Last updated on November 8th, 2019 at 08:16 am
Africa is home to 54 independent countries, each with a unique set of wildlife, nature, and culture to offer. An African Safari experience is something most people dream about!
Safari: /səˈfɑːri/ noun – an expedition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in Africa. Commonly referred to as a game drive.
Believe it or not, I actually only went on my first safari at the age of 22. Despite being born and bred in South Africa, going on a game drive is a luxury to most as it’s quite pricey!
I did a lot of research and I have also learned a lot which I’ll be sharing in this post.
Africa is the world’s number one destination for safaris. Due to an abundance of wildlife, affordability as well as low to no visa requirements.
Before you can enjoy this one in a lifetime opportunity, you need to decide which animals you’d like to see and where you want to stay during your African safari experience. This will determine how much it costs.
Things to know before your first African Safari Experience
Here are some insights and information you ought to know before going on an African adventure of a lifetime:
Choosing where to go for your African Safari Experience
Decide which animal you want to see as not all parks have all species. It’s important to research before booking.
Vaccinations needed before traveling to Africa
Before leaving your home country, you need to visit your doctor or a travel clinic for advice on vaccines and medications.
Your vaccination requirements usually depend on where in Africa you go. The most common vaccinations are for Yellow Fever, Malaria, Diphtheria, and Hepatitis A.
I highly recommend that you do this because my friend got Malaria in Mozambique and survived but there is no cure for diseases like yellow fever and ebola.
Why can’t I geotag my African Safari Experience on social media
Africa is home to some of the world’s endangered wildlife. When you reveal their geographic location on social media, you can put both their lives and yours in danger. Poachers can attack a game reserve to kill rhinos for their horns or elephants for their trunks and you might be in the crossfire.
What to pack for African Safari Experience
When it comes to clothing, less is always better + dragging luggage around isn’t fun! Bring comfortable clothes like sweatpants, shorts, leggings & t-shirts and you can easily wear the same clothes a few days in a row; no one is going to notice, especially the animals!
Suggested Read: My ultimate South African Safari Experience Packing List
You don’t have to be dressed in head-to-toe khaki or camouflage clothing. This seems to be the ultimate international visitors’ outfit choice when visiting African countries but it actually makes it easy for locals (even criminals) to spot that you are a tourist.
Usually, the host provides you with refreshments on drives but it’s advisable to carry a bottle of water with you to avoid dehydration.
Always pack a hat and raincoat.
Bring tissues, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. On long drives, you might need to jump off the land rover and pee in the bushes.
Best time for an African Safari Experience.
Generally, it’s best to go on an African safari during the dry season as water is scarce and the animals would usually gather around the few water resources that haven’t dried up.
Consider traveling in low season as its cheaper and there are fewer crowds.
Early morning drives are great, as animals are more active before it gets hot. Remember to bring a pair of binoculars to enhance your game viewing experience.
Evening drives are great for just watching the animals and not really taking pictures. Don’t forget to bring a headlamp and a blanket.
What is the Big Five
The Big Five is a hunting term for the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo
- It’s okay to ask questions. Just take note of your surroundings – don’t be the person shouting across the vehicle when everyone is trying to keep quiet to avoid scaring off a shy animal. And please don’t scream “Jumbo” when you see an elephant or “Simba” to a lion!
- Don’t forget to put your phone away. Yes, you can take as many pictures and videos as possible but try to take in all the little things like different sounds and scents.
- Don’t feed the animals on your African safari experience or even attempt to pat lions!
- Don’t get out of the vehicle unless your guide says it’s safe to do so, you might get trampled by an elephant.
- Follow the rules, respect the signs to avoid getting killed by a hippo while taking a selfie.
- Try and speak to the locals as much as possible, most are multilingual and knowledgeable.
Best places to go for an African Safari Experience
Personally, I’ve been on safari in 6 countries and every experience was magical! Here are my top 5 countries, although I have a feeling that the list will probably change after I visit Uganda for the first time.
- Best place for African Safari Experience by boat: Zambia
- For a classic African safari experience: Tanzania
- Best country for eco African Safari Experience ( low-density tourism & amazing conservation laws): Botswana
- Best place for African Safari Experience with dramatic scenery: Kenya
- Overall Best African Safari Experience: South Africa – the country has a bit everything
I’ve asked some of my favorite travel bloggers to share their best Africa Safari Experience:
My beautiful country is home to many safari experiences for ANY budget, from horse riding, helicopters, and even hot air ballooning.
Want to start your day with a safari, swim with sharks and then explore Winelands. This can be easily done in one day and province. Not only are the nine provinces unique, but there are also many national parks in South Africa and unique experiences you can only have in SA!
Kruger National Park
By Shobha of Just Go Places
A Kruger Safari is simply one of the best things to do in South Africa.
Several years ago we had been to a safari park on the Garden Route near to Cape Town because our children were still fairly young. We returned when they were a bit older for an African Safari Experience at the world’s largest national park – Kruger.
