Birding Tours in Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands
Africa is absolutely vast, trailing only Asia in terms of surface area, of Planet Earth’s seven continents.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the “true” Africa in terms of biodiversity. This is not only where the big game lurks, but it is also where the incredible African endemic bird families can be found. Birding sub-Saharan Africa means you can see the bird families restricted to this continent, such as turacos (louries), mousebirds, Shoebill, Secretarybird, Hamerkop, ostriches, guineafowl (in the wild at any rate!), wood-hoopoes, rockfowl (picathartes), rockjumpers, sugarbirds, etc.
While geographically part of Africa, Madagascar is a world apart and is completely different from mainland Africa in terms of mammals, birds, and plants. It boasts six endemic bird families, not to mention the lemurs!
The Sahara and the Mediterranean zone of North Africa (see our Morocco tour for more details) are more “Palaearctic” in their biodiversity and nature. This is essentially because the world’s largest desert forms an impassable barrier except for the remarkable bird species that actually migrate between Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa each year. Many of these make it all the way to South Africa. Amur Falcon in fact makes the perilous journey (especially now with all the human threats along the way) all the way from the Far East to South Africa each year. The world’s longest river, the Nile, does cross the entire Sahara, flowing all the way from the Great Lakes region of central Africa to Egypt. This does allow some species an oasis along which to move through the otherwise impenetrable Sahara.
Read More About Africa and Madagascar/Indian Ocean Islands
The Sahel is a vast zone of arid savanna just south of the Sahara that stretches from West Africa to East Africa. Everything from the Sahel southwards is the “true” Africa in terms of bird life, African mammals, and other fauna and flora. The Sahelian zone is well worth exploring, and on our birding tours we access its unique birdlife in several of our north-western and north-eastern African birding tours (e.g. Ghana and Cameroon in the west and Ethiopia in the east).
Moving further southward, in western Africa one pretty quickly reaches the lowland tropical rainforests, but in equatorial Africa these extend far to the east, all the way to Semliki in Uganda in fact. Gabon and Cameroon are two of the countries in which we access the spectacular equatorial forest (and Cameroon also boasts a wide variety of other habitats all the way to the arid savanna of the Sahel in the north).
In East Africa the topography, habitats, and wildlife are mind-blowingly diverse with the Great Rift Valley, the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, moist evergreen Afro-montane forests, and an arid zone that interestingly shares quite a number of birds with arid south-western Africa. The East African and south-west African arid areas are completely disjunct from each other, but they are tied together biogeographically by their flora and fauna.
Traveling further southward one reaches the huge tracts of beautiful miombo (Brachystegia) woodland with its numerous avian endemics of south-central Africa. Strangely, the countries in this incredibly bird-diverse belt of Africa have been neglected by birders to a large extent. Nations such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Angola (which also has a large count of country endemics) have been inexplicably under-birded.
Eventually (on our southward birding and wildlife journey through the humongous continent of Africa), we find ourselves in southern Africa, a region consisting of South Africa, the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, Eswatini (Swaziland), southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. This area is covered by many reptile, mammal, and bird field guides (including the pioneering Roberts Bird Guide and the more recent Newman’s and Sasol Field Guides). Southern Africa is an area with lots of unique bird species as well as some of the most spectacular and famous landscapes, e.g. Table Mountain, Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope, the Drakensberg Escarpment, the Okavango Delta, Etosha Pan, and the Namib Desert, to name but a few.
Birding Africa: how to choose which countries to visit
For many British and European birders, The Gambia serves as a perfect and relatively cheap introduction to the magnificent and vast continent of Africa. The flight to The Gambia from Europe is short (indeed, The Gambia is closer to the UK than it is to South Africa), and joining a birding tour to this tiny country, encompassing a narrow belt either side of the lower Gambia River, is certainly a convenient and inexpensive way of seeing your first African birds. Some desirable endemic families include the likes of turacos and mousebirds as well as the stunning Blue-bellied Roller, a lot of kingfishers, barbets, and other dazzlers. Egyptian Plover, one of Africa’s most sought-after bird species, should also be seen near Basse on any good birding holiday to The Gambia. Kotu Creek and the Banjul Peninsula are often birded first when staying at one of Kotu’s many hotels on The Gambia’s Atlantic coast. Tendaba and the Tanji Bird Reserve are also often included on birding itineraries to this country. While less well known, we encourage combining Senegal with The Gambia (a number of European birders talk about Senegambia) as it adds quite a lot of diversity, and gets one a good number of Sahel specials. Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is on the Cape Verde Peninsula which is the westernmost point of the continent. The Gambia and Senegal are both immensely popular and rewarding birding holidays and we’d love to have you along on our set-departure trips to either of these countries. Another option for a starting place for your African birding career (if you insist on West Africa) is Ghana. Ghana just has such incredibly rich diversity and is also relatively close to Europe as well as to North America; from New York to Accra the distance is about 5,100 miles/8200 kilometers, and from Accra to Cape Town it is about 4,600 miles/7200 kilometers (this also gives you an idea of how vast Africa actually is!). Ghana is considered safe, is English-speaking, and has a huge variety of habitats. Do take a look at our Ghana tours here. Ghana also has the same birds mentioned above for The Gambia, plus it has a rockfowl (picathartes), Standard-winged Nightjar in Mole National Park (the largest game park in Ghana), and a staggering diversity of other birds and wildlife from the Sahel to lowland tropical rainforests. We now run exciting set-departure birding tours to Ghana, The Gambia and Senegal.
