Guide: The 15 types of African safaris

When it comes to choosing an African safari, the options can seem endless and rather confusing, so we decided to show you the lay of the land
Written by Matthew Sterne
22 October 2020

The baobab tree is legendary for its array of uses. The leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach, while the seeds can be roasted like coffee. All together, it has more than 300 uses. It’s also been hailed as the ultimate superfruit with six times more vitamin C than oranges and three times more potassium than bananas. Their fruit can stay ripe for 10 years and the trees can produce fruit for a thousand, yet the flowers bloom for just one day. It’s miraculous, resilient, revered and adaptable. 

Just like the baobab, there are many different ways to enjoy Africa. You can go independently or with a guide, on your own or in a group. You can choose a classic wildlife safari, a holiday with the family, a romantic getaway or an exclusive once-in-a-lifetime luxury adventure. People come for different reasons – landscapes, culture, cities, wildlife and adventure – and stay in different types of accommodation, from simple tents to plush luxury. 

Factors to consider when choosing your type of trip include the size of your group, your preferred accommodation style, which animals you want to see, how adventurous you plan to be and how much you want to spend. In our time exploring the heart of Africa, we’ve come to realize that there’s a different type of safari for every kind of traveller, so we thought we’d break down all the different options for you. 

The freedom and sense of adventure that comes on a self-driving trip through Africa is incomparable.

Types of travel

Classic luxury safari
This old favourite is the most popular for a reason. You’ll have an itinerary perfectly planned out by a professional tour operator who will arrange private transfers between airports, hotels and lodges. Some travellers prefer to talk to operators based within their own country, but the local travel specialists cannot be beaten for their experience and knowledge. These trips often take in a variety of experiences, with the Cape Town–Kruger National Park–Victoria Falls itinerary one of the most popular options as it takes in a beautiful city, a Big 5 wilderness experience and one of Africa’s great natural wonders. 

A privately guided safari
Specialist guides are often among the best of the best with years of experience and can accompany you for your entire trip between different lodges, as opposed to picking up new guides at the different lodges, as is the norm. The value of any guided safari is the continuity and that the guide gets to know you, your preferences and interests. They arrange all the transport and will ensure that your guiding experience builds on each day. They can be particularly useful in more remote and lesser-visited destinations where local knowledge is key.

Self-drive safari
A self-drive safari is a self-guided adventure in a 4×4 vehicle. The cars come kitted out with cooking, camping and ablution facilities. You’ll have a fridge, a stove and a whole camping setup within your vehicle, which enables you to head into the great African unknown with a map and a thrilling sense of exploration. Many believe this to be the best way to see Africa, although it’s not the simplest or most comfortable. Namibia, Botswana and South Africa are fantastic destinations for self-drive safaris. Many companies allow you to pick up the vehicle on one side of the continent and drop it off on the other side ensuring you don’t need to loop back. If you’re adventurous and want to have a raw experience of Africa often fending for yourself, then this is for you.

The echoing calls of the animals, the bright expanse of stars, the crackle of the fire – it’s often at night that Africa shows you a deeper sense of its magic.

Car hire
For those on a smaller budget, hiring a normal-sized car is another option although many routes and destinations will be inaccessible. In fact, South Africa is the only destination where we can comfortably say it won’t be a problem as the roads are in the best shape. The Garden Route on the southern coast of South Africa is often touted as one of the best road trips in the world and the roads within Kruger National Park are also able to be traversed by any type of vehicle.

Overland tour
Overland tours are aimed primarily at younger, more budget-orientated travellers although all ages are welcome. They’re organized package tours of Africa where you visit a number of countries, camping along the way and travelling in your own rugged and modified bus. If you’re a little intimidated about travelling Africa on your own, this may be your best option. Food, transport, and accommodation costs are all included. The driver is often the guide and cook all wrapped in one colourful character. You can usually find a wide variety of options as well, from basic backpacker tours to more luxurious options. 

There’s nothing quite like that feeling of pulling into a beautiful campsite at sunset after a long day of travelling.

Public transport
While not really a safari in the typical sense, public transport is still used by some visitors to Africa. But this is only for the young and adventurous because public transport in Africa, while certainly interesting, is often not easy. Buses leave only when full and delays and breakdowns are common – this is for those who have lots of time in their itinerary and can handle a bit of discomfort. But traveling by bus does give you an opportunity to be a part of other passengers’ everyday lives. You’ll get the opportunity to learn about how the locals get around and experience a more authentic way of traveling the continent. You may, or may not, get a seat. You may sit in the aisle of the bus for five hours with a chicken pecking at your head, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Types of safari experiences

Walking safaris
Walking safaris allow you to have the closest connection to a wilderness as possible, and the animals that pass through it. Over the course of three or more days, you’ll be guided by some of the best and most experienced guides on the continent who have an incredible knowledge on the big and small wonders of the ecosystem. Walking slowly through Big 5 areas gives you a completely different perspective compared to a game vehicle. You’ll take advantage of the slower pace and learn about the many secret signs and tracks of the bush. You’ll learn how to tell lion spoor from leopard footprints, and even how to determine the freshness of elephant dung. Those who have spent a few days walking wild and glamping along the way often regard it as one of life’s highlights and genuine food for the soul.

Mobile tented camps
The main advantage of mobile tented camps is that the camp moves several times throughout the year, keeping close proximity with wildlife movement, always being in the right place at the right time of year for the best sightings. They can be semi-permanent or mobile, depending on the season and the movement of the animals (notably during the migration in Kenya and Tanzania). The tents can range from Meru style to Dome style with canvas fly sheets to provide a shade. The other major advantage of choosing to stay in a tented camp is that your experience of sleeping in nature is greatly enhanced – there’s nothing quite like hearing the sounds of the night and the wild, the distant bark of a wild dog or the roar of a lion. 

Train travel
Through Rovos Rail, Africa is home to ‘The Most Luxurious Train in the World’. In a series of bespoke train journeys lasting from 48 hours to 15 days, Rovos Rail links some of the continent’s greatest destinations with a variety of off-train excursions. Expect vintage wood-paneled coaches, discreet and friendly service, world-class cuisine and a selection of South Africa’s finest wines. The trains carry a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 superbly appointed suites and travel everywhere from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and Dar es Salaam. 

The compartment suites on Rovos Rail are as comfortable as any hotel.

Fly-in, fly-out
A fly-in safari sees you being transferred between lodges and camps in light aircraft. It saves you time and not having to endure long bumpy hours driving from camp to camp, but even more than that it provides one of Africa’s truly mesmerising experiences. The landscape alone is spectacular but on certain routes you might see elephants, giraffes and hippos wandering on animal tracks as you soar low above the plains. Making use of a plane also means that you can get to some of the most remote and untouched corners of Africa where crowds are small (if not non-existent) and the game is plentiful. If you’ve ever dreamed of your own Out of Africa moment, this type of travel is for you. 

Family safaris
Africa is a fantastic destination for families, with many lodges and camps throughout the continent offering programs that engage kids, such as guided walks, cultural village visits and sometimes hands-on junior ranger programs. Some have swimming pools or plunge pools to while away the hot afternoon hours. While the kids enjoy bug walks and cooking lessons, parents and grandparents can enjoy the luxury and wonder of a typical luxury game lodge. The shared joy of intimate wildlife encounters are the major highlight, however, with safaris the ultimate holiday to form life-long memories. 

Special celebrations
While anniversaries, birthdays or even weddings are perfect occasions to be celebrated in Africa, it’s the honeymoon that’s the ultimate fit. Spa treatments, lazy afternoons by the pool, sunset drinks on game drives, delicious wines, being whisked around a Big 5 area by an expert guide, outdoor dining and suites so luxurious you’ll never want to leave them – these are the major reasons for this. You don’t lift a finger and, from anecdotal evidence, the primal nature of the wildlife you encounter has a strange but wonderful carry-over into many lovers’ bedrooms. 

Lodges in Africa offer some of the most luxurious and romantic honeymoons in the world. Source: Lion Sands

Gorillas and primates
The forested mountains of Rwanda and Uganda are home of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. An encounter with these extraordinary creatures is truly one of the most treasured wildlife experiences you can have. These gentle giants are highly endangered, with just over 700 remaining in the wild. Fortunately, they are protected within national parks and some groups have been habituated to humans, making it easier to encounter these gentle giants on organised guided treks. A number of comfortable lodges are located at the edge of the national parks and are the perfect base for gorilla trekking. 

Photographic safaris
Call us biased, but we believe Africa to be the most picturesque continent in the world. And the photos prove it! It’s become such a great destination for photographers that many lodges now cater especially for them. There are special rigs on game vehicles to ensure a steady lens, expertly constructed waterhole hides and even mobile hides are now part of the offer. There are also specially designed photographic safaris whereby you can travel with an expert lensman to improve your own pics and craft while taking in the best of Africa.

Horseback safaris
There’s a special kind of exhilaration that comes with encountering four-legged animals while atop one, or galloping alongside a herd of wild antelope. For horse-lovers, these multi-day horse trails through African wilderness are truly remarkable experiences as you make your way between camps or head out on different trails from a base camp. It’s an extraordinary way to experience the African bush with Namibia and Botswana both offering excellent safaris.

If you’d like to find out more about the options available to you please get in touch by clicking below and we’ll find the best type of safari for you!

Book your next trip with us

South Africa Namibia Morocco Kenya Ethiopia Madagascar Rwanda Mozambique

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