Visit some of Africa’s most remote and diverse camps with expert naturalist Lex Hes, from the leopards of South Luangwa National Park to the lush Okavango Delta.
African Safari Tours
Zegrahm has been taking inquisitive travelers to Africa since our inception nearly 30 years ago. In fact, we have visited one of Africa's premier safari destinations—Botswana—every year since 1992! Our African safaris explore some of the most remote, biologically unique, and well-preserved wild places that Africa has to offer. Travel with expert guides, stay in world-class lodges and tented camps, and immerse yourself in places where nature continures as it has since time immemorial.
Southern Africa's Diversity: Namibia, Botswana & ZambiaFebruary 8 — February 26, 2020
Luxury Botswana SafariApril 14 — April 29, 2020
Virtually untouched Botswana is the “true” Africa, where you’ll meet all the major wildlife, from elephant and lions to hippos and cheetahs, by land and in traditional mokoros on the Okavango delta.
Iconic Africa: Kenya & Zimbabwe with Victoria FallsJune 1 — June 13, 2020
If it's wildlife you seek, look no further than this adventure to Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Zambia's Great MigrationsNovember 9 — November 23, 2020
Join this brand-new itinerary, designed and led by renowned wildlife photographer and guide, Lex Hes, to witness some of the largest animal migrations in the world.
FAQs—What You Need To Know
These African safari adventures are high on many traveler’s bucket lists, offering an opportunity to encounter wildlife and interact with people from ancient tribal cultures. We’ve been helping people plan their perfect safari for nearly 30 years and have compiled this list of frequently asked questions to help you navigate the ins and outs of travel in Africa.
1. Is Africa safe for tourists?
Most African countries are safe for tourists to visit, especially when traveling in a group. For instance, Zegrahm Expeditions closely monitors health and safety advisories to all the countries we visit. However, it is always best to follow basic travel precautions anytime you visit a large city, such as not carrying a purse, leaving expensive jewelry at home, using your in-room safe, not walking alone at night, and being aware of your surroundings and belongings at all times.
While out on safari, it is possible to encounter wildlife right outside your tent. To ensure your safety, many safari camps have guards to escort you in the presence of wildlife, and some camps are fenced. All camps will also offer safety tips to follow while at camp and out searching for wildlife.
2. There are so many countries; which one is best for me?
Each African country has its own unique blend of wildlife, landscapes, and culture, so the easiest way to pick the country you want to visit is by learning what each country has to offer. Here are some brief highlights:
- Botswana offers some of the highest concentrations of wildlife, including the Big Five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
Best time to visit: the dry season, May through September.
- Ethiopia offers ancient archaeological sites and endemic species such as Ethiopian wolf, mountain nyala, giant mole-rat, gelada baboon, and Bale monkey.
Best time to visit: the dry season, October through February.
- Kenya & Tanzania offer a classic safari experience and exceptional viewing of the Great Migration—millions of wildebeest journeying from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara.
Best time to visit: year-round, but the best wildlife viewing is during the dry season—June through October—when the wildebeest migration is at its height.
- Madagascar offers a unique array of endemic wildlife including colorful chameleons, unique birdlife, and its world-famous lemurs.
Best time to visit: to avoid the wet season and enjoy the country’s best weather, visit during the cool, dry season—anytime from April through October.
- Namibia offers the undulating Namib Desert, the storied Skeleton Coast, and diverse wildlife including a large cheetah population.
Best time to visit: during the dry season, June through October.
- The Republic of the Congo offers the opportunity to see lowland gorillas in their natural rainforest habitat, as well as chimpanzees and a number of other primate species.
Best time to visit: May through September for cooler days.
- South Africa offers beaches, craggy coastlines, vineyards, big game, and white rhinos.
Best time to visit: a great destination year-round.
- Zimbabwe offers the majestic Victoria Falls—one of the Seven Wonders of the World— and Hwange National Park, one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in all of Africa.
Best time to visit: enjoy the best game viewing opportunities May through October.
3. What kind of accommodations can I expect?
Visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town is like visiting any other large metropolitan city and you can expect to find these cities westernized with modern conveniences. While on safari, know that camps are located in the bush; you may need a shower after a long day searching for wild animals, but accommodations are clean and comfortable and oftentimes very luxurious. Some camps even offer spa services like massages right out on your deck.
“All the camps were amazing, but I was blown away when I walked into the bath area of my enormous tent to find a pristine claw foot tub and double outdoor showers.” – Jennifer
4. What vaccinations do I need to visit Africa?
Some African countries require a yellow fever vaccination, which needs to be administered at least 10 days prior to entry. Anti-malarial medication is also recommended for most of sub-Saharan Africa, but it is not required.
