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Destinations, Experiences

Southern vs. East Africa – Where to go on safari in Africa

Written by  Julie Graham

Ker & Downey Africa > Journal > Southern vs. East Africa

Destinations    Parks    Climate    Wildlife    Culture    Add-ons

Where to go on safari in Africa? 

This is undoubtedly one of the most frequently asked questions we hear from travelers. And it’s not surprising. Africa is the planet’s second-largest continent with each of the 54 countries offering up something completely unique in terms of culture and experiences. 

While the concept of a safari was born in East Africa (specifically Kenya), an authentic African safari experience can also be had in Southern Africa where discerning travelers will find some of the world’s most elegant luxury lodges and camps. 

Truth is, it’s not a black and white answer. Everything depends on what you would like to experience on your African expedition. And fortunately, our expert team has traveled the length and breadth of Africa, curating adventures that showcase the very best of the continent. We’ve put together some key differences to help you better understand the offerings of these two regions and decide where to go on safari in Africa.

Safari countries

Southern Africa is located in the southernmost region of Africa. The predominant countries for an African safari include Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia

East Africa is the land of the safari heavyweights like Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. It is located in the eastern region of Africa.

Top Safari Parks or Reserves

A baobab tree on safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania

Tarangire National Park in Tanzania

Southern Africa

Okavango Delta, Botswana  Chobe National Park, Botswana  Kruger National Park, South Africa
Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa  Etosha National Park, Namibia Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe South Luangwa, Zambia Kafue, Zambia 

 

East Africa

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania  Tarangire National Park, Tanzania  Ngorongoro, Tanzania 
Masai Mara National Reserve,  Kenya  Amboseli National Park,  Kenya  Samburu National Reserve,  Kenya 
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda  Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Climate and when to visit for a safari

Southern Africa

Southern Africa is a land of incredible diverse terrain and landscapes, all due to its location and unique climatic conditions. While most of the region enjoys great weather all year round, it can range from Mediterranean in the southwestern corner of the continent to temperate, subtropical and even desert-like further north.

A wild dog at a waterhole spotted on a safari in Africa in Kruger

 A rare wild dog hanging around a waterhole in the Greater Kruger National Park
This is when the vegetation is scarce and the animals are most likely to be gathered around water sources.

For a safari in Southern Africa, the best time to visit would be during the dry season from May to October. This is when the vegetation is scarce and the animals are most likely to be gathered around water sources.

East Africa

East Africa is a region of breathtaking scenery and extraordinary geographic landmarks shaped by tectonic forces. Mountains, craters, rifts and lakes attract massive concentrations of wild animals. While the climate is atypical of equatorial regions, it is surprisingly cool and dry for its latitude.

Mountains, craters, rifts and lakes attract massive concentrations of wild animals.

The magnificent Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti in Tanzania.

 The magnificent Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti in Tanzania | Photo credit: Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp

While East Africa is regarded as an excellent all year-round safari destination, most travelers tend to visit for a safari during the drier months from January to March and June to October.

Wildlife

Southern Africa

An leopard in the Kruger in South Africa

A close up with a leopard on safari in the Kruger in South Africa

Because of the diversity of landscapes in Southern Africa, the types of safaris are varied and no two national parks or game reserves are the same. Animals tend to be spotted in smaller herds and there is a lot of variety. The region is very popular for Big Five game viewing and you are almost guaranteed daily sightings, especially in the private reserves around the Kruger National park.

 A mokoro safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta in Southern Africa | Photo credit: Sable Alley
Mokoro (dug-out canoe) and boat safaris are commonplace in regions like Botswana.

​​Safaris generally take place in safari vehicles which, in Southern Africa, are open-sided 4x4s with tiered seating. Mokoro (dug-out canoe) and boat safaris are commonplace in regions like Botswana, and South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is considered the birthplace of walking safaris. 

Safari highlights: Big Five; mokoro and boat safaris; walking safaris.

East Africa

A hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti in East Africa

A hot air balloon in East Africa is a great way to experience the wide-open plains and large herds of animals from above

East Africa is renowned for the high density of animals you can spot on the wide-open plains. While the region is most famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration, huge herds and concentrations of animals can be seen throughout the year. The jungles of Rwanda and Uganda are home to the endangered and endemic mountain gorillas – a huge drawcard to the region and a truly extraordinary experience.

The jungles of Rwanda and Uganda are home to the endangered and endemic mountain gorillas – a huge draw card to the region and a truly extraordinary experience.

A mountain gorilla in the jungle of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in East Africa on a gorilla trekking safari

A mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in East Africa

Safaris in East Africa are in closed 4x4s with three rows of seating and a pop-top roof hatch. Hot air balloon safaris are very popular in this region due to the wide-open spaces and extraordinary beauty.

Safari highlights: Great Wildebeest Migration; gorilla trekking; year-round game viewing; hot air balloon safaris.

Culture

Southern Africa

While not quite as dense as its Eastern counterpart in terms of cultural experiences, Southern Africa has some fascinating tribal customs that you can witness on your safari. The San or Khoisan are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa.

The bushman experience at San Camp, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

The bushman experience at San Camp, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
The San or Khoisan are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa.

On a safari to Southern Africa, you may have the opportunity to learn about their nomadic lifestyle, deep connection to nature, the language of clicking sounds, and their extraordinary rock art.

East Africa

A group of Maasai warriors doing a traditional jumping dance at Entumano Private

A group of Maasai warriors doing a traditional jumping dance at Entumano Private

East Africa has a wealth of cultural experiences to offer. The most popular of them all is an encounter with the red-clad Maasai who are the renowned warriors and pastoralists of Kenya and Tanzania. As in Southern Africa, many lodges and camps invite travelers on safari to visit neighbouring villages and communities for an authentic local experience.

Add-ons

Southern Africa

After a high-paced Big Five safari in Southern Africa, there is nothing better than kicking up your feet and escaping to a white-sand beach to enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Mozambique’s palm-lined beaches, remote islands, and untamed national parks offer the perfect combination for an add-on to a Southern Africa safari.

Mozambique’s palm-lined beaches, remote islands, and untamed national parks offer the perfect combination for an add-on to a Southern Africa safari.

Palm trees and traditional boats on a white-sand beach in Mozambique in Southern Africa

Palm trees and white-sand beaches add to the allure of Mozambique’s island charm in Southern Africa

Days can be spent diving with whale sharks and humpback whales or sailing around the remote archipelagos on a private dhow safari. Mauritius is also a very popular add-on destination for travelers to Southern Africa with direct flights from most major hubs.

East Africa

A perfect end to an East African safari is a tropical island holiday enjoying the pristine palm-fringed beaches, vibrant spice markets, and cobbled streets of the island of Zanzibar. Located approximately 25 miles off the east coast of Tanzania, it is easily accessible and breathtakingly beautiful.

A dhow boat sailing on the waters in Zanzibar in East Africa

A traditional dhow boat in Zanzibar in East Africa.
Located approximately 25 miles off the east coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is easily accessible and breathtakingly beautiful.

The Seychelles is another popular add-on and offers a generous dose of idyllic beaches, granite boulder shorelines, dense island rainforests and vibrant coral reefs.

With so much to do and experience on safaris in both Southern and East Africa, it’s no wonder this question is asked so frequently. It’s not an easy decision to make! But that is what we are here for. Schedule a call and have a chat to one of our expert LuxVenture® Designers who will steer you in the right direction according to all of your safari desires.