I've been to Africa over 30 times. People often ask me which country they should visit, and when they should plan a trip. The short answer? Each country offers something unique and special depending on the time of year you plan on visiting. Here's a guide.
Where it’s located: Kenya is located in East Africa and borders Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
What it’s known for: Kenya is a popular safari destination. Travelers come here to see the "Big Five" — lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. This term was coined by hunters (back when this was allowed) because these animals were the most difficult to hunt on foot. Today, the term refers to some of the most photographed animals and most desirable to see on a driving safari.
When to visit: The Great Migration takes place from July through October, and it's arguably the best time to spot wildlife. It's when 1.5 million wildebeest — along with plenty of zebra and gazelle — travel over 1,000 miles from the Masai Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania. You'll also spot lions, cheetahs, and crocodiles, too.
Worth noting: Kenya's rainy season lasts from April through June. While it is less expensive to travel during this time, there is still plenty to see (just come prepared with rain gear).
Don’t miss: The Masai and the Samburu tribes allow travelers to visit their village and learn about their cultures. Culture vultures will certainly appreciate a visit to one of the villages.
Where it’s located: Rwanda is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi.
What it’s known for: Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa — which means you don't need a ton of vacation time to experience all the beauty that the destination has to offer. Plus, it's one of only a few countries in the world where you'll find mountain gorillas in the wild. If you want to go on a safari, consider visiting Akagera National Park. Alternatively, if you're looking for something more adventurous, consider the canopy walkway at Nyungwe National Park, which is surrounded by lush rainforest high above the treetops. Plus, you may even spot some monkeys here, too!
When to visit: The gorillas can be seen year-round. And, due to the country's latitude, the climate never gets too hot or too cold. Temperatures tend to range from 54 degrees to 81 degrees. While there is no winter or summer here, Rwanda does have its rainy seasons (January through April, October through mid-December).
Worth noting: Be sure to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 people.
Don’t miss: One&Only Gorilla’s Nest opened in late 2019 and is one of Rwanda's newest properties. Surrounded by lush greenery and eucalyptus trees, it's the perfect catch up on some much-needed R&R after a day of wildlife spotting.
Where it’s located: Located in East Africa, Tanzania borders Kenya, Uganda to the north; Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west; and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south.
What it’s known for: Travelers looking to see the Great Migration have come to the right place. Tanzania's Serengeti is about three times the size of Kenya's Masai Mara. Another must-see is the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, a giant caldera filled with animals. Must safari-goers will spend an entire day here, complete with a picnic lunch at the hippo pond. This is a great way to see a variety of animals in one place — all in one day.
When to visit: If you’re going to watch The Great Migration, plan your visit between June and July. Alternatively, the wildebeest (among other animals) give birth between January and March, so this is also a good time to visit. Note that Tanzania's dry season takes place from June through October.
Worth noting: If you want to fly directly from camp to camp (as opposed to driving hours through the country) consider booking SkySafaris. The company offers private charter flights.
Don’t miss: Many travelers tend to end their trip in Zanzibar, which is home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches (plus, who wouldn't want to relax on the beach before heading back to the hustle-and-bustle of reality?).
Read More: What to Pack for a Safari
Where it’s located: South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It's bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, and Lesotho.
What it’s known for: South Africa offers everything from incredible wineries to safari adventures to beautiful beaches, to big-city thrills. The Cape Winelands (which is located in the Western Cape Province) is a big draw for many travelers. Cape Town, the country's capital city, is also a popular destination for tourists; most travelers start or end their trip here. Table Mountain offers postcard-worthy views of Cape Town, along with the opportunity to explore incredible flora up close. (You can either hike here or take a cable car.) South Africa is a great safari destination; Kruger National Park is one of the most popular destinations for game drives.
When to visit: The Cape has sunny, dry weather in its summer months (between November and February). Whale-watching and wildlife spotting is best enjoyed in July and November.
Don’t miss: Spot penguins in the wild on Boulders Beach, which is about a 45-minute drive from Cape Town.
Worth noting: Visit the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg. The site is home to the oldest human fossils and is considered one of the world’s most important paleoanthropological sites.
Where it’s located: Namibia is located in southern Africa and is bordered by Angola, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa.
What it’s known for: Namibia is one of the least populated countries in the world. Since there is not much wildlife here (compared to other African countries) many travelers combine a trip to Namibia with a visit to Botswana or South Africa.
When to visit: Namibia’s winter takes place from June through September, when daytime temperatures range from 68 degrees to 77 degrees. (However, at night, it can get chilly: temperatures can drop to the low 40s!). The country does not get a lot of rainfall or humidity, but it can get hot here, especially in the summer (October through February). If you visit during this time, expect the temperature to hover around 100 degrees.
Worth noting: Etosha National Park, which is located in the northwestern part of Namibia, is home to the continent’s largest concentration of black rhinoceros. Here, you'll also find the Etosha Pan (Africa’s largest salt pan that's even visible from space).
Don’t miss: Be sure to take a hot air balloon ride over the Sossusvlei Sand Dunes (located in the Namib Desert) — some of the tallest sand dunes in the world.
Where it’s located: Located in southern Africa, Botswana borders Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Botswana is a land-locked country.
What it’s known for: The country is home to two contrasting ecosystems, the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert. The Okavango is a completely different way to see wildlife. Make sure to take a mokoro (a type of canoe) across the water to see hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and other creatures up close. Unlike other African countries, Botswana encourages high-end, low-impact tourism. So, while it is more expensive to travel here, you can expect amazing, luxurious lodges — and, more importantly, fewer crowds. For example, on a safari, you may be the only vehicle surrounding a lion and her cubs; in Kenya, there may be five other vehicles.
Worth noting: In the Kalahari, be sure to visit Makgadikgadi salt pan. It's one of the country’s most underrated treasures.
When to visit: May through September is one of the best times to visit since it's the dry/winter season (although temperatures can drop to around 40 degrees at night, so come prepared).
Don’t miss: Chobe National Park is home to a whopping 12,000 elephants. There’s also a good chance of seeing the endangered African wild dog here.