Introduction: When you think of Africa, one of the first things your mind may be drawn to is the world famous African Safaris. It is believed that over 30 million people visit safaris in Africa every year. These safaris present the perfect opportunity for exploring the unique and diverse wildlife of the continent, get close to nature, and offer perfect wildlife photography opportunities.
While at their origin safaris largely referred to the hunting of big game, during which the tribes people of Africa would go out and hunt and drag their game overland. Today a safari has a completely different meaning. African Safaris are now largely focused on viewing wildlife and spending time in the wilderness. Many safaris nowadays also work towards protecting and preserving wildlife species and raising money to help support wildlife projects.
Throughout Africa travelers can experience wildlife galore, including lions, gorillas, leopards, elephants, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs, antelopes, giraffes, and more! Below are some of the best African Safaris as described by a group of well-versed travel bloggers.
The Best African Safaris in South Africa
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Recommended by Erin from Sol Salute
When you think of safari in South Africa, visiting Kruger National Park is often the first thing to come to mind. This epic game reserve is larger than the entire nation of Belgium. Stay at a luxury private reserve or camp inside the park, there’s something for everyone in Kruger. Kruger National Park is truly one of the best African Safaris.
For the more intrepid traveler, I recommend renting a car and going on a self-drive safari in Kruger. Stay at a lodge outside the park or at one of the many rest camps inside the park and driving yourself is the best (and most affordable) way to see Kruger.
A rental car on our last road trip cost us only $160 US for two weeks. We spent only $50 US a night to stay inside the park (you can spend less to literally camp or more for a larger cabin).
I recommend Kruger because of the incredible diversity of wildlife. Driving yourself is empowering as well, allowing you to spend as long as you’d like at each sighting. You can, of course, always add on a guided game drive or two to complete the experience. Ideally, I recommend a night drive or sunset drive something unique (as you cannot self-drive after the gates close for the evening).
Winter is the best time to visit when the bush is dry and allows you to better spot animals. But in all honesty, Kruger National Park is a great year-round safari destination. However you choose to explore Kruger, you won’t regret visiting this historic South African park.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Recommended by Sabine and Sean from The Travelling Chilli
World renowned for its high density of elephants, Chobe National Park is located in the north eastern part of Botswana on the borders of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. It is estimated that there are around 100.000 African elephants roaming around in Chobe, making it the national park with the highest density of elephants in the world.
The main feature of the park is the Chobe river which runs along the northern end of the park. During the dry season from July up to November, lots of wildlife find their way to the river to cool down, to drink and to bathe. Large herds of elephants with babies can be seen on the river banks during those months. The park can be discovered by self-driving or by taking an organised tour in a 4×4 vehicle complete with a real life local safari guide. Even though self-driving is possible, you will need good 4×4 experience since there is lots of sand to drive through, and in a park like this with the big five roaming around you do not really want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
The most popular way for tourists to visit Chobe National Park is by boat. The cruise will take you along the Chobe River and is such a wonderful experience. You can often get relatively close to the animals from the safety of the boat, such as the elephants crossing the river as well as all the other wildlife that come to drink and cool down along the river banks. This makes Chobe National Park one of the best African Safaris.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Recommended by Campbell & Alya of Stingy Nomads
Etosha National Park is one of the highlights of Namibia and a must-include place on your Namibia road trip. The park was proclaimed as a game reserve in 1904. The total area of the park is 22,270 square kilometers. A big part of the park, about 23% of its territory, is occupied by the massive Etosha salt pan. There are two seasons in Etosha; the dry season between May and October and the rainy season between November and April. For watching African animals the dry season is the best time. There are very few water sources in the park and all animals come to drink to a couple of waterholes in the park. The rainy season is a good time for bird watching but not that great for spotting mammals. There is enough water throughout the park, animals are not concentrated at the waterholes. Roads inside the park get very muddy if it rains a lot which makes it difficult to access some parts of the park.
Etosha National Park is home to hundreds of different species of African animals including four of the African Big 5; elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard. There are no more buffalos in the park, but they can be seen in abundance in the north of Namibia near the Caprivi Strip. Among other animals that can be seen in the park are cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, caracal, bat ear and Cape foxes, wild dogs, different species of antelopes, and many other animals, reptiles, and birds. Esosha National Park is one of the best African Safari experiences.
There are several accommodation options in Etosha. Visitors can camp in their own tents or stay at one of the luxury cabins. It’s possible to do self-drive safaris during the daylight or join a guided tour. Night drives are allowed only with a tour. A morning/evening guided game drive costs US$40 per person, a night drive is US$50 pp.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Recommended By Paul of The Two That Do
South Luangwa National Park covering 9,050 sq km in eastern Zambia is one of Africa’s most unspoiled and verdant safari destinations. Boasting the rare combination of open, grassy plains and lush woodlands the result is a unique intensity of animal and bird life.
Among the 60 mammals found here both Thornicroft’s giraffe and the Crawshay’s zebra are species endemic to the ‘South Park’. Add to these its reputation as a first class leopard destination and over 400 species of bird and you’ll soon realize that South Luangwa is one of the best African Safari destinations.Initially protected as a game reserve in 1938 South Luangwa gained National Park status in 1972 and is known as the origin of the walking safari. This remains to this day a popular way to get closer to the Park’s wildlife and vegetation.
The best time to experience this for yourself is during the dry season between July and October when game concentrations are at their height. Despite the splendour of the natural surroundings a stay at South Luangwa does not have to cost the earth. Yes, there are luxurious lodgings available at costs approaching $750 per person per night but there are also camping and bush camps options from $10 – $100 per person. Whatever your choice you will be treated to stunning views and warm Zambian hospitality.
During our recent overland tour from Nairobi to Cape Town we were fortunate to visit many of the regions most famed safari destinations. South Luangwa provided us with the most memorable tours and magnificent sunsets over the Luangwa River.
Pilanesburg National Park, North West Province
Recommended By Tracy of Tracy’s Travels in Time
My favourite safari destination in South Africa is the Pilanesburg National Park. The park is located in the North West Province 170kms (a 2 hour drive) from Johannesburg. The Big 5 of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino can all be found in the Pilanesburg. The park is also located outside of the malaria zone. This makes the park a perfect destination for families as well as those wishing to experience an African Safari or game drive for the first time.
There are a number of accommodation options in the park including Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. The lodge has a number daily game drives as well as guided bush walks for the more adventurous. Other options include a stay at the Sun City luxury resort a few miles from the park.
The best time to visit the Pilanesburg is mid July to mid October. The weