East Africa Vs Southern Africa Safari: Understanding the Difference

East African safari destinations encompass Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, while Southern African safaris destinations are Botswana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The landscape varies greatly across the different countries and regions within countries: dense forests, wide open plains, stark deserts, craggy mountains, sparkling waterways, beautiful coasts and much more. It stands to reason that the wildlife experiences are also vastly different. Not only because of the animals you find in these different locations but also the way that you go on safari. A game drive in Botswana’s Okavango Delta is very different to one in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

A safari in East Africa can be either an overland or a fly-in or a combo of both. With an overland safari you have your own guide and vehicle, which stays with you as you drive between parks. In Tanzania, the most popular route is the Northern Circuit which includes Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater and generally starts and ends in Arusha. You stay with the same guide throughout the safari and build up a great relationship as you travel from camp to camp.

In contrast, in Southern Africa, you generally arrive at your bush location via small charter flight or vehicle and are met by the lodge team who then look after you for the duration of your stay with them. Game drives are conducted in the morning and the evening with the lodge/camp’s team of guides, with a break at camp during the middle of the day to recharge and relax.

The wide open spaces in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, have no fences. The wildlife is free to roam and migrate. South Africa, on the other hand, is more confined as the national parks and reserve borders are fenced although the areas of wilderness, parks and reserves is enormous so the wildlife has huge tracts of land to roam through.

Let’s take a look at what both have to offer their visitors.

East African Safaris

I. Kenya & Tanzania

There is a huge animal diversity in Tanzania and Kenya. Tanzania, one of Africa’s leading safari destinations, has 22 national parks and is home to at least 20% of Africa’s big animal population. Serengeti National Park, the center for the world’s renowned wildebeest migration, is home to over 3,000 African lions. Kenya has 54 national parks and reserves, the largest is Tsavo National Park while the most well-known is Masai Mara National Reserve.

Both the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania offer the ultimate wildlife viewing experiences in the form of the annual great migration. Visitors have the unique opportunity to see the large herds of game animals, predators lying in wait, and the birth of the next generation of wildlife. It is also possible to see the big five, a huge array of bird life and other interesting smaller animals at this time and throughout the year.

Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains and Kenya’s Masai Mara deliver on the promise of large open plains, endless horizons and numerous game viewing opportunities. The stunning open plains dotted with acacia trees create a stunning vista seen in thousands of iconic and splendid pictures. Even during the peak season, when the parks can be more crowded, these vast open spaces offer visitors the freedom to explore the wilderness at their own pace.

Tanzania and Kenya are not only home to spectacular swathes of wilderness, there are beautiful beaches too, ideal for a bush and beach safari combination. The Swahili Coast includes main destinations such as Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu in Kenya, Dar es Salaam and the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania, and offer stunning places to relax after a wildlife safari.

II. Rwanda and Uganda

Apart from their superb gorilla and other primate trekking adventures, Rwanda and Uganda also boast breathtaking natural landscapes. Akagera National Park, Lake Burera, Lake Ruhondo, Lake Muhazi, Mount Kigali, Mount Sabinyo, Nyungwe National Park and Volcanoes National Park, are a few destinations that offer spectacular landscape views in Rwanda, while in Uganda Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls and Kibale and many other beautiful destinations have stunning scenery and panoramic views.

  • Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo, known as the twin lakes of Rwanda, are surrounded by tall waterfalls and steep hills with Virunga volcanoes as the backdrop.
  • Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda has highly diverse landscape views, including forests, savannah, hills, mountains, and swamps.
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of Uganda’s oldest rainforests, comprising steep hills and valleys shrouded in mist, on the edge of the Great Rift Valley.
  • With a backdrop of the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is home to a range of ecosystems from savanna grasslands to wetlands.

III. Wildlife diversity

  • Mahale Mountains in western Tanzania is home to 1,000 chimpanzees and nearby Gombe has a smaller population of around 150 chimps.
  • Virunga Massif in Rwanda has around 170 mountain gorillas, while Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda is home to around 459 mountain gorillas. Both countries attract visitors with the promise of gorilla trekking adventures.
  • East Africa is also home to the rarest and one of the most endangered African land predators, the Ethiopian wolf, only found in Ethiopia.
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Southern African Safaris

I. Spectacular landscapes

Southern Africa is packed with a huge variety of landscapes spread over an enormous land mass. From the hot, dry desert of Namibia to the waterways of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, from South Africa’s picturesque coastline to Zimbabwe’s mopane woodlands, and a wealth of different ecosystems in between.

  • Namibia is home to one of the oldest deserts in the world, the Namib Desert. At Sossusvlei, one of the most accessible areas of the Namib Desert, the huge ochre-coloured dunes change colour as the sun rises and sets. Further north, the heart of Namibia’s Etosha National Park is the enormous Etosha pan, a dried up shallow lake with abundant wildlife living around it.
  • Okavango Delta in Botswana has a unique ecosystem made up of seasonal floodplains and marshlands, offering exquisite views of the landscape that change with the seasons. One of the largest inland deltas in the world, the lagoons and waterways of the Okavango Delta offer visitors the chance to explore on the water by traditional mokoro dug-out canoe and boat.
  • Madagascar’s Avenue of the Baobabs, a group of Grandidier’s Baobabs lining a dirt road, make for incredible pictures : the sunset views of the Avenue of the Baobabs are simply stunning.
  • The magnificent Victoria Falls, one of the world’s largest and most impressive waterfalls, sits along the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia and can be accessed from both sides. Zimbabwe’s other watery wonderland is Mana Pools National Park where numerous islands, sandbanks and channels attract plenty of wildlife, while across the border in Zambia, the Lower Zambezi National Park offers picturesque riverine scenery.
  • South Africa’s Garden Route along the south coast is a scenic mix of lakes, forest, beaches, mountains and lagoons, with plenty of activities to choose from along the way, while South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park in the Lowveld is home to mountains, plains and forest with baobab, mopane and marula trees, ideal for the wealth of wildlife and birds which live here.

II. Wildlife diversity

  • The South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is home to one of the highest populations of leopards, where these stealthy creatures can be seen in the lagoons, river plains and woodlands.
  • Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, and Central Kalahari Game Reserve also have a decent population of leopards.
  • To try your luck at spotting Africa’s big 5 animals, visit Southern Africa’s wildlife reserves such as Kruger National Park, Okavango Delta, Hwange National Park and Etosha National Park.
  • Mozambique waters are home to some incredible marine life, including a variety of sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, and sea turtles.

III. Kalahari Desert

A unique destination in Southern Africa, the Kalahari Desert is one of the largest deserts in Africa. At 900,000 square kilometers, it covers the major portion of Botswana and smaller parts of South Africa and Namibia. The Kalahari Desert is a unique place to visit and includes the well-known Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

  • The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans is made up of multiple salt pans, including Nxai, Sua and Nwetwe, offering visitors a great spot to gaze at the star-lit skies.
  • Twice a year there’s an incredible zebra migration from north to south and back again, across the Kalahari Desert, as the zebra move with the seasons and rainfall looking for fresh grazing.
  • During the wet season, birds flock to the Makgadi. Flamingos, in particular, are present in their thousands, visiting the pans for breeding.
  • Within the Kalahari Desert, the protected areas of Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Khutse Game Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari have been set up.
  • The Eye of Kuruman is a freshwater and natural fountain that adds to Kalahari’s beauty. It is also a natural water source for the region’s flora and fauna.
  • The San people have lived in the Kalahari Desert for 20,000 years. As hunter-gatherers they live on wild game, which they hunt with bows and poison arrows, and edible berries.

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