Future travel inspiration: the best safaris in Africa


When thinking about watching wild animals roam the open plains only one destination normally comes to mind – Africa. The mother continent is home to an astonishing number of animals which make safaris one of the most exciting experiences on the globe. Not much can compare to a stampede of wildebeest as they embark on the Great Migration, prowling lions constantly on the lookout for their next meal or serene elephants blissfully hanging around a watering hole. The untamed, rugged landscape of the African plains simply adds to the overwhelming feeling that you truly are in the heart of some of mother nature’s finest. We have put together some of our favourite safaris to experience the best of Africa.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia is the most popular reserve in the country for animal viewing. Spanning an area of over 22,000 km2, the name of the park comes from the expansive Etosha salt pan which blankets almost 25% of the area within the national park. Residing in the reserve are hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including threatened animals such as the black rhino. One of the best things about Etosha National Park is that you don’t have to spend hours searching for wildlife – just make sure you’re close to a watering hole and then wait for the animals to come to you. Expect to see elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, lion, zebra and impala, as well as the more elusive cheetah and leopard. For the best chance of animal encounters, visit in the dry season, when hoards of Etosha’s residents flock to the watering holes for a drink. But if you’re more interested in bird watching, you should consider visiting in the summer season when the vegetation is green and lush because of the rains. Lastly, Etosha is a fantastic national park if you want to combine a safari with some stunning landscapes – just a few hours drive away you can find the Namibian coastline and journey further south to witness the fascinating Namib desert, including Dune 45 and DeadVlei.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Situated in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park is less visited than the more popular reserves in neighbouring countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Founded in 1952, the reserve was originally called Kazinga National Park until a visit from Queen Elizabeth II two years later resulted in the name change to commemorate her stay. The vast space occupies an estimated 1978 square kilometres which encompasses Lake George, Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel which connects them both. Within the reserve you can find African buffalo, hippos, bush elephants, leopards and lions, as well as over 500 species of bird! Perhaps what sets Queen Elizabeth park apart from the rest is it’s fantastic proximity to Kibale Forest, an evergreen reserve that’s home to 13 species of primates – including chimpanzees. Tracking to find these cheeky animals is a highlight of any visit to the park. On top of that – travel south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and you can find yourself trekking to see the impressive mountain gorillas of Uganda. An all encompassing experience!

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is the starting point for the famous wildebeest migration that occurs in an annual cycle. Normally around April/May, after the calving season, the food supply is exhausted and wildebeest embark on their journey to greener pastures. By June, the migration tends to build up in massive numbers by the Grumeti River before the first brave souls take on the rivers lurking crocodiles in an attempt to reach the other side. Once the chain has started, thousands of wildebeest then follow this treacherous journey and slowly make their way into Kenya and the Masai Mara reserve, where the plains are normally peppered with thousands of wildebeest by around September. The animals will graze here until the cycle begins again and they return to the southern areas of the Serengeti. On top of this, the Serengeti National Park is home to endless horizons and countless other animals, making it the perfect safari destination in Tanzania. Search for lions on the hunt, try and spot leopards lounging in the trees or watch as elephants peacefully drift across the plains.

Masai Mara National Park

The Masai Mara National Park is one of Kenya’s crown jewels – thousands of visitors flock to the reserve each year in anticipation of experiencing some of the continent’s best wildlife. Covering a total of 1,500 square kilometres, it is notably smaller than many of Africa’s national parks yet is home to a variety of animals including the big five (the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino) as well as over 500 species of birds. Many people combine the Masai Mara with neighbouring Serengeti National Park – especially in the hopes of witnessing the magnificent wildebeest migration. Between the smaller size and vast open plains dotted with game and their predators, the Masai Mara is a destination almost guaranteed to deliver.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is the largest safari destination in South Africa. Encompassing around 2 million hectares, over 300 archaeological sites have been discovered within the park and it’s considered to be the oldest reserve in Africa. Also home to the big five, it’s a fantastic destination for animal encounters of all sorts and is renowned in southern Africa for its incredible wildlife prospects. On top of the animals found here, the park surrounds mountains, winding rivers and golden-hued savannas, providing wonderful scenery for visitors who want the whole package. Due to its sheer size, we recommend spending a good few days in the park exploring early morning and evening game drives, when different animals are active at various times.

Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park, Botswana, is known for having one of the greatest concentrations of elephants in Africa – estimated to be around 50,000. The 11,000 square kilometres of wilderness, floodplains and swaps supports hundreds of species of animal and birdlife. One of the most prominent aspects of Chobe National Park is the Chobe River that flows through it – the perfect opportunity to view elephants, buffalo and hippo as they frolic along the river’s edge. We recommend staying at a lodge within the park, as most are unfenced and animals roam freely within plain view making breakfast time a bit more exciting!

