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What you need to know before you go on safari

by Samantha Fergusson

published

To go on a safari holiday is to enjoy countless unique experiences one after the other in some of Africa’s most breathtaking wildernesses. Watch the sun sink over the Serengeti, count the wrinkles around a wild elephant’s eye, listen to the hollow, huffing bark of a lion at the dead of night, spot the twitch of a hippo’s ear and admire the grace of the hundreds of grazing animals as they drift across the plains… All these experiences and more are just waiting to be had - but what if you’ve never been on safari at all? How do you know what to pack for your game drives, or which country to choose in order to see your favourite animals? We’ve worked with our wonderful local experts from the very best of Africa’s wildlife destinations to compile all the information you need to know before you go on safari.

Safari in Kenya

Skip to: Tanzania | Kenya | South Africa | Botswana | Namibia | Uganda | Rwanda


Tanzania

Cheetah family in Tanzania

What wildlife can I expect to see on a Tanzania safari?

Tanzania is bustling with some of Africa’s most spectacular wildlife, from all of the majestic Big 5, cheetah, wildebeest, zebra, antelope, giraffe and hippos, to the most beautiful birds including the sunset pink flamingos. It is also the starting point for the annual Great Migration, where enormous herds of zebra and wildebeest cross treacherous, crocodile-infested rivers and traverse thousands of miles to find the best pastures across Tanzania and Kenya.

Great Migration in Tanzania

When is the best time to go on safari in Tanzania?

Tanzania is a great year-round safari destination. There is a rainy season from March to May, which may deter some, however this is still a fantastic time to see the wildlife while enjoying cheaper accommodation. The vast herds of the Great Migration are a constant feature of the Serengeti from November until July, but be sure to visit between July and August if you want to see them risking life and limb to cross the Mara River into Kenya - one of the migration’s most famous spectacles.

How much time should I allow to have the best Tanzanian safari experience?

A safari can be as long or as short as you desire (it’s easy to tag a few days of safari onto a Zanzibar beach holiday for example, or even a Kilimanjaro expedition). In a dream world, however, you would allow at least seven days in order to be able to properly explore the three national parks without feeling rushed.

Elephant in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro in background

How far in advance should I plan my trip to Tanzania?

Ideally you should look to plan your holiday to Tanzania up to six months in advance, particularly if you are travelling in July and August or over Christmas (the peak seasons). At other times of year two to three months in advance is absolutely fine.

What should I pack for my Tanzania holiday?

If you’ve never been on safari it can be hard to know what you should bring with you. Here are a few things that our local experts in Tanzania recommend you bring with you.

  • Cool comfortable clothes for during the day

  • Some warm clothes for evenings and early morning game drives (the Ngorongoro crater rim can get as cold as 10-15 degrees celsius at night, especially in June-August)

  • Suncream, a hat, sunglasses and mosquito repellent

  • Binoculars

  • Camera

  • Rain jacket if travelling between March and the end of June

Make it happen

Our local experts in Tanzania can plan your perfect tailor-made safari at the drop of a hat. Simply get in touch with them and send them a few details, and your safari daydream will soon be a reality. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


Kenya

Wildebeest in Kenya

What animals will I see on a Kenya safari?

As with Tanzania, Kenya is bursting with all the wildlife you could wish to see when on safari. Packs of rare and highly intelligent wild dog are found within its borders, alongside the Big 5, cheetah, leopards and numerous birds ranging from flamingos to guinea fowl. The Great Migration also arrives in Kenya from July to October as the herds of zebra, wildebeest and the occasional antelope cross the Mara River for the richer pastures on Kenya’s side.

When is the best time to go on a safari holiday to Kenya?

There is never a bad time to visit Kenya - the wildlife is there year-round whatever the weather, however there are different seasons that each appeal to different people.

High season runs from July to September and half of December. This is due to the spectacular wildebeest migration being in full swing, as well as the fact that these months coincide with the school holidays and Christmas. Perfect for if you have a family, however travelling in the high season does tend to mean that your holiday is going to be more expensive.

