Africa is teeming with a stunning array of wildlife. Home to the Great Migration, the Big Five game animals, and the breathtaking Green Season, there are few places on Earth which offer such a supreme safari experience. Indeed, safari means ‘journey’ in Swahili, and visiting Africa gives you the opportunity to embark on a bona fide adventure as you make your way into the genuine wilderness.
But with so much to explore across this vast continent, it can be hard to know where to start. Your decision will ultimately depend on what you want to see, and the type of experience you’re looking to have. Our list should help you cover all bases, and help you start planning your 2020 adventure in earnest.
Perhaps the world’s most well-known wildlife park, and arguably the most spectacular, the Serengeti will take your breath away with its sheer scale and striking scenery. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park boasts a bountiful amount of game and because of its size (a cool 15,000 sq km) it feels a lot less crowded than other popular destinations. The Serengeti’s open environment is ideal for watching animals like lions and cheetahs in action, and you’ll also be able to see cape buffalos, zebras and wildebeests. Its expansive terrain also makes it perfect for witnessing the quintessential Great Migration between November and June.
The Serengeti also lets you experience the wildlife from a range of perspectives, whether up-close or from above, thanks to the range of game drives and hot-air balloon rides available to visitors. Tanzania’s tourism industry is more tailored towards wealthier visitors, which puts Serengeti’s range of lodges and camps on the higher end of the price scale. However, this does make it much less crowded than other African safari parks. Safari company Natural High Safaris note that the best time for a Tanzania safari holiday is between June and October, when you’ll be more likely to see the wildlife. This is because permanent water within the parks dwindles, meaning that “animals are forced to gather around any remaining sources. At the same time, the vegetation thins out, making it easier to see the animals.”
Africa’s most popular safari holiday destination is the Masai Mara National Reserve in south-west Kenya, which borders Tanzania and the Serengeti. Home to the Big Five, it boasts Kenya’s largest population of lions, while the park’s migration of animals like wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles, between July to October, is a truly riveting spectacle. This is perhaps the best time to visit, although the Green Season between April and June is just as beautiful, as the savannah erupts with magical green fauna. Indeed, Masai Mara’s glorious landscape, which largely consists of rolling grasslands and scattered acacia woodland, amplifies game viewing all year round. It is also a great place to delve into the unique cultural heritage of the indigenous Masai tribe, who have lived in the area since the 17th century.
The reserve has over 100 camps and lodges to choose from, catering to all different price ranges and tastes, with family-friendly hotels also available. You can choose between walking safaris, driving tours, and hot air balloon rides to see the animals in action, while a cruise along the Mara River will bring you close to crocodiles, hippos, and over 500 species of birds. The nearby Mfangano Island is also popular with tourists, offering the opportunity to enjoy a luxurious island retreat and take part in activities like fishing and village walks, and see ancient rock sites.
With four separate ecosystems, ranging from arid plains to watery swamps, you’ll find a huge range of wildlife in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. While Botswana is a landlocked country based in one of Africa’s dryland regions, much of its best game viewing is, somewhat ironically, by water. During the dry season, wildlife converge by the riverfront in the northern part of Chobe National Park, giving visitors the chance to spot animals like elephants, buffalo, and crocodiles. Indeed, there are around 120,000 elephants living within the reserve. Another huge draw is Chobe’s Savuti Marsh, which boasts one of Africa’s highest year-round concentrations of wildlife, and is home to animals like giraffes, bat-eared foxes, and zebras.
The best time to visit Chobe National Park is during the dry season, between April to October, though it is typically more crowded, and a lot hotter. You can opt for a more conventional Jeep safari, or go for a walking tour or river cruise, while self-driving tours are also an option. There are many lodges in the vicinity of the park, but Chobe Game Lodge is the only permanent accommodation located within the reserve itself.
For somewhere a little more off the beaten track, head to South Luangwa National Park in east Zambia. The reserve is one of Africa’s best locations to see leopards. Meanwhile elephants, buffalos, and hippos are just some of the other types of wildlife that prowl the Luangwa River banks. The park has garnered huge respect for its small, owner-run lodges that offer a greater all-round experience of the bush, with a big focus on walking tours that get you up close to the animals. It is also a highly-regarded birding destination, with birds from both Southern and East Africa often seen there, plus species from Europe and Asia who use South Luangwa as a mid-migration resting place.
As well as the walking tours, the reserve’s night drives and boat safaris are also great ways to see the wildlife, while mobile safaris offer a truly unique safari experience. Most of the park’s permanent accommodation is situated on the banks of the Luangwa River, offering magnificent views of the water and wildlife that drink from the river. Tour options cater to all types of budget, and the best time to visit for game-viewing is during the dry winter months, while the rainy season is better for birding.
One of Africa’s oldest safari reserves, Kruger National Park is simply a must-visit. It is deemed to be the easiest way to see the Big Five, and boasts an incredibly diverse selection of wildlife, owing to its huge range of habitats, from savannas and hills to riverine forests and woodland. The animals you might see include cheetahs, antelopes, and wild dogs as well as over 500 types of bird.
There is an abundance of ways to see the park, including microlight flights, river rafting and night trails, while there are several accommodation options depending on how you want to experience the area, whether that be from a luxurious private lodge, or a lively adventure camp. It is perfect for both first-timers and budget travelers, though more seasoned safari-goers may be put off by its tar roads and often crowded nature. Perhaps the best time to visit is during South Africa’s dry season, between June and September, while the park is generally much quieter between mid-January and March.
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