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Some of my best memories as a kid are from being on safari. These huge expanses of space – some bigger than European countries – have been given over to nature, and will completely change your view on what the world ‘wild’ means.
The classic photo of a safari is lots of camera touting tourists in a large truck, surrounded by animals, but the reality is often very different! Most allow you to drive your own vehicle, and you will have long periods of time where you are driving through raw, un-manicured fauna lost in your own thoughts.
But there will be a moment….
The moment an elephant appears from five metres away out of the dense jungle, and you wonder how didn’t see it sooner.
The moment a leopard’s tail flicks in a distant tree and you just happened to look in the right place at the right time.
The moment a cheetah jumps up on a rock out of dense grassland, having seconds before been perfectly camouflaged.
You pull over, stop, switch off the engine and just watch.
This is safari.
But where is the are the best places to go for safari in Africa?
Today, we’re going to look at four countries in Africa which are famous for safaris, and list out some of the best places to visit.
Owing to its proximity to the equator, Kenya is a spot where travellers can go if they’re after consistently warm conditions. As Africa Uncovered point out, the temperatures there remain constant throughout all 12 months of the year.
This means there aren’t any real ‘seasons’ for travel, but rather a full year-long period where you’ll be able to check out some of the most fascinating creatures known to man.
Kenya is most famous for Maasai Mara game reserve, which is bordered in the south by the Serengeti in Tanzania. Here you will see one of the most awe-inspiring animal experiences on earth, the wildebeest migration. To catch this you’ll need to be in the park between July and October.
Whilst it’s hard to look past the Maasai Mara, there are other great parks in Kenya:
- In Amboseli you can watch the Big Five against the backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
- Lake Nakuru is a very different experience to most others in this article. On the floor of the Great Rift Valley, Nakuru’s big species such as black rhino, lion and cheetah are upstaged by the greatest birding experience on earth – flocks of somewhere between one and two million fushcia-pink flamingos.
- Meru National Park is full of wildlife, thanks to some of the highest rainfall in the country. Here you can see lion, elephant, both black and white rhinos and the rarest of the three zebra species, the Grévy’s zebra. It is one particular animal that makes Meru famous though, it was here that Elsa the Lioness, made famous in the 1966 movie Born Free was raised and released into the wild.
With 52 tribes in Kenya, (each with their own language) you are unlikely to be able to pick up any of the language before you go. Instead, be sure to book with a company where you know you’ll be provided with a competent, native-speaking tour guide. This will really enhance your time on safari, and is one of my best tips for travel anywhere in the world.
Botswana offers two very different types of safari experience. In the north you have lush, biologically diverse parks nestled in the Okavango Delta. In the south is the desert, where you will be treated to some very unique game-viewing experiences in amongst the dunes of the Kalahari.
Northern Botswana is famous for the Okavango Delta – a large area which encompasses several different spots of interest. From the Guma Lagoon to the Moremi Game Reserve, you’ll be able to find a plentiful supply of natural beauty to keep you occupied throughout your trip.
In the dry season, as many as 260,000 animals will congregate at the Delta. This is one of the largest collections of mammals to be found in the same place at any one time. What’s more, there’s as many as 530 species of birds.
In Chobe National Park you can view all of the big five, but it is most famous for having the largest concentration of elephants on earth. Due to this huge number, some of the other animals have started to display some very unusual behaviour, with one pride of lions in particular taking advantage, and becoming known as ‘The Elephant Killers of Botswana‘.
As Audley Travel highlight, there are a number of different options for tours within Chobe reserve, from camping to self-drive and also incorporating one of the world’s natural wonders, Victoria Falls.
Outside of Chobe, you also have another great option. Moremi Game Reserve on the eastern shores of the Okavango would make any African ‘Top 10 Game Reserves’ list, and was the first reserve in African set up by local people due to their concerns for the dwindling wildlife populations.
The south of Botswana could not be more different to the water-rich landscapes of the north. It is home to the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, which is the first game reserve in the world to cross an international border. Is was born from a merger of Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park and South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, with three-quarters of the park in Botswana.
This is a very unusual park, filled with dunes, scrub land and the beds of dry rivers that are said to flow only once ever hundred years. The underground water supply allows some plants to live though, and these power the herds of antelope that feed the cheetah, lion, hyena, fox and leopard that patrol this arid wilderness. You will also get the chance to see the advert-friendly suricate (meerkats) in their natural habitat.
South Africa is arguably the most popular spot to head to for anyone seeking a safari excursion. There’s a good reason for that. There’s so much versatility to experience, thanks to the many different parks located around the nation.
Trip Advisor provide a rough idea of some of the best parks to visit, with their top suggestions including locations like:
- Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape)
- Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park (Kwazulu Natal)
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Northern Cape)
- The Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces)
- Pilanesberg National Park (North West Province)
Arguably the standout here comes in the form of Kruger National Park in the Limpopo region. Unlike most safari experiences, Kruger gives visitors the chance to experience one of a variety of packages.
You can choose from family, luxury, classic or even romantic safari getaways. Variety is the champion here, with lots to get involved with. Witness elephants grazing on the banks of the Sabie River, or immerse yourself in the local Tsonga culture. You can tailor your trip however you like, with the freedom to pick and choose what you do.
It is an immense place. At over 20,000 sq/km it is bigger than Wales, an almost incomprehensible sized area to be given over to just wildlife.
South Africa also has an incredible selection of private game reserves which will offer a more luxurious and intimate experience than the National Parks.
Madikwe Game Reserve is about 3.5 hours from Johannesburg, contains all the big 5, and is one of the best places in South Africa to see the incredibly rare Wild Dog.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is down in the Eastern Cape, on the banks of the Great Fish River. At 54,000 acres, with only 26 rooms, it is one of the most exclusive resorts in the country.
Sabi-Sands Game Reserve has been going since the 1950s, and borders its more big brother, the Kruger National Park. The most famous private reserve in South Africa, it is a fantastic place to see the big five, and – due to so many reliable water sources – is one of the best places to see the elusive leopard.
Tanzania has two of the best game reserves in the world – the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Serengeti National Park
In the Serengeti National Park, you will find the biggest concentration of a large mammal anywhere on earth, the blue wildebeest. Their annual migration is what makes the Serengeti so iconic, with over two million of them joined by other animals such as zebra and Thomson’s gazelle to make the journey over the border to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
With this amount of prey, you will of course find all the big predators here too, including what’s believed to be the largest amount of lions in Africa!
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has at its centre one of the mot magnificent natural wonders on earth, the Ngorongoro Crater. Around three million years ago, this huge volcano blew its top, and left a caldera that measures 16-19km in diameter. Before it blew, it was thought to be as high as Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro!
Due to the enclosed nature of the crater, it forms its own eco-system, with a mineral-rich basin surrounded by high sides that force moisture into the air, creating higher than average rainfall.
Taking advantage of this are around 25,000 large mammals, mostly herbivores but with lots of predators keeping the population in check, you can see cheetah, leopard, wild dog, serval and lion here.
The crater presents some unique aspects and challenges for the local wildlife. For example you will find no giraffe here, as there are very few trees within the crater. The lion population have also been struggling, as the natural enclosure becomes a barrier for natural migration, so the prides here have become inbred, meaning regular outbreaks of disease.
Have any of these locations peaked your interest? Be sure to keep these exciting safari destinations in mind when planning your next sabbatical adventure!