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Where Should You Go on Your First Safari in Africa?

Adelle Belle

Author: Adelle Belle - 30 January 2024

Last Update: 11 August 2023

Part of the African Safari Collection

The African continent boasts an exceptional choice of destinations home to incredible wildlife, interesting cultures, and breathtaking landscapes. While some countries are better suited to seasoned safari veterans, others offer the ideal way to tick an authentic African safari off your bucket list.

Three giraffe with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
Three giraffe with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Deciding on where to go for your first African safari can be overwhelming, so we’ve put together a list of the top 5 first-time safari destinations that go into detail on what kind of activities you can expect on safari, which animals you’ll see, and what kind of safari experiences are on offer. 

South Africa

South Africa offers the most advanced safari industry in Africa. Solid infrastructure, a high standard of accommodation, reputable, professional, and experienced operators, and reasonable prices all add up to make the country a great choice for a first-time safari. South Africa plays host to an astonishing diversity of wildlife. The country’s many parks and reserves are home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) while its coastline features the marine Big Five (whale, penguin, shark, seal, and dolphin).

Add to these attractions other drawcards like the Cape Winelands, Table Mountain, and the stunning Garden Route, and you’ll see why travelers return again and again.

Where are the best places to go?

Which animals can you see?

  • Lion
  • Leopard
  • Elephant
  • Buffalo
  • Rhino
  • Birdlife
  • Zebra
  • Giraffe
  • African wild dog
  • Cheetah
  • Hyena
  • Whale
  • Penguin
  • Shark
  • Seal
  • Dolphin

What kind of safaris are on offer?

  • Beach Holidays
  • Big Five Safaris
  • Birding Safaris
  • Family Safaris
  • Honeymoon Safaris
  • Horseback Safaris
  • Luxury Rail Safaris
  • Malaria Free Safaris
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Walking Safaris

When’s the best time to go?

The South African climate is pleasant throughout the year, but May and September in Kruger National Park are especially dry months, so animals gather at waterholes in large numbers and you’ll have a good chance at spotting prized species. See our other months here

How long should you stay?

8-12 days is ideal for first-timers as it provides plenty of time to explore. We’d suggest a minimum of 3 nights in Kruger National Park and 6 days to take in the stunning Garden Route. A few nights in Cape Town is a must.


Kenya

As a safari destination, Kenya has a long and robust history and today is a very advanced tourist destination. The infrastructure is sound, access to the country and parks is easy, and you can expect a consistently high standard of service and accommodation. The country is home to a wide variety of incredible wildlife and fascinating cultures, and the plains of the Masai Mara are where you can witness the Great Migration, an annual Kenyan safari highlight billed as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.

Several brilliant Kenya conservation initiatives have yielded a high concentration of game, so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to sightings here. Beyond safari attractions, the hiking in the Great Rift Valley is superb and the country enjoys long stretches of stunning coastline, the perfect place to top off a safari holiday.

Where are the best places to go?

  • Masai Mara, Samburu, and Shaba National Parks for safari and game viewing
  • Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu for beaches
  • Great Rift Valley for hikes and scenery

Which animals can you see?

  • Lion
  • Leopard
  • Elephant
  • Rhino
  • Buffalo
  • Cheetah
  • Hyena
  • Jackal
  • Bat-eared fox
  • Giraffe
  • Zebra
  • Warthog
  • Hartebeest
  • Gazelle
  • Impala

What kind of safaris are on offer?

  • Beach Holidays
  • Big Five Safaris
  • Birding Safaris
  • Honeymoon Safaris
  • Horseback Safaris
  • Hot Air Balloon Safaris
  • Malaria Free Safaris
  • Migration Safaris
  • Mobile Camping Safaris
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Walking Safaris

When’s the best time to go?

The Masai Mara has excellent game viewing throughout the year and the temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year. The long rains happen from March to May. High season on the coast is September to January, while it’s July to November in the parks. The Great Migration occurs between August and October. See our other months here

How long should you stay?

8-14 days will give you enough time to explore and top off your trip with some blissful beach time.

Tanzania

Tanzania is home to some of the best national parks in Africa, with dense concentrations of game and awe-inspiring views of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. The country features several incredible off-the-beaten-path destinations where tourist numbers are lower and encounters with game more exclusive.

