Family Friendly African Safaris

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African Safari-Regional Comparison

The African continent, which as a whole is "larger than China, Europe and the United States combined," is immensely diverse. Even the two safari regions into which the continent is generally divided — East Africa and Southern Africa — exhibit an extensive amount of variation within them. Below can be found a comparison of the two regions in terms of climate, wildlife, and activities available. In the case of climate, we have provided the climatic features of each region's component countries, since, given the substantial degree of variation within the regions, this allowed for a more precise description of the regions' climates.

East Africa

Because it is home to the Serengeti, East Africa is often what comes to mind when people think of African safaris. This safari region includes three countries: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Their climates are as follows:

  • Kenya's climate is "sunny, dry and temperate most of the year" despite its equatorial location. Two rainy seasons (the heaviest between March and May, and a lighter period in November through December) are sandwiched between the long dry season of May through October and a shorter dry season of January and February. Days are generally warm but comfortable, but nights and mornings can get very cold.
  • Tanzania's climate can be roughly divided between the hot, humid coastal area "with heavy and reliable rainfall," and the cooler, drier inland region. Its rainy and dry seasons are essentially the same as Kenya's: March through May sees the heaviest rains, with a lighter rainy period in November through mid-January; the rest of the year is relatively dry.
  • Uganda's climate is characterized by significant rainfall all year, even in the "dry seasons" of December through February and June through July. There is little temperature variation throughout the year, though it is hottest in January and February, where the average daily temperature is as high as 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

Perhaps the most notable and famous wildlife to be seen in the East Africa safari region is the massive Great Wildebeest Migration that takes place between Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara. This phenomenon can feature as many as 1.3 million wildebeests, and is unrivaled in its sheer size. However, this is far from the only type of animals that safari travelers can see in the East Africa region. Some others include:


This is by no means a comprehensive list. The East African safari region, like most of the continent, features some of the world's most bio-diverse areas, so countless additional species are available to see throughout the region.

There is much to see and do in the East Africa safari region aside from simply going on a safari. Some additional activities include:


In the course of our search, we encountered two safaris in the East Africa region which were particularly notable: a hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti, and the Mara, Crater, and Serengeti nine-day safari traversing the region's most famous landmarks.

Southern Africa

Though East Africa, with the Serengeti, is generally thought of as the archetypal safari region, the Southern Africa region actually spans several more countries. This region includes South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique. These countries' climates are as follows:

  • South Africa's climate is generally temperate, with "plenty of sunny, dry days." The east coast of the country is influenced by the Indian Ocean, which provides a warm current, while the Atlantic Ocean to its west provides a cold current. Its wet and dry seasons correspond to its summer and winter, respectively, which are at opposite times of the year compared to the United States and Europe.
  • Botswana's climate is semi-arid, and is "hot and dry" for most of the year. However, the 'rainy season' in the country's summer (again, at an opposite time of year compared to Europe and the US), though "rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional." In the winter months (May through August), days can be warm or cool and nights can be freezing.
  • Namibia's climate is that of a subtropical desert: generally hot and dry, "characterized by great differences in day and nighttime temperatures, low rainfall and overall low humidity." Again, Namibia's summer and winter months are the opposite of those in the US and Europe.
  • Zambia's elevation makes for "a more pleasant climate than that experienced in most tropical countries." It experiences three distinct seasons: a cool, dry season from May through August; a hot, dry season from September through November; and a warm, wet season from December through April.
  • Zimbabwe's climate is generally temperate, with elevation dictating how hot regions within the country get. It experiences a wet season from November through March and a dry season from April through October.
  • Mozambique's climate is warm and tropical. October through April is the country's hot, humid rainy season, while June through October is cooler and dryer, though it remains warm throughout the year.
  • Malawi's sub-tropical climate is highly seasonal, with large differences in precipitation and temperature between its rainy and dry seasons. The hot, humid rainy season, from November through April, sees 95% of the country's annual rainfall, while almost no precipitation falls during the cooler dry season of May through August.