Okavango Delta Reserve

The Okavango Delta is vastly different to all other parks mentioned in this post. The huge swampy grassland is formed by the Kavango River which flows from the Angolan highlands and into the Kalahari Desert. A network of swamps and waterways merge within the Delta to create one of the most biodiverse places in southern Africa. Due to the vast system of swampland’s, access via roads is not possible and so the best, and only way to explore the Okavango Delta is by traditional mokoros – lightweight canoes which are steered by local guides who maneuver through reeds and grass to show you the best of the Delta. Look out for hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes as they meander in the water and take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you.

Hell’s Gate National Park

Contrary to its rather unforgiving name, Hell’s Gate National Park is one of the safest reserves to explore by foot due to the absence of large predators. Situated in Kenya, next to Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate is named after the small break in the cliffs that once fed into a prehistoric lake. The area covers a mere 68 square kilometres making it much smaller than Kenya’s other popular parks, however the ability to enjoy walking safaris, hiking and biking while in the reserve make it popular for visitors to the region. Within the park you can expect to find various birds including eagles and vultures, as well as zebra, buffalo, eland, gazelle and hyenas. Perhaps most notable is the park’s resemblance to much of the scenery in the 1994 family classic, The Lion King. Prior to production, many of the crew visited Kenya’s Hell’s Gate National Park for inspiration and to gain a true understanding of the African landscape.

Matt Gannan is the CEO and Owner of Tucan Travel. Tucan Travel operate cultural tours in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as tailor-made holidays in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

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Comments (8)

  1. Val Townsend says:

    I had heard of the Queen Elizabeth National park, but not that it was called Kazinga prior to the Queen’s stay. That’s nice of them to commemorate her visit like that. Although I’ve never been on safari myself, the handful of people I know that have been have all found it to be quite a life changing experience. I don’t know anyone that’s been to the Serengeti to see the wildebeest migration though, maybe I could be the first among my friend and acquaintance circle! A safari is something I’d like to do one day, perhaps more so as I’ve got older now that I appreciate different types of travel than I did in my youth. I’ve also felt more cooped up with modern life so reading about nature, seeing the wilderness like this, is like a breath of fresh air.

    • Matt Gannan says:

      Thanks for your comment Val. A safari is undoubtedly a fantastic experience and it’s true to say most people who embark on one are not disappointed. While there are the popular choices, Africa is just bursting with safari parks so you do have lots of choice depending on what overall experience you are after. The wildebeest migration would of course be a very special thing to witness.

      All the best

  2. Margaret says:

    Does the Kruger National Park get busy during the peak summer months given that it’s the largest of the safari destinations in Africa? It must be such an expansive place and it’s quite hard to imagine what it’s like. I’ve always thought of safaris as one of those once in a lifetime kind of adventures and yet the two people I know who have been lucky enough to go have ended up going back each year since. Think they got the safari bug! Must be a wonderful thing to be able to do.

    • Matt Gannan says:

      Thanks for your comment Margaret and hope you’re keeping well. Kruger is one of the most popular and therefore busiest parks in South Africa, but like you say it’s large in size so it doesn’t tend to feel “overcrowded”. Safari’s can be a once in a lifetime adventure but many people love them so much they keep returning for more! I think this is because a safari holiday can vary so much depending on the season and country you visit, and you’ll never have the same experience twice. All the best

  3. Fernando says:

    Wondering if any of these places, or safaris for that matter, are best for like mid-year to 4th quarter visits? Or are they all good to visit any time? I’m not particular on what kind of animals will be “available” on a given month, but of course it’s good if I can spot the Big 5. I just want to be able to get out in the wild when we all can finally go travel. I want to feel nature again and not be confined within four walls again. I think safaris will be safest as well as rainforest or outback vacations. Less people to come in contact with, especially if we haven’t really found a vaccine yet by next year, but praying we would have.

    • Matt Gannan says:

      Hi Fernando, hope you are keeping well. Yes, we are also very much looking forward to the prospect of travelling again, and I agree that “outdoors” holidays will likely prove a popular choice! These parks can be visited any time of the year, so the month you choose depends on your personal preference. During the dry season you are likely to see the animals faster and in a higher abundance because they flock to the watering holes, whereas in the green season you will need to spend more time searching them out, but the crowds tend to be less. Whenever you choose to go, it’s a brilliant experience! All the best

  4. Tom says:

    Very interesting. I have been on safari in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania but have always wanted to go to Botswana and Namibia. Are there any particular lodges or reserves that you recommend in particular in those countries? Chobe sounds amazing and Etosha as well. I was supposed to be taking my family to Namibia next year, and hopefully we will still be able to go once this whole situation clears.up. Thanks

    • Matt Gannan says:

      Thanks for your comment Tom. There are some really fantastic lodges in Botswana and Namibia. I would look at Elephant Sands in Botswana, the camp and lodges are right by the watering hole so you have really great views of the elephants. Bakwena is a fantastic eco lodge. Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland Namibia is another popular choice. Honestly, there are so many really fantastic lodges, I’m sure you’ll have some fun researching! All the best

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