Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Africa & the Middle East (
-   -   Is There Really A "Best Place" To Take A Safari? (

Dukey1 Oct 1st, 2019 10:35 AM

Is There Really A "Best Place" To Take A Safari?
I am talking about non-shooting (of guns), IOW what I suppose some would call a "camera safari." Yes, would enjoy seeing as much wildlife as possible and as much variation as possible, too. How should I narrow this down as we have never done anything like this before? Time of year? Length of time along with associated sightseeing in other countries/locales probably up to three weeks. There must be companies/agencies which do this sort of thing; recommendations for those? In the meanwhile will start doing basic internet research and appreciate any directions and how-to-go-abouts. Thanks in advance.

Gardyloo Oct 1st, 2019 02:11 PM

News flash: people are going to give you all sorts of advice, some of it conflicting. Just so you know.

I'd probably start with the mother lode for safari trip reports etc. - Safaritalk - Forums - Safaritalk . Then I'd look at a map and a calendar, and start narrowing down the where/when questions, and I'd also look at options for touring in countries with safari options. I'd also look at your budget, as - in general - safari trips are not cheap (but there are indeed ways to save money.) But understand that every minute you spend looking at alternatives, coming up with imaginary itineraries, weighing the budget and timing options - will be a minute extremely well spent. And be warned - if you're like most first time safari people, you're going to be planning your next trip before the landing gear is up and locked on your way home.

I would say that the two "major" areas to research are East Africa, mainly Kenya and Tanzania, and southern Africa, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. To be sure, there are safari options in other countries, such as Uganda, but I would say the countries listed will offer the most options for a first time visitor.

While there are guided safari experiences in all these countries, a few also offer opportunities for self-guided/self-drive experiences. In this regard, South Africa offers the most variety in landscapes and ecosystems accessible by car, and also offers a huge range of non-safari visiting choices, ranging from vibrant cities to mountains, beaches, historic sites...

Speaking personally (and others will chime in) I'd probably focus on SA for a first safari experience, just for the reasons stated. You can see wildlife in some very different settings, at all levels of visitor comfort (or luxury if you choose) but will ALSO have time in a three-week period to experience some of the many other faces of this stunning country.

Let me illustrate this with an imaginary trip. Remember, this shows MY preferences and might not be anything like yours. It's mainly a self driving tour.

Timing - late August to mid-September. Why? Because in northern parts of South Africa, around the Kruger National Park area, it's winter and the dry season. The absence of leaves on the trees makes for better line-of-sight viewing, and the animals come to the water sources - rivers and ponds - making the viewing that much easier. Temperatures are warm during the days, cool at night, and mosquitoes (hence malaria prophylaxis) are not a problem.

Map 1 - (Google everything on the maps and in the text) or alternatively

The first part of the trip would focus on the area around Kruger National Park. You'd fly (from Johannesburg) to the regional Kruger-Mpumalanga airport (MQP) located near the city of Nelspruit in the north of the country You'd get a car at the airport and drive around 90 minutes to the pleasant little town of Graskop, located on the stunning "Panorama Route." Over the next couple of days, overcome jetlag with day trips to some of the stunning viewpoints along this route, including God's Window (made famous in the old movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy) and the overlooks for the Three Rondavels and the Blyde River Canyon. Stay at the comfortable and funky Graskop Hotel, eat fab food next door at Harrie's Pancakes, and just adjust to "Africa time." The second map shows the route if you choose to drive instead of flying. The roads (some lightly tolled) are very good and rental car prices are cheap, but if you're jetlagged flying to Nelspruit might be the safer option. Also note that as it's winter, daylight hours are somewhat limited.

