Discover where you should go for your perfect African safari
An African safari holiday features on most travel bucket lists, but with so many incredible wildlife destinations to choose from, how do you know where to go for the best safari in Africa?
Your choice depends on what you’re looking for: a particular species you want to see in the wild, the type of safari holiday you’re interested in (walking, game drives, camping, luxury) and who you’re travelling with, especially if you’re planning on doing a safari with kids or require an accessible safari holiday.
Here, we break down 12 popular places to go for the best safari holidays in Africa by country, with summaries of the kind of holiday you can expect to enjoy there, what to see and do, the best national parks and game reserves to visit, as well as the wildlife watching opportunities there are to enjoy.
Africa’s Last Great Wilderness
Botswana has evolved as a safari destination free from fences and farmlands, which has resulted in a vast wildlife haven with high concentrations of big game, from prowling lions to herds of buffalo. The country’s natural landscapes are awe-inspiring too, from baobabs on the salt pans to stunning desert sands.
Learn about the bush from those who know it best, the San of the Kalahari, who have used the environment for thousands of years and run bushwalks for visitors. This safari destination is also known for wilderness camping (spend a night or two out of the lodge and sleep under the stars for a real treat), as well as flexibility for accessible and wheelchair-friendly safaris.
Botswana’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Botswana is home to over 130,000 elephants, boasting more of these creatures than anywhere else in the world, with herds numbering up into the hundreds. Other notable species to look out for include black-maned lions, big cats, herds of zebra, bathing hippos and a wide variety of birdlife.
Why we love it
Each time I safari I am always reminded of the sheer size of wild animals, but flying to the barren landscape of the Makakgadi Pans, it was such a delight to sit and watch troops of meercat popping up from their burrows, watching for predators, playing, looking for food – no bigger than squirrels, but just as impressive as watching great herds.
The Classic African Safari
Kenya is one of Africa’s best safari destinations and one of the most well-known, famous for its colourful tribes, the Great Migration, Africa’s “Big Five” and stretches of savannah lit up in golden sunset colours. When you think of safari, you’re thinking of Kenya.
However, Kenya’s landscape has more to offer beyond the acacia trees. There are snow-capped mountains, vast deserts, thick jungle and gorgeous coastlines and beaches – the perfect relaxing end to any safari holiday.
Kenya’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Kenya is a Big Five safari destination, with plenty of opportunities to see lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and the endangered black rhino. Kenya’s Masai Mara is also the home of the Great Migration, where millions of zebra and wildebeest move in an annual cycle around Tanzania’s Serengeti and the Masai Mara. Other species to look out for include baboon, flamingo and giraffe, with the latter being a special point of interest at the “Instafamous” Giraffe Manor.
Why we love it
One of my favourite safari experiences was fly camping in Kenya’s Masai Mara, sleeping out under the wide, starry sky and hearing a lion’s roar in the distance. Walking between the multiple fly camps really takes safari to another level and chatting to my local Maasai guide was a real insight into local life.
Lemurs, Lemurs Everywhere
Although an incredible 90% of Madagascar’s forests have sadly been destroyed, the flora and fauna of this unique island can be found nowhere else in the world. 5% of all known plant and animal species can be found here and only here – meaning that it’s more important than ever to protect the country’s 25 national parks and the endemic wildlife species which lives in them.
Don’t miss the unique Malagasy culture, with influences from Borneo, Polynesia, France as well as East Africa. The fusion cuisine and cultural mix here is truly one of a kind, with a focus on ancestral worship and local taboos, called “fady.” Canoe along the river for the easiest access around the island, camping in remote spots and meeting village communities along the way.
Madagascar’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Amber Mountain National Park, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Andringitra National Park, Ankarafantsika National Park, Isalo National Park and Ranomafana National Park.
It’s believed that Madagascar’s diverse range of lemur species evolved after they floated to the island around 60 million years ago. Today, there are over 100 species of lemur, all of which are endemic to the country. You’ll most likely recognise the panda-faced ring-tailed lemur, the “dancing” sifaka and the indri, which has a call much like whale song.