Our guide explained that there was a better chance of seeing nocturnal animals who had done their feeding and were looking for somewhere to rest during the day. At Kruger National Park we were amazed by the vastness of the space. We were lucky enough to see wild dogs, giraffes, elephants, zebra, leopards, monkeys, lions and loads of assorted birds.
Our favorite was the young elephants playing by the watering hole. They reminded me of my children. One little elephant pushed another little elephant into the water. That elephant came storming out of the water and the first elephant went running to his mother for cover.
We could’ve watched the assorted animals for days. They all had such personality even if they were just going about their business. We watched a leopard patiently stalking its prey which had burrowed into a hole. We were never big fans of zoos and now that we have seen wild animals in their natural habitat, we realized that nothing beats the experience of a safari!
Best Luxury Kruger National Park Hotels
There are many things to do in Mpumalanga It’s not surprising why many locals and international guests choose to spend a lot of time in the province. If you’re looking for the best luxury Kruger National Park Hotels, here are my top picks:
The Kruger Park Lodge Estate is situated in Hazyview on the banks of the Sabie River.
The resort has a 9-hole golf course, 3 swimming pools and offers air-conditioned guestrooms. Lodge rooms are situated in chalets surrounded by mahogany trees and gardens. Rooms have thatched roofs and modern wood furnishings. They come equipped with a TV and have a balcony with panoramic views.
Guests of Kruger Park can enjoy a game of tennis on one of the resort’s 4 courts, or relax on a sun lounger poolside. The Estate has trampolines and offers activities for children. Nearby leisure activities include bird and hippo watching.
Protea Hotel Hazyview has an outdoor pool overlooking the surrounding mountains, just 20 minutes drive from the Kruger National Park. Set on a lush 10-acre garden estate, it features deluxe rooms. All rooms boast a country-style décor which includes plush armchairs and ornate furniture. Most rooms have scenic garden views and are fitted with air conditioning, satellite TV and a tea/coffee maker. With its all-wood interior and local artworks, Letaba Restaurant features a Swazi-themed décor. It serves South African delicacies and international cuisine. Guests can enjoy cocktails at the chic Maroela Bar and Lounge. Protea Hotel The Hazyview is 7.5 miles from the Kruger National Park gate. It is less than 43.5 miles from Pilgrim’s Rest.
Offering an outdoor pool and sun terrace, Blue Mountain Luxury Lodge is set on 200 hectares of farmland in the Mpumalanga Region. The Numbi Gate of Kruger National Park is 37 km from the property. Free WiFi is provided and free private parking is available on site.
All units are air-conditioned and feature a seating area, verandah, and fireplace. Each unit offers an en suite bathroom with bathrobes. The room is equipped with a mini-fridge and towels and bed linen are provided. Guests can enjoy a meal at the on-site, fine dining restaurant offering French cuisine. An all-day champagne breakfast is available and room service is offered.
Pilanesberg National Park
Recommended by Fiona of Passport and Piano
While many visitors to South Africa opt for a safari in Kruger, Pilanesberg Game reserve is a fantastic alternative!
It’s only a two and a half-hour drive from Johannesburg, and although the park is smaller, you have a much better chance of spotting the big five and other game animals.
The gate prices are lower than Kruger, which makes it a more affordable destination. Pilanesberg self-drive safaris are popular, and you can easily hire a car from the airport. To get to Pilanesberg, head up the N4 to the North West Province where you’ll find signposts to the reserve. If you are traveling with children, Sun City is a popular resort to stay on the edge of Pilanesberg. It has several hotels to suit all budgets and a wealth of things to do, including an entertainment center, and a water park.
There are also several luxury lodges to stay within the park. However, if you’re looking for an African experience at an affordable price, I’d recommend the African Elegance Tented Lodge, which is about 15 minutes from the main Bakubung gate. Pilanesberg was once a volcanic crater, and its unusual geological foundations mean that the scenery varies dramatically throughout the park.
Not only are there vast sections of grasslands and arid land, but there are also unique rock formations and thick Acacia thickets. It’s one of the best reserves to spot the African wild dog and leopards.
There are five photographic hides which overlook several of the parks dams and time spent at these will reward you with magnificent sightings of elephants, zebras, and other game. There are also over 300 bird species recorded in the game reserve so bird watchers won’t be disappointed.
Addo Elephant National Park
Recommended by Ollie and Candi at Ollie and the Captain
South Africa is a world-renowned safari destination, boasting countless experiences that bring you face-to-face with the notorious ‘Big Five’.
Located in the lush province of the Eastern Cape is Addo Safari Park, one of the most magnificent nature reserves in the country!
Once inside the boundary fence that secures and conserves the 1640 km2 grounds, you can expect to see the famous ‘Big Five’ including lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo and, of course, elephant. In addition, the park is home to 13 species of antelope and 22 species of other carnivores such as cheetahs and hyena.