Lions in Kenya

The shoulder season for Kenya is January to March, June and October. Our local expert personally prefers this time of year as there are fewer tourists but the weather is still exceedingly pleasant. June comes just after the rains, so the land is lush and green and there are young animals everywhere making for great game-viewing. January to March are generally much drier, meaning that animals linger around the river beds and watering holes making for some excellent sightings.

The low season in Kenya is April to May and November. These are the months when you are most likely to see rain, though don’t let this put you off! The rainstorms make for some incredible, dramatic skies and never last long. The increased clouds make for some of Kenya’s most spectacular sunsets.

Masai in front of the sunset

How long should my holiday in Kenya be?

Our Kenyan partner would generally recommend that you spend nine days on safari so that you have ample opportunity to see as many animals as you can before heading to the coast for a relaxing five days on Kenya’s glorious beaches.

How far in advance should I plan my trip to Kenya?

If you are wanting to travel in high season (July to September or over Christmas and New Year) then it is recommended that you plan at least six months in advance. However, if you would like to travel at any other time of year then you don’t need to worry about planning in advance too much. A month (or less!) is still perfectly doable.

safari in kenya

What should I pack for my safari holiday in Kenya?

The weather in Kenya isn’t dissimilar to that of Tanzania so the same clothing as above is recommended (light cool clothes for during the day and warmer layers for the evenings or early mornings). If you are planning to travel in April, May or November then remember to pack a light waterproof coat.

Don’t forget to bring your camera, a pair of binoculars, sun protection (cream and hat) and of course your swimmers if you are heading to the beach after your safari!

It’s also worth remembering that if you have to take any internal flights on your holiday, then you are only allowed 15kg of luggage and it must be packed into a soft bag (hard ones will be left behind by the airline).

Make it happen

Our local partner in Kenya can plan your perfect tailor-made holiday taking in the best of African safari and perhaps some relaxation time at the beach. Simply get in touch with them and send them a few details and they will get to work on your bespoke itinerary. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


South Africa

Lion cubs in south africa

What wildlife will I see in South Africa?

South Africa has all the Big 5 within its national parks, and is one of the best countries in Africa for spotting rhino. It’s not at all uncommon to come across whole families on your travels through the Kruger or its surrounding reserves. Wild dog are also resident here alongside the classic grazing animals (antelope, giraffe, zebra etc.) and some spectacular birds (try spotting the striking, nocturnal nightjar when coming back from an evening drive). Tie in your safari holiday with a trip to the coast and you can also hope to see any number of marine animals, such as great white sharks or humpback and southern right whales.

When is the best time to travel to South Africa for safari?

Depending on what it is you would like to see on your safari, there are two main seasons for visiting South Africa. The dry season runs roughly from May to September, and this is a great time for viewing game as animals tend to congregate around the rivers and watering holes making them a lot easier to find. The South African spring (October and November) heralds the birth of the young, resulting in some adorable sights and exciting chases when the big cats and hyena target the grazing herds. The rains begin in September, however, so make sure you come prepared for some short but heavy showers.

Rhino in South Africa

How long should my South African safari holiday be?

Our local expert in South Africa, Nick, suggests that when you plan your holiday you should allow at least 10 days, ideally two to three weeks, to properly experience it. The best way to plan your holiday is to break up the safari experience into smaller chunks, as any longer than three to four consecutive days is a bit much for most people, particularly children. A perfect holiday to South Africa involves plenty of time on safari interspersed with time on the coast, hiking in the mountains and a sprinkling of the cities’ culture. He finds that allowing for two days on safari, three days at the beach, three days on safari, two days in town, and finally three days on safari again works very well.

How far in advance should I plan my South African safari holiday?

If you want to focus your holiday in the Kruger area of South Africa, then you should aim to plan about 10 months in advance. If you’re looking at the wider KwaZulu-Natal area then six months should be ample.

Leopard in Kwa-ZuluNatal

What should I pack for my safari in South Africa?

Our local experts in South Africa will provide you with an extensive packing list before you embark on your safari. The main items you will find on it are:

  • Cool clothes for day time safaris (shorts / trousers)

  • Hat, suncream, sunglasses

  • Warm clothes for early morning / evening game drives. If you are travelling between June and October (the cool winter months) then they recommend you bring a beanie, jacket, scarf and gloves… it really does get chilly and while the game cars are often equipped with blankets, you’ll appreciate having warm clothes.

