Skip to Content

Home / Luxury Africa travel guide and safari planner

Luxury Africa travel guide and safari planner

Luxury Africa travel guide and safari planner

Going on safari in Africa is usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Naturally, you want your trip to be as “perfect” as it can possibly be! But planning a trip to Africa can be daunting.

Africa is huge. It’s bigger than the U.S., China and all of Europe combined!

Some destinations, like the Serengeti, for example, have over 100 safari camps. So how do you pick which country is best for your African safari? What’s a good safari itinerary? Should you visit Cape Town as well, or add on some R&R beach time afterward?

We spent 12 weeks in southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Zanzibar) on two separate trips. We’ve also visited Egypt twice, visiting Cairo as well as the ancient Egyptian temples you typically explore on a Nile River cruise.

Throughout, we gathered information and tips that can get you started on the right path – all compiled here in this luxury Africa travel guide!

Africa Travel Guide

Africa: In brief

About: World’s 2nd largest continent, covering 11,730,000 sq. miles (30,370,000 sq. km)

Population: 1.35 billion (in 2020) – almost 1/5 of the world’s population

Countries in Africa: 54 countries

Most common languages: Arabic, Swahili, Hausa, Zulu, Somali, Oromo, Amharic, Yoruba and Igbo

Best African country for safari

Big question – where to go on safari?

Start by asking “How do you want to see the animals?” The answer may determine which country (or countries) you pick for your safari.

Viewing buffalo in South Africa in an open safari vehicle

Closed safari vehicle:

In eastern Africa (like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), you typically ride in a closed safari vehicle on game drives. In Tanzania, for example, you stand up in the vehicle and pop your head out of the roof (or open a sliding glass window if you don’t want to stand).

Open safari vehicle:

On the other hand, in southern Africa (namely, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia), game drives are done in open-sided 4×4 vehicles (e.g., Land Rovers). Note that in wildlife-rich Kruger National Park in South Africa, you have to go in a closed vehicle.

We wanted to ride in open vehicles (which are safe, so long as you stay seated inside). It’s easier to take photos in an open vehicle, and you’re closer to the wildlife so you can hear, smell and see them better. For this reason, you too might want to choose southern African countries when planning a safari.

River boat:

Most wildlife viewing is done by game drives on land. But for a unique experience, you can view the animals from the water.

On a river safari on the Zambezi Queen, you sleep in an elegant floating houseboat. Think cocktails at sunset while watching elephants play in the water. By day, small aluminum skiffs whisk you along the Chobe River to duck into reeds and shallows for close-up views of crocodiles and birds.

Best places in Africa for a “Big Five” safari

Big 5 Animals

So you want to see the “Big Five” – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino? These are the animals that traditionally were the most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot. The following are great places to go.

South Africa

South Africa is a great place to go on safari

Sabi Sands Game Reserve:

Sabi Sands in South Africa is a private game reserve abutting Kruger National Park. There’s no fence between Kruger and Sabi Sands, so animals can freely roam throughout. It’s famous for its “Big Five” safaris – you’ll see all the bucket-list animals on a 3-night safari. You can also go off-road on game drives in Sabi Sands, meaning you can follow a lion hunting down an impala.

Private game reserves vs Kruger:

Private game reserves are less crowded, allow off-roading, limit vehicles that may gather at a wildlife sighting, offer night drives and boast more luxurious digs.

Leopards:

Sabi Sands has the biggest concentration of leopards in the world – if you want to view leopards, Sabi Sands is the place!

Rhinoceros:

South Africa is also home to most of the world’s rhinos. We had an exciting up-close-and-personal rhino encounter on our “Big 5” safari in Sabi Sands.

South Africa: Bottom line?

South Africa is the most developed country in Africa, known for its high hospitality standards.

Lodges (except for budget accommodations) generally offer top-notch comforts – hot water bottles when going on game drives in cold mornings, sun-downers at sunset and delicious home-made food (including fresh cakes for afternoon tea). Air-conditioned accommodations are often in rooms or cottages (though there are some luxury tented camps).

Guides are experienced, and game drives deliver.

For a first, easy or “civilized” safari, you can’t go wrong with a South African safari!

Where to stay in South Africa on safari

Simbambili Game Lodge | Honeymoon-worthy bungalows with private pools in Sabi Sands Game Reserve.

Thornybush Game Lodge | Family-friendly game lodge in Thornybush Game Reserve, offering excellent value for a mid-range price.

Botswana

Chobe National Park:

Chobe National Park was Botswana’s first dedicated national park. With one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa, a Chobe safari is a sure bet for seeing hordes of animals. Elephants are the stars (as they are in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park below).

Chobe is also quite accessible. Unlike most safaris in the Okavango Delta, you don’t need to fly in. You can access Chobe by road from Kasane.

