First Time to Africa

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

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

 

Planning your first safari can be daunting. There are SO many options to choose from and it is hard to determine which one will provide the elusive, authentic African experience you yearn for…

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

  • We focus on REAL wilderness experiences and these are often not the most expensive and luxurious options. We guarantee to get you in the ‘thick of things’ for amazing wildlife experiences!
  • We travel in Africa all the time and for a long time, narrowing down the choices for travellers based on our set of values and criteria.
  • The most important of these criteria is a preference for intimate owner-operated establishments 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

So, let’s start thinking about that first trip!

 

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 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. That’s where safariFRANK comes in.
There is simply NO substitute for extensive, first-hand experience when it comes to designing the best safari. To ensure we are always in the know and up to date we have Gesa and Frank on the ground in Africa full-time. First-hand experience doesn’t get better than this.

 

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

 

 

Africa comprises of two main safari areas, 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 offering. We suggest that first-timers 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…

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 which are better for some species. Rhinos are a good example of this as, they do not occur in all areas due to poaching over many decades.

Some countries are more suited to first-timers, 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. In addition to being a wonderful safari destination, it is also a fabulous place for any style of holiday, especially in summer!

This is a country with good infrastructure and a sophisticated safari industry. A high standard of accommodation combined with a wide range of prices makes South Africa great value for money and arguably the best destination for a first safari

The key areas in South Africa that safariFRANK recommends are:

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

See more here.

Safaris in the private game reserves of the Greater Kruger 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! South Africa is also the best destination if you are short of time, due to ease of access and high chances of seeing ‘the BIG FIVE!’

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-based safaris are often more expensive than those in other destinations. 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, night drives, mokoro (traditional canoe) rides, fishing, fantastic birding and even more. Personalised service from great local guides and the fact that there are very few other travellers results in a safari that is pretty spectacular!

Botswana offers world-renowned and diverse locations such as:

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

This diversity, all within easy reach of Maun, the ‘safari capital,’ makes for a REAL, easy and very unique safari experience!

See more here.

 

Botswana is our favourite destination for first-timers with a bit more time who are looking for that REAL 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 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 for 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 from Livingstone in Zambia. 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.

The key areas are to consider are:

  • South Luangwa National Park and nearby 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!

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 owner-operated ‘wild’ camps, which we at safariFRANK love

Key areas to consider are:

  • Mana Pools National Park on the lower 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 safariers.

Victoria Falls is on the ‘MUST DO’ list of all travellers to Africa, including first-timers! The Falls are an amazing 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 easy to combine with SA/Botswana. No 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. 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.

Key areas are as follows:

  • The Namib Desert and the NamibRand Reserve.
  • Sossusvlei home to the highest free-standing dunes in the world!
  • 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!

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

Summary

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

  • A one-week safari: South Africa’s Greater Kruger 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 safariFRANK 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. safariFRANK 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 safariFRANK’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 safariFRANK 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 Important Information here.

Ready for your first trip to Africa!

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