Probably one of the most iconic titles that an Africa safari first springs to one's mind at the onset of planning a safari, mainly done so without any real knowledge of where it came from and why the Big Five is a thing. Its origins are from hunting safari's and is a designation given to Africas's most dangerous game to hunt due to their unsurprising ferocity should that said hunter miss and injure any of these magnificent creatures.
Thankfully these days it has moved on from there and now just represents five species of many, that most safari goers will hope to see on a safari activity. In reality, The Big Five should become a 'Magnificent Ten' as there are at least five animals that hold as much significance and allure in everyone's minds. Giraffe, Zebra, Cheetah, Wild Dog and Hippopotamus.
Arguably Crocodile too would spring to mind. These are all the animals that make everyone's list, with all the antelope species, small predators and funky species such as Pangolin's, HoneyBadgers etc all providing the supporting cast roles.
There are few countries that can deliver the Big Five truth be told, and it would be down to Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa to provide you with the best chances. Namibia too if you have the time and funds to get around to the various areas. Whilst Botswana can give you all five you would be considered very lucky to catch Rhino.
It is on a walking safari with a licensed professional walking safari guide that The Big Five truly becomes relevant and immediately gives you a sense of why they are in a separate class altogether. They are Big, either in Size or Aura.
Tracking elephant, rhino and buffalo on foot and then being within 10-20 meters away from them leaves you feeling pretty small, insignificant even and will have your heart racing at a little under a thousand beats a minute.
With Lion, it is more of a case that they are the kings & queens of the African bush and you feel that power and presence instantaneously and are totally in awe of them.
With Leopard, it is their beauty and grace that captures your heart, their strength and ability to live in solitude, happily and successfully. It is the natural high and adrenaline rush you will get shortly afterwards that makes them so special and turns a great safari into a trip of a lifetime.
In a vehicle or on a boat the experience is very different as you have the perceived safety of the vehicle to take the strain of some of your apprehension, and of course, you are able to get much closer to observe and photograph them. No less impressive, however.
Located in the remote far eastern corner of Botswana where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers meet, Mashatu Game Reserve lies in a vast landscape of open plains, grassland, riverine forests, rocky hills, marshland and majestic sandstone ridges. The reserve comprises 29,000 hectares (72,000 acres) of privately owned land in the conserved wilderness area known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve and is where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet.
Mashatu, translated as "Land of Giants”, takes its name from the locally-sacrosanct Mashatu or Nyala berry tree (Xanthrocercis Zambesiaca). These magnificent dark green trees, which are found along the rivers in the reserve, provide refuge, shade and food to a vast array of wildlife. Mashatu, which is one of the largest privately owned game reserves in southern Africa, is home to one of the largest herds of elephant on the continent and provides excellent sitings of Africa's big seven giants including the giraffe, eland, ostrich, the kori bustard, the iconic baobab tree and the king of beasts: the lion.
The Mashatu Game Reserve enjoys ecological biodiversity uncommon in other game reserves due to the diversity of the landscapes. Three members of the Big Five : leopard, lion and elephant are complimented by some lesser well-known, species, including the aardwolf (or “earth wolf”), the bat-eared fox, the African wildcat, the honey badger, the spotted hyena and the black-backed jackal. Mashatu is also home to more than 350 bird species, ensuring it is an alluring spot for those interested in bird life and bird photography.
We have travelled and explored extensively in Rwanda with the Rwanda Development Board and are extremely passionate about promoting travel to this stunning and diverse country.
Rob is one of only a handful of true Rwanda experts in the UK. He has explored most of the country in depth, spent time in all three of the main national parks over the years and has also stayed at almost all the best accommodation establishments. For honest expert advice contact Rob or call him on +44 7791 360170 or email him on [email protected] .
Please do note it is not just about the Gorillas here, so plan to not only visit Volcanoes National Park , but also its two sister parks - Akagera for wildlife including Lions, Elephant, Giraffe, Hippo and more; Nyungwe for the variety of primates including Chimpanzees and of course relaxing and exploring beautiful Lake Kivu . With plans to add a tourist lodge in Rwanda's newly established 4th National Park - Gishwati-Mukura National Park - conservation and tourism are thriving in Rwanda.