Where to stay in Chobe National Park

Ngoma Safari Lodge | A classic safari lodge, with 8 bungalows overlooking the seasonal Chobe flood plain. It’s easy to get to, but a world away from busy Kasane town (where many Chobe hotels are found).

Zambia

You see lots of hippos on a Zambia safari!

Raw. Authentic. Wild. Chances are that your dream of a true “Out of Africa” safari looks something like a safari in Zambia.

Two of the best places in Zambia are Lower Zambezi National Park and South Luangwa National Park. And they offer totally different safari experiences.

Lower Zambezi National Park:

Watching wildlife from the water is a wonderful contrast to your usual four-wheel game drive. From a small skiff or canoe, you can get very close to elephants, buffalo and birds without disturbing them. Dodging hippos is exhilarating! And the Nile crocodiles will ensure you keep your hands in the boat.

Where to stay in the Lower Zambezi

Chiawa and Old Mondoro | For the best of the best, these two camps, part of the Chiawa Collection, nail the safari glamping experience. (Pssst! Old Mondoro is one of the last genuine bush camps.)

South Luangwa National Park:

This the place to try a walking safari. (Norman Carr pioneered walking safaris back in the 1950s.) Whether walking or driving though, you’ll be saucer-eyed by the wildlife. The park boasts countless large lion prides, and when a leopard drags its kill up a tree, your vehicle may be the only one there.

Where to stay in South Luangwa

Chinzombo and other Time+Tide camps | Formerly Norman Carr Safaris, Time+Tide operates 5 safari camps. Chinzombo is the most luxurious, with private plunge pools and air-conditioning over the beds.

Lusaka:

You’ll probably need to overnight in Lusaka to reach the above safari parks.

Latitude 15 | This stylish boutique hotel is the best place to stay in Lusaka. It’s funky, with polished concrete floors, African art, two excellent restaurants and two swimming pools. Complimentary laundry perk: Clothes are laundered within a few hours.

Zambia: Bottom line?

For a safari on steroids, Zambia is epic.

The country sees fewer visitors than, say, Kenya and South Africa. The safari experience is intimate. And each day is a unique journey of uncontrived discovery.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

The spectacular Victoria Falls (spanning both Zambia and Zimbabwe) is a popular stop on the safari circuit. Local tribes used to call the falls “the smoke that thunders.” Indeed, the noise of the crashing water can heard more than 20 miles away!

Be sure to watch the free vulture feeding at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – educational and fascinating.

Where to stay in Victoria Falls

The Royal Livingstone | On the Zambia side of the falls, the Royal Livingstone Hotel oozes a colonial vibe. Boasting an enviable location on the banks of the Zambezi River, it’s a 15-minute scenic walk away from the actual falls.

Victoria Falls Safari Club | On the Zimbabwe side, this boutique hotel-within-a-hotel (in the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge) offers deluxe modern suites and a personalized stay.

Other safari destinations

Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia are other top “Big 5” safari destinations.

For gorillas, Uganda and Rwanda are the places to go.

Read more about where to go on safari and which countries and parks offer what experiences on Wanderlust: “The Best African Safaris For Any Traveler.”

Safari itineraries

Itinerary 1

South Africa, Victoria Falls and Botswana:

This 2-week South Africa safari itinerary packs in 2 game-rich land safaris (SA and Botswana) with Victoria Falls and a luxury river safari.

Johannesburg | 1 night

Sabi Sands Game Reserve | 4 nights at Simbambili Game Lodge

Victoria Falls | 2 nights at The Royal Livingstone or Victoria Falls Safari Club

River Safari | 3 nights on the Zambezi Queen

Chobe National Park | 3 nights at Ngoma Safari Lodge

Johannesburg | 1 night

Itinerary 2

Epic Zambia:

This ultimate 2-week Zambia itinerary immerses you in Zambia’s wilderness, combining a river-based setting (for canoeing and seeing elephants, hippos and crocs galore) with the drier South Luangwa (for walking safaris and to see lions).

Victoria Falls | 3 nights at The Royal Livingstone

Lusaka | 1 night at Latitude 15

Lower Zambezi National Park | 5 nights (3 nights at Chiawa Camp and 2 nights at Old Mondoro)

South Luangwa National Park | 4 nights at Puku Ridge (part of the Chiawa Collection) OR  5 nights with Time+Tide (1 night at Luwi, 2 nights at Mchenja and 2 nights at Chinzombo)

*Note: Time+Tide also has Chongwe Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park. Both Chiawa and Time+Tide can thus package their own Zambia safaris combining the two parks.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is calling out to us! The country is said to be one of the best safari destinations in Africa for an authentically wild experience – raw, teeming with wildlife and fewer safari visitors than other countries.

Read more about Zimbabwe:

On Fortune Magazine | “Why Zimbabwe is Africa’s New Must-Visit Safari Destination”

On Conde Nast Traveler | “Zimbabwe: Back in the Game”

On HuffPost | “5 of the Best Safari Camps in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park”

Best time to go on an African safari

Buffalo drinking at a water hole

For a safari, the best time to go is during the dry season – usually May to October. When rains are infrequent, large numbers of animals concentrate around the waterholes and riverbeds.

