Safari Experience

An African safari isn’t a passive experience. It isn’t just about glimpsing wildlife. You’re enveloped in their untamed world, absolutely surrounded by the drama and charm of the planet’s greatest theater; every angle is unique and each moment personalized. Allow Zicasso's safari experts to handcraft your perfect immersion, bringing harmonic luxury to the natural wonder, and tailoring your dream African safari.

Top 10 Safari Animals

The word 'Africa' is an evocative one that usually goes hand-in-hand with mental images of vast savannah plains dotted with exotic game. The majority of overseas visitors to Africa will go on safari, and in doing so discover that there is nothing more magical than a close encounter with the continent's famous wildlife. Most of the species one sees on safari are unique to Africa, and many of them are instantly recognizable. In this article, we take a look at ten of the continent's most iconic animals, including those that make up the African Big Five.


1: Lion


To see a lion in its natural habitat is one of the most humbling, impressive sights an African safari can offer. However, whilst witnessing a kill is the ultimate prize, you're more likely to see one snoozing than in active pursuit of dinner. Lions spend up to 20 hours a day at rest, and are most active at dusk and dawn. They are the most social of all wild cat species, living in prides that typically consist of between five and ten adult lions. Tragically, lions are threatened by human expansion throughout Africa, with a 2015 paper prophesying that populations could fall by as much as 50% in the next 20 years. Best Places to See Lions: Head to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border of South Africa and Botswana, or to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park during the wildebeest migration.

2: Elephant

There is nothing quite like the first time you see an African elephant in the wild. As the largest living terrestrial animal on Earth, their size alone is overwhelming; but many visitors also find themselves drawn by the elephants' tangible aura of wisdom. Elephants are found in a wide variety of sub-Saharan habitats, including forests, deserts and savannah. They are herbivorous, processing up to 990 pounds/ 450 kilograms of vegetation per day. Although most elephants are peaceful by nature, they can be dangerous if provoked; however, they are far more at risk from humans than we are from them. Best Places to See Elephants: Vast elephant herds roam Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and Chobe National Park in Botswana.

3: Giraffe

As the tallest animal on Earth, you'd think that giraffes would be easy to spot on safari. However, their distinctive brown and white markings serve as exceptionally good camouflage, and it's not unusual for giraffes to simply materialize out of the bush just a few feet away. There are nine subspecies found across sub-Saharan Africa, all of which boast blue tongues, stubby horn-like protrusions on their heads and of course, outrageously long necks. In order to be able to drink without losing consciousness, the giraffe's neck contains special veins and valves that regulate the flow of blood to its head. Best Places to See Giraffes: Spot large herds of Maasai giraffe in the Serengeti, or head to Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda to see the endangered Rothschild's giraffe.

4: Leopard

The elusive African leopard is a subspecies of leopard found only in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its wide range, leopards are amongst the most difficult of all safari animals to see, as they are both nocturnal and exceptionally wary of humans. Leopards use trees as observation platforms and for protection, and that is where they are most often spotted during daylight hours. They are solitary animals with exceptional predatory skills, including the ability to climb, swim and drag prey weighing up to three times their body weight up into the trees. Leopards are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Best Places to See Leopards: South Africa's Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia are both famous for leopard sightings.

5: Rhino

The easiest way to identify Africa's two species of rhino is by the shape of their bottom lip - square for white rhinos, and pointed for black rhinos. The survival of both species is threatened by widespread rhino poaching, and the black rhino is considered to be critically endangered with fewer than 5,000 individuals left in the wild. White rhinos are more numerous and therefore easier to spot, especially in southern Africa. Shortsighted and usually solitary, rhinos are amongst the heaviest of all land mammals. An adult male white rhino averages around 5,100 pounds/ 2,300 kilograms. Best Place to See Rhino: Etosha National Park in Namibia is a rhino conservation success story, with a thriving black rhino population and a good chance of spotting white rhinos as well.

6: Cheetah

The most slender of Africa's big cats, the cheetah is an exceptionally beautiful species known for its incredible speed. They are capable of short bursts of up to 70 mph/ 112 kmph, making them the world's fastest land animal. However, despite their speed, cheetah often have their kill stolen by other, more powerful predators. They are a vulnerable species with only around 6,600 individuals left in the wild, including a tiny population of around 40 individuals in Iran. Cheetah are found throughout southern and eastern Africa, in wide open spaces that allow them to reach their top speed while pursuing prey. Best Places to See Cheetah: The Maasai Mara provides ideal habitat for cheetah. Alternatively, track rehabilitated cheetah on foot at Okonjima Game Reserve in Namibia.

7: Buffalo

African buffalo have a robust build and distinctive fused horns. They are grazers, typically moving in herds, with no natural predators except for lions and crocodiles. Unlike other species of wild buffalo, the African buffalo has never been successfully tamed, thanks to its naturally aggressive and unpredictable nature. Although seeing a buffalo herd ranging across the savannah is undoubtedly an unforgettable sight, it's important to treat these animals with respect. They are responsible for multiple human fatalities every year, and are considered one of the continent's most dangerous species. Best Places to See Buffalo: Katavi National Park in Tanzania is famous for its enormous buffalo herds. Chobe National Park is another good bet.

8: Hippopotamus

Hippos are a common sight in the rivers, swamps, and lakes of southern and eastern Africa. Usually found in groups of up to 100 individuals, hippos spend the majority of their life in water, only leaving their aquatic homes to graze on the riverbanks at dusk. They have several fascinating adaptations, including webbed feet, large canine tusks and the ability to secrete a kind of natural sunscreen. Male hippos are territorial, and like buffalo can be exceptionally aggressive when provoked. Similarly, take particular care never to get between a hippo mother and her calf. Best Places to See Hippos: Zambia's Luangwa Valley is home to the world's largest concentration of hippos. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is also full of them.

9: Nile Crocodile

After the saltwater crocodile, Nile crocodiles are the world's largest living reptile, with the biggest on record exceeding 20 feet/ 6 meters. They are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa in a range of aquatic habitats including lakes, rivers and deltas. Crocodiles are well camouflaged when in the water, and are most often spotted sunning themselves on the riverbank. They have been around for millions of years, and with heavily armored skin and exceptionally strong jaws, they certainly look prehistoric. Nile crocodiles are perfect predators, employing ambush tactics to take their prey unawares. Best Place to See Crocodiles: Watch herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River during East Africa's annual migration to see Nile crocodiles in action.

10: Zebra

There are three species of zebra in Africa; the plains zebra most commonly seen throughout eastern and southern Africa, and the rarer mountain and Grévy's zebras. Although they may look like domestic horses, zebras are almost impossible to tame; while their distinctive stripe patterns are as unique to each individual as a human's fingerprints. Zebras live on grass, and in some areas, form great migratory herds in order to seek out the best grazing grounds. During the migration, they often form a mutually beneficial relationship with another African species, the wildebeest. Best Places to See Zebra: For sheer numbers, you can't beat the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara during migration season. To see the endangered Grévy's zebra, head to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.

10 Safari Animals Fun Facts

The word 'Africa' is an evocative one that usually goes hand-in-hand with mental images of vast savannah plains dotted with exotic game. The majority of overseas visitors to Africa will go on safari, and in doing so discover that there is nothing more magical than a close encounter with the continent's famous wildlife. Most of the species one sees on safari are unique to Africa, and many of them are instantly recognizable. In this article, we take a look at ten of the continent's most iconic animals, including those that make up the African Big Five.

1: Giraffes Have Blue Tongues

Already a bizarre-looking creature, the giraffe's strange appearance is compounded by the color of its tongue. There is a reason for its blue-black hue, however. Giraffes use their tongues to strip leaves from the tallest trees, and the high melanin content helps to prevent them from getting sunburned. This is just one of the giraffe's many special adaptations. Blood is pumped up their famously long necks by a uniquely powerful system of valves and veins. When the giraffe lowers its head to drink, the same system prevents the blood from rushing downwards and causing a sudden loss of consciousness. Amazingly, when female giraffes give birth the baby drops some six feet to the ground - but is able to stand up, walk and even run shortly afterwards.

2: Ostriches Can Sprint Over 45 Miles an Hour

As well as being the largest bird on Earth, the ostrich is also the fastest two-legged runner in the Animal Kingdom. On average, ostriches can sprint at speeds of up to 45 mph/ 72 kmph, while records show that the fastest ostriches can achieve short bursts of up to 60 mph/ 96.6 kmph. They are also the world's strongest bird. An ostrich can easily support the weight of a man, and their enormous eggs are capable of withstanding great pressure. In some areas of Africa, ostriches are used for racing. You can experience this for yourself in Oudtshoorn, an ostrich-farming town in South Africa's Karoo desert. Be careful though - ostriches have famously volatile temperaments, and are capable of inflicting serious damage. An ostrich can easily kick a grown man to death - an ability often used on predators in the wild.

3: The Hippo is One of Africa's Most Deadly Animals

Despite having a mostly herbivorous diet, hippos are often cited as the most dangerous of all African animals. Male hippos fiercely protect their section of the river, and will often attack those that unwittingly encroach upon their territory. Females are also quick to attack anyone that comes in between them and their calves. Hippos may look slow, but they can achieve speeds of around 20 mph/ 30 kmph on land. Both males and females have powerful jaws with enlarged canines and incisors, sometimes called tusks. The male hippo's canines can reach up to 19.6 inches/ 50 centimeters in length. Other amazing hippo adaptations include their ability to hold their breath for over five minutes, and their skin, which produces its own natural sunscreen - a useful defence against the relentless African sun.

4: Hyenas are More Closely Related to Cats than Dogs

Hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs. They live in matriarchal clans, with some groups numbering over 70 members. Hyena cubs are usually born in pairs, and if they are the same sex, they may try to kill each other. Although hyenas are known as scavengers, they also regularly hunt live prey. Hyena dung is white when dry because of the large amount of calcium found in the bones that they eat. A team of researchers excavating a cave near Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered five human hairs preserved in fossilized hyena dung. Thought to be at least 200,000 years old, the hairs exceeded the previous record for the oldest known human hair by more than 190,000 years. Striped hyenas are born with adult markings, closed eyes, and small ears. Spotted hyenas are born with eyes wide open and teeth intact.

5: Lions Sleep for 20 Hours a Day

The African lion has been admired by man for its beauty and strength for thousands of years. It is one of the most exciting animals to see on safari. However, you're more likely to see one sleeping than hunting because lions rest for an average of 20 hours every day. Because they hunt primarily at night, they do most of their sleeping during daylight hours. In this, lions are similar to many other cat species. However, they are also unique in many ways. They are the only cats with marked differences between males and females, and unlike house cats, they cannot purr. They are also the only cats to live in large family groups, or prides. Living, hunting and raising cubs together is a survival tactic that allows for greater hunting success and a higher rate of infant survival.

6: An Elephant Calf Often Sucks its Trunk for Comfort

Elephant calves are amongst the most adorable of all baby safari animals, with their tiny trunks and light covering of fine orange fuzz. Elephant babies are often seen sucking their trunks, in the same way that a human baby might suck its thumb. This is a natural reflex, and a source of comfort in between feeding sessions. Trunk-sucking is sometimes seen in older elephants, too, especially when they are uncertain of their surroundings. Of course, an elephant's trunk is more than a glorified pacifier. With more than 40,000 different muscles, it is incredibly dextrous. It is used to breathe, smell, touch, drink, eat and communicate. It can pull down trees, or be used to pick up something as delicate as a tiny twig. When crossing deep rivers, and elephant can even use its trunk as a built-in snorkel.

7: Black Mamba Venom Can Kill in a Matter of Hours

Undoubtedly the most feared of all Africa's dangerous snake species, the black mamba's venom comprises a lethal mix of neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. If cornered, the snake can deliver several bites in quick succession - although even a single bite is enough to cause a human to collapse within 45 minutes. Without antivenom, death occurs within 15 hours and the mortality rate is 100%. Ultimately, death is caused by asphyxiation, respiratory failure or complete cardiovascular collapse. Black mambas have a reputation for aggression, but the truth is that like most snakes, they prefer to avoid confrontation where possible. Despite their name, they are rarely black, often appearing brown, grey or olive green instead.

8: Crocodiles Have Been Around for Over 200 Million Years

Crocodiles have roamed the Earth for approximately 200 million years. After surviving the catastrophe that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, they continued to evolve into the awe-inspiring predators we know today. Nile crocodiles can hold their breath underwater for over 10 minutes, and can go for months at a time without food. Their armor-like skin protects them from injury, and their immune system is so well-developed that they can feed on decaying flesh without getting sick. They have one of the strongest bite forces on record, and can move at lightning fast speeds during an ambush. Despite their fearsome reputation, Nile crocodiles are surprisingly dedicated parents, guarding their eggs fiercely during incubation.

9: Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way as a Compass

African dung beetles are amazing creatures. They spend their lives gathering the faeces of other safari animals and rolling them into great balls that can exceed their own body weight by up to 10 times. The beetles roll their balls in a straight line, despite any obstacles that may stand in their way. They bury the dung and use it as a larder, or as a nutritional nest for their eggs. Scientists have discovered that dung beetles use the stars to navigate, and are capable of doing so even when only the glow from the Milky Way or other bright stars is visible. One African species can even navigate by moonlight alone - making these the only insects known to orientate themselves using the galaxy. According to research, dung beetles prefer omnivore faeces to herbivore faeces.

10: Pangolins Retract Their Tongues Into a Special Chest Cavity

A rare sight on any safari, pangolins are as fascinating as they are elusive. Pangolins are toothless, and instead have strong, sticky tongues designed for lapping up ants. When fully extended, the pangolin's tongue is longer than its head and body combined. When not in use, it is stored in a special cavity in the animal's chest. Pangolins are nocturnal, and sleep curled up to protect themselves from predators. Their bodies are covered in hard scales, made from keratin - the same substance that human fingernails are made from. Unfortunately, its body parts are highly sought after in Asia, both for consumption and for use in traditional medicine. All eight pangolin species are targeted for wildlife trafficking, and four are either endangered or critically endangered.

The Journey

It should come as little surprise that the etymology of safari comes from Swahili. Dependent on where you are in East Africa, safari is a direct translation for “journey” or “long journey.” This is a fitting metaphor for thinking of African safari as a vacation. Considering a safari in terms of must-see sights and check lists reduces it to any other sightseeing vacation, while thinking of it as an immersive journey into a vast unspoiled world helps to evoke the inimitably of the experience.

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Many new travel experiences can be easy to preconceive; an iconic European city, the next tropical beach destination, an ancient Asian empire. While the destinations may be foreign, there's enough in the name to picture part of the experience. African safari ignites a whole host of competing images, each struggling for believability. Wildlife documentaries and animated movies help create idealized scenes, but trusting them as markers often seems farfetched. A thousand analogies about untamed animal kingdoms sound evocative, yet what does that really mean? Most of the animals can be found inhabiting zoos all across the world; so is safari that much different? While the remote often unimaginable exoticism of African safari is part of the seduction, it's also a huge part of the inhibition.

Traveling to Africa can be daunting. It's a continent that often defies the imagination; one immersed in wild images of safari and natural spectacle, yet one that also comes with negative misunderstood clichés. These pages are designed to provide quick, practical information for anyone planning a trip to Africa, including details about visa formalities, what to pack, accessing your money, and pre-trip healthcare considerations. They are designed to smooth out some of the misconceptions and ensure you're ready for the adventure.

Visiting Africa Isn't That Complicated

Landing in Africa can be surprising. There's often a shock as people discover that there aren't lions on the international airport runway or taxis-sidestepping elephants to reach the terminal door. Yes, Africa can be a wild place, a place where iconic mammals roam freely, and their evocative calls can be heard through the night. But the whole of Africa isn't one big savannah. The continent is relatively well developed, something that becomes the next surprise on most visitors' first day in Africa. Roads are tarred, hotels are luxurious, and there is an irrefutable sense of moving forward. Even in the first few hours, there's an unmistakable feeling that this is a place striving towards the future. It's a feeling that's shared regardless of the country or city you arrive in.

Many people arrive in Africa with a few unresolved anxieties. These might be about safety, health, whether the itinerary will run smoothly, or what will happen in an emergency. This apprehension is usually the reason many people don't visit Africa. So many people treasure the dream of visiting Africa, yet only a fraction of these end up visiting. There's a phantom unease that floats around whenever the words Africa and travel are tagged together. This ghost of anxiety makes the landing in Africa so relaxing. Many have prepared themselves – mentally and in their physical preparation – to be met by the negative connotations associated with Africa. Then they arrive and realize that their fears were mostly popular misconceptions.

Stress melts away, and the continent quickly pulls you into a spell of enchantment and surprise. It is an eye-opening experience, just in a different way to most people imagine. So many hours and days may have gone into preparing and over-preparing for a trip. Africa isn't that much different to visiting any other continent on the world. Preparing for an African safari is much the same as preparing for any other vacation. Yes, there are some specifics around health and some information to check around visas, but this isn't a distant planet requiring oxygen masks and moon-boots. While this is something that doesn't necessarily sound believable now, it's something that makes those first few hours on the continent a wonderful blend of unwinding disbelief.

Even for the most dedicated safari aficionados, safari is both a diverse and all-encompassing term, one that isn't encapsulated in a single moment. Every day brings a thousand new scenes, each one potentially epitomizing the experience, yet simultaneously blending into the overarching impression. For the first time visitors, it’s important to start with the basics. Safari is not like being in a zoo, just like Paris's Louvre is nothing like visiting a high school art gallery. One features animals and the other features art, but that's where the similarities end. African safari is about animals in their natural habitat; born in the wild, raised in the wild, and seeking survival in nature's cycle of life. It's easy to recognize that there's a difference between a leopard in a cage and a leopard roaming across iconic bushland. Understanding the difference builds a picture of why African safari is so special.

