Lions are the most sought-after sighting on a safari. The excitement of seeing them is partly because we expect to see them in Africa and are reassured when we do but there’s also something a bit more primal behind our fascination with them. Thanks to their reassuringly feline name – Panthera leo – we know we are technically dealing with ‘cats’ but lions are startlingly huge, almost bear sized. Their muscular, barrel-chested bodies and arrogantly jutting chins let everyone know who the boss is – and it’s not the 2-legged creatures wearing sunglasses!
Blessed with abundant wildlife and a benign climate, South Africa has long been a leading safari destination. Its most famous and flagship national reserve – the Kruger National Park – is Africa’s oldest conservation area. Among South Africa's reserves you'll find Big 5 safaris in malaria-free areas and conservancies for rare and endangered animals, ranging from rhinos and cheetahs to aardvarks and mountain zebras. These attractions combined with a first world infrastructure make South Africa the perfect choice for a first-time safari goer.
In many ways, Port Elizabeth is a great place to end off your Garden Route self-drive holiday. Lying in the Eastern Cape province, it’s the place where the Western Cape’s lush forests and plantations start giving way to burnt orange aloes and the thicket bush that is the perfect terrain for kudu and one of the Eastern Cape’s main attractions: elephants. Addo Elephant National Park lies less than hour from PE – as it’s known to locals – and is ideal for first-time safari goers who are looking for a completely safe, malaria-free, family-friendly destination.
Namibia is a land of endless blue skies, vast horizons and crisp mornings: pure joy for photography enthusiasts. It is also safe, clean and organized with an excellent infrastructure, making it a favourite destination for family vacations, especially self-drive safaris (that’s travel lingo for independant road tripping - an ideal way to vacation with teenagers).
Zimbabwe’s fortunes are as varied as its landscape. Once a British colony known as Rhodesia in honour of empire builder Cecil John Rhodes, it won independence to become Zimbabwe and build a seemingly unassailable reputation as ‘the bread basket of Africa’. Its fertile soil and balmy climate is perfect for agriculture - it’s still the centre of Africa’s lucrative raw tobacco trade - but then came political turmoil once again as the government launched land reform programmes.
October in Africa and the weather is in charge. In East Africa the short rains have begun and the landscape replies with a blanket of fresh green grass. South of the Zambezi, however, it has barely rained since May and animals mill around the remaining waterholes, eyes wide and ears flicking at every snap of a twig.
It was my first week managing a camp on the southwestern edge of the Okavango Delta. I was understandably wary. Not only would I have to learn to negotiate unchaperoned night walks home, drive a Land Rover on roads that often struck uncanny likenesses to rivers, identify the chiming, screeching, bellowing creatures of the day and night - I would have to do it all with the air and ease of a seasoned pro.
As African Safari Experts , we spend every day doing what we love: helping our clients live out their dream African vacations in magical destinations. But it’s not all fun and games – to reach expert level we have to pass serious written examinations (just like college) and personally visit every destination we recommend. In fact, we’re can't advise our clients on a destination until we’ve passed the exams and actually been there. After mastering South Africa – which really is ‘a world in one country’ with every sort of attraction from whales and wine to the Big 5 and resorts like Sun City – we started working on our next destination, Botswana.
She pushes her huge tail down, ducks under the waves with tremendous forces and then, with colossal power, launches her huge body above the water, coming down with a fantastic splash. Everything is quiet except for the chorus of ‘Wows!’ from my fellow boat passengers. There’s a shared anticipation and keen excitement as we hope she’ll do it again… Our luck is in as she once again uses her tail fin to propel herself like an aquatic rocket above the ocean off Kleinbaai, a tiny hamlet on South Africa’s Whale Coast, less than an hour’s drive from Hermanus and regarded as the whale-watching capital of the world.
Famous for its Kalahari setting, Botswana is generally a place of empty blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It does have a rainy season however - often disarmingly called the Green Season - but don't worry too much about that word 'rainy'. The absolute wettest part of the country records as much precipitation in a year as London or Melbourne do, while the rest of the country gets about enough to fill a coffee cup. You're not going to need to pack an umbrella. And besides, nearly all the rain falls between December and April with soggy February accounting for the bulk of it.