First Time to Africa

"Handy information and insights for planning that first safari..."

A safari is a lifelong ambition for many, the trip of a lifetime for some, and for a lucky few a life-changing dream come true.

But safaris are different from other holidays and often require significantly more planning. If you’ve never been on safari but are itching to get your feet wet, you no doubt have plenty of questions. Luckily for you, at SafariFRANK we answer questions almost as well as we do safaris. 

First-timer?

Planning your first African safari can be daunting. There are so many options to choose from and it can be hard to determine which one will provide the elusive, authentic African experience you yearn for – whether that be trekking through the African bush, visiting the famed Serengeti National Park or Masai Mara National Park, experiencing the jaw-dropping great wildebeest migration or enjoying the unbridled 5* luxury found in some mobile safaris.

SafariFRANK works with first-time visitors to Africa to achieve their dreams based on the following propositions that add value:

  • We focus on authentic wilderness experiences and these are often not the most expensive and luxurious options. We guarantee to get you in the ‘thick of things’ in the African bush, for amazing wildlife experiences that stay well off the beaten track.
  • We travel in Africa regularly and for a long time, narrowing down the choices for travellers based on our set of values and criteria – both with private reserves and national parks.
  • The most important of these criteria is a preference for intimate owner-operated establishments in local communities that focus on sustainability, conservation and ecotourism.
  • We partner with these select Africa-based operators building long-term, meaningful personal relationships. These guys become our friends and then they become yours.
  • We only promote these trusted operators making your decisions significantly easier, since we speak from first-hand experience.
  • Due to these key relationships, we have negotiated the best rates possible and we guarantee you will not be able to do the safari at a lower cost, even if you booked it all yourself. This means that our insight and experience comes at no extra cost to you!
zambia south luangwa walking safari sunset romatic dinner
zambia south luangwa walking safari sunset drinks at sleepout
houseboat photographic safari chobe river hippo along boat
Northen Namibia etosha safari
Botswana-Lion-Mother and cub

What to consider about a first-time safari?

The key questions that should be answered in planning a trip to Africa are:

  • Where should I go for my first trip?
  • When is the best time, or a good time, to visit?
  • Can families go on safari and what are the minimum ages for kids?
  • What are the travel styles and accommodation options on safari?
  • What kind of activities do you want to do?
  • What are the price ranges for the various options?
  • What else should I know, or consider, before I go?

The most important aspect of your trip is deciding on the right company to arrange your safari and having confidence in that decision – which is where SAFARI FRANK comes in.

There is simply no substitute for extensive, first-hand experience when it comes to designing the best African safari. To ensure we are always in the know and up to date, we have Frank our resident safari guide. First-hand experience doesn’t get better than this.

So get in touch today and we will help make your dream trip a reality!

 

Where should I go on safari for the first time?

Safari Africa comprises two main regions, namely southern Africa and eastern Africa.

These are two distinctly different destinations, each far from one another and with its own unique charm and safari offerings. When taking distances in mind, we suggest that those planning a first-time safari choose only one of these areas to maximise your enjoyment unless you won’t be returning to Africa (and we doubt that!). To do both areas justice would require a safari of at least three weeks, and even then you’d be pushing things.

The wildlife found in eastern and southern Africa is very similar. There are different species between the two areas, but overall the big cats and large game are the same across most countries.

However, if you are particularly interested in a specific species this needs to be considered. There are locations that are better for some species, such as Rhinos which are no longer present in all areas due to poaching over many decades.

Some countries are more suited for those on a first safari, while others are better suited to experienced safari-goers and adventurous travellers.

See our destination pages here to learn more about the areas.

South Africa

South Africa is the gateway to southern Africa and is known for the diversity of its experiences, making it a perfect choice for first-time safari-goers. Its spectacular wildlife will live long in the memory and there is a very good reason South Africa is widely considered as a premier safari destination.

In addition to being a wonderful safari destination, it’s also a fabulous place for any style of holiday, especially in summer, and can be combined with a beach break or a road trip along the Garden Route when you’ve had your fill of National Parks and wild animals.