While the park can easily be reached by one of the surrounding towns, such as Port Elizabeth or East London, there are also cozy accommodation options found within the park. Various cottages, such as Langebos Huts and Matyholweni Rest Camp, make your early morning game drives that make it easier to reach.
Addo is the only park in the world where you can find the Big 7: the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African lion, African leopard, African rhino as well as whales and Great White sharks.
Look out for herds of elephant strolling the gravel roads and cooling off in the Harpoor Dam, and keep your cameras charged to snap some pics of the Zuurberg Mountain. If you want to mix things up a little bit, you can also venture off to the rolling dunes of the Woody Cape section and have a go at sandboarding.
Addo Elephant National Park is a magical place that gives travelers around the world an opportunity for an authentic and immersive experience in nature.
Klaserie Private Game Reserve
Recommended by Laura of The Travelling Stomach
Located in the heart of Kruger, Klaserie Private Game Reserve offers the ultimate African safari experience.
With not as many lodges as neighboring Timbavati reserve, you’re unlikely to see many other safari vehicles during your game drives, enjoying virtually private viewings! The Big 5 roam freely through the reserve, and also across to Kruger National Park, so you can expect to see a wide variety of wildlife sightings, from wandering baby elephants trotting to keep up with their mother, prides of lions lazing in the sun and even an elusive leopard dragging its kill up a tree if you’re lucky!
Aside from the Big 5, Klaserie Private Game Reserve also is home to other intriguing wildlife you’ll be unlikely to see many other places in the world, such as the jackal or the wild dog.
If you are staying at one of the lodges, such as the wonderful Baobab Ridge, you will enjoy two game drives a day; one early morning just before the sun rises, with a stop for coffee and rusks as dawn breaks, and another as dusk draws in, with a stop for sundowner drinks in the bush. Both typically the best times for game viewing, when the animals are most active, you may be lucky to come across a big cat enjoying a fresh kill!
The lodge itself is a fabulous place to enjoy between game drives, with a swimming pool overlooking the savanna and a traditional boma, where you will enjoy freshly cooked dinner around the fire with your campmates.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe is a 5-star Luxury Game Reserve. Located just north of the North West Province near the Botswana border lies the 765-square-kilometer Madikwe Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s largest wildlife areas.
The resort was voted as one of Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 20 African Resorts in 2019.
Not only does this park have more than 300 species of birds but you can see the Big 5 and endangered African wild dogs, hippos and cheetahs. There are many national parks in South Africa and this of the best private ones!
Access is reserved to guests of its lodges and day visitors, who must book a package through one of the lodges that include a game drive and lunch because independent day visits are not allowed. There are over 20 lodges in the area but these are the best:
$$$ Luxury – Royal Madikwe Luxury Safari Lodge
Perfect place to stay in North West for Couples!
Royal Madikwe Luxury Safari Lodge features modern, African-inspired décor and the main clubhouse features a cozy lounge, restaurant and kid’s club. The elegant units offer air conditioning, a minibar and a safe.
Some units have a seating area and a viewing deck with a hot tub. Each unit comes with an en suite bathroom and features views of the bush and mountain.
The reserve boasts a variety of wildlife and panoramic views of the African savannah. A massage can be arranged upon request and children can enjoy a variety of activities in the games room.
$$ Moderate – aha Thakadu River Camp
One of my top picks in the Madikwe Game Reserve!
Situated in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, this luxurious campsite features air-conditioned tent suites with a private patio. The communal area comprises of an open-plan lounge, a dining area, and an outdoor pool.
Overlooking Madikwe’s valley and the river, the tent suites at Thakadu River Camp come with mosquito nets, tea/coffee facilities, and a private bathroom.
The family tent suites have an extra sleeper couch for children. Children older than 6 years are able to join the games drives on offer and a babysitting service is available for those younger than 6, with prior arrangement, at an additional charge.
Located just 10 minutes’ drive from the Sterkfontein Caves, Maropeng Boutique Hotel offers air-conditioned rooms.
The hotel has a terrace with an outdoor pool and guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. The African themed rooms at Maropeng Boutique Hotel feature a patio, a flat-screen TV, and tea-and-coffee-making facilities.They invited me to stay at this property after it launched and I shared a detailed review. Overall, the staff will make your stay magical!
River Safari in St. Lucia
Lake St Lucia is situated a 3-hour drive north of Durban and about one hour north of Richards Bay in Zululand.
It’s home to over 2000 crocs and 800 hippos, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the East, where whales pass on their way to their breeding grounds in Mozambique, dolphins play in the surf and turtles nest on the beaches.
St Lucia is the gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and the perfect adventure holiday destination!
As St Lucia is surrounded by the game park, it’s a daily occurrence to see a business of mongoose cross the street, a troop of monkeys grooming each other and the elusive leopard ambling on the outskirts of town…
Although the town is safe, with private security companies that patrol the area and a local police station. You only need to watch out for hippos, whom after spending the day in Lake St Lucia, emerge at night to graze on the luscious lawns of the streets of St Lucia!