There's a thrilling intimacy to exploring the wild, proximity and exclusivity ensuring that every moment is delivered in kaleidoscopic high definition. Perhaps the leopard is searching for food, its hunting instincts the pinnacle of an omnipresent wildlife interaction that plays out across a phenomenal scale. Many African safari destinations dwarf US states or European countries in size. And none of them are tamed. Rather than being on the outside looking in, a safari places you on the inside, offering immersion into nature's theater and its perpetual drama and charm. You don’t just have front row seats; you're on the stage. Quickly turn around and there's an elephant herd with trunk swinging babies leading the march. Safari is also defined by diversity; every angle is new, every day brings an eclectic concoction of scenes, every park offers something unique, and everyone's experience will be different, even if they're following the same itinerary.

A lion's mane flowing in the breeze, the fearful guise of a zebra herd, the melancholy smile of an old elephant bull cast out from the herd; head out on safari and there's an irrevocable intimacy to every scene. Animals reveal their full character in the wild, redolent eyes and ever-changing expressions always on display. There's often a shared glance, eyes briefly meeting as those on four legs recognize those on two. Some wildlife is always intrigued, maintaining the stare or coming closer; like a lion pride inspecting the safari truck. Some wildlife will skip off to hidden havens, while whole herds will stop and stare, considering their next move. Stop, stay silent, prove you're not a threat, and the intimacy levels increase.

What to Expect as a First Time Visitor to Africa

Africa evokes hundreds of impressions, the untamed continent reveling in its mesmerism and mystique. Wild, rugged, untouched; each adjective has a tingling allure yet can be tinged by the negative, Africa's undeserving stereotypes often off-putting to the first time visitor. Will it be safe? Will it be comfortable? Can it be luxurious? Most return from African safari inspired, the experience blending perpetual surprise with an encompassing and sophisticated quality. The inimitability of an untrammeled big game landscape is elevated by the rest of the safari experience. Here's what to expect.

There's often little hesitation in imagining that a safari will bring fresh experiences and unique sights. It's undeniably alluring. However, there's often a “but”, a niggling thought that inhibits safari reverie from becoming firm reality. Isn't Africa underdeveloped and potentially dangerous? Universal stereotypes and preconceptions about Africa aren't helpful in portraying the continent as a vacation destination. There's no denying that the continent can be a culture shock, especially when there's elephants crossing the highway or monkeys swinging past the lodge verandah. But Africa is as comfortable as any other continent, and its luxury tourism industry regularly leads the world in offering quality and exclusivity. After just a couple of hours in Africa, any lingering negative preconceptions have been shattered. Not only are the destinations safe, they immediately dampen any initial fear.

Safari has always been the mainstay of the continent's tourism and it remains a core part of some countries' economies. It's not a new concept. Safari tourism has developed over many decades, flourishing into a sophisticated and well-developed industry that comes as a surprise to many visitors. The logistics of organizing amenities in the wilderness necessitate ingenious solutions and not cutting corners. Erecting a camp in the heart of lion country is not easy. The rewards for making it happen are endless. African safari accommodation imbues an unexpected quality, combining the colorful character of the continent with the modern touches demanded by Western visitors. They're exceptionally located, immersed in the landscape you came to explore and overlooking prime wildlife congregations.

First time visitors thinking of Africa almost always have some hesitation. For all the hypnotic daydreams of wandering wildlife and intimate big game encounters, there are the irritating negatives that struggle to be silenced. Almost everyone wants to try out an Africa safari. But universal preconceptions and stereotypes about Africa can be very off-putting. Is it safe? Do they even have electricity? Aren't the beds little more than mattresses on the ground of mud huts?

There's no denying that Africa can be a culture shock. While you're not going to find lions patrolling the airport runway, or rhinos marauding through villages, there's an immediate impression of being catapulted into an exotic land. An effervescent natural bounty is omnipresent, as are endearing smiles from welcoming locals. The landscapes are foreign, the low-rise, low-key buildings don't have the pomp or shimmer of the West, and there's an exuberant sociability to the streets. Life is lived outdoors and in the open. It's not dictated by electronic screens or overbearing time constraints. The whole of Africa runs to an indelibly laid-back rhythm, one that precludes stress and always provides the time for both strangers and friends to greet. Perhaps more than anything, it's this simpler yet inherently friendlier cadence that offers the initial culture shock.

What Happens on an African Safari

As the sun sets on a day of safari, memories are imbued with surprise. Preconceptions have molded and twisted into reality, foreign concepts now understood as the safari itinerary plays out. Picturing an African safari initially comes with dozens of questions. What happens after sundown? How long is a game drive? Is there time to relax? Safari itineraries burst with exotic reverie. Rhino tracking walking safari, lunch stops beside a waterhole, mobile camps in the forest; it all sounds exciting, but taking the snapshots and creating a firm picture of a safari vacation is difficult. So, what happens on an African safari? What does a typical day look like? Here's an overview.