This is a country with a good infrastructure and the most advanced safari industry in the region. A high standard of accommodation, from safari lodges to tented camps, combined with a wide range of prices makes South Africa great value for money and arguably the best destination for a first safari destination.

The key areas in South Africa that SAFARI FRANK recommends are:

  • Cape Town and surrounds, including the Winelands and the Garden Route.
  • The private game reserves included in the Greater Kruger National Park, in particular, Timbavati, Klaserie and Sabi Sands.
  • The Kalahari and private game reserves in the region, notably Tswalu and Madikwe.

See more here.

Safaris in the private game reserves of the Greater Kruger National Park are top-notch, especially for the ease of seeing ‘the big five’ in a short period of time. Night-time game viewing and off-road driving are possible in most locations which makes for a wonderful and unique experience.

If you’re short on time, South Africa is the ideal place to see exactly what you dreamed of seeing on a safari because of its ease of access and abundance of animals.

South Africa also has the only malaria-free safaris in Africa, often making it the best choice for families with young kids.

Botswana

Botswana is focused on high-income, low-impact, low-volume safaris. The country is sparsely populated with large wilderness areas and fantastic wildlife and is leading the way in wildlife conservation in Africa.

These commendable strategies do come with a price tag however and Botswana can often be an expensive safari destination. There are ways to overcome this, such as travelling outside of peak season and staying in temporary tented camps, which make it far more affordable, and also more desirable in our view.

Botswana offers a high level of exclusivity in the private concessions around the National Parks, with some of the best wildlife experiences and sightings anywhere in Africa. These private reserves offer safari activities such as game drives, boating, walking safaris, night drives, mokoro (traditional canoe) rides, bush walks, fishing, fantastic birding and even more.

The excellent personalised service from great local guides combined with the usually limited numbers means that an African safari in Botswana is one of the best in Southern Africa.

Botswana offers world-renowned and diverse locations such as:

  • The Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park.
  • The Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
  • The Linyanti and Chobe Rivers.

This diversity, all within easy reach of Maun, the ‘safari capital,’ makes for a really easy and completely unique safari experience.

See more here.

Botswana is our favourite destination for first-timers with a bit more time who are looking for that authentic and adventurous experience on safari.

Zambia

Zambia is a lesser-known destination for first-timers but it offers a traditional ‘old style’ safari experience – almost as if time has stood still.

Zambia is known as the birthplace of the walking safari. There are wonderful, small and rustic camps in the Luangwa Valley and Lower Zambezi that are specially geared towards walking safaris, which we view as some of the best safari experiences. In addition, there are many adventure experiences too, such as canoeing on the Zambezi.

Victoria Falls can also be experienced in all its mighty glory from Livingstone in Zambia, where there are many adventure activities on offer here, with a swim in the Devil’s Pool at the top of the magnificent waterfall topping the list. The Pool is only accessible from the Zambian side and will require you to muster every inch of bravery if you are to peer over the edge and into the cascading chaos below.

The key areas are to consider are:

  • South Luangwa National Park and nearby gem Luambe National Park.
  • Lower Zambezi National Park.
  • Kafue National Park.
  • Livingstone Town at the Victoria Falls.

See more here.

These areas are far apart, and road conditions are not good for self-driving, so flying is the best option for first-timers. This does, however, add to the cost of a safari in Zambia. In addition, some of the areas and camps are closed during the rainy season.

Given some of the logistical challenges, many clients leave Zambia for their subsequent safaris, an option which we also recommend.

Zimbabwe

The adventurous choice for a first-time safari.

Zimbabwe is home to arguably the best guides in Africa, as well as the continent’s best walking & canoeing safaris in truly remote wilderness areas, such as Gonarezhou National Park and Mana Pools. The country is home to many wonderful, small and independent ‘wild’ camps, which we at SAFARI FRANK absolutely love – and we know you will too.

Key areas to consider are:

  • Mana Pools National Park on the Zambezi River.
  • Gonarezhou National Park on the Mozambique border.
  • Victoria Falls
  • Hwange National Park.
  • Lake Kariba.