Though the landscapes and climate of the Southern Africa safari region vary from those in the East Africa region, many of the principal wildlife species seen on safaris are the same. Some animals that can be seen in the Southern Africa region include the following:

  • Lions in Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa
  • Leopards in South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana
  • Rhinoceroses in South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe
  • Elephants in Botswana and South Africa
  • African buffalo in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia
  • Hippopotamuses in Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa
  • Cheetahs in Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana
  • Wildebeests in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia
  • Giraffes in Botswana and South Africa
  • Zebras in South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia
  • Nile crocodiles in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa

While safaris are a popular tourist attraction in the Southern Africa region, they are by no means the only way to pass the time. Some other activities in the region include the following:


In the course of our search, the two most notable safaris we encountered were the nine-day Cape Town and Kruger safari encompassing many of the region's most scenic areas, and National Geographic's 11-day expedition safari visiting Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta and more.

Conclusion

Africa's two safari regions, East and Southern Africa, offer vastly different climates, geological features, and additional activities, even if the principal safari wildlife is similar in both regions. There are other differences between the regions in the ways safaris are conducted and the things seen while on safaris. For example, while the massive amount of wildlife seen on the Serengeti is unrivaled in Southern Africa, "up-close and personal predator sightings" of Southern Africa are much less common in East Africa. Southern Africa safaris are often marked by "low volume with smaller camps and lodges on private concessions," which can make for an "exclusive, personalized safari experience at a higher cost," as compared to the more popular, crowd-pleasing East Africa safaris. Though both regions are unique in their own ways, both are bounding with natural beauty as far as the eye can see.
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Quotes
  • "There are two main safari regions in Africa: East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; Southern Africa: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi."
Quotes
  • "At first glance, there is little to beat the majestic terrain of the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater in East Africa if you are thinking of the classic picture-postcard image of Africa. Think elephants at a waterhole with the grand silhouette of Kilimanjaro in the background. Then you also get the rainforest of Uganda and Rwanda with their mountain gorillas in the East."
  • "Having said that, Southern Africa boasts some remarkable scenery: the watery paradise of the Okavango Delta, the purple sunsets of the Zambezi River and of course, Victoria Falls. What this means is that one “once in a lifetime” safari in Africa quickly turns into 3 or 4 over a few years."
  • "There is only one Great Wildebeest Migration and that’s between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. If your idea of the perfect safari is to drive through savanna grasslands looking at vast herds of game and its ever hopeful predators following along, then do a migration safari. Nothing else is going to come close to that experience."
  • "But that’s not to say that you won’t have fabulous wildlife encounters in Southern Africa. Yes you are not going to see 1000’s of wildebeest but you may see vast herds of elephant or a large pride of lions."
  • "Generally we always say that you will be amazed by the up-close and personal predator sightings in Southern Africa. Some of the private game reserves have been running safaris for decades and the animals have become habituated to the vehicles. This means that a leopard may carry on doing whatever they want to do, even though a vehicle is only a few metres away."
Quotes
  • "Eastern Africa is most well known for the endless grasslands of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem and the seasonal migration of wildebeest between Kenya and Tanzania. The seasonal rain patterns over the rich savannahs support one of the most spectacular mass game migrations in the world including 1.3 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra, gazelle and the predators that follow them. "
  • "On safari in East Africa you can also experience a diversity of habitats: dry soda lakes of Nakuru and Manyara attract large flocks of flamingos, the baobab forests of Tarangire support large herds of elephant, the Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world, Mt Kilimanjaro the highest mountain in Africa, and the dry scrub forests of Samburu add to the diversity of landscapes."
