Africa may be having a tough time of it of late, but the continent is a pretty big place, with some pretty fabulous corners that are rarely explored. One of the main attractions remains the unparalleled wildlife, so if you want to trump your friends in the ‘obscure destinations visited’ stakes, try these secret safari classics out for size.
1. Liuwa Plain, Zambia
Way out west towards the Angolan border, the expansive grasslands of Liuwa Plain in Zambia are remoteness personified thanks to total inaccessibility (except by boat) for eight months of the year. In the intervening four months a distinct lack of bump-free and sign-posted roads help keep many more curious types at bay so the truly intrepid explorer who makes it to Liuwa is rewarded with one of Africa’s last true wilderness regions. Liuwa is home to vast numbers of wildebeest, zebra, tsessebe, red lechwe, oribi and steinbuck, eland and buffalo, with attendant predators usually in hot pursuit. The birdlife is also out of this world.
2. Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
The conventional image of a safari park tends to be one of vast open savannah grasslands, with animals roaming as far as the eye can see, but many of Africa’s best national parks are actually in dense tropical jungle. Exhibit A: Mahale Mountains National Park, which is not only cloaked in thick forest, but chucks in a few steeply sloped peaks for good measure. The key attraction here is a habituated troop of chimpanzees who live on the steep mountain slopes. If you are lucky enough to find and sit with them for a few hours, it’s one of the most magical wildlife experiences imaginable.
3. The Waterberg, South Africa
Madikwe is now on the radar for savvy safari-seeking families thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg and the absence of malaria, which means small children and pregnant mums avoid the need for malaria tablets. Less well known, but equally wonderful, is the Waterberg, a mountainous UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with superb family-friendly lodges and the ideal place for the kids to ride as there’s game, but none of the biggest beasties to frighten the horses.
4. Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe
It’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open and the hordes return to Zimbabwe, a country that was once the undisputed best Southern African safari destination. The legendary Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks are already experiencing a big year on year rise in visitors but another park in the south, Gonarezhou, is still flying firmly under the radar despite some staggeringly beautiful scenery (think dramatic ridge lines) and guides every bit as good as those in the better known parks. Get there before everything changes.
5. Ankarana National Park, Madagascar
Madagascar as a whole is pretty much off the beaten track, but well, well worth exploration. As anyone with young children will know this is the home of the lemur (all together now with the theme tune from the movie Madagascar ‘I like to move it, move it’), but the country is home to some of the most astonishing landscapes, as well as beasties. Ankarana National Park has the requisite lemurs, a huge bat-filled cave and bizarre tsingy rock formations.
6. Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Congo
Congo should not be mistaken for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its neighbour from hell and a huge basket case of a country which has been in a state of civil war for almost all of the last 18 years. Congo, on the other hand, is famous for something altogether more positive – having by far the largest population of Western Lowland Gorillas anywhere in Africa. These beautiful and endangered animals are found in relatively large numbers in the vast Odzala-Kokoua National Park (like 3.3 million acres vast) which is also home to bizarre Forest Buffalo, Golden Cats and, some say, lions.
7. Katavi, Tanzania
Back to Tanzania and back to the west for a more conventional savannah style set-up, namely Katavi National Park. Why does Katavi make the list? Because of one simple statistic – the park apparently receives fewer visitors in one year than the Serengeti does in one day, yet has greater wildlife concentrations than any other park in Tanzania. Sold.
Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.