See more of these here.

These areas are wild, remote and far apart, necessitating flying between them and therefore these are mostly visited by experienced safari-goers.

Victoria Falls is on the ‘MUST DO’ list of all travellers to Africa, including first-timers. The Falls are a spectacular sight and there are so many activities on offer, that a 3-night stay is recommended. Victoria Falls is also easily accessible with a major airport and connecting flights to the rest of Africa and Europe.

Given all of the above, the only location recommended for first-timers is Victoria Falls, which can easily be added as an extension to either South Africa or Botswana. (I would personally add Hwange to this as an easy extension from Victoria Falls accessible by road or light aircraft and is easy to combine with South Africa/Botswana. It makes for a spectacular visit without the crowds like Chobe)

Namibia

Namibia is a vast and dry country, famous for its desert-adapted wildlife and jaw-dropping scenery. It is also one of the least populated countries in the world.

The wildlife is mainly concentrated in the north of the country, in the well-known Etosha National Park. The safari experience here is more commercial, with many tourists driving around in cars, but there are some private reserves on park boundaries, where you can have a more exclusive experience. Namibia is home to the amazing desert-adapted rhino and desert-adapted elephant, both of which are endangered species. These are found in very remote areas and can be hard to find but are well worth the time and effort.

Key areas are as follows:

  • The Namib Desert and the NamibRand Reserve.
  • Sossusvlei is home to the highest free-standing dunes in the world as well as Namibia’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • The Fish River Canyon, second biggest canyon in the world
  • Damaraland and Twyfelfontein
  • Etosha National Park.

See more here.

Given the distances involved, the good infrastructure and roads and the non-stop word-class scenery along the way, Namibia is self-drive heaven and excellent for safari connoisseurs who want to branch out on their own.

We highly recommend Namibia for those first timers who are self-drivers/campers and those who are keen on some adventure and scenery, where ticking off large game animals is not necessarily the key objective. Due to the vast distances between destinations a two-week trip at least is recommended for a holiday here.

Uganda

A country with a difficult past that has come roaring back. Landlocked, but lying beside the immense Lake Victoria, Uganda is perfectly situated if you want to combine a visit with Tanzania, Kenya or Rwanda.

When you think about Uganda, only one animal probably comes to mind – the mountain gorilla. Home to half of the world’s remaining gorillas, Uganda offers the chance to get near to one of our closest ancestors and as anybody who has ever been in their presence will testify, a meeting with these hulking cousins of ours is an unforgettable experience.

But Uganda also offers a surprisingly varied collection of destinations, from the sedate, tranquil Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria to the Murchison Falls National Park, home to elephants, lions, giraffes and the world’s most powerful waterfall.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda is currently around half the price as its neighbour Rwanda, making it an excellent option for first-timers and close to many of the other delights of East Africa.

Key areas are as follows:

  • Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
  • The Mountains of the Moon is Uganda’s legendary source of the River Nile
  • Lake Victoria and the exquisite sun drenched Ssese Islands
  • The Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest national park and home to the spectacular 40 metre high Murchison waterfall.

Kenya

Kenya has long been considered a safari Mecca – and it’s not difficult to see why. The country that captured the imagination thanks in no small part to Karen Blixen’s book Out of Africa and the hugely popular film that followed has everything you need to make a first time safari a huge success.

Kenya is a success story on multiple fronts. A relatively stable democracy that has avoided the same kind of internal conflict that has plagued many of its neighbours, it has also long been a conservation leader that has successfully blended the desires of tourists with the needs of the local people.

The Masai Mara National Reserve is, without question, one of the finest places in Africa for a safari and also where you can witness the awe inspiring wildebeest migration, while the Great Rift Valley gives you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our most distant ancestors.

Key areas are as follows:

  • The Masai Mara National Reserve
  • The Great Rift Valley – The cradle of human civilisation where homo sapien fossils dating back 200,000 have been found.
  • The Lamu Archipelago, Kenya’s Indian Ocean paradise.

