Definitive Guide On Where to Safari in Africa
A lion sleeps on a dusty savannah, one eye open to watch you pass. This is Africa. Hundreds of elephants gather along a riverbank, some splashing, others using their trunks as snorkels. This is also Africa. A thousand zebra huddle together on lush grasslands, bashful black rhinos emerge from the bushes, upwards of a million wildebeest are on the move. It’s all Africa, the continent where you come face to face with wild nature. So where to safari in Africa? In the places that most excite your imagination.
Safari isn’t a documentary of scenes carefully spliced together; it’s far too exciting and surprising for that. Distinctive habitats support different wildlife populations. Each wild ecosystem has its subtlety and nuance, making generalizations challenging. For us, planning where to safari in Africa doesn’t start with a question about which country or park: why start the journey by restricting its possibility? Instead, where to safari in Africa starts with a very different consideration – the type of safari destination.
Nature Thrives in Africa’s Best Safari Destinations
From the Serengeti grasslands to the Chobe woodlands and Kruger bushveld, Africa is where nature thrives. This is our planet’s last great wilderness, enjoyed by hundreds of mammal species and everyone who comes on an African safari. Animals roam freely here, oblivious to unfenced park boundaries. However, access for people is restricted. That’s part of the conservation process and helps your safari feel exclusive.
Premium locations generate increased interest. An area that’s abnormally dense in wildlife numbers, or is home to rare and endangered animals, is in high demand, much like a famous visitor attraction anywhere else in the world: more people want the experience because it’s so good. But conservation suffers when large numbers of visitors crowd around one particular place. Ancient habitats can be easily damaged and wildlife moves on, to quieter less adulterated lands.
We firmly subscribe to the mantra that limited people paying more for safari is both better for conservation and the guest experience. Precocious ecosystems can only support so much, and when there are so many on four legs there isn’t much room for those on two legs. This same mantra is pervasive across most of Africa’s prime wildlife locations, which have been gazetted as private concessions. And like the real estate market in any major city, these concessions are distinguished by an unapologetic exclusivity.
The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.
Where to Safari in Africa? National Parks vs Private Concessions.
National parks and national reserves are places where nature can thrive. They extend on an enormous scale, sometimes covering tens of thousands of square miles. Their boundaries prohibit urban development and help keep wildernesses wild. National parks are a country’s marker of conservation and can be visited by anyone who pays the public entrance fee.
Private concessions may or may not share unfenced borders with national parks and reserves; sometimes they are completely surrounded by a national park. They are part of the same ecosystem, but the land is privately, rather than publicly, managed. Visitor access is restricted to guests staying at a camp or lodge inside the concession. Less people can enter a private concession, and this relative tranquility subsequently leads to an increased wildlife density.
AT A GLANCE SAFARI DESTINATIONS
Understanding Where to Safari in Africa
Safari tourism provides the foundation for genuine conservation, generating funds that help wildernesses pay for themselves (important in our planet’s era of overpopulation and scarce resources). Every park and concession must balance conservation with visitor demand. Rather than restricting numbers, most national parks impose other limitations. Typically these mean that visitors must stick to certain trails, activities and times. It’s still a wonderful experience and without pioneering national parks there wouldn’t be private concessions.
Such restrictions are rarer in private concessions. By driving off the trail you can get closer to certain animals and scenes, especially predatory cats. Driving at night, walking in the wild, biking or horse riding may become possibilities. You’ll encounter the same animals as in the national park, just experienced through a prism of heightened intimacy. You can get closer to the drama and you’re sometimes all alone, typically never more than two vehicles around a specific scene at one time. Understandably, this exclusivity comes with an elevated price tag: private concessions are the most expensive of Africa’s safari destinations.
Where to Safari in Africa – The Best National Parks
9 INCREDIBLE AFRICAN NATIONAL PARKS (THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF)
National parks are all about scale and the figures are staggering: spotting one elephant is special, watching hundreds upon hundreds is unfathomable. The wildlife moves freely, spreading thinly during the wetter green season then congregating around water in the dry months. Vast areas of national parks may reveal little but scorched landscape and eerie silence. Other areas seem like a perpetual wildlife documentary. While you won’t be alone in admiring the wildlife, national parks still provide incredible safari memories. Sometimes there isn’t a concession to choose in the area, Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater a good example of this.
When choosing where to safari in Africa we’d recommend being picky about where you stay in a national park, paying attention to how much time you have. Look for accommodation within the national park, rather than just outside the park boundary. Consider less accessible areas as these aren’t crowded by day-tripping visitors, especially in large national parks. And remember, the more days you spend on safari the more you are going to experience. So it doesn’t need to be a straight choice between a national park or a private concession. We specialize in combining the best of both.
Where to Safari in Africa – Private Concessions
Where to safari in Africa for the most intimate experiences? We know that most of the best experiences are found in private concessions or exclusive areas of national parks. A lion pride prowls in the dusk light. Bold and brazen the cats harass a buffalo herd, seeking to isolate a pre-identified calf. The buffalo respond, clouds of dust emanating from their impromptu charge. It’s getting darker and soon you’re following the scene by spotlight and sound, adding mystique to the drama. Will the hunt be successful? That’s unknown. Importantly, you’re permitted to continue the safari after dark, rather than return to camp. Poignantly, there is only one other safari vehicle in view.
I have this intense sense of relaxation and normality here. To lose myself in the bush with what I would call the most down to earth people on the planet, people who would sacrifice everything for the betterment of nature.