It can be easy to picture a European itinerary, with visits to museums, city walking tours, or dinner tables booked at a Michelin star restaurant. But even the staple safari activity, the game drive, comes as an alien concept to first time visitors. How long is a safari? How much is game and how much is driving? As much as the destination is exotic, so is a safari itinerary, filled with new concepts and unique experiences. As a starting point, the general mood is one of serenity and tranquility. For all the thrill and excitement of being on safari, most itineraries follow the rhythm of life out on the landscape; cool mornings and late afternoons are when the action is intensified, while the hot midday sun is usually for downtime and relaxing at camp. With the procession of wildlife continually wandering past, these quiet hours radiate charm.

Every itinerary is filled with an often diverse collection of safari activities, each of them flexible at heart. Guides are experts at maximizing the wildlife encounters but the experience is wildly unpredictable. For example, a game drive might last an extra hour because you've spotted vultures and hyenas fighting over a baby hippo carcass. Or it could be cut short as basecamp has radioed in a pride of lions hanging out by the camp's waterhole. Some activities are more structured, like hot air balloon rides or river boat cruises, but a vast proportion of an itinerary will be constantly tinkered dependent on the mood of both the customer and the animals. Walking safari, nighttime drives, horseback safari; new impressions are offered by the myriad of activities, each providing a compelling angle.

Picture a relaxed destination and white sand or charming old towns usually spring to mind, not a landscape dominated by quarreling hippos or rampaging ungulate herds. Unlike the swaying palms and white sand, African safari is undeniably unpredictable, the experience dominated by the interactions found in an untamed environment. Individual wildlife highlights will differ from person to person yet an overarching impression of serenity radiates through almost all safari itineraries. There's no sound from passing traffic, no rushing around cramming a hundred destinations into one day, only the touches of personal service that prohibits stress. Read a book and lift your eyes above the page as a giraffe tower roams nearby; break for coffee with panoramas from a wildlife documentary, and sit around a campfire that crackles intermittently. There is always downtime on safari, and there is often an evening atmosphere of old-world charm.

Visa Requirements at a Glance for East and Southern Africa Countries

Visa and immigration requirements vary across Africa. With a US, Canadian, or European passport, none of the countries in East or Southern Africa provide any significant challenges. However, some planning in advance is required for particular countries. The following snapshot refers to citizens of US, Canada, or the European Union traveling for tourist purposes.

Botswana – No visa required.

Ethiopia – Visa required. Obtain on arrival at international airports. Obtain in advance when arriving by land.

Kenya – Visa required. Obtain in advance.

Lesotho – No visa required.

Malawi – Visa required. Obtain on arrival.

Mozambique – Visa required. Obtain in advance.

Namibia – No visa required.

Rwanda – Visa required. Obtain on arrival.

South Africa – No visa required. Note the special requirements for traveling with children.

Swaziland – No visa required.

Tanzania – Visa required. Obtain on arrival.

Uganda – Visa required. Obtain on arrival at international airports. Obtain in advance when arriving by land.

Zambia – Visa required. Obtain on arrival.

Zimbabwe – Visa required. Obtain on arrival.

All information contained here refers to people who are citizens of the USA, Canada, or the European Union. This information is relevant for people visiting these countries for tourism purposes. Visa and entry requirements for other nationals and purposes vary. For most countries you will be required to have a passport with a six-month validity, two blank pages, and no noticeable damages or tears. It's also always recommended to carry a print-out of your travel documents, particularly any confirmation from the tour company and your return flight tickets.

Health and Safety

Negative connotations of Africa have created the image of a disease-ridden continent packed with strange exotic diseases. It's something that puts off many potential visitors, even if it's only supported by a fragment of truth. Health is improving across the continent, despite the media scaremongering concerning Ebola (more countries outside Africa reported Ebola cases than countries within it). The following information is intended to offer practical considerations when you're preparing for a trip.

Africa is the world's second largest continent. It stretches down from the wisps of Sahara Desert that line the Mediterranean Sea to the windswept meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Crossing from east to west takes you across towering volcanic mountain ranges, thick, impenetrable rainforest, sweeps of dusty savannah, muddy hills, and open desert. Cairo to Cape Town is a similar distance from New York to Rio de Janeiro, yet nobody associates what happens in Brazil with what happens on America's East Coast. Unfortunately, there's widespread belief that treats Africa as a single country. This implies that rare tropical diseases found in remote West African countries are widespread across the whole of Africa. Or that the image of HIV-suffering villages is universal across all the countries in the continent.