After Graskop, drive (a couple of hours) to one of the game lodges in the Sabi Sand game reserve. Like many other reserves, the SSGR is private land abutting the national park, but there are no fences or barriers, so the wildlife moves to and fro throughout the region. Unlike the national parks, off-road travel is allowed in the private reserves, so staying at one of those lodges will give you an unparalleled opportunity to see (and follow) animals up close, to travel in the predawn and evening hours when many animals are most active. You'll likely see all of the "big five" species, but will also see much, much more, with the assistance of guides and spotters who will ride along and point out natural features, birds, insects, tell stories... in short a crash course and invaluable familiarization with the land and its people, flora and fauna.

Spend a couple of days at a lodge (more is better, but they're expensive) then shift to one of the "rest camps" inside the national park boundaries. These offer comfortable and very affordable accommodations, restaurants and visitor services, and during the days you can drive your own vehicle around the national park (staying on approved roads) and see even MORE wildlife. After your intense exposure in the private lodge, you'll be far better equipped to know where and how to look, etc. I'd spend a couple of days doing that, then I'd return the car to MQP airport and fly (probably via Joburg) to Port Elizabeth on the Indian Ocean coast. If you drove from JNB to the Kruger area, drive back,drop the car and fly one-way (very inexpensive) to PLZ airport and pick up a second car.

Map 2 (or is it 3?) -

The second part of the trip starts on the Indian Ocean coast, includes a second national park in a VERY different setting than the Kruger area, then follows the stunning "Garden Route" along the south coast of South Africa to the Cape Winelands, north to the Atlantic coast, then south back into Cape Town to conclude the trip. It starts with a visit to Addo Elephant National Park, another self drive national park thus very affordable (but with higher-priced lodging options.) This is a terrific, big national park with a full complement of wildlife, but obviously the (big) stars are the elephants. LOTS of elephants.

You'd then follow the coast west toward Cape Town, stopping in any number of attractive and interesting towns along the way, including the likes of Jeffrey's Bay (made famous in the original surfing movie Endless Summer) and Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, George and other places, with nonstop glorious scenery. Visit the popular coastal town of Hermanus, then head north through the mountains to Franschhoek and historic Stellenbosch, surrounded by vineyards producing terrific wine, citrus groves at their peak... unbelievably beautiful country and with food and wine choices that will knock your socks off.

I'd then head north, skirting Cape Town for now, to the Atlantic coast near the old and very picturesque village of Paternoster. The land around Paternoster, and in the nearby West Coast National Park, is a riot of color during the spring wildflower season. West Coast NP doesn't have any big predators, but there are numerous antelope, zebra, and huge numbers of birds to observe. But it's the wildflowers that are the big show.

From there it's a couple of hours into Cape Town to conclude the trip. What can be said of the "mother city?" It's beautiful, cosmopolitan, full of beautiful accommodations, gardens, restaurants and history. It will also challenge your preconceptions about life in South Africa; visits to a township, the District Six museum, or to Robben Island will break your heart, or maybe start mending it. You can eat incredible Cape Malay food in riotous colors of the Bo-Kaap district, see penguins at Simon's Town, ride up to Table Mountain or hike up Lion's Head.... like I say, you'll be planning your return trip before you've cleared security at CPT airport.

Now this is just one of an infinity of options, and only mentions South Africa. You could have similar experiences in Botswana, in Namibia, in Zimbabwe... or completely different experiences in Kenya or Tanzania - the Masai Mara and the huge migrations, the Ngorongoro Crater... you name it.

Start by reading - trip reports, tourist bumpf, and learn up on all the options, pros and cons. Like I said above, every minute you spend will pay you BIG dividends.

inquest Oct 1st, 2019 05:49 PM

Dukey, you are a veteran in Fodors and you couldn't have found a better veteran than Gardy to give you sound advice. Beautifully put Gardy.
Please get back to the drawing board , read up guide books on Africa, focusing on specific countries and their respective wildlife, sanctuaries, culture, weather / climate, what to expect when/ which part of the year.
There are some exceptional scantuaries in the continent of Africa, some stunning locations, teeming with astounding bio-diversity of flora and fauna. Each with its own season in the African sun. Do research. The advice here will be at a very advanced level, for, many fodorites here have done their 'nth' safari. Nonetheless you'll find limitless help planning. As usual, the forum 'mantra' is be specific and you'll get specific answers. So its your turn to ' shoot' mate. Good luck

shouldbewriting Oct 1st, 2019 06:04 PM

Eight years ago atravelyn found me bumbling around on another site looking for clues about a safari. She directed me here and the rest is history.