Many birders of course also start with East Africa or southern Africa because both these regions have many comfortable hotels/birding lodges and, especially in the case of southern Africa, roads, compared to West Africa, which is “rougher”. Some of the biggest trip bird and mammal lists can be accumulated on Tanzania and Kenya birding tours, where a huge array of colorful (very!) and spectacular bird species can be seen with ease. Combining either (or both) these countries with Uganda or Rwanda will also allow you to see two great apes, Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee, not to mention a plethora of other primates such as spectacular-looking colobus monkeys. Uganda must be Africa’s richest country for birds, and the Uganda bird list actually matches that of Kenya, even though it is only half the size. A lot of birding tours are now going to Rwanda, a tiny nation which is also popular for gorilla trekking (and it’s usually less strenuous there than it is in Uganda, but it’s also a lot more expensive to purchase the gorilla trekking permits). Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park are two of Rwanda’s best-known parks and are hugely worth birding. Lake Kivu and Volcanoes National Park are also marvelous places to include on your birding tour to Rwanda. While we love Rwanda, we only run tailor-made birding tours there, as we recommend Uganda instead. Uganda allows you to see almost everything you will see in Rwanda (except for Red-collared Mountain-babbler and a couple of Albertine Rift endemics that are more easily seen in Rwanda than in Uganda) and so much more, e.g. Shoebill and African megafauna (including tree-climbing Lions, Leopard, etc.).
We probably recommend that you start your African birding career in South Africa, though. It has an amazing infrastructure of roads and wonderfully comfortable B&Bs. Also South Africa must surely be Africa’s best-value birding country. South African birding tours are really inexpensive, partly because it’s always just been a reasonably priced country and partly because of the currently weak currency. Namibia shares its currency with South Africa, so at the moment this is also one of the most reasonable destinations on the continent for a birdwatching tour if you’re looking for good value.
Two of the most exciting countries in Africa for world birders are Mozambique and Angola. Both of them have become far more accessible for birding tours than in the past. Both are poorly explored and keep turning up exciting new discoveries of the ornithological kind as birders start visiting them more often. We explore both these countries on our set-departure, small-group birding tours. When the DRC opens up to birders and becomes safe (hopefully in our lifetimes), it might be the most exciting country to bird in. Not only will we then get a chance to look for Congo Peacock and Yellow-crested Helmetshrike (we’ll arrange birding tours for both!), but there might be new (to science) bird species to be discovered.
This African birding introduction page is the place to just give a couple of tantalizing pointers, and it is not the place to detail any of the countries in Africa in which we conduct bird tours. If you want more detail please kindly click on any of the specific African destinations shown below. And if you want a custom-made African birding vacation (or adventure!) then do contact us here. Enjoy!
Africa and Madagascar/Indian Ocean Islands Gallery
Testimonials from our Africa and Madagascar/Indian Ocean Islands birding tours
Thank you for organizing this trip for me, thank you for your patience during these troubled times. I will return for sure, to Ghana and maybe to neighboring countries. I’d love to see the very difficult Black-collared Lovebird. Or the Timneh Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh). And when I return, I’d love to stay a bit longer in Bonkro. I simply adore that place, the comfort of the lodging, the birding location, the peace and quiet. It was by far the best lodging (and food) of the whole trip. And, of course the out-of-this-world-bird, the Picathartes. Thank you all for a very successful and fun trip.Agnes - On Ghana
Dylan Vasapolli is extremely knowledgeable about birding and photography, but it’s his enthusiasm for the subject that is wonderful to experience. He has been birding for many years, and still, he has such a love for birding and the environment, which is very infectious. I was extremely lucky to have him as my guide.Alma - On Dylan and South Africa
We had an absolutely wonderful weekend at Ezemvelo. Great company, good weather and Dylan. What a good guide that young man is!!! He certainly knows his birds, and tries very hard to make everyone happy. He really goes out of his way. He’s such a gentleman, he’s going to go far. By the way four adults and one Blue Crane chick were seen on the weekend. Also a Black Stork, which Dylan was so pleased to see, and a couple of Honey BuzzardsBev - On Dylan and South Africa
We toured Namibia in a private group of six people through Birding Ecotours in 2010. Our group was rather diverse, with birding desires ranging from obsessive to casual and including a wildlife photographer. The range of interests could have led to issues, but we all were very satisfied with the trip. We not only had great birding results, thoroughly satisfying the more bird-oriented among us, but also had unforgettable experiences viewing mammals to the delight of the entire group. The tour was well-organized and well-executed, we had plenty of information in advance, the arrangements took account of our special needs, accommodations and transportation were excellent, and the price was quite reasonable. We were delighted with the trip and look forward to our next adventure (already booked!) with Birding Ecotours.Bill - On Namibia
Superb birds, magnificent animals; brilliant guide; excellent driver and local guide. Friendly local people. Fascinating countryside. Great team.Don - On Uganda
Dom is a fabulous guide! He is patient, attentive to details, & always wiling to answer questions. He’s extremely knowledgeable about birds, their songs, the differences between different species, and if he doesn’t know the bird as well as he would like, he asked directed questions to Harriet. Harriet and Dom worked very well together. He was a delight to bird with, and I will gladly go on another trip with him.
