If you have not been on an African Safari making the decision of where to go is not that easy. There are so many options, each sounding more amazing than the last, which is why a safari specialist and/or knowledgeable DMC is important in that process. East and Southern Africa are very different, so when I am asked how to choose a destination, I suggest making a list of your priorities. What experience do you want to have; are you adventurous or do you want to disconnect, go for a few game drives, and lie by the pool? Do you want to have a luxe experience with brick-and-mortar lodges, swimming pools and hot tubs, or track animals on foot and sleep beneath the stars? Maybe both!
Who you travel with and the purpose of the trip is also important as is the size of the group. If traveling with family will there be young kids? Your budget and how much time you have will also be a factor and I do believe that if you are going all the way to Africa, you should spend at least 10 days to get the full experience.
East Africa and the Migration
A deciding factor for your safari will be also the time of the year you would like to go as that will determine which areas/Countries are the best to visit. However, if that is not an issue for you, I recommend June/July through November. One of the most breathtaking experiences you will ever have in East Africa is being a witness to the massive migration of animals. This is peak season so you would have to secure your accommodation well in advance.
The Great Migration cannot be compared to any other experience in this lifetime. Well over a million animals migrate during the dry season from the southern expanse of the Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro Crater, over the border of Kenya to Maasai Mara National Reserve, and back down to the southern Serengeti again in search of food and water and to raise their young during the seasonal change. The movement is dependent upon the rain and grazing, and the animals are unpredictable themselves. Huge herds have stood on the banks of the rivers for a day or two before crossing as this is a major obstacle and they are aware of the dangers waiting for them in the river, so timing is everything.
There are various options to experience this migration; you could take a hot air balloon ride over the Mara, follow along in an open Land Rover or go on a walking safari. Please be sure to have a professional, experienced and responsible guide.
A Kenya/Tanzania Overland Safari
If the migration is not of interest to you, there is the hauntingly beautiful Serengeti in Tanzania known for its geographic wonders and vast wilderness areas. The plains of Serengeti National Park, known as the land of the “Big Five” is absolutely a must-see. Kilimanjaro National Park claims Africa’s highest mountain and vistas of truly impossible beauty.
You can explore both these Countries on an overland Kenya/Tanzania safari, witnessing the wildebeest, zebra, and a host of other wildlife. I would start this adventure in Nairobi and then travel to the Mount Kenya region, which is an extinct volcano, the highest mountain in Kenya, and the second-highest in Africa after Kilimanjaro. Abundant wildlife and over 130 bird species will have you enthralled and in safari heaven. Crowds of flamingos famously line the shores of several lakes and are often joined by other larger wildlife attracted to the cooling breezes of the lakes. To the east is the Indian Ocean, including the tropical islands of Zanzibar. I suggest starting your trip with a safari and ending it with a few days on an exotic island. It’s the best of both worlds.
A Rwanda/Uganda Gorilla Trekking Experience
Rwanda and/or Uganda is a must-visit for an amazing gorilla trekking experience, and for many, this is the ultimate wildlife adventure. These gentle giants can be found in the area known as the Virunga Mountains and live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The mountain gorillas can be reached after a trek of several hours up and through the rainforest, which you should only attempt if you are in good health and able to sustain a slow mountain climbing pace. However, it is totally worth it! Trackers will let your ranger know where to find the gorillas, and then lead you to them. Seeing these incredible animals up close is nothing short of magical.
Please note that you will need permits at least three months prior to your visit. Children under 15 are not permitted to participate in gorilla trekking unless special permission is obtained.
A Kid-Friendly Experience
If you are a family with young kids, it might be prudent to go to a lodge where you and the kiddos can experience the wildlife in a safe-for-kids environment such as Giraffe Manor in Kenya.
This unique Manor is famous for its resident herd of Rothschild giraffes that casually wander around the spectacular grounds. Expect to have “visitors” for breakfast as you will probably share a delicious meal with a friendly giraffe poking its head through the window in search of a treat. There are several lodges perfect for destination weddings if you are accompanied by families with young kids and many of these lodges will provide a nanny service.
There are so many beautiful options for lodging, and the right one for you will again depend on your priorities, your budget and what you would like to experience. However, we do recommend Eden Nairobi, especially for your first night after landing, Sanctuary Retreats, Andbyond Lodges, White Sands Villas in Zanzibar, The Safari Collection, and Volcanoes Safaris.
You could stay in a luxury lodge, or experience Africa with a backpack and tent as I have… it is up to you. I have also stayed in tented camps that are as luxurious as a five-star hotel, which will give you the safari experience without giving up any of the comforts.
The most important aspect of your trip is a professional and reliable DMC and there are two companies in Africa that I put my complete trust in to fulfill every detail of a client’s trip without fail. Meet Bernard of Nziza Hospitality and Sandra Lee of Ruby Travel. Bernard is the owner and manager of Nziza Hospitality with deep roots in Africa and is committed to providing you with value that goes above and beyond. Sandra Lee also has many years of experience in the travel industry and will provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Africa at its best. These two professionals are true gems in the industry and will work with you to create an unforgettable experience.
In the last article of this series I will explore Southern Africa, so follow along here and on my Facebook for more info on African Safaris, destination weddings, wine cruises and foodie tours in the U.S. and abroad. Be sure to read part one of my Africa series and our tips for your first tip to Africa.