5. What are the entry requirements? Do I need a Visa?
- Botswana: A visa is not required of U.S. citizens for entry into Botswana.
- Ethiopia: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Ethiopia and must be obtained prior to travel. An eVisa is available online at: https://www.evisa.gov.et/#/home.
- Kenya: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Kenya; single-entry visas are available upon arrival at Kenyan airports, but multiple entry visas must be obtained prior to traveling to Kenya. Apply for an eVisa online at: http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html.
- Tanzania: A tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Tanzania and can be obtained at the airport upon arrival in Tanzania or prior to travel. Apply for a visa online at: http://tanzaniaembassy-us.org/?page_id=76.
- Madagascar: A 30-day tourist visa is required of all U.S. citizens for entry into Madagascar. Visas may be obtained upon arrival when clearing Customs & Immigration for a fee of approximately $35.00 USD. Each guest must have a return flight ticket, two passport photos, and a valid passport in order to obtain a visa.
- Namibia: Avisa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into Namibia. You will be issued a visa, also known as a Visitor’s Entry Permit (VEP), at the airport upon arrival.
- Republic of the Congo: A tourist visa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into the Republic of the Congo and is available upon arrival at the airport. You will need $50 USD (exact cash printed after 2006 is required) and a letter of invitation in order to receive your visa.
- South Africa: A tourist visa is not required of U.S. citizens for entry into South Africa if visiting less than 90 days.
- Zimbabwe: A tourist visa is required of U.S. citizens for entry into Zimbabwe and is available upon arrival at the airport in Zimbabwe. Visas cost approximately $30.00 USD for a 30-day/single-entry visa or $60.00 USD for a 60-day/multiple entry visa. You will also need your passport, return ticket, and adequate funds to cover your intended stay in order to enter Zimbabwe.
6. How do I pack for a safari?
Less is more—do not overpack. Many safari camps also offer laundry service, so you can cut down on the clothes you pack. Bring four to five comfortable, practical outfits. Pack light, breathable fabrics that will allow you to feel comfortable in Africa’s warm climate. Bring long-sleeved shirts and long pants to wear during dusk and dawn when biting insects appear and temperatures can be chilly (something you might not expect).
“Visiting Africa during its dry season—June, July and August—is actually pretty cold in the mornings and evenings! Bring a fleece jacket and a warm hat—it was in the 40°s (F) when I visited in June.” – Jennifer T.
Also, avoid brightly colored clothing, which will scare wildlife away, and white clothing that will get dirty quickly. Try to blend into the landscape with animal-friendly greens and khakis, and never dress in camouflage clothing, which is associated with the military. Black and dark blue clothing should also be avoided, as both colors are known to attract tsetse flies.
Please note, you will need to bring a duffle bag as most charter flights between camps don’t allow rigid suitcases with wheels.
Click HERE for our safari guide packing list
7. How do you get to Africa, and how long is the flight?
The major airline hub for Southern Africa is the O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and many major airlines offer direct flights to JNB from JFK in New York, Washington Dulles airport in DC, and Hatsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, Georgia. If your destination is beyond Johannesburg, there are also many domestic airlines that offer flights from Johannesburg to smaller airports closer to your safari camp.
The main hub for East and Central Africa safaris (Kenya & Tanzania) is the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya; the main airport for Ethiopia journeys is the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport; and the main airport for the Republic of the Congo is the Maya-Maya Airport in Brazzaville via Paris.
Please note that flights to Africa are rather long, so we suggest flying in a day or two prior to your African safari so you can relax and embark on your adventure well rested. Flights from New York City to Johannesburg are usually around 16 hours; flights from the west coast of the U.S. are usually around 25 hours, which includes a layover.
8. What kind of food will be available?
Johannesburg and Cape Town offer a rich food scene with many trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes that offer traditional African and world cuisine.
While on safari, enjoy delicious full-bodied meals freshly-prepared by professional cooks and chefs. Depending on what type of safari you choose—more rustic or luxurious—you can expect everything from buffet-style to fine dining with a variety of options. However, if you are vegetarian, it’s best to notify Zegrahm Expeditions in advance as traditional African food incorporates a variety of meat, including game meat such as crocodile, impala, and warthog. Traditional cuisine also includes starches and vegetables unique to the region, as well as fresh fruit. You can also expect tea time in the afternoon and drinks at the bar at night.
9. Anything else I should know?
- Make sure you bring cash as most safari camps do not accept debit or credit cards. We recommend obtaining cash at the airport upon arrival, as you will not have access to a bank or ATM while out on safari.
