Safari vacations in Africa are just as diverse as the continent itself, though these types of trips typically require a large sum of money. Whether you want to spend a few days gorilla trekking in Uganda or a couple weeks spotting the “big five” – lions, leopards, African elephants, rhinos and Cape buffalos – in South Africa, you’ll find an array of experiences to best suit your needs. To help you narrow down your options, U.S. News compiled a list of 12 can’t-miss African safari tours. Read on to find your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
(Courtesy of &Beyond)
Visitors who don’t want to sacrifice creature comforts while on safari will appreciate &Beyond’s offerings. During the tour operator’s 10-day Kings of the Jungle safari – which starts at $11,340 per person – travelers will see breathtaking natural wonders like the Ngorongoro Crater and the Maasai Mara savanna. But the highlight of this journey is its four-night stay at Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. After watching animals like wildebeest and zebras partake in the great migration while also spotting lions, giraffes and more, vacationers retreat to high-end tents and lodges with private bathrooms.
(Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris)
For some of Africa’s most jaw-dropping scenery, opt for the seven-night Namibian Adventure Safari offered by Wilderness Safaris. This weeklong trip features visits to the Namib Desert’s dune-filled Sossusvlei region (which you may recognize from the film “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and the mountainous Palmwag Concession – a protected area with springboks, giraffes, black rhinos and more. The package’s per person fee starts at $6,725, which covers most meals, park entrance fees, and transfers from Namibia’s capital Windhoek and between the safari destinations. It also covers your stay at properties like the fully solar-powered Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp and the five-star Little Kulala lodge amid the stunning desert.
Wild Rwanda Safaris
(Courtesy of Wild Rwanda Safaris)
Adventurous travelers sticking to a more conservative budget should consider Wild Rwanda Safaris’ Bwindi Gorilla Safari. The three-day package features a full day in southwestern Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (a haven for silverback gorillas) and an adjacent Batwa Pygmy community. Wild Rwanda Safaris allows guests to choose between midrange, luxury and super luxury accommodation, which can help keep costs down if necessary. The company’s packages include the $700 permit required to visit the gorilla park. The round-trip journey by safari vehicle to and from Kigali, Rwanda, and English-speaking guide services are also covered in all rates. The tour can begin from Kampala, Uganda, as well, although you’ll spend longer on the road to the park.
(Courtesy of nomad-tanzania.com)
Sign up for Nomad Tanzania’s Southern Tanzania safari and you’re bound to get an up-close look at Tanzania’s diverse wildlife. Offering eight days of activities, including game drives and boat trips in Ruaha National Park and Nyerere National Park, this safari gives you prime opportunities to spot lions, cheetahs, leopards and elephants, among other species. What’s more, lodging at the company’s campsites, select meals, and flights to and from Dar es Salaam are factored into the package’s prices. Expect to pay a minimum of $5,700 per person; prices vary depending on the time of year, and the tour isn’t offered in April and May.
(Courtesy of Micato Safaris)
If you want to explore multiple destinations while on safari with plenty of comfort (but a price tag to match), book the 15-day Micato Grand Safari. This outing by Micato Safaris starts with a two-day visit to Nairobi, Kenya, before continuing to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Maasai Mara National Reserve, and the Amboseli and Serengeti national parks for wildlife-viewing excursions. During your trip, you’ll see Mount Kilimanjaro as zebras, gazelles and more roam in the foreground. The package costs at least $22,450 per person (based on double occupancy rates) and includes a hot air balloon ride, a camel tour led by members of the Samburu tribe, and lodging at upscale properties like Serengeti’s Four Seasons outpost. The company also offers various extensions allowing you to explore other parts of Africa, from the island paradise of Zanzibar to the deserts of Namibia.
(Courtesy of Rothschild Safaris)
If your ideal safari vacation consists of customizing your trip from start to finish, consider an outing with Rothschild Safaris. The company offers itineraries in locales like Zambia and Madagascar, but if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the big five animals, the Essence of Tanzania safari is a good bet. This nine-day experience, which embarks from Arusha and returns there by plane, includes game-viewing drives in Tarangire National Park and accommodations like canvas tents and farmhouse lodges. Elephants, zebras and lions are just some of the animals you may spot during your journey. You’ll also have the opportunity to go on a nighttime safari to spot nocturnal wildlife.