  • "There are numerous cultural opportunities to interact with local tribes such as the Maasai, Datoga, Samburu, and Hadzabe hunter gathers. Hot air balloon safaris over the African savannah are spectacular! Also consider wildlife safaris and gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, and wash off the dust after your safari on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean such as Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania."
  • "Southern Africa spans a diverse range of topography with a wide variety of habitats from grassy savannahs and bushy woodlands, to the thundering waters of Victoria Falls, the sweeping sand dunes of the Namib and Kalahari deserts, the rugged Drakensberg Mountains, the beautiful beaches and coastlines of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and of course the historic city and winelands of Cape Town."
  • "The dramatic seasonal variation of this region creates a diverse and stunning landscape: from the dry deserts of the Skeleton Coast and Kalahari Desert, to the heavy rains of the Angolan highlands that fill the Okavango Delta, the biggest inland wetland in the world, game viewing very much depends on season, and water and food availability."
  • "Safari tourism in Southern Africa has been developed for the most part as low volume with smaller camps and lodges on private concessions (instead of only national parks), creating a more exclusive, personalized safari experience at a higher cost. African wildlife safaris originated in Southern Africa more than a century ago and have helped set the standards and practices throughout the continent including guide training, interpretation and conservation."
  • "Compared to East Africa, safaris in Southern Africa do not offer the vast open vistas or massive wildlife concentrations like the Serengeti plains. In Botswana and Zambia especially there are more opportunities to join walking safaris following native trackers to locate wildlife in tall grasses and acacia woodlands. Game viewing on many private concessions provides opportunities to drive off-road and at night."
Quotes
  • "The most famous of East Africa’s wildlife kingdoms is the Serengeti-Maasai Mara Ecosystem. The size of Vermont, the Serengeti-Maasai Mara has two names because it straddles two countries. In Kenya, it’s the Maasai Mara, somewhat greener and more riverine than Tanzania’s Serengeti, the “warm sea of life” so beloved of travellers."
  • "[Cape Town is] high-spirited, modern-minded, and chock full of hip bistros and elegant hotels, all of them presided over by stupendous Table Mountain. The nearby Cape Winelands, a kind of Napa Valley with added mountains and Old Dutch-style hostelries, is a magnet for fanciers of wine, fine cuisine, and beautiful countrysides."
  • "Kruger National Park and a series of equally wildlife-rich private game reserves–such as Micato favourites Sabi Sabi and Shambala, both complete with some of the continent’s loveliest and most salubrious camps and lodges–round out South Africa’s diversity with classic opportunities to safari in well-conserved gamelands."
  • "Botswana, commonly considered a great African success story, is one of the world’s most sparsely inhabited nations, largely because so much of it consists of beautiful, but not terribly nurturing desert, notably the famously daunting Kalahari. The great, green exception to all that dry sand is one of Micato’s favourite earthly places, the famed Okavango Delta, where the robust river of the same name, frustrated in its search for an outlet to the sea, seeps life-givingly into the Kalahari’s sands, creating a huge wonderland of peaceful lagoons, meandering waterways, marvelously isolated luxury camps, and animals in profusion."
  • "In Namibia we strike out from luxurious, magnificently designed safari camps into the vast and otherworldly deserts of the interior, marveling at the highest sand dunes on earth (the tallest could look the Empire State Building straight in the eye), making game drives in search of Namibia’s superbly adapted 192 mammal species (not to mention its 250 reptile and 645 bird species)."
Quotes
  • "It’s generally sunny, dry and temperate most of the year in Kenya despite being situated directly on the equator. Central Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau is situated at an altitude that keeps temperatures comfortable. Coastal areas are obviously hotter, but the ocean breeze helps to maintain pleasant conditions for most of the year."
  • "There are two rainy seasons—the heaviest rains (called masika) usually fall from mid-March to May and a shorter period of rain (called vuli) occurs in November and December. January and February are mostly dry, although there may be a chance of rain. The dry season, with cooler temperatures, lasts from May to October. "
  • "Many travelers assume that because they are traveling to Africa, it must always be warm. This is not the case in Kenya during the night and early morning, however, particularly in June, July and August. You can expect days to be absolutely beautiful, temperate and sunny, but nights and early mornings will be chilly, possibly near freezing, so we recommend you bring warm layers you can peel off as it warms up through the day."