Other species to look out in Madagascar include endangered chameleons, cat-like fossa, brightly-coloured frogs and insects, as well as a few pesky animals missing from the Central Park Zoo…
Why we love it
Madagascar is the county for true lovers of the weird, wonderful and absolutely marvellous! Venture into the parks to find some of the amazing animals that call this island home, but spotting chameleons in the garden of your lodge is just as thrilling as seeing lemurs bound through the trees. And the wildlife is not only on land – look to the oceans to see whales, dolphins, sharks and pristine dive sites.
Lakeside Relaxation & Laidback Locals
Little Malawi is one of southern Africa’s least visited countries, but this landlocked safari destination has wildlife in abundance. The local culture is not to be missed either and many visitors comment on the friendliness of the people, who are renowned for being warm, happy and always smiling.
Despite the country’s diminutive size, Malawi is home to Africa’s third-largest lake (Lake Malawi) and lake activities such as diving, snorkelling, kayaking, island-hopping and beach sunbathing are great ways to wind down post-safari.
Malawi’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Liwonde National Park, Nyika National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve.
Poaching was once rife across Malawi, but conservation initiatives led by African Parks has relocated animals back into the country, including the famous Big Five. Majete Wildlife Reserve was African Parks’ flagship project in 2003 and the organisation has since gone on to introduce similar projects in many other African safari destinations, including Rwanda and Zambia.
Today, Malawi’s specialities include hippos, crocodiles, the endangered black rhino and lions, thanks to recent reintroduction programmes. Birders will also love Malawi for the 400 species of feathery friends found here.
Why we love it
Likoma Island in Malawi is a hidden gem: a beach destination in a landlocked country. This is one of the most peaceful places to end your holiday, with calm, clear turquoise water and the most incredible food. The lovely people make you feel so welcome and exploring the amazing work shops of Katundu show you their incredible talent.
A Photographer’s Dream
Namibia is known for its otherworldly landscapes as much as its rich wildlife and excellent national parks. Photographers will love the Namib (the world’s oldest desert), the orange sand dunes of Sossuvlei, the barren clay pans of Deadvlei, shipwrecks off the Skeleton Coast and the abandoned town of Kolmanskop, half-submerged in sand.
Though Namibia is one of the least populous countries in the world, it’s also home to diverse native groups, including the Herero, the San of the Kalahari and the Himba, instantly recognisable by the ochre cream they use on their skin and hair.
Namibia’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Etosha National Park, Sossusvlei and the Skeleton Coast.
Boasting more wild animals than people, Namibia is another fantastic Big Five safari destination. With well-maintained roads and well-mapped routes, Namibia is also popular as a self-drive safari destination (or even a flying safari destination, if you’d rather make the most of your time and enjoy bird’s eye views). Etosha National Park sees elephants, giraffes, zebras, jackals, lions and leopards, as well as endangered black and white rhinos.
Why we love it
The sense of space, peacefulness and being in a natural environment; miles upon miles of sand dunes and rugged landscapes; the natural spectacle of seeing the sand dunes change colour as the sun sets. It is always a surprise when I arrive back into the relative hustle of Windhoek.
Gorillas in the Mist
Little Rwanda is a much smaller country in comparison to other big African safari destinations, however it makes up for size with astounding natural beauty: mountain ranges, shimmering lakes and lush tropical rainforest.
Outside the jungle, Lake Kivu offers swimming, kayaking and even scuba diving; whilst capital Kigali is one of Africa’s safest and cleanest cities. Though Rwanda’s horrific past has not been forgotten, the country is looking to the future and has become a leader in conservation and responsible tourism.
Rwanda’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Akagera Parc, National des Volcans and Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Rwanda is a primate haven. Trekking through the country’s thick rainforests, you’ll meet native golden monkeys, colobus monkeys, chimpanzees and some the world’s last remaining troops of mountain gorillas, including powerful silverbacks.
Why we love it
A trek to see the gorillas here can be a longer and more challenging trek than in Uganda, as the Volcanoes National Park has typically denser forest and the families can be trickier to find. Consider the Nyungwe Forest National Park for bird spotting and primate tracking, or the beautiful shores of Lake Kivu. Rwanda is more off the beaten track, so now is the time to go and see this fantastic region.
South Africa Safaris
Cool Cities & Epic Road Trips
Think of South Africa and you’ll think of laidback Cape Town, Table Mountain, surfers, scenic coastal drives, world-class wines and stunning beaches. The country is all this and more, with a diverse range of landscapes and activities to enjoy, known as one of Africa’s most popular holiday destinations for safaris and beyond.