  • Binoculars and a camera

  • A good book for the gentle times between game drives

If you forget anything, don’t panic! South Africa has plenty of good, modern stores in the larger towns stocking anything you could need from suncream, to clothes, to cameras.

Make it happen

Our local experts in South Africa are brilliant at planning the very best safari holidays and, with a few details from you, can put together your perfect bespoke itinerary. Get in touch with them to start planning your South African safari. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


Botswana

Okavango Delta

What wildlife will I see in Botswana?

Botswana harbours incredibly diverse landscapes within its borders, from the dusty dry salt pans of Nxai and Makgadikgadi, to the Kalahari desert, to the flooded plains of the Okavango Delta. Anywhere you go, you will find some of the finest examples of Africa’s wildlife. Zebra do battle by waterholes while wild dog packs and big cats hunt prey across the delta. Hippos emerge from gloomy pools, elephants graze just metres away from the safety of your boat, and the variety of birdlife on show is incredible. Botswana also plays host to one of Africa’s largest migrations, when around 30,000 animals (mostly zebras) move from the floodplains around the Chobe River to the Nxai pans, arriving just in time for the sudden burst of greenery that accompanies the annual rainy season.

Our local experts in Botswana have put together some fabulous safari holiday ideas that encompass both the drier areas of the country as well as the flooded lands of the Okavango Delta. This way, you can get a true sense of the diversity of one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations.

Wild dog in the Okavango Delta

When is the best time to go on safari in Botswana?

Whatever time of year you travel to Botswana, you will not be disappointed - there’s always something to see! If you want to be more particular in your planning, however, then here is a bit of a breakdown of the seasons to help you narrow down your choices.

The dry season in Botswana falls from May to October, where you can expect warm, sun-filled days and cool nights. Rather bizarrely, this is also the time of year when the Okavango Delta is at its fullest, creating the deep channels and floodplains that are so iconically “Botswana” - this makes it a very popular time to travel to the country. June is likely to be the quieter time of year to travel during this season as it is outside of the British school holidays. The weather is still very reliable, the delta is full, and the game viewing is spectacular.

If you don’t mind the odd rain shower, then visiting during the green season - November to April - is highly recommended. Visitor numbers are lower and the prices reflect this, and meanwhile the countryside is lush and thronging with life. Many animals give birth to their young at this time and the zebra herds are arriving in the Nxai pans, making for some great game viewing.

How much time should I spend on holiday in Botswana?

Our local partner on the ground suggests that you spend one week to ten days at least on safari in Botswana, depending on how many areas of the country you would like to see. It’s best to allow time to take in the drier areas of the salt pans for a few days before heading towards the Savuti region or the Okavango Delta, where the topography means you see a whole new side to the wildlife.

Leopard in Botswana

How far in advance should I plan my Botswana safari holiday?

If you are looking to travel in the green season, November to April, then planning three to six months in advance is perfectly doable. If you want to visit during the dry season between May and October when the Okavango Delta is at its highest, then it’s best to plan six months to a year in advance to ensure that you get the pick of the accommodation.

What should I pack for my Botswana safari?

As with Kenya, it is important to note whether your itinerary contains internal flights, as this influences what kind of bag you can bring - most do not allow hard-edged suitcases, so be sure to check with your tour operator what you need to prepare for.

Your itinerary will also come in handy when it comes to planning what to pack. For example, if you are going on a walking safari at one point you will want to bring some sturdy, closed shoes as the African bush can be quite unforgiving on exposed toes or unsupported ankles. All in all, you should just be prepared to pack what you would need for any safari:

  • Lightweight clothes for daytime safaris

  • Light, windproof top and beanie/buff (when safari vehicles are on the move it can be surprisingly chilly)

  • Warm layers for early morning / night game drives

  • A light waterproof if you are travelling in the green season (November - April)

  • Suncream, a wide-brimmed sun hat / cap

  • Insect repellent

  • Binoculars and a good camera

If you are at all unsure about what to bring on your TravelLocal Botswana holiday, then don’t hesitate to speak to our local expert who will be happy to provide you with a more detailed packing list that you can tweak to suit your itinerary.