An added bonus is the ability to explore the country’s culture and engage with local tribes. An unmissable experience is witnessing the Great Migration in Tanzania, when over 2 million animals stampede across the Serengeti plains on their way to Kenya. Situated a short way away from amazing Zanzibar, Tanzania is the perfect place to combine the bush with the beach.  

Where are the best places to go?

Which animals can you see?

  • Wildebeest
  • Zebra
  • Hippo
  • Buffalo
  • Giraffe
  • Antelope
  • Lion
  • Cheetah
  • Leopard
  • Gazelle

What kind of safaris are on offer?

  • Beach Holidays
  • Big Five Safaris
  • Birding Safaris
  • Family Safaris
  • Honeymoon Safaris
  • Hot Air Balloon Safaris
  • Migration Safaris
  • Mobile Camping Safaris
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Walking Safaris

When’s the best time to go?

Tanzania is a good destination to visit throughout the year, with long rains in April and May, and short rains in November. The best periods for game viewing vary by area, with the most popular season between June and October. For the Great Migration, visit between December and July. See our other months here

How long should you stay?

8-12 days or perhaps 14 if you want to spend a few days on the beach in Zanzibar.

Zambia

Zambian safaris place an emphasis on adventurous activities and are perfect for more active travelers. The country is renowned for its excellent walking safaris (some short, some multi-day between camps) and is ideal for anyone who wants to explore on foot.

Guides here have a well-deserved reputation for being friendly, enthusiastic, and incredibly knowledgeable. Zambian safaris offer a sense of authenticity and intimacy, and the industry here is well-developed, featuring camps and lodges that are both comfortable and well-priced. The cherry on top is having access to the world-famous Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 

Where are the best places to go?

Which animals can you see?

  • Leopard
  • Lion
  • African wild dog
  • Elephant
  • Buffalo
  • Cheetah
  • Giraffe
  • Hippo
  • Hyena

What kind of safaris are on offer?

  • Big Five Safaris
  • Birding Safaris
  • Family Safaris
  • Honeymoon Safaris
  • Luxury Rail Safaris
  • Migration Safaris
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Walking Safaris

When’s the best time to go?

May to October is the season for walking safaris, with sunny days, chilly nights, and spectacular game viewing. The wet season is from November to April, when some camps close and the more remote areas can be hard to reach. All-weather camps will stay open, and the parks turn to lush woodland. See our other months here

How long should you stay?

9 to 12 days, especially if you’re walking from camp to camp.

Botswana

Botswana is a breathtakingly beautiful destination all year round. Safaris here are an intimate affair, with the country focusing on high-income, low-impact safaris. While it may be more expensive, your experience here will deliver high-quality wildlife encounters and exclusive personal treatment.

From the sprawling wetlands of the Okavango Delta to the golden Kalahari Desert, Botswana never disappoints. The rainy season is spectacular and sees the landscape explode into vibrant shades of green, with animals feeding on lush vegetation. 

Where are the best places to go?

Which animals can you see?

  • Lion
  • Leopard
  • Elephant
  • Rhino
  • Buffalo
  • Giraffe
  • Antelope
  • Zebra
  • Hippo
  • Puku
  • Wildebeest

What kind of safaris are on offer?

  • Big Five Safaris
  • Birding Safaris
  • Family Safaris
  • Honeymoon Safaris
  • Horseback Safaris
  • Houseboat Safaris
  • Malaria Free Safaris
  • Migration Safaris
  • Mobile Camping Safaris
  • Mokoro Safaris
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Walking Safaris

When’s the best time to go?

You can visit Botswana throughout the year. July to October is the dry season and the best time for spotting large herds at waterholes. December to March is the green season and a great time to visit if you’re a birdwatcher. While it can be rainy, prices are a bit lower, and game viewing is still good, especially in the Kalahari. See our other months here

How long should you stay?

8 to 12 days, depending on how many areas you want to visit.

Bonus: What Should You Pack?

Now that you’ve got a better idea of where you might want to go on your first safari, we’d suggest using this packing list for your African adventure:

  • Casual but comfortable clothes – loose-fitting is best to stay cool
  • Clothes made from cotton, especially during the dry season
  • Safari trousers with zip-off sections
  • A fleece or warm jacket for the evening and early morning game drives
  • Binoculars
  • Camera/smartphone with a good zoom function
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • A wide-brimmed hat 
  • Sturdy and breathable shoes
  • Prescription medication, glasses, and sunglasses
  • A swimsuit
  • A light raincoat in the wet season

PS: You can download our free safari packing list.

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