The Ultimate Guide to Game Viewing and Safaris in Southern Africa
One of life’s richest rewards comes from the patient searching for, waiting and watching the world of Southern and Eastern African game. The memory of your first lion roaring, your first leopard lazily digesting his latest meal, your first herd of elephants carefully tending their young will live in your heart for ever. But, how to choose where to go, which lodge, how much to spend and what time of year. All these questions are asked of us regularly and the following is intended as a Safari Guide to help you decide.
There are some questions that you need to ask yourself, or us, which come under the following headings:
- The most important question is ‘have you ever done any game-viewing before’ and if you have, what did you do, where did you go and what did you see – and therefore, what would you like to see this time?
- Are there particular areas of Africa that you must see, such as the Etosha Pan, Serengeti Plains or Sabie River in Kruger?
- What animal sightings will make your holiday? For example, if you really want to see cheetah, then you should have a better chance in Namibia as 25% of the world’s cheetahs roam the countryside there.
- Do you want spectacular scenery such as the Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, Mount Kilimanjaro or the sand dunes and deserts of Namibia, as a backdrop to your experience?
- How luxurious do you want make the holiday? It could be anything from camping up to 5 star luxury or any mixture in between.
- Do you want to self drive or relax and let your guide take care of you?
- How adventurous do you wish to be? The experience of watching truly wild life from a vehicle is wonderful and exciting. However you can increase your adrenalin by opting for elephant back rides, mountain biking, horse riding or walking through the countryside that has the animals in. Alternatively, particularly in the Okavango Delta, you have the option of travelling by boat varying in size from dugout to decent sized crafts with drinks to hand.
All in all, there is plenty to think about and we have the expertise to help you make your decision. Very often we have experienced it ourselves!
So where in Southern or Eastern Africa should you be thinking of? What follows are some outline sketches of places that will give you a holiday to remember.
The Mighty Kruger
This is the flagship Park of Southern Africa and quite rightly is world famous. Covering an area the size of Wales and located in the northeast corner of South Africa, the Kruger National Park springs into most minds as a ‘must do’ on the game-viewing carousel. For a cost effective holiday, stay at one of the many Rest Camps locate actually in the Park, but unless you are an experienced game-viewer, it is entirely possible that you will not see very much, simply because you will be unsure where to look.
A popular alternative is to stay at one of the private concessions on the western border of the Park. Here you’ll find a range of top luxury game lodges, and several others that offer a cheaper option. The advantage of these concessions lies in the fact that the Guides are experts and know the terrain intimately, and the most likely areas for viewing the game. You will come away wondering how they managed to see a lion in the tall grass, when it takes you three minutes to see it, even when someone is pointing to the spot! These options can look expensive, but often represent good value when you take into account what is covered and the level of accommodation that you will be staying in.
The north of the Kruger, known as the Pafuri region, is further away from mainstream South Africa and consequently far less visited. However it is well worth the journey. The wildlife is spectacular and being in the fever tree forest along the Limpopo adds an extra dimension.
Addo Elephant National Park
Situated within an hour’s drive of Port Elizabeth, this Park boasts having the Big 7; the usual big five plus whales and Great White sharks at the right time of the year. From this you will gather the Park also includes some of the coast. This makes an ideal couple of day’s stop at the eastern end of the Garden Route. You are almost guaranteed to see elephant, but will have to work a little harder to see some of the other big 5 as their numbers slowly recover.
There are a number of other Parks and private game reserves throughout South Africa which are well worth your consideration if you are in the area. Each of them has its own charm and wildlife experience. If there is a particular animal or setting that you have your heart set upon, then let us know and we will suggest the best areas to find them. These include the St Lucia Wetlands of KwaZulu Natal, the Madikwe to the west of Johannesburg and the Waterberg to the north of Johannesburg. The latter two (as well as the Addo Elephant Park) have the advantage of being non-malaria areas.