Tanzania

One of the most iconic sights in all of Africa rises majestically from the Tanzanian savannah. Simply the name Mt Kilimanjaro is enough to send a shiver up the spine and make that adventurer within us all yearn to strap on our boots and head for the unknown.

Yet Tanzania’s most famous sight is just the start. Home to the dazzling Serengeti and its fabulous ecological wealth, historic Zanzibar Island filled with colour and spectacular beaches and the mesmerising Ngorongoro Crater, the largest volcanic crater on the planet and one which has been nicknamed Africa’s “eighth wonder of the world.”

Tanzania often finds itself at the top of the list for first-time safari goers. A country that has seen exceptional success in the last fifty years, politically, socially and environmentally. It’s not difficult to see why so many would choose Tanzania for their first visit. The land that has it all is difficult to ignore.

Key areas are as follows:

  • The legendary Serengeti is home to one of the most spectacular arrays of wildlife anywhere in the world.
  • Mt Kilimanjaro rising gracefully from the savannah
  • Zanzibar, a short hop from the mainland, but a different world entirely
  • The Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was formed 3 million years ago.

Rwanda

Rwanda may be a name that still conjures the unthinkable, but it is a country that has strode forward impressively since the dark days of the 1990s and now offers the perfect setting for those looking to do their first safari.

The compact nation of Rwanda offers a surprising level of abundance and diversity in such a small area. Like neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda is unquestionably one of the best places on the planet to experience wild gorillas, while the Akagera National Park offers you the chance to tick off the Big 5 during your visit.

Rwanda is a nation that has come a long way in a relatively short period and is yet to achieve the same kind of level in terms of tourists as say Tanzania or Kenya. But make no mistake about it, out of the ashes of the 1994 genocide has emerged a spectacular country that is eager to catch up. The ‘land of a thousand hills’ certainly will not disappoint.

Key areas are as follows:

  • Volcanoes National Park – Walk in the footsteps of the legendary Dian Fossey whose pioneering work with gorillas was immortalised in the 1988 film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’
  • Akagera National Park, the only place in Rwanda where you can see the Big 5
  • Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of Africa’s oldest rainforests and home to dazzling selection of wildlife, including 13 different species of primate

Summary

In terms of where first-timers should go on safari, we recommend the following:

  • A one-week safari: South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park and Cape Town.
  • A two-week safari: as above with the addition of 5 nights in Botswana and 2 nights at Victoria Falls.
  • A three-week safari: as above with the addition of 7 nights in Namibia.
  • More than three weeks: with the addition of two weeks in Kenya or Tanzania.

There is no bad time to go to Africa, there are just different times!

 

The peak safari season is around July to August with a lot more travellers around and a subsequent increase in prices.

We recommend travelling in the ‘shoulder season’ in most locations if at all possible. At this time you can get great value for money and a better safari experience with far fewer people around. In most locations that is March (end of summer) for a ‘greener’ experience and September (start of summer) for a ‘drier’ experience. Both of these times offer fantastic wildlife experiences, so that should not be a major consideration, as many people incorrectly believe.

Other aspects to consider in deciding when to visit are:

  • The rainy season and temperature.
  • School holidays.
  • Wildlife events such as migrations.
  • Calving season and migratory bird season.

The top locations can be busy during peak season, July to August, which coincides with European summer holidays. If at all possible, try and avoid these months. Another consideration is the South African school holidays and Easter weekend, which can become busy in certain areas, especially for self-drivers.

October is the hottest month of the year as the final month before the rains arrive. Although November to February is also hot, the presence of rain clouds and rain often cool things down, and these months are not as hot as many people expect them to be.

Migratory birds arrive, and many species give birth from November, making for a special season from November to March. Combining that with the first rains and this is indeed a very special time of the year as the bush comes alive. The rain can be a bit disruptive when camping, but in general, it is not a big problem with showers quickly clearing and sunny skies returning within hours. Some areas, however, become inaccessible and camps there will also be closed. This is our personal favourite time of year!

There are some very interesting wildlife events that take place in certain months. The wildebeest migrations in East Africa and in Zambia and the bat migration in Kasanka, Zambia are good examples. If these or similar events are of interest, make sure to check the best dates with us.

