Where is the best place to go on safari in Africa? Much depends on whether you want to see the Big Five, or East Africa’s Great Wildebeest Migration, or if you’re interested in smaller creatures such as birds. These five countries offer some of the most spectacular and diverse safari experiences on the continent.
Kenya is East Africa’s classic Out of Africa safari. It’s a year-round destination for big cats and other wildlife like elephant, buffalo and plains animals. Although the Masai Mara is inextricably linked with Kenya in many people’s minds, it isn’t the only park worth visiting.
- Visit the Masai Mara National Reserve for superb big cat sightings and dramatic river crossings during the Great Wildebeest Migration from July to October.
- Amboseli National Park is the best place to see majestic Mount Kilimanjaro over the border in Tanzania and elephants with huge tusks.
- Visit the Samburu Game Reserve to see the ‘special five’: Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, and Somali ostrich.
- Go to East or West Tsavo national parks to experience the largest protected wildlife sanctuary in Kenya and see wildlife against a background of baobab trees.
Tanzania allows you to combine your safari in Africa with a few days of beach relaxation in Zanzibar afterward. The northern safari circuit (which includes Serengeti and Ngorongoro) is easier than the southern circuit for first-time visitors.
- Visit Serengeti National Park for the Great Wildebeest Migration. Crossing season is from July to October, but you can see wildlife all year round, including elephants and big cats.
- Ngorongoro Crater also offers year-round wildlife viewing, and you might see the Big Five in a single day. Look for black rhinos in the thickets as you go down into the crater.
- Completing the northern circuit are Lake Manyara (for tree-climbing lions and big elephant herds) and Tarangire national parks (for beautiful scenery and baobabs with your wildlife sightings).
- Selous Game Reserve is the largest uninhabited area in Africa. It’s on the path of an annual elephant migration and there’s a good chance to see wild dogs.
- If you like your wildlife really wild, you’ll love Ruaha National Park. It has beautiful landscapes, baobab trees and excellent sightings in the dry season – especially elephants and lions – with the bonus of not being as crowded as the northern parks.
Land-locked Zimbabwe in southern Africa continues to endure difficult political and economic conditions. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent safari destination with abundant wildlife, top-notch guides, superb lodges, and budget camping options.
- A must is Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest. Best known for its high density of elephants and buffalos, it has over 100 species of mammals, including the Big Five, cheetahs, wild dogs and sable antelopes. There are some 400 bird species. Raised platforms and underground hides at waterholes make for excellent viewing.
- Mana Pools National Park is a true wilderness along the Zambezi River. It also offers authentic walking safaris and canoeing on the river. See big cats, wild dogs, buffalos and huge bull elephants stand on their back legs to reach into towering ana trees.
Botswana offers a diversity that is hard to beat. Some parts are lush and green, with countless waterways; other parts are dry and desert-like. High-value, low-impact safaris are a hallmark here, so there’s little overcrowding. It’s not a cheap destination, but you can choose to camp rather than stay in luxury lodges.
- Visit the Okavango Delta (mostly private concessions) and Moremi Game Reserve. Okavango is a medley of waterways, islands and animal tracks, jam-packed with wildlife. There are 160 species of mammals, including the Big Five, wild dogs, cheetahs, hippos and crocs. Antelopes include sables, roans, red lechwes and sitatungas. Don’t miss a mokoro (dug-out canoe) ride on the waterways. Moremi on the edge of the Okavango is all about traditional game drives on sandy tracks. It also offers budget-friendly camping.
- Chobe National Park is one Botswana park that can get crowded, but offers good sightings of lions, leopards, buffalos and some of the biggest elephant herds in Africa. There are no longer any rhinos. Since it’s a national park, there are no night drives or bush walks. Don’t miss a sunset river cruise for a different perspective.
- The massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve has an atmosphere of untouched isolation. See black-maned lions, leopards, cheetahs, brown hyenas and fierce honey badgers, as well as bat-eared foxes. Go for a bush walk with a San tracker to learn about the Kalahari environment.
5. South Africa
South Africa offers excellent safaris with everything from budget camping and self-catering chalets to super-luxury all-inclusive lodges. Wildlife viewing is first-rate all year round and the tourism infrastructure is good so it’s easy to tack on a trip to Cape Town, the Winelands or the Garden Route.
- Kruger National Park is South Africa’s flagship park, a place to see the Big Five, hippos, crocs, wild dogs, cheetahs, spotted hyenas and sable antelopes. It’s very diverse, with 147 mammal species and more than 500 bird species.
- Addo Elephant National Park is a great add-on if you’re going to the Eastern Cape and Garden Route. It has the Big Seven – the Big Five plus whales and sharks. Don’t miss the rolling coastal dunes of the Woody Cape section.
- The red sand dunes of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddle the border between South Africa and Botswana. If you can endure extreme temperatures and poor sand roads, your reward will be memorable sightings of big cats, oryx, honey badgers and meerkats.
What are the costs of going on safari in Africa?
An African safari can cost less than US$400 or more than US$1,400 per person per night. It depends whether you’re camping, staying in budget accommodation, or going for luxury options. Get an idea what the different levels might cost in these countries with this useful guide.