by Lesli Heron
1. Best for first-timers: Kenya
Why? A long-established safari scene, superb wildlife and plenty of options for all budgets.
How? For the best introduction, book a safari that combines the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru with somewhere more off-the beaten track like Samburu or the Aberdares.
When? Avoid the rainy season by travelling July to October or January to March. While you’re there: Spend a few days on the coast. Kenya’s coral reefs off excelling diving, while whale shark visit from November to March.
Top: Nakuru’s flamingo and the Mara’s black-maned lion.
2. Best for gorilla-watching: Uganda
Why? Well-habituated families of mountain gorilla offer a good (not guaranteed) rate of success for encounters.
How? Book well in advance for a permit, join an organized trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (independent gorilla tracking is not allowed), then slip on your boots and prepare to get hot, sweaty, and muddy.
When? December to March. While you’re there: Look out for chimp and colobus monkey – just two more of Uganda’s 19 primate species. Queen Elizabeth National Park is also good for traditional game safaris, while Murchison Falls is renowned for croc and hippo.
Top: Mountain gorilla and chimpanzee.
3. Best for photographers: Namibia
Why? Film-guzzling desert scenery, one of Africa’s premier national parks and even the odd natural wonder.
How? For maximum flexibility, rent a car (you don’t need a 4WD) and combine several days at Etosha National Park with a visit to the giant red dunes at Sossusvlei and Cape Cross seal colony on the Skeleton Coast.
When? Year-round, but July to late October is best for gameviewing. While you’re there: Take a dawn balloon flight over the Namib Desert – pricey but worth it. Stay in a remote lodge in Damaraland. Add a few days to your itinerary and drive south to the Fish River Canyon.
Top: Black rhino, gemsbok and the endearing meerkat.
4. Best for families: South Africa
Why? Malaria-free and family-friendly game reserves of the Cap, plus lots of additional activities to combine with a safari.
How? Lull yourself into Africa with some time in and around Cape Town before heading along the Garden Route toward Shamwari and Kwandwe Game Reserves.
When? Year-round. November-March is the hottest and sunniest. While you’re there: Do a spot of land-based whale watching at Hermanus.
Top: Penguin at Boulders Bay and the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and white rhino) at Kwandwe.
5. Best for diversity: Tanzania
Why? Tanzania has it all, from wildlife-rich game reserves to the snow-capped peal of Kilimanjaro and the coral reefs of Zanzibar.
How? In just two weeks you can combine Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks in the celebrated “northern safari circuit.”
When? The southern Serengeti is teeming with game from December to March, while the migration passes through western and northern areas between May/July and late October/November. While you’re there: Add on a minimum of five days to your safari for climbing Kilimanjaro – and then another five (at least) for recovering on a Zanzibar beach. The human fossil site at Olduvai Gorge is another must-see.
Top: Lake Manyara’s tree-climbing lion, Ngorongoro’s black rhino and the massed cast of the great migration – two million wildebeest and thousands of zebra and Thomson’s gazelle.