If you're planning a safari, you have to consider the types of animals you want to see, the landscapes that inspire you, who's coming with you, and what you can afford. Here are a few recommendations to help you choose the best safari, whatever your needs may be.
1. For First-Timers: Kwandwe Ecca Lodge
First-time safari adventurers worry about many things, but catching an exotic illness is a chief concern among them. Malaria is a big issue, but travelers aren't eager to catch any of the diseases that mosquitoes can pass on to their unwitting, unwilling victims. Because of that, you should head to South Africa for your first safari. It tends to be a bit safer than locations in East Africa, and that goes for its wildlife reserves, as well.
It may cost you up to $1,000 per night, but a stay at Kwandwe Ecca Lodge is ideal. It's a private reserve specializing in the Big Five, which means that you get to see the most sought-after animals during your first trip. (The lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.)
The reserve is quite close to the Garden Route, as well as Marakele National Park, which is nestled in the breathtaking foothills of the Waterberg.
2. Family Time: Chongwe River House
Found in Zambia, the Chongwe River House is nothing less than magical. Featuring accommodations built from timbers and thatch, the reserve sits on the banks of the Chongwe River. From the River House, you get stunning views of the Zambezi National Park. The staff is there to cater to you and the little ones, and it includes a guide, both a host and a hostess, a team of housekeepers, and a chef. Due to its position on the river, you'll have the opportunity to take a canoe on the water or go on a walking safari. Only children over 12 are allowed on the safari trips, but the staff members at the River House are happy to occupy younger children.
3. Best Budget Safari: Okonjima Plains Camp
Most safaris, be they in Africa or on another continent, range between $800-$1,000 per person per night, which is pretty pricey. Do your due diligence when it comes to research, however, and you're sure to find a deal. In fact, you can find safari opportunities for as low as $183 per night, per person, and that ain't too shabby. All you have to do is limit your search to spots that value the dollar. In those countries, it's easier to get more for your money, although you have to understand that you won't get luxury accommodations.
At the Okonjima Plains Camp in Namibia, however, you'll get something even better than luxury: relaxation. The lodge has a laid-back, low-key atmosphere and plenty of amenities that will make it feel like home. Besides, if you need a few extras, you can book one of the 10 View Rooms, which include comfy reading chairs, desks, and their own verandas. FYI, those high-luxe rooms are the ones you can snag for less than $200 a night. The opportunities to see animals are worth twice as much -- the area in which it's located, the Central Highlands, have thriving populations of cheetahs, leopards, and lions.
4. Where Nature Meets Luxury: The Highlands
The Highlands is a luxury camp located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of Tanzania. You can stay in one of the eight suites made of domed canvas. For all their amenities, they lend a feeling of authenticity---you're staying in a high-class camp, and that's exactly how it feels. The suites boast spacious king-sized beds, where you're sure to have the sweetest dreams with a forest noise soundtrack. A wood-burning stove will keep you cozy, while expansive windows open up floor-to-ceiling views of the landscape beyond your room. Each morning, peek out to see which animals have crept up to greet the sun and say "hello."
You won't have trouble spotting creatures that you've likely only seen on television and in nature magazines. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a haven for dozens, if not hundreds of species, including most of the big safari draws. For example, you have the chance to see black rhinos, majestic elephants, golden jackals, leopards, and lions among others. Bird watching is a popular activity, as well.
If you're up for it, you can hike straight into the Empakaai Crater. There's a magnificent lake there where you can often find congregations of vibrant pink flamingos. For a luxury site, prices are fairly competitive: you can snag a suite for around $431 a night per person.
5. Photo Ops: The Maasai Mara National Reserve
Not quite as overcrowded as the Serengeti safaris in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is a photographer's dream come true. You may find yourself tripping over other shutterbugs, but it's worth it. The first shot you snag of one of the big cats will convince you of that. You should jump at the chance to go up in a hot air balloon, which offers unparalleled panoramic views of the area.
Most safaris take place on the African continent, but the countries within are so diverse that you have a wide array of options. What kind of safari do you want to take?