How to Plan a Safari in Africa

Planning an African safari can be a daunting task. Even when you use the advice of a good tour agent, it isn’t easy to make certain decisions. We’ve been on over 30 safaris in Africa and are often asked for advice. There are several key points to consider when planning your safari. You should determine where to go, how long, what to pack, and your budget. Today, we will tell you where to start and how to plan the perfect African safari.

How To Plan a Safari in Africa

Decide Where To Go On Safari

Natasha Lies On Bend In Tent At Linyanti Expeditions

First, it’s important to decide where in Africa you want to go on your safari. Two main regions hold the best wildlife – East Africa and Southern Africa. Each area is distinct, but they generally have the same key animals you are probably hoping to see on safari.

East Africa

East Africa encompasses Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Tanzania, and more notably the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, has the largest draw for tourists and is world-renowned for its game-filled plains of grass in the Serengeti. Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, and Arusha are key entry points into East Africa. If you’re looking for more on safaris in East Africa, check out our posts on Tanzania or Kenya.

Southern Africa

South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia are the key countries in Southern Africa for safari. The principal airport in Southern Africa is Johannesburg. Many people will start at Kruger National Park, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg.

From there, tourists can also take regional flights to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, or Zimbabwe; however, all of the countries have international airports, but it may be more expensive than flying to South Africa. If you’re looking to get more in-depth, look at our post on safaris in Southern Africa. Alternatively, you can always rent a car and drive around Southern Africa.

Plan For Your Visas

A Game Viewer Drives Across Masai Mara While Hot Air Balloon Takes Off

After you decide where to go for your safari in Africa, you should consider visa requirements for the destination. As Americans, we can enter South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana visa-free. Zambia and Zimbabwe both require entry visas, but this can be done on arrival at the airport or land border. For those traveling to both Zambia and Zimbabwe, visitors can now obtain a KAZA Uni Visa which is valid for 30 days in both countries and can be acquired at the border for $50 USD.

Any visitor going to Malawi should expect to pay $75 for their tourist visa, which can be bought at the border and can only be paid for in USD produced after 2013. American visitors traveling to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda can acquire the East African Tourist Visa, which is good for 90 days between all three countries. However, the visa expires once you leave those countries and is voided. You can apply for this visa online at least three days before arrival. If you are traveling to one of those countries, you can obtain your visa on arrival at the airport or by land.

Tanzania travelers must also have a visa, which can be obtained on arrival for most nationalities. A single-entry Tanzanian visa costs $50 cash except for US nationals. US passport holders must get a multiple-entry visa for $100 cash only for their Tanzanian visa, this visa is good for one year.

We always check visa requirements beforehand as they vary according to nationality. We’ve also noticed that African visas are subject to change at a moment’s notice, so make sure to check periodically. We get most of our info from each country’s Wikitravel page or the local embassy website, which we have always found to be up-to-date and reliable.

Decide What Season To Go On Safari

Cameron And Natasha Have Sundowners in Hwange With Guide Bheki

The time of year is key for travel in Africa. Two main seasons will affect your safari planning – dry and rainy. During the dry season, rainfall is rare. The air is dry, and temperatures vary widely between hot and cold. Vegetation is sparse, and animals have to fight for survival.

While the heat during the day may make your safari uncomfortable, it’s important to remember that this is the best time of the year to spot game. With limited water, animals concentrate around riverbeds, lakes, and man-made watering holes, giving you more of a chance to spot game. During this season, it is easier to spot wildlife with less foliage on the trees and bushes. However, it does get HOT (and I mean above 40°C) in Africa during the dry season. October is even dubbed “suicide month” amongst the locals.

The rainy season, on the other hand, will be cooler, and the landscape will be green and lush. The rainy season is usually the off-season or shoulder season for safaris. It is much harder to spot game as the animals now have a surplus of water and don’t have to travel to riverbeds and waterholes to drink.

A Game Viewer Sits Along The Zambezi River In Mana Pool Underneath Sausage Tree

The rainy season also causes the state of the roads to degrade. Many lodges in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, and Kenya shut down because their locations are virtually inaccessible. However, if you time it right during the shoulder season, you can find fewer crowds and lower prices.

We have been on safaris at all times of the year and always have an extraordinary time. We’ve seen wild dogs (four times) during the shoulder season and sometimes have gone on safari in the dry season to see absolutely nothing. You can never count on anything concrete while on safari—this is the wild, after all!

Check Your Health

Natasha On The Summit Of Lions Head In Cape Town

Ensuring you’re up to date on all your shots before your safari is critical. We went and got up to date on ours before we started our life of travel. We recommend you have current tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis A & B vaccinations. Many countries in East/West Africa also require you to have a Yellow Fever Vaccine. However, we have never once been asked for proof of Yellow Fever. We recommend checking the CDC website for the best information.

