As my next safari in Tanzania is approaching I though it would be a good time to summarize the things I think anyone planning a safari in Africa should be aware of. I went on my first safari already in 2000 in Masai Mara & Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and since have visited also Kruger and Pilanesberg in South Africa, and Tanzania’s Serengeti, Ngorongoro (my favorite!!) and Tarangire.
Where to go in Africa?
When considering where to go, there are couple of things to consider:
- Time of the year: The amount of animals you see and the weather may be very different during different times of the year.
- For example, if you plan on going during summer, and prefer warm weather, you should stick to central Africa (Tanzania is a great choice) as weather there is warm year round, whereas in South Africa it gets cold during the summer months and the mornings at the safari can be close to zero. On the other hand, Tanzania has a rainy season in March-April which you may also want to avoid.
- Amount of animals: The amount of animals you see depends on the season. Also, if you’re visiting just after the rainy season has ended it may be more difficult to see the animals as the vegetation is so lush.
- Check here for the best times to visit:
- How many days you want/can spend on the safari?
- If you only have 1-2 days, I would actually highly recommend Pilanesberg in South Africa. It is just few hours drive north of Johannesburg and offers some great lodges and game viewing.
- If you’re looking for something longer, then depending what your other plans are, the bigger game parks such as Serengeti etc in Tanzania and Kruger in South Africa are good options, but getting to the parks takes some time so you wouldn’t want to necessarily go there just for a day or two.
- And by the way: My first safari was 7 days and I did not get bored!!! After that I have done mainly 3 day trips which are typically enough to see the big 5 in all parks. But, if it’s your first time, I think a 5-day safari would be optimal.
My favorite safari destination so far is Ngorogoro which is simply stunning! It’s a 16km wide crater inside which you have kind of like nature’s own zoo, except of course the animals are free to come and go as they please. The park always has plenty of animals and due to limited vegetation you see them all! And I never forget the first look we got of the crater: it’s magical!
Beyond the places I’ve visited
- Here’s a good list of all options in Africa.
- Or you can check these other blogs (I’m adding new ones all the time): Ethiopia. Gorillas in Congo
What is this “big five” everyone is talking about?
Big five is something you typically see in all adds about a safari. It was originally the term used for the 5 animals that are the most difficult and dangerous to hunt: the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo. Out of these five, the most difficult to see, in my opinion, is the leopard. There’s very few of them, they don’t really move and instead hide in the trees. At the same time many parks have also a very limited number of rhinos due to the extensive poaching still unfortunately happening in many African parks.
You can see the big five in many places, especially if you’re spending more than 3 days on a safari. However, it can never be guaranteed. Based on my experience, Ngorongoro was great because you’re pretty much guaranteed to see at least 4 of these 5 in one day, only the leopard is a bit of a challenge.
Cost & types of accommodation
Going on a safari is not cheap, and options e.g. in Tanzania vary from camping to Luxurious resorts charging even thousands of euros a night. I’ve both been to a camping safari as well as mid/high end safari’s, and none of them have been cheap. This is for 2 reasons:
- The entrance fees to most parks are already typically minimum 100 USD/day/person, and you need to pay extra for your guide and car.
- The accomodation options are limited and number of them controlled especially inside the parks, and you have to pay extra to stay over night in the park. So even when camping, accomodation per night is easily 50-100 USD/night/person.
The cheapest option is typically to stay outside the official area of the park and just visit the parks during the days, but this of course always means extra time sitting in the car.
Check here for our lodge near Kruger and one of the camping grounds we visited last time in Ngorongoro.
Other thing to consider when choosing your accommodation is if you wish to stay just in one lodge for your entire safari and just do day trips, or change your lodge every night. Both Kruger and Serengeti/Ngorongoro/Tarangire areas are huge, and you can only cover them properly if you change accommodation every night. And please note, even if distances wouldn’t look long, the roads are often not in “mint” condition so drives may take quite a long time.
Self guided safari or using a tour company?
Some of the parks do allow people driving inside the parks in their own vehicles, but even after having been to a safari many times and a tour being an extra cost, I would still always very strongly recommend booking an official safari company to take you. This is why:
- They can tell you so many interesting things about animals
- You see much more animals as the guides know where the animals typically spend time and also continuously stay in touch with other guides in the same park to get latest info on where e.g. someone has spotted a lion
- You see much better and much further from the safari jeeps (seats are higher & windows larger/or non existing)
- It’s much safer to be with someone who is trained to read the behavior of the animals and know when and how close to an elephant you should actually drive with the car at that specific moment
If you are staying in a private game reserve, the safari rides are sometimes at least to some extent included in the price of your stay (this is the case at e.g the Black Rhino reserve in Pilanesberg) and even if they would not be included, they can be organized through your accommodation which is what we did while in Kruger (read more about our trip here).
