Did you know that more than 18 million tourists visited Africa in 2017? Or, that by 2022, the Euromonitor predicts that African tourism will reach 25 million? The continent’s diverse natural landscapes and abundant wildlife can make it feel overwhelming to choose the best country for safari.
Tanzania and South Africa remain two top safari destinations for many travelers and with good reason. Read on to find out more about these hotspots and which one may be right for your African adventure.
What Do You Want to See?
Before deciding between Tanzania and South Africa, make a list of your “dream” sights. On one hand, if you’re most interested in the “Big Five,” then plan a safari around catching these large mammals.
The “Big Five” include:
- the elephant
- the rhinoceros
- the Cape buffalo
- the leopard
- the lion
But if you long to photograph huge herds of migrating zebra and wildebeests, then you’ll want to head to a migration site instead. The same goes for those focused primarily on birding.
Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to what you’ll see on a safari. But increasing your odds through good selection can’t hurt. Choose wisely.
Once you have a better idea of what you want to see, selecting the optimal safari spot will get a whole lot easier. Let your passion, a little research, and sound geography guide you towards the right destination for your African adventure. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to see in various parts of Tanzania and South Africa while on safari.
Located in Eastern Africa, Tanzania sits within the African Great Lakes region. A small nation with rich wildlife, Tanzania remains one of the most popular safari locations in Africa. Driven by wet and dry cycles, local animals undertake massive migrations, which make for dramatic observation.
Tanzania’s also known for its hospitality and breathtaking scenery. From the Serengeti plains to the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania offers diverse geology and biology.
What’s more, Tanzania contains Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Tourists wishing to make the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro flock to the northeastern part of the nation every year.
From friendly locals to fascinating cultures, stunning beaches to abundant wildlife, Tanzania brings African adventure to life. Tanzania features the Zanzibar Archipelago located in the Indian Ocean. A cultural crossroads between Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabic world, Zanzibar provides an exotic island setting and gorgeous beaches.
Among the most popular hotspots for a Tanzania safari are the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. The Serengeti will bring you up close and personal with huge herds of wildebeest and zebra. Starting in May, they make a frantic bid north crossing 200 miles of the Serengeti to reach the lush plains of Maasai Mara in Kenya.
During this migration, an estimated 1.5 million wildebeest cross East Africa. They are accompanied by more than 200,000 zebras and thousands of antelope. This represents the largest wildlife migration in the world.
The wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes travel in search of fresh water and food. Along the way, they face constant perils from apex predators including:
As a result, many thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes perish each year. The event makes for dramatic wildlife observation and draws millions of tourists to the park. But there’s more to Tanzania than the Serengeti…
If it’s the “Big Five” that you long to find, look no further than the Ngorongoro Crater. Once a huge volcano, today it remains the largest intact, unfilled, and inactive caldera on the planet. It features a verdant highland forest rich with plantlike and more than 30,000 animals.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been praised as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Named by the indigenous Maasai people, Ngorongoro means “the gift of life.” You’ll see why as you tour this magnificent natural setting.
Due to the enclosed nature of the area, Ngorongoro Crater transports you into another world of unique scenery, distinctive forests, and abundant wildlife. There’s no better spot to catch the “Big Five” while basking in lush local landscapes.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park offers great views of a variety of animals including:
- African wild dogs
- Maasai giraffes
- olive baboons
- Syke’s monkeys
- short-eared galagos
- Egyptian mongooses
- Cape clawless otters
It also offers excellent bird watching opportunities. In fact, more than 400 species of birds can be spotted here including waterfowl and flamingos. The park even plays host to tree-climbing lions.
South Africa 101
A multiethnic society, South Africa ranks as the 24th most populous country on the planet with 56 million people. It encompasses a wide diversity of religions, languages, and cultures. In fact, it recognizes 11 official languages.
Two of these 11 languages come from European colonizers and residents: Afrikaans (developed from Dutch) and English. Afrikaans remains the first language of most South Africans. English, while ranked fourth in terms of usage, gets used often in daily transactions and life.