While on a sunset boat cruise, I learned that hippos kill 2900 human beings every year. So if you see one, trip the person next to you and run for your life!
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
image: Justin Lee
iSimangaliso Wetlands Park – located on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s third-largest protected area.
iSimangaliso means “a miracle” in Zulu.
The park includes areas such as Kosi Bay, Cape Vidal, Lake St. Lucia, St. Lucia Game Reserve, Lake Sibhayi and Sodwana Bay National Park, just to name a few.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park boasts the highest bird count in all of Africa, the southern-most breeding spots for turtles in Africa, Africa’s tallest forested dunes, the largest remaining stands of sand forest, the biggest peat beds in the Southern Hemisphere and vast wetlands.
The Park features:
- Biodiversity of 5 ecosystems
- Superlative natural phenomena
- Scenic beauty
- Flora and Fauna
- Ecological processes
Other outstanding features:
- The largest black rhino population in the world
- 220km of pristine coastline and beaches
- 25,000-year-old coastal dunes which are the tallest forested dunes in Africa
- The only major swamp forest left in the Southern Hemisphere
- 3 major lake systems (Lake St Lucia; Kosi Bay; Lake Sibaya)
- 4 RAMSAR wetlands
- A 45,000-year-old peat wetland
Isimangaliso is one of a kind!
Bhangazi Horse Safari
When Horse Riding for either novices or ‘old hands’ there are few places in the world you can ride in an area as unspoiled or beautiful as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KZN.
All rides are accompanied by a lead and back up rider allowing us to split the group at times to be able to cater each ride to each individual’s experience level.
From the water’s edge of the Indian Ocean, through the game reserve to the shores of Lake St Lucia Estuary; you can experience game viewing with a difference.
Horse African Safari: Game rides begin at Iphiva, a 5-minute drive from the center of St Lucia. From here you will ride into the Game Reserve on the southern end of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park where you will ride alongside zebra, wildebeest, bushbuck, warthog, duiker, impala etc with occasional sightings of rhino, buffalo and their elusive leopard.
Horse Beach Rides: During the whale season (June-Nov), you will often see humpbacks breaching out in the deeper water on their way to their breeding grounds in Mozambique. From November to February, they search for the tracks of turtles who dug their nests above the high tide mark in the warm sand the night before.
Children must be over 8 years old for a beach ride and 6 years old for game rides. Riders must be under 95 kg.
Rate per person (subject to change): 1 hour: R430 (US$ 30) and 2-hour ride: R860 (US$ 60). A combo of both beach and game rides are available. Book HERE!
The kingdom of Swaziland is one of the three African countries that are ruled by a king.
You can easily drive around the whole country in 2 days. Swaziland is divided into four regions: Hhohho (North), Mbabane (Capital city), Manzini and Lubombo (East). My favorite African Safari Experiences in the Kingdom of Swaziland were:
Hlane is a 22,000 ha park with the largest herds of game in the Kingdom.
This affordable Lowveld destination with an impressive ancient hardwood habitat specializes in exotic birds, lions, elephants, vultures, and marabou storks. The park conserves vast natural resources and holds deep royal and cultural significance.
Ndlovu Camp (main camp), hosts the reception services, the restaurant, and accommodation in double or twin rooms, as well as three and four-bedroom chalets. Bhubesi Camp is a 30-minute drive from Ndlovu Camp and offers accommodation in two-bedroom units.
Ndlovu Camp being the heart of activity within the big game area, while Bhubesi Camp is a quiet self-catering camp outside the endangered species area. Guided game drives, game walks and self-drive complement the affordable accommodation are available.
Mkhaya Game Reserve
In the southeast of Swaziland, the heart of Swaziland’s Lowveld, lies Mkhaya Game Reserve, a unique African wildlife experience.
I loved staying at their Stone Camp – laid out in a riverine forest along a dry riverbed.
All accommodation units are semi-open with half walls and tall thatch roofs suspended on thick stone pillars. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature.
The buildings have no doors or windows, but a simple “gate” prevents larger unwanted visitors. Electricity is replaced by candles and paraffin lanterns, creating a magical atmosphere at sundown.
Malolotja Nature Reserve
Experiencing the thrill of gliding through the forest canopy in one of the last mountain wilderness areas left in Swaziland.
The secluded Malolotja Nature Reserve contains plenty of games, amazing birdlife and a world-renowned display of wildflowers in spring.
The tour consists of eleven elevated forest platforms, ten slides and a 50-meter long suspension bridge that crosses the Majolomba River. Book HERE
Swaziland’s oldest nature reserve and the most popular eco-destination for locals and internationals alike.
The name ‘Mlilwane’ (‘Little Fire’ in siSwati) was derived from the numerous fires started by lightning strikes on the Mlilwane Hill but now holds significance as the little fire that ignited the conservation movement in Swaziland.