I started with the Fodor’s safari book and many hours asking questions on the Africa forum. Safaritalk came in handy too. We decided to start out with lodges rather than tents and used an in-country company called Africa Direct. It was a truly exceptional trip.

Tomorrow we leave for Botswana. This time in tents, which I think will be a bit harder for an old timer like me. I will report back in a few weeks.

In meantime my trip report on the earlier South African trip may offer some help.

So glad you’re going to do this. It’s amazing.

inquest Oct 1st, 2019 06:23 PM

Shouldbewriting, luxury under the canvas is an unparalleled experience. True bush ! Once hooked on...there is a whole lot more in the bush to look forward to.....camping in the wild.

2 years ago it was Kalagadi Transfrontier National Park in Botswana. 12 nights of camping in the wild..awesome. Next is the central Kalagadi coming up soon.
Have a wonderful journey in 'Beautiful Botswana'.

amyb Oct 3rd, 2019 08:29 AM

I’m away on an iPhone now or you’d really get an earful from me! I’ve not been to South Africa but I have been on 5 safaris in Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. I think any of those can easily satisfy your requirements. I would reach out to safari planners and have a custom itinerary made for you based on your interests, time and budget. But first:
What you need to decide before you contact a safari planner:
1) Your budget (excluding international flights) -- know that this is all inclusive usually, but for the tips. I take very little spending money with me as it's just tipping local staff. Sticker shock usually hits until you realize this is ALL meals, ALL entertainment, ALL room and board for the entire trip.
2) Days on the ground available and time of year (excluding travel time to/from Africa) -- migrations, rainy seasons, high seasons, all factor into overall costs and when it's best to go to certain areas.
3) Your interests -- Big cats? Elephants? Reptiles? Birds? Beach time? Village visits? Some areas are better than others for certain wildlife and activities.
4) Lodging types -- do you need soaker tubs and swimming pools? Do you want to stay in tents in the bush (with beds and full bathrooms)? Do you need electricity/wifi/ solid walls?

I can personally vouch for Africa Travel Resource, The Wild Source and Gamewatchers, Expert Africa, who offer itineraries in most safari destinations.

Many of us could help you review and compare itineraries. You can also get a healthy dose of reading others’ trip reports on Safaritalk (much more savvy and experienced safarigoers as a whole than here). It’s a lot to decided but once you have your goals narrowed down it’ll give safari planners a direction. Good luck!

Dukey1 Oct 3rd, 2019 01:02 PM

I appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions. Thank you very much.

KathBC Oct 3rd, 2019 03:53 PM

Safari planning for a 1st timer can be very overwhelming and you've definitely come to the right place to start. Its really all about research research research, then come back here with questions and review of itineraries. I personally find Safaritalk way too confusing to navigate especially since they changed the format.

Try not to join a group with a set itinerary where you'll spend most of your time in transit or packing and unpacking. Personalized itineraries where you visit places you are interested in and spend a minimum of 2 nights if not 3 are not that much more expensive and well worth it. Also try not to cram in too much, you want to relax and enjoy the experience.

Have fun researching!

Leely2 Oct 3rd, 2019 10:14 PM

If when you think of safari, you think of that Out of Africa classic savanna, you are thinking of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. That's Kenya & Tanzania.

My favorite country is Kenya; I just have a soft spot for it, even though my first safari was in Tanzania (which I also loved). I am extremely biased, though. I have only been on safari in East Africa. And when I think of my next safari, I always think of a return to East Africa. Rwanda is also stunning and I would dearly like to return to see the gorillas "just one more time."