Mention the name Rwanda and most people remember the protracted civil war that escalated into a horrific genocide and claimed the lives of nearly a million people. However, over twenty years later this resilient and safe country is now truly thriving and has become one of the most economically vibrant and socially progressive on the continent. We do encourage our clients to explore Kigali, one of the friendliest and cleanest capital cities on the continent, and visit the Genocide Museum, to gain a background in this remarkable country to see how far it has come, and head off and explore as much as possible of this sensational country. We at Tailormade Africa love Rwanda!!
Geographically, it’s also one of Africa’s most remarkable countries. Labelled ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, its verdant forests offer one of the top wildlife experiences on the planet: meeting the mountain gorillas studied by Dian Fossey in the Volcanoes National Park. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’.
Other Apes are on offer too: Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where you can track both Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Found inside Nyungwe National Park – the largest and oldest montane forest in East Africa – this biodiverse park also shelters the endangered Golden Monkey endemic to the Virunga Mountains, the black-and-white Ruwenzori colobus and close to 300 species of bird.
To the east, you can explore the off-the-beaten-track savannah of Akagera National Park home to elephant, hippo and – after a 15-year absence – a newly re-introduced pride of lions and also rhino that are the subject of a fascinating conservation story led by the non-profit organisation African Parks .
You can hike to the summit of dormant volcano Mount Bisoke, pick up woven handicrafts from villages, watch tea pickers at work, and relax at a lakeside retreat on the shores of Lake Kivu – the eighteenth-deepest lake in the world – where Amato fishing boats ply the depths.
If you are travelling from the UK or mainland Europe there are various flight options: RwandAir flies directly to Kigali from London Gatwick three times a week alternatively Kenya Airways fly via Nairobi, KLM via Amsterdam and Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, all from London Heathrow. Other airlines serving Kigali include Fly Dubai and Qatar Airlines.
Access into Rwanda is easy and all points are easily accessible due to the fact that Rwanda is a small country. Agakera National Park is roughly a 2-hour drive at 100 km from Kigali, Nyungwe is a 5 to 6-hour drive at just over 200 km and Volcanoes National Park is a 2.5 to 3-hour drive at just over 100 km. Lake Kivu is just over 100 km from Kigali: a 2.5 to 3-hour drive.
Mountain gorillas live at high altitude (1,700 metres) in the Virungas, Volcanoes National Park. There are currently 10 habituated gorilla families each of which can be visited by a maximum of 8 visitors per day. Viewing time is limited and people are permitted to stay with the gorillas for a maximum of 1 hour only. Gorilla trekking involves walking long distances through thick vegetation and up steep, wet and muddy terrain which may prove a challenge for some visitors.
We recommend you pace yourself: walk slowly and drink plenty of water. On the track, carry as little as possible in a waterproof bag: hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, etc. No one should, however, feel deterred from making this trip as mostly, average fitness levels will be sufficient for the treks. Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small fee. Children under 15 years of age are not permitted on gorilla treks.
Being a rainforest, Virunga Volcanoes experiences a changeable climate and you can generally expect rain or sunshine, or both, on any day of the year. At 1,700m above sea level, it is also generally quite cold, especially in the mornings and evenings. Warm clothing is therefore recommended. Please bring sturdy, waterproof walking shoes or hiking boots, gators (if possible) and a light raincoat. We recommend long, thick, waterproof trousers and a long-sleeved top to protect against stinging nettles. A pair of thick gloves is helpful when you are grabbing for holds in thorny vegetation. If you feel safer with a walking-stick, pack a folding one. The park can provide wooden walking sticks if necessary.