Horse riding at Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary also known as the Mother of Conservation was one of my favorite experiences. Guests can visit for the day or stay overnight. The activities on-site and in the surroundings include nature trails, horse riding, mountain biking, and game drives. Guests can explore the craft shops in Ezulwini and Malkerns.
Mlilwane offers rooms in traditional dome-shaped huts, bungalow and chalet accommodation. Each comes with a shower, tea-and-coffee-making facilities, linen, and towels.
Famous for being the home to the second largest number of elephants in Africa. Botswana is also one of the four African countries which meet at the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip in Namibia.
Botswana is approximately the size of France but has only 2.3 million people living in the country, compared to 66.9 million people in France.
This is the only place in the world where four countries meet namely Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Nearly 40% of Botswana is made up of national parks and wildlife reserves.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Recommended by Derek of Robe Trotting
Botswana is a fantastic destination to observe the diverse wildlife of the African continent via safari.
The country itself is the oldest and one of the most stable democracies in Africa. That stability has resulted in a major conservation effort through the government of Botswana. It has also led to a prosperous eco-tourism economy that funds the massive conservation efforts of Botswana. One fantastic location to witness these efforts and responsibly observe African wildlife on safari is Khama Rhinoceros Sanctuary in the Kalahari Desert.
This area of the desert is a “green desert,” meaning that rainfall is low but certain brush fills the landscape. This makes it an ideal habitat for rhinos and over 30 other species and 230 varieties of birds. It’s a great location to camp and they have other accommodations for those who prefer a little more pampering. It’s, of course, a great destination to enjoy a Botswana Safari.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a community-based wildlife conservation project. It came to be in 1992 when activists sought to bring the area, which once teemed with wildlife, back to its former state. Today, the effort to conserve the black and white rhino population in Khama continues.
The sanctuary is home to many species besides rhinoceros and is a great location to camp, go on bush safari by foot and take guided jeep safari tours. The educational programs and sustainable safari projects make the rhino sanctuary a great place to do a safari walk or game drive.
Recommended by Jodie of alaJode
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is a bucket list safari destination for many – and for good reason!
A truly unique natural wonder, the Okavango Delta offers an immersive safari experience with its wetlands and waterways. When you take a river safari in the Okavango Delta, you never know what will lie around each corner – and it’s often an elephant, hippo or other large mammals. Seeing the animals in this way allows you to get closer than you ever could on land – and to see the world from their perspective, too.
The Okavango Delta is also a great place for spotting birds, both from the water and from the land. The Okavango Delta’s unique landscapes aren’t as accessible as many other national parks and game reserves across Africa, but that means it still feels very untouched.
When you visit the Okavango Delta, you’ll feel completely at one with nature and may never see another human being throughout your stay. If you want to get as close to nature as possible – and visit without breaking the bank – hire a car and camp at one of several wild camping spots. You never know who might run through your campsite in the middle of the night (or day)!
Makgadikgadi in Botswana
Recommended by Dashin Ash
Camp Kalahari, located near the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana, is home to the most incredible safari experience of my life!
The camp itself is definitely a place for “glamping,” despite the fact that there is no electricity in your tent aside from two lightbulbs. Waking up in the early morning, you’ll be greeted by the hottest shower of your life, as long as you didn’t deplete your water the evening before. It is warmed by the sun, so overnight there is no way to heat the water lost. The food is incredible, and I still dream about cookies I was served at afternoon tea.
More importantly, the wildlife is abundant. We saw lions, jackals, foxes, and an amazing meerkat colony. Camp Kalahari has an elephant who visits the pool for a drink nearly every day, although he is becoming a menace so they’re trying to keep him away.
This was the only place I had been that offered seats atop the safari trucks, and the view from up there was breathtaking, in a way the shaded trucks could never be. The absolute highlight of the trip was our night spent sleeping on the salt pans. The animals don’t go there, there is no water and no plants, so it’s just you, your bed, and a sky full of stars. If you’re thirsty in the evening you can take a stroll over to the fire, and sip on cocktails or wine at the biggest bar in the salt pans.
I was gently woken by the sun rising, and as I was packing up my belongings, a herd of wildebeests was also greeting the morning. They ran past us, taking a shortcut because their water source is near the edge of the salt pan. Overall Kalahari will continue to awe and inspire you, even for the most seasoned safari-goer.
The Namib Desert – from which the country takes its name – is the world’s oldest desert.
Namibia is popular for its beautiful scenery, remote wilderness trips and its home to Africa’s largest free-roaming population of black rhinos as well as the largest cheetah population and desert-friendly elephants.
Namibia is one of the first countries to incorporate environmental protection into its constitution. The red sand dunes make Nambia one of the most spectacular scenic areas on the planet.
Etosha National Park
Recommended by TraveLynn Family
Exploring Africa in a Land Rover with our boys (aged 2 and 4) for 101 days was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives! In this time we went on A LOT of safaris. But the best one for us was Etosha National Park, Namibia, and is the safari I recommend those looking to do an African safari with kids or first-timers to the African safari.
