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Destination Decisions – Where to Safari

Safaris are becoming increasingly popular vacations, and Africa tourism is steadily growing – particularly that of southern and eastern Africa, the continent’s primary safari destinations. Despite their common bond of safaris, the countries in these regions each have their own distinct personality, landscape and wildlife, and type of safari, and vacation in general, that you get certainly varies depending on the destination(s) you choose. While the possibilities are vast, here are some of the most popular destinations, and their top features.

South Africa: This southernmost country in Africa is popular because of the numerous vacation opportunities it offers. The city of Cape Town with it’s harbor and history, is a worldwide favorite for city lovers. With Table Mountain as its backdrop and access to the wine region, visitors often combine a visit to Cape Town with a safari experience. South Africa has numerous national parks and game reserves, the most well-known of which is Kruger National Park. Kruger is home to the Big 5 – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros – along with giraffe, hippos, cheetah and more. Accommodations range from basic camps to upscale chalets with everything in between. For more details about safari opportunities in South Africa, visit the South Africa Tourism website.

Botswana: Botswana sets itself apart in that they do not fence in their animals. The animals are allowed to roam freely, and if needed, lodges have fences around them to keep larger animals off of the property. It’s thrilling to know that you are truly seeing the wildlife in its most absolute natural setting. Botswana’s major game viewing areas are the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. The Delta is fed by the Cubango River, and it’s size is dependent on the season (growing in the rainy season, shrinking in the dry season). As rains dry up and water sources deplete in surrounding areas, animals head to the Okavango for water (generally May through October), making this the best time to visit the area. Chobe National Park in northern Botswana has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa, and is especially known for its elephant population.

Kenya: Along with Tanzania, Kenya is perhaps Africa’s most popular safari destination. Masai Mara National Reserve is its prized destination. You’ll almost certainly see the Big 5 here, along with giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest, cheetah, multiple types of antelope and numerous other animals. Most anticipated, though is the migration of millions of Zebra and wildebeest from Tanzania’s Serengeti through Masai Mara that happens between July and October each year.

Tanzania: The Serengeti is Tanzania’s most well-known national park. Visitors can view lions, elephants, giraffe, and plenty of other animals roaming plains which stretch to the protected area bordering Masai Mara in Kenya. Each year in July, wildebeest and Zebra leave the Serengeti and migrate through Masai Mara. The Serengeti has become one of the top places for the relatively new opportunity of hot-air-balloon safaris. A trip to Tanzania would also not be complete without a visit to the Ngorogoro Crater, an incredible natural wonder that’s banks are home to lion, zebra, wildebeest and the endangered black rhino.

Uganda: Bordering Tanzania and Kenya, Uganda boasts the “Big 5 + 2”. It offers all of the traditional safari animals, including the big 5, giraffe, hippos, alligators, and more, plus the very rare opportunity for trekking with the endangered mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. There are only three countries in the world where the mountain gorillas are found, with less than 700 of them left in the world. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest contains more than half of the remaining gorillas, and daily permits to go trekking and sit with the gorillas are limited. Chimpanzees can be found in Kibale National Forest and while permits for chimpanzee trekking are required, they are much less expensive and easier to get. Uganda is the only country in which visitors can see the Big 5 plus mountain gorillas and chimps.

Namibia: Though distinctive for it’s vast deserts, particularly Kalahari and the Namib, rainforests, woodland savannahs rivers and mountains are also part of Namibia’s terrain. Etosha National Park, Namibia’s primary game viewing location, covers close to 23,000 square kilometers. Because it’s centered around a dry calcrete depression, it has man-made water points that attract animals during the dry season of June through November. Over 150 mammal species can be found in Etosha, including several endangered species such as the black rhino and the rhino-faced impala.

Zimbabwe: Most tourists who head to Zimbabwe are there to see Victoria Falls (which can be seen from both Zimbabwe and Zambia). Though not a safari, this amazing natural wonder is absolutely worth a visit if you’re headed to either country. In the Victoria Falls area, there are numerous activities available, including elephant back safaris, walk with the lions, horse riding safari, canoe and boat safari,s plus day and night game drives through the Nakavango Private Game Reserve. Hwange National Park, on the edge of the Kalahari, is Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve that offers the Big 5, in particular a large number of elephants, plus 400 species of birds.