I agree that safaritalk is great but difficult to navigate. Definitely worth checking out.

Good luck. I don't think many people regret going on safari.

doloresmercado Oct 4th, 2019 11:57 AM

hi Kathbc yess agree safaritalk is confusing everybody talks about their experiences but dont give info on tours and as a solo traveller I would like one that operates away from crowds and on small campsites.. groups no bigger than 6 people myself included..all adults... has anyone know of a serious operator not those massive ones ? for big groups? thank you..

ONEMORE question..I found one for 4 days that flys to Serengeti instead of using land transport...single acomm for usd 1250 does seregeti..crater and maynard..for mid JUNE 2020..

Any feedback will be welcome..thank you... cheers...Dolores

amyb Oct 4th, 2019 09:11 PM

It is not difficult to navigate Safaritalk. Trip Reports are under “Travel Talk — Trip Reports”, which anyone, even without a username and password, can read. Trip Reports are further categorized by country. You can ask questions or post itineraries for feedback under “Travel Talk — Trip Planning” which you do need a username and password to access.

Safaritalk is not for people looking to join large or group prepackaged tours. It’s for people traveling on their own on their own itinerary.

ekscrunchy Oct 6th, 2019 05:48 AM


South Africa in Sabi Sands area, OR Zimbabwe,. both mixed with CapeTown where I am now......sob cause we leave today.

95 percent unemployment in Zim but reported to have the best gudiing in Africa. Among the best trips I have ever taken..three weeks in total..Hwange.Mana Pools and Malilangwe...lok them eyes do not let me type so well...


mlgb Oct 8th, 2019 06:59 AM

No I don't think there is a "best" place, time, or way to take a safari. Some of the advice given here might not apply to anyone's particular travel style, budget, limitations, or interests.

If you can only go in February, for example, you will still see plenty of wildlife in Kruger..elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, zebra and antelope around every corner. Our group had sightings of leopards (twice, including a pair together for mating) and lions with cubs. Going in February means lots of baby animals.

One thing I wouldn't do for a first safari is self-drive.

Also, can your partner get in and out of safari vehicles? That would be a major consideration. If no, then you'd be looking at lodges as opposed to driving or walking safaris.

Even though the "experts" here may have been on multiple safaris, there are lots of individual preferences and even with "multiples" they are going back to the same places many times.

Cape Town is spectacular. Which for me would be a reason to go to Southern Africa rather than Kenya.

sundowner Oct 9th, 2019 07:04 PM

Everyone loves "their" trip. Just like doctors. Everyone's doctor is "the best". :)

I went to southern Africa my first 5 times to Africa. Then I went to the Masai Mara in Kenya. Every trip since then has included the Mara and/or the Olare Motorogi Conservancy (which has limited visitors and allows game drives after dark).

I've stayed mostly in tented camps (think "glamping") in the Mara and then there's a private 3BR house that I love ♥♥♥ the most.

I've booked different ways - direct with the camps, used Gamewatchers and The Wild Source for bookings.

My trips usually have to be fairly short so I stay the same place the whole time. And I'm always sad to leave. For longer trips I have stayed at least 3 nights each in several camps.

If I ever win the lottery (still need to buy a ticket) I will spend it ALL on photo safaris in Kenya.

