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East or Southern Africa safari?

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Spoiler alert: there is no 'best' in East vs Southern Africa safaris!

Important context for this comparison

Most people view East Africa as a rolling savannah, like you will find in the Maasai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania). In fact, East Africa has considerable habitat variety - from rolling savannahs to dense equatorial forests, mountain kingdoms, vast arid plains, river floodplains and lush mixed bushveld - and plenty more. So, too, Southern Africa offers an enormous variety of ecosystems and tourism delights, from wide rivers with high waterfalls to vast arid salt pans, mixed bushveld and a Mediterranean coastline.

Both regions offer epic safari experiences - our repeat safari clients like to experience both regions and sometimes combine them during one safari.

More detail when comparing East and Southern Africa safaris:

  • East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, eastern DRC and Ethiopia

  • Southern Africa – Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique

  • East Africa
    The Maasai Mara NR (Kenya) and Serengeti NP (Tanzania) offer those classic African vistas of vast rolling grass plains with isolated flat-topped trees such as umbrella thorn acacias and Balanites. There are the Albertine Rift montane mistbelt forests of Rwanda, Uganda and eastern DRC and dense equatorial lowland rainforests of Semliki (Uganda) and Kahuzi Biega (DRC). Then there are the high mountain kingdoms and arid southern reaches of Ethiopia. You could journey along the wide Nile River in Uganda, with its dramatic waterfalls and huge lakes, to gems such as the mixed bushveld of Queen Elizabeth NP. There are so many exciting, rewarding jewels like the vast arid plains of Tsavo East NP in Kenya, the lakeshore forests and grasslands of Akagera NP in Rwanda and the diverse Laikipia County in Kenya. These are just a few of the options - ask our safari experts about more.

  • Southern Africa showcases equally diverse landscapes, from the wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta to the desert dunes of Namibia's Sossusvlei, the warm water of the Mozambique coast and the wooded savannah of South Africa's Greater Kruger. Victoria Falls offers the dramatic 'smoke that thunders', South Africa's Western Cape brings a Mediterranean lifestyle, and Zambia's Luangwa Valley features stunning oxbow lakes along the lazy winding Luangwa River. And then you will find the tranquil Lake Malawi, vast Etosha Pan in Namibia, iconic Kalahari Desert in South Africa and the salt pans of Botswana. Again, these are just a few of the options - ask our safari experts about more.

Wildlife experiences and game drives
  • Both regions offer Big 5 encounters, although the chance of seeing the five species in one park is greatest in South Africa's Greater Kruger. Ol Pejeta (Kenya) and the Sand River area of Maasai Mara/Serengeti also offer the chance to see the Big 5 in one park. Combining a few parks in your safari will increase the chances of seeing the Big 5.

  • East Africa's Serengeti and Maasai Mara are renowned for their dense wildlife populations – especially during the Great Wildebeest Migration.

  • Regarding animal migrations, East Africa hosts the Great Wildebeest Migration throughout the year. Southern Africa hosts smaller migrations at various times of the year, such as zebras in Botswana, wildebeest in Liuwa Plain (Zambia), bats in Kasanka (Zambia) and southern right and humpback whales in South Africa.

  • Southern African wildlife viewing tends to be more up close and personal, with many animals habituated to game-drive vehicles.

  • Night drives are often permitted in Southern Africa, whereas in East Africa you will be back at camp by sunset. Some private concessions bordering national parks in East Africa do offer night drives, but this is more of a 'thing' in Southern Africa.

  • All-day game drives are quite common in East Africa because of the mild weather and greater distances covered, whereas morning and afternoon game drives are more common in Southern Africa, and the middle of the day is spent relaxing during the day's heat.

  • Safari vehicles in East Africa are generally (but not always) closed 4x4s with three rows of seating, roll-up canvas sides and pop-up roofs. In Southern Africa, the vehicles are open 4x4s (some with canvas roofs) and three rows of tiered seating.

  • If your African safari is all about gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking, ogling bizarre geladas or marvelling at the sheer number of monkeys and other primate species, East Africa wins hands-down. The equatorial forests and mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, eastern DRC and Ethiopia are teeming with exciting adventures for all tastes.

  • East Africa offers good year-round wildlife viewing thanks to a temperate climate and open landscapes. Southern Africa offers excellent wildlife viewing during the dry season (May-Oct), when vegetation is easy to see through, and animals stay close to scarce water sources. During Southern Africa's wet summer season (Nov-Apr), the bushveld thickens up, and there is more surface water for animals to choose from. This means you will work harder to see wildlife, but your chances of seeing the Big 5 are still good during a 4-5 day safari.

Cultural experiences
  • East Africa provides easier access to authentic cultural experiences, like interacting with members of local Maasai or Samburu tribes in Kenya, Hadza people in Tanzania, Batwa people in Uganda and Ethiopia’s Omo tribes.

  • Southern Africa offers cultural experiences that are seldom as authentic as those in East Africa.

  • East Africa is close to the equator and has less temperature variation between months. The region enjoys two dry seasons (Jan-Mar and Jun-Oct) and two wet seasons (Nov-Dec and Apr-May).

  • Southern Africa has a higher temperature variation between the cool winter months (May-Oct) and hot summer months (Nov-Apr). Most rain falls during summer (Nov-Apr) except for Cape Town, which has winter rain (May-Aug).

Cost of travel
  • Both regions offer many varying levels of accommodation – from budget to luxury. Your choice will determine the cost of your safari.

  • The national park and activity fees in East Africa are comparatively high and can influence safari affordability.

  • Both regions base lodge prices on the US Dollar, with only South Africa operating in ZAR (a weaker currency that offers comparative benefits for foreign-currency earners).

Lodge styles
  • East African lodges tend to be authentic/traditional lodges and canvas tented camps.

  • Southern African lodges and tented camps are contemporary and luxurious, although there are exceptions to both rules.

You will find many ready-made safari packages and accommodation choices on our website searchable by place and country. Each of those pages offers opportunities to ask questions of our safari experts and book your safari. Or, chat directly with one of our experts now, and they will help you craft that dream safari.

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