You are gently stirred from your sleep with a steaming cup of tea as the sun rises over the plains and forests of east Africa. A low growl reverberates across camp as lions declare their presence. Elephants are already on their way to the river bank, while in the misty mountains of Rwanda and Uganda mountain gorillas settle in a clearing to feast on the nearby forest celery. All these are everyday scenes on safari, but knowing how to plan an African safari is no easy task. However, follow our top tips and you’ll be experiencing very similar scenes yourself soon!
Starting Points for How to Plan an African Safari
Never been on safari before? Not sure how to plan an African safari? We hear you! Take a look at our bullet points for all you need to know about planning an African safari.
- A great place to start is to think about what sort of African safari you’re looking to enjoy. For instance, are you keen to see the Big 5 species, which are sadly now limited to a handful of specific destinations, or is it birdwatching which is your passion? Do you crave the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with mountain gorillas, or are you looking to mix a little rest and relaxation alongside your safari?
- Think about your budget. Most tour operators have packages that extend across safari options, from budget to luxury. Don’t be afraid to tell tour operators of your ideal budget – they will know what you can and can’t do with the money you have.
- Don’t forget to think about what sort of accommodation you’d like to stay in too. In between game drives and other safari experiences you’ll be spending a significant amount of time in and around your camp. It’s therefore important you’re comfortable with where you’re staying.
- Remember to check out booking terms and conditions with any tour operator you use carefully. For example, what happens if you need to cancel your vacation? Checking this out know will potentially save you a huge amount of stress later on, and help you sort the good guys in the industry from the cowboys!
Deciding On Your Safari Destination
The next step in how to plan an African safari is to decide on your safari destination.
- Once you’ve worked out roughly what you’re looking for out of your safari, it’s time to match your requirements with a destination. This can be a whole country, or just a specific region. For example, if you’re dead set on seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, there are only a handful of destinations on this massive continent where you can head – Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- The good news is that many safari destinations are also some of the safest places to visit in Africa. Crime within national parks is very rare, helping to create an atmosphere of relaxation you’ll be keen to try and replicate once you get home.
- If you’re struggling to decide between potential destinations, know that it’s very normal to incorporate visits to two or three different destinations within the same trip. So as well as visiting the mountain gorillas at altitude, it’s also common to explore the savannah zones of countries such as Uganda, or head to natural sights including Lake Victoria or Murchison Falls on the river Nile.
- Multiple destinations in large countries may mean you turn to domestic flights to get around. In which case you’ll want to ensure connecting flights are available before confirming other details of your African safari. The obvious thing to do is book as early as possible, which will also help you benefit from the lowest air fares.
Work Out The Best Time to Go
Each destination will have its own best time to visit. A lot will de down to the prevailing weather conditions in your destination country. But what you see and experience can also be affected by historic animal migration patterns.
- For east African destinations, the best time to visit is between June and October. Coinciding with the dry season, it’s when the region has its lowest temperatures (in the 70s Fahrenheit) and least rainfall.
- Days are usually sunny too, with blue skies providing a fine backdrop for photography. The wettest month is May, with rainy seasons lasting from March until May and then again from October through to December. While this may put you off at first, these months remain a great time for trekking to see mountain gorillas. November also welcomes many migratory birds to the region.
- A good tip for those on a tight budget is to consider the shoulder seasons which sit between the dry and green (or wet) seasons. The weather is a mix between the two, and more unpredictable than other times of year, but crowds are generally less, leading to less demand and more offers.
Determine What You Need To Pack
Packing last minute is not recommended for anyone keen to know how to plan an African safari the right way. That’s because it’s more than likely you’re going to need some specialist items which you’ll need to obtain in advance.
- You certainly don’t need to dress like Indiana Jones or Rambo to have a successful safari. However, when considering how to plan an African safari you should take special note of the following.
- The most important item to have when heading to most parts of Africa where safaris are popular is preventatives against malaria. These include drugs to help stop disease in its tracks if the parasite enters your bloodstream, alongside sprays and nets to stop the malaria-carrying mosquitoes from biting you in the first place. Take these steps and you’ll likely suffer nothing worse while on safari than running out of space on your camera memory cards.
- Other items you might not think about taking include a sweater or light jacket. Ever wondered why the Maasai are often seen wrapped in blankets? It’s because at the start and end of each day it can get chilly even in Africa, especially in wide open spaces such as national parks.
- You’ll also probably want to take some small change with you, such as denominations of $1, $5 and $10 for tipping. Although each country has its own currency, US dollars are also always welcome since they are a hard currency. Tipping is part of the culture in most parts of Africa, and helps show that the hard work rangers, guides and other staff put in doesn’t go unnoticed, so they work just as hard for the next guests – which could be you!
For a more comprehensive guide to what to take on safari, be sure to check out our African safari packing list.
Planning an African Safari Has Never Been Easier
Understanding how to plan an African safari is vital for getting the most out of your time in Africa. Thankfully all you need to do is follow our top tips to have the holiday of a lifetime!