Firstly it’s very affordable, particularly compared to park entry fees and accommodations in safari parks in East Africa. Day entry for foreign adults is N$80 (£4.50), N$10 per standard vehicle (£0.57) and children under 16 are free!
Secondly, wildlife spotting is very easy due to the low-growing vegetation over flat open plains and the sheer abundance of wildlife. You can literally see for miles! There is only the grass for animals to hide in, therefore spotting of elephants, giraffe, zebras, and even rhinos and lions is pretty much guaranteed. There are also many watering holes dotted across the park, the perfect spots to park up and watch the local wildlife come to drink and socialize.
Etosha is best experienced independently on a self-drive safari. Most of the roads throughout the park are suitable for 2WD (it’s only to the Western side of the park that a 4WD is required), and it’s well signposted. There are fenced campsites within the park, or there are also lodges if you prefer something more comfortable. Accommodations do get booked up though, so book at least a month in advance.
The country is famous for being home to the largest waterfall in the world. It was named after the fourth-longest river in Africa – Zambezi.
Zambia is completely landlocked and surrounded by seven countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
Zambia features a lot of smallish independent operations as opposed to larger safari corporations and I love this because its a good way to support local businesses!
South Luangwa National Park
Recommended by Jen of Passions and Places
Though Kenya and Tanzania get most of the glory when it comes to African safaris and wildlife, many nearby countries offer similarly impressive experiences, including Zambia.
South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia is the country’s most popular safari destination, but it still remains pristine and blissfully uncrowded. South Luangwa is home to many of the animals southern Africa is famous for giraffes, elephants, zebras, and leopards, just to name a few. Morning game drives offer many chances to spot them, taking visitors deep into nature as the sun comes up.
South Luangwa National Park is the birthplace of walking safaris.
South Luangwa is especially well-known for offering educational walking safaris and nighttime game drives, both of which give visitors a totally new perspective on the area and the plants and animals that populate it. There are many different safari lodges around South Luangwa at different price points, but Wildlife Camp is a great budget option with cozy chalets and a rustic bush camp. It operates under the auspices of the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia and contributes to conservation education efforts in the area.
For travelers looking for an experience that’s less crowded and more offbeat than the African safari giants, but no less mesmerizing, South Luangwa National Park is the perfect destination.
Lower Zambezi National Park
The Lower Zambezi National Park, founded in 1983, covers an area of 4,092 square kilometers along the northwestern bank of the Zambezi River.
While most people would prefer a mountain retreat and sit in front of a fire in a cabin in winter, a visit to Kanyemba Island proves that the bush camp atmosphere can be a relaxing alternative with the added bonus of the calm Zambezi River surrounding the island.
Step onboard on a boat or drift silently pass the riverbank in a canoe for the best wildlife viewing, since most wildlife is concentrated around the Lower Zambezi Valley and the river. Elephant herds, sometimes up to one hundred strong, hippo, leopard, lion, buffalo, over 400 bird species – they all gather in this mesmerizing wilderness.
Located in southern Zambia at the Lower Zambezi National Park and only two and a half hours from Lusaka or a thirty-minute boat cruise from the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Chirundu.
This camp offer comprises of four chalets and a restaurant. Built on stilts; the chalets are secure and secluded while also offering a spectacular view of the surroundings. Zambezi River is the main attraction and guests can enjoy boat cruises, fishing, canoeing, bird watching or simply read or relax.
The Island has a sister lodge “Kanyemba Lodge” which caters for a maximum of 20 guests, the lodge comprises 6 stone and thatch “rondavel” chalets, each with their own large private deck overlooking the Zambezi River, full en-suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe.
In addition, they offer a Family Chalet which includes three suites – each with their own private entrance and en-suite bathrooms but sharing a large deck area. All chalets have 220V electricity (mains with full generator backup), ceiling fans, and mosquito netting.
Unfortunately, they don’t have WiFi or TVs in their rooms.
They offer SADC and International rates at both properties and guests have to stay for a minimum of 3 nights. Overall, Kanyemba is the perfect place to visit when you need to get away from everything!
Kenya is diverse, with a vibrant culture and a wide range of activities!
The government created Community Conservancies which has changed the quality of African Safaris offered in Kenya.
The Conservancies surrounding the famous Masai Mara offer a limited number of camps with the right to use the Conservancy areas to ensure a non-crowded experience.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Recommended by Emily of Two Get Lost
Set against the backdrop of Kenya’s tallest mountain and straddling the equator, it is a wonder that Ol Pejeta safari park isn’t better known. Renown for its pioneering conservation efforts, this is a safari park with a difference.