In Tanzania and Kenya we booked with safari companies who took care of everything and it made everything very convenient. Last time for our low budget camping safari in Tanzania we used Merutreks which we were happy with but I’ve noticed recently they have also gotten some bad reviews. This time our Tanzanian safari includes much more luxurious accommodations and we’re using EarthLife Expeditions which has gotten raving reviews so we are super excited!!!
No matter which safari operator you choose, I highly recommend using safaribookings.com and only going with an operator with a lot of positive reviews. And to think about in advance if you want to do a private safari or join a group which is much cheaper if you are just 1-2 people. I’ve done both as especially if we’ve been travelling as a couple we’ve really liked talking to other travelers and hearing their stories. Going with a group however means the agenda is more fix and less adjustable to your needs. When going with bigger group like we’re doing in two weeks, we naturally have a private safari.
Malaria and other health risks
Most places where you would go for a safari have Malaria. While it’s not something to put you away from going on a safari, it is serious and in 2015 there were more than 200 million malaria cases and an estimated 429 000 malaria deaths. However, if you protect yourself with medication and insect repellent, and if the rare case would happen and you’re infected with malaria you get yourself properly treated, the risks are very low to my knowledge.
But, you still need to be prepared:
- Get yourself malaria medication before entering a Malaria area (Kruger, Tanzania & Kenya all have it, but e.g. Pilanesberg doesn’t). You should always visit a doctor to discuss which drug fits you best, but I always take Malarone as it is the one with least side effect, although it is very expensive. Here you can learn more about the options.
- Bring with you strong insect repellent (with min. 25% consistency of DEET) and prepare with long sleeved shirts and pants for the the time between sunset and sunrise which is when the malaria mosquitoes fly.
Beyond Malaria, you should also make sure your basic vaccinations are still valid and if you are traveling to for example Kenya, you should also make sure to take yellow fever vaccination which is required to enter the country. It’s always best to check here or with your local health authorities for recommendations for Tanzania and other place.
Is going on a safari safe? Well nothing is 100% safe, but if you plan well, use local trusted companies to organize everything and drive you around on the safari, don’t flash your expensive jewelry, don’t go wandering outside in dark in the cities or beaches you visit before/after your safari, you should in most cases be fine.
One thing you should always be aware of is that safety situations may change even very quickly e.g. due to politics, and that is why I always recommend you check the latest travel bulletins for the country you’re visiting. Here you can find them for some of the most common safari destinations: Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya.
Other tips & things to be aware
Here also couple of other tips and things to know:
- Book a lodge that has a watering hole in front of it!
- One thing I always recommend to anyone going on a safari is to book an accommodation which has a watering hole in front of it since this means you can see the animals even when staying at your lodge. I’ve had some amazing breakfasts looking at for example giraffes just in front of my lodge!
- Prepare for the cold morning/evenings
- The best time to see animals is during early mornings / late evenings. this means it may get significantly colder than during the day, and of course that the mosquitoes are out! So check the temperatures for night time in advance & prepare with warm enough clothes! I remember myself freezing at an early morning safari in Pilanesberg during spring time!!
I hope you found my tips useful, and happy to hear if you have some questions or ideas on how to improve the article!
I’ve been on a few safaris as well (TZ and SA) and I totally second all your tips, especially the one with booking a lodge/camp with a watering hole in front of it! Awesome article and very informative! 🙂
So happy you like it! And yes, it’s a small detail but so important 🙂
I really want to go back to Africa and experience at least one more safari! I’ve been to so many countries there but I’ve only done a few safaris.
Africa is a place that steals your heart, doesn’t it! And I’ve myself also developed an addiction for safaris 😂 I hope you get to go back soon!
I have never been on a safari, but I in search of any and all information on Africa. Thank you for a well thought out, and thorough post. This will definitely help in my trip planning. You’re a life saver!! Quite literally because yours is the first blog that has mentioned malaria.
I’m so happy you found this helpful! And so weird no one else talks about malaria – while it shouldn’t prevent you from travelling it’s very serious and something to be aware of. I take risks all the time when I travel but the key is understanding those risks in advance.
Thanks for sharing! I have been wondering if I will get bored in a 7-day safari but regarding your post not at all 🙂
Really hard to think anyone would! Although personally would recommend maybe 5 days to most people. Especially if you visit very different areas/parks with different vegetation and animals, and if you like the places where you stay (when we stayed in tents without proper pillows and ate every day the same cold food it did start influencing), you won’t get bored in 7 days!