Just about every enthusiastic globetrotter has "Safari in Africa" on their bucket list. But when it comes to planning, it gets down to the nitty-gritty: When is the best time to go where, what equipment should you take on safari, and what else should you look out for?
With its fantastic landscape under the red sun, its proud cultures and its exotic biodiversity, the black continent is one of the most fascinating travel destinations on our planet. If you want to get to know the flora and fauna, as well as the country and its people on a safari in Africa, you should take a few things into account when planning in advance. With our tips, the big game hunt with the camera will be a success!
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Travel, accommodation, tour guide: plan safari in time
Flights or accommodations should be reserved at least half a year in advance, especially for the high season from June to October. There are hardly any last-minute bargains on long-haul flights and the camps and lodges in the national parks are usually small and quickly booked up.
Of course, everyone would prefer to explore the fascinating wildlife of Africa on their own. However, in most cases it pays off (and is even obligatory in some national parks) to have a knowledgeable guide with you or to book a guided tour with a qualified tour operator.
The experienced guides contribute a large part to a successful safari. They know in detail at what time and in which places the most animals can be seen, point out wildlife that the layman would never have discovered, give information about the flora and fauna and last but not least pay attention to proper behavior and safety of the safari participants.
In addition, as a safari vacationer, you get to enjoy night game drives, hikes on foot, or a scenic flight in a small plane or hot air balloon - things you could never experience in the African bush on your own!
Best time to travel for safari in Africa
The best time to go on an African safari depends largely on the destination. In the south and east, European summer is best, while in the north, European winter is recommended.
In Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania , the months from June to September or October are considered the best safari time. This is the dry season, when the wild animals are less able to hide in the sparse vegetation and congregate at the ever-shrinking waterholes. During the hot and humid rainy season, the savannah is covered with lush greenery and blooming wildflowers.
In Namibia and South Africa, the best safari travel time is in the southern hemisphere winter from May to August. In the other months it is simply too hot with temperatures up to 50°C.
In the rainforests of Uganda, the two dry seasons are between December and March and between June and August (somewhat wetter). During the rainy seasons the rainfall is also halfway within limits, but between the lush green the animals are more difficult to spot and some tracks are only passable with a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Top highlights of the Black Continent
Great Migration - the largest ungulate herds in the world
Every year from July to October, millions of ungulates, accompanied by thousands of hungry predators, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya before turning back in December - always following the rain.
The antelopes, zebras and wildebeests then give birth to their young in the rainy season from January to March in the southeast of the Serengeti in Tanzania. The millions of flamingos at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania or Lake Bogoria in Kenya breed in April and May.
The up to 40km long ungulate trains also cross the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Here the wildlife is easy to observe all year round, as even during the rainy season only short showers are to be expected. The driest time with the most wildlife is between June and November.
Ascent of Kilimanjaro
If you want to combine the wildlife safari with a summit climb on Kilimanjaro, it is best to do so from January to February. Then it is warmest, sufficiently dry and the air clearest for breathtaking distant views from the highest free-standing peak in the world. But also during the second dry season from August to October the climate is suitable for Kilimanjaro trekking.
Flower Safaris in South Africa
In the South African spring from July to October, the lush vegetation at Cape Floral is in bloom. The region with the greatest plant diversity in the world then disappears under a colorful carpet of over 20,000 species. In the 22,000-hectare Table Mountain National Park alone, more plant species thrive than in all of New Zealand.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
The dry season from December to March is the best time to visit the Ugandan rainforest. During the rainy season, the roads are impassable in many places and the high humidity is considered extremely uncomfortable with temperatures around 30°C. Also in July and August the weather is a bit drier, but the risk of rain showers is higher than in the European summer.
The best countries for safari in Africa
Namibia - best time to travel May to August
Namibia is considered a "safari beginner's country". Here, the roads are safe to drive on and the infrastructure is well developed for tourists. In Etoshaand Namib-Naukluft National Park Besides wildlife, there are also some other scenic attractions among our top 10 sights of Namibia, such as the largest canyon in Africa or the highest sand dunes in the world in Sossusvlei.
South Africa - best time to travel May to August
South Africa is worth a trip first and foremost because of its breathtaking landscape. The Drakensberg Mountains, the Kalahari, the Cape of Good Hope, the Cederberg Wilderness Area or the Cape Floral offer paradisiacal settings for nature lovers and outdoor vacationers. Among all these unforgettable sceneries, of course, the wildlife is not to be neglected, which can be discovered especially in the Kruger National Park. The country's largest game reserve is home to 10,000 elephants and several thousand big cats.
Kenya - best time to travel June to October
The classic safari country with luxurious lodges, best infrastructure, numerous guided tours and accordingly many people. In the most popular safari areas, like the Masai Mara or Lake Nakuru National Park, you often can't see the animals anymore because of all the safari cars. But there are also less touristy areas, like the Tsavo National Parks, the Samburu National Park or some privately managed reserves.
