How to Plan Your Safari Trip in Tune With the Wildlife

15 March 2022

Safari Trip Wildife

Safari trips are one of the most popular bucket list vacations; being surrounded by wildlife and seeing animals in their natural habitat feels like stepping into the world of The Lion King. Because of this, a safari vacation can be a great cross-generational experience for the whole family.

From admiring the king of the jungle to spotting lesser known but equally fascinating creatures like wildebeests and warthogs, your journey will be packed with memorable moments that will last a lifetime.

Planning a successful safari trip entails understanding the daily patterns and behaviors of wild animals you would like to see, so that you can observe them in the least intrusive way. To help you uncover which animals you are most likely to see on a safari trip, as well as understand their behaviors, we have analyzed available data to show you where you are likely to encounter them on your safari adventure.

The most popular safari animals in the US

According to the number of Google searches, lions are the most popular wild animal among Americans with an average search volume of 1.2 million per month. But where can you find them? Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana are places where you are most likely to find lions in their natural habitat. They are most active during dusk and dawn so if you are going on a daytime safari, you are most likely to catch them snoozing in the shade because they sleep up to 18 hours a day.

In the joint second place for the most popular safari animals, are elephants and flamingos, reaching 450k average monthly searches each. While elephants sleep around 8 hours per day and are the most active during dusk and dawn, flamingos sleep only 2 hours a day and are the most active in the evening and early morning. If you’d like to see both of these animals, then you’ll stand the best chance of achieving that during an early morning safari trip in Tanzania.

Other popular wild animals include giraffes (368k average monthly searches), followed by cheetahs, and gorillas with over 240k searches a month each. However, on the other end of the popularity spectrum is the Cape Buffalo, which amounts to under 15k searches a month in the States. But these fascinating creatures sometimes sleep only an hour per day and are most active in the early morning and late evenings. They can be found in Southern and East Africa, in areas such as Botswana and Kenya, normally near water source as they must drink water every day.

  • Masai Mara, Kenya
    Masai Mara, Kenya
  • Serengeti, Tanzania
    Serengeti, Tanzania
  • Swakopmund, Namibia
    Swakopmund, Namibia

How about the other safari animals? Check out the full ranking of their patterns below:

Animal Search Popularity Where to Go Most Active Hours Asleep
Lion 1,220,000 Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana Dusk & dawn 18
Elephant 450,000 Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe Dusk & dawn 8
Flamingo 450,000 Tanzania, Kenya Evening, night & early morning 2
Giraffe 368,000 Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania Early morning & late afternoon 5
Cheetah 246,000 Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa Morning & evening 12
Gorilla 246,000 Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo Daylight 12
Leopard 201,000 Zambia, South Africa, Kenya Dusk & dawn, evening 12
Ostrich 201,000 Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania Daylight 11
Hyena 201,000 Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia Dusk & dawn 10
Crocodile 201,000 Kenya, Tanzania Night 10
Zebra 201,000 Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania Daylight 7
Lemur 165,000 Madagascar Daylight 16
Meerkat 165,000 Botswana, Namibia, South Africa Daylight 11
Chimpanzee 165,000 Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda Daylight 10
Hippopotamus 90,500 Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia Night 16
Jackal 90,500 Zambia, Zimbabwe Night 4
Wildebeest 60,500 Tanzania, Kenya Daylight & nighttime 4
White Rhino 49,500 South Africa, Namibia, Kenya Early morning & late afternoon 8
Warthog 49,500 Kenya, South Africa, Zambia Daylight 7
Oryx 49,500 Namibia, South Africa Daylight 5
Black Rhino 33,100 South Africa, Botswana, Kenya Morning & evening 8
African Penguin 14,800 Namibia, South Africa Dusk & dawn 8
Cape Buffalo 14,800 Botswana, South Africa, Kenya Early morning, evening & nighttime 1

*Average sleeping hours are estimates found using the latest available data from various sources such as National Geographic, WWF and IUCN.

When is the best time of the day to go on a safari trip?

Taking into account the different schedules wild animals have, we asked Scott Dunn safari travel expert Andres Arriaga to share his tips for picking the best time of the day for an unforgettable safari. Arriaga said:

“If you’re looking to see an animal in action, you will want to catch them while they’re on a hunt or looking for food. This usually means getting up before the sun. 5AM is a common start in the bush, because animals are trying to beat the heat and get something in their stomachs before it gets too hot. As the afternoon begins to hit its peak, the animals will begin to slink into the shrubs looking to keep themselves cool while they digest their breakfast. You can do the same and return to your accommodation to enjoy an afternoon at leisure until the heat begins to die down and animals go on the prowl once again - this time looking for dinner. 4PM is usually when your guide will call you back to the safari vehicle. Most carnivores you may want to see are nocturnal, but it is important to know that in most national parks you cannot stay out past dark. However, at Scott Dunn we like to send guests to private concessions which allow guides to keep you in the vehicle well into the night if you are following a hunt.”

  • Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
    Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
  • Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
    Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Where to go to on a safari to see the most animals?

With so many great places to head to for your safari trip, it might be a tough choice to pick only one destination. Our safari travel expert, Andres Arriaga, reveals his best destinations:

“Seeing a specific animal is not always guaranteed, but for first-timers, South Africa is a fantastic place to start. You don’t deal with as many migratory patterns in the national parks and the concentration of a wide variety of animals is significantly greater in this area. The Sabi Sands Game Reserve is one of my favorite places for sightings, and there are some exceptional lodges there. If you can go during peak flood season, Botswana is also fantastic. There are tons of water crossings and opportunities to see all kinds of birds.”

  • Okavango Delta, Botswana
    Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
    Sabi Sands, South Africa
  • Serengeti, Tanzania
    Serengeti, Tanzania

The unwritten rules of a safari trip

To make sure you make the most of the safari experience while being respectful to the animals, Arriaga says to keep in mind the animals’ typical environment: peace and tranquility. “Don’t make a ruckus while you’re in the safari vehicle, and as you begin to approach an animal, turn your voice to a whisper. Remember that these animals are wild and if you rile them up and bring attention to the vehicle, you could be compromising the safety of everyone in the vehicle and that could also lead to harm to the animal.”

With all these insights and expert advice, you’re now ready for your safari adventure. For more inspiration, take a look at our African safari vacations or get in touch to plan your trip.


Main sources:
World Wildlife
Google Keyword Planner
National Geographic (various articles)
International Union for Conservation of Nature

Using publicly available data from the sources stated above, we gathered estimated figures about each animal’s popularity, sleeping patterns, time of the day when they are the most active as well as their conservation status.

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