Africa is home to the most spectacular animal sanctuary in the world. It’s a place that humbles even the most jaded travelers, where the cycle of life plays out right before your very eyes in nature’s finest theaters. See the huge herds of the Great Migration on the speckled plains of the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti. Watch elephants graze in the shadows of Kilimanjaro or come face to face with a wild silverback gorilla in Volcanoes National Park. Many of the reserves protect Africa’s famous ‘Big Five’: lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinoceroses, as well as an amazing diversity of other animals. Hot air balloon rides, game drives and walking safaris all offer unique wildlife watching adventures. From Kenya and Tanzania, to Namibia,
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1 Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
The beautiful Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is on the wish list of nature lovers around the world. Famous for the Great Migration from July to October, when thousands of wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle and zebra travel between here and the Serengeti plains, this park offers some of Africa’s best wildlife viewing. The park protects the “Big Five” and is known for its large numbers of predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards, while hippos and crocs thrive in the Mara River. The red-cloaked Maasai people who live in the park add a fascinating cultural component. In their language, Mara means “mottled”, perhaps for the shadows cast by shifting light between the acacia trees on the cloud-streaked horizons, creating a hauntingly beautiful canvas for photographers.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Maasai Mara National Reserve
2 Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The name Serengeti conjures up romantic images of seemingly endless acacia-dappled plains, golden savannah and abundant wildlife. This World Heritage-listed park, Tanzania’s oldest and most popular, delivers on all accounts. From December to July, the Great Migration takes place, when over a million wildebeest, as well as zebras and Thomson’s gazelle, travel between here and the fabled lands of the Maasai Mara, an ancient pilgrimage that is one of Africa’s greatest spectacles. The famous “Big Five” also live within the boundaries of the park, and visitors here have the chance to see hunter-biting predator-versus-proo battles – especially during the dry season from June to October. Birders can spot some of the more than 500 species, including beauties like the crowned crane and Fischer’s turtledove.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Serengeti National Park
3 Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Formerly part of Serengeti National Park , Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes three beautiful volcanic craters (Ngorongoro is the most famous), as well as the legendary archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge, and more than 8,300 square kilometers of savanna, dense forest and African bush. This is one of the few areas in the world where animals and humans coexist peacefully. The proud Maasai people live alongside a diversity of wildlife in this World Heritage area and graze their livestock on these lands. In addition to the spectacular volcanically formed landscape, highlights include one of Africa’s densest populations of wild lions, as well as black rhinoceroses, buffaloes, leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs and more than 500 species of birds. As part of the Serengeti ecosystem, the area is also host to the Great Migration as 1.6 million ungulates make their way here between December and June each year.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
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4 Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Mount Kilimanjaro , Africa’s highest mountain, sits in this diverse park, which is famous for its large herds of elephants. This is Kenya’s second most popular national park after the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Five distinct habitats lie within its boundaries, including a swamp system, dense forests, savanna, and the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli. Thanks to these contrasting ecosystems, the animal kingdom is varied and abundant with many big cats, such as cheetah and lion, as well as waterbuck, gazelle, impala and more than 600 species of birds. Elephants bathing in red dust against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the iconic images that photographers can capture in this famous park during the dry season. Visitors also have the chance to visit one hereMaasai village near the park and learn about this fascinating tribe, who live around the boundaries of the park.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Amboseli National Park
5 Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The largest and oldest national park in South Africa, Kruger National Park covers nearly two million hectares and offers an incredible wildlife watching experience – especially for those looking for a self-guided safari. Africa’s Big Five live within its borders, as well as an impressive variety of other wildlife, including African wild dogs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, cheetahs and over 500 species of birds. One of the best features of this popular park is the abundance of self-catering accommodation, making this a relatively affordable safari destination. The landscape ranges from dense forests to sweeping grasslands and fertile river systems, and the park is also home to cave paintings and archaeological sites of the Bushmen. In addition to the government-run rest camps within the park, several luxury privately owned game parks lie along the park’s boundaries.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kruger National Park
6 Chobe National Park, Botswana
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Chobe National Park, in northeastern Botswana, is home to the highest concentrations of elephants in the world and an enviable variety of wildlife. This is reason enough to visit Botswana’s first national park, but it’s also a fantastic option for travelers who prefer self-guided safaris. The beautiful Chobe River runs along the northern border of the park, and the fertile waters of the Okavango Delta fan out south and attract wildlife. Chobe is home to Africa’s “Big Five”. Large herds of elephant and marten antelope and buffalo come to quench their thirst along the lush banks of the Chobe River. The Savuti Marshregion is known for its predator sightings in the savannah and grasslands, while the Linyanti Marsh is home to the rare red lechwe. Accommodations range from bare-bones campgrounds to luxury game lodges, and you can also take a houseboat ride along the Chobe River. The northeastern gateway is less than 100 kilometers from the spectacular Zimbabwe Victoria Falls , which is a fantastic side-trip option after a rewarding safari. Botswana uses a low-density approach to tourism, limiting the number of visitors allowed in the parks and preserving these unique ecosystems.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chobe National Park
7 Farmer Game Reserve
Moremi Game Reserve is the only protected area of Botswana’s beautiful Okavango Delta , one of Africa’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. These expanses of floodplain fans across the parched lands of northwestern Botswana support a staggering diversity of wildlife. All of the Big Five live within the boundaries of the park, as well as a plethora of other animals such as hippos, giraffes, kudus, leopards, African wild dogs and over 400 species of birds. The lush landscape ranges from winding sapphire gullies and pools, to lagoons, grasslands and dense mopane forests. Moremi is also unique in that it is the first reserve in Africa that local people established because of their concerns about declining flora and fauna.Chobe National Park borders Moremi, and many travelers visit both while in the region. Like Chobe, Moremi is also an excellent destination for self-guided safaris, although it helps to hire the services of a local guide who can use their experience in the wilderness to track game. A unique experience in the park is exploring the waterways of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro or traditional canoe canoe.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Moremi Game Reserve
8 Etosha National Park, Namibia
Etosha National Park, covering 22,750 square kilometers in northern Namibia, offers a great viewing experience in a huge, glittering salt pan. On the outside, the pan’s arid earth gives way to sweeping grasslands and thorn scrub that support more than 150 species of mammals, including lions, zebras, jackals, springboks, hyenas, elephants and cheetahs, as well as many beautiful birds – flamingos descend on the salt pans in a riot of orange and pink after good rains, when the pan briefly fills. The park is also home to endangered and relatively rare species such as the black rhinoceros, oryx, tsessebe and the black-cheeked impala. Game viewing is best during the dry season from June to November, when animals congregate in the few remaining waterholes to quench their thirst. Etosha also offers opportunities for self-guided safaris with its excellent tourism infrastructure. Photographers will especially love capturing images of wildlife against the stark, silvery landscapes.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Etosha National Park
9 South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
In the southern part of Zambia, South Luangwa National Park is home to one of Africa’s densest populations of wildlife. The Luangwa River, Africa’s most intact major river system, feeds this beautiful national park, which encompasses 9,059 square kilometers, and is the most popular of the three national parks in the vast Luangwa River Valley. The park is known for its large numbers of leopards, lions, giraffes, buffaloes and elephants, as well as the abundance of hippos and crocodiles, which wallow in the river’s oxbow pelts. Interestingly, South Luangwa National Park is the only place in the world where lions are known for killing hippos. Birdlife is also excellent here with over 400 different species to see. The seasons paint the landscapes here in dramatically different hues. The rainy season (November to March), known as the ’emerald season’, brings lush green growth, while in winter the landscapes are tinted with rich golds and browns. Wildlife viewing is usually best in these drier months (April to October), when animals gather at the perennial water sources. South Luangwa is also known for its excellent walking safaris. when animals gather at the perennial water sources. South Luangwa is also known for its excellent walking safaris. when animals gather at the perennial water sources. South Luangwa is also known for its excellent walking safaris.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in South Luangwa National Park
10 Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transboundary Park, South Africa
Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, South Africa
With more than 3.6 million hectares, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the largest natural areas on the planet. The park is an amalgamation of the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and is the first national park in Africa that transcends borders. The landscapes here evoke an eerie beauty with their vibrant colors. Meerkats run across scorched red-sand beaches and lions stalk in honey-colored grasslands that seem to stretch on forever under cloudless blue skies. Perhaps most iconic among the park’s resourceful flora and fauna are the magnificent black-maned Kalahari lions, but you can also see gemsbok, meerkats, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas here, as well as many species of birds, including sociable weavers with their large intricate nests. The sparse vegetation makes it easier to see and photograph wildlife than in Africa’s more densely forested parks.
11 Tsavo Conservation Area, Kenia
Consisting of Tsavo West, Tsavo East , and Chyulu Hills National Park , this is the largest park in Kenya and boasts the country’s largest population of elephants. Tsavo West is the most popular of these parks with Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary as well as the crocodile and hippopotamus filled Mzima Springs . Chaimu Crater is a great place to see birds of prey. The dense foliage, especially in the northern areas of the park, makes wildlife harder to spot, but the lush landscapes make a beautiful backdrop for photos. Rock climbing is also a popular activity in the park.
Tsavo East, halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa, is much more arid than its western sibling. Large herds of elephants roll in the red dust here, baobabs dot the parched plains and the palm-fringed Galana River meanders through the arid landscapes. Other highlights include the world’s longest lava flow, the Yatta Plateau ; waterfalls; and a diversity of wildlife including elephants, rhinoceroses, lesser kudu and lions. Chyulu Hills National Park includes rolling green hills, as well as caves and volcanic cones and craters. It is one of the best places to view Kilimanjaro and offers fantastic opportunities for bird watching.
12 Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Looking into the eyes of a mountain gorilla is an experience that will remain etched in your memory forever, and Volcanoes National Park is one of the few places in the world where you can still see these magnificent creatures. In 1967, Dian Fossey, the famous American zoologist, founded the Karaoke Research Center and continued her passionate campaign for gorilla conservation. In addition to mountain gorillas, the park is a haven for spotted hyenas, buffaloes, golden monkeys, elephants, bushbuck, black-headed diver and more than 170 species of birds. Many travelers also come here to climb the volcanoes, Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke . Volcanoes National Park is about a two-hour drive from Rwanda’s capital Kigali .