I think there is a bit of Africa in every human being — genetically and spiritually. Indeed, I might have more of Africa in me than most people. I’ve always felt this calling, pulling me towards Africa and its incredible wildlife.
During high school, I always chose geography related electives and topics about Africa for my term papers. I somehow knew back then that Africa would be my second home in the future.
After I graduated from university, I started working for a firm that was representing a South African chemical company. When a chance to join a seminar in Cape Town presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity. I planned my yearly leave to follow the seminar and booked my first ever safari in 2003.
I’m normally not a huge fan of cities but I instantly fell in love with Cape Town. As of today, it’s still one of my favorite locations in the world. The highlight of my first trip there was the penguins at Simon’s Town. I must have taken a thousand photos. After that, I flew to Sabi Sabi via Johannesburg and that trip changed my life entirely.
I was so impressed by the Sabi Sands region and the vast knowledge of my ranger Lawrance, that I felt like my life would never be the same again. Four years and several Africa visits after that trip, I left my corporate life behind me and became a full time photographer / filmmaker.
The Best Destinations and Game Reserves in Africa
I’ve been to 64 countries around the world and 11 of them have been in Africa. With more than 15 visits, Kenya is my most frequent destination. I’ve been to Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania around 10 times each but my absolute favorite is Rwanda by far. I love this small, land-locked country almost as much as my homeland.
People are super friendly and helpful, the geography is very impressive and diverse and of course Rwanda hosts my favorite animal, the mountain gorilla. I’ve made some really good friends in Rwanda over the years and shot several documentaries that are shown in many countries around the world. In fact, my dream is to live in Rwanda someday.
Rwanda is also home to some of the best Game Reserves and National Parks in Africa. My absolute favourite is PNV (Parc National des Volcans). It hosts my favourite animal, the mountain gorillas along with many bird and mammal species. Nyungwe National Park is also one of my favorite places where I visit for birding and to photograph the amazing colobus monkeys.
Second to Rwanda, for me, would be Namibia for its Namib Desert which is surprisingly rich in wildlife and impressive landscapes. Not only that, but you have Etosha National Park located in the northwestern corner of the country that has incredible animal gatherings around waterholes, especially during the dry season.
And of course, Masai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania) are all wildlife photographers dream destinations. The “Great Migration” being the highlight of the region but offering much more throughout the year.
Tips on Wildlife Photography in Africa
The most important aspects of wildlife photography in Africa is planning, learning and patience. Wildlife spectacles tend to be seasonal and they have to be planned accordingly. Things like where to camp, what to bring (clothes and suitable photo gear) and how to get there require serious planning.
After that you need to learn about the species in Africa that you plan to photograph and the habitat that they live in. Animals are not like humans, their behaviours are often predictable and knowing those behaviours by heart is a huge advantage to get good shots.
Last but not least, patience is very important. People should remember that they need to be patient, sometimes literally sitting for days on end in a photography hideaway spot waiting for their subject to appear. Nature is always rewarding and she especially favours the patient ones.
I am a huge fan of capturing birds in Africa, that will never change. But…my favourite animal on the entire planet (as mentioned before) is the mountain gorilla. I’ve visited the mountain gorillas more than a dozen times both in Uganda and Rwanda.
I love lions, leopards and hyenas too but with the mountain gorillas, there is almost a human-like connection with them. Also, you have to be literally in their turf — walk up some seriously muddy slopes and go through thick vegetation full of stinging nettles. You have to earn the right to see them.
The Challenges and Opportunities of Wildlife Tourism in Africa
Tourism in Africa is sort of a “razor’s edge” situation right now. As long as it’s regulated and sustainable methods are adapted, tourism will save habitats, animals and local communities.
However, I sometimes witness greedy and destructive methods applied by travel agents for short term financial gain which will harm everyone. Governments should take control, encourage and fund education, limit permits (building of lodges and number of people visiting) and stay away from investment incentives for pure political gain.
This said, I am very happy to see that standards are becoming higher, hospitality management staff are getting more educated and infrastructure is much better than in many places in Africa since I first visited 16 years ago.
All in all, I haven’t had many challenges when traveling in Africa. I’ve always felt at home and comfortable since day one. I have been through hassles of course but not more than I would have in other major travel destinations around the world.
I have one piece of advice for visitors: please be flexible, be respectful to locals and try to adapt to local customs and their way of life. More importantly, always be respectful to nature and never push the limits with animals to get good photos, both for your safety and for the animals.