A safari is a “must” experience for anyone travelling to East Africa. From the vast plains of the Serengeti to the jaw-dropping view from the top of Ngorongoro Crater to the intimacy of an off-road experience in the Grumeti Reserve, a safari in Africa gives you a chance to see the incredible beauty and majesty of this continent and the animals that inhabit it.
Considering your time and budget, you may spend just a day or two or plan for 4 to 7 days and visit multiple parks. Here are some trip options if you have any:
- 1 Day – Arusha National Park
- 2 Day – Lake Manyara & Ngorongoro Crater
- 4 Day – Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater & Serengeti (there is a flight option from Serengeti
- 5 or more Days – Same as the 4-day plus Grumeti Reserve (Another fly-out option)
Safari in Africa: Destinations
Arusha National Park
If you only have one day or are on a limited budget, then a day at Arusha National Park is perfect for a safari in Africa. The Park is about 90 minutes from Moshi at the base of Mt Meru (14,990 feet). The Park is heavily forested with open areas and various lakes that attract prolific numbers of birds. You will find flamingos, baboons, hippos, zebra, giraffes, Impala, dik-dik, warthog, water buffalo, and hyenas. The elephant population is in the hills, but you may come across a small herd. Our lunch was near the trailhead up to Mt Meru, so you get a great view of the mountain.
We stayed the night at Ndarakwai Lodge, where we had the night safari. The next day, we did a short safari and came across elephants. A lodge is an excellent option because of its’ size, luxury, and environmentally sound practices. Everything is lit by candlelight, the food is terrific, the staff helpful, and the surroundings are as peaceful as you can find. Whether you try Ndarakwai or head back to Moshi, you will enjoy your day at Arusha National Park.
At Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there is the largest inactive caldera globally. A wide variety of mammals can be seen here, including zebras, buffalos, warthogs, lions, leopards and black rhinos. From the initial view into the crater, you will constantly be amazed at the sights and variety of wildlife.
From my journal on my first safari experience in 2008 – “A quick breakfast, pack up, and head into Moshi to get money from the ATM and off to Lake Manyara. We are camping out near Lake Manyara. We head to the Park and see baboons, monkeys, elephants, Impala, dik-dik, zebras, giraffes, and hippos. It is right out of Discovery Channel. You get very close to the animals in the forested areas. One viewing area is a river where the hippos, zebras, and birds are bathing or drinking.”
Lake Manyara sits at the base of the escarpment that heads up to Ngorongoro. You start in the forest, and then as you get closer to the lake, the landscape opens up. Because of this, you get a great variety of animals and birds. The guide called impalas “111” because every time you get near one, they turn, and you see three black stripes – 2 on each hind quarter and the third on the tail.
Lake Manyara makes a tremendous first safari experience as part of a 2-day or longer trip. If you only have two days, you will want to go to Ngorongoro on the second day. We camped out the first trip but stayed at small lodges on subsequent visits. They were outstanding with beautiful rooms and fine dining. There is a lodge right on the crater’s edge if you want to drive to Ngorongoro, but it is pricey.
Serengeti National Park
If you had only one place to choose for your safari in Africa, Serengeti National Park would be it. The word comes from a Masai word meaning “Endless Plains”. Serengeti covers 14,763 sq. km and is contiguous with Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. Don’t let the words “endless plain” create an image of boring terrain! There are plenty of hills, forests, trees, and rivers that provide a home for the wildlife in the Park. Plan on spending at least two days in the Park to fully explore the area.
One story from a recent trip – the driver stopped the vehicle as he spotted a lion stalking in the trees by the road. We watched as he stealthily moved out of the protection of the trees towards an Impala grazing in the grass. Suddenly, the lion leapt out and chased down the Impala. Luck was on the Impala’s side today. Whether the lion didn’t get close enough or the Impala was too fast, it bounded away and the lion halted his chase after a few hundred yards.
Grumeti Wildlife Reserve
The Grumeti Wildlife Reserve or Grumeti Game Control Area is situated along the northwestern border of the Serengeti National Park. The Reserve is one of a handful of buffer zones in recent years to provide a series of migration corridors to facilitate the movement of vast wildebeest and zebra that define the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem.
Several luxury safari camps in the Reserve offer distinct programs from what you find in Serengeti. Because the Reserve is not in the National Park and each lodge has certain boundaries, you can take a night safari, walking safari, or an off-road safari. Each of these presents a unique way to see wildlife up close and without the ever-present crowds in the Park. Additionally, much of the Reserve is on the Great Migration path and offers great view of this natural wonder (dependent on the time of the year). Also, the Reserve provides a bird list running into several hundred species because of the Grumeti River and the surrounding forest system.
Safari in Africa: Smart tips
Pick the right season
Most countries in Africa are year-round destinations, depending on your interests and preferences. Wildlife is the major attraction for many tourists to this vast and diverse continent. The best period for a safari in Africa is generally during the dry season. During the wet season, the grass can be long; therefore, seeing the animals during these times can be difficult.
Book your safari in Africa with an experienced guide and listen to them
Guides will often be in radio contact, so if one spots a spectacular lion kill they can let your party know so you get to see it too. A guide is also helpful in identifying different species. Even if you carry a guidebook, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a female sable and an impala when they are running.
Listening to your guide may sound like a no-brainer, but I know what I am talking about, being a guide myself. I have experienced this when I drive near an animal and say, “stay seated, please.” Then the guests spot the animal and leap to their feet with their cameras, scaring it away.
If you are good to your guide, your guide will be good to you and take you to the best wildlife spots – don’t take them or their advice for granted. A guide can make your safari in Africa a very successful one.
Ask to see what you want to see during your safari in Africa
In general, your guide is not a mind-reader. If you don’t say what you want to see, you’ll get a general game tour — when it could be directly focused on your interests. Some travellers are birdwatchers, some want to catch a lion on a tree, and some want to make sure they see every kind of monkey. Most of the time guide knows the park, the animals in it, and their hideouts. If you want to see leopards, your guide will know a couple of places they’ve been spotted recently. Of course, you’ll still be seeing a vast array of other animals. Still, by letting your guide know you want lions, your chances of encountering them are significantly increased.
There are certain safaris in Africa that you cannot go without a guide or ranger, i.e. gorilla tracking safaris in Rwanda and Uganda.
Top tip: Bring a pair of binoculars. Binoculars make wildlife viewing much more fun.