Lion World Travel
(Courtesy of Lion World Travel)
As the trip name implies, Lion World Travel’s 10-day Best of Cape Town & Botswana vacation package combines sightseeing in Cape Town, South Africa, with a classic safari in Botswana. During the latter half of the itinerary, visitors will explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta (home to cheetahs, crocodiles, hippos and more) and Chobe National Park, which is believed to have Africa’s largest elephant population. Prices start at $4,299 per person and cover game drives; many of your meals; and stays at luxury hotels, camps and lodges. You’ll need to pay an extra charge for the flights within the tour (Cape Town to Botswana as well as Botswana to Johannesburg).
Bearded Heron Safaris
(Neil Heron/Courtesy of Bearded Heron Safaris)
Travelers keen on seeing South Africa’s Kruger National Park through the eyes of a local naturalist will appreciate the 15-day safari with Bearded Heron Safaris. Led by Neil Heron, a nature guide and wildlife photographer and writer, Bearded Heron Safaris’ longest option features small game drives that may include lion, rhino, zebra and leopard sightings throughout all corners of Kruger. Rates are inclusive of in-park cottage accommodations and all breakfasts, dinners, snacks and drinks. Flights and park fees are not included. For a 15-day safari, expect to pay 76,900 South African rand (about $4,500) per person.
For an inside-out trip through the natural wonders of Botswana, Discover Africa’s nine-day Epic Botswana Adventure is a formidable option. You’ll start out at a riverside lodge on the Chobe River – a great location for elephant spotting – before moving onto the marshy Okavango Delta, a wildlife-rich area where you can spot a huge range of animals from leopards to rhinos. The safari ends at the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, a good place to admire wildlife like zebras and buffalo on the savanna as well as salt pans from a former lake. You’ll stay in upscale lodges and campsites within close reach of the wilderness. All meals and transport along the tour are included in the price tag (which starts at $4,800 per person), but international flights are excluded.
Wild Wings Safaris
If you’re looking to have a broader experience that mixes in some history and beach time, consider Wild Wings Safaris’ eight-day Battlefields, Bush and Beach Safari. You’ll start off visiting some of South Africa’s historic sites from the Boer wars, before moving on to the Phinda Private Game Reserve, which doesn’t allow day visitors, so you should be able to look out for the big five without too many crowds. The tour wraps up at Thonga Beach Lodge, where you can snorkel or scuba dive near coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. As far as safaris go, this one is an affordable option, starting at about $2,795 per person with all meals included as well as a rental car; for the cheapest price, you will need to drive yourself between the destinations, but it’s possible to pay an additional fee for a driver to guide you instead.
This tour company kicks off its tours from the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, with a host of safaris that range from two days to nine, across Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, including some family-friendly choices. For an affordable option, there’s the four-day Discover Victoria Falls, Chobe and Hwange Park safari, which will take you on two full-day tours to Chobe National Park (across the border in Botswana) and to Hwange, Zimbabwe’s largest national park, where you should keep your eyes peeled for lions, elephants and more. This safari also includes a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. The price starts at $900 per person, which includes the tours plus breakfast, lunch and lodging in Victoria Falls; travelers will need to pay for entrance fees to the parks and dinner.
(Courtesy of Compass Odyssey)
Explore the savanna and deserts of southwest Africa with Compass Odyssey’s eight-day Namibia Wildlife Safari. You’ll visit a community-based conservation area in Damaraland – known for its desert-adapted elephants, oryx, giraffes and other wildlife – while staying in the rustic-chic Doro Nawas Camp. You’ll also spend two days in Etosha National Park, seeking wildlife at the park’s bustling waterholes by day and embarking on an evening game drive as well. Starting at $3,750 per person, the tour includes most meals and all park entry fees, but not flights; the company does allow the tour to be customized on request.
Some popular safari destinations may require you to have received certain vaccinations in order to enter the country as a tourist. Inoculation requirements can include vaccination against COVID-19 and yellow fever, and you’ll need to get these vaccines before departing on your trip. Be sure to bring proof of vaccinations with you. If you are transiting through another country en route to your safari tour, you must check that you also meet immunization requirements for the stopover location.
