Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
A safari is the trip of a lifetime, and dozens of decisions go into making it unforgettable. Perhaps the biggest decision you’ll face when choosing a safari, however, is “Where should I go on safari?”
Many African countries offer safaris, but the experience varies widely depending on where you go. Here’s what you can expect if you travel to:
The Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra in the Serengeti eco-system
Home to a wide variety of landscapes, from dense forests to iconic savannahs, Tanzania has some of the most robust wildlife populations in Africa. Travelers have a good chance of spotting all of the “Big Five” species (possibly in a single day on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater), and lodging options span the entire range, from budget to ultra-luxury.
The island of Zanzibar offers a relaxing pre- or post-safari chance to lounge on white sand beaches. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the country still receives far fewer tourists than neighboring Kenya, meaning even its best-known sites are rarely crowded.
Consistently ranked a favorite safari spot, the country does have one drawback: you may not be able to fit all the things you’d like to do in Tanzania into one visit!
Tanzania is home to more lions than Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia combined!
Perhaps the best known safari destination, Kenya has a robustly developed tourist industry, which gives travelers many safari-planning options.
Decades of development, however, mean that Kenya’s wildlife populations have thinned significantly. Beyond that, its international reputation as a safari destination means most of its best-known safari locales are regularly crowded with tourists.
Home to Victoria Falls, a truly magnificent waterfall, Zambia offers travelers stunning scenery, especially along the Zambezi river. Wildlife enthusiasts might be happier elsewhere, however; Travelers are unlikely to spot all of the “Big Five” creatures here, due to limited populations of some of these beloved species.
A highly-developed tourist industry makes South Africa a good pick for ultra-luxury travelers. Beaches and wineries abound, and trendy cosmopolitan areas with a Western feel offer a familiar form of glitz.
All this luxury means that truly wild experiences are hard to come by. Fenced parks and highly controlled animal populations mean South Africa lacks the wilderness element many safari travelers are seeking.
Known for its desert habitat, Namibia offers a unique safari experience, but one some travelers find limited. Animal populations are sparse and several major species are hard or impossible to track down.
Uganda is well known for its colonies of both chimps and mountain gorillas, a fascinating species rarely spotted in the wild.
Unfortunately, populations of other major species are much smaller than in neighboring Kenya and Tanzania. Moreover, the country’s tourism industry is still underdeveloped, and travelers sometimes complain about low-quality accommodations and infrastructure issues.
Though Zimbabwe boasts impressive wildlife populations and lovely scenery (including views of Victoria Falls), political instability in the country has left many travelers wary of visiting. Though major parks are being maintained, facilities and wildlife viewing have been impacted by the regime, and traveler safety is a concern.
Diverse scenery, including the fascinating Okavanga Delta, make Botswana a good place to view a variety of wildlife in unspoiled surroundings.
Expect to pay for the privilege, however; Botswana is known for being a very expensive destination, with few budget, or even mid-level options for travelers.
Which safari destination is right for you?
When considering your ideal safari, think about what you’d like to see, what you’d like to spend, and the authenticity of the experience you’re hoping for. With those things in mind, you’ll be certain to pick the destination that best fulfills your safari dreams!
Author: Thomson Safaris
Thomson Safaris has been providing photographic Tanzania safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro treks for over 35 years.