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How to choose between a safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa

How to choose between a safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa

I’ve decided to write this piece based on the question that gets asked the most by first-time safari-goers… “How do I choose between a safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa?” Well, there’s no easy answer here, but in my opinion, there are some factors to consider when deciding on your safari destination of choice, as there are some distinct differences between the two areas.

Before explaining some differences, it’s important to understand that both East Africa and Southern Africa safaris are suitable for all traveller types… whether you’re wanting romance, a digital detox, family quality time, rest and relaxation, a solo traveller experience, adventure or just peace and quiet, all areas offer this, however, the key here is in choosing the Lodges which best fits what type of experiences you’re looking for. This is probably the most daunting task, as you’re spoilt for choice, but don’t worry, I’m here to assist you in your decision… let’s just focus now on the differences between East and Southern Africa.

How to choose between a safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa

Safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa

LANDSCAPE

For me, the most distinct difference is the landscape. East Africa is characterised by its wide-open savannahs, lush forests and rolling hills – it’s home to the iconic Serengeti, Maasai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro. Southern Africa is known for its varied landscapes which include deserts, wetlands, savannahs and rugged mountain ranges – the iconic Kruger National Park, Etosha National Park, the Okavango Delta, Table Mountain and Victoria Falls.

SAFARI EXPERIENCE

The safari experience itself is different too. In East Africa, the focus is on slow and steady day-long game drives with beautifully packed picnic lunches traversing wide-open plains where you can see for miles, whereas in Southern Africa it’s fast-paced, a morning and evening drives amidst denser vegetation where excitement may be lurking around the next corner. East Africa’s safaris tend to be more in national parks where safari activities are limited to game drives and hot air ballooning, however in some of the smaller, private conservancies, you’ll get to experience different activities like horse and camel riding, bike riding, walking and scenic flights. In Southern Africa, there’s a wider range of activities to partake in whilst on safari, from walking, cycling, quad-biking and horse riding through the wild to boat cruises, mokoro and canoeing, to helicopter flips, micro lighting and hot air ballooning. Southern Africa generally offers a more action-packed and adventurous safari experience.

MIGRATIONS

East Africa is most famous for the annual migration, where thousands of tourists flock to witness the wildebeest migration every year. Here, millions of wildebeest and zebras move across the Serengeti and Maasai Mara plains in search of fresh grazing, fending off predators along the way. Although it’s a year-round phenomenon, the action-packed river crossings tend to be from June to October, when visitors to the area are at their peak. Southern Africa also has migration patterns, however not on this scale or as well known, like the Zebra Migration in Botswana, the Kasanka Bat migration in Zambia and the Humpback Whale migrations in the Indian Ocean off South Africa and Madagascar.

WILDLIFE SPECIES

Whilst there are some differences in wildlife species across the continent, both Southern and East Africa have the famous ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros). East Africa is renowned for an abundance of animals, particularly during the annual migration, whereas Southern Africa is better known for its diversity of wildlife and interactive conservation safaris. Southern Africa has a higher density of elephants, with Botswana alone accounting for 35% of the total African elephant population, whereas East Africa has a more diverse primate population which includes gorillas, chimpanzees and several species of monkeys. For birdlife, Southern Africa is a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 900 species recorded across the region, and whilst East Africa also has excellent birding opportunities, they have fewer species overall.

ACCESSIBILITY

For accessibility, both East Africa and Southern Africa are well connected worldwide with several major airlines offering regular flights to key destinations in both regions. For East Africa, Nairobi in Kenya tends to be the main gateway, with Kilimanjaro in Tanzania a close second and in Southern Africa, Johannesburg in South Africa is the main hub airport, with Cape Town International a close second. All four of these airports are widely connected to areas within their respective countries, as well as to airports in the surrounding countries. For both East and Southern Africa, smaller aircraft and scheduled charter flights are required to access the areas of your safari destination, so understanding the logistics of each area and destination is essential when planning your trip, as connecting flights and scheduled circuits can be extremely confusing.

