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.
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:
- Lions in Kenya and Tanzania
- Leopards in Kenya and Tanzania
- Rhinoceroses in Kenya
- Elephants in Kenya and Tanzania
- African buffalo in Kenya
- Hippopotamuses in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda
- Cheetahs in Kenya and Tanzania
- Wildebeests in Kenya and Tanzania
- Mountain gorillas in Uganda
- Giraffes in Kenya and Tanzania
- Zebras in Kenya and Tanzania
- Nile crocodiles in Kenya and Tanzania
- Chimpanzees in Tanzania and Uganda
- Wild dogs in Tanzania
- Lilac-breasted rollers in Kenya
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:
- Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, which is "the largest unbroken caldera in the world"
- Visiting (or climbing) Tanzania's Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa
- Taking guided "bush walks" through the region's bush-land with members of the Maasai tribe
- Going on a "Gorilla Trek" to see Uganda's mountain gorillas
- Visiting Kenya's Hell's Gate National Park, a Great Rift Valley region "named for the intense geothermal activity within its boundaries"
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.
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:
- Visiting the beautiful and majestic Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe
- Visiting the lush Okavango Delta nature reserve in Botswana, billed as "Africa's last Eden"
- Visiting the hip, "high-spirited, modern-minded" South African city of Cape Town and the nearby Cape Winelands, Africa's premiere wine region
- Seeing Namibia's massive sand dunes, the tallest of which rival the Empire State Building
- Experience the thrill of shark cage diving off the coast of South Africa
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.
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.