Southern vs East Africa: The Safari Showdown

travelafricaOn safari, Planning your trip to Africa, Wildlife tips

Southern vs East Africa – where to go?

Choosing where to travel for safari in Africa is like choosing between your children—you love them both so much, but for different reasons. Southern and East Africa are both fantastic destinations, each offering unique experiences that make them so very special. Let’s dive into the delightful differences and distinct advantages of each region, making your decision on where to safari a little easier!

1. Wildlife Experiences

Both regions boast extraordinary wildlife experiences, but with distinct characteristics:

East Africa: Iconic Plains and Great Migration

East Africa offers the quintessential ‘Lion King’ landscapes, with vast savannas teeming with wildlife. The Great Migration is a highlight, where over 2 million wildebeest, along with vast numbers of zebras, traverse the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in search of fresh grasslands and water. Additionally, East Africa offers the unique bucket list opportunity to spend time with the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, providing an unforgettable wildlife encounter.

Southern Africa: Intimate and Diverse Encounters

Southern Africa delivers more intimate and varied wildlife experiences. The region is home to iconic national parks including Kruger, Chobe, Hwange and Etosha, each offering rich biodiversity and the chance to see the Big Five and more in their natural habitats. High concentrations of leopards in Kruger’s Sabi Sands and South Luangwa’s wafwas, the famous lion prides of Savuti in Botswana, and over 100,000 elephants in the heart of Africa’s Eden (the confluence of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia) are just a few highlights.

2. Style of Travel – vehicles & guides

One of the first things you’ll notice about safaris in these regions is the style of travel, which can vary significantly:

Southern Africa: The Independent Explorer

In Southern Africa, safaris often involve travelling independently between lodges. Once at the lodge, you’ll join guided game drives in open safari vehicles. This style allows for more flexibility and freedom in your travel plans, as you can explore the region at your own pace and in different styles before joining the lodge’s scheduled activities. It also provides the thrill of open-air game viewing, bringing you closer to nature and enables your guide to gain a truly intimate understanding of the area’s wildlife which they can then share with you.

East Africa: The Guided Adventure

Conversely, in East Africa, the norm is to have a dedicated guide and a private safari vehicle, typically enclosed with a pop-top roof for optimal wildlife viewing. This setup offers a personalized experience with a guide who becomes your travel companion, sharing their knowledge of the local flora and fauna. You move between national parks and reserves with your guide, ensuring continuity.

3. Safari Pace

The tempo of your safari can significantly influence your experience:

East Africa: Intense-Safaris

Due to the higher costs and the desire to maximize every moment, East African safaris tend to be faster-paced. With so much to see and do, there’s a sense of urgency to cover as much ground as possible.

Southern Africa: Slow-Safaris

In contrast, Southern African safaris often have a more relaxed, slow safari pace. With the advantage of better value, you can afford to take your time, enjoying leisurely morning and afternoon game drives, soaking in the stunning landscapes and taking advantage of lovely mid-day siestas. This slower tempo allows for deeper immersion in the environment and a chance to truly unwind.

4. Beyond the Safari

While safaris are undoubtedly the main attraction, both regions offer an array of other experiences to enrich your journey:

Southern Africa: Diverse Landscapes and Activities

Southern Africa’s diversity extends beyond its wildlife. From the stunning deserts of Namibia to the pristine beaches of Mozambique and the cosmopolitan beauty of Cape Town, there’s something for everyone. Adventure enthusiasts will enjoy the variety of activities available in hubs like Swakopmund, Cape Town and Victoria Falls, ranging from sand boarding and paragliding to bungee jumping and white water rafting.

East Africa: Rich History and Idyllic Beaches

East Africa complements its wildlife adventures with rich historical and cultural experiences. The spice island of Zanzibar offers stunning beaches, marine wildlife, and a chance to explore the vibrant history and culture of Stone Town. Whether you’re snorkeling in crystal-clear waters, enjoying fresh seafood, or wandering through historical sites, Zanzibar provides a perfect add-on to your East African safari.

5. Cost and Value

When it comes to budgeting your safari, the regions differ notably:

East Africa: A Pricier Proposition

East African safaris generally come with a much higher price tag. The combination of private guides, exclusive vehicles and high national park fees contributes to the higher costs. However, this investment rewards you with iconic wildlife experiences and the chance to witness events like the Great Migration.

Southern Africa: Better Bang for Your Buck

Southern Africa, on the other hand, offers better value for money. Here, you can often stay longer for the same amount you would spend in East Africa or upgrade to more luxurious accommodations without breaking the bank. Countries like South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe offer safaris at more accessible price points and also have the fabulous option of self-drive safaris – something we at Travel Africa specialise in organising.

6. Climate and Best Time to Travel

Understanding the climate is key to planning your perfect safari:

Southern Africa: Varied Climate with Seasonal Extremes

Southern Africa experiences pronounced seasons. The dry season (May to October) is ideal for wildlife viewing, as animals gather around waterholes. The wet season (November to April), known as the green season, brings lush scenery, newborn animals, and fewer crowds. This period also offers great value for money, as many lodges reduce their rates, making it a brilliant option for those looking to experience the beauty of Southern Africa without the peak season prices.

East Africa: Consistent Climate with Seasonal Highlights

East Africa’s climate is relatively consistent due to its proximity to the equator, featuring two rainy seasons: the long rains (March to May) and the short rains (November). The best time to visit is during the dry seasons (June to October and January to February), when wildlife is easier to spot. However, the green seasons, particularly after the short rains, offer lush landscapes, fewer tourists, and excellent value for money.

7. Accessibility from Australia

For those travelling from Australia, the ease of access can be a crucial factor in deciding your safari destination:

East Africa: A Longer Journey

Reaching East Africa from Australia typically involves more complex travel arrangements. You’ll likely need to fly via the Emirates or South Africa, adding extra hours and potentially more cost to your journey. While the destination is undoubtedly worth the effort, it’s something to consider if you prefer a more straightforward travel experience.

Southern Africa: Quick and Convenient

Southern Africa wins hands down when it comes to accessibility from Australia. There are direct flights from Sydney and Perth to Johannesburg, making the journey quicker, easier, and often cheaper. With no need for lengthy layovers or multiple flight changes, you can start your adventure sooner and with less hassle.

Conclusion: Southern vs East Africa?

In the end, choosing between Southern and East Africa for your safari is like deciding which child you love more—it’s impossible! Both regions offer unique and unforgettable experiences. Maybe you can try one destination for you first trip and then head to the other for your next. Or, if time and budget allow, try and combine both with flights from Johannesburg and Victoria Falls heading directly to Nairobi.

Whether you prefer the guided adventures and iconic parks of East Africa or the independent exploration and great value of Southern Africa, you’re in for a spectacular journey. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Southern vs East Africa? See some of our itineraries for ideas to help you choose and contact us to tailor-make the perfect itinerary for you:

South Africa Itineraries

Namibia Itineraries

Botswana Itineraries

Zimbabwe Itineraries