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The 5 African National Parks that you have to visit in your lifetime!

Is there anything more suitable to escape the daily hustle and bustle than roaming one of many insanely beautiful national parks on the African continent? If you ask me….no, there’s not. These pockets of pure natural happiness, gems of a bygone era where the animal kingdom was the only kingdom to be found on this tiny little planet. Don’t get me wrong, there’s an abundance of places that can provide me a decent slice of joy, but only when you are truly experiencing the natural beauty that’s within many of these parks you’ll discover that each and every one of them is unique in their own way and deliver sights and memories which are incomparable.

Hence why I want to highlight 5 of my favourite national parks on the continent which will leave you breathless from the moment you set foot in them. And because I’m a nice guy (just take my word for it) I’ll even throw in some tips for accommodation that is almost on par with the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Also known as the “Jewel of the Kalahari” this unique and lush area in northern Botswana is truly remarkable. Being the largest inland delta in the world, it provide much needed water in an area that is otherwise very dry, creating a massive green oasis for wildlife to roam and thrive. And because of the massive amounts of water that come into it, you’ll soon find out that getting to your lodge is going to be dome by either helicopter or small aircraft. But don’t let this be a downside, on the contrary! From the air you get an amazing view and you’ll even be able to spot your first wildlife.

During the winter months, the largest amount of water reaches the delta, flooding several plains and creating a maze of small channels through which you can navigate in a mokoro (wooden canoe). What surprised me the most when I visited the Okavango Delta first, was the cheer amount of animals that we encountered during our whole stay. Everything from elephants and giraffe to lions, leopards and wild dogs. Without a doubt one of the national parks in Africa where wildlife is the most abundant. Another fun thing to do here is a heli safari, which allows you to discover large chunks of the area while spotting plenty of animals.

While it might not be the most accessible, it is one of the places in Africa where luxury safari camps are as plentiful as the wildlife. One of my favourites is Mombo Camp. Its prime location in the middle of the Moremi game reserve which is situated within the Okavango Delta is one of reasons why you want to stay here, but equally the fact of knowing that this is one of the most eco-friendly camps in Botswana makes for a good reason to consider Mombo camp. Not to mention the beautiful suites that provide views of the floodplains and from where you’ll regularly spot animals walking past or grazing in the not so far distance.

Virunga, Democratic Republic of Congo

Created in 1925 it’s the oldest national park on the African continent, and till today it is still one of the most diverse and mind-blowing places to visit in the whole wide world. Unfortunately the park had to deal with a lot of troubled times in this part of Africa, resulting in low visitor numbers, a more fragile infrastructure and often a life outside the spotlight. But times have changed and since 2010 the African Conservation Fund took over the management of the park. Since then there have been lots of initiatives to make it more accessible and tourist friendly, but also the documentary movie “Virunga” put the park once again firmly on the map. Big shots like Leonardo DiCaprio and others also helped to create more awareness and much needed funds in order to maintain the conservation initiatives that have continuously been going on.

Virunga is one of the three places in the world where you can see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, with the other two being located just across the border in Uganda and Rwanda. It also holds a treasure of other animals that roam around freely in the park like elephants, lions, hippos and so much more yet getting a chance to see any of the later is hard due to the ongoing security issues and lack of infrastructure. But trust me, I visited the park for the gorillas and it didn’t disappoint a single second. On top of that you’ll get the insane chance to climb the Nyiragongo volcano which holds the largest active volcano lake. And to add that extra sprinkle of adventure you’ll be sleeping on the edge of the crater while listening to the rumbling of mother earth’s belly. Truly an insane experience which is unrivalled anywhere in the world.

While there aren’t many options to choose from when it comes to accommodation, Mikeno Lodge will not let you down. This is simultaneously the place where you’ll find the Senkwekwe centre, the only place in the world where they take care of orphaned mountain gorillas. So during your stay and in between the activities you’ll be able to visit the centre and see what an amazing job they are doing. Each of the 12 bungalows at Mikeno lodge will provide you with all the amenities and luxury you need, and the chef will make sure none of the guests will start any trekking with a hungry feeling. My favourite spot though (besides sitting a few feet away from the gorillas or on the craters edge of the volcano) is sitting around the giant fireplace at the lodge, overlooking the lush green canopy while sipping your favourite tipple.

