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Planning an African Safari

Where to Go
Each country in Africa is different. We acknowledge that it is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started. The best and most popular areas in Africa for safaris are East and Southern Africa, which offer vast plains and roaming packs of extraordinary beasts.

East Africa
kenya zebras Kenya: Kenya's most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve (a part of the vast Greater Serengeti), where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. But beyond Masai Mara and the Serengeti lie plenty of other quality parks with abundances of wildlife, including the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, where thousands of colorful flamingos reside. Though Kenya is one of the more popular safari destinations, the country has seen its share of terrorism, violence and kidnappings of late, particularly in the Lamu district and the Northeastern Province. Be sure to check State Department advisories before planning a trip to Kenya or any other developing country.

Tanzania: Like Kenya, Tanzania houses part of the Serengeti National Park -- the best park in which to see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro, marine parks off the coast and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, site of the Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge (also known as the Cradle of Mankind). The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world.

Uganda: The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country's many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.

How to Pack for an African Safari

Southern Africa
Botswana South Africa baboon Botswana: Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government's push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous "big five." You can also visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana -- look for crocodiles, buffalo, zebras, hippos and many other animals in the delta's tangled waterways and islands.

Namibia: Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers -- expect less upscale game parks -- and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert. You'll find more than 100 species of mammals in Etosha National Park, including endangered animals like the black rhinoceros. Desert elephants and zebra roam the arid landscapes of Skeleton Coast National Park in Nambia -- the driest place in Africa.

South Africa: This is a particularly popular destination for safari travelers, so you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure -- as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world. Go to a private game lodge if you want a less traveled safari, but prepare to pay -- these pricey digs can run well over $500 per night.

When to Go
Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. Overall, it's best (but most expensive) to travel in the dry season, which corresponds with the region's winter. Since safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons run opposite of North America. Winter is from June to September, and summer is from December to March. You'll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya. Annual patterns of animal migration often vary, so it's a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.

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