The local guides that we used in a variety of places were most excellent as well. They knew the birds & bird songs in their area; also they were very attentive when we struggled to make it up or down a hill by lending a hand. I find over all the Ugandan people that we ran into friendly helpful and eager to have us come back to their country.
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The birding was intense but fun. There was a relaxed atmosphere despite the intense birding. My partner, a birding novice, loved the trip. We did the optional gorilla and chimp trekking – both well worth doing. Dylan was great. He made sure all went smoothly. He was attentive to all our needs. He’s a superb birder with a great knowledge-base of sounds and a sharp keen eye.Ira - On Dylan and Uganda
Our birding trip to Ethiopia was fantastic. The country is so rich in history and interesting people and customs. The birding was great! Needless to say Dominic is an expert birder. He is a warm and gracious person and we all really enjoyed his company. Our Ethiopian driver and guide, Tesfaw, was also very good. He was an experienced guide and driver. His contacts were good as were his day to day decisions. He kept our group on time and on schedule but was also flexible to our requests and needs. We rate our trip excellent (A,10/10). Thank you for all your work in arranging the trip. We appreciate all your prompt correspondences. We certainly will be using Birding Ecotours in the future. We hope to meet you in person some day.Laurie and Steve - On Dominic and Ethiopia
I just wanted to email and say how much I enjoyed the day yesterday in and around Suikerbosrand – Dylan was a fantastic guide, unbelievably knowledgeable, very helpful (and patient!) and good company. We saw much more than I expected, and the flufftail was the icing on the cake! I would go out of my way to recommend you guys and Dylan in particular – thanks again for a thoroughly enjoyable day. I will be in touch when I return to South Africa – even if just to set eyes on that pesky grass owl. . .!Liam - On Dylan and South Africa
We went out to Marievale with Dylan to (re)connect with some South African birds after some years away from SA. It was a wonderful experience. Dylan was charming, helpful and incredibly knowledgeable about the birds. We saw over 50 species in a morning and learned a lot about the birds. We would highly recommend Birding Ecotours for an excellent birding experience.Linda - On Dylan and South Africa
I am writing to you to send a formal review of our birding day tour with Dominic Rollinson on May 18,2021. Dominic Rollinson, our truly knowledgeable and awesome birding guide provided Matt and I with a truly unique and genuinely wonderful birding experience! Dominic Rollinson provided us with in-depth knowledge and a greater understanding of the various birds, wildlife and ecosystems that make up the areas in/around Cape Town and South Africa! Our expectations for the day were not only met but greatly exceeded with Dominic guiding us along the way! Matt and I truly had a blast and would highly recommend Dominic Rollinson as a birding guide!Matt and Chris - On Dom and South Africa
An excellent tour with a great range of activity from easy roadside birding to a couple of good long day walks. I enjoyed the whole thing and particularly like it when the accommodation lends itself to birding in the gardens.
Dylan is a fantastic guide, absolutely dedicated to getting the specials and numbers expected on a trip like this. He also has an eye out for anything else interesting, a good sense of humor and is unfailingly helpful.Rosemary - On Dylan and Uganda
This was my first trip to Africa and my longest birding trip ever. The itinerary was excellent, the accommodations were pleasant, and the guides were outstanding. Compared to other birding tours I’ve been on, this was orders of magnitude better. Kudos to Dylan and William or the support they gave to a visually- and hearing-impaired birder!Rob - On Dylan and Uganda
My brother John and I joined Chris on a tour of KwaZulu-Natal. As scientists, we were difficult customers, constantly being distracted by plants and rocks instead of birds. Chris tolerated these diversions with unflappable grace. And when our attentions were finally engaged fully in the bird watching we could not have asked for a better guide who knew the calls, where to look for tricky sightings, and had all the necessary local contacts to help us find the truly strange and wonderful. My favorite example of the strange and wonderful category was the African Broadbill which was displaying, but in the midst of impenetrable vegetation. Despite this, Chris and the guide managed to get us amazing views in the spotting scope. It was my most memorable bird of the trip. He accompanied us just across the border into Swaziland, past guards with guns (because we wanted to say we’d been there), and to a truly dodgy neighborhood in Durban to look at a rock outcrop, and never once complained – at least not out loud. We’ve been on several other international birding trips, and Chris is still our standard of comparison to all our other guides. And he’s still number one. We will be doing a pelagic trip off South Africa in the not too distant future, and will plan it so Chris can lead us there.Will - On Chris and South Africa
This specialized excursion has its focus on Angolan endemics & special birds and was exceptionally good in that
respect. Besides this, traveling was quite good: food, lodges, local guides, far better than expected.