Travel Guide: Birding the Dark Continent of Africa

Africa’s scenery is extremely varied – this is Kirstenbosh Gardens in South Africa (photo by Chris Lotz)

Africa’s scenery is extremely varied – this is Kirstenbosh Gardens in South Africa (photo by Chris Lotz)


When living in Wyoming, fellow birders and wildlife enthusiasts were often amazed that I was from Africa. To my American colleagues, it was a continent they dreamed about visiting, but most of them resigned themselves to the incorrect notion that Africa was simply too difficult to visit. Unlike the neo-tropics, many American birders (wrongly) consider Africa just too far away and too “dark” a continent to ever seriously consider visiting. It is “the great unknown” to many people, despite being the world’s richest place for mammals and one of the most diverse continents for birds.

Africa is a big continent. At nearly 4 times the size of the Lower 48, to say that Africa presents a humungous area to explore is an understatement! Roads over vast tracts of the continent are almost non-existent, or at the very least poor and full of potholes (some of which can swallow a car!), so where does one start? The answer is probably South Africa or Namibia, where there are truly excellent networks of paved roads and comfortable accommodations. But, it is actually a trivial matter to safely explore a plethora of African countries thanks to birding tour companies that now make even West Africa look easy.

A great many birders visit Africa once and then realize they have seen only the tip of the iceberg. Even a single African country can need multiple visits. But, what are the must-visit countries? In this series, I will just begin to answer this question, suggesting also the order in which one can sensibly bird the continent.

A Dhow, with Crab Plovers, in Mozambique (photo by Maans Booysen)

A Dhow, with Crab Plovers, in Mozambique (photo by Maans Booysen)

I will start with a very broad overview of what makes Africa unique and where the birds, mammals and other sights are best found. Then I will focus on some strategic ways of covering Africa properly, starting with the priority countries and ending with less important ones that only true African addicts will need to visit. But beware, you will fall in love with this continent fast and will wish to return. Certainly, if you’re a serious world lister, you’ll have to spend a great many months here.  If not, you might wish only to see a reasonable sample of the characteristic African bird families (such as the dazzlingly beautiful turacos, the bizarre mousebirds and many others) plus of course the megafauna. Whatever your focus, you are bound to become seriously enchanted with this diverse continent.

In this Travel Guide series:

Chris Lotz at southernmost point of Africa

Chris Lotz

Chris is the founder of Birding Ecotours and since childhood has been an incredibly enthusiastic birder. He particularly loves tracking down owls, but other favorite birds of his are falcons, harriers, pittas and, well, all Read More

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  • Editor March 22, 2013, 15:01

    Thanks for this “sweeping epic” of a blog post. Africa is a huge continent, and frankly most of us wouldn’t know where to start when planning a trip. This goes miles for telling us where, how, and when.

    Thank you! Laura

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