I've read and paged through a lot of Africa books over the years. There are so many out there, you don't always know where to start.
If you're going on safari, you'll need to take a guidebook for the relevant area.
Or maybe you just want to know a bit more about the destination you’re about to visit, and its people.
The best way to prepare for your safari is to talk to people who have been there, read their journals and read articles and literature about your destination.
There are many Africa books to inspire, prepare and stimulate your yearning for the 'dark' continent.
Recommended Topical Guidebooks
To help you identify and learn more about the many animals you're going to see, pick one of these fantastic Africa books:
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife by Peter Alden, Richard D. Estes, Duane Schlitter, Bunny McBride - vinyl cover, colour photographs, great for the first time safari-goer. Apart from the long and short on animals it also contains basic geographical and climate information.
- Wildlife of East Africa (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) by Martin B. Withers.
- The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, and Primates by Richard D. Estes, Daniel Otte (Illustrator) – detailed info on the habits of wildlife, with illustrations. Very useful among Africa books to help you understand why animals do what they do.
- Sasol Birds of Southern Africa by Norman Arlott, Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Peter Hayman and Warwick Tarboton. A comprehensive field guide with distribution maps, a checklist, colour sketches and more... it's the one we at African Safari Journals use.
- The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi (Princeton Field Guides) by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe. Although one of the heavier Africa books, the information is given in a compact and sensible way with excellent illustrations of all resident, migrant and vagrant birds of the mentioned countries. Contains distribution maps, habitat information and covers conservation issues.
- Kilimanjaro - A Trekking Guide to Africa's Highest Mountain by Henry Stedman; Includes City Guides to Arusha, Moshi, Marangu, Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. Not about the animals! ... but everything you'll need to know about Africa's highest mountain.
The BRADT Travel Guides are leaders in the field with a guidebook on almost every African safari destination. Their Africa books would be my first choice:
- Africa Overland: 4x4, Motorbike, Bicycle, Truck - If you're planning to explore the continent overland, this is one of the best Africa books. It's practical and covers everything from Morocco to South Africa. You'll find handy tips, maps, routes, info on accommodation, food and culture as well as some useful health and security advice.
- Southern African Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide - Easy reading in a handbook style. It's filled with interesting info on insects, birds and mammals. Excellent photography and a well-written text covering identification as well as behavioural insights.
- East African Wildlife - Information on the animals, their habits and habitats from the large mammals, to birds, to butterflies. It contains lots of photographs and has a handy section on the key wildlife sites of the region.
- Kenya - Apart from the popular wildlife attraction, especially the wildebeest migration, this guide also covers trekking of Mt Kenya, the tropical coast and Kenya’s rich cultural heritage. It covers the popular and lesser-known regions and lists adventure and other activities, interests, events and accommodation to suit everyone.
- Tanzania with Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia - areas of the south and west that are not yet well known by travellers or discussed in other Africa books are covered, as well as revised info on top attractions.
- Northern Tanzania: The Bradt Safari Guide with Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar - This guide covers the northern circuit in detail, incorporating specific coverage of the wildlife and natural history of the region plus extra environmental information. Find accommodation no matter your budget, learn basic words in the Swahili language, climb Mt Kilimanjaro and relax on Zanzibar all with the help of this Africa book.
- Zanzibar – Learn about the history and culture of the island, identify both land and marine wildlife and pick activities to your liking. Hotels, landmarks and markets are indicated, complemented by a guide to the architectural treasures of Stone Town.
- Uganda - Includes every aspect of the country's tourist infrastructure for instance around viewing the highly endangered mountain gorilla, plus detailed coverage of the cultural and environmental issues that are Uganda's greatest asset.
- Rwanda – A guide revealing that the 'Land of a Thousand Hills' is one of the world's finest and friendliest ecotourism destinations. Apart from practical guidance, learn more about the history and culture, visiting the mountain gorillas, national parks and Kigali.
- Botswana: Okavango Delta, Chobe, Northern Kalahari – This guide concentrates on the popular northern safari region. It offers information on choosing lodges and safari camps, along with detailed sections on environment, wildlife and flora, including the abundant bird life in the wetland paradise of the Okavango Delta.
- Namibia – Predominantly aimed at self-drive travellers, providing unbeatable knowledge of the country complimented by information on how animals and plants survive the desert conditions. Include maps and detailed listings of lodges, guest farms and bush camps.
