Sally & Samer’s African Safari

Sundowner at Ol Donyo Lodge / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation

10-12 Days | September/October 2024

I don’t think you can go wrong – both of these itineraries will be amazing safaris, but each has its own unique vibe. East Africa will have more culture and an emphasis on plains game like wildebeest, zebra, and cheetah. Southern Africa will have more elephants and lions and opportunities for boating. It just depends on what interests you more. I’ve outlined each trip with possible stops and have included some more detailed comparisons at the bottom.

Kenya & Tanzania

Hot air ballooning over the Maasai Mara / Courtesy of Angama Mara
Hot air ballooning over the Maasai Mara / Courtesy of Angama Mara

Kenya kept coming to mind during our conversation – I love the personal connection with friends. I’ve included information on a few stops below. After considering your concerns about the drought, I’ve added another option for your first stop in Northern Tanzania. Northern Kenya is hoping for rain in the next few weeks with the transition to a November El Niño pattern, but only time will tell. Kenya/Tanzania will have more cultural opportunities than Botswana/Zimbabwe.

1a. Northern Tanzania

Giraffe and Chem Chem Lodge / Courtesy of Chem Chem Safaris luxury Tanzania safari
Giraffe and Chem Chem Lodge / Courtesy of Chem Chem Safaris

One version of a Kenya itinerary starts in Northern Tanzania. I would suggest flying into Dar es Salaam and then to Arusha for your first night if you like this option. The next morning you can drive or catch a short flight to Chem Chem Lodge for a few days on safari. This is one of my favorite spots in Tanzania. Its tents are luxurious but in an understated way. They have also done a lot of conservation work to connect the Lake Manyara area to the greater Tarangire National Park, and the game viewing is really good. Spend days on game drives, walking with the Maasai, and possibly seeing flamingoes on the lake. After your stay, fly back to Arusha for your flight to Nairobi or drive into Kenya.

1b. Northern Kenya

Sarara Treehouses / Courtesy of Bush and Beyond

The Samburu region is the most remote and arid safari area in Kenya. The wildlife is not as dense as the Maasai Mara, but the area is home to Kenya’s second-largest elephant population. There are also interesting species like gerenuk, Grevy’s Zebra, and reticulated giraffe. Because it is out of the way, the cultural encounters with the local Samburu people are more authentic than anything you’ll find with the Maasai. The Reteti Elephant orphanage is accessible from some lodges in the far north, and this is an excellent place to take a helicopter ride to Lake Turkana. You will go on daily game drives and can also hike the mountains with the Samburu. There aren’t as many camp options out here, but I would consider Sarara Treehouses.

2. Laikipia Plateau

Game drives at Lewa Wilderness / Courtesy of Lewa Wilderness luxury Kenya safari
Game drives at Lewa Wilderness / Teagan Cuniffe / Courtesy of Lewa Wilderness

The high-elevation Laikipia Plateau around Mount Kenya is former ranchland that has excellent game viewing and perfect weather. Nights here are usually in the 50’s, and days are in the 70s, so many lodges are made of stone with fireplaces. This area has a wide variety of wildlife, including one of the largest rhino populations in the country. Activities here include game drives, walks, biking, and scenic flights around the mountain. I’ve been told the biplane will be ready by next summer. I would consider Lewa House, a unique family-run lodge in the central Lewa Conservancy.

3. Maasai Mara

Great migration at Mara Plains, luxury Kenya safari / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation
Great migration at Mara Plains / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation

The famous Maasai Mara will be the finale of a Kenyan adventure. Late September and October are the best times to visit here because the Great Migration herds will likely be around, but there are fewer tourists. I exclusively book private reserves in this area to further avoid the crowds. You will go on daily game drives here and possibly see many thousands of wildebeest and zebra making their rounds across the plains. There are also good populations of elephants, hippos, giraffes, and lions. Cottar’s 1920s Camp is done in a classic safari style and sits on a private reserve near the border with Tanzania. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s a good place to catch a late-season migration. End your trip with a scenic balloon ride over the Mara before returning to Nairobi to meet friends.