To minimise the possible transmission of human diseases you are required to maintain a distance of 7m (22 ft) from the gorillas. If you are unwell with a cold, flu or any other contagious illness please do not visit the gorillas. Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited. Should you need to cough please cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas. Eating and drinking near the gorillas and smoking anywhere within the park is strictly forbidden. Photography is permitted, but you may NOT use flash. Please keep your voice low when with the gorillas and do not make any rapid movements that may frighten them. Should a gorilla charge or vocalise towards you, do not be alarmed. Stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions. The safety of visitors is of the highest priority for the park guides and there is no need for concern about your personal security. To enhance your enjoyment make sure you carry at least 1 litre of drinking water with you. You are permitted to bring small snacks to eat during your hike but do not litter.
Fees for mountain gorilla tracking permits are US$1500 per person for foreign non-residents, foreigner residents in East African countries, foreigner residents in Rwanda and for Rwandan citizens - this is inclusive of park entrance fees. Tracking only takes place in the morning and always starts at the Volcanoes National Park HQ in Kinigi at 0700 hrs every day. Many of the park’s team of trackers and anti-poaching officers speak English or French.
Rwanda is a destination for all seasons, however, visiting Rwanda to trek the mountain gorilla is best during the drier season from June to September. This is also the optimum time for tracking chimpanzees. Temperatures hardly vary throughout the seasons due to Rwanda's position just south of the Equator. Days are warm and nights are cool, especially at altitude.
Rwanda is an elevated country in the African Great Lakes region of the continent. The geography of the country is dominated by mountains in the west and savannah to the east with numerous lakes throughout the country.
The population of Rwanda is young and predominantly rural with a density amongst the highest in Africa. Rwandans are drawn from one cultural and linguistic group called the Banyawanda although within this group there are three subgroups: the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since pre-colonial times and there are five provinces delineated by borders which were introduced in 2006. Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.
Since the genocide of 1994, when Rwanda's economy suffered greatly, the country has now strengthened. The economy of Rwanda is based mostly on subsistence agriculture and coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner. Rwanda is one of two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture: particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance. Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country including imigongo: a unique cow dung art.
On the last Saturday of every month from around 8.00am to 12.30pm all Rwandans, from all walks of life, take a break from their everyday chores and come together with neighbouring communities and villages to work together for the benefit of the whole society. Work often includes chores such as general cleaning, breaking fallow ground for farming, unblocking trenches and roadside drains and sweeping streets. Once the work has been completed, communities hold a short meeting to discuss society issues and then head home. Their afternoon is then free to continue their daily lives and revert back to personal engagements.
Due to a combination of tropical location and high altitude Rwanda enjoys a year-round temperate climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius during the day and 15 degrees Celsius at night through the year. The upper slopes of the Virunga mountains can be cooler however generally, variations in temperature throughout the country are insignificant.
Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1000mm of precipitation annually with the wettest months being February to May and the driest months being July to September.
This is quite possibly the quintessential African destination. When it comes to safari, Tanzania really does have it all and it is certainly one of the most popular among our clients. It is the kind of place which experienced safari hands could easily visit four or five times, but it also makes for a fantastic first-time safari. Here are our reasons why we love Tanzania safaris.
Both Clyde & Rob have vast experience in creating top quality Tanzania safaris. Clyde has been a professional safari guide there for many years and Rob has also spent a huge amount of time in Tanzania over the last decade. So for honest expert advice on Tanzania contact Clyde or call him on +44 7809 726266 or email him on [email protected] . Alternatively, contact Rob - call him on +44 7791 360170 or email him on [email protected] .
Tanzania can effectively be split into three distinct safari circuits, the first and most popular of which is the Northern Parks. Most itineraries through here will make use of a vehicle and guide who will stay with you for at least some of the trip. Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Ngorongoro make a wonderful introduction to safari and help to set the atmosphere. However, the Serengeti is the crown jewel of the region and plays host to the Great Migration where approximately two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope move in a constant cycle in search of the rains and good grazing. Other fringe areas that are well worth making the effort to visit are Lake Natron, Lake Eyasi and Lake Victoria.
The southern circuit in Tanzania offers a safari experience more akin to those in Southern Africa. The burnt red earth and phenomenal predator population of Ruaha make for an action-packed adventure and incredible game viewing. This is wonderfully contrasted in the Selous, where time is whiled away in a more leisurely fashion. Boating safaris allow you to search the lush waterways for hippos and crocodiles whilst sipping on gin & tonic.