Botswana makoro safari

Make it happen

Get in touch with our local experts in Botswana to create your perfect tailor-made safari. All they need from you are a few details and they will get to work on your bespoke itinerary. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


Namibia

Zebra in Etosha

What wildlife will I see in Namibia?

Namibia is one of Africa’s most visually striking countries, with sand dunes that resemble mountains, gullies filled with blackened, skeletal trees and plenty of incredible wildlife. Black rhinos visit Etosha National Park’s Okaukuejo Waterhole if you visit at night, and herds of elephants also wander within the park’s borders. Namibia has the highest population of wild cheetah in Africa, which prey on the herds of graceful antelope that graze the plains, and you are also likely to spot lions and leopards while on safari here. Within Etosha, there are over 140 mammals, including giraffe, gemsbok (oryx), hyenas and jackals, and the only animal from the Big 5 that is missing is the buffalo. Wild dog can be spotted in the private reserves, so do let our local experts know if sighting these intelligent animals is on your bucket list!

Oryx in Namibia

When is the best time to visit Namibia for safari?

Namibia is a fantastic year-round destination. That being said, there is still a peak season from July to October, and a wet season which falls from December to March. The wet season is still a great time to travel - afternoon showers are usually all you will see before it clears again - and the land is more lush than at other times of year.

How much time should I allow for a holiday to Namibia?

The length of time that you spend in Namibia does depend on what you want to do and see. Our local experts suggest that a bare minimum of six days is required to be able to explore Etosha or Sossusvlei. Really you should allow 10 - 14 days to really discover all that Namibia has to offer, both in terms of safari and more general exploration.

How far in advance should I plan my holiday to Namibia?

Namibia is high in demand but has only got the resources to cater for a certain number of visitors, therefore it is highly recommended to plan your holiday as soon as you have the dates - ideally a year in advance! This is particularly the case if you want to travel between July and October.

Cheetah hunting in Namibia

What should I pack for a safari in Namibia?

As well as the below list of recommended things to pack, we suggest that you bring a good book to enjoy during your downtime and a camera with plenty of memory - you are sure to see some spectacular sights.

  • Comfortable, lightweight clothing for the daytime and a sweater or jacket for early mornings and evenings

  • Comfortable walking shoes and sandals

  • Protection against the sun – sunblock, hat, sunglasses, lip balm and moisturising lotion

  • Binoculars

  • Torch (a head torch is useful on a camping safari)

  • Swimming costume as most lodges and hotels have swimming pools

  • Warm jersey or fleece plus anorak or parka, scarf, gloves and beanies/woollen hats if you are travelling in the winter months (June to August).

  • A 2 Litre water bottle – Namibia is quite dry and very hot during the summer months (October to May)

Make it happen

Our local experts in Namibia are ready and waiting to plan your perfect tailor-made trip to explore their country. Whether you want to do safari in the Etosha National Park or explore the dunes of the Sossusvlei, they can create a bespoke itinerary perfectly suited to your needs - you simply need to get in touch to start planning. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


Uganda

Uganda lion

What wildlife can be found in Uganda?

Uganda is most famous for the mountain gorillas that can be found hidden in the forested climbs of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. On many a bucket list, paying a visit to these endangered creatures is truly magical and always exceeds expectations - you simply can’t imagine the experience until you’ve been there and heard them rustling in the foliage while youngsters play before darting back to their mothers.

The gorillas aren’t the only creatures found within Uganda’s borders, however. Golden monkeys and chimpanzees can also be found in the forests and it is a fantastic safari destination in its own right, with tree-climbing lions reclining on strong limbs in Queen Elizabeth National Park, all of the Big 5 and an abundance of beautiful grazing animals to be seen. Uganda is also a fantastic birding destination with no fewer than 23 endemic species to be seen. You can also watch the shoebill stork as it tiptoes through the swamps, spot green-breasted pittas peeking through the forest foliage and glimpse standard-wing nightjars fluttering through the dusk.

Shoebill stork, Uganda

When is the best time to visit Uganda?

