Planning an African Safari

Northern Summer 2008

Autumn is official in the northern hemisphere, Spring has sprung in the South!

Our UK team skipped the safaris and went on show - what on earth happened to the British summer!! 

July and August saw us exhibiting at the British BirdFair, CLA Game Fair and Scottish Game Fair.

With so many divergent views on the best parts of Africa at different times of year we’ve come back and summarised a series of approaches that should fit next season well.

Here goes...


Planning an African Safari

An over-simplified approach to planning depending on whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveller (or perhaps a first-timer with a special interest).  Map of East and Southern Africa

Where, why and when for first-timers 

We recommend either East (Tanzania or Kenya) or Southern Africa (Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Malawi) – don’t try combining the two regions in one trip. 

  • East Africa has been the traditional choice for most, historically dominated by “package tours”.  Best for safari and beach combinations – very popular July to September and January/February.  
  • Southern Africa offers significantly more choice and over the last 20 years its safari industry has seen better development.  Best for wildlife – good at anytime of year.

East Africa for first timers

In East Africa, the annual wildebeest migration is the big attraction seen from either Tanzania or Kenya. 

The region traditionally has two rainy seasons, the “short” rain in November, the “long rains” in April and May (unlike southern Africa, East Africa’s camps are mostly closed during the rains). 

Main access is via Nairobi (Kenya), Arusha or Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). 

Map of TanzaniaMap of Kenya

As a very “rough rule”, Tanzania offers good diversity and the best wildlife in the north (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, Manyara) and the south and west (Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale) with good beach options on Zanzibar and Pemba. 

Applying the same “rough rule”, Kenya offers good wildlife (particularly in the Masai Mara and Amboseli) generally far more diversity (Laikipia, Meru, the Northern Frontier District, the Rift Valley) and arguably better beach options around Lamu and Malindi.Crocs awaiting a Mara crossing

Generally East Africa is good to visit anytime except May, June and November.  Get the timing right for the migration (go to our notes on how to plan a migration safari ).   

  • Best in Kenya’s Mara from July to October – book a year in advance for the best small camps to avoid the worst of the crowds. 
  • Tanzania’s northern circuit is good for the migration at any time but best from January to April in the southern Serengeti and again from August to November in the north. 
  • Tanzania’s south and remoter western spots offer the best of East Africa’s resident big game in Mikumi, Selous, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale (for chimps). 
  • For East Africa’s beaches, Kenya’s Lamu archipelago is good from September to December and best in February and March.  Tanzania’s coastline and Zanzibar is good from June to March (go to the right places).

So in East Africa - for the best wildlife go to Tanzania any time during the season; for best diversity and beaches go to Kenya

If planning a safari/beach combination then August/September is better for wildlife, February/March is better for beaches.

Wildebeest crossing the Mara


First time in southern Africa

Map of southern AfricaSouthern Africa has a “green season” from November to April with most rain falling in February/March – the main safari season runs from May to October with game conditions improving steadily as the season progresses. 

The region has loads of diversity, excellent wildlife, a broad range of safari options to suit all tastes and budgets. 

Johannesburg is the main international hub, Victoria Falls is the one “must-see” spot.

Zambia: our favourite southern Africa’s best safari spot; best wildlife in the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi valleys; must-see for Victoria Falls; best for walking safaris; excellent value; excellent guides.

Walking safari in Mana Pools, lower ZambeziBotswana: traditionally southern Africa’s most exclusive safari spot; best wildlife in the Moremi and Chobe; best known for the Okavango Delta; easily combined with Victoria Falls; relatively high prices keep the crowds at bay; excellent green season value from December to March.

Namibia: nowhere in Africa offers such dramatic and rugged scenery; best done on a self-drive or fly in basis; predominantly a scenic and cultural experience, wild life not prolific; good value.

Zimbabwe: forget the politics for a moment; best canoe safaris in Africa and probably the best walking too (look into Mana Pools and Matusadona); excellent guides, warm hosts; excellent value.

South Africa: very easy, fairly tame (bar crime in some spots); untouched for variety; apart from Cape Town skip the cities and get into some quieter and more productive spots; renowned for excellent cuisine and fine wines with first class accommodation.

Mozambique: great for beach breaks and unparalleled for honeymooners but can involve costly logistics.  For “safari and beach” combinations for first timers, go to Kenya.


Safaris for seasoned travellers

Birding: anywhere is good from November to April!  Uganda, Gabon, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa offer amongst the best safari habitats for birders.  Absolute best is late October to mid December.

 Ethiopian Purple RollerCrowned crane, Kampala

Gorillas: permits for mountain gorillas in Uganda/Rwanda are easy; lowland gorillas in Gabon need time/patience/tolerance; options in CAR/Congo are good and as yet not mainstream.  Any time of year.  [...see Primate Safaris]

 Ivindo gorillas

Chimps: Kibale in Uganda, Mahale in Tanzania offer totally different experiences.  Any time of year.  Expect some tough tracking in June and January. [...see Primate Safaris]

 Mahale chimp portrait 1Chimp handMahale chimpMahale chimp portrait

Big game: Luangwa, Mana Pools, Hwange, Moremi, Linyanti, Chobe, Katavi, Selous, Ruaha – dry season peaks in October.

