Where to go on your first African safari?
If you normally organise your own travel, the excitement of planning your first African safari can start well. However, it can quickly become overwhelming when you need help determining where, when or how to go on an African safari. The sheer number of safari destinations and the amount of information available online can make your head spin.
One of our most common questions is, “Where is the best area to go on safari in Africa?“. Believe it or not, this is one question we fear because there is no easy answer. Africa has so many fabulous safari destinations that this question requires us having a good discussion with guests to understand who they are, what type of traveller they are, their preferences etc.
The first step in making sense of all this information is to arrange a time with us to have a good chat. We know Africa intimately. Speaking with one of our safari specialists is the best place to begin.
The top three safari destinations most of our guests first travel to are Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania.
Of course, there are other countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia; but for a first African safari, most first-time safari-goers choose Botswana, Kenya or Tanzania. This is because they have either heard of these locations, watched wildlife documentaries or know of family and friends who have travelled to these areas.
Botswana is Africa’s priciest safari destination. It is an excellent choice for a first African safari. The Okavango Delta is the main attraction, offering low-impact safaris compared to popular mass-market options in Kenya and Tanzania. As a result, guests enjoy an unparalleled amount of privacy, exceptional wildlife sightings, and a unique, customised safari experience. But, as mentioned, Botswana is expensive.
Although the national parks in Botswana only see a few visitors (compared to Kenya or Tanzania), the private concession areas in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti are where the real safari action happens.
Throughout Africa, national parks and game reserves are restrictive. This restriction is no different in Botswana. These restrictions mean you must stay on tracks in wildlife areas such as Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. No off-roading or night drives are permitted. And, there is no limit to vehicles at a sighting.
Private Concession Areas
Private concessions provide much more flexibility. These areas allow off-roading and night drives, as well as walking. They also can offer specialised activities like a motorboat, mokoro, horseback safaris etc.
Most camps in the Okavango Delta are in private concessions.
Concessions are land leased from local communities and managed by safari companies. The safari companies must adhere to tight regulations, and strict environmental criteria, to ensure the Okavango Delta remains a pristine safari habitat. While communities are involved, the government controls the overall operations.
Whilst safaris in these concessions are more expensive, they are more flexible than those in game reserves and national parks, like Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park.
Local communities manage some concessions, such as Khwai Community Concession, which borders the Moremi Game Reserve. Whilst Khwai provides the same outstanding game viewing with greater flexibility, it is easily accessible. Unlike the crowds you can experience in Kenya and Tanzania’s parks and game reserves, Khwai can still be bustling.
Kenya has become one of Africa’s most developed tourist destinations thanks to its abundance of wildlife and conservation success stories.
That said, it is unfortunate that some of Kenya’s parks and reserves have suffered due to the country’s focus on mass tourism. The great news is that Kenya has pioneered the concept of private, group, and community conservancies. There are over 100 conservancies in Kenya, most were established in the past 15 years. These conservancies are significantly important in the overall protection of Kenya’s land.
For example, there are 15 conservancies covering an area of 450,000 acres of land in the Maasai Mara area, which is vital to the survival of the famous Serengeti-Mara wildebeest migration.
Private Wildlife Conservancies
With more than 65% of Kenya’s wildlife living on community land and private land, conservancies provide connected landscapes that complement national parks and reserves, allowing communities to see the benefits of wildlife management while also serving as the driving force behind conservation initiatives.
Whilst the conservancies are more expensive, they provide a more authentic experience away from the hordes of vehicles in the national parks and game reserves, particularly in peak season.
The advantage of being on a conservancy is the camps are not governed by the national park and game reserve rules, which are quite restrictive. Therefore, guides can drive off-road, and conduct night drives and nature walks – which you cannot do in the national parks and game reserves.
These private conservancies border the national parks and game reserves and are not fenced. The lack of fencing means the animals can roam freely between the two. However, the public cannot, thus creating a private safari experience away from the sometimes maddening crowds.
You cannot compare Kenya’s conservancies with the private game reserves in South Africa. In Kenya, the community owns the land the conservancies are gazetted on. In South Africa, private game reserves are privately owned – as the name suggests.
Tanzania is a fantastic first-time safari destination. Whilst Tanzania does not have the same private wildlife conservancy setup as Kenya, it is home to some of Africa’s greatest parks. Most of the national parks in Tanzania are larger than those in Kenya, meaning you typically experience fewer vehicles. However, in some areas, such as Ngorongoro Crater, you cannot escape the volume of cars because the crater is only 20km wide and has a limited road network.
With about 40% of Tanzania’s land protected or conserved, the northern circuit (Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro) is Tanzania’s busiest safari region.
The annual migration passes through the northern circuit, which is also home to most cats in Africa. The Serengeti habitat is like no other in terms of the number of species you will see.