Uganda is equatorial, meaning that you can visit year-round and expect very similar temperatures. The country’s dry seasons fall from December to February and between June and August, and these are favourable conditions in which to head into the mountains to go see the gorillas or chimpanzees, though again you can go at any time of year as long as you don’t mind the occasional rain shower.

Game viewing in Uganda’s national parks is also particularly good during the dry seasons, as well as between February and March and from September to early October. The animals gather around water sources making them easier to spot. If you are visiting Uganda for the birds, then you needn’t worry about the season as the viewing is fantastic year-round.

How much time should I allow for a safari holiday in Uganda?

It’s best to allow ten days to two weeks for a holiday in Uganda in order to see all you want to see without feeling rushed. This length of trip leaves plenty of time for a safari in the areas in and around Queen Elizabeth National Park as well as a trek to see the gorillas or chimpanzees (or both!).

How far in advance should I plan my trip to Uganda?

If you just wish to go on a normal safari, then three to six months in advance should allow enough time to book your holiday. If, however, you want to be guaranteed gorilla permits then you should book around 18 months in advance. Availability is limited for the sake of the animals and it is, understandably, a popular experience.

Chimpanzee in Uganda

What should I pack for a safari holiday in Uganda?

For a safari in Uganda, you need the same kind of gear as that you would take on any other safari holiday, namely, decent shoes, lightweight clothes for during the day and warmer layers for the evenings / early mornings. If you are partaking in a trek to see the gorillas or chimpanzees, then make sure that you have long, lightweight trousers, good hiking shoes and tough gardening gloves - you will be grabbing branches and vines as you climb and thorns are not unheard of. Gloves will make your trek a lot more enjoyable! Our local partner in Uganda will be sure to provide you with a more detailed packing list when you book so you needn’t worry about forgetting anything.

Make it happen

Have your dream holiday in Uganda by getting in touch with our local experts. They can plan your bespoke itinerary so that you can get to know ‘The Pearl of Africa’ in a way that is perfectly suited to your needs and wishes. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.


Rwanda

Baby gorilla rwanda

What wildlife will I see in Rwanda?

Similarly to Uganda, Rwanda is best known for being home to the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Volcanoes National Park, as well as rare golden monkeys. Chimpanzees live in the depths of Nyungwe Forest National Park, and if you explore Akagera National Park you will find all of the Big 5 as well as giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of birds, including the rare shoe-billed stork.

When is the best time to visit Rwanda for safari?

Rwanda is a fantastic year-round destination, though the dry season - mid-May to mid-October - is the best time if you are looking to go trekking for gorillas and chimps. It is also a good time of year to go on safari as the animals gather round water resources. The wet season, spanning the rest of the year, is still a very good time to travel and the land is more green and verdant.

Akagora National Park, Rwanda

How much time should I allow for a safari holiday in Rwanda?

An eight to ten day trip is the perfect length of holiday in which to cover all of Rwanda’s highlights. This would allow for a few days of classic safari in Akagera National Park before you head on to the mountains to explore the Virunga Volcanoes and Nyungwe Forest National Parks to see the gorillas and chimps.

How far in advance should I plan my trip to Rwanda?

Similarly to Uganda, if you are hoping to get a gorilla permit then you need to plan at least one year to 18 months in advance of your departure date. If you’re just looking to do a normal safari, then three to six months is perfectly sufficient.

Golden Monkey in Rwanda

What should I pack for a safari holiday in Rwanda?

The weather in Rwanda is changeable depending on where you are planning to go, whether that’s on safari in the east or visiting the gorillas in the mountains. If your holiday is going to include both of these areas then you need to cater to each in your packing. We recommend you pack the usual safari clothing (as mentioned above) but also a fleece or light wool jumper, waterproof walking boots that are comfortable for going up and down steep hills, good hiking trousers, sun hat, cream and glasses, a small backpack for carrying water, your camera and tough gloves (gardening gloves are ideal) for grabbing vegetation as you walk. It is best to have layers of clothing as temperatures can fluctuate a lot.

Make it happen

Our local experts in Rwanda are brilliant at creating bespoke holidays. Simply send an enquiry to them with a few details about you and what you are looking for, and they will get to work and create your perfect tailor-made itinerary. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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