If it’s the big five you’re after, Ol Pejeta has them all. In fact, it’s the closest safari park to Nairobi to spot the big 5. A huge draw to this seemingly undiscovered gem of a safari park is how comparatively empty it is-you really will be animal watching rather than people watching. In a time when it is all too common to be sharing your lion with a queue of other jeeps, Ol Pejeta is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is now the only place in the world where you can see the last two existing Northern white rhinos. After the devastating death of Sudan, the last male, they are kept under armed guard protection. Due to excellent security and proper ecological monitoring, the population of black rhinos here has increased from 20 in 1993, to 113 in 2017. This park takes animal conservation seriously and carries out pioneering research into the protection of endangered species.
A big advantage of this conservancy is that you can self-drive and camp at the location. Once night falls it’s just you and the cries of the wild animals. Watching a herd of elephants moves silently past your tent in the moonlight is something you won’t forget in a hurry. If camping isn’t for you then the park offers a range of lodges in different budget bands for you to choose from. If you’re looking for a safari experience that feels remote and real and puts the conservation of endangered species above all else, then Ol Pejeta should be high on your bucket list.
Amboseli National Park
Recommended by Christine of Live, Love, Run, Travel
When planning a safari in Kenya, Amboseli needs to be on your list!
Amboseli is known for the view of Mount Kilimanjaro you enjoy from the park. In fact, it makes an appearance in the opening song in Lion King. The mountain likes to hide behind the clouds, but if you are lucky, it makes an appearance for some beautiful photos. At the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, elephants roam through marshy fields.
A decade or so ago, drought in the area caused many of the elephants to die, but thankfully they are making a come back now. Huge families of elephants wander through the park, making it one of the bests park to see them. In addition to elephants, plenty of other wildlife fills the park including lions, baboons, hyenas and more.
If you are up for activities outside of the safari, there is a Maasai village and a small hill to hike in the park. The hike takes about 5 – 10 minutes to get up the hill and gives a great view of Mount Kilimanjaro and the park below. The Maasai are one of the most well-known tribes in the area although not one of the largest. Visiting the Maasai village lets you learn more about the culture of the Maasai, but be aware that they are not as primitive as they may seem. A cell phone fell from the lap of one of the men as he showed us how to build a fire. They often charge them at nearby hotels from what our guide told us.
No trip to Kenya is complete without a trip to Amboseli. While it is not one of the more visited parks, it was one of our favorites for the views and the large herds of elephants wandering throughout the park. Because it is not as popular, you get to enjoy the animals all to yourself without other safari vehicles crowded around making it a special experience not to be missed.
Maasi Mara National Reserve
Recommended by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
The nomadic Maasai people were grazing their cattle on the vast plains of East Africa for more than 200 years before the first Europeans showed up in the early 1890s.
The Mara, which borders the Tanzanian Serengeti in southwestern Kenya, was named after the Maasai word for “spotted.” It’s an accurate description of the seemingly endless savanna landscape, which is dotted by circles of trees around watering holes, cloud shadows, and acacia scrub. The Maasai Mara started as a 200 square mile wildlife reserve in 1961, ultimately achieving protected National Reserve status in 1974.
The reserve has since been expanded to cover some 583 square miles of land. But these days it’s just a small part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, which also includes Ol Kinyei, Naboisho, Olare Motorogi, and various other conservancies, most of which are privately owned by the Maasai communities that surround them. Internationally, the area is best known for the Great Migration, which is widely considered among the world’s Top 10 Natural Wonders. Every year millions of gazelles, wildebeest, zebras, and other ungulates make the arduous 500-mile trek north to Kenya in order to follow the seasonal rains (and the tasty red oats that grow in their wake).
The famous crossing at the Mara River, where hungry crocodiles wait to pounce on unsuspecting ungulates, is unlike any other African safari spectacle you’re likely to see. But the Maasai Mara also offers numerous attractions at other times of the year, including a high density of predators (lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, etc.), elephants, Cape buffalo, and more than 470 different species of birds. As declining wildlife populations and mass tourism have become more problematic in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the conservancies that border it have become increasingly vital.
In fact, these community-owned conservancies now encompass over 10% of Kenya’s land– more than all of the country’s national parks and reserves combined! We enjoyed our 5-day safari experience in the Mara conservancies with Gamewatchers Safaris, which works directly with the Maasai people and operates several different luxury Porini Camps in the area.
Where to stay near Maasai Mara National Reserve
$$$ Luxury – Spirit of the Masai Mara
Set in the private Siana Conservancy on the boundaries of the Masai Mara Game Reserve, Spirit of the Masai Mara features a garden and year-round outdoor pool.
Featuring a veranda with views over the valley, the air-conditioned suites offer a lounge area and a separate bedroom. The bathroom is fitted with a walk-in shower and guests can admire views from the bathtub.
Spirit Of The Masai Mara’s restaurant serves local and continental cuisine and bush dinners can also be organized. The bar offers a selection of wines, spirits, and non-alcoholic drinks.
