Our safari travel guide takes a broad overview of safaris in Africa and has been designed to help you, the responsible traveller, learn more about this exciting holiday option. Read on to discover a brief history of safaris and find out what we rate and what we don’t when it comes to African safaris.
SHORT SAFARIS TRAVEL GUIDE
Safari may mean ‘journey’ in Swahili but that doesn’t mean your wildlife watching trip needs to be of epic proportions. Three to five days will give you plenty of time to see, admire and learn about Africa’s mighty beasts, either on land or in the water. A short safari makes the perfect add on to a longer trip, and if you’re not sure whether or not wildlife watching is for you, you can dip your toes in without being tied to a longer safari.
Not much time to spare but want to fit in a truly awe-inspiring wildlife experience? A short safari may be just the ticket.
You could choose to track gorillas in the Rwandan mountains; go in search of whales and dolphins along the South African coast; take a traditional jeep safari in the iconic Masai Mara or Serengeti National Parks; or head away from the tourist trail in northern Ghana. And of course, soaking up the sights and sounds of the landscape is as much a part of the trip as getting up close to the creatures. Read on in our short safaris travel guide.
Our Short safaris Holidays
WHAT DO SHORT SAFARI HOLIDAYS ENTAIL?
Because there’s less time to spare, short safaris tend to be more focused, so no hopping from country to country or park to park as you might on a longer trip. They are designed to be country or activity specific – this means that you’ll usually spend all of your time in one national park or wildlife reserve, such as the Masai Mara or Kruger National Park – where you’ll get a true immersive experience. Alternatively, you could spend all your time on one activity, or looking for one particular animal, such as gorilla trekking in Uganda, searching for chimpanzees in Rwanda or watching whales in South Africa, from land and by boat.
Short safaris usually last between three and five days and are often added on to another itinerary in the same part of the world to create a longer African trip. For example, you could combine humpback whale watching in Hermanus, South Africa, with a tour of Cape Town and the winelands; or combine two shorter safaris to make a mega wildlife watching experience – say gorilla trekking in Uganda with a camping safari in the Serengeti.
And then, of course, there’s the bush and beach combination much beloved by honeymooners, but equally attractive for singles and families. Many of Africa’s best safari destinations are also blessed with beautiful coastline and islands; put the wildlife of the Serengeti with the beaches of Zanzibar, for example, and you have a mix of thrills and chills in one break.
Family friendly options
Going on safari can be a life changing experience for children, but time spent on the road can be long, and morning game drives chilly, not to mention the time spent waiting around for sightings. Short safaris allow kids a taster without being too intense, though we’d only recommend them for children aged eight and over, and for gorilla trekking, there’s usually a minimum age of 15. If you do take the plunge with the family in tow, Kenya and South Africa both have excellent family friendly lodges and guides, while South Africa and Namibia have the lowest risk of malaria.
Luxury or rough & tumble
As with a longer safari there are plentiful options when it comes to comfort level – it’s all about your personal preference and your budget. You could choose to fly into a swish Masai Mara lodge, where afternoon tea under the fig trees is a regular occurrence; or go back to basics in Kruger National Park, camping out under the stars and mucking in with your fellow guests to prepare meals.
Small group & tailor made
Most of our short safaris are tailor made, though there are a few small group options, too. The obvious benefit of the former is that you have the freedom to choose departure dates, number of days, safari extras, and even where you lay your head. On the other hand, it does tend to be more expensive, and isn’t always an option for solo travellers. Joining a small group of around 10-12 likeminded travellers can keep the costs down – plus there’s the camaraderie of sharing, stunning views, all important sightings and nights around the campfire with your fellow travellers.
Gorilla and chimpanzee safaris
Unlike regular short safaris, you need a fair amount of planning to take part in a gorilla or chimpanzee safari. First off, you’ll need a permit for every day that you trek, and although your holiday company will take care of this, these do need to be booked well in advance as numbers are limited – and when we say well in advance, this means up to a year for viewing gorillas in the high season. Permits are also expensive, particularly for seeing gorillas, with a current permit cost of US$600 a day in Uganda and US$1,500 a day in Rwanda, as opposed to around US$200 for viewing chimpanzees.
There’s also a fair bit of trekking involved, anything up to eight hours a day depending on the location of the gorilla family or chimpanzee group, so you’ll need to be fit to take part. Bear in mind that the time spent watching gorillas is fairly short. Legally, you’re only allowed to spend an hour a with them – although this could just be one of the most memorable hours of your life.
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Best time to go on a short safari
The best time to see wildlife across Africa is the dry season, when animals congregate around waterholes and rivers.
The best time go on a short safari is outside the heavy rains, which hit East Africa in March, April, May and June. At this time, animals disperse and are more difficult to spot, some roads become impassable and many lodges close. The dry season of July, August, September and October is the best time to visit, though the school holidays and the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania can make July and August very busy. In November, December, January and February, there is some rain, but conditions are still good for wildlife watching, and the landscape becomes beautifully green.
In South Africa and Botswana, meanwhile, the dry season of May to September is the best time to visit for wildlife viewing, while South Africa’s whale watching season lasts from June to September. Ghana’s Mole National Park is best during the December to April dry season, when you’ll see herds of elephants grazing and bathing at watering holes.
If you’re going on a gorilla tracking safari in Uganda or Rwanda, the animals are present and visible year round, including during the March to June wet season, so when you choose to visit depends on your own personal tolerance for rain. Treks in Uganda tend to be longer and steeper, so bear that in mind if you don’t want to hike too far in the mud.
More about Short safaris
From gorilla trekking in Uganda to the Big Five in Kenya and whale watching in South Africa, we detail where to go on a short safari holiday. We also have advice from expert suppliers and some handy tips from fellow travellers who have spent some time in the wild.