Africa is all about safari, but what many don’t realize is that the experience varies depending on the region visited. We got one of our MORE safari experts, Izak de Villiers (Sales Mananger and Field Guide Extraordinaire) to give us his insights into the many different faces of the African safari.
Forever immortalized in classics such as ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Ghost in the Darkness’ and ‘Born Free’, as well as a number National Geographic wildlife documentaries (most often featuring the mammoth wildebeest migration), Kenya (and to a lesser extent, Tanzania) have been tagged as the quintessential safari experience. Also, the false perception that all safari landscapes look like Kenya’s – vast open planes broken only by the odd isolated signature tree.
Indeed, for many older travelers from the UK, USA and Germany, this will always be their first introduction to an African safari.
Iconic features include the Masia Mara Game Reserve, Ngorogoro Crater, Grumeti Game Reserve and Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve is the continents 2nd largest National Park.
The experience of Tanzania is more diverse than that of Kenya, and extends beyond the traditional safari. Apart from the obvious appeal of its safari lodges, travellers are also drawn to view chimpanzees; to climb the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro; and to spend languid seaside hours on one of Zanzibar’s many beaches.
What visitors need to understand is that Kenya, for all its beauty, has become very commercialized over latter years. National parks are overrun with ‘safari’ vehicles and operators. As no rules are in place to govern off-roading, excessive vehicle numbers do negatively impact on animal sightings. Iconic sightings, such as wildebeest river crossings, attract literally hundreds of vehicles which need to stand in line to get a glimpse of what was formerly only seen in documentaries. Furthermore, safari vehicles are often mini buses which have been adapted to have their roofs lifted – very different to the open safari vehicles used in other African destinations.
This being said, a few lodges have private traversing rights, and their safaris are not influenced by the above.
Some of the worlds’s most iconic safari destinations are in Botswana – including the Kalahari basin, the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Okavango Delta, the Savuti Game Reserve; the northern borders along the Chobe River; the Chobe Game Reserve; and the Kwando River and its surrounding areas.
The most amazing thing about Botswana is the complete lack of fences, which essentially allows game to freely roam through the country. It is not uncommon to encounter elephants, giraffes, zebra and other wildlife when road tripping though the country. This being said, self-drivers are cautioned to only travel during daylight hours. Travelling along the Trans Kalahari Highway to Maun (through the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – 3rd Largest in Africa), Makgadikgadi into the Pans, into the Savuti and through the Chobe Game Reserve en route to Zambia and Namibia is highly recommended.
The diversity in habitat in Botswana, the un-spoilt nature of most of its safari areas, combined with limited human impact all add to the feeling of truly being in the middle of nowhere.
The game viewing on the renowned Chiefs’ Island in the Okavango Delta is arguably the finest in the world. Throughout the Delta, Savuti and Selinda, leopards and lion prides have been made famous by countless wildlife documentaries.
These two regions are grouped together mostly due to the fact that they are very similar in respect of travel experiences. The main difference is that Zimbabwe has fallen behind due to a dismal economy and poor governance.
Iconic reserves in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) include Hwange and Mana Pools, as well as lesser known gems such as Ghonarezhou (which forms part of the Limpopo Trans Frontier Park with Kruger National Park and Mozambique) andChizarira.
Iconic reserves in Zambia include the Kafue National Park (5th Largest in Africa) as well as North, South and West Luangwa National Parks.
Companies such as Wilderness Safaris have created some beautiful lodges throughout Zambia, which boasts an excellent quality safari. Within the national park, the South Luangwa Valley is reputed to have the largest leopard density of any reserve in Africa!
In both countries, large sections of their game reserves are located in flood plains – resulting in many of the lodges being seasonal (open for only 9 months of the year).
Situated on the west coast of Southern Africa on the Atlantic Ocean, Namibia has some of the continent’s most unique habitats and landscapes. It is home to Africa’s largest National Park – Mudumu in the Caprivi Region. Other iconic areas include Etosha National Park, Namib-Naukluft Park (with the Namib dessert), Sossusvlei and the Skeleton Coast National Park.
Namibia is not the typical safari experience and tourists won’t go only to see wildlife. Areas such as the Caprivi Strip as well as Etosha do have great game viewing, and for someone wanting an almost guaranteed sighting of cheetah, Etosha is a must. For an exclusive safari experience, I’d definitely recommend Botswana and the Kruger region of South Africa.
The standards to which other safari lodges throughout Africa are measured are very often determined by the standard of lodges in South Africa.
A critical element of any good safari is the quality of the Field Guide. Safari lodges throughout South Africa generally employ good Field Guides, and professional bodies such as the Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA) keep a close eye on qualifications and ethics in the industry.
The Greater Kruger and surrounding private reserves remain ‘The Mecca’ for safaris in South Africa. The safari experience lives and dies with the game experience. Most properties within this area also employ a tracker to join the guide, which further enhances the experience. These eagle-eyed companions assist in locating animals, sometime in the most unlikely locations.
In the private reserves that are part of the Greater Kruger Park, game viewing is exceptional, and lodges have been operating since the mid to late 70’s. For this reason, game has become habituated to open safari vehicles. Being able to view animals in such close and relaxed proximity, especially large predators, is truly something to behold.
Other wildlife areas that are worth visiting include the reserves in northern Natal (such as the Hluhluwe and Umfolozi reserves, as well as Phinda). In the northern Cape, the largest piece of private land in South Africa – Tswalu Kalahari – is also a must.