The cities of Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg offer culture and excellent international cuisine. The Winelands are perfect for gourmet vineyard tours, whilst the dramatic peaks of the Drakensberg escarpment descend down to beautiful tropical beaches. Our personal highlight of South Africa has to be a drive along the Garden Route, one of the world’s best road trip destinations.
South Africa’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Kruger National Park, Kwandwe Game Reserve, Amakhala Game Reserve, Hluhluwe Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve.
South Africa’s Wildlife
South Africa is a Big Five safari destination, with elusive black and white rhino found at national parks such as Kwandwe and Amakhala. Big cats such as lions and leopards are also common, whilst the shy cheetah is most often seen in central Kruger. Outside of the game-rich national parks, you can also go whale watching in Hermanus or join African penguins on the beach.
Why we love it
An amazing destination that screams diversity from its amazing destinations to its people. Whether you looking for a holiday in one of Africa most cosmopolitan cities, tasting some of the best wines in the world, visiting wild animals in their most natural environment or even enjoying a holiday along the coast, South Africa has it all.
Swaziland (eSwatini) Safaris
Self-Drive Adventures & Thriving Wildlife
If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track African safari destination, then little Swaziland (recently renamed eSwatini, though Swaziland is still in common use) is the place to go. An island of land encased within South Africa, Swaziland is roughly half the size of Belgium or slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.
However, its small size has no relation to its diverse and plentiful wildlife, making the country a great safari destination in itself or a great stop to include on a South Africa safari holiday, especially for self-drive tours due to easy border crossing and close proximity to South African national parks such as Kruger and Hluhluwe.
Swaziland’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Hlane Royal National Park and Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Due to highly effective anti-poaching units, Swaziland has grown its populations of endangered species, encouraging local communities to engage with nature and nurture conservation. In the big game parks, sightings include lion, giraffe, elephant, vultures, marabou, roan antelope, sable antelope, buffalo, black rhino and white rhino.
Why we love it
A hidden gem in the south, Swaziland offers a very unique experience with fantastic cultural experiences. I visited Milwane Sanctuary as I passed through en route to Durban (South Africa) and enjoyed every second of my stay. The scenery is beautiful and with no major predators, activities are far more varied and independent. It was fantastic to trek with kudu and warthogs so close.
Superlative Wildlife & Natural Landscapes
Tanzania’s geography covers the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, the natural phenomenon of the Ngorongoro Crater and a coastline of surprisingly quiet beaches (or if you prefer, a hop over to semi-autonomous Zanzibar).
Within those environments, you’ll find millions of mammals on the Great Migration across the Serengeti, the largest herds of elephants in East Africa and an abundance of diverse wildlife living on the microcosmic crater floor. Tanzania is deservedly one of the best safari destinations in the world.
Tanzania’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Tanzania is another Big Five safari destination, but you’re really spoiled for choice when it comes to national parks and wildlife. Observe tree-climbing lions, pods of bathing hippos, migratory birds including flocks of pink flamingos, hyenas, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, jackals, the critically endangered African wild dog (also known as painted wolf), as well as masses of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle on their annual trip around the Serengeti into Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Why we love it
Tanzania is truly extraordinary for its unique topography, bountiful wildlife and warm, welcoming culture. From a safari perspective, the infamous Great Migration in the Serengeti ecosystem draws safari enthusiasts from around the world. Couple this with the Ngorongoro Crater and it’s easy to see why northern Tanzania is so popular as a safari destination. The lesser known safari parks, in the south and to the west, are what we believe safari purists should focus on; Selous, Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale Mountains are all must-haves on any aficionados safari wish list.
Dense Rainforest, Wild Primates & Big Five Safaris
Uganda is green mountains, gorgeous lakes and streams, and the source of the Nile, the world’s longest river. This lush landscape creates a multitude of different habitats for wildlife, making Uganda easily one of the best safari destinations in Africa.
Take a Nile cruise with the crocodiles, visit local tea and coffee plantations, chase waterfalls, go white water rafting, take a game drive to tick off your Big Five and then meet a mountain gorilla in their natural habitat.
Uganda’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kidepo National Park, Bwindi National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Lake Mburo National Park and Kibale National Park.