Peak season

September and October are the driest months. This is peak safari season and these months are often cited as the “best” time to go on safari (when you’ll see the most animals).

However, they’re also blazingly hot months. One safari camp manager told us that locals call September the “suicide month” because it’s so hot. Temps are in the high 80s to low 90s F (30+ C) and may not drop at night, which makes sleeping in a tent uncomfortable.

May and June

Both times we visited South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, we went in late May to late-June. For us, the weather was perfect.

We still saw hordes of animals, and the scenery was green and not parched-looking like it can be in September.

On early morning game drives and for dinner at night, we’d need a fleece jacket. Temps would drop then to 50 F (10 C). But come mid-day, the temperature would be in the 70s F (low- to mid-20s C) and we’d be in T-shirts and thinking about a dip in the pool after lunch.

Other Africa safari travel tips

For more tips and things to consider when planning your Africa trip, read:

On Forbes | “Everything You Need to Know to Plan an Amazing African Safari”

On Lonely Planet | “Safari Planning”

Cape Town

Cape Town

If flying all the way to South Africa for a safari, you might want to visit the Mother City – there are many unmissable things to do Cape Town!

Highlights? Strolling the beautiful Camps Bay area, laughing at the penguins at Boulders Beach and visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

Table Mountain:

Taking the gondola or hiking up Table Mountain is very popular too. (Note: You can hike on top of Table Mountain after taking the gondola up – that’s what we did.)

Day trip to Stellenbosch:

Also be sure to visit the Winelands (as the wine country is called). We had fun, tasted luscious wines and learned lots about South African wine on our Stellenbosch wine tasting day trip.

Where to stay in Cape Town

12 Apostles Hotel | Luxurious retreat just outside Cape Town, with walking trails, one of the world’s best lounges (the Leopard Bar with its ocean-view terrace) and complimentary transfers to the V&A Waterfront.

More Quarters | Heritage townhouses (with kitchens) in the upscale Gardens suburb, a few minutes’ walk to Kloof Street restaurants and shops.

Beach break

Zanzibar

Zanzibar, 23 miles off the coast of Tanzania, is ideal for the “beach” part of a bush-safari-and-beach vacay.

What to do in Zanzibar, apart from the beach?

There are lots of fascinating things to do in Stone Town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Zanzibari capital is a maze of winding alleys – a place of haunting old slave markets, palaces and atmospheric boutique hotels.

In Zanzibar, we also went “reef walking,” toured a spice farm and saw rare red colobus monkeys in the Jozani Monkey Forest.

Where to stay in Zanzibar

Baraza Resort and Spa | Evoking images of a sultan’s palace, this luxury all-inclusive beach resort has 30 whoppingly-huge villas with private pools. (It’s more glam than The Palms below.)

The Palms | Sister hotel to Baraza, The Palms is more intimate with only 7 thatched-roof villas (and it’s even more luxurious, but in a romantic rustic way).

andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge | Uber-exclusive resort on a private white-sand island, with 10 breezy eco-chic bandas (bungalows). You might bump into Bill Gates here, but leave your airs (and shoes) behind, because this is a barefoot, down-to-earth, paparazzi-free place.

Mozambique

Untamed and unspoiled, Mozambique is well off Africa’s tourist track. Make the effort to get there, though, and you’ll discover stunning beaches, a storied colonial past and adventures galore. (Swimming with wild dolphins in the open sea, anyone?)

Indeed, there are many unique things to do in Mozambique on a luxury beach holiday!

Where to stay in Mozambique

Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort | Go horseback riding on the beach. Kayak a mangrove-lined river. Bicycle through fields of palms and wild cashew nut trees. There’s lots to do at this luxury destination beachfront resort with 50 rooms and suites.

Ibo Island Lodge | This century-old, 14-room lodge on Ibo Island oozes character like no other place we’ve set our suitcases down in!

Azura Quilalea | Make like a celebrity at this private island resort with just 9 hand-crafted sea-front villas.

Morocco

Tetouan (near Tangier):

Market day is the best day to explore Morocco’s colorful Tetuoan Medina. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it makes for a great day trip from Tangier.

Marrakesh:

Snake charmers? Harems? Marrakesh is indeed magical! It’s one of the most tantalizing places to visit on a Morocco cruise.

Egypt

See our Egypt posts.

More on Africa

See all our:
Africa posts

Africa guide books:

Ready to book your trip to Africa?

Check out the following helpful services. These travel resources are ones we trust and rely on when planning and booking our own trips.

NEVER MISS AN ADVENTURE!

Sign up to get our monthly e-newsletter with the latest travel lusciousness!

No thanks, I don't want my travel fix