The western circuit is the least travelled region in Tanzania due to the expense and difficulty of getting there. Most visitors are safari aficionados who are rewarded with very low visitor numbers indeed. Katavi is an extraordinary wilderness area and Mahale offers the very best Chimpanzee trekking experience in Africa.
As if this wasn’t enough, the beautiful Islands & Coast region includes the wonderful remote Tanzania Coast and tropical beaches of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia Islands lie within easy reach. A combination of safari and beach is very popular amongst honeymooners and families to Tanzania and can be one of the most affordable safaris you will find because of the lower cost of the beach lodges. A few visitors will even extend their trips to include a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro – the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world.
Zimbabwe, in our humble opinion, is Africa's finest safari country. It boasts extraordinary and diverse habitats, ecosystems, wildlife and birdlife along with the continents best professional safari guides. The country also has an approach to safari tourism that others try to emulate and fall short more often than not.
Zimbabwe is back to her best and we are all very excited to share her with you!
Widely regarded for many years prior to 2000 as the ultimate safari destination, Zimbabwe’s tourism recovery over the past 7 or so years has been incredible. The tourism industry as a whole and the countries national parks and wilderness areas remain one of the most well organised and managed in all of Africa is a testament to the passion and commitment shown by all operators and stakeholders who stuck out the hard times.
The Iconic Victoria Falls and the nearby behemoth of a safari park, Hwange National Park , attract most of the tourists to the country and have done so for many years due to their safe proximity to multiple border points. For the initiated among safari travellers, there is so much more to Zimbabwe and some gems that will blow you away.
Mana Pools National Park in the north and Gonarezhou National Park in the south-east are perhaps two of the wildest and most untouched safari areas on the continent. Mana Pools is undoubtedly our favourite and the contender for Africa's best national park.
Enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Lake Kariba and Matusadona National Park , on an exquisite and exciting houseboat safari option atop this watery wilderness. Matobo Hills in the south completes the set and is home to a number of the majestic yet endangered Black and White Rhino.
The cost of a safari here is incredibly low considering the experiences on offer. In fact, many travellers are converted to Zimbabwe’s charms when they compare it to the higher cost of safari in Botswana. The two countries are in essence able to offer a very similar experience.
Whilst the camps are not necessarily the most luxurious you will find, they are generally of a very high quality and retain a real air of authenticity and sense of safari identity. The spectacular Victoria Falls adds an extra dimension and makes a fitting beginning or end to any safari in the country.
Wildlife numbers and the concentration of animals can be truly staggering between the dry season months of May – November. Elephant, in particular, can number in the hundreds at any one time and are some of the most impressive we have seen anywhere. It is also worth mentioning that Hwange National Park supports the largest diversity of mammals in Africa.
In the rainy season months of December - April the herds tend to scatter somewhat but game viewing can still be very rewarding and the cost of safari drops even further.
It is the high quality of safari experience, authentic in its best form, and the highest possible standard of safari guiding that is most likely to strike you here though. Zimbabwean guides undergo a very thorough and extensive apprenticeship in order to obtain their professional licences. This process often takes between 4-6 years to complete and results in some of the best guiding skills you will find anywhere. They truly set the gold standard against which all others are measured.
One of our founders, Clyde , is himself a Zimbabwean professional guide and we can speak first-hand for his complete dedication to the task of keeping others happy and enthralled on safari!
South Africa is often referred to as a world in one country and it certainly deserves this title. There are very few places on earth which offer such a diversity of landscapes, cultures, wildlife and activities. Whether it is safaris or cities, beaches or winelands, surfing or skiing that you are looking for, you can find it all here.
The big 5 game viewing here is the most consistent you will find anywhere, with leopard and rhinoceros sightings being especially phenomenal. South Africa is also the only country which offers non-malarial reserves. Coupled with the stable political situation and easy style of safari, this makes it the best family destination in Africa.
