Choosing the best safari area

Southern and East Africa is a huge area. Each safari area offers a different sort of game viewing experience. Here, briefly, are a few of the best choices, to help you make your decision.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

(Experience: the Big 5, very close up.)

Here there's every chance of seeing the Big 5, and very close up. From leopards to cheetah to hippo to elephants and virtually everything in between. South Africa’s jewel, this is a mixed woodland topography, offering truly close-up viewing of all the animals we so love to watch and photograph. Any iconic animal you may miss in other areas, well, you’ll be 95% assured of seeing it here. Game viewing is either in open-sided game drive vehicles or / and on foot. Choose a guided tour; you'll see so much more. You can come upon almost anything around the next curve in the road - and very often do. Game viewing is outstanding all year through; winters are cool and summers warm. Lodges are sophisticated and modern, with all conveniences including wifi. Good roads and airports get you there easily. (Be aware: the nasty, callous practice of canned lion hunting is still legal in SA. Read about it here. So be sure to choose a safari lodge with no connections to canned lion hunting.)

The Okavango Delta, Botswana

(Experience: an ecological jewel with great wildlife.)

This is a shallow water wonderland, a rare inland delta in what is essentially an arid country, Botswana. The animals all come to drink here, so game viewing is very good. In all probability you will get to see elephants, a large variety of antelope, lions, hippo, crocodiles, wonderful water birds and more. The scenery is immensely beautiful. Game viewing is mostly water-based: from dug-out canoes, which is a special experience other regions can’t offer. It’s quiet here. You get a strong sense of being an element within the wilderness - and indeed you are, because this is such a non-intrusive way of viewing. Land (vehicle) viewing is also possible at some lodges. Water levels are highest in June to October. Many lodges are off the grid, and only accessible by air taxi.

Chobe Game Reserve, Botswana

(Experience: abundant elephant herds.)

To see great herds of elephants, you go to the Chobe area of Botswana. It is magical to sit and watch large family herds of elephants going about their business. Geographically, the area is rather flat, being a flood plain, and the Chobe River winds lazily through it. The elephants visit the river daily, making it among the best elephant viewing south of the equator. Another great plus for Chobe is that one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders, Victoria Falls, is on the doorstep. And one more reason to love Botswana: there is no hunting allowed in Botswana. At all. Go Botswana!

Luangwa Valley, Zambia

(Experience: Africa up close and very personal.)

Let’s explore! says the promo material about Zambia. It’s right on the button, for this is an explorer's paradise. The South Luangwa is the area that put proper walking safaris on the map, led by some of the legendary safari guides. The walking safari has legions of fans worldwide and there's arguably no place better known for it. But we're not talking marathon sports here, simply ... well ... just walking. Using your legs to get around. So, if you love the idea of getting close to the 'real' Africa by touching it, hearing it and taking the time to really, really look at it close-up, this is the one. An entirely bewitching experience. And the area is teeming with wildlife, including the Big 5.

The Serengeti & Maasai Mara, Tanzania & Kenya

(Experience: ancient force of nature on epic scale.)

Think big here. An endless, huge canvas of nature unspoiled, ancient. Karen Blixen's Africa. Imagine massive, shimmering vistas, long horizons, and enormous herds of wild animals crossing the landscape. These are two of the last places on earth to see the migration of millions of wildebeest and zebras. The trick is to ensure being in the best possible place to view the action. Serengeti is good for 9 top months of viewing, the Maasai Mara a bit shorter. Unforgettable.

Etosha, Namibia

(Experience: all the wildlife, all in your own time.)

This game reserve in Namibia is even bigger than Kruger - but this is not an obstacle to good game viewing. All the wildlife is concentrated around specific waterholes, or pans. This makes game viewing relatively easy. The Etosha pan is a massive dry lakebed which, for most of the year, is dry and coated with salt. The surrounding savannah is home to the Big 5 and much much more. In essence, spending time at the waterholes means spending time watching the animals. Locals do it on their own; unguided. We suggest going with a good tour operator for best results if you're not a local. It's fun, and that way you'll get the most out of it. Game viewing is good all year; but it gets very hot in summer.

Mana Pools & Matusadona, Zimbabwe

(Experience: some of the best safari guides in Africa.)

Zimbabwe is a real contradiction. It deserves a much better reputation than it has, for it is a magnificiently wild and unspoiled country. It is bursting with unspoiled wildlife areas, home to the Big 5. It’s a natural paradise offering all the wildlife it’s possible to see in Africa, and not only that, it has arguably the finest game rangers in Africa. Also, add the magnificent Victoria Falls to the mix. In short, it's a safari paradise. The only downside is logisitics - roads are poor, so a chartered flight to the top safari spots is required. Do game drives, guided walking trails, viewing by boat or canoe - it's all on offer, and the quality is way up there with the best. Annoyingly, the Zimbabwe government still seems to allow hunting in the some of its National Parks (remember the Cecil debacle?). Don't let that stop you though. It's a gem, great value, and supporting the photographic lodges is always a good thing.

Marianne Birrell Safaris ~ different area, different safari. You choose.