See the ‘When to Go Page‘ for detailed information about different times of the year.

Safaris are a great holiday for people of ALL ages! There is no minimum or maximum age, but you do need to consider the child policies of the lodges and operators.

This is another area where our first hand experience is vital in ensuring the best fit for your family.

A safari is often a particularly awesome experience for families, where the lack of Wi-Fi and TV get family members reconnected, returning home with renewed bonds. A significant trend is intergenerational safaris, where grandparents travel with their kids and grandkids, a once in a lifetime experience for all!

Some aspects to consider when deciding who can go are:

  • The minimum age requirement of lodges and operators.
  • The availability of private safari vehicles for a small group.
  • The availability and quality of family rooms, especially for young kids.
  • Children’s safety in BIG FIVE terrain.
  • The accessibility of safari vehicles for older people.
  • Camping vs Lodges.

Many lodges and other operators have a minimum age requirement for kids. These are mostly in consideration of other guest’s comfort and sometimes for safety reasons. However, there are also many operators that take kids from any age and some that specialise in kid’s programs! There are minimum age requirements for walking safaris. This is usually around 16 years or above depending on the terrain and the operator.

Another consideration is to the availability of family rooms at lodges where young children can sleep with parents in the same room or an adjoining room. Many operators offer private game viewing vehicles for families and small groups, making for a very special safari.

Families need to think about safety being in BIG FIVE terrain with young kids, especially when camping. Private mobile safaris will allow kids above a certain age and also cater for their safe accommodation. When self-driving and camping one needs to be VERY careful with young kids around camp, especially at night.

There also operators that specialise in catering for the disabled with specially adapted vehicles and lodging.

In terms of deciding how to travel there are 3 main considerations:

  • The type of accommodation.
  • The means of transport.
  • Activities at each location.

The type of accommodation

Accommodation on safari varies from private villas, lodges and tented camps, to camping safaris.

Lodges themselves vary from luxurious to affordable, and tented camps from permanent to temporary ones. Camping, on the other hand, can be a mobile safari where a crew do all the hard yards for you including setting up and cooking, or self-sufficient camping, where you are completely on your own.

The choice depends on the preference of the group, the budget and the type of experience that you are after. At SAFARI FRANK we believe less is more, especially when on safari, so our preferred option is what we refer to as ‘private canvas’! Either a tented camp or a mobile safari. These options allow you to travel with a local guide which is essential in our view.

The means of transport

Travel between destinations can be done by air (scheduled flight or charter flight), or road transport (self-drive, transfer, or escorted). The choice is to a large extent dictated by the destination and the style of travel.

Since we strongly believe that the local guide is a VERY important part of a safari, we prefer guided/escorted transfers over self-drive where flying is not possible or preferred. However a guided/escorted option is available even for self-drive groups using our ‘The Beast’ game viewing vehicle in addition to your self-drive vehicle/s. This makes for a fantastic experience!

How to travel

The decision of how to travel will also be influenced by the activities you want to partake whilst on safari. SAFARI FRANK promotes getting active as far as possible, as this makes you a participant and not just an observer! The activities on offer are myriad and include walking, boating, canoeing, fly-camping, biking, fishing and much more!

These are not available everywhere and your choice might impact how you choose to travel. Speak to us for advice or assistance

Africa as a destination and safaris, in general, are fairly expensive!

The cost of running high-quality lodges or camps in a remote, wild and exclusive areas speak for itself. The industry has also developed over the years in the direction of a more and more ‘over the top’ luxury. In our view, this distracts from the wilderness experience that Africa is all about. However, there are ways to go on safari at a reasonable cost and many of these offer benefits that make them our preferred choice too!

For travellers, it is hard to find prices and compare apples with apples to know what you are getting for your money and which option is best.

That is what we are here for and we make this process easy and transparent!

