest, most comfortable trekking conditions.


Wildebeest, zebras and elephants graze on the sun-streaked plains of the Masai Mara, with the snowy peak of Mt Kilimanjaro rising in the background – Kenya is Africa as you’ve always imagined it.

Must-see wildlife

Kenya is a wildlife haven, home to millions of migrating zebras and wildebeest, Africa’s Big Five, baboons, giraffes and flamingos, and even endangered species such as the black rhino.

Here you can also witness the Great Migration, an astonishing display of nature where millions of animals migrate between Tanzania and Kenya in June and July.

Take a game drive through the iconic Masai Mara to spot the Big Five, see vibrant pink flamingos in the lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, learn how to track rhino in the Sera Conservancy, and search for the unique ‘Samburu Five’, including Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk and Somali Ostrich.

Top activities

  • Take a game drive through the Masai Mara to spot the Big Five
  • Go on a walking safari in Laikipia
  • Visit the Samburu tribe, known as ‘the butterfly people’, due to the fantastic colours in their traditional dress
  • Visit the Sarara Singing Wells, where Samburu warriors serenade their cows to their wells with unique songs
  • Take a hot air balloon ride over the golden plains, toasting with a champagne breakfast
  • Go rhino tracking in the Sera Conservancy
  • Go snorkelling or scuba diving in Diani Beach on the Southern Kenyan Coast
  • Climb Mt Kenya
  • See the elephants at Amboseli National Park

Where to stay

Take your Kenyan safari to the next level with extraordinary accommodations around the country. Share your breakfast with giraffes at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, where the long-necked creatures poke their heads through large windows every morning.

Venture into the remote wilderness at the Laikipia Wilderness bush camp. With just five tents in the middle of the bush, the camp provides an intimate and immersive experience. Enjoy dinner around a campfire with Mt Kenya as the stunning backdrop and wake up the beautiful sounds of nature.

For a thrilling rhino tracking experience, stay at Saruni Rhino. This luxury eco-camp provides a lavish stay and you can also contribute to their wonderful conservation programs.

Best time to go

Kenya has a great climate for most of the year. The best time for wildlife viewing is from July to October and you can also see the Great Migration during this period.

The southern beaches are best between August and October, while December and January are the peak months for travellers.

The rainy season runs from April to June, with lush greenery and great birdwatching, however many resorts close during this period.


Unspoiled and still undiscovered by mass tourism, Zambia is Africa’s best kept secret. With remarkable wildlife populations and unique experiences such as walking safaris, night game drives and the mighty Victoria Falls, Zambia is the best under-the-radar safari destination.

Must-see wildlife

Zambia is brimming with world-class national parks and reserves, marked by huge rivers and lakes that attract incredibly dense and diverse wildlife populations. Here you’ll see Africa’s Big Five, yet you’ll also have the opportunity to spot rare and endangered species.

See the cheetah at Kafue National Park, one of the best parks in Africa for cheetah sightings.

Venture out on a night game drive in South Luangwa National Park to see the elusive leopard, found in some of the highest concentrations in Africa. Here, you can also see rare Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cape wild dogs (painted wolves), puku and impala.

Visit North Luangwa National Park for a chance to see the Black Rhino, with numbers increasing after a successful reintroduction program began in 2003.

Top activities

  • Get an adrenaline rush at the Victoria Falls – go white water rafting, bungee jumping or abseiling, take a micro-light flight, or swim out to the edge of Devil’s Pool, nature’s infinity pool
  • Go on a walking safari in the Luangwa National Parks
  • Take a night game drive to spot leopards in South Luangwa National Park
  • Go on a canoe safari in the Lower Zambezi
  • Take a game drive through Kafue National Park
  • Go on a fishing trip to find some tigerfish
  • Go mountain biking along the trails of South Luangwa
  • Take a river cruise down the Zambezi River
  • Visit a local village with your safari lodge and learn more about Zambia’s diverse culture

Where to stay

Stay in luxurious lodges or get off the beaten track with remote safari camps – Zambia has it all. Flatdogs Camp in South Luangwa National Park offers family-friendly luxury and fantastic conservation programs, while the Time + Tide group provide some of the most lavish riverside villas in the region.

Mwaleshi Camp is a seasonal camp in North Luangwa National Park offering authentic walking safaris, while Musekese Camp provides immersive chalets in an isolated corner of the Kafue National Park.