Tanzania - best time to travel June to October
Tanzania is just as touristy as Kenya. Especially at the wildlife hot spots, such as the world-famous Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater, countless visitors want to experience the fascinating wildlife of Africa. However, great efforts are made to create an authentic African safari feeling. Not a single protected area is fenced in, not a single national park road is paved. And apart from the popular national parks, there is also one or the other spot in Tanzania where the wildlife is still almost to oneself.
Uganda - best time to travel December to March
In Uganda they still exist: some of the last landscapes untouched by man. In the completely natural rainforests of the Bwindi National Park live the endangered mountain gorillas, in the wild Rwenzori Mountains mighty rivers like the Nile rise from glaciated peaks and at the Murchison Falls the longest river in the world plunges 43m into the depths - into the jaws of numerous Nile crocodiles.
Rwanda - best time to travel June to September
In Rwanda, too, the mountain gorillas are the undisputed safari stars. In two national parks these fascinating animals live under strict protection together with a number of other primates. In addition to the rainforest, a savannah national park in Rwanda offers a typical African feeling with zebras, buffalos, hippos, giraffes and antelopes.
Where are the most safari animals to see?
The largest wildlife populations in Africa are found in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The crater of an extinct volcano is home to the most wildlife in the world measured per square meter. Also in the Masai Mara in Kenya or in the Kruger National Park in South Africa unforgettable meetings with the proud wild animals are guaranteed. South Africa also has a large number of privately managed reserves with hardly any tourists, offering exclusive (and high-priced) safari tours.
If you don't want to miss a certain species, you can check our list of animals per national park or protected area.
What is the best safari clothing?
Since it is rather hot and humid in most typical safari countries, the choice of clothing for a safari should fall on light and breathable clothing in onion look including headgear. Functional underwear that dries quickly after a surprise downpour and is easy to clean is ideal.
Long-sleeved shirts and a sweater should nevertheless also be in the suitcase. Firstly, they protect against the sun, insects and prickly bushes, and secondly, it can get quite chilly at night in some places, even in the African bush. Since most game drives take place early in the morning or late in the evening in an open safari car, you will be glad to have a jacket and sweater.
Sandals and flip flops are out of place on safari, footwear should be closed, non-slip, water repellent and comfortable even on long marches.
Flashy colors should rather be avoided, as they can scare off animals (what is naturally brightly colored is usually poisonous or otherwise dangerous). Light, earthy tones such as khaki, beige, ocher or olive are ideal, as they keep out heat as well as insects.
Packing List: What do I need to take on safari?
Apart from the appropriate clothing, the following items should ideally be included in your luggage:
- Cell phone, camera or camera with a strong telephoto lens, charger and enough memory for the shots.
- Travel plug (adapter type G and D)
- Sun protection (headgear, long-sleeved clothing, sunscreen with SPF 30 and above).
- Mosquito repellent (ideally buy locally, as it then also keeps the right insects away), possibly mosquito net
- waterproof day backpack or fanny pack for smaller trips
- sufficiently large drinking bottle or backpack with water bladder
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Plastic bags for garbage or damp or dirty laundry
- Guidebook or identification book for animals and plants
Patience pays off
Wildlife viewing requires time, calmness and patience. Who expects to discover all Big 5 on the 1st safari day, will probably be disappointed. Especially the big cats are rarely seen. Where you are most likely to see which animals varies from country to country and national park to national park.
In principle, however, at least 3-4 days should be planned for a successful safari. The smaller the reserve and the greater the number of wild animals, the higher the chance of seeing even the shyest savannah inhabitants. Also, at the end of the dry season (usually from August), the game drives are most successful when the animals gather at the increasingly smaller waterholes.
The most wildlife can be found for example in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, in the Masai Mara in Kenya, in the Kruger National Park in South Africa or in the Etosha National Park in Namibia. Even in the privately managed game reserves of South Africa, it often takes less than 2 days to discover all representatives of the Big 5.
Rules of conduct: Here's what to watch out for on safari
Especially in regions that may be explored without a guide, you should carefully observe certain rules that protect people, animals and the environment. The classic rule "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints" applies to every national park worldwide. Garbage, etc. must definitely be taken back and safari souvenirs are available in the designated stores, nowhere else (and even there you should refrain from dubious souvenirs of animal or vegetable origin).
For your own safety, do not leave the marked trails under any circumstances , unless it is expressly permitted. Getting too close to the animals or scaring them with loud noises etc. can be dangerous, as wild animals quickly feel threatened. And even the seemingly lethargic buffalo or elephant can chase a human very quickly if it comes down to it.
All important rules are posted in the national parks or explained by tour guides. If you follow them and act responsibly towards nature, you are on the safe side.
How can I combine safari vacation in Africa?
Several days of safari can be quite exhausting and after a week at the latest, many safari vacationers have had enough of savannah, acacias and hoofed animals. Especially if you have traveled from another continent, however, it would be a shame to fly home again after the safari - because Africa has so much more to offer besides game drives and big game viewing.
A final beach vacation is particularly popular on the sandy beaches of the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, which also offers Stone Town, an interesting old town with historic buildings made of coral stone. Cape Town in South Africa, Swakopmund in Namibia and Mombasa in Kenya also have a lot to offer in terms of history and culture - including UNESCO World Heritage sites.