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East Africa Vs South Africa Safari

by Lara Behrens
10th September 2022 Staff Recommended
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For many first time travellers to Africa, deciding between South Africa and East Africa can be quite difficult – especially if it is a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip. There is no denying that a safari holiday is a costly experience, so choosing the correct option is important. So, which destination should you choose?

Expert Tips on East Africa Vs South Africa Safaris.

In the hopes of making this decision easier, the Bench specialists have written this post to compare and contrast the vast savannah plains experience of East Africa, with the scrubby bushveld experience of South Africa.

Sundowners in Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Sundowners in Amboseli National Park, Kenya

When considering an East Africa safari Vs a South Africa safari the first point to make is that generally all reserves within South Africa are fenced and so there is a clear division between conservation and areas claimed by human settlements. In contrast, Kenya does not have fences so the wildlife areas and those occupied by local people seem one and the same to the outside traveller. You will often see a local Masai herding his cattle in the presence of elephant, giraffe and zebra. Many will argue that East Africa offers a more ‘authentic Africa‘, where wild animals and mankind roam the savannah together.

Whilst on safari in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, you will be captured by the sense of space as the vast savannah plains seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. Grazing on this landscape will be herds of wildlife and, although you may not have the opportunity to get particularly close to the individual animals, the collective image is truly iconic. The quintessential aspect of an East Africa safari is the annual Migration – the constant loop travelled by millions of wildebeest and zebra in their pursuit for fresh grazing grounds, followed by opportunistic predators! To witness such staggering numbers of wildlife in one location is truly extraordinary, and an experience with which South Africa simply cannot compete.

A safari in South Africa offers landscapes with denser bushveld and therefore doesn’t often afford guests panoramic views. However, where you will compromise on a sense of space and endless horizons, you generally make up for with an increased proximity to the wildlife. The Masai Mara might offer you a view of 60 elephants crossing the savannah, but the Kruger provides the chance to see a large bull elephant at very short range.

South Africa is also the place to go for those that prefer their creature comforts, as the term “luxury safari” takes on an entirely new height here. While many camps in East Africa have remained true to the traditional tented safari style, many lodges in South Africa offer elegantly decorated suites complete with king beds, Jacuzzi bathtubs, and many with private plunge pools! Since the general trend in South Africa is towards luxury, even the lower priced options still reflect a higher level of luxury when compared to their counterparts in East Africa. So if you don’t wish to “rough it” then we would definitely recommend spending your first safari in the relative luxury of a South African lodge.

Game Drive in Sabi Sands, South Africa
Game Drive in Sabi Sands, South Africa

The last factor to consider when comparing an East Africa safari vs South Africa safari is the length of time you intend to spend on safari. If you intend to spend a week or more on safari, Kenya or Tanzania can be an incredible experience because of the wide variety of wildlife-rich areas with contrasting landscapes and activities on offer. There are also easily accessible and stunning beaches nearby, such as Zanzibar and the Kenya coast. However, if you are unsure about safari, or only want a few days of wildlife viewing on your holiday, then South Africa holds a distinct advantage. You can easily experience a fantastic safari with great wildlife sightings for as little as 2 or 3 nights incorporated into a more diverse holiday. South Africa provides the opportunity to enjoy a city break in Cape Town, a trip along the Garden Route, wine-tasting and gourmet food in the Cape Winelands, a beach break, and an exciting safari all within one country!

So to decide between an East Africa and South Africa safari holiday, it comes down to evaluating which criteria are important to you in your holiday experience. It is purely a matter of personal preference which destination is better, and the only way to make up your mind for sure would be to visit both! We are confident that whichever destination you choose, the safari will be an experience that you will cherish for many years to come.

For those who wish to experience both East Africa and southern Africa, we have combined two of our most popular tours to create our Highlights of Africa tour. This is an all-encompassing adventure to Kenya and Tanzania, visiting the spectacular Serengeti National Park, the world famous Masai Mara, the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater and Amboseli National Park standing in the shadow Mt Kilimanjaro. Continuing to South Africa explore the highlights of this magnificent country including the ‘Mother City’, Cape Town, the spectacular coastline along the Garden Route and a ‘Big Five’ safari experience in a private game reserve. Finishing at the mighty Victoria Falls, this 29 day tour offers the very best of East and Southern Africa.

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