Activities offered include early morning or night game drives with trained local guides. Walking safaris within the Siana Conservancy can also be arranged as well as bird watching activities, hot air balloon safaris, and cultural visits.
$$ Moderate – Losokwan Luxury Tented Camp – Maasai Mara
Situated in the Lemek Conservancy on the edge of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Losokwan Luxury Tented Camp offers a wilderness experience with a variety of game drives and guided nature walks.
The tents all feature a terrace with canvas seating and hammocks. They also come with safari-style furnishings and a seating area. Each private bathroom is equipped with a shower and free toiletries.
All meals are included and can be enjoyed in the dining area. Complimentary laundry facilities are provided. In addition to game drives and nature walks, the camp offers visits to local Maasai villages.
$ Budget – Talek Olkinyei Camp
Talek Olkinyei Camp offers tents with a fully equipped private bathroom with shower and complimentary toiletries and WiFi.
Guests can enjoy a restaurant, a bar, and a garden. a complimentary English breakfast is served every morning and guests are also welcome to take advantage of a hot tub. A car rental service is available at the accommodation.
Gorilla trekking is the driving force of tourism in Rwanda even though the country is full of other safari gems!
Akagera National Park
Recommended by Cal of Once in a Lifetime
Rwanda is a place of contrasts! It has an extremely bleak history of genocide, but its current focus on luxury tourism and unity are invigorating and liberating.
In fact, once a month there is Umuganda, where all able-bodied people ages 18 to 65, including the president, pitch in to clean trash in the area they live. While many people visit Rwanda to see the gorillas, which is a more glamorous and catered version than neighbor Uganda or the DRC, you can also go on a safari where you can actually witness the Big Five. It is also one of the most unique national parks in Africa due to its varied and beautiful rolling hills.
Akagera National Park roughly has 12,000 hectares of hills, which makes it Africa’s largest protected wetland. Being founded in 1934, the park was actually close to double its size before the genocide when it was used for agricultural purposes. There are over 12,000 mammals and almost 500 bird species at Akagera and the Big Five were reintroduced, where lions and black rhinos were brought back into the country via South Africa.
Beyond the Big Five, there are also antelope, zebra, buffalo, elephants, giraffes and on and on. There are night safaris and safari walks if you’re an intrepid explorer. And for places to stay in Akagera, you have several choices from Akagera Game Lodge and Ruzizi Tented Lodge to the super extravagant Magashi Lodge.
Tanzania is home to the great migration of roughly 2 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle moving through the Serengeti ecosystem.
Imagine staying under canvas and traversing wide open plains teeming with animals in amazing quantities. That sounds amazing, right?
Tarangire National Park
Recommended by Albi of Ginger around the Globe
Tarangire is perhaps the lesser-known park in the north of Tanzania. However, it is just as wonderful as the most known parks! Tarangire has a lot of baobab trees which makes it look very different from Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
There are still the same animals. If you are lucky, you can still see lions, jaguars and all the rest of the big 5. The great thing about Tarangire is the fact that there are not that many people, so you don’t feel like being one from the crowd when watching an elephant or any other animal. Tarangire has also great amount of birds, which is great if you are more into birdwatching.
What I really liked about this place was the fact that it is very close to Arusha, which means that you can take this trip as a day trip from Arusha and generally play less for accommodation since hotels and lodges in safari parks are usually quite expensive.
There are many hotels in Arusha as well as day trip options. The entry fee to the park is US$45, which makes it one of the less expensive parks in Tanzania as well.
All in all, Tarangire is a great park to visit with numerous wildlife, for example, the elephant herd here has about 300 members and it is easy to spot them.
Uganda is most known for wonderful gorilla trekking and that is the driving force for the bulk of tourism!
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Recommended by What Kate and Kris did
Uganda is most famous for gorilla trekking, but as with its East African neighbors, the safari opportunities are fantastic.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife – buffalo, elephant, crocodile, and leopards to name but a few. The scenery, shaped by volcanic activity, is stunning. The Ishasha sector is known for its lions, which climb and hang out in trees.
There are also a couple of places where chimpanzees have been habituated, so you can trek into the forest and see them in the wild. Our trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park was part of a two week, a self-drive holiday so we drove our rental car around the park. However, we hired a local community guide to travel in our vehicle in the national park. He knew so much about the local wildlife and had some fascinating stories.
Another great way to see the animals of Queen Elizabeth National Park is to take a boat ride on the Kazinga channel, which links Lakes George and Edward. The small boats can get really close to the hippos that live in the water, and driving along the riverside we saw lots of kingfishers, eagles and wading birds, as well as a large bull elephant and a female crocodile on her eggs.
All in all, an incredible safari destination!
More African Safari Guides
- A guide to visiting Kruger National Park
- 15 FUN Safari Experiences in Asia
- A weekend in the Kingdom of Swaziland
Best Travel Insurance for an African Safari
Use travel insurance while exploring the African continent so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do on the African continent and it’s best to have peace of mind while seeing wildlife, hiking and trying some of the best food in the world.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
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