- When visiting Kenya, please note the country has instituted a plastic bag ban and disposable plastic bags will not be allowed into the country, so it’s best not to pack any in your checked luggage or carry-on bag.
- Also, read about your destination before you go! Knowing the country’s history and culture prior to visiting will enhance your experience.
- And, it never hurts to learn a few simple phrases or words of greeting in the native language of your destination.
We hope this information will help get you on your way to experience this adventure for yourself!
For more detailed answers to many of these questions and much more, explore our digital Ultimate African Safaris Guide.
Best African Safaris For Wildlife Lovers: Our Top 10 Picks
Victorian-era traveler William Cornwallis Harris is widely credited with creating the wildlife safari back in the 1830s. He famously led a year-long hunting expedition in South Africa, writing about the trip and painting many of the animals he saw along the way.
The concept of the safari– the Swahili word for journey– as a big game hunt was later popularized by famous writers like Jules Verne (Five Weeks in a Balloon) and Ernest Hemingway (“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”). But these days the term is used to describe almost any expedition where travelers can observe animals in their native environment.
Still, it’s hard to beat Africa when it comes to wondrous wildlife-watching opportunities. From central African nations like Rwanda and Uganda to southern African countries like Botswana and Namibia, exceptional adventures abound in a diverse array of ecosystems. Here’s a look at our picks for 10 travel destinations that offer the best safaris:
CENTRAL AFRICAN SAFARIS
REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Often confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of the Congo (a.k.a. Congo-Brazzaville) is part of the remarkably biodiverse Congo Basin, the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. The area offers a rich mixture of ecosystems (including forests, rivers, savannas, and swamps), which are home to a broad variety of wildlife species.
This fertile part of central Africa is teeming with life, providing protection for elephants, chimpanzees, monkeys, and more than 1,000 species of birds. But the Congo’s most popular tourist attraction is its population of endangered mountain and western lowland gorillas. Weighing up to 440 pounds, the latter species is smaller than other gorillas, with brown coats and a population that has declined by 60% over the last few decades.
Odzala-Kokoua National Park, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, is arguably the best place in the world to see gorillas in the Congo. They tend to live deep in the forest, resting in well-covered areas, so it’s best to see them when they’re active. Experienced guides and trackers can help visitors find and watch families of western lowland gorillas as they’re playing, feeding, and climbing through the trees. They’ll also teach you more about their mannerisms and behavioral patterns.
As you trek through the dense forest, you might see chimpanzees, putty-nosed and colobus monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, and a wide array of bird life. You can also take a boat ride down the Lekoli River (where you may spot hippos and crocodiles), or take a sunrise hike to Mbouebe Bai (where elephants, buffalo, and hyenas are known to gather).
Surrounded by the majestic summits of the Virunga Mountains– a chain of volcanic peaks straddling the border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that tower from 10,049 to 14,787 feet above sea level– it’s easy to see why Rwanda earned its nickname “the land of a thousand hills.”
Most people are drawn here to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which around 900 remain in the wild (half of which are in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park). The conservation plight of the gorillas was made famous in the ‘70s and ‘80s by late primatologist Dian Fossey and the Oscar-nominated biopic of her life, Gorillas in the Mist.
There are currently 10 habituated gorilla families open to tourist visits, so trekking permits are limited to a mere 80 per day. Hikes are moderate to difficult depending on distance and terrain, with treks ranging from 1-3 hours each way. But the rush of adrenaline you feel once your guides lead you to a clearing in the dense bamboo forests, where you find yourself surrounded by mamas, babies and massive Silverback gorillas, is an experience you’ll never forget.
But it's hardly the country's only wildlife-centered attraction. From tracking chimpanzees and several species of monkeys in Nyungwe Forest National Park to a more traditional Big 5 wildlife safari in Akagera National Park, Rwanda has numerous options for nature and wildlife lovers. And since the country is still emerging as an ecotourism hotspot, you’re almost certain to have some of these pristine attractions all to yourself.
Located just north of Rwanda, “the Pearl of Africa” (as Winston Churchill famously referred to Uganda) has been creeping onto quite a few lists of the world’s best travel destinations in recent years. Credit for this surge in popularity goes almost entirely to the nation’s natural wonders, such as the world's largest free-standing volcano, second-largest freshwater lake, the headwaters of the world's longest river, and African's highest mountain range.
The bulk of this natural beauty has been conserved by Uganda’s 10 national parks. Each offers an array of outdoor adventures, such as community-based ecotourism, cultural tourism, mountaineering, rafting, and more. But what really makes Uganda a must-see for most wildlife lovers is its impressive array of safari opportunities.
For visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park, there’s chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge and looking for the unusual tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha sector. In Murchison Falls National Park you can take a wildlife-watching cruise along the Nile River: The area is home to approximately 450 species of birds and over 75 species of mammals. And of course, there’s trekking to see endangered mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is home to nearly half of the world’s remaining population.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority gives 20% of all national park fees back to local communities. So any money you spend on a wildlife safari in Uganda helps develop facilities such as schools, hospitals, and roads.
EAST AFRICAN SAFARIS
Kenya ranks near the top of many nature-lovers’ bucket lists, just for the Great Migration alone. The annual event, which typically lasts from May through October, is the stuff NatGeo documentaries are made of.
Kenya boasts two dozen national parks and 16 national reserves. But its finest wildlife safari opportunities can be found in its two most popular parks. Amboseli National Park, which became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1991, is perhaps best known for its many vast elephant herds. But the 151-square mile park also offers visitors a chance to see the Big 5 mammals and more than 400 different species of birds.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of only two destinations where you can see the Great Migration (the other being Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The Mara is home to lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and more than 470 species of birds. Millions of Cape buffalo, gazelles, wildebeest, and zebras travel 500 miles each year to reach the reserve, searching for water and fresh grass. The world-renowned crossing at the Mara River, where hungry crocodiles lie in wait for an easy meal, is not for the faint of heart.
Kenya also offers countless lesser-known safari destinations. Check out the mane-less lions of Tsavo East National Park (one of the country’s oldest); Samburu Reserve, where you can glimpse Giraffes, Zebras and several bird species; and the shores of Lake Nakuru, where flamingoes flock by the thousands (and sometimes millions).
A wildlife safari in Madagascar is completely different from what you’re likely to experience in other parts of Africa. You generally walk rather than going on a game drive. You’re led by an eagle-eyed local guide, who works with the pisteurs (a network of animal-spotters that run around the park and communicate with the guides), who tell them where animals are likely to be seen.
The wildlife of Madagascar is still recovering from the terrible impact of decades of unrestricted logging, which destroyed around 50% of the nation’s rainforest. Numerous lemurs and other endemic species became endangered or extinct as a result of habitat loss.
Thankfully, this convinced the government to create an extensive network of 25 national parks, in addition to its 21 wildlife reserves and four “Strict Nature Reserves.” Popular favorites include Isalo National Park, Ranomafana National Park, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, and the Anja Reserve. Poaching and logging are now strictly controlled, and most of the parks require visitors to have a local guide.
In terms of animals, be forewarned that many of Madagascar’s furry favorites are small and hard to see in the rainforest. The island is home to a whopping 800+ endemic species, including countless lemurs (brown, ring-tailed, sportive, Deeken’s sifaka, etc), fossa (a cat-like carnivore closely related to mongooses), jumping rats, around 75 species of chameleons, and more than 250 species of birds.
Tanzania is arguably the world’s #1 safari destination. Its easily accessible northern safari circuit encompasses many of the most beautiful Tanzania National Parks and reserves.
There’s Serengeti National Park, the starting point for the annual Great Migration. Spanning some 12,000 square miles, the Serengeti is packed with lion prides, leopards, and vast herds of giraffes, zebras, impala, and wildebeests. There’s Kilimanjaro National Park, home to the highest mountain in Africa (one of the world-renowned “seven summits”) and wildlife such as buffalo, elephants, leopards, and several species of monkeys.
There’s the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where you’ll find the world’s largest intact, inactive volcanic crater. Measuring 2,000 feet deep and 100 square miles wide, the Ngorongoro Crater is home to more than 25,000 large animals (buffalo, hippos, gazelles, wildebeests, etc.) and a dense population of lions.
But for our money, Tanzania’s lesser known parks provided excellent safari experiences without the crowds. The diverse array of animals at Tarangire National Park includes lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, birds, and the country’s highest concentration of elephants. Lake Manyara National Park is equally uncrowded, but includes most of the Big 5 as well as thousands of flamingos during the wet season.
SOUTHERN AFRICAN SAFARIS
Botswana has emerged as one of the world’s thought leaders when it comes to recognizing the connection between ecotourism and conservation. As a result, the industry generates around $250 million in revenue each year.
The country has been increasingly focused on protecting its natural resources since 1963, when the local Batawana people established the Moremi Nature Reserve. But in recent years they have dramatically stepped up their game in terms of fighting the poaching scourge that has plagued other destinations.
