There are two main types of safaris, the do-it-yourself and the guided safari. The plethora of options with guided safaris are simply too numerous to discuss here so we’ll just list a few basic points you’ll want to think about before you put down your deposit. Continue reading though for the do it yourself (DIY) options as these abound as well and can often be far more enjoyable.
A few things are good to remember whichever you choose however. First is that only 2-4 days of a safari is necessary. Anything beyond that and you will likely develop “cabin fever” inside the car and simply not appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. Second is to only go out in the car when the animals are out. Usually this means going out for early morning and late evening drives. Driving around in the middle of the day, when most animals are hiding from the sun in the shade of trees, is generally a waste of gasoline. Remember to think like an animal and drive to where the water is, and enjoy. The time of year is also significant as rains not only bring tall grass (making game viewing difficult) but also bring lots of young animals.
Every game park on the African continent will have some local business running safaris in and out. Some will set up your tents for you while others will introduce you to some of the finest luxuries imaginable. The basic premise though is the same, drive around and look for animals. Some private game reserves will radio collar the animals, guaranteeing game sightings of even the rarest of animals. Most though will drive around, and look and see what they can find. The biggest differences amongst these will be the accommodation and food supplied so be sure to shop around.
If you specifically want to do a guided safari then you should look to either a private game reserve in South Africa, or the parks of Tanzania (Serengeti or Ngorongoro) or Botswana. There are plenty of others to choose from if you are interested in a more “bush” experience but these locations represent the best combination of infrastructure and wildlife. Just about any park outside of South Africa however, will be very difficult to do on your own. Paying for a guided tour of a national park (such as Kruger) in South Africa may be a giant waste of money as you can just as easily, and much more economically, do these parks 100% on your own. Of course, if you are a solo traveler you might enjoy the company of a guided tour, but certainly groups or couples can save a significant amount of money on their own.
Do It Yourself (DIY) Safari
There are a few very simple steps to this one, it is surprisingly easy to do and arrange and you will likely enjoy having control of when you go where.
1.Go to South Africa. With the exception of Etosha National Park in Namibia (in the far north) most places you’ll be able to drive yourself for safari are in South Africa. A good guidebook will usually include a wildlife section that will be sufficient but if this is your big African trip better spring for a book dedicated to African wildlife.
2. Rent a car. If its summertime (remember this is the southern hemisphere) be sure to pay for air conditioning. Also be sure the car is comfortable as you’ll be spending a lot of time inside. A four wheel drive vehicle isn’t really necessary but being higher off the ground is a big plus when the grass is tall.
3.Choose a park, maybe buy a national park pass. The wild card pass program from the South African Parks represents great value if you are going to do a lot of game viewing. If just going for a short trip you’ll probably be fine without it. Check our our guide to South Africa for help in choosing which park is best for you. The pass is also good at all national parks in South Africa as well as several parks in Swaziland.
4.Get up early for morning drives. Spend the middle of the day at the pool with some meat on the grill or braai. Go out for evening drives and pay for the occasional ranger led evening or night drive.
5.Some parks to consider:
Kruger. The largest park of all. Very easy to do on your own with plenty of options. Most of the wildlife is at the southern end of the park so it is generally best to base yourself there. If looking for a change of pace while in the park head up to the Oliphants for stunning views and a mountain bike trip through the bush. With this park you should realize though that this is South Africa’s premier park and for that reason draws crowds in far larger numbers than many of the other, smaller parks. Wildlife spotting here tends to be based on stopping where 5 or 6 other cars have already stopped. Nonetheless, every animal you could want to see is on display here, and in growing numbers as well. Just be sure to mind the elephants!
Hluhluwe—Imfolozi: Not as well traveled as Kruger but still easily reached from both Johannesburg and Durban this park is most known for the white rhino, who owes its survival as a species to the work this park has done over the last 100 years. In addition to the rhino the entire Big 5 is on display here and with far fewer crowds than Kruger. The big bummer here is that there is no camping inside the park but the fact that its located near the St. Lucia wetlands helps to make up for this.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: This park is our absolute favorite. A royal pain in the butt to get to but well worth it if your up for some serious game viewing. You can still visit this park in a 2 drive vehicle but a 4×4 is advised as no roads are paved and several are quite bad. This park is specifically known for its cats and we more lions than we could shake a stick at…not to mention the elusive cheetah as well. Its location in the north, wedged between Namibia and Botswana (you can cross into each country from within the park) makes for a small population of professional game viewers and photographers, and not too many other people at all.
Addo Elephant National Park: If you want to see lots of elephants come here. Plenty of other animals on display as well. I’d recommend driving to a good watering hole (ask around when you’re close or in the park) and just park your car and sit and let the animals come to you. Just be sure to give the elephants the right of way!
Namibia: The main game viewing here will be at Etosha National Park in the far north. The park itself can be quite spectacular but the drive to get there can be too much depending upon your tastes. For more information on Namibia consult our adventure guide.
Botswana: This can be done on your own but be prepared for large periods of time without seeing another human being. A 4×4 is a must and you need to be very prepared not only for the long journey but also for very expensive park and camping fees. For these reasons we decided to skip Botswana and to possibly return on a guided trip to the Okavango Delta someday.
The Rest: There are plenty of parks throughout Southern Africa. The best advice is to choose a path to follow and visit the parks along that path. If you’ve seen all of the big 5 in one park it might not make sense to go and search out others. Use your judgment and remember to enjoy the experience.