Ila Safari Lodge offers a lavish stay by the Kafue River, complete with outdoor bathtubs, or you can retreat to the tranquil banks of the Zambezi by the Victoria Falls in Chundukwa River Lodge.

Best time to go

The best time to visit Zambia is during the dry season from June to October, when temperatures are warm and game viewing is at its best. The wet season runs from November to April, with heavy rains making roads impassable and closing lodges.

The iconic Victoria Falls can be visited year round, however the Devil’s Pool is closed for swimming from late January to August, when the water levels are too high. The best time to view the falls is from June to September, when you can enjoy a magnificent view of the thundering water without a thick cloud of spray.


Uganda is an enchanting country of ancient volcanoes, coffee plantations and lush, green mountains where beautiful mountain gorillas roam. As the starting point of the Nile River, Uganda offers some of the world’s most spectacular wildlife experiences.

Must-see wildlife

Uganda is home to some of Africa’s most diverse wildlife populations. Here you can see everything from Africa’s Big Five to rare mountain gorillas, playful chimpanzees and tree-climbing lions.

Head to the town of Jinja on the banks of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the source of the great Nile River, the longest river in the world. Known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, the lake is home to an abundance of species from Nile crocodiles and hippos, to the coveted shoebill stork, and even a chimpanzee island.

Uganda is one of the few countries where you can still see mountain gorillas in the wild. Embark on a challenging trek through the dense jungle to witness these majestic creatures in their leafy homes.

Top activities

  • Trek into mountains of Bwindi National Park to see mountain gorillas in the wild
  • See the spectacular Sipi Falls and explore the surrounding coffee plantations
  • Meet the Karamojong tribe of North-eastern Uganda
  • Take a game drive through Kidepo Valley National Park – the park is virtually tourist free yet brimming with wildlife
  • See the waterfalls and big game of Murchison Falls National Park
  • Take a boat safari from Lake Victoria down the Nile River
  • Go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest
  • See the elephants of Queen Elizabeth National Park
  • See the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha
  • Visit the indigenous Batwa pygmy people who live in the forests around Lake Mutunda
  • Go on a mountain bike safari in Lake Mburo National Park.

Where to stay

Uganda’s safari lodges are renowned for their spectacular views of the country’s gorgeous landscapes. Stay in one of the eight wooden cottages at Buhoma Lodge, one of only two lodges inside the Bwindi National Park. You’ll enjoy stunning views of the forest canopy from your deck.

Ndali Lodge is situated at the top of a mountain, overlooking the Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Nyindambuga, an ancient volcanic crater. They only use candles and storm lamps to light up the property, creating a magical atmosphere.

You can even spend the night with the Karamojong tribe, a welcoming community who will share their culture as you enjoy a local dinner and stay in a traditional kraal.

Best time to go

The best time for game viewing and gorilla and chimpanzee trekking is the dry seasons, from July to September and December to February. The end of September is particularly excellent for wildlife spotting, and the dry seasons are also the best time to climb Mt Elgon.

The rainy seasons fall from March to May and October to November. Although it’s a great time for bird watchers and lush scenery, the rains can make road travel difficult and trekking dangerous.


Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda is staggeringly beautiful. Here you’ll find rolling mountains cloaked in tropical rainforest, vast lakes with inland beaches and striking volcanoes, home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas.

Must-see wildlife

Renowned for its protected population of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, Rwanda is the ultimate gorilla trekking destination.

You can hike through the Virunga Mountains of the Volcanoes National Park for the humbling privilege of witnessing these creatures in the wild. This area is also home to golden monkeys, a playful primate which is endemic to the Virunga Conservation Area.

You can also go chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest, Africa’s largest rainforest, or scuba diving in Lake Kivu to see the creatures that lurk beneath the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Take a boat trip to Napoleon Island in Lake Kivu to see thousands of bats flock to the sky.

Top Activities

  • Trek into the Virunga Mountains to see mountain gorillas in the wild
  • Trek to see chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest
  • The stunning canopy walk through Nyungwe forest
  • Trek to see golden monkeys in the Virunga Conservation Area
  • Visit the beautiful Ndaba Falls in Lake Kivu
  • Take a boat ride around the fascinating islands of Lake Kivu, including Napoleon Island
  • Go swimming, kayaking or scuba diving in the mystical Lake Kivu
  • Explore Kigali, Rwanda’s vibrant capital and home to the excellent Genocide Memorial centre at Gisozi
  • Visit the Iby’Iwacu traditional village to learn about their unique culture

Where to stay

The accommodation in Rwanda is all about immersing yourself in its extreme natural beauty. Stay at the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, where boutique cottages are tucked into the hills of the Volcanoes National Park. Get cosy by your fireplace and enjoy the mesmerising views from your outdoor deck.

