While the USA, UK, and other countries set new records for daily Covid-19 cases and deaths, the situation in Africa is still looking relatively positive. If you have an African wildlife safari on your bucket list for the future, you might be able to make that happen sooner than a trip to Europe or Asia.
As you can see from the World Health Organization map of cases below, with darker indicating higher case numbers, the continent of Africa has been handling this rather well in comparison. So some of the countries are still open to visitors.
While many African nations closed their borders last year and are keeping them that way, those have tended to be the ones that didn’t depend much on tourism anyway, with the exception of Madagascar, which wants to protect its island. As in other island nations like Fiji, Taiwan, and New Zealand, they probably feel they’ve got a better chance of keeping the spread at bay. So far Madagascar has only had 262 deaths from the pandemic, despite being the world’s second-largest island nation, with a population on par with that of Texas: 28 million.
Naturally, there are restrictions and extra rules to abide by if you are looking into African safari holidays and wildlife vacations. It’s not as simple as looking up the application process for a tourist visa to east Africa and booking a ticket. In many countries, you’ll need to arrive with a negative PCR test and follow specific protocols after arrival.
Sometimes those protocols seem rather contradictory to the idea of travel itself. In Uganda, “tour operators and local partners have been asked to make sure their travelers proceed directly to their accommodation and do not mix with Ugandans.”
Even if you don’t feel safe flying or traveling around right now, which is certainly prudent, you may want to put an adventure like this near the top of your travel resolution list for later when a large percentage of people are vaccinated. It’s going to take a while for travel to ramp back up everywhere. If you’re one of the early bookers, you won’t be competing with so many other Land Rovers chasing the same family of lions as you would have had a year or two ago.
Remember too that wildlife all over the world is in danger and the big promise of eco-tourism was that the animals could provide more jobs alive rather than poached. With tourism dried up for a year or more, that whole premise is in danger, so this is a vacation that can do some good. You’re helping the employed humans and the protected animals both.
Here’s a quick rundown on the tourism situation in some of the most popular Africa vacation spots for wildlife viewing.
Kenya Safari Travel Outlook
Kenya is one of the most popular destinations for a safari tour and it’s easy to see why. This is The Lion King country, with a wide variety of wildlife in stunning locations. The country boasts large parks like the Masai Mara, home of the wildebeest migration, and Lake Nakuru, where the pink flamingo population can hit a million.
Other parks scattered around the country offer opportunities to see elephants, hippos, rhinos, leopards, zebras, and many other beasts in their natural habitat. For the budget traveler, this is one of the best options and Nairobi is an easier airport to get a reasonably priced flight to than some others. For a sampling of Kenya tour prices, check out Intrepid Travel’s options here.
Kenya travel restrictions: Americans are not welcome at the moment without going into quarantine, but many other nationalities (including the UK and Canada) can avoid this with a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours. Masks are mandatory and there’s a curfew in place after 10 p.m. as I write this.
Tanzania Africa Tours
Tanzania is another popular African safari destination, especially the classic Serengeti National Park. Rhinos are rather rare here, but you can reasonably expect to see plenty of other mammals such as giraffes, hippos, gazelles, impalas, and monkeys. This park is estimated to have the largest lion population in Africa, numbering in the thousands. Some 1.5 million white-bearded wildebeest and 250,000 zebras move through this vast plain on an annual migration, which joins up with the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
The Serengeti alone is 5,700 square miles, so you can get a true wild Africa feeling here, away from the crowds. Tanzania has other wildlife areas too, and chances are good in this country for spotting hyenas, baboons, cheetahs, and cape buffalo.
Tanzania travel restrictions: Tanzania’s airports are open to international flights. You must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, performed within 72 hours prior to boarding your flight. Your temperature will be tested upon arrival and if you display any symptoms, you must go into quarantine at your own expense. You supposedly need to provide an itinerary for tracking, but otherwise, there are not many restrictions in Tanzania.
Lots of Nature, Not Many People in Botswana
Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries of the world, with just 2.3 million citizens in an area the size of France. A majority of the land is desert, however, with most of the wildlife being in the lush Okavango Delta.
This delta is where I explored on my first African safari trip, including a few nights in the Moremi Game Reserve. I didn’t see a leopard, but I saw most of the other animals you’d hope to spot on a safari adventure. There were lots of lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, baboons, and more. It was especially spooky to go on a night drive and see all the red eyes caught in the lights.
The tented camp lodge I was staying in had a staffer escort us from our room to the dining hall each night for dinner. This seemed a bit silly to me until one evening a giant hippo went barreling through the grounds, on the flagstone path we used to go from our rooms to dinner.
Botswana Travel Restrictions: The airports are accepting flights and borders are open, but Botswana is discouraging “non-essential travel” through the first quarter. Make plans for later in the year. As I write this there’s a nightly 8 p.m. curfew and an approval process for travel between zones. Those arriving must have proof of a negative PCR test taken with 72 hours of arrival, not departure. Frequent temperature checks and mandatory mask requirements are in place.
Seeing the Mountain Gorillas and More in Rwanda
Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings in Rwanda, so 2020 was a tough year for the economy. Volcanoes National Park is the prime place to spot mountain gorillas and since it’s only two hours from the international airport, it’s easily accessible. Hikes there can also lead to waterfalls and bamboo forests, with sightings of golden monkeys and various birds along the way.
Rwanda is also home to lots of hippos though: there are an estimated 20,000 of them in Akagera National Park. In the various wildlife areas of the country you can spot chimpanzees, elephants, crocodiles, giraffes, buffalos, leopards, and more.
Rwanda Travel Restrictions: The Kigali International Airport is open and you are allowed to enter the country if you arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken within 120 hours of departure. That’s just step one though. You must take another test upon arrival ($60), then enter quarantine at a designated hotel to await results, up to 24 hours. If the results are negative you are free to leave quarantine.
There are local travel restrictions in place for residents, but tourists can move between districts. This will be much easier if on an organized tour itinerary. There’s a curfew, an enforced mask requirement with fines for non-compliance, and capacity controls for public spaces and businesses.
Other African Wildlife Safari Destinations for Later
Namibia is technically open, but flights are only arriving from a few countries. Anyone entering the country must do so with proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. There’s a curfew in place, mandatory mask requirements, and regular temperature testing.
South Africa suspended all international direct flights just before the end of the year and several countries (including the UK and Israel) had banned them anyway due to the case numbers being the highest in Africa. When flights resume, you will presumably have to follow the current rules of presenting a signed negative PCR test result from one administered less than 72 hours before arrival. Many restrictions are in place within the country that hinder movement.
Zambia was open to visitors with similar restrictions as the other countries here until late December. At that point they stopped issuing tourist visas so for now there’s no entry for non-essential travel.
For the latest travel restrictions on any country in Africa, check out this TravelBans site with frequent updates.
Check rates for various epic African wildlife safari adventure tours here.