- Zambia – One of the best destinations in Africa for walking safaris, river safaris, hot springs and waterfalls. The guide covers all the national parks, wildlife identification and culture. If you're planning to arrange everything yourself, it gives advice on choosing accommodation, adventure activities and safaris.
- Malawi – The most explorable and tranquil of African countries, whether discovering little-visited mountains, forests and game reserves, or relaxing by Lake Malawi. Wildlife and bird-species identification, conservation areas, game and forest reserves and national parks up and down the lake are all covered in depth.
- Madagascar - An award-winning guide by Hilary Bradt. It covers every aspect of this unique country. Come face to face with Madagascan wildlife at one of the many nature reserves. One of the top Africa books!
- Madagascar Wildlife – Meet Madagascar's amazing and rare creatures, from lemurs to millipedes, which live in habitats ranging from rainforest to desert. 250 species are described and illustrated with over 275 colour pictures.
- The Gambia - The authors use their local knowledge to take you beyond the obvious. Whether you choose to explore the lush forests or walk along the golden beaches, drink green tea in mud-walled villages or seek out the secretive hippos, this guide will help you celebrate the rich diversity of a land labelled 'the gateway to Africa'.
LONELY PLANET is well known and offers an extensive range of Africa books:
- Africa - Covers 49 countries: wildlife, classic routes, music, accommodation for all pockets, volunteering opportunities and more.
- Watching Wildlife: East Africa – An all-in-one safari guide.
- Watching Wildlife: Southern Africa - Helps you identify and understand the wildlife of Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
- Africa on a shoestring - Written for backpackers by backpackers.
- East Africa - Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – covering the wildebeest migration, gorilla viewing, Zanzibar. The guide has an entire chapter on safaris, a colour wildlife guide, all budget levels accommodation, maps, border and safety information.
- Southern Africa - Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Covers activities, music, wildlife, accommodation and tours for all pockets plus health, safety, border information and maps.
- Kenya - Wildlife viewing, tribes, scenery, politics, history and culture, activities, full range accommodation options and maps.
- Tanzania - Whether you want to watch wildlife, laze on the beach or ramble through Swahili ruins this guidebook will help you do it. Includes wildlife guide, activities and safaris, accommodation, beaches, Mt Kilimanjaro plus maps.
- Botswana & Namibia - contains 44 maps in total and a detailed section on all the national parks. Both countries offer the variety and energy you expect in Africa but without the negatives like war.
- South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland - Discover the manifold delights of South Africa and the mountain kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. Includes wildlife guide, information on the music scene, full range accommodation, maps and languages.
- Madagascar & Comoros – Covers these two countries' diverse attractions: beaches, rain forests, parched deserts, lemurs, chameleons, culture, markets, art and more.
- Mozambique - Not your typical safari country, this guide focuses on the feel of the country and the stunning marine wildlife you can view in the tropical waters of Mozambique.
- Healthy Travel Africa – Over 350 pages yet a handy pocket size Africa books with tips on what to do before/after your Africa trip; symptoms to look out for, information on illnesses like malaria and yellow fever. It provides first aid guidance, tips on safe food and drinking water, information on insect bites, has a chapter for pregnant travellers and provides advice regarding altitude, caves, the sun and much more.
- Trekking East Africa - 27 detailed trek descriptions in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda (incl. Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and Rwenzoris). Full of practical advice, maps and info on language, health, accommodation, fauna & flora.
- South Africa: Diving & Snorkeling - explore the underwater wildlife from the kelp of the Cape, ship wrecks, shark dives all the way up to Mozambique's southern coast. Colour photos, maps and info on dive sites and operators.
- If you want to be able to have basic conversations with the locals, especially if you're going to travel East Africa independently, you can do so with the help of another of Lonely Planet's handy Africa books: the Swahili Phrase book (3rd ed, Sep 05).
- Africa Phrase book - apart from useful phrases in 13 African languages, the guide also provides cultural background and a pronunciation guide throughout.
- Wildlife Travel Photography - by Andy Rouse. Learn how to get up close and personal to wildlife with your camera lens. Includes a section on Africa "hot spots".
- The Africa Book - A pictorial book with colour photographs, maps and essays about various African countries. If you're not sure where in Africa to go, this is a good place to start. You'll be inspired by the journeys and routes and the country profiles should be useful too.
ROUGH GUIDES offers a slightly more limited range of Africa books and guides:
- First-Time Africa - Use this guide before your Africa trip, to help with your preparations on tickets, visas, vaccinations, planning your itinerary, budgeting and packing wisely. Info on attractions, transport, accommodation, health and safety across 41 countries.
- 25: Africa - Not really a guide book, but a collection of 25 great things to do in Africa, e.g. a gorilla trek, balloon flight over the Masai Mara or climbing Africa's highest mountain Mt Kilimanjaro.
- Kenya* – information on wildlife watching, the culture, politics, practical information and health & safety.
- South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland* - cultural background information, a comprehensive wildlife-spotting guide, urban as well as National Parks information, accommodation and restaurant details. Also include adventure activities information and maps.
- Cape Town & the Garden Route – covers a beautiful and popular part of South Africa. Not all Africa books on South Africa covers the Garden Route in detail. This one also points out adventure activities, top whale-watching spots and big-game encounters at Addo Elephant National Park. The usual restaurant and accommodation reviews and maps are included.
- Tanzania* - covering the Serengeti, Mt Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar.
- Zanzibar - helps you pick basic to luxury accommodation, restaurants and bars. Read all about the lovely sandy beaches, coral reefs and essential Stone Town.
- The Gambia - a very small country but packed with possible activities from the beaches to bird watching and all is addressed in this book.
- Swahili Phrase book - Africa books can help you mix with the locals too. This one is great to have with you on safari, especially if you're planning on touring East and southern Africa independently. Download free audio files on the Rough Guides website to get the pronunciation right.
- Maps - Especially handy for independent travellers, Rough Guides has published durable rip- and waterproof country maps for South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland as well as Kenya.
*Amazingly, you can read these Africa books on-line at the Rough Guides website.
Other Africa Books - Recommended Reading
Thanks to books Africa can really come alive to you in your own home. There are many books about the various regions and countries of this large continent, its people, wildlife and its history.
Then there are the fictional works, which may be helpful in painting a picture of Africa in your mind and to imagine what life there is really like. Here are only a few:
- Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town – Paul Theroux. "... takes readers the length of Africa by rattletrap bus, dugout canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy, ferry, and train. In the course of his epic and enlightening journey, he endures danger, delay, and dismaying circumstances. Gauging the state of affairs, he talks to Africans, aid workers, missionaries, and tourists. What results is an insightful meditation on the history, politics, and beauty of Africa and its people ..." – Amazon.com
- Kuki Gallman's writing is inspirational and moving (she is an Italian who lives in Kenya) if you have Kenya in mind, especially I Dreamed of Africa (also a movie with Kim Basinger) and African Nights (short stories).
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owen is highly recommended. Although their experience is not exactly safari-like, it teaches the reader a lot about brown hyenas and lions, and what it takes to do research in difficult conditions in Africa's desolated areas. It is not so much the research one benefits by, but their close experiences with nature and wildlife, the appreciation of the wild animals and their passion to protect it for future generations.
- Coming of Age with Elephants by Joyce Poole, if you are interested in elephants. Joyce lived in the Amboseli reserve in Kenya, doing research on elephants. It gives wonderful insights into the family structure and social behaviour of elephants. It's one of those Africa books which leaves you green with envy!
- Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. "Ms. Fuller gives us ... the Africa she knew as a girl, a place of cruel politics, violent heat and startling beauty, a land she makes vivid in all its 'incongruous, lawless, joyful, violent, upside-down, illogical certainty.'" - The New York Times
- Alexander McCall Smith wrote a series of light fiction Africa books, set in Botswana. It gives an insight to everyday life and viewpoints/attitudes of the local people. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is the first in the series.
- Anything by Wilbur Smith. He does a lot of research for his stories and although the Africa books are fiction, they are based on factual background.
Africa and Wildlife Magazines
There are a number of magazines that are Africa- or wildlife related:
Africa Geographic covers environmental & conservation challenges facing Africa;
Wildlife Conservation is an award-winning magazine with top quality photographs and articles on worldwide conservation programmes by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS);
Outdoor Photographer gives advice on wildlife photography, in preparation for your next African safari!
... and for the kids:
Zoobooks targets ages 5-12 and teaches them in a fun way about all sorts of animals, complete with photos, diagrams, descriptions and activity pages;
Zootles is the little brother of Zoobooks, targeting ages 2-6;
Wild Animal Baby is a board format magazine for babies and toddlers up to 3 years old. It contains rhymes and stories of various lovable baby animals.
If there are any Africa books you feel should be featured on this list, please let me know.