When thinking about watching wild animals roam the open plains only one destination normally comes to mind – Africa. The mother continent is home to an astonishing number of animals which make safaris one of the most exciting experiences on the globe. Not much can compare to a stampede of wildebeest as they embark on the Great Migration, prowling lions constantly on the lookout for their next meal or serene elephants blissfully hanging around a watering hole. The untamed, rugged landscape of the African plains simply adds to the overwhelming feeling that you truly are in the heart of some of mother nature’s finest. We have put together some of our favourite safaris to experience the best of Africa.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia is the most popular reserve in the country for animal viewing. Spanning an area of over 22,000 km2, the name of the park comes from the expansive Etosha salt pan which blankets almost 25% of the area within the national park. Residing in the reserve are hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including threatened animals such as the black rhino. One of the best things about Etosha National Park is that you don’t have to spend hours searching for wildlife – just make sure you’re close to a watering hole and then wait for the animals to come to you. Expect to see elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, lion, zebra and impala, as well as the more elusive cheetah and leopard. For the best chance of animal encounters, visit in the dry season, when hoards of Etosha’s residents flock to the watering holes for a drink. But if you’re more interested in bird watching, you should consider visiting in the summer season when the vegetation is green and lush because of the rains. Lastly, Etosha is a fantastic national park if you want to combine a safari with some stunning landscapes – just a few hours drive away you can find the Namibian coastline and journey further south to witness the fascinating Namib desert, including Dune 45 and DeadVlei.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Situated in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park is less visited than the more popular reserves in neighbouring countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Founded in 1952, the reserve was originally called Kazinga National Park until a visit from Queen Elizabeth II two years later resulted in the name change to commemorate her stay. The vast space occupies an estimated 1978 square kilometres which encompasses Lake George, Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel which connects them both. Within the reserve you can find African buffalo, hippos, bush elephants, leopards and lions, as well as over 500 species of bird! Perhaps what sets Queen Elizabeth park apart from the rest is it’s fantastic proximity to Kibale Forest, an evergreen reserve that’s home to 13 species of primates – including chimpanzees. Tracking to find these cheeky animals is a highlight of any visit to the park. On top of that – travel south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and you can find yourself trekking to see the impressive mountain gorillas of Uganda. An all encompassing experience!
Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti National Park is the starting point for the famous wildebeest migration that occurs in an annual cycle. Normally around April/May, after the calving season, the food supply is exhausted and wildebeest embark on their journey to greener pastures. By June, the migration tends to build up in massive numbers by the Grumeti River before the first brave souls take on the rivers lurking crocodiles in an attempt to reach the other side. Once the chain has started, thousands of wildebeest then follow this treacherous journey and slowly make their way into Kenya and the Masai Mara reserve, where the plains are normally peppered with thousands of wildebeest by around September. The animals will graze here until the cycle begins again and they return to the southern areas of the Serengeti. On top of this, the Serengeti National Park is home to endless horizons and countless other animals, making it the perfect safari destination in Tanzania. Search for lions on the hunt, try and spot leopards lounging in the trees or watch as elephants peacefully drift across the plains.
Masai Mara National Park
The Masai Mara National Park is one of Kenya’s crown jewels – thousands of visitors flock to the reserve each year in anticipation of experiencing some of the continent’s best wildlife. Covering a total of 1,500 square kilometres, it is notably smaller than many of Africa’s national parks yet is home to a variety of animals including the big five (the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino) as well as over 500 species of birds. Many people combine the Masai Mara with neighbouring Serengeti National Park – especially in the hopes of witnessing the magnificent wildebeest migration. Between the smaller size and vast open plains dotted with game and their predators, the Masai Mara is a destination almost guaranteed to deliver.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is the largest safari destination in South Africa. Encompassing around 2 million hectares, over 300 archaeological sites have been discovered within the park and it’s considered to be the oldest reserve in Africa. Also home to the big five, it’s a fantastic destination for animal encounters of all sorts and is renowned in southern Africa for its incredible wildlife prospects. On top of the animals found here, the park surrounds mountains, winding rivers and golden-hued savannas, providing wonderful scenery for visitors who want the whole package. Due to its sheer size, we recommend spending a good few days in the park exploring early morning and evening game drives, when different animals are active at various times.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park, Botswana, is known for having one of the greatest concentrations of elephants in Africa – estimated to be around 50,000. The 11,000 square kilometres of wilderness, floodplains and swaps supports hundreds of species of animal and birdlife. One of the most prominent aspects of Chobe National Park is the Chobe River that flows through it – the perfect opportunity to view elephants, buffalo and hippo as they frolic along the river’s edge. We recommend staying at a lodge within the park, as most are unfenced and animals roam freely within plain view making breakfast time a bit more exciting!
Okavango Delta Reserve
The Okavango Delta is vastly different to all other parks mentioned in this post. The huge swampy grassland is formed by the Kavango River which flows from the Angolan highlands and into the Kalahari Desert. A network of swamps and waterways merge within the Delta to create one of the most biodiverse places in southern Africa. Due to the vast system of swampland’s, access via roads is not possible and so the best, and only way to explore the Okavango Delta is by traditional mokoros – lightweight canoes which are steered by local guides who maneuver through reeds and grass to show you the best of the Delta. Look out for hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes as they meander in the water and take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Contrary to its rather unforgiving name, Hell’s Gate National Park is one of the safest reserves to explore by foot due to the absence of large predators. Situated in Kenya, next to Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate is named after the small break in the cliffs that once fed into a prehistoric lake. The area covers a mere 68 square kilometres making it much smaller than Kenya’s other popular parks, however the ability to enjoy walking safaris, hiking and biking while in the reserve make it popular for visitors to the region. Within the park you can expect to find various birds including eagles and vultures, as well as zebra, buffalo, eland, gazelle and hyenas. Perhaps most notable is the park’s resemblance to much of the scenery in the 1994 family classic, The Lion King. Prior to production, many of the crew visited Kenya’s Hell’s Gate National Park for inspiration and to gain a true understanding of the African landscape.
Matt Gannan is the CEO and Owner of Tucan Travel. Tucan Travel operate cultural tours in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as tailor-made holidays in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
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