The next morning you’re walking around, safely gaining a new perspective on the concession’s ungulate population. Another afternoon and you go off the trail to a leopard’s den, for some of the first human sightings of a young cub. These encounters and experiences are not shared by the masses, only a select few staying in the concession. The landscape starts to feel like your own private reserve, even if the raw sense of wilderness remains as baffling as ever.
Every ecosystem has its subtleties and a private concession is integral to this. Some are in the buffer zones between habitats, antagonistic crossroads where four-legged nomads pass predatory hideouts. Others are the lesser-seen areas of famous ecosystems. Almost all are centered on water availability, the fundamental allure that keeps wildlife returning. We believe that the very best safari destinations in Africa are private concessions that form an integral part of a wilderness area, places where wildlife thrives and multiplies, thanks to the limited impact visitors have on the land.
WHERE TO TRAVEL IN AFRICA – THE 9 BEST SAFARI DESTINATIONS
Where to Safari in Africa for You
The best safari destination in Africa does not exist. Where to safari in Africa is all about you. Wildebeest charging across the Serengeti; wild dogs hunting in Linyanti; leopard encounters in the Sabi Sands; walking with the Samburu in northern Kenya; a mokoro safari through the Okavango. How can such diverse experiences be quantified into subjective adjectives like best
When we write about the best safari destinations in Africa we’re happy to say that we are subjective in our thinking. We’ve had 25 years exploring and experiencing Africa’s safari destinations, both in person and through the feedback from our guests. The more we explore the more we’re passionate about another question: what safari destination is best for you?
Thanks so much for the dream experience of a lifetime!
Three Questions For Comparing Safari Destinations
Choosing the best destination for you means comparing destinations. This can be challenging because many promise and deliver the same thing: encounters with African wildlife. Many people are overwhelmed by the options. We hope that the following three questions can make the decision process easier for you.
- What makes a destination unique?
- How big is the wilderness area?
- How exclusive is the experience?
We are always available to answer your specific questions and take you through what we’ve encountered over the last 25 years.
What Makes a Safari Destination Unique?
Many safari destinations claim to have the big five, those famous animals that were once the most revered hunting trophies – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo. It’s an outdated concept that simplifies subjective experience into objective fact. The best safari destinations don’t need the big five to sell seats in a safari vehicle. They have something unique, something you won’t find at every other safari destination. That could be animal populations like the Serengeti’s wildebeest; activities such as boat or walking safaris; or particular scenes such as the daily battles between lions and buffalo in an Okavango concession.
All destinations will provide a list of the animals that live on the land. That doesn’t mean you will actually see them; reading peer reviews can help give you an idea of unique scenes that are regularly encountered. We know of various rogue reserves that claim to have leopards, even though the leopards haven’t been seen by anyone for a decade. A list of animal species also fails to represent quantity; for example, the Chobe area does not have the big five but there are 100,000 elephants. So when thinking where to safari in Africa, keep asking what will make my safari experience unique, rather than what standard animals you can tick off a list.
How Big is the Wilderness Area?
Wild animals need space. An adult elephant will consume 2000lbs of food every week. A lion pride can control a territory of 100 square miles. Buffalo can congregate in herds of over 500. A zebra may look cute and small but weighs some 850lbs. All this requires a huge amount of land. It may sound obvious but the bigger the wilderness the more animals it can support. 20000 acres is a mere pin prick on the map. The best safari destinations tend to be located in wilderness areas that stretch for many thousands of square miles. Think about this when choosing when to safari in Africa.
The bigger the better is a good mantra to follow. The most revered wildernesses are home to multiple destinations, including a national park or reserve plus one or more private concessions. Remember that these large wilderness areas don’t have fences. So a concession located in the Sabi Sands may only be 40000 acres in size, it is part of a wider wilderness that’s roughly the size of Belgium or Massachusetts (the Greater Kruger). Larger wilderness areas are able to support either a great diversity of life or large populations of specific animals; both of which make the wildlife experience unique.
I truly feel blessed to have experience Africa with you…physically I’m home, but my mind and heart is still in Africa.
How Exclusive is the Experience?
15 safari vehicles crowding around a lion feels like being in a zoo. All the best safari destinations provide a far more exclusive wildlife experience. It may feel exclusive thanks to the sheer abundance of wildlife. Often it is because the concession restricts the number of guests and vehicles; in particular, look for concessions that are exclusive to overnight guests, and those with clear rules on the number of vehicles per sighting.
Exclusivity is also created by the intimacy of experience. Look for destinations where you can drive off the trail as these will allow you to get far closer to the animals. Consider the maximum number of people per game drive and the guide to visitor ratio. Prioritize destinations where you can choose different activities as these will provide a more rounded safari experience. Also question where the lodge or camp is located. We consistently find that the best safari accommodation is located in the most wildlife-rich areas, often above a popular waterhole or waterway. It means you continue to experience wildlife when the safari activity is over.
Luxury is the Unrivaled Wildlife Experience
Exclusive concessions are complemented by their accommodation and service, and everything down to the food and wine selection. They charge a premium price and ensure luxury throughout the whole package. However, luxury isn’t exclusive to private concessions. If you want five-star opulence and fine dining there are resorts in Europe or Australia. But of course, they can’t offer what Africa’s private concessions can offer: raw and rare wildlife encounters. And that’s what is important when you are choosing where to safari in Africa.
We think that the quality of the wildlife experience should be paramount to choosing a safari destination. And that’s the main reason we recommend a combination of private concessions and exclusive areas of national parks for an African safari. National parks offer outstanding safari experiences, especially those like the Serengeti and Chobe. We will incorporate them into your itinerary, but recommend you also spend time in the private concessions, where the wildlife encounters are even more outstanding. Luxury is the unrivaled wildlife experience and the reason you’ll want to come back to Africa time and time again.