Quotes
  • "Tanzania has a generally comfortable climate year-round, although there are significant regional variations. The tropical coast stays quite hot and humid with heavy and reliable rainfall, especially during the rainy season. The central plateau is cooler and arid."
  • "There are two rainy seasons—the heaviest rains (called masika) usually fall from mid-March to May, and a shorter period of rain (called vuli) occurs from November to mid-January. The dry season, with cooler temperatures, lasts from May to October. "
  • "The areas where we will be traveling are typically warm and dry, although it is surprisingly cold at higher altitudes. Summer usually lasts from November to March, and during this time there is always a chance of afternoon showers. "
Quotes
  • "Straddling the equator, there is little year-round fluctuation in temperature and no real winter or summer. The hottest months are January and February when the average daytime range is 24-33°C (52-91°F) with peaks of up to 40°C/104°F in the far north. The south has two Wet seasons: from mid-September to November and March to May."
  • "The Dry season from December to February means only that it rains less and the gorilla parks remain fairly wet during these months. The second Dry season – from June and July – is considerably drier. Still, with 1,000 to 2,000mm (39.4-78.7in) of rain every year, it can rain at almost any time."
Quotes
  • "South Africa has a lovely, temperate climate with plenty of sunny, dry days. The main factors influencing conditions are altitude and the surrounding oceans. Temperatures drop by about 6°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft)."
  • "The east coast is on the Indian Ocean, which has a warm current. The west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with a cold current. South Africa experiences winter and summer at opposite times as compared to Europe and North America and they correspond to the Dry and Wet seasons in most of the country, except for the Western Cape."
Quotes
  • "Botswana's climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration."
  • "The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time."
  • "The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest."
  • "The in-between periods - April/early May and September/October - still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter."
Quotes
  • "Mostly, Namibia has a subtropical desert climate characterized by great differences in day and nighttime temperatures, low rainfall and overall low humidity. Namibia experiences winter and summer at opposite times as Europe and North America and they correspond to the Dry and Wet seasons."
Quotes
  • "The general height of the land gives Zambia a more pleasant climate than that experienced in most tropical countries. There are three seasons – cool and dry from May to August, hot and dry from September to November, and warm and wet from December to April. Only in the Valleys of the Zambezi and Luangwa is there excessive heat, particularly in October and, in the wet season, a high humidity."
  • "In the warm wet season, frequent heavy showers and thunderstorms occur, followed by spells of bright sunshine. Plants grow profusely and rivers and streams fill up almost overnight. During the cool dry season, night frosts may occur in places sheltered from the wind."
Quotes
  • "Zimbabwe enjoys a lovely, temperate climate. The central highveld plateau has temperatures coming up to 28°C/82°F. Lower-lying parks such as Hwange and Zambezi NP are warmer year-round and temperatures can reach 31°C/88°F."
  • "Mana Pools, Matusadona and Gonarezhou are even lower and get hot, with temperatures soaring to 35°C/95°. The Eastern highlands are much colder and receive significantly more rain."
  • "During the Wet season, from November to March, rains usually fall in heavy afternoon showers, but they can sometimes be lighter and continuous for a couple of days. The Dry season, from April to October, is pretty much rain- free and colder. Nights and mornings can be as cold as 5°C/41°F to freezing, but daytime temperatures are still pleasant with a great deal of sunshine."
Quotes
  • "Mozambique has a warm, tropical climate. The average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius (82° Fahrenheit), and the weather along the coast is sunny and warm even in midwinter."
  • "Summer, from October to April is rainy, humid and very hot. June to October is the dry and cooler season. With often perfect tropical weather this provides the most comfortable period for travel: clear skies, plenty of sun and almost no rain."
Quotes
  • "Malawi has a sub-tropical climate, which is relatively dry and strongly seasonal. The warm-wet season stretches from November to April, during which 95% of the annual precipitation takes place."
  • "A cool, dry winter season is evident from May to August with mean temperatures varying between 17 and 27 degrees Celsius, with temperatures falling between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius. In addition, frost may occur in isolated areas in June and July."