Beyond the people, this part of Africa is known for wildlife, of course, like this group of young cheetahs in Kenya.
Kenya: Known as the Mecca of African wildlife photo opportunities, the Masai Mara needs little introduction. What photographer doesn't dream of capturing the great herds crossing the Mara River, relishing not only the first wildebeest to take the plunge, but the 20,000 that will soon follow? Ah, but with the wildebeest also come scores of tourists, photographers and vehicles encamped along the river. If the crowds are more daunting than the crossing, take advantage of the off-season. True, no migration but the Mara holds the highest concentration of predators and exotic wildlife, but fewer people will get in your way and in your photos, plus, you'll save a little money.
Tanzania: The sheer beauty of the vast Serengeti, dotted with the kopis and the lions sprawled on top, is unsurpassed. Wildlife photo opportunities overflow, but for me, the February mass birth of the great herds is not to be missed. Approximately 750,000 wildebeest synchronize their birthing, with all calves born within a three-week period. This phenomenon draws the predators, which in turn attracts the wildlife photographers. Tanzania also is home to the Ngorongoro Crater, the eighth wonder of the world with its own enclosed ecosystem and home to the Big Five: elephants, rhinos, buffalos, leopards and lions.
Rwanda: A close encounter with the endangered mountain gorillas is a lifetime experience. The good news is that gorilla numbers are increasing; the not-so-good news is that so is the price of the permits, up 50 percent from 2012. Now estimated at 820, over half of the world's mountain gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains on the Rwandan side. Overcast skies and mist are the best conditions for photographing these black primates against a lush green forest. It's simple to tack on a few treks to any safari, and don't pass up photographing the chimpanzees while you're there.
Ethiopia: Dropping into the Omo Valley is akin to being transported to an Africa of old. The tarmac turns to bumpy dirt roads; soon, you spot people in traditional clothing, living as they have for generations. Shielded from the outside world, these ornate tribes cling to ancient traditions that have almost vanished in Africa. Here is the most tribal-rich region in the world. Inspired by the wild trees, exotic flowers and lush vegetation, these people wear colorful make-up reflecting bright yellows, startling whites and rich earth-reds created from the clay soil. With their flamboyant accessories and brilliant head decorations, they transform themselves into walking bodies of art, painting and dressing one another in bold style. Although they live side by side, each tribe has a unique look which, in turn, offers you a rich and varied array of compositions.
For U.S. passport holders, a visa can be bought at the airports in Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania. No visa is required for Rwanda.
Access to the main reserves, mountain gorillas and eastern side of the Omo River is easy. Most of the roads are now tarmac. Where the roads are bad in Kenya and Tanzania, you can fly directly into the reserve. In the remote areas of northern Kenya, southern Tanzania, north and southwestern Ethiopia, access takes more time, research, experience, patience and understanding of the way things are done. You need visas prior to crossing a border on land, permits to get into certain areas, a knowledgeable guide who knows the roads and guards for security. From budget and self-drive safaris to luxury camps to traveling by helicopter, experienced outfitters can help plan your trip.