Zambia: As with Zimbabwe, Zambia attracts visitors looking to see Victoria Falls. Also like Zimbabwe, it has plenty to offer in addition to the falls. Kafue, one of Africa’s largest National Parks, offers some of the continent’s best lion and cheetah viewing. South Kuangwa Park is one of the few parks that allows night drives, which increases the chances of spotting the elusive leopard. It’s also known for it’s large groups of hippos and endemic types of giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. Lower Zambezi National Park boasts spectacular natural scenery and is an excellent spot for canoe safaris.

360 Days of Sunshine

This is the climate you might experience if you lived in Namibia. This southern African country can easily be enjoyed year round, due to it’s warm temperatures and virtually continual sunshine. Still it seems to elude many travelers looking to head to Africa.

Travel to Africa has spiked over the last couple of years. Perhaps it’s that South Africa’s hosting the World Cup this year, or that more travelers realizing that visiting Africa doesn’t have to mean trenching into a third world country. While “must see lists” have taken increasing notice of several of it’s neighbors – South Africa’s Cape Town and Kruger National Park, Botswana’s Chobe region and even Zimbabwe’s Victoria Fall’s – Namibia has escaped the limelight, so to speak, and still remains a relatively uncommon destination, especially for American travelers.

Desert landscape of Namibia

Attractive weather is just the start of Namibia’s acclaims. Etosha National Park’s wildlife – including the big five- the seaside resort of Swakopmond, the mountains of Spitzkoppe, the colonial yet modern capital city Windhoek, the Skeleton Coast in the west and the isolated landscape of Fish River Canyon in the south each offer a unique experience.

Etosha National Park covers 22,000 square kilometers and a wide variety of terrain. The center of the park is a vast salt pan, with grass and bush land in the west and a dry forest in the northeastern section. Water holes in the southern portion of the park offer the best game viewing. Lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, elephants, and especially springbok quench their thirst here. There are three camps in Etosha – Oakuuejo, Halali and Namuturi, each with their own restaurant, store, swimming pool and accommodations and camping facilities.

Lions resting in Etosha National Park

The colonial styled buildings and dune lined coast make Swakopmond a popular resort town, especially during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Thirty kilometers south of Swakopmond is Walvis Bay, which offers a natural lagoon and large collection of sea birds (over 120,000). Sandwich Harbor is also nearby – a lagoon surrounded by dunes which is ideal for anglers.

Between Usakos and Swakopmond, Spitzkoppe rises 1728 meters out of the plains. Though it is not the country’s tallest peak, its location create an illusion of greater height. It may appear easily to explore, but these mountains should only be traversed by experienced mountaineers, and only in the winter as the rock gets too hot in the summer months. For photographs of the magnificent rock formations the light is most agreeable right after sunrise or right before sunset, so many visitors choose to camp overnight.

Spitzkoppe - The Matterhorn of Namibia

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia, and the country’s largest city. While much of the architecture still exhibits the German influence in its colonial style, the city also has a modern appeal. Sights to see include the Parliament building, the National Gallery of Namibia – previously an old fort, Christuskirche (Christ Church).

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia, though considered the world’s largest ship graveyard, is less scary than it sounds (unless you’re a ship captain). The coast is a protected national park which stretches all the way up to the Kunene River and the Angolan boarder. The southern part of the coast requires a permit to enter, and the northern portion (north of Terrace Bay) may only be visited on private safari.

Fish River Canyon, at 550 meters, is the second largest canyon in the world. It runs 161 kilometers from Seeheim to Ai-Ais and it’s estimated that it was created 500 million years ago. The canyon is part of a conservation park and is a popular spot for hiking, though hikers have to be in good physical condition as the hike is 86 kilometers and generally takes several days.

Basic Namibia facts:
-Namibia gained its independence in 1990 and is eager for visitors to experience all it has to offer.

-A visa can be received on entry, and passports must be good for at least six months.

-Air Namibia, the national airline, flies four times per week nonstop from Frankfurt to Windhoek. Other carries such as Lufthansa, British Air and KLM fly via Johannesburg.

-Though Namibia can have 360 days of sunshine, certain times of the year are more prone to thunderstorms, especially in the interior, making April through September the best months to visit.

-English is the official language, though Afrikans and German are spoken widely.