A safari holiday is a memorable travel experience like no other; the anticipation, the excitement, the humbling moments of spotting beautiful animals in their natural habitat. Hearing that dawn chorus, watching the exhilarating spectacle of the Great Migration, trekking for gorillas, heading out on a mokoro to get closer to wildlife on the river, ticking off sightings of the iconic Big Five, spotting a herd of elephants by the watering hole, and enjoying a relaxing sun downer to finish the day, so many memories will be created on a safari holiday. Africa offers so many different wildlife experiences, each as unique and diverse as the countries and National Parks that you can explore. We've picked ten of the best National Parks to be discovered in Africa, from the great salt pan of Namibia’s Etosha National Park, the incredible elephant population of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the unique mokoro experiences of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, and South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park, to the gorillas of Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcanoes, the tree-climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and - of course - the Maasai Mara, the birthplace of safari.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
Perhaps the most famous and iconic safari destination of all, Maasai Mara is often considered the birthplace of safaris. Situated along the Tanzanian border in south-western Kenya, and covering 580 square miles, the Maasai Mara’s grassy plains and rolling hills are home to the sought-after ‘Big Five’, along with over 300 species of birds, and plays host to the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and wildebeest to and from the Serengeti, as they cross the Mara river. The opportunity to take to the skies above the vast plains in a hot air balloon (followed by a bubbly breakfast) should not be missed, providing a bird’s eye view as the wildlife stirs at dawn. As well as its incredible wildlife, the Maasai Mara offers unique cultural encounters, and the reserve takes part of its name from the Maasai people, an ancient pastoralist culture famous for their warriors, who were once expected to prove their strength and manhood by killing a lion. Following their cattle herds, and moving their settlements in search of water sources and new pastureland, the Maasai are easily recognisable by their red robes and beaded jewellery.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Namibia may take its name from the Namib Desert, and be renowned for its sand dunes, but it also boasts an abundance of wildlife, including a significant cheetah population. Situated in the north of the country, Etosha National Park’s biggest claim to fame is perhaps its salt pan, which covers 23% of the total area of the park, and - at 1,840 square miles - is so large, it can be seen from space. This salt pan is a big draw for game, including rhinos and giraffes, and, when it’s filled briefly with water in the summer, particularly attracts pelicans and flamingos.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s largest national park is just an hour south from the country’s most famous attraction, the mighty Victoria Falls. Covering 5,657 square miles, the sheer size of Hwange gives rise to an impressive variety of landscapes, from deep Kalahari sands in the south, open savanna woodland, thick teak woodland, and mopane woodland, to rocky hilly country in the north of the park. Over 100 species of mammals, and almost 400 bird species, call the grasslands and woodlands home, including lion, leopard, African wild dogs, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, impala, zebra, baboon, and warthog. However Hwange is perhaps best known for its enviable elephant population, home to one of the largest in the world, with over 35,000 elephants, who take over all the water points in the afternoon in the dry season.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Almost spreading out across 2 million hectares, Kruger National Park is easily one of the largest on the whole continent. With a number of private reserves running along the park’s western border, and no fences, wildlife is free to roam across the area, and the Park itself boasts an excellent reputation for its self-drive safaris. With 1,500 lions, 17,000 elephants, 48,000 buffalo, and 1,000 leopards, Kruger offers ample opportunities to spot some of the biggest wildlife stars of a safari, but it’s also home to an incredible spectrum of animals, including 147 species of mammals (the largest number of mammals found anywhere in Africa), 507 species of birds, 114 reptile species, 49 species of fish and 34 species of amphibians. But for those interested in history and archaeology, Kruger offers more than just wildlife, with intriguing Bushman rock paintings found in its southwestern foothills, best explored on the Bushman Walking Trail near Berg-en-Dal.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
A safari in Chobe National Park is a unique and unmissable experience, boasting one of the densest concentrations of game on the whole continent, with wildlife drawn to the wetlands of the Chobe River. Whilst there’s an impressive diversity of mammals congregating around the river, Chobe National Park is best known for its enormous elephants, which can be spotted in herds of hundreds, but it’s also fantastic for big cats, with lions, cheetahs, and leopards all to be found prowling across the plains in search of prey. For an authentic experience and an unforgettable opportunity to get even closer to the wildlife, take to the water in a mokoro, the traditional Botswanan canoe, gliding past the buffaloes, hippos and giraffes relaxing on the banks.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Uganda may be renowned for its gorillas, and you can certainly search for chimpanzees, red-tailed and colobus monkeys in the lush rainforest of Queen Elizabeth National Park’s famous Valley of the Apes, but the Park boasts such a variety of wildlife, it’s worth visiting for more than just its prized primates. Water is an abiding feature across the Park, from the Kyambura River - where you’ll spot flamingos, pink-backed pelicans and shoebill storks - to the dramatic Lake George and Lake Edward, while the Kazinga Channel, which links both lakes, is home to submerged hippos, buffalo, and African fish eagles, which can be spotted diving to catch their prey. The larger mammals can be found in the Ishasha sector, in the southern reaches of the Park, and it is here that you can spot the rare tree climbing lions that have become synonymous with the Park. For ornithologists, Queen Elizabeth National Park is a must-do, as it boasts an impressive 619 bird species, the sixth highest of any park in the world.
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
South Africa’s third largest National Park can be found near Port Elizabeth, and dates back to 1931 and the efforts of South African naturalist Sydney Skaife who sought to provide a sanctuary for the 11 remaining elephants in the area. Today, Addo Elephant National Park is home to over 600 elephants, and a large number of other mammals, as well as the largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle. The Park also features Bird Island, where you can find the world’s largest breeding colony of gannets (about 120,000 birds) and the second largest breeding colony of African penguins.
Parc National Des Volcans, Rwanda
High up in the mist, the dark green, dense vegetation of Rwanda’s Parc National Des Volcans is a sanctuary for rare and endangered mountain gorillas, and it is here that one third of the world’s mountain gorillas can be found. First established in 1925 to protect these gentle giants from poachers, the Parc National des Volcans was the first National Park to be set up in Africa, and has a long history of conservation, particularly thanks to the famous naturalist Dian Fossey, and today the Park remains at the forefront of mountain gorilla conservation. With permits for just 80 people a day to venture into the heart of the mountainous forests in search of gorillas, this is truly an intimate wildlife encounter, spending an unforgettable hour witnessing gorillas in their natural habitat. The Park also plays host to the elusive Golden Monkey, while elephants, giant hogs, and spotted hyenas can also be spotted amidst the vegetation. Birders can also enjoy this haven, searching for some 178 bird species, thirteen of which are endemic to the Virunga Mountains, a mountain range which features five impressive volcanoes (only one of which still remains active).
Kafue National Park, Zambia
Taking its name from the river Kafue, which runs north to south through the Park, the legendary British conservationist Norman Carr established Kafue National Park in the 1950s. Not only is Kafue Zambia’s oldest National Park, it’s also the country’s largest, covering a massive 8648 square miles (a bit larger than Wales!). However the Park remains relatively unknown and largely unexplored, offering an authentic and off-the-beaten track safari experience, where there still remain vast tracts of virgin bush untouched, and an abundance of wildlife can be spotted.
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Covering just 151 square miles, and wrapped around the eponymous Lake Amboseli, this Kenyan National Park may be small, but it boasts a rich range of landscapes from acacia woodlands and open grasslands, to swamps and marshes. Most spectacularly of all, this Park offers wildlife encounters with the stunning snow-capped backdrop of the world’s highest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, making it perhaps the most picturesque National Park in Kenya. World famous for its big game, Amboseli National Park is particularly famous for its elephants, but it’s also ideal for birders, as it’s home to 400 species, from ostrich to flamingo, including 47 types of raptor.
If you would like to find out more about African safari holidays, contact our travel specialists today
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