Virunga Lodge is another great option, located high on a ridge offering 360-degree, panoramic views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Musanze Valley and Lake Bulera.

Stay in Nyungwe House, on the edge of the Nyungwe Forest National Park, with gorgeous views over a working tea plantation. You’ll enjoy the freshest brew each morning and can take a tour to learn how the tea is made.

Best time to go

Visit Rwanda between June and September or December and February to make the most of the dry season, as these months provide the best trekking conditions. The alternative rainy seasons make trekking difficult, with slippery, muddy paths.

However, it is easier to spot chimpanzees and golden monkeys during the wet season. If you’d like the best chance of spotting these wonderful creatures, visit in early June or late November when the rains are easing.

South Africa

Big mountains, big cities and the Big Five – South Africa is the safari destination with it all. From the world-famous Kruger National Park, to the quieter Madikwe Game Reserve, you’ll be spoilt for choice in South Africa.

Must-see wildlife

Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in all of Africa and South Africa’s crowning safari jewel. Home to 135 mammal species, Kruger boasts the Big Five, exceptional leopard sightings and remarkable rhino populations.

Head to the remote north for the highest concentration of elephants, the centre for cheetah, leopards, lions, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudus, giraffes and elephants, and the popular south for the highest numbers of wildlife including zebra, buffalo and white rhino.

If you prefer to escape the crowds of Kruger, head to the Kwandwe Game Reserve or the Madikwe Game Reserve – you’ll still find an incredible array of wildlife, but you’ll likely have the stunning wilderness all to yourself.

Beyond the national parks and reserves, you can also head to the coast to spot the whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins and penguins of South Africa.

Top activities

  • Drive along Cape Town’s coastal highway to Cape Point, stopping to see penguins at Boulders Beach and some spectacular viewpoints along the way
  • Take a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain
  • Go wine-tasting and explore the mountains of Franschhoek
  • Go whale and shark watching, mountain biking and forest trekking in Hermanus
  • Take a game drive through the great Kruger National Park
  • Drive the world-famous Garden Route – be sure to stop at the breathtaking Cango Caves
  • Explore the lesser-known national parks including Amakhala, Kwandwe and Madikwe Game Reserves
  • Roam the beautiful beaches of the Elephant Coast
  • Visit the historical region of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Go trekking – top spots include the Drakensberg Mountains or the Rim of Africa
  • Tee off at some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world
  • See the stunning wildflowers of the Cape Floral Region

Where to stay

South Africa boasts an array of incredible safari lodges and camps. In Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, you can choose from five different properties with access to a private airstrip.

The top properties include Melton Manor, with four lavish bedrooms overlooking the wilderness, and Ecca Lodge, with six gorgeous suites, three of which are perfect for families.

Stay on the Maputaland Coast, a wetland national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thonga Beach Lodge sits right on the shoreline and offer thatched suites with private plunge pools under the shade of the forest.

Visit La Petite Ferme for stunning views over the Franschhoek Valley, escape to the exclusive Dulini Leadwood Lodge in the Sabi Sands Reserve, or stay on the cliffs of Hermanus at the characterful Ocean Eleven Guest House.

Best time to go

South Africa is a large country with sunshine for most of the year. The dry winter months from May to September are best for game viewing, while the northern rainy season from November to February is ideal for bird watching.

The best time for whale watching is from July to November, and the Cape experiences a beautiful, hot summer from November to February.


Namibia is a desolate moonscape of sand seas, desert dunes, ghost towns and shipwrecks, yet it’s peppered with extraordinary natural wonders and thriving wildlife. See how the world’s most extreme landscapes come to life with a safari in Namibia.

Must-see wildlife

The Etosha National Park in northern Namibia offers some of the most ethereal wildlife viewing in Africa.

Home to 114 mammal species (including the Big Five) and nearly 400 bird species, you’ll search for elephants, giraffe, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest, jackals and black and white rhino in an otherworldly landscape.

Made up of a sweeping white salt pan, Etosha is strewn with bush and curious ‘upside down’ moringa trees.

Along with Africa’s most iconic animals, Etosha also boasts three rare antelope species, including the roan antelope, the black-faced impala, and the Damara dik-dik, Southern Africa’s smallest antelope.

Top activities

  • Take a game drive through the Etosha National Park
  • Go horse-riding, quad-biking and hot air ballooning over the blistering orange dunes of the Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert
  • Explore the barren clay pan of Deadvlei
  • Go sea kayaking, dolphin cruising, dune quad biking, fishing or take a desert eco tour in Swakopmund
  • Take a scenic flight to see the haunting shipwrecks of the Skeleton Coast
  • Explore the the photogenic ghost town of Kolmanskop, half-submerged in sand
  • Take a sunset walk with the San (formerly Bushmen) of the Kalahari, who are believed to be ancestors of all human beings due to their high genetic diversity
  • Take a flying safari for a bird’s eye-view of this jaw-dropping country

Where to stay

One of the highlights of a safari in Namibia are the superb accommodations, renowned for their unique locations and luxurious touches. Stay at the remote Serra Cafema camp in the Hartmann’s valley of northern Namibia. The luxurious chalets are perched on elevated decks by the Kunene River, with spectacular views of the surrounding desert.

Another highlight is the Hoanib Camp on the Skeleton Coast. With only eight tents located in a dry river bed in the isolated area of Kaokoveld, you’ll have a truly intimate safari experience.

Sleep in a tree house hideaway at Nambwa Tented Lodge, located along an elephant migratory route in Bwabwata National Park, or stay in an exclusive luxury villa on the edge of the Chobe river at Chobe Water Villas. Experience an up-close encounter with the rare black rhino at the Desert Rhino Camp and unwind in a rooftop skybed at Little Kulala in the Kulala Wilderness Reserve.

Best time to go

Namibia has pleasant temperatures year round, although the best time to visit is between July and August when animals gather around waterholes and are easier to spot.

The dry season runs from May until October, while the rainy season runs from November to April, bringing dramatic thunderstorms and fantastic photography opportunities.

Visitors in October can experience Namibia’s own Oktoberfest celebrations, extending from its German heritage.

Planning and Safety

Here are some important things to remember before heading off on your safari adventure:

  • Check the required visas and vaccinations in your destinations well before travelling. You’ll also need to prepare any medications you may need, such as malaria prophylactics.
  • Pack comfortable clothes and long layers in moisture-wicking materials – choose dark green, brown and khaki colours to blend in with the landscape and give yourself the best chance at spotting animals. For your feet, choose sturdy, worn-in boots with hard, rubber soles.
  • Do – bring a camera, binoculars, torch or head flashlight, reusable water bottle, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, waterproof bags, simple first aid kit, good quality sunglasses, portable chargers, and extra memory cards for all your beautiful pictures.
  • Don’tbring drones (illegal in east Africa), plastic bags (banned in many African countries including Kenya and Rwanda) or cliche camouflage clothing (it’s not necessary and actually banned in Zimbabwe).
  • Ensure you get travel insurance for protection in the event of illness, injury, delays and lost or damaged possessions.
  • Brush up on safari safety. Here are a few essential tips – always listen to your guides, never disturb the animals and stay quiet, don’t bring food or drink on a safari, no smoking or littering, always protect yourself from the sun, and minimise your use of technology to avoid disturbing the animals. Within your lodge or camp, you should never walk around at night, never store food or drink in your tent, and never swim in the rivers and lakes.
  • Respect the locals – Africa is full of wonderful and diverse cultures, and it’s important to treat everyone with respect during your safari holiday. Read up on the local culture of the destination you are visiting to avoid any offensive behaviour, or learn a few words in the local language – this can go a long way in helping to build a friendly rapport with the locals.

You should never take anyone’s photograph without permission and never offer children sweets or money. If you’d like to contribute to the community, a cash donation to the right organisation is generally the best way, and many lodges and camps across Africa run fantastic social and environmental programs.

  • General safety – you can get the most up-to-date information on your destinations from government travel advisories including the US, UK and Australian websites. Staying aware of current events and any political or civil unrest will ensure you have the safest safari experience possible.
  • Enjoy the moment – a safari in Africa is one of the most incredible experiences in the world. It’s at the top of the bucket list for many and is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t spend your holiday worrying about whether you’ll see all the animals on your list – wild animals are unpredictable and aren’t always guaranteed to appear. Instead, sit back and soak up the atmosphere – you’re on safari in the African wild!

With so many great destinations, activities and accommodations to choose from, planning a safari holiday in Africa can get overwhelming.

We recommend speaking with a safari travel specialist who will work with you to customise every aspect and create your dream safari holiday.

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