Namib Naukluft, Namibia

Everyone recognises the images from Sossusvlei where these old trees standing in the middle of a dried up basin surrounded by towering red sand dunes. Well, this is one small part of the massive Namib desert which is equally the oldest desert in the world. And in order to protect this area, Namibia decided in 1979 to create the Namib Naukluft national park which is situated in the southwest of the country. Visiting this place is truly like stepping into a whole new world, where humankind hasn’t interfered with nature and where the sun and wind are calling the shots.

The area is vast, so make sure you take your time to truly discover it. One of my favourite things to do (besides visiting the earlier mentioned Sossusvlei) is climbing on some of the large sand dunes. Here you’ll find some of the highest sand dunes in the world reaching heights well above 300 meters. You can even climb some of them, for example the famous Big Daddy or Dune 45. Just know you’ll still find those red sand grains weeks later at your place and they will instantly put a smile on your face. While it’s one of most dry places on this earth, you will still be surprised by the amount of wildlife that lives in this part of Namibia. Oryx, zebra and even leopards are just a few of the animals you might spot during your visit.

And while the harsh climate might make it near impossible to survive in this area, there’s no need to be roughing it when staying here. The &beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is the perfect place if you want to discover the area while enjoying all the modern day luxuries….and then some! Being heralded as one of the finest in the country it offers amazing views over the dunes and gravel plains from everywhere in the lodge, be it the dining area or your private pool. On top of that they offer amazing cuisine and boast an amazing wine cellar where I would happily spend a full vacation if it wasn’t for the amazing area it was located in. They also offer all kinds of cool experiences going from desert drives and stargazing (this is one of the best places in the world to do so) to e-biking and flying over this vast landscape in a hot air balloon. Truly a stunning place to stay!


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Kruger, South Africa

The Kruger national park doesn’t need any introduction unless you’ve been living under a rock for several decades and a documentary for you is a fancy word for some sort of stationary. Otherwise you know this is by far the most well-known national park in South Africa and it was equally the first park to be recognised in 1926. Its infrastructure is often a point of debate as many don’t like the fact that is can accommodate such large numbers of visitors thanks to its rest camps, tarred roads, shops,… and to be honest I generally agree. However on the other hand it allows a lot of people the chance to discover this amazing place on a budget which is rare when we talk about safaris and game reserves, and I’m a firm believer that we need to show this natural wonder to as many as possible in order to bring awareness to the fragile state some of the wildlife is situated in.

There’s also something called the Greater Kruger National Park and this comprises all the privately owned game reserves which border Kruger National Park to the west, often without any fencing allowing the animals to roam freely from one part of the park to another. These game reserves like Sabi Sands, Thornybush, Timbavati and so on surely ring a bell to those who have a keen interest in safari and wildlife. In these privately owned reserves you’ll find dirt roads and luxury lodges instead of tarred roads, rest camps and so on. Guests are also not allowed to drive themselves in them which instantly avoids any unruly behaviour which sometimes can be witnessed in Kruger. Nonetheless, the main reason for visiting this area of South Africa is being among the wildlife and believe me when I say it’s around in abundance, irrelevant if you visit the big park or one of the privately owned on the side.

One of my favourite lodges in this area is the Royal Malewane which is part of the luxurious Royal Portfolio. It offers 3 different options: The Lodge, The Farmstead or Waterside. Irrelevant of which one you prefer or choose, it will be a stylish, high-end and fun affair topped off with an amazing guiding team that is widely regarded as the most qualified in Africa. The unique style from Liz Biden (one of the owners) can be found in every nook and cranny, ensuring your stay will be one to remember. And if the amazing game drives, wonderful suites and impeccable guest service aren’t enough you’ll be glad to know that the culinary delights that color your day at every given moment will surely have you come back in a heartbeat, not to mention the amazing wines and spirits they serve with it! Truly a magical place that equals the beauty of the park it is situated in.

Maasai Mara, Kenya

Another big name on this list is the Maasai Mara which is actually not a national park but instead a national game reserve named in honour of the beautiful Maasai tribe that has been living here for centuries. It is very similar to the other famous national park being the Serengeti which is located in Tanzania and this is because they border each other with no visible or physical fence, allowing the wildlife to migrate from one part to the other. The culmination of it all happens during the great migration when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross the Grumeti and Mara river in order to reach new grassland. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is one of the seven natural wonders of Africa and equally one of the ten wonders of the world.

Unlike many of the safaris you’ll experience in South Africa, Zimbabwe and so on the Maasai Mara mostly consists of large plains where the animals are roaming around, often just grazing the hours away. Of course, predators are always on the lookout and this allows for some spectacular sightings. Large herds of wildebeest, gazelles, zebra and so on are the perfect food source for lions, cheetah and leopards, and as a result there’s a big chance of spotting some of the elusive big cats.