Cape Town is Africa’s most beautiful city and also its food and wine capital. With Table Mountain straddling it on one side and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out on the other, it creates a very special presence. With so much to see and do, most visitors will allow for at least 4 nights here.
The Winelands towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl are a mere hour’s drive from here and offer more incredible food, wine and spectacular mountain scenery. Slightly further on down the coast lies the town of Hermanus, which also deserves a mention for its whale watching between June – November.
To add to its appeal, South Africa's lodges and hotels here are the most luxurious in Africa. The standard of food, hospitality and service are truly world class. In addition, the country can be enjoyed throughout the year and the weak exchange rate makes it very affordable most of the time. What’s not to love!
At Tailormade Africa we are absolutely convinced that the key to a successful trip is in the small details. In combination with your own travel personalities, quirks and nuances, likes and dislikes, the planning of your safari is only truly possible if we, your South Africa specialists, understand who you are. Please do take a look at the overviews of each region below, but do drop us an email or call to have an informal chat .
As South Africa has so, so much to offer, by us passing on our first-hand experiences it will save you a lot of time and possible confusion and will immediately assist us in being able to find the very best trip to meet your wishes, budget and time considerations.
Due to its arid nature, Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth. The feelings of sheer space and freedom that can be felt here are unlike anything else you may have experienced before. This comes with an understanding that a safari to Namibia is mostly about spectacular desert scenery and wide open landscapes. The exception being in the spectacular Etosha Pan National Park where the wildlife sightings can be relatively few and far between but they are made that much more special by their infrequency and the backdrops which they are seen against. We therefore do not usually recommend Namibia for a first time safari, unless it is combined with Botswana or South Africa.
Self-driving safaris or guided vehicle safaris are very popular as the road network is in good condition and this form of travel can be one of the most affordable ways to experience safari in Africa. Unfortunately, this involves long distances on the road and will only afford you the chance to experience the more accessible parts of the country. Having said this, the massive and majestic dunes of Sossusvlei are not to be ignored and neither is Etosha Pan. Although some may question the authenticity of safari here, it will certainly provide a heavy dose of large animal sightings with relative ease. The Atlantic Ocean provides a welcome relief from the desert at Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, where the marine wildlife is especially rich.
In order to reach the most remote and truly special parts of Namibia though, you will need to fly. The distances involved are again immense and this can amount to three times the cost of a driving safari. It is well worth it in our opinion though, as these flights are the most spectacular you are likely to experience anywhere. You will be rewarded with almost unshared access to the untouched Skeleton Coast and Kunene regions. This wilderness is also home to the fascinating Himba and Herero tribes who still maintain their traditional way of life.
This country has become something of an institution over the years and is where the lavish and luxurious hunting safari was pioneered and perfected. It is no surprise then that when tastes shifted toward the photographic safari in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Kenya was again at the forefront. Being spread out over a fairly large landmass means it offers a diversity of different habitats to explore, from endless savannas to snow-capped mountains, from harsh deserts to tropical coastlines.
The crown jewel is without doubt the world-famous Masai Mara reserve. It plays host to the most spectacular portion of the Great Migration, where up to two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope follow the rains in constant search of good grazing. The herds only move through the Mara between July – Nov but their time here is action-packed and chaotic river crossings are the norm. During the rest of the year, however, you will still be rewarded with healthy populations of resident game and much lower visitor numbers. Other safari areas which deserve serious consideration when planning a trip are Meru, Laikipia, Samburu and the Chyulu Hills.
Another drawcard that few safari countries are still able to offer is truly authentic cultural interaction with local tribespeople. Kenya will afford you the unique opportunity to visit Maasai, Kikuyu or Pokot villages.
After a rigorous safari schedule, there is no better way to round off your trip than with a week on the tropical beaches that line the coast. Only Kenya and Tanzania offer such an effortless combination of safari and beach. Unfortunately, Malindi has fallen victim to the large resort syndrome but the areas around Lamu still offer that laid-back barefoot atmosphere that most of our clients are hoping for. Even the spectacular Seychelles is easily connected via the main hub of Nairobi.