Going on safari is the experience of a lifetime. From when we’re small children, many of us dream of seeing lions and elephants in the wild, roaming the plains of Africa.
There are a number of countries where you can embark on an adventure and see animals in their natural habitats, with two of the most popular being Kenya and South Africa. But which country offers the best safari experience?
The answer depends on the kind of trip you are looking for.
The first step to going on safari in Africa is to make travel arrangements and ensure you have authorization to enter your chosen country.
Both Kenya and South Africa are easy to visit for travelers from many countries.
Kenya has an electronic visa (eVisa) available for visitors of most nationalities. This can be obtained from any location with an internet connection by filling out a Kenya online visa application, cutting out the time-consuming process of applying for a visa at an embassy. Once you have your visa confirmation, you can travel to Kenya, and Nairobi will most likely be your starting point.
There are only a small number of countries whose citizens must apply in person for a Kenyan visa. On the other hand, visitors from over 40 countries (mainly in Africa and the Caribbean) can enter Kenya without any visa at all.
South Africa has yet to introduce its own eVisa system, but citizens of around 70 countries can visit visa-free for up to either 30 or 90 days. However, if you are not a national of one of these nations, you’ll have to head to your nearest South African embassy to apply for a tourist visa.
Getting Close to the Wildlife
Both Kenya and South Africa are great places to see a diverse array of animals, including Africa’s “big 5” game: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and Cape buffalo.
More of Kenya’s land is dedicated to national park space and wildlife reserves than South Africa, including the world-famous Masai Mara. There is a huge concentration of wildlife here, with many visitors ticking off the big 5 as well as cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, and wildebeest within a few days.
South Africa is home to its own famous safari location in the Kruger National Park. This is also rich in biodiversity and safari-goers are rarely disappointed with the animals they see.
The one factor that gives Kenya the edge is the Great Migration. Each year, around 1.3 million wildebeest, half a million gazelles, 200,000 zebras, and thousands of other antelope make the journey south from the Masai Mara over the border into Tanzania around July, returning en masse in October. One of the most impressive natural events in the world, it is well worth choosing a safari in Kenya to witness this epic exodus of animals.
Safari tours in Kenya also allow more room for approaching and getting up close to wildlife. Drivers and guides may slowly approach animals, not so as to disturb them, but to allow a better angle for your photos. The rules in South Africa are much stricter and you may have to settle for watching from a distance.
Comfort and Cost
Kenya tends to be a bit wilder than South Africa, so if you’re happy to camp in tents and feel closer to nature, Kenya’s a good call. However, if you want to stay in a lodge with clean facilities, it will not come cheap. There are few options in between fancier private accommodation and camping.
South Africa’s national parks, on the other hand, are built with visitors in mind. There are a range of different lodges, from more affordable cottages and bungalows to luxury private lodges. All accommodation tends to be of good standard, with clean facilities, a natural setting, and many come with bonus features like golf courses.
South Africa tends to be more family-friendly, with great options for visitors with children. The roads are better paved and infrastructure is better developed. This is a big plus if you want to drive around the parks yourself. Yes, this is an option in South Africa (as long as you stick to the rules). Of course, there are also guided tours if you’d prefer, which are practically the only option in Kenya.
However, this all comes at the expense of some of the wildness. South Africa gets full marks for being comfortable, having budget options, and being ideal for families, but it can’t help but feel a little controlled and sanitized, compared to the authenticity of Kenya. Again, it depends what you prefer.
It’s always worth bearing in mind that whichever country you choose for a safari, you’re probably going to need to get vaccinated against certain local diseases.
Surprisingly, South Africa has relatively few required vaccinations for travelers, with basic coverage against measles, hepatitis, and typhoid recommended.
The risk of serious diseases like malaria and bilharzia is much lower. Malaria tablets are only recommended for certain areas of the country. While national parks are generally hot-spots for mosquitoes that carry the disease, South Africa is unique on the continent for having a number of safari destinations that are free of malaria.
When on safari in Kenya, malaria tablets are a must and the list of vaccinations is more comprehensive.
If you’re going to make the trip to Africa, you’ll want to do more than just go on safari. Both Kenya and South Africa have idyllic stretches of coastline, which are great for beach lovers.
Once again, South Africa is better for families and those seeking a bit of luxury. The country has a number of beach resorts catering for visitors of all budgets, which are perfect for relaxing at.
Kenya, however, has a cultural ace in the hole. While it may not have the number or level of resorts as South Africa, it does have a number of fascinating ancient ports and medieval ruins, such as Gedi, to explore. History buffs and lovers of old architecture may get a lot more out of a holiday in Kenya than South Africa.
Two countries, two very different safari experiences. For a more wildlife-focussed, authentic experience in the wilds of Africa, Kenya probably has the edge, while for more comfort and a more rounded experience that all the family can enjoy, South Africa may be the better choice. Either way, it will a trip you will never forget.