Southern vs East Africa: What to Expect on Safari

Southern vs East Africa: What to Expect on Safari

Southern vs East Africa? This is one of the biggest questions asked by travelers looking to venture into Africa and experience a trip of a lifetime.

The concept of a safari was born in East Africa with the release of some classic movies that were filmed in the region, but the South later developed the concept of luxury safaris and have become renowned for offering some of the world’s most elegant lodges.  

With 54 countries that make up the African continent and each uniquely rich in culture and experiences, it’s not surprising that one would find it difficult deciding which region is best.

Our guide offers travelers an understanding of Southern and East Africa.

 

three lionesses walking ahead of a car on a East African safari
Three lionesses walk on a dirt road ahead of a private safari vehicle on a plain in East Africa.

Southern vs East Africa – An overview of Southern Africa

elephants near a river in Southern Africa's South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Elephants head down to the river in South Luangwa National Park for a drink in the late afternoon.

According to the United Nations, this subregion of the African continent comprises of five countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.

The truth of the matter is that there are other countries in the southernmost part of the continent that shouldn’t be overlooked when visiting this part of the world. They are great stand-alone destinations and easily combined. They include Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The Southern Africa terrain encompasses forests, mountains, savannah, deserts, and pristine beaches. The climate in Southern Africa is categorized into three main seasons – hot and dry, hot and wet, and cool and dry. The winter months of May through August are regarded to be cool and dry, whereas the summer months of November through March present a hotter and wetter climate. The month of April sees the end of the rainy season as winter soon approaches, whilst the months of August to October are relatively hot and dry.

Southern Africa has a rich heritage with different cultures and ethnic groups. English is widely spoken across Southern Africa but there are many other indigenous languages spoken. In South Africa for instance, there are eleven official languages, including English, Afrikaans (similar to Dutch), Zulu, and eight other native African languages.  

 

Southern vs East Africa – An overview of East Africa

two young elephants playing at sunset on East African safari
Young elephants playing in the afternoon sun – captured in East Africa.

Twenty territories make up East Africa, but the main tourist regions include Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.

East Africa is incredibly scenic with its tall mountain peaks, freshwater lakes, savannah,  tropical beaches, and the Great Rift Valley. Part of sub-Saharan Africa, the climate varies in East Africa but is surprisingly cool and dry with the exception of two distinct wet seasons. Temperatures in the summer reach an average high of 28 degrees Celsius and in the winter months of July and August, daytime temperatures reach mid- 20’s and drop below 10 degrees in the evenings. The long rains are usually expected in late April through early June, whilst the short rains arrive for a few weeks between November and mid-December.

There are 128 languages spoken in East Africa but the most widely spoken languages include Bantu Swahili and English.

Southern vs East Africa – Top Experiences in Southern Africa

victoria falls in Southern Africa at sunrise
Victoria Falls at sunrise is an unforgettable experience for any visitor to Southern Africa.

 

Botswana – Mokoro (dugout canoe) trips in the Okavango Delta, Big 5 safaris, hot air balloon safaris, boating safaris.

Lesotho –  Maluti Mountains, Liphofung Caves, Afriski Mountain Resort.

Namibia – Sandboarding, quad biking, Etosha game drives, Cape Cross seals, Fish River Canyon,  San Bushmen engravings.

South Africa – Table Mountain, Drakensberg Mountains, Big Five safaris, marine safaris, township tours, hot air balloon safaris, animal rehabilitation centers, Garden Route.

Swaziland –  Swazi candle factory, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, cultural tours, Swazi craft markets, Swazi glass factory.

Malawi – Lake Malawi, Liwonde National Park safaris, Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, Kumbali cultural village, Mount Mulanje.  

Mozambique – snorkeling and diving in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Gorongosa National Park, Maputo Elephant Reserve, Maputo City, cultural experiences and untouched coral reefs in the Quirimbas Archipelago.

Zambia – Adventure activities in Victoria Falls, Livingstone Island and Devils Pool, rhino walks in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, village tours, safaris in South Luangwa and Kafue National Parks.

Zimbabwe – Adventure activities in Victoria Falls, safaris in Hwange, Mana Pools and Matusadona National Parks, village tours, Batoka Gorge.

Want to know how much a safari costs in Africa?

Take me There

Southern vs East Africa: Top Experiences in East Africa

thousands of wildebeests crossing a river during the great migration in East Africa
One of the many treacherous river crossings during the Great Migration – a must see spectacle.

 

Kenya – Great Migration, safaris in Masai Mara, Maasai Warriors, pink flamingos at Lake Nakuru, safaris in Amboseli National Park, safaris in Tsavo East National Park, Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Manor, hot air balloon safaris.

Mauritius – Catamaran cruises and nightlife in Grand Bay, white sand beaches in the north, Markets in Port Louis and Quatre Borne, South West Tours.

Seychelles – dhow cruises, diving and snorkeling, Victoria Market, hiking trails.  

Tanzania – Great Migration, Mt Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve, Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, hot air balloon safaris.

Zanzibar – Stone Town, diving and snorkeling, spice tours, boat tours.

Uganda – Gorilla and chimpanzee trekking, Murchison Falls.

Rwanda – Gorilla and chimpanzee trekking, golden monkeys, tree-top canopy walks.

 

Southern vs East Africa: The differences on safari

Vehicles:

an open top land cruiser driving through a plain during great migration in East Africa
These land cruisers with open tops for easy game viewing and photographic opportunities are standard on East African safaris.

In Southern Africa, game drives are conducted in open Land Cruisers in order to ensure an intimate safari experience. National Parks require all vehicles to drive along marked roads but in privately owned game reserves lodges are permitted to drive off-road – this is a huge advantage when looking for animals. Reserves keep strict control of the number of vehicles at each sighting. The guides communicate over two-way radio to ensure that these rules are adhered too.

In East Africa, the vast landscape often means that you travel longer distances so vehicles aren’t always open-sided as they are in the South. Although not as exposed to nature, visibility isn’t at all compromised in closed vehicles. Many lodges operate game drives in pop-top land cruisers, allowing you to photograph at ease. In the Eastern National Parks, there is no limit to the number of vehicles permitted at sightings, so it’s possible to see over a dozen vehicles during peak season, particularly during the Great Migration.

Fences:

a vehicle on a southern africa safari drives along the fence line
Game rangers sometimes need to drive along the fence line for short periods before turning back into the reserve on safari.

In Southern Africa, the reserves are fenced off in an attempt to protect animals from human encroachment. Fenced off reserves such as the Kruger National Park affords travelers the opportunity of seeing animals, including the Big Five, in a shorter period of time.

In East Africa, they don’t believe in fences, so animals move freely between the reserves. For lodges, this means that migratory animals are only present at certain times of the year. In an attempt to see these animals all year rounds, East Africa developed mobile camping safaris which move every couple of months to areas where wildlife is abundant. Destinations such as Masai Mara and the Serengeti offers fantastic game viewing all year-round.

 

Wildlife:  

cheetahs sit on an ant hill in an East African plain
Cheetahs often climb up onto anthills when the grass is long in order to gain a better vantage point of their surroundings.

There are over 1,100 different species of mammals and over 2,600 species of birds found in Africa. Four of the five fastest land animals live in Africa – the fastest being the cheetah, running at a top speed of 70 mph.

Both Southern and East Africa have their own unique collection of fauna and flora, and each offers incredible wildlife sightings, with the Big Five present in both regions. You can view all of Africa’s incredible species in the East and South, but the East has a much higher density of animals.

Southern vs East Africa: When to Visit

flamingos in a lake in East Africa Kenya during the flamingo migration
Flamingos gather in a lake in Kenya during the lesser-known flamingo migration that happens annually around April.

The best time to experience Southern Africa may not be ideal for visiting certain places in East Africa. Many events such as the Great Migration, calving, bird migrations, newborn babies are seasonal.

Our recommendation to travelers looking to experience both southern and east Africa is to consult with an expert who can customize your trip to include destinations that suit your time frame and interests. If your vacation time is limited then it is recommended to visit the two regions on two separate occasions in order to get the best experience.

Explore the best time to visit top African destinations:

South Africa  Botswana   |  Namibia  |  Mozambique  Victoria Falls  |  Tanzania  |  Kenya  |  Zanzibar

Interested in Gorilla Trekking? Everything you need to know is right here!

 

Southern vs East Africa: Our Top Tours

When looking to travel to Africa, more often than not we come across a tour that we really fancy. It’s great when we find one that’s exactly what we want, but sometimes we would love to swap out accommodations or add a night or two to the itinerary.

Our tours offer great value for money but we are more than happy to customize a trip to best suit your travel needs.

Explore our top selling tours here:  

South Africa  |  Botswana   Namibia  |  Mozambique Victoria Falls  |  Tanzania Kenya  |  Zanzibar

Gorilla & chimpanzee trekking

Experience This Iconic Tour

 

Southern vs East Africa: Which is best?

So when you sum it all up, which is better? It’s hard to say. The open safari vehicles and low vehicle concentration all favor the South. But, the lack of fences and an abundance of animals make the East pretty special. Both the South and East offer options of bush, beach and city combination tours. Either way, you can’t go wrong!

Contact one of our consultants today for expert travel advice and help with planning your vacation in Africa.