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When planning a safari there are many decisions to be made…from the time of year to travel, to which destination would be best. In addition there are budget, health and safety concerns to consider. Below, Ian Proctor, Ultimate Africa Safaris managing director, shares his candid thought’s regarding African travel. Ian has lived in both east and southern Africa and has spent the past 20 years searching out Africa's best safari experiences.
Which are the leading safari countries in Africa where travelers can see lots of wildlife? Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the main safari destinations in Africa where travelers will generally see lots of wildlife. South Africa is a very modern country and offers a great diversity of destinations with some with incredible wildlife in the Kruger area. Namibia is a great destination for scenery and does have some very unique wildlife areas.
Which is the best country - Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe? That is a tough question. Each country has its positives and negatives. Due to it’s proximity to Europe and mass tourism infrastructure Kenya is a popular destination for inexpensive European tour groups looking for a bit of safari and sun (a few days wildlife viewing and a few days on the beach). In general the country does not rate well in terms of the wildlife and wilderness experience. On our last visit to the Mara and Amboseli we could not believe the number of vehicles at each wildlife sighting. In August 2010 we counted 28 vehicles around a single leopard - simply outrageous! In addition Kenya’s wildlife is on the decline. A 2001 report by Kenya's Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development noted wildlife in Kenya’s premier wildlife area, the Masai Mara, had declined by 58% in the past 20 years. Wildebeest numbers fell 81% from 119,000 in 1977 to 22,000 in 1997. The Center attributed these to changes population growth (Kenya is home to over 35 million people while Botswana (which is nearly the same size) is home to less than 1.5 million people) and increased land use outside the park (where grazing pasture has been turned into farmland). Overall the study noted that Kenyan wildlife declined by one third between 1977 and 1996. For example, Kenya's elephant population dropped by 85%, to approximately 20,000, between 1975 and 1990. In addition to the mass tourism and wildlife issues there is an US travel warning advising Americans to avoid all non-essential travel to the country. This warning invalidates travel insurance terrorism coverage and for that reason Ultimate Africa is not entertaining bookings to Kenya. In all fairness many Kenyan tour operators and hotel / lodge / camp owners are pulling out all the stops to attract discerning travelers - there are now many high quality safari options, typically within scenic private wildlife reserves (normally farms that have been returned to their natural state and stocked with wildlife. The downside is that most of these reserves do not support masses of wildlife as can be seen in wilder areas of Africa).
In Tanzania travelers mainly visit the National Parks as there are but a few private wildlife reserves. Tanzania offers abundant wildlife and incredible scenery but this is contrasted with a lower standard of guiding and crowding in areas (Ngorongoro Crater, as an example, where visitors are now limited to ½ day visits). Service varies widely! As in Kenya be careful to avoid the large lodge / minibus tours. The migration is tremendous here during the months November through mid March and again late June through August. Looking for chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains is a must along with the “spice island” of Zanzibar.
Botswana is wild Africa. There is very little development and loads of wildlife. In fact wildlife numbers in Botswana are increasing yearly…the country is home to the highest density of lion and elephant in Africa. With strict government oversight you will not run into crowds in Botswana Parks excepting in the eastern end of Chobe National Park. There are very few large lodges and virtually no minibuses. To many people Botswana is not as visually stunning as Kenya or Tanzania however the remoteness and large concentrations of wildlife easily compensates. Botswana receives our highest safari rating!
South Africa has a lot to offer - from cosmopolitan Cape Town to the private reserves around Kruger National Park where wildlife viewing is second to none (however true wilderness is lacking in many areas)...other private reserves throughout the country offer approximately 75% of what Kruger has to offer in terms of wildlife.
Zambia is very similar to Zimbabwe in terms of landscapes, wildlife and the quality of the guides. For travelers worried about Zimbabwe's political and economic stability Zambia provides a great alternative.
Zimbabwe has Africa's most highly trained guides, an incredible diversity of wildlife and ecosystems, great small lodges and camps, and it is easy to have a tremendous safari without encountering crowds.
Photo credits: Ian Proctor, Dave Christiansen, Michael Poliza, Calvin Jones, Bailey Donnally, Ron Lucas, and others
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