Some pointers in terms of what to costs to expect (all indicative costs only, being dependant on location/time of year etc) are:

  • The cheapest safari option is to rent a fully equipped 4×4, self-drive vehicle and go camping! This is, however, not for everybody and the absence of a local guide will mean missing out on some of the best experiences! Trust us on this. However, if this is your thing we can assist. As an example, the cost for 2 people travelling to Botswana in this way will be around USD 250 per person per day. This includes a fully equipped and insured vehicle with unlimited kilometres, camping fees and conservation fees but excludes food, drinks and fuel for the vehicle.
  • The next level up is safaris that make use of affordable lodges in certain locations. For example, a great safari can be done in the private reserves in the Timbavati bordering the Kruger Park in South Africa, for around USD 450 per person per day. This is fully inclusive, other than airport transfers and drinks at the lodge.
  • One level up from this is a serviced mobile safari in Botswana. The cost for these is around USD 580 per person per day fully inclusive, even of drinks. This is SAFARI FRANK’s preferred option, as it offers a VERY REAL authentic ‘on the ground and in the thick of it’ experience! You will have amazing wildlife experiences, a comfortable stay (involving no work for guests), whilst travelling with some of the best local guides…. and all of this while leaving a very small ecological footprint! What more can you ask for?
  • The next level up would be a safari using some high-end lodges. These costs vary depending on the location, but as an example, a great safari in the private reserves around Kruger staying in high-end lodges, will cost in the region of USD 850 per person per night, fully inclusive. Sightings of the BIG FIVE are very likely and night drives and off-road driving are allowed, making for a great experience all around.
  • The final level is a safari making use of luxury lodges. There is a huge variance in the cost of these lodges but suffice to say they start around USD 1000 per person per day and go up to USD 2500 per person for the top end lodges. No cost or luxury is spared at these locations, with amazing food and wines for those travellers that prefer it!

In planning a safari there are some additional aspects to consider. Some last pointers are as follows:

  • Make it easy on yourself, speak to us at SAFARI FRANK and we will work to make your dream a reality! There is no substitute for local knowledge, insight and FRANK advice. If you get in touch as early as possible and communicate in person, by phone or via Skype, the process will much simpler and more enjoyable! We will get to know you and you will get to know us while learning about the destinations and safari options. This is a win-win for all!
  • Booking well in advance is strongly recommended, ideally 12 months ahead of the travel date, especially for peak season. That way you will have sufficient time to consider the options, there will be better availability and options and together we can plan the ideal trip, that fits your objectives and budget perfectly.
  • Seriously consider the ‘shoulder season’! travelling during these times can mean a huge cost-saving and having fewer travellers around will make such a difference on safari. Don’t worry the wildlife sightings will be just as good, trust us on this!
  • Less is more on safari! We strongly recommend that you save some money by forgoing the infinity pools, copper baths and timber decks, for a longer time on a private under-canvas safari, on the ground and amongst the wildlife! You will LOVE it.
  • Don’t overdo the safari side and mix it up a bit. It is important to realise that most people can only do a certain amount of game drives in a vehicle before wanting to try something else. For this reason, it is best to choose locations that offer a variety of activities such as walking, boating and cultural activities. In addition, consider adding a non-safari location to your trip, such as Cape Town or Victoria Falls.
  • Go with small, intimate and owner-operated establishments! You will have a much more personalised experience, will support small local business and will be more likely to engage and connect with the staff and owners.
  • It is all about the guide! In our considered opinion the best money spent on a safari is on the guide. Their in-depth environmental knowledge and experience sometimes built up over generations is invaluable and will add hugely to your experience. There are some legendary guides out there and we suggest you really spend time with your guide and ask questions. You won’t regret it and you may make lifelong friends in the process.
  • Use specials to add value. Many lodges and operators offer specials and promotions from time to time, especially for travelling in the low season. If budget constraints are an issue, we can help you to make use of these, as they are significant cost savers.
  • If your time and budget allow, do a training course before the trip, even if only for the leader of your tour. This could be as short as 7 days and the time spent with a field-guide instructor will equip you with some knowledge and insight into the African bush, which will make all the difference!
  • We have compiled a list of important things to know before you go. Check out the Travel Info page here.

Ready for your first trip to Africa!

Get in touch and we can start planning an adventure of a lifetime?