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For the last 25 years I have had the chance to visit many National Parks and Private Game Reserves. My friends often ask me to help them choose the safari in Africa that better suits their needs. That is the reason why I have decided to write this article: to try to bring some light into your decision process.
The decision of going to Africa is often inspired by the passion and spirit of movies like “Out of Africa” or the excitement and wilderness of the National Geographic documentaries. Experiencing this depends on the following aspects:
Almost all of the countries in the southern half of Africa offer the chance of enjoying wonderful safari experiences. This aspect is important in terms of:
Vaccinations against diseases such as Malaria or Yellow Fever. Vaccines can cause side effects. Therefore, some people decide not to get vaccinated and take precautions against mosquito bites. For further info, visit Center for Control of Diseases and Prevention.
Landscapes: Africa offers different amazing landscapes, from the savannah grasslands of Kenya, to the gorilla forests of Central Africa, the untamed woodlands of Zambia, the waterways of the Okavango Delta and the dunes of the Namib Desert.
Usually, the wider and larger variety of animals, the more popular and crowded a Public National Park will be. In places like Serengeti (Tanzania) you can enjoy three different prides of lions in one day… but together with ten more cars full of tourists. The popularity of a park usually brings more limitations to the game drive (you may not be allowed to go off road, drive at night, have breakfast in the savannah…).
Private reserves are more expensive, exclusive and offer you a higher game drive experience. You usually drive with a professional ranger and a local tracker, so the chances of spotting animals increase. Private reserves have a limited number of cars allowed at the same time, so you rarely see other tourists.
There are multiple ways of experiencing the wildlife. All of them are very safe (otherwise, very few people would go on a safari). These are some of the most common:
Game drive: You usually do two game drives a day. A 5h30m drive in the morning (from 6am to 11:30am) and a 3h30min in the afternoon (from 3pm to 6:30pm). This is the most common and easy way to spot animals. You can move fast and get close. The car makes a huge difference. The worst scenario is driving in a regular van with windows and roof. The best would be 4WD with no roof nor windows and completely adapted for enjoying the game drive.
Night game drive: Predators get more active at dawn so the night game drives can get more exciting. Animals are not that difficult to be spotted because the light of the rangers’ torch reflects into their eyes. Few parks offer these drives, specially those in Zambia and South Africa. Night game drives are more uncomfortable (it gets cold and you get more mosquitoes) but are more exciting (the sense of hearing sharpens allowing you to enjoy the sound of the African night).
Walking safari: This is definitely an exciting experience. Although animals are very difficult to spot (they usually avoid humans), you are accompanied by an armed ranger just for safety reasons. Walking safaris are the perfect way to discover the wildlife: learn about animal tracks and sounds, spot birds, learn the secrets of the bush…
Canoe excursions: It gives you access to places unreachable by other modes of transport: quiet backwaters, floodplains and shallow sandy channels. The silence of the mokoro (canoe) allow you to get close to wildlife. The Okavango Delta (Botswana) is the place to go although you can enjoy great canoe excursions in Zambia, south Tanzania.
You can choose among various options:
Hotel: you will find them in the most popular National Parks. It is similar to placing a Sheraton in the middle of Africa. Not too romantic but very comfortable.
Camps: for people who demand exclusivity and privacy. It is an all included service so prices are per person, starting at 125$ and reaching 1.500$ per night. You usually sleep in a luxurious tent on raised teak platforms, in the middle of the bush. Although it is safe, at night you are not allowed to walk alone. They usually have a dining area overlooking the savannah, a swimming pool, a cocktail bar, a wildlife reference library and a campfire, where guests and rangers share stories about Africa. Even if it is not as comfortable as a hotel, this would be your choice if you have enough budget and are looking for a luxurious and exclusive African experience.
Overland: the perfect option for people with a low budget willing to experience an adventure in Africa. It is a way of travelling through Africa via road, with a group of like-minded travellers. Overland vehicles are custom built and designed to deal with travel conditions in Africa. Most overlanding is based on camping adventures. For more info, visit Overlanding Africa or Kananga (if you’re in Spain).
It depends on which part of Africa you go, but basically, you can differentiate two seasons.
Dry season: From April to October are the cooler winter months which have lovely warm days but cold nights. Traditionally, the best season for game viewing as the vegetation becomes sparse and water is restricted to rivers and artificial waterholes. In my opinion, the best time to visit Africa is from June to November.
Wet season: it starts in November and ends in March. The dry bushland comes to life after the rains, as well as the insects, with an abundance of wild flowers. The game becomes harder to see as numerous waterholes fill up and the foliage becomes thicker.
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