Etosha National Park
There is something magical about seeing a giraffe’s form wavering in the heat haze as it crosses the white expanse known as the Pan. This park has no equal in Africa in that all of the game is dependent on the waterholes that fringe the Pan during the long dry season. Then, if the rains are good, the dry salt pan becomes a lake for a short time, at which point the wildlife disperses to take advantage of the grasses growing in the usually arid parts.
Should you be tempted to stay within the Park and there are good reasons to do so, you will have the chance of watching the disputes that arise at the waterholes located at the Lodges, if you can stay awake throughout the night. This could be an encounter between elephants and rhinos or just a jackal trying to find a place between the zebra’s legs.
The Park and the wildlife Concession areas along side it, are worthy of a three day visit. As with South Africa, the level and prices vary from camping up to luxury tented camps/lodges where you can watch the animals coming down to the waterholes from the advantage of the bar or your veranda.
Most of Namibia is classified as desert and it is possible to plan a trip that will take you to 4 distinctly different types. Starting with the Kalahari and its wave dunes, this desert has more vegetation than most. As a consequence, there is more wildlife to be found, particularly those that favour the open savannah type of terrain.
Following that there are the two Karoos – Nama and Succulent and whilst they share a name they have their own character. The flora varies and the Succulent has the advantage of the mists that roll in from the cold Benguela current running up the Namibian coast. As you would expect, there are more succulent types of plants found here.
Finally there is the Namib Desert famous for its huge red sand dunes, as seen on many advertisements and always feature in any documentary on the country.
None of these deserts are without life. Coming across Oryx in the middle of the Namib, makes you wonder what they live on. Some of the invertebrates are unique to this region and the bird life stunning.
Finish your trip here with a few days in Swakopmund, known as Bavaria by the sea. The architecture has been influenced by the history of the place over the last 100 years. It is also a wonderful place to take trip around Walvis Bay to see the abundant life that it supports. You are guaranteed to see seals (at very close range!) and dolphins. If you are lucky you will also see whales and turtles.
Botswana is land locked; South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia form its borders. A quick glance at a map and you’ll see that the main inhabited areas lie in the east of the country. This leaves vast areas of desert and savannah grasslands to the west and north west, largely inhabited by a variety of game both large and small. This is wildlife in its truly natural state – herds of elephant and zebra wander the plains, a variety of cats searching their prey, and an array of birds and smaller game. In the north is the famous Chobe National Park, and travelling west and south west from there brings you to the Moremi Game Reserve, the Linyanti and Selinda concessions and the wonderful Okavango Delta. The Delta is a world of its own. The heavy summer rains falling in the Angola Heights to the Northwest, find there way through the water courses, arriving in the Delta in June and July. This is high season, despite being their winter. Not only is the Delta rightly famous for its wildlife, it is also interesting geologically as well. This is the southern end of the Rift Valley, and plate tectonic movement is even now changing the landscape. The Savuti River channel is an excellent example – as few as 25 years ago, the river was alive with water based life. Today it is a dry river bed, and one of the main migration routes for herd of zebra in this area.
In the south eastern corner of Botswana, in the Tuli Block is hidden away Mashatu, a spectacular wildlife conservation area, butting on to the Limpopo River. Not only is it blessed with abundant wildlife, but there are also a number of historical sites covering the history of this region from pre-historic times.
There really is no other choice than to visit for yourself!
The birth place of safaris in the modern form Kenya still has a lot to offer and some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa. It is true that certain parts can be busy but the country is vast enough to get away from those areas. Ensuring that you are in the right place to see the huge wildebeest and zebra migration in the Masai Mara does require planning. Speak to someone that knows where and when to go. The bird life is amazing all over the country with some of the Parks having over 400 species regularly seen in them.
The plains of East Africa are the birth place of man and if you are interested in archaeology then there are a number of sites to visit. Add in the different cultures of the 50 plus tribes that live here and you have a wonderful variety of things to do on your holiday.
The Kenya coast is rightfully popular and again it is possible to get away from the crowds and have an experience of being on a remote silver sand beach is an ideal way to relax after the excitement of being on safari.
