Choosing the best safari area

Each safari area offers a different sort of game viewing experience. Here, briefly, are some of the best loved areas.

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. Game viewing is either in open-sided game drive vehicles or / and on foot. 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. (Note: the nasty, callous practice of canned lion hunting is still legal in SA. 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. Water levels are seasonal; the landscape is sensational. Game viewing is largely water-based: from dug-out canoes, a special experience other regions can’t offer. It’s quiet here. You get a strong sense of the perfect balance of all the elements, and being on the shallow water is a non-intrusive way to view wildlife. Land (vehicle) viewing is also possible at some lodges. Many lodges are only accessible by air taxi.

Chobe Game Reserve, Botswana

Experience: abundant elephant herds.

Botswana is an enormous country with room enough for abundant elephant herds and its small human population. 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. Sadly, Botswana lifted its ban on trophy hunting in May 2019, so don't expect to see the big tuskers after the hunters kill and take home the best of them as decor items. (In so doing, they also mess with the elephant gene pool.)

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. A hugely satisfying safari experience, in a region teeming with wildlife, including the Big 5.

The Serengeti & Maasai Mara, Tanzania & Kenya

Experience: ancient force of nature on epic scale.

We treat this as one area, since the natural great migration route crosses from one into the other. 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. Plan well, then see, feel and hear it all. 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. Its reserves are home to the Big 5. This safari paradise offers all the wildlife it’s possible to see in Africa, and not only that, it has arguably the finest game rangers in Africa. Add the magnificent Victoria Falls to the mix, and you have a guaranteed outstanding safari. The downside is logisitics - but this is common to many other good safari regions. Roads are poor, so a chartered flight to the top safari spots is required, adding to the cost. But it's so worth it. 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, still great value, and supporting the photographic lodges is always a good thing.

Marianne Birrell Safaris ~ all the choice your heart can desire.