The tendency to consider Africa as a single entity has major implications because most stories about this continent are of the negative kind. So when Ebola broke out in three small West African countries, many people reconsidered visiting East Africa or Southern Africa, despite these destinations being thousands of miles away. Health considerations will put some people off visiting Africa, especially the risk of malaria for families with young children and older travelers. However, it's important to look past the hype and consider the facts.

As advised for travel to any country, it's recommended to pack all your prescribed medication. Overstocking for the trip is useful in the case of unforeseen circumstances like losing luggage. You'll find pharmacies all across Africa, and there's a very good chance that you can find similar medication to what you take at home. In an emergency, there's a strong possibility that a pharmacy will stock what you need. However, finding this medication is likely to involve a longwinded search across a city and visits to multiple pharmacies. Also, pharmacies will probably stock different brands to what you use at home.

Where to Stay

Boutique and eco-lodge are buzz words in the travel industry. In the last few years, there's been a conscious move away from clearly recognizable yet monotone markers of quality. Offering distinction now demands distinctiveness. Boutique hotels and eco-lodges are in fashion. Five-star hotels that look the same in every city are out. Africa has been doing boutique and eco-lodge since long before the terms were coined. Unique styles are stimulated by traditions and history, the local furnishings and colors often wildly exotic to foreign eyes. Transporting materials to the heart of the wilderness is challenging so, by necessity, accommodation has been built using what's locally available and following the longstanding architectural designs that are best suited to a demanding environment. There's ingenuity to African living and it's reflected in the accommodation on offer.

It's sometimes difficult to picture world-leading lodges and five-star quality when it comes under the banner of Africa. It's hard to imagine unrivaled luxury when the setting is the Serengeti or some other big game landscape. Naturally, some amenities aren't provided in the bush. You're unlikely to find a minibar or trouser press in the room. There won't be an electronic swipe card to open the door. Think less about bubble baths and more about en-suite bathrooms with beautiful panoramas across iconic landscapes. Don't worry about closing the windows to minimize traffic noise. On safari, the accommodation ensures that nature's resonant soundtrack always provides an additional coating of charm.

Luxury comes from both the accommodation and its setting. Always expect space and seclusion. In such wide open landscapes, it wouldn't make any sense to be cramped. Camps and lodges are designed to maximize and elevate the submersion in nature; in many cases you only need to open the curtains to watch the wildlife wander past. But wait. Camping?! Tents?! Here are further popular preconceptions that are quickly squashed. While the word camp is disconcerting, it merely reflects accommodation that doesn't provide any permanent damage to the environment. Concrete and glass would look hideously out of place. But wooden flooring, chairs set around a crackling fire, and low-level solar lighting help maintain nature's spell.

local Currency

While facilities vary by country, it's not required to bring thousands of dollars in cash into Africa. Facilities in Africa have improved drastically in recent years, and it's now possible to pay by Visa and Mastercard, especially in capital cities and at airports. The rollout isn't universal, and you'll still struggle to pay with plastic when you're in the heart of the bush. Cash can be taken from ATMs, and things can be purchased with credit cards.

Most East and Southern African countries have their own currency, the exception being Zimbabwe (US$).

In Southern Africa, the South African rand is also a de-facto currency in Namibia, Swaziland, and Lesotho. These countries have a local currency that's pegged 1:1 with the South African rand.

In East Africa, the US Dollar is used interchangeably with local currency and is the preferred currency for anything that costs upwards of $40. Currency fluctuations mean tour operators and high-end lodges prefer the dollar and quote their prices in dollars. They still accept local currency and will calculate the price based on the day's current rate. Note that it's very rare to find an ATM that dispenses US Dollars. Therefore, you have the option of bringing dollars, taking out local currency, or paying with credit card.

Money exchange is relatively easy across Africa. It can be done at kiosks across the continent, most readily at airports and the towns or cities visited by tourists. Rates can vary dramatically in the same town. Your guide can advise about the places with the best rate and if you're likely to be visiting an area where money exchange isn't possible.

US$ is the easiest currency to change and the most universally accepted. Changing euros and British pounds is also relatively easy. Currency can also be exchanged in banks; this requires you to present your passport.


Sometimes it's hard to picture. You're heading deep into the bush, a hundred miles from a tarred road or town. There's going to be no running water. You're going to be far from a borehole and just can't imagine how you have a wash. And a shower? In such remote wilderness? Camps and lodges have created ingenious systems that recreate the comforts of home in such desolate environments. You'll be surprised at just how comfortable, and even luxurious this can be.