Note that, outside of what’s required, there are a number of other vaccinations that are recommended, so ensure you’re up to date and fully protected before you travel. In addition, many safari locations are prone to malaria; you should consult with your doctor to see if you need to bring anti-malaria medication on your trip.
Safari countries have varying visa requirements for travelers from the U.S. – these are detailed below. Depending on your itinerary, you may need a single- or multiple-entry visa, and some visas require you to apply in advance of traveling and/or have a certain number of blank pages in your passport. Regardless of your destination, your passport should be valid for at least six months before you leave for your trip.
Here are the vaccine and visa requirements for major safari destinations as of November 2022:
Botswana: If you have recently visited a country where yellow fever is common, you will need to be vaccinated against this illness. This does not include the U.S. but does include a number of countries in Africa, Central and South America. Consult the World Health Organization’s website for a list of countries with risk of yellow fever transmission, including Kenya and Uganda.
U.S. citizens and nationals can stay in Botswana for 90 days without a visa.
Kenya: Travelers to Kenya must have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with the last shot administered more than 14 days before arrival in the country. Unvaccinated visitors can enter with a negative PCR test, conducted no more than 72 hours before departure. Proof of COVID-19 tests or vaccines must be uploaded to an online system called Panabios. Kenya is a country where you’ll be at risk of yellow fever transmission; it also requires those traveling from other places with yellow fever or cholera outbreaks to be vaccinated against these illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you protect yourself against yellow fever before your trip here.
Namibia: Those traveling from a country where yellow fever is common need to be vaccinated against it. No visa is required as long as you’re staying for 90 days or less.
Rwanda: If you’re coming from a country where yellow fever is endemic, a yellow fever vaccination is required before departure.
U.S. citizens and nationals can be issued a 30-day visitor visa on arrival in Rwanda or through the Rwandan Embassy in Washington, D.C. A single-entry visa costs $50, and it’s recommended you bring sufficient cash in U.S. dollars to pay for this (although credit card payment may be accepted at Kigali International Airport). Consult the State Department website for more information.
South Africa: A yellow fever vaccination is required if you’re traveling from a country with a risk of transmission. No visa is required for stays of 90 days or less.
Tanzania: Travelers must be able to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination with a QR code to enter Tanzania. Unvaccinated travelers must take a PCR test no more than 72 hours before departure, and the test results should be accessible by QR code. Yellow fever vaccines are mandatory if you’re traveling from a location where yellow fever is present – including if you spend more than 12 hours in transit in such a country.
Visas are required for tourism in Tanzania. You can apply for a single-entry, 90-day visa online for $50 – and be sure to print a copy of the approval to bring with you. The processing period takes up to 10 days. You can also obtain a visa on arrival for a $100 fee; it’s recommended you bring cash to cover this. Find more Tanzanian visa information on the State Department website.
Uganda: To enter Uganda, you must either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before departure. Like Kenya, Uganda is a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. All visitors must show proof of vaccination against yellow fever to enter Uganda, regardless of where you’re traveling from.
American visitors to Uganda must apply online for an electronic visa before departure; arriving in Uganda without completing this process could result in your detainment. Visit the State Department website to learn more.
Zambia: Visitors who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 must show proof of vaccination but do not need a test to enter Zambia; unvaccinated travelers must undergo a PCR test no more than 72 hours before departure. Yellow fever vaccines are only required if you’re coming from an area considered at risk.
Visas are required to visit Zambia, but these can be obtained online before your departure or at a port of entry. Check the State Department website for more details.
Zimbabwe: To enter Zimbabwe, travelers must either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or must take a negative PCR test no more than 48 hours before your departure. As with other countries on this list, visitors from countries with yellow fever outbreaks also require a vaccine against this illness.
U.S. visitors can obtain a 30-day, single-entry visa upon arrival in Zimbabwe for $30. If you’re taking a tour that requires you to leave and reenter Zimbabwe, be sure to get a double-entry visa for $45. You can learn more from the State Department website.