Ask anyone who has been on an African safari and you’ll be told there’s no better thrill than a wildlife expedition in Africa – be it the misty mountains of Uganda home to hundreds of mountain gorillas and the endangered golden monkey; the open plains of the Masai Mara where you are likely to see the fastest animal on the planet chase down its prey in a blur of speed and agility – yes, it’s the cheetah we are talking about; or the churning Mara river during the Great Migration, where 20-foot crocodiles lie in wait for the annual crossover of a multitude of wildebeests, zebras, and Thompson’s gazelles.
When it comes to African safaris there is no dearth of destinations in Africa; hence, deciding on one particular park becomes a tedious exercise. While some parks are ideal for family safaris, others may be good for romance. Then again, there are parks that will appeal to birders while some are good to visit only at certain times during the year.
Here, we look at five of the most symbolic African safari destinations that will not disappoint you whichever category of traveler you may come under.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The 20,000- square-kilometer Kruger National Park with 14 different eco zones, each boasting its own unique wildlife, is one of the biggest and best-known game reserves on the African continent.
Located in northeast South Africa bordering Zimbabwe in the north, Mozambique in the east, and the Crocodile River in the south, the park is home to a thriving wildlife species including the endangered wild dog, the South African cheetah and the iconic big five of Africa – the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the double-horned African rhinoceros.
An efficient network of roads within the park makes it a perfect self-drive safari destination.
October through March are the best months for avid birders and ornithologists to visit the site as more than 200 migrating bird species visit the KNP during this time.
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
With the addition of the Usangu Game Reserve in 2008, the Ruaha National Park now covers an area of 20,226 square kilometers and is easily the largest of its kind in Tanzania – and with an abundance of exotic flora and fauna to boast, it is certainly the most impressive as well.
There are fewer more exhilarating experiences than watching large prides of majestic lions in their natural habitat along with graceful giraffes, herds of the largest land animal – the African tusker, and an unimaginable variety of other exotic wild animals and birds, and the ecosystems they thrive in.
The roads in the park are never too far from the Ruaha River, most times, where largest congregations of animals are seen, particularly in the dry season.
Some of the wildlife that is sure to get captured – not only in your cameras but in your imaginations as well – includes:
- Lions, cheetahs, buffalos, wild dogs, hyenas
- In excess of 10,000 African elephants
- Kudus (greater and lesser)
- Sables and roan antelopes
- Hippos, crocodiles, impalas, jackals
- Abundant bird populations
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda
This misty mountain retreat in the heart of Central Africa is located at an altitude ranging from 2,227m to 4,127 m covering an area 33.7 square kilometers in the Virunga Mountains. This protected area, as is evident from its name, is dedicated to the rare and mysterious mountain gorillas in addition to serving as a safe haven for the endangered golden monkey.
The smallest wildlife park in Uganda, it borders Rwanda and Sabyinyo – a border confluence of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo.
Out of the eight volcanoes that the Virunga Mountains are home to, three of them are inside the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park area.
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
The Masai Mara National Reserve, named in honor of the Masai people and the Mara region, which in the Masai language means “spotted” because, when looked at from a distance, that’s how the area appears to be – marked with acacia trees, scrub & undergrowth, and shadows of the clouds above.
The game reserve is in the immediate proximity of the Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania and is bisected by the Mara and Talek rivers. The MMNR is a regular feature on wildlife channels like Discovery, Animal Planet, and NatGeo because of its abundant wildlife population as well as the great annual migration of wildebeests, zebras, and Thompson gazelles to and from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. This mass exodus of animals that chase the seasonal rains is considered a “wonder of the world” – it is, indeed, one of the most wondrous and thrilling spectacles you can ever hope to see.
- Wildebeests, topis, zebras, giraffes, and Thompson’s gazelles forage on the plains
- Large groups of Hippos and crocodiles jostling for space in the Mara and Talek rivers
- Plenty of cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, elands, antelopes, bat-eared foxes, the big five, and many more exotic species are also found in the Mara.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Located in northwest Namibia, the Etosha National Park covers 22,270 square kilometers of evolving landscape and craggy coastlines and is rated among the top safari destinations in Africa with its populations of abundant wildlife including black rhinos, giant tuskers, and the big cats that are drawn to the perennial springs and waterholes in search of prey.
High-end lodges and camps surrounding the boundaries of the park offer excellent accommodation inclusive of guided safaris. The Onguma Treetop Camp built on stilts in level with the surrounding treetops is an excellent vantage point offering great vistas of the Onguma Game reserve on the eastern border of the Etosha.
Some of the wildlife inhabitants of ENP
- African bush elephant
- Southern white rhinoceros
- South-western black rhinoceros
- African buffalo
- Angolan giraffe
- Southwest African lion
- African leopard
- South African cheetah
- Southern African wildcat
- Blue wildebeest
- Mountain zebra
- Plains zebra
- Common eland