The African safari is a bucket list item for millions of travelers. The following destinations allow visitors to view iconic wildlife and stunning natural features, but they also excel in creating a full-fledged safari experience for their guests.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
If elephants are your thing, then this game park on Botswana’s Okavango River is an excellent option. The reserve is home to more than 120,000 pachyderms, and safari guests will encounter numerous herds during the course of their day-long tour (which includes travels by boat and Land Cruiser). Multi-day safaris are also available, and the kitchen crew whips up a mean breakfast every morning.
What the experts say: “Such close proximity to Victoria Falls means that Chobe is one of the continent’s most popular destinations for short safaris and African honeymoons. It is also an affordable park in comparison to Botswana’s typical high-end private reserves” ― African Odyssey
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Even by African standards, the Namiba landscape seems other-worldly. This national park gets its name (which translates to ‘Great White Place) from a massive endorheic bed situated next to the Kalahari Basin. Don’t let the remote location fool you, though ― there is plenty of wildlife to see in Etosha. Furthermore, overnight guests may choose from five different camps that offer a range of accommodations, both luxurious and rugged.
What the experts say: “Etosha National Park is Namibia’s premier wildlife venue and one of Africa’s most hypnotic landscapes. The key to wildlife spotting here is to focus on the waterholes that dot these lizard-baking, mirage-haunted plains. Etosha is home to the Big Five, vast herds of gazelle and antelope and (depending on season) more than 300 species of birds” ― Mark Eveleigh, CNN Travel
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Home to the Ngorogoro Crater and Serengeti National Park, Tanzania is unquestionably one of the leading African countries for safari destinations. This national park is Tanzania’s largest, but its remote location ensures that the area remains relatively crowd-free. The park is well-renowned for its vast assortment of wildlife, particularly big cats and the hard-to-come-by wild dog; the park is also a favored spot for avid bird-watchers, thanks to the more than 400 resident avian species.
What the experts say: “Every day we went looking for lions along the sand rivers. The land was painted in muted colours, but in the hour before sundown it glowed like amber, and that was when we watched five male lions emerge from the long grass, one after another. They were nomads, said Fox, hell-bent on a pride takeover, and that night they roared around camp for two hours or more. Life on safari doesn’t get much better” ― Brian Jackman, Telegraph UK
Samara Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Kruger National Park is the most popular destination for safaris in South Africa, but the accommodations are a bit pricy and most of the clientele prefer wine-tasting and posh dining over rugged bush adventures. Samara, on the other hand, manages to be relatively inexpensive ($165 per night in the off-season, according to Travel + Leisure) without skimping on the wildlife.
What the experts say: “There is a large variety of wildlife to see on game drives. The reserve incorporates four of South Africa’s seven biomes, allowing for a varied experience. Guests can often spot kudu, duiker, aardvark, White rhino and giraffe. Samara Private Game Reserve is one of the leaders in cheetah conservation and is responsible for reintroducing cheetah to the area after a 125 year absence” ― Southern Africa Travel & Indian Ocean Islands
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Guests who visit this national park in eastern Zambia can choose from three camps: Tena Tena, the flagship riverside camp that is exclusively powered with solar energy; Chinzombo, a luxurious camp with villa rentals and private boat access to the park; and Tafika, a more remote camp that offers bicycle tours. South Luangwa covers an area of more than 5,000 square miles, and is home to nearly 500 native animal and bird species.
What the experts say: “A feeling of tranquillity and emptiness prevails here – empty, that is, except for the animals. The area bursts with wildlife, from leopards and lions to bush babies and baboons. The proximity to the river means there are plenty of basking crocs to spot, a resident pod of hippos, and kingfishers diving into the water” ― Condé Nast Traveler
Tsavo National Parks, Kenya
Kenya is home to plenty of areas with abundant wildlife, but Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks are two of the only locations on the planet where visitors could potentially encounter the ‘Big Five’ (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and water buffalo) in a single day. Collectively, these two parks comprise 4 percent of Kenya’s total geographic area ― and guests can choose between more than a dozen lodges and camps. Please note that there is currently a travel advisory warning in effect for visitors to Kenya.
What the experts say: “The largest of Kenya’s protected areas, Tsavo West and Tsavo East national parks are excellent wilderness areas, epic landscapes that shelter the major species of safari lore. This is one of the few places on earth where you can see the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) in a single day” ― Lonely Planet
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Few African animals will take your breath away like the mountain gorilla, and tourists can see them in the wild at numerous points throughout Central Africa. There are safety reasons for discounting places like Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, but additionally most tourists say Rwanda offers the best deals and most reasonable accommodations for gorilla trekking. Volcanoes National Park allows guests to choose between the luxurious Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, the eco-friendly Virunga Lodge, or the more rugged Le Bamboo establishment. Rwandan tourists must currently pay a $750 fee in order to view gorillas.
What the experts say: “Seeing mountain gorillas can involve 2-4 hours of hiking to find them. That being said, the general experience is that treks in Rwanda are slightly easier while those in Uganda are slightly more strenuous” ― Elizabeth Gordon, HuffPost Travel