You’ll see Africa’s Big Five here, as well as tree-climbing lions, Nile crocs, hippos and endemic birds species such as shoebill, green-breasted pitta and gray crowned crane (Uganda’s national bird) – Uganda is one of the world’s best birding destinations.
However, one of the main draws is the wide range of primates that call Uganda’s jungles home, particularly the endangered mountain gorilla. Trek to see families of gorillas in Bwindi or participate in the Gorilla Habituation Experience.
Why we love it
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is such an awesome experience; it’s not only a physical challenge to get to the families of gorillas, but just so special when you reach them. I had one large female gorilla stop right in front of me and stare – it was so exhilarating! Their likeness to human behaviour is just extraordinary.
Walking Safaris & Wondrous Waterfalls
Zambia is a little more under-the-radar in comparison to the big African safari destinations such as Kenya and Tanzania. However, the country’s game-rich national parks offer unique wildlife watching experiences, such as walking safaris, night game drives, open-top game drives and even canoe safaris.
Aside from the safari attractions, there is also the legendary Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The falls are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and there is a plethora of activities you can do here, from hikes up to breath-taking views, to helicopter rides above the spray, to a brave swim out to the edge of Devil’s Pool.
Zambia’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
South Luangwa National Park, North Luangwa National Park, Lower Zambezi National Park and Kafue National Park.
Zambia recently regained its status as a Big Five safari destination, as black rhino were reintroduced to North Luangwa National Park. The other big names can also be found here, such as elephants, giraffes, zebra, buffalo, lions, hippos, leopards, African wild dogs and even cheetahs.
On a night safari in South Luangwa, you might also be treated to sightings of nocturnal creatures, such as honey badgers, African wild cats, porcupines, civets, genets and perhaps even the rare and critically endangered pangolin.
Why we love it
In South Luangwa, instead of your typical bush brunch, you can be taken to a clearing with a pizza oven and all these gorgeous ingredients. It becomes a competition to see who can make the most creative pizza. Such a surreal safari experience eating pizza and drinking beer at 10am whilst elephants wander past!
Safari Tourism Reawakening
Zimbabwe’s economic and political troubles have seen the tourism industry take a hit during the last decade or so, however this wildlife wonder of a safari destination has always been a favourite and is now embarking on a kind of renaissance. Bookmarked as somewhere you should visit in 2019, there’s never been a better time to go.
The country’s incredible national parks, plus the shared wonder of the world that is Victoria Falls (on the border with Zambia) makes Zimbabwe one of the best African safari destinations. Hike the excellent network of trekking trails, challenge yourself with adrenaline activities at the falls or go wildlife watching with the family.
Zimbabwe’s Best National Parks & Game Reserves
Mana Pools National Park, Hwange National Park, Matoba National Park, Nyanga National Park and South Gonarezhou National Park.
Zimbabwe is packed full of game and wildlife. The Big Five can be found here, as well as hippos, crocodiles, zebra, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, impala, cheetah, the critically endangered African wild dog and diverse birdlife, amongst many other species.
Why we love it
Thinking of ticking of one of the world 7 wonders? Then come to Zimbabwe where you will be in awe of the mighty Victoria Falls. The largest in the in the world with a whopping width of 1.4km. Zimbabwe is also known to be the adrenaline capital of Africa as there are plenty of awesome fun filled activities to be done at the falls. The sight is just amazing and this one of the many reason why Zimbabwe is loved by all travellers. The country boasts five UNESCO world heritage sites and amazing safari destinations like Hwange National park and Mana Pools.
More Safaris in Africa
Of course, your safari destination options aren’t limited to the 12 countries above, though here we have listed the 12 most popular places to go for the best safari in Africa. Up-and-coming safari destinations range from Chad to Mozambique to Senegal, and we’re happy to help plan those trips too.
Outside of Africa, you may wish to go wildlife watching in India’s tiger habitats, see breaching whales and endemic bird species in New Zealand or even venture all the way to Antarctica for a chance to see emperor penguins in their only natural habitat (just like the BBC Earth team did for the latest David Attenborough documentary, Dynasties).
Whatever your dream safari destination or wildlife favourites, Wayfairer Travel endeavour to create a luxury, tailor made safari holiday customised to your needs and preferences. Chat to our friendly team of Luxury Travel Specialists or fill out our enquiry form to start planning your journey today.
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