CLIMATE & TEMPERATURE

East Africa and Southern Africa have different climates and temperatures due to their location and terrain. East Africa is located near the equator, whilst Southern Africa is further south. In East Africa, the climate is typically warm and humid with temperatures ranging from 20°C – 30°C year-round, however, it experiences two distinct rainy seasons per year, the long, heavy rains from March to May and the light, short rains in November and December. Southern Africa has a more variable climate with temperatures ranging from 10°C – 30°C. The region experiences a subtropical climate with cooler temperatures in the winter months from May to August and warmer temperatures in the summer months from November to February, and the rainy season typically occurs in the summer months, although this can vary by region. Wherever you’re travelling to, it’s important to pack appropriately, so we will send you a suggested packing list prior to your departure, should you decide to travel with us.

Things to consider when choosing between a safari in East Africa vs Southern Africa

LUXURY ACCOMMODATIONS

Luxury accommodations can be found throughout East and Southern Africa. In East Africa, the accommodations tend to be more in luxury tented offerings, whilst in Southern Africa there’s a wider range of choice between suites, villas and private cottages. In all areas, accommodations are of a very high standard, with many offering butler services and private pools, from romantic honeymoon suites to 2/3-bedroomed family suites to private villas for families or small groups travelling together.

CULTURAL EXPERIENCES

The cultural experiences are different in the two regions too. Both have wonderful rich cultural heritages, however East Africa is home to tribes such as the Maasai, Samburu and Kikuyu, who still live traditionally, and Southern Africa, although has a larger mix of colonial and indigenous cultures, is home to the San people in Botswana, the Zulu in South Africa and the Himba in Namibia.

COSTS

From a cost perspective, that’s all dependent on your lodge of choice, your length of trip, how many different areas you’ll be visiting and all the other services you’ll be requiring through your journey, however in short, East Africa and some countries in Southern Africa are US Dollar-based countries, whereas South Africa and Namibia are Rands-based and the exchange rate is favourable to foreign currencies making this a more cost-effective safari option.  

PROXIMITY & ACCESSIBILITY TO PLACES OF INTEREST

When venturing on an African Safari, most itineraries encapsulate a holistic African experience which includes a City stop and Beach escape at the end, so considering the proximities to these options would be important when planning your trip. For Southern Africa, Cape Town is the most sought-after City to visit and here access is very easy with direct flights to every safari destination within South Africa and every main airport in its bordering countries, as well as direct flight to Mauritius. Johannesburg is the main hub of Southern Africa, and a quick 2-hour flight from Cape Town, will connect you with a direct flight to any destination in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. In East Africa, Nairobi (Kenya) and Arusha (Tanzania) both offer great city experiences and quick direct flights to the Kenyan Coast, Zanzibar, Rwanda and Uganda. There are direct flights from Nairobi to Seychelles and Mauritius too for your beach escape.

MALARIA

Malaria may also be a factor you’d like to consider when choosing a safari destination. You’ll find malaria spread across most safari destination however in South Africa there are specific wildlife areas that are malaria-free, and countries such as Botswana and Namibia have low incidences of malaria. When travelling to any African destination, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider for the latest information on malaria and appropriate preventative measures.

DESIGNING THE PERFECT TRAVEL ITINERARY

With lots of information to consider when deciding on your destination of choice, there are still lots of factors to take into consideration when designing the perfect itinerary for you and your travel companions. The above is just a snippet, a scratching on the surface of options to consider, so I totally understand how daunting this task may feel. We’ve travelled the continent extensively, tried and tested thousands of beds, flights, guides, cuisines, experiences and activities, and we’re here to assist you with narrowing down your options. Give us a call and we’ll guide you, based on your personal preferences, style of travel, dates and length of stay, to ensure your planning of this special trip is easy, stress-free and filled with all the excitement and delight that you would expect on your safari to Africa.

I do hope you found it useful and insightful. Please do remember that these are my personal opinions, and whilst there’s lots of similarity between the two areas, in order for me to explain differences, I’ve had to make broad generalisations.

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