Africa is roughly three times larger than Europe. It features snowcapped mountains, dense rainforest, and massive rolling savannas. You could visit large inland lakes like Lake Victoria that rival the Great Lakes of North America or visit ancient cities that predate Rome. This is why there is no one perfect African safari. You need to determine what you want to do and then build your travel itinerary around that. Here are a few tips on how to plan your perfect African safari.

Choose the Right Destination

If you want to see the lemurs, you have to go to Madagascar. If your goal is to see chimps or gorillas in the wild, you have to go to the few places in the world where they remain in the wild. If you want to see massive herds of wildebeests and giraffes, there are several countries you can visit. The destination will determine everything from which airlines you can use to what vaccinations and visas are necessary. Research the various safaris available to you and choose the one that’s right for you.

Choose the Right Time of Year

In general, the best time to go on an African safari is between May and September. This is the dry season, so you can actually walk, bike, ride or drive without getting drenched. This time of year is winter for the African savannas, so temperatures will be milder than they would be in the local summer. Another benefit of visiting this time of year is that there is less vegetation than in the summer. This causes animals to congregate around waterholes and rivers. That makes them much easier to spot.

Set a Budget

Your budget will affect every aspect of the trip. It determines how long you can stay and the types of accommodations you can arrange, though you can make some tradeoffs. For example, you can choose to stay fewer nights at a nicer location or skip the side trips so you have more time out in the wild. If you’re staying in the bush, you’ll have to pay a premium to be able to take a bath in hot water. On the other hand, you can save money by doubling up. In fact, most packages are based on double occupancy, so you may pay a premium if you’re traveling alone. Couples don’t have this problem, while friends could save money by agreeing to room together.

Package deals are a great way to save money on African safaris. The organizers get discounts due to how many people they have staying at a resort at a given time. We’d recommend an African Safari with Naturetrek.

You will probably save money on airfare, too, since they’re arranging for entire groups to travel from one part of the world to another. It is simply more convenient, since someone else is arranging everything from how you’ll get from the airport to the resort to how you’ll get to see the lions, elephants and/or gorillas.

We’d recommend choosing quality over quantity, since it is hard to enjoy yourself if you’re pressed for time. And you probably won’t get your money’s worth out of a stop at a historic location if you only have an hour or two to enjoy it. 

Choose What Matters to You

Budget safaris can cost as little as a hundred pounds a night, while luxury safaris can cost ten times that much. What do you want to do on the safari? This list can include visits to local villages, major cities like Johannesburg, and drives through the wilds of Africa. You might want to sleep under the stars, go horseback riding, or let the kids pet a real elephant. You could go on a water safari, where the tour guide takes you on a dugout through lakes and rivers in Africa. Whether you see hippos or endangered birds depends on where you choose to go.

Go ahead and make a list of things you want to do. Rank them in priority. Then compare this list to your budget. You may need to strike things off the list to fit your budget and your schedule. Maybe making a stop in Egypt to visit the pyramids matters more to you than visiting Zanzibar. Perhaps you’d want to land in a different airport to be able to spend a day by Victoria Falls before going on safari. However, you probably can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t try. Don’t make the mistake of over-scheduling yourself. There’s little benefit in being late to a show or missing your ride because your flight was delayed. Be flexible, because “Africa time” is a slower pace. If something is supposed to start at 2 PM, the real start time might be plus or minus an hour.

Plan Things Well in Advance

African safaris are often a bucket-list item, something we try to do at least once in our lives before we die. They’re almost always the trip of a lifetime. However, they should always be planned months if not years in advance. For example, you’re probably going to need to get certain vaccinations to be allowed to travel to your destination. Expect to stock up on travel medications, too, like anti-malarial drugs. Don’t forget to stock up on any prescription medications that you take, since you can’t guarantee you can get a refill of it while you’re in a foreign country.

Get travel insurance or additional health coverage before you leave home, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.

Packing for an African safari is going to take more time and effort than planning a day trip to Scotland. Depending on where you visit, you’ll need to bring a handful of the local currency. You might need to bring adapters to charge your cell phone.

Your wardrobe should be practical and lightweight. Choose luggage that’s easy to carry through an airport and won’t be damaged by a ride on a bumpy jeep. When you’re on the safari and in the bush, wear brown and green tones so you blend in. We’d recommend clothing that is insect resistant, since you can’t guarantee that bug spray will work. Choose clothes that offer sun protection and wick away moisture.