Showers and water for washing are provided by your safari accommodation. The quality of shower facilities roughly correlates to the price of the accommodation. Boutique high-end camps naturally spend more on their bathrooms and showers than an entry-level lodge. National parks and reserves typically don't provide shower facilities, even at the public campsites. There will be a few taps and sinks at park gates and perhaps picnic places, but the shower situation is arranged by where you stay. Almost all lodges and camps have water tanks, sometimes filled by rain but predominantly supplied by water trucks. An eclectic set of pumping systems is used to get this water to your room. In permanent lodges this is merely an adaptation of traditional plumbing; placing a water tank up high isn't usually a problem when there are solid walls and roof. At mobile camps, there's all manner of contraptions; including staff standing outside the shower and pumping it by hand.

And the water almost always comes out warm. Fires are used to heat the water throughout the day. Lodges might have set times when the water is heated, coinciding with pre and post safari hours. Smaller camps will heat water on request, meaning you always get a warm shower but might need to order it the evening before or wait for someone to get it started. Again, pay more for the accommodation and the water should run at steamy levels. At entry-level lodges, there might be many trying to use a finite hot water supply. On really mobile camping experiences showering might be a little more rudimentary. A bucket of water is heated on the fire; then you use a smaller beaker to pour it over yourself. This bucket shower is the local way to wash and is easy to get used to.

As you might expect, permanent lodges can provide more luxurious showers and bathrooms. These are on more par with what you would find in a hotel, with the high-end lodges offering genuine five-star quality. Camps are smaller and more remote, meaning they have to be a little more practical. But any misgivings you have about the quantity and pressure of water are quickly forgotten when you experience the actual shower room. In many cases, it's a room with a view, mammals roaming outside or the evening's first stars beginning to dominate the open sky above. You're deep within nature, so even the normal tasks for the day come with the odd wildlife surprise. Outdoor showers are also found at lodges and are another slice of inimitability that graces the safari.

Food and Drinks

Food and drink play a huge role in any vacation. On an African safari, they often find the indelible blend between old-world tradition and modern culinary influence. The sense of wilderness isn't interrupted as you dine beneath the stars, a fire crackling and a hippo grunting nearby. Menus are unique, blending local ingredients – sometimes those you won't find served anywhere else in the world – with an international focus and an inimitable panache. Dining in such remote places means expectations are low. Then they're instantly elevated as culinary delights become a memorable part of the whole African safari experience.

A buffalo herd silhouette graces the horizon as you sit down to dinner, deep in a national park. The table is set beneath the stars, illuminated by kerosine lanterns and the glow of a nearby campfire. Silence. A few echoed calls pierce the air then flicker away into the distance. It feels impossibly remote, the senses constantly alive to the next wildlife clues. Dining in such wild bliss produces low expectations of culinary quality. You're happy to trade gastronomy for location. So when the food is served, there's an initial tinge of shock. As a giraffe saunters past below you're dining on a lavish three-course meal of African-European flavor, with the chef blending local flavors with international techniques. An organic beetroot and onion soup with freshly baked rolls. Now you can choose either fillet steak barbecued over hissing coals or warthog stew. Try both, as well as the kudu casserole and fresh ostrich burgers that are served tomorrow. Dishes keep coming, the fire continues to roar, and nature maintains its diaphanous spell. This is a part of safari that most people don't envisage. With all the lions and elephants to look forward to there's little thought to what you might be eating.

For More Information

While a game drive is a classic way to explore, a range of distinct activities elevates the African safari experience. Individual parks and reserves have their distinct specialties, tailoring the safari experience to activities that best showcase the landscape and its wildlife. Consider learning more about the various types of African safaris and activities, such as nighttime game drives, walking safaris, horse riding safaris, and more.

Wake each morning and there's something saying hello, from distant herds already on the move to evocative evidence of an elusive sight. Open rooms beneath the stars, tree houses perched above a waterhole, a bed for the night on a shimmering salt pan... a multiplicity of unique and wonderful options provide indelible highlights and continual memoirs to the beauty of African Safari. Consider learning more about the different types of African safari accommodations, from game lodges to luxury tented camps.

Journeys are a huge part of the African experience, elevated from functionality to memorable parts of a vacation. Africa is always an adventure, epitomizing the popular mantra that travel is as much about the journey as the destination. Consider learning more about the various means of transportations and getting around on an African safari.

Guides provide your wilderness translation, expertly taking you to the best sights and then chronicling the stories of the visual beauty. Trackers and rangers assist in their quiet and discreet way, working mostly behind the scenes to enhance the experience. Consider learning more about the ones who will help define your African safari experience to be an exceptional one: the African safari guides, trackers, and rangers.

There is no singular best time for an African safari. Each country and park are preferred in different months by different appeal, with the distinct wet and dry seasons creating alternate experiences. However, it is still worth considering learning about the distinct seasons to maximize your dream experience. Consider learning more about when to visit Africa for Safari.