In regards to malaria, verify if you will be traveling in a malaria zone first. If you are traveling in a region with a risk of malaria, take proper precautions to ensure you do not get infected. I’ve talked about malaria before, but Doxycycline and Malarone are the two main preventive drugs available. We personally do not take malaria prevention. Instead, we adhere to preventive steps, sleep under mosquito nets, use insect repellant, and cover skin at night.

If you have the time and want to save money on vaccines and medicines, consider going to a clinic when you land in Africa. We did this, and the prices are a fraction of the cost in Western countries. We also found that the local doctors have a greater knowledge of diseases and regions than doctors back home. This is particularly important for travelers, volunteers, or workers who will spend extended time on the continent.

Cash is King on Safari

On A Walking Safari In Zimbabwe

On safari, the US Dollar is king and accepted at most lodges. Any guide will happily accept USD tips. I would suggest bringing extra cash for staff and guide tips, souvenirs, and backups in emergencies. Outside of major cities, you will have trouble using a credit card.

This isn’t to say that local currencies aren’t welcome! If you arrive in Africa with less cash than desired, any ATM can dispense the local currency. However, most countries do not accept neighboring currencies. Make sure to know exchange rates before you land—we like to use the XE app for this.

A general rule of thumb for tipping on safari is $10-$20 per day per person in the general staff pool and $10-$20 per person per day to your guide. Tips should be sorted at the end of your safari. We’ll often ask for an envelope to hand guides a tip with their name on the envelope.

Country Specific Notes

The South African Rand (ZAR) is widely accepted all over Southern Africa. This includes Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland. The Rand is 1:1 with the Namibian Dollar, Lesotho Loti, and Swazi Lilangeni. Guides in these countries will happily accept tips in Rand, we’ll often do this as it easy to pull cash out at the Johanesburg or Cape Town airports.

Zimbabwe has been in an economic crisis mode since 2000 and you should enter the country with enough USD to get you through your trip. Read more about travel in Zimbabwe here. ATMs should not be relied upon in the country as cash shortages are possible.

What To Pack On Safari

Natashas Looks Out Over Conservation Area In Botswana With Zebra

So, how do you plan a safari? Remember to pack right! We recommend you wear lightweight and neutral colors. The average day on safari will start before sunrise and end after sunset, so layers are key to staying comfortable. Yes, it gets cold in Africa. Don’t go on safari without at least some sort of jacket or fleece. Daytime is likely to yield high temperatures, and this is where the lightweight clothing comes in!

Most of your safari will be spent in the back of a game viewer, so you can wear whatever you want. I spend most of my time on safari in sandals. If you plan to do a walking safari or get out in the bush, you will want to have the right shoes and clothing for this activity. Good boots will keep your feet comfortable on any terrain and you will be advised to wear neutral clothes to blend in.

A good hat is always recommended. The African sun is no joke, and you don’t want to get sunburned! If you want to take photos of all the amazing wildlife, we suggest picking up a decent camera as well. If you’re wondering where to put all this stuff, check out some of our favorite bags.

How To Book Your Safari

 Natasha Kisses Cameron On Cheek While On Safari In Botswana

You may be used to planning and booking your vacations; however, Africa is a different ballgame. Proper information on travel in Africa is lacking, and in many places, the tourism infrastructure is not adequate. We drove from South Africa to Uganda. I will be the first to admit, it was no walk in the park. If you are short on time and don’t want the headache of planning and organizing your adventure, I suggest organizing your safari through a tour operator.

We have priced out the cost of booking on our own versus through a provider and find it sometimes cheaper to go through an operator. African lodges are very loyal to their safari operators and agents and often provide them with discounts that they don’t provide to individuals organizing themselves. Several companies do not allow individuals to book their stays with them. This is largely done for safety and to ensure their guests have a hassle-free trip. 

Timbuktu is an option that is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day. That way, you can choose the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you by booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.

A Note About Planning an African Safari

A Cheetah Sits On Top Of Old Termite Mound In The Masai Mara

That being said, organizing a safari on your own is possible. We recommend doing so in Southern Africa, where prices are more affordable, infrastructure is more advanced, and roads/internet/information are more prevalent. On our third day on the African continent, we did a self-drive in Kruger National Park and had a wonderful time.

Other places that are easy to do yourself are Etosha National Park, the Western Cape, and Victoria Falls. A general rule of thumb that we have found is that the further north you get in Africa, the harder and more expensive travel becomes.

Plan Your Trip to Africa

  • Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans. 
  • Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
  • Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
  • Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
  • Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
  • Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
  • Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
  • Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
  • Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
  • Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling to Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.
About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

2 thoughts on “How to Plan a Safari in Africa”

  1. Hi-is it possible to arrange a private tour with an African tour company from the U.S.? Or would you recommend flying to Africa (for a tour in Tanzania) and then finding a tour to go on once we are there. Thank you.

  2. Well, most people arrange a safari back home. You can fly there and hire a local budget operator, but you will not get the full-blown safari experience without planning.

Leave a Comment