There are dozens of different ways to do this and most will turn out great. Good luck with your planning! :)

Leely2 Oct 9th, 2019 08:06 PM

Hi sundowner! Agree that the conservancies, including Olare Motorogi Conservancy (fka Olare Orok) are the way to visit the Mara, though I do follow Mara Triangle on Instagram and appreciate at least one trip into the park during a visit. Last time I was in the Mara I stayed in Mara North and we many saw cheetahs You couldn't swing a cat without hitting...a cat.
Green season on Olare Motorogi Conservancy

amyb Oct 10th, 2019 08:00 AM

For Big Cat Aficionados, you can't go wrong in the Mara. My first time there, Leely, was at Porini Lion in Olare Motorogi, and I felt like it was absolutely no work at all for the guides to find cats, it was ridiculous how easily we came upon them, especially compared to my first safari before that in Tanzania, which was a lot more work. That's what keeps me going back to the Mara. I can reliably see cats and many I've gotten to know over time, seeing them again with new cubs or new mates. I've somewhat hesitatingly signed on to a safari next year in South Luangwa in Zambia specifically with my eye primarily on leopards and secondarily lions, knowing it too is a hot spot for cats, but I still wonder if I shouldn't just go back to the Mara and get my fill!! HA!

sundowner Oct 10th, 2019 08:58 AM

Leely, we stayed at Mara North at the end of a trip and ended up just taking it easy instead of going on game drives. We usually leave at dawn and get back after dark. Those long days are tiring. We need to give it another try! I follow Ping on IG ( pinguankukuu ) and he sees and shares the best stuff in the Mara. Makes me want to go every day.

Amy, I've stated at Porini Lion, Mara Plains (or Toto, can't remember), Topi House. Definitely cat country. I think you need to add the Mara on the way home from Zambia. :) I had to add the Mara after Tanzania and Ethiopia. Couldn't be that close and not go.

amyb Oct 10th, 2019 09:24 AM

sundowner, oh now don't tempt me!!! I have the Zambia itinerary paid for but haven't bought airfare yet, so maybe I should just stop by!

Ping is a legend. He made me rethink all the myths I'd heard about the Reserve proper. As a guide he knows how to find incredible sightings all to ourselves and he is the only person I know that possibly loves cats more than I do. I knew we'd seen some good stuff when he looks at me with a big smile when it's over and says "whaaaaa was that?" Only once did we have a crowd with us and we quickly left it. The rest of the time it was as if we had the Reserve to ourselves. He just knows the area so well. But you make a good point, we did 4 full days with Ping and by the time I got to Offbeat for 5 days, I was wiped out and kind of welcomed the midday siesta! But I will never forego a pre-dawn game drive. I've never, ever been disappointed by them.

Agree on Mara North too, I've been there twice and would likely go back if/when I go back to Kenya. Like after Zambia...

doloresmercado Oct 10th, 2019 09:35 AM

To sundower ref kenya tanzania
thank you SUNDOWER.. II agree with you..let me have your feedback.:I dont want more than 7 days... and would like your opinion if these 4 are the best sites to visit
AND if time allows TARANGIRE

thank you!! for your time

Originally Posted by sundowner (Post 16998335)
Everyone loves "their" trip. Just like doctors. Everyone's doctor is "the best". :)
I went to southern Africa my first 5 times to Africa. Then I went to the Masai Mara in Kenya. Every trip since then has included the Mara and/or the Olare Motorogi Conservancy (which has limited visitors and allows game drives after dark).
I've stayed mostly in tented camps (think "glamping") in the Mara and then there's a private 3BR house that I love ♥♥♥ the most.
I've booked different ways - direct with the camps, used Gamewatchers and The Wild Source for bookings.
My trips usually have to be fairly short so I stay the same place the whole time. And I'm always sad to leave. For longer trips I have stayed at least 3 nights each in several camps.
If I ever win the lottery (still need to buy a ticket) I will spend it ALL on photo safaris in Kenya.
There are dozens of different ways to do this and most will turn out great. Good luck with your planning! :)

amyb Oct 10th, 2019 02:44 PM

You didn't ask me, Dolores, but you do not have time for four locations in two countries with just 7 days. The Mara and Serengeti are the same ecosystem just different names when you cross the border, so for a trip so short, pick one of those and the country it is in and stick with that. I'd keep it to two locations in either country so that you maximize your time on the ground and don't spend a lot of it in transit.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:33 PM.