Lions: Lower Zambezi, Okavango and Linyanti from May to November; Queen Elizabeth NP’s Ishasha area for tree-climbing lions; Katavi’s Kapapa River in September to November; Kidepo Valley in north Uganda.

 Savuti lions, Botswana

Elephants: Mana Pools, Linyanti, Chobe, the Luangwa, Selous, Katavi, Amboseli.

 elephant approach - SelousMatriarch with elephant calfLuangwa Bulls

Wild dogs: Moremi and Linyanti in June; Selous in July/August; South Luangwa in green season.

 Luangwa wild dog (courtesy Andy Hogg)Luangwa wild dog (courtesy Shenton Safaris)Wild dog portrait

Leopards: the South Luangwa and southern Kafue anytime between May and October

 Leopard portraitLuangwa leopardLeopard portrait

Cheetah: go to Okavango/Linyanti, Namibia or Kenya’s Mara from June to October

 Cheetah portrait - NamibiaCheetah surveying Serengeti

Wildebeest migration in East Africa: use a mobile camp or take a walking safari and go late October/early November to northern Serengeti.

 Wildebeest migration in southern Africa: join a small group and go to Liuwa Plains in western Zambia in December, May or June; visit the Makgadikgadi Pans around March.

 Northern Serengeti - Tanzania (courtesy Nomad Safaris)

Bats! Visit Zambia in November for the convergence of millions of “straw-coloured fruit bats” as they descend on Kasanka National Park

 Kasanka Bats, courtesy Robin Pope Safaris

History and culture: visit Ethiopia and the historical sites of Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar; explore Lamu or Stonetown for Swahili culture; explore some of South Africa’s recent past through battlefields and townships.

  Surma woman - Ethiopia

Safari-Beach combinations: go to Kenya or Cape Town in February/March; Zambia and Mozambique in September/October; Seychelles in May to September; Madagascar in October/November; and for fresh water beaches combine Katavi with Mahale or the Luangwa with Malawi between May and October.

  Mauritius beach shotNorth Island SeychellesZanzibar by Noel

Active safaris: canoe the lower Zambezi anytime of year; take a walking safari in Mana Pools, the Luangwa or Selous between June and October; go trekking in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains for the Rwenzoris from Uganda.

  lower Zambezi canoeing

Educational encounters: go to Victoria Falls to walk with lions and take an elephant back trail; do work as a chimp caregiver on Ngamba Island; spend some time anywhere in the company of the best guides 

  elephants at Victoria Fallslion cubs at Victoria Fallslion cub at Victoria Falls

Family safaris: get the kids active in the Kenyan bush and beaches; combine Victoria Falls with Botswana or Zambia; take a malaria free safari to the Kruger and Cape;

  Camel trekking - Lewa Wilderness, KenyaKariba Kids, Zambezi ValleyLake Tanganyika, Tanzania

Secluded spots: seek out some real gems in Tanzania’s western corridor; venture further north on Kenya’s coast or the northern Frontier District; visit the Kidepo Valley and Semliki in Uganda or Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.

Secluded in Namibia


A note on the "green season"

Africa’s wet seasons have traditionally been left to residents and seasoned travellers to discover how good a time of year it actually is! 

Whether we talk of East Africa’s rains in November and April/May or southern Africa’s wet season from November to April, if there’s access then it’s worth exploring – not only because you’re going to avoid the crowds!

Here’s why...

  • There’s little dust, skies and clouds are dramatic, colours are vibrant and light conditions are ideal for photography through the day. save in the green season
  • The regions are awash with migrant birds, mostly in breeding plumage and all well nourished by an abundance of insects and fresh seeds.
  • The African bush is green and lush and whilst game is often dispersed, large nursery and breeding herds are easily found and seasonal fruits from wild mangos to marulas attract game in good numbers. 
  • It’s the least expensive time of year – best rates and no single supplements!

Best "green season" places in southern Africa include the Luangwa and Zambezi valleys; Botswana’s Moremi, Okavango, Linyanti, Chobe; Cape Town and the Western Province; Victoria Falls.

Best "green season" places in East Africa include the Serengeti, Manyara, Katavi and Mahale in November to mid December during the short rains.  Kenya and Uganda are especially good for birding from October to March.

Contact us for more info on our "green season" safaris during 2008/2009.



Last minute specials – October and November: if you’re flexible with dates then we have some super discounts – speak to Chris, Sam or Jools about Zambia and Botswana especially. 

Single Travellers:  We've waived single supplements for last minute bookings in the Luangwa and lower Zambezi until June 2009.

Zambezi rafting – 5 day expeditions:  the following trips are running with space available and no single supplements – departing Victoria Falls on 16 and 30 September, 14 and 28 October, 11 and 25 November.  Speak to Jools.

Kenya:  The US Department of State softened its travel warning to Kenya on 22 August in a bid to expand travel and trade between the two countries. 

The two governments have already signed an Open Skies agreement that permits the expansion of routes and frequency of flights that would stimulate travel to Kenya from the US.  If you’re planning on travelling to Kenya next summer then it’d be a good idea to provisionally reserve some space.

Zimbabwe:  Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office softened its travel advisory on 26 August – “we no longer advise against all but essential travel to Zimbabwe”.   Our advice hasn’t changed – Zimbabwe Travel Advice

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Northern Summer 2008
Planning an African Safari
East Africa for first timers
First time in southern Africa
Safaris for seasoned travellers
A note on the "green season"

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