Botswana’s wildlife conservation approach is among the world’s least forgiving. The nation banned commercial hunting completely in 2014. Anti-poaching laws are VERY strictly enforced, with an anti-poaching unit largely run by the country’s military forces (with all the training, arms and resources that implies). And wildlife management is largely left in the hands of local communities, providing alternative revenue streams to wildlife trafficking.
As a result, Botswana has become one of southern Africa’s hottest ecotourism destinations. Its excellent wildlife safari attractions include exploring the Okavango Delta via a traditional canoe (a.k.a. mokoro), birdwatching in the Okavango Panhandle, mingling with the 120,000 elephants estimated to reside in Chobe National Park, and having a traditional Big 5 safari experience at Moremi.
To get a real sense of Southern Africa’s diversity, a trip to Namibia is an absolute must. With just two million residents spread across 300,000 square miles, the nation is as unpopulated, wild, and pristine as they come.
Named after the Namib Desert (which stretches around 1,200 miles along southern Africa’s Atlantic coast), the country is perhaps best known for its alien, otherworldly landscapes. Picture massive sand dunes that change color with the light, skeletal trees that look as if they might suddenly come to life, and a coastline that’s famous for its countless shipwrecks (the Skeleton Coast).
In terms of wildlife safaris, Namibia offers many that are unlike those you’ll see in any other African destination. Namibia was the first African nation to officially incorporate environmental protection into its constitution. With 12 national parks and more than 60 communal reserves, the country has more than 35 million acres of protected habitat.
Its most interesting attractions include Etosha National Park, the third largest game reserve in Africa; the remote, undeveloped Khaudum National Park, which offers 320+ bird species as well as big cats, African wild dogs, and more; and Bwabwata National Park, which borders the Okavango Delta and falls along the region’s elephant migration route.
For a wildlife experience you won’t see anywhere else in the world, visit the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Located near the town of Swakopmund along the Skeleton Coast, it’s home to one of the world’s largest Cape fur seal colonies. During peak times of the year, the population there can grow to over 500,000!
In the decades since apartheid ended, South Africa has emerged as a strong rival to Kenya and Tanzania as the world’s most popular destination for African safaris. Its location at the southern tip of the continent makes it easier and more affordable for most U.S. residents to fly to. And the well-developed infrastructure of cities such as Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg offer plenty of options for travelers seeking more than mere wildlife-watching.
Kruger National Park is easily the country’s biggest tourism draw. Spanning some 7,500 square miles in the northeastern Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, Kruger is the rare safari park where visitors can drive themselves and still count on amazing animal sightings. Part of the UNESCO-protected Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve, the park is one of Africa’s largest and most biodiverse. Spend a week and you’re virtually guaranteed to see the Big 5, as well as rare species such as African wild dogs and cheetahs.
For a more luxurious and intimate safari experience, visit any of the major private game reserves located in the Greater Kruger area. Londolozi was a trailblazer in South Africa’s ecotourism industry, while Balule, Sabi Sands and Timbavati all have stellar reputations among wildlife lovers.
If there’s a complaint to be made about Kruger, it’s that, with around 1.5 million annual visitors, mass tourism is becoming an issue. KwaZulu-Natal, in the country’s southeastern section, is very different. This is Zulu country, and offers excellent safari opportunities in Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, the wetlands of iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO site), and numerous private reserves.
The Republic of Zambia hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as its neighbors (which include Tanzania to the north and Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to the south). The country is best known for Victoria Falls, which– at 354 feet tall and 5,064 feet wide– claims the title of the world’s largest waterfall. But its reputation among the best African nations for wildlife safaris has been growing gradually in recent years.
Much of the credit for that goes to President Edgar Lungu, who made his commitment to conservation clear immediately upon taking office. “In our effort to conserve and protect [Zambia’s] wildlife heritage, the government will enhance community and private sector involvement in the management of wildlife,” he said. “This is with a view to ensure sustainable wildlife management that will benefit both the government and the communities.”
Compared to other countries in the region, Zambia boasts a booming economy, a stable political climate, impressive infrastructure, and welcoming locals. Yet still, its 20 national parks see far fewer annual visitors than rivals such as South Africa.
Among these, the 3,400 square mile South Luangwa National Park is arguably the most famous, with wildlife that includes around 14,000 elephants, hippos, leopards, lions, and the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe. Kafue National Park, which spans 8,648 square miles, is Africa’s second largest park, with the Kafue River attracting crocodiles, hippos, various antelopes, and predators such as African wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards. For a unique change of pace, Kasanka National Park is a 150-square mile birdwatcher’s haven, with 400 species including the African finfoot, Ross’ lourie, Pel’s fishing owl, and western osprey. –Bret Love
BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.