South Africa’s climate remains more varied than Tanzania’s wet and dry seasons. As a result, South Africa’s landscape contains lush forests and diverse ecosystems. Forests such as the Spes Bona and Grootvadersbosch make for a magical safari setting.
South Africa Safari Hotspots
South Africa boasts a reputation as a posh safari destination. This hearkens back to the nation’s long-established tradition of appealing to wealthy travelers and adventure seekers. The country features better infrastructure and is more developed than Tanzania.
South Africa boasts a varied ecosystem with plentiful wildlife. If you’re on a quest for big game animals, check out Kruger National Park.
In terms of travel to South Africa, the May through August dry season is the best time to spot animal life. But be forewarned that temperatures can drop since this is wintertime.
South Africa boasts emerald Afromontane forests in the Eastern and Western Cape. These forests lie concentrated near the coast and areas that receive plentiful rainfall. The diversity of plants, birds, and animals make these areas incredible spots for hiking, safaris, and birding.
The Specs Bona Forest
The Specs Bona Forest provides panoramic views of the ocean. Its forests appear thick with leafy yellowwood and milkweed trees.
In spring, the region comes to life with vibrant fynbos flowers. Spes Bona also contains caves for exploration. Breathtaking waterfalls emerge during the rainy winter season, too.
Declared a World Heritage Site, the Grootvadersbosch offers activities for the whole family. Located just three hours from Cape Town by car, the park features easy access to Africa’s abundant animals and plants.
Grootvadersbosch represents a haven for birds boasting 136 different species. These include striped fluff tails and three types of eagles. Keep your eyes open for emperor butterflies and ghost frogs, too.
Woody Cape Nature Reserve
Located along the coastal portion of Addo Elephant National Park, Woody Cape Nature Reserve contains the longest stretch of dunes in the world. Besides spectacular hiking trails, 300 bird species make the leafy canopies of the park their home.
Other locals to keep an eye out for include the trumpeter hornbill, the brown hyena, and the nocturnal tree dassie. The adjacent Addo Elephant National Park provides free range for more than 600 pachyderms. So, take a drive through this park to get your elephant scoping on.
The Knysna-Amatole Montane Forest
The Knysna-Amatole Montane Forest remains nearly impenetrable in some spots. The park contains:
- vervet monkeys
- blue duikers
- honey badgers
- Knysna dwarf chameleons
Birds include the Cape eagle owl, the Knysna lorie, the Narina trogon, and the Knysna scrub warbler. Bring binoculars, and keep your gaze trained to the canopy.
South Africa and Tanzania Safari
Tanzania and South Africa both cater to a wide segment of tourists and traveler budgets. Whether you’re looking for an African safari on a shoestring budget or a luxury getaway, you have options. That said, South Africa still corners the market on high-end safari accommodations.
There are other differences to consider, too. South African safaris feature smaller, open-sided expeditionary vehicles for ease of animal observation. Unlike Tanzania, South African safaris are run by safari lodges or parks, so you’ll remain in one location over the course of multiple days.
In Tanzania, you’ll move from site to site chasing wildlife on their migratory routes. This experience comes with a unique exhilaration all its own. Although Tanzania continues to improve its luxury accommodations, the focus remains on camp-style tent lodgings rather than big lodges.
The Best Country for Safari
What’s the best country for safari? That depends on which wildlife you want to see, the accommodations you prefer, and how much you want to spend. So, do some research and make a list of what you’d like your dream vacation to look like.
Tanzania and South Africa both offer multiple unique safari experiences. While South Africa tends to be more expensive than Tanzania, prices can fluctuate. So, do your research and book your flights, tours, and lodging well in advance of your intended departure date.
Contact us today to find out more about the perfect African adventure for your unique needs. We at Earthlife Expeditions are your African safari experts, and we’re here to help you customize your safari adventure.