Having decided to fulfil your dream and finally go on that African safari, you are faced with the decision of where in Africa is the best place to explore the wild wonders – southern Africa or East Africa? southern Africa includes the countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. East Africa includes Kenya and Tanzania, and the more central Uganda and Rwanda. Both are landscapes of spectacular beauty and wildlife, and the question is not so much about which is better, but rather of which is better to suit your specific desires.
Classic Camping or Luxury Living for your African safari
The idea of the ‘classic’ safari was originally encapsulated by those in East Africa – picture tents in the bush with no modern facilities and only the light of the wild to live by. It was in the Kruger region of the south, however, that the idea of the luxury safari was invented. Today, both regions have a range of luxury and classic accommodation, and you shouldn’t let your choice between southern Africa or East Africa be determined by this. However, those with a preference for luxury will have more options in southern Africa – with many more luxury travel brands dominating the region. While East Africa also has luxury options, the general focus is on a more authentic and less predictable, spontaneous choice while southern lodging is better managed and somewhat more sophisticated.
southern Africa or East Africa: Highlights of Each
Both regions have diverse landscapes and most of the same game. Only a few animals are specific to either southern Africa or East Africa, and the largest difference is rather that the number of particular species varies by region.
southern Africa for safaris
- From the Namib Desert in Namibia, to the wetlands of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, to the endless sands of the Kalahari Desert which stretches across Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, there is great diversity amongst the environments.
- The magnificent Zambezi River and Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
- The famous Kruger National Park in South Africa.
- Most parks utilise open safari vehicles during game drives (whereas most parks in the east use closed vehicles).
- Leopards, rhinos, and large herds of elephants more common.
- The African Wild Dog is most likely to be seen in Botswana.
- Hippo pods of the Luangwa River in Zimbabwe.
- The Lechwe antelope only found in southern Africa.
- As many of the best game viewing sites here are in private reserves, the number of people staying within the parks are controlled, meaning that one is likely to have more privacy and less chance of crowds.
East Africa for safaris
- The landscape is one of wide open plains, forests, bushveld, and subtropical rainforests.
- The Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara region of Kenya.
- The annual wildebeest migration, in which millions of wild animals cross from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Mostly Blue Wildebeest, but also zebra. The migration attracts the predators, resulting in some spectacular hunting scenes.
- The open plains make it easier to see animals that live in the surrounds.
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, in Tanzania.
- Gorillas and chimpanzees are populous in the forest regions.
- Thomson’s gazelles that are endemic to East Africa.
- Large numbers of flamingos.
Choosing southern Africa or East Africa by Season
Whether you choose to safari in southern Africa or East Africa may depend on when you plan to go on holiday. As southern Africa has only one moderate rainy season, which is generally between November and March (although this is different in Cape Town), most safari camps will be open for the duration of the year. East Africa, however, has two rainy seasons – the long rainy season occurring from March to May, and forcing many camps to close during this time.
Both regions offer some of the best opportunities in the world to see the big predators in their natural environment. Neither southern Africa or East Africa is better, and only your personal preferences will lean you towards one or the other. Whichever you choose – southern Africa or East Africa – you are likely to have an unparalleled experience.