Kenya meets all budgets but for the quality experience and the more secluded, remote wildlife areas are there but cost a bit more.
Perhaps not as well known as its neighbour Kenya, Tanzania has a huge array of different types of Parks and animals to offer. World famous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park should be near the top of your list for the sheer scale of the wildlife that migrates through these areas. Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s largest free standing mountain has always been a challenge that many cannot resist.
Down in the south the Selous National Park offers wildlife experiences that are based on the mighty Rufiji River. You have the option of boat and 4×4 game viewing. There is something magical about viewing a leopard on a rocky cliff from the boat below. For those that love chimps then the Parks in the west of the country are the place for you and for those that want a safari experience in a place well of the beaten track then the Ruaha National Park would suit very well.
Add in time on Zanzibar or Pemba Island for a beautiful beach experience to give you the perfect finish to you time in East Africa.
What else should I take into consideration?
- Distances in Africa are deceptive on a map. Roads can be difficult, particularly if there has been rain recently and driving on dirt roads requires less speed and a bit more concentration. Flying is a real alternative and may not be as expensive as first thought.
- Petrol stations are few and far between, so fill up if your tank is half full. Also you will have to pay for your fuel with cash.
- In Namibia the week-end still exists, so expect shops to close on Saturday afternoon and Sunday
- Take advice on your itinerary. There is nothing worse than arriving somewhere knowing you will be leaving tomorrow and realizing that you really ought to be there for 2/3 days
- Take some warm clothes. A game drive at 05:00 will be cold until the sun rises. This is particularly true if you go in their winter.
- Take your driving licence – even if you only plan on riding a quad bike.
- Laundry facilities are available at a lot of places along the route. So it is possible to pack less. This may well be a necessity if you plan on flying locally.
- Take more film or memory than you ever imagine you will need.
- You do not have to believe all the stories that your guide tells you.
- Do not leave your common sense at home. You will be asking for trouble if you wander around with your wallet on display in a known rough area. Adopting a low profile will benefit your security.
The time of year that you visit a country will affect the kind of wildlife that you will see. After the first rains, many animals will disperse to take advantage of the grass growing in usually arid places. This, together with the extra grass and foliage, will make animal spotting difficult. However the wet season has its compensations. There is something magical in seeing a desert covered in flowers, the birds in their courting exotic plumage and the mass outbreaks of invertebrates and insects.
Because of the size of the countries in this part of the world, it is impossible to say a blanket “best time” to visit. Discuss this with someone who has been and knows. That having been said, the climate change affects Southern and Eastern Africa as well, so no guarantees can be made.
High temperatures, particularly in the desert regions, can be expected. However, the lack of humidity in these areas makes the heat much more bearable.
Malaria and other health issues
It is a fact that some of the best wildlife experiences are in areas that are malarial. This is partly why they have remained mostly untouched by modern life. If this is a concern to you, then we can advise you on where to go that is a malaria free zone.
Africa has other diseases to think about and the best advice you can get is from your own doctor.
It is a given that you should not swim in non moving inland water.
Most of Southern Africa has potable water straight from the tap, but if you are concerned, use bottled.
Type of accommodation:
The level or type of accommodation will depend upon the budget that you wish to work within. We can take that into account when putting your itinerary together. We are happy to look at everything from camping to quality 5 star luxury lodges and hotels.
Southern Africa has a reputation for offering true value for money in its accommodation, particularly in the owner operated small hotel or guesthouse. Our experience over the years in this region means that we have visited many of the properties that we suggest and know the owners well.
Let us know what you expect where, and we will do our best to find something that suits.
As with accommodation, there are options available. It will depend on your budget and the level of comfort in which you wish to travel. Discuss this with us and we will always endeavour to obtain the best deal for you.
Game viewing is a wonderful life-changing experience – plan carefully, listen to an expert, then sit back and enjoy Mother Nature at her enchanting and magnificent best.