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Deep Dive: Southern vs. East Africa

September 15, 2022  By: Gretchen

So, you’re ready to plan a safari, but you’re not sure where to go. East Africa? Southern Africa? Which might fit your travel style better? Where can you see the Big 5 or trek to see chimpanzees? We break down what the different regions offer here, giving you a place to start planning with your Journey Specialist.

leopard walking

Southern Africa

Southern Africa is a melting pot of experiences and wildlife viewing. Options for safari are nearly limitless – these include visiting the famed private reserves in the Greater Kruger region of South Africa, as well as massive parks with few tourists in Zimbabwe and Zambia. You can also explore the unparalleled luxury and exclusivity offered in Botswana or the vast emptiness of Namibia’s otherworldly landscapes.

Mokoro in Distance

Southern Africa offers a range of wildlife experiences, landscapes and activities to travelers. Visitors can go on safari to try and spot the Big 5 in many of Southern Africa’s destinations. There are also unique activities on offer ranging from multi-day walking safaris to boating safaris (motorized or non-). You can ride an ATV through a desolate landscape in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana or climb some of the highest dunes on earth near Namibia’s coast. You can even see the second largest migration of zebra and wildebeest that roam through Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, as well as witnessing the largest mammal migration on earth – the seasonal breathtaking movement of millions of fruit bats in remote Zambia.

Cape Town waterfront

Glittering, cosmopolitan Cape Town, South Africa boasts incredible food, award-winning wines in the nearby Cape Winelands and beautiful marine wildlife. The city and surrounding areas could easily occupy travelers for their entire vacation, but it is also a jumping off point for other adventures. South Africa’s coast offers quaint towns, seasonal whale watching and other unique adventures including shark cage diving. In addition to world-class game viewing, South Africa also offers hiking adventures, its own floral kingdom (fynbos) to explore, desert, sea and beach adventures and more.

swimming in Devil's Pool

If you’re looking for an adrenaline adventure, Victoria Falls will fit the bill. From bungee jumping and abseiling (rappelling) to whitewater rafting and a swim in the Devil’s Pool, visitors have a wealth of choices to get their blood pumping every day. The Victoria Falls spans the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia and each side is quite different. Working with an expert to plan your safari will ensure you visit the country that best fits what you are interested in.

aerial view of river

East Africa

East Africa hearkens back to spectacular images seen in the pages of National Geographic before travel to Africa was popular. Kenya and Tanzania host the great migration of zebra and wildebeest (and the many other species, including predators, that make up the ecosystem), while Uganda and Rwanda offer the chance to see mountain gorillas, among other adventures.

lion in Ngorongoro Crater

Tanzania has many national parks ranging from the world-famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater to lesser-known gems like Katavi National Park, with its epic crocodile and hippo sightings in the dry season and Mahale Mountains National Park, home to some of the best chimpanzee trekking on the continent. Many safari ‘circuits’ are possible in Tanzania, as well as in combination with Kenya, to make a diverse and exciting East African safari. The country also offers incredible beach escapes making it an ideal destination for a ‘bush and beach’ combo. Travelers can visit Mafia Island to dive with whale sharks, laze on the beaches of Zanzibar or even sleep under the surface of the ocean on Pemba Island.

elephant with Kilimanjaro in background

Kenya might be best known for its Masai Mara Game Reserve (the northern extension of the Serengeti ecosystem), but there is so much more to see! The mountainous region of the Laikipia Plateau is the best place in East Africa to see both black and white rhino, while Amboseli National Park provides breathtaking views of Africa’s highest peak – Mount Kilimanjaro – along with beautiful scenery and wonderful wildlife, including some of the biggest elephants in Africa. In addition to safari, the country offers world-class mountain climbing, soda lakes with incredible bird watching, a coastline with beautiful beaches and more.


Private reserves are a great choice when visiting East Africa’s most well-known parks. Both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara are bordered by private reserves which offer travelers a similar but more exclusive experience while still giving them the option to spend time in the National Park or public reserve.

adult gorilla

The most exciting primate safaris on the continent can be found in Rwanda and Uganda. In addition to the chance to trek chimpanzees (which can also be done in Tanzania), travelers can visit these countries for the one-of-a-kind experience of gorilla trekking. Spending time with the habituated primates is like no other wildlife experience on the planet.

tree climbing lion

A visit to Uganda or Rwanda is easily combined with Kenya or Tanzania, though they each offer their own interesting safari opportunities. From the tree-climbing lions of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park and the snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains to the roaring rush of Murchison Falls, Uganda offers very diverse safari opportunities. Rwanda’s ‘land of a thousand hills’ offers everything from diverse primate experiences in the remote Nungwe Forest National Park to incredible, world-class museums detailing its complicated history.


There is so much to choose from in Africa, which makes it important to work with an expert. Our Journey Specialists can help you choose which destination is right for you and help you plan the customized safari of your dreams.

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Photos courtesy Kym I., Anisha B., AAC Marketing Director Beth McCabe, AAC Livingstone Club member Luke G., AAC Journey Specialist Angie Voigt, AAC Livingstone Club member Steve C., AAC President Kent Redding and AAC Safari Concierge Nell Pollak