Botswana & Zimbabwe

Okavango Explorers Camp / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation

Botswana has done a lot to protect wildlife, and the game viewing is fantastic. I love combining it with Zimbabwe, which is famous for its hospitality, has a different landscape and really immersive camps. Great Plains is my favorite company in Northern Botswana because they have large private reserves and walk the walk with conservation. They cost more, but you get a lot of space and great style/service.

1. Okavango Delta

Okavango Explorers Camp / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation

Botswana is best known for the Okavango Delta, so I would start there. There is a huge variety of wildlife here, including elephants, lions, and water buffalo. I prefer camps that have access to water in the dry season to allow for mokoro or canoe safaris, but this is still a great place for game drives. The Okavango is incredible when seen from a helicopter. I like either Duba Explorers or Okavango Explorers, because they are in large private concessions and have a classic safari feel.

2. Selinda Private Reserve

Elephants at Zarafa Camp Botswana Okavango Luxury Safari / Courtesy Great Plains
Elephants at Selinda Reserve / Courtesy Great Plains

Take a short flight from the Okavango to one of the private reserves north of Chobe National Park. The Selinda Reserve is possibly the most wildlife-rich area in all of Africa, known for large herds of elephants. In the dry season, you may see up to one hundred gathered near the water! Lots of game drives, action, lions, etc here – it is peak wildlife. I love booking another Great Plains Camp, Selinda Explorers for this area.

3. Victoria Falls

Aerial view of the falls at Victoria Falls River Lodge / Courtesy of Zambezi Crescent Collection luxury African safari Zimbabwe
Aerial view of the falls at Victoria Falls River Lodge / Courtesy of Zambezi Crescent Collection

From the reserves, fly to Kasane, Botswana. From here, you can either fly to Livingstone, Zambia, or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. You probably need a couple of nights to see the falls right, but if you want a quick look, you might be able to stay at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, right next to the falls in Zambia. It would be a brief stop, but you could log another country on your list. For two nights, I would stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe because the setting is better. Fly out of Victoria Falls Airport towards Mana Pools the next morning.

4. Sapi Private Reserve

Canoeing at Tembo Plains Camp / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation luxury Zimbabwe safari
Canoeing at Tembo Plains Camp / Courtesy of Great Plains Conservation

The Sapi Reserve is a 200,000-acre private reserve on the border of Mana Pools National Park. Mana Pools is a favorite among safari enthusiasts because of its magical light and wild feel. The area is also famous for its diversity of activities, including canoeing, boating, walking, and game drives. There are elephants and hippos along the Zambezi River as well as a large population of leopards and wild dogs.

Like Selinda, this area was once a hunting concession, but Sapi is still being rewilded. There is plenty of wildlife, but not as much as Botswana yet. Great Plains is releasing over 100 elephants into the park next year, so some guests of Tembo Plains may get to see it. Tembo is one of the nicest camps in Zimbabwe, but the price is very reasonable compared to Botswana. End your days here in a plunge pool or sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi River. I like Tembo at the end of this itinerary because it is a little slower paced and has some emotional depth that you will apprecaite once you settle in to safari life.

Country Comparison:

Price: Botswana will be more expensive than Kenya in September. There are less expensive options than Great Plains camps, but they are the best of the best in Botswana. If you want something more adventurous and affordable, Beagle Expeditions is amazing and getting larger Meru style tents next year. Duke’s Camp is also beautiful, but in a slighty less remote area.

Flight Times: It’s 2 hours from Johannesburg to Kasane, Botswana. From Johannesburg to Nairobi, it is a 4-hour flight. All locations require multiple short flights between the reserves, but those are fun.

Wildlife: All destinations will have an abundance and diversity of wildlife. The Great Wildebeest Migration will be the highlight in Kenya, and you will have the best chance to see the cheetah there. Botswana and Zimbabwe are famous for huge elephant herds and have a really good lion population. Still, you will see lions in Kenya. You should see hippos in both, but more in Botswana and Zimbabwe, where it’s wetter.

Insects: The altitude makes Kenya less hospitable to insects, but you should be okay traveling in the dry season in Botswana.

Weather: Kenya will be a little cooler than Botswana, but Botswana cools off at night. Rain isn’t a big concern at this time of year.


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