For most travelers, their wanderlust bucket lists feature an African safari (or two). Safari is a Swahili word for overland journeys, typically for game viewing in their natural habitat.
Kenya is arguably the home of the safari and the most popular African safari destination for first-timers. However, other countries on the East Coast and south of Africa host equally enthralling safari destinations too.
The destinations are mainly in the form of parks and reserves, with Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa alone already having over 150 national parks: all with different terrain and wildlife species. But which are the most popular African safari destinations? Here are our top five picks:
1. Maasai Mara, Kenya:
Set on the rolling hills and grassy plains of South Eastern Kenya is the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The park is situated 283.4 Km from the nation’s capital, Nairobi.
By road, it will take you about 6 hours to drive to Masai Mara from JKIA, the main entry into Kenya by flight, or 6 hours using a direct internal flight.
The Maasai Mara has been hailed as “the greatest wildlife real estate on Earth” (CNN Travel) and repeatedly voted as Africa’s leading National park for 4 years in a row, since 2015 (World Travel Awards).
The park is home to ‘The Big Five’ (the African Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo) and over 470 bird species. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, Maasai Mara boasts over 835 lions and more than 90 species of Antelope.
The most spectacular event on the Mara calendar is the annual Masai Mara Wildebeest migration, which features a dramatic exodus of over 1.2 million Wildebeest accompanied by more than 200,000 Zebras, Impalas, Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, and Elands all crossing the Crocodile infested Mara River in pursuit of the fresh grassy plains of the Mara.
The animals historically cross the Mara river between June and July, but no one knows exactly when they will close. Your best bet is to work with Masai Mara based safari operators such as AjKenyasafaris.com or Masaimarasafari.in.
They will help you up to date with the location of the herd, making sure you will be in time for the adventure when it starts.
2. Kruger National Park, South Africa:
Located in northeastern South Africa, Kruger National Park is a whopping 19,485 km² (approx. 2 million Hectares) area of the African wilderness.
Said to be the size of Wales, the park has a wide array of wildlife, including African Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, African Elephant, Black and White Rhinoceros, Grey Rhebok, Steenbok, Cheetahs, Honey Badgers, Baboons, and wild dogs, as well as several bird species such as Vultures, Eagles, and Storks.
Owing to its impeccable infrastructure, which features tarmacked roads, the park is a favorite for self-driving tourists who favor independent travel.
3. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania:
A neighbor to the Kenyan Maasai Mara, the Serengeti is a vast ecosystem located in Tanzania. While the Maasai Mara means ‘spotted’ in Maasai, the Serengeti means ‘endless plains’
During the annual wildebeest migration, the migrants move from Serengeti to Maasai Mara in Kenya, between the months of July- November. Then back again to the Serengeti between December- July.
The park boasts of the Big 5 (the African Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo). While visiting the park, visitors can also hope to tour the Ngorongoro Crater on the way, a basin known as ‘the Eden of Africa’ where sightings of the Big 5 are also common.
4. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve, Uganda:
Changing gears from the African savannah and grasslands, we look at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This is a primeval forest located in south-western Uganda. Primarily Gorilla territory, mist-covered hillsides blanket the reserve, which is said to be one of the most biologically diverse rainforests in the world.
According to the Uganda Wildlife Forest Service, the forest, which is over 25,000 years old, has over 400 amounts in Gorillas- which comprise over half the world’s population of mountain Gorillas!
The reserve also hosts baboons and chimpanzees, elephants, antelopes, black and white colobus monkeys, and lots of colorful butterflies.
A safari in the ancient rainforest is every hiker’s dream.
5. Amboseli National Park, Kenya:
With her vast number of Elephants and views of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, the Amboseli National Park provides its own share of adventure. It is the best National park in Africa for anyone who wants to come up close with large herds of elephants.
With over 900 African Elephants, Lions, Hyenas, flocks of Wildebeest, Zebras, Giraffes, and Antelope, the park offers different dimensions of nature like never seen before.
For bird lovers, the park is home to 600 bird species, featuring Herons, Pelicans, Egrets, and Crowned Cranes.
The park’s acacia woodland offers additional avian life such as the White-bellied go-away bird, Steel-blue Whydah, and the Von der Decken’s Hornbill.
These are the 5 best, an African holiday destination for big 5 safaris and wildlife viewing. To make your holiday more fun, you can add beach holidays or mountain climbing to your list.