The game reserve might not be as massive as Kruger or the Okavango, but it still offers a wide variety of accommodation going from basic all the way to ultra luxurious with all the bells and whistles. While it’s impossible to pick a favourite, I do feel like Elewana Sand River Masai Mara is the perfect lodge that blends details referring back to the old days with modern comfort and luxury. Its location near a river also guarantees some amazing wildlife sightings from the comfort of your luxurious tent. One thing you can’t deny yourself when visiting this slice of heaven is a balloon safari over the reserve, as it is truly something spectacular.

Kristof Eyckmans

Kristof Eyckmans is a travel writer from Antwerp, Belgium. He’s been living all across the globe and while he loves wildlife and nature, he can still enjoy a good urban jungle.

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  1. Probably the hardest choice is which one of these great parks do you want to visit?
    Sadly, we usually find that ease of getting to the park is always a big factor in our choice. When you only have limited days holiday and limited funds for flights this is usually the one major thing that decides where we will go for our safari.

    1. Everyone has their own reason to justify the choice they made, and that’s perfectly fine.
      Accessibility to the park + having affordable options to fly to an airport nearby are certainly important for many!

  2. We had planned to do a safari for our honeymoon then found out it was beyond our budget. We’re hoping that when we become empty nesters we should be able to finally afford it.

    It seems to me that over those decades, safari lodges have only become more luxurious and glamorous. It finally will be well worth doing.

    1. Safaris don’t have to be overly expensive, but a lot depends on the destination of course. The Okavango Delta is the perfect example of a place where 9 out of 10 lodges are of a very high standard (with price to match).

      But At Kruger National Park for example you can stay in one of the rest camps inside the park and they might not be as luxurious, but they certainly serve the purpose + are self catering if you like which means you can save there too.

      Kenya also has some good budget options in case you prefer that area more.

      It’s all about research and knowing how much luxury you really need or crave. Safaris can be immensely expensive but it certainly doesn’t have to be like that all the time.

    2. Fair point, you can get a lot out of these parks on a budget.

      Though this is A Luxury Travel Blog so it’s nice to have some options for luxury. For me a safari in these parks is always a little more luxurious when the ranger stops for morning coffee then serves the sundowner on the evening game drive.

      Up market you get what you pay for. When you get both a spotter and a driver for a game driver I’ve always found that you see a lot more wildlife as the spotter can focus 100% to track and read the landscape.

    3. Indeed, this is A Luxury Travel Blog so I kept it in line with the name and added some amazing lodges which are not always going to be the cheapest…..BUT…..will give you an unraveled experience in the area you are visiting.

      Like you I also prefer to have a ranger and tracker as it does make a difference. It’s only normal that a ranger can’t guide/track/drive and look for animals all at the same time for a 100%. After all, they are all human :)
      Only thing is that trackers don’t come as a standard anymore at many lodges so by going to some of these top ones like I suggested you’ll be sure these things are taken care of. I also prefer private game vehicles but that is becoming even more rare, though there are still some that offer this perk as a standard.

    1. I couldn’t agree more!

      Luckily I’ve visited all of them and many more, but these are on such another level than many others that I could resist naming them among my top choices.

  3. Over the years I’ve done 3 conventional Big Five safaris in Kenya and South Africa. Now it’s time to move on.

    I’ve been thinking about mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. I didn’t know that you could see them in the Congo as well. It’s always nice to have a recommendation on accommodation as well. Virunga sounds good.

    1. Virunga is truly stunning! And the fact that you can include the Nyiragongo volcano is really something special!

      Another big advantage (in my books) is the fact there’s very little tourists visiting this park, making for unique experiences which few have ever had!

    1. Visiting all of these is indeed a great way to discover the diversity of African national parks. But trust me, there are so many that it’s hard to make a choice!

  4. That photo of the hot air balloon gently drifting over the park really has got me thinking what it must be like to look down and see the bigger picture.

    A friend went on safari recently and she said that the thing with a hot air balloon wax that you could see the real size of a buffalo herd and sometimes she could even see them being stalked by a lion.

    1. That absolutely true. The advantage of the hot air balloon is the fact that it’s silent and not in the immediate eyesight of the animals.
      And the bird’s eye view does allow you to take in the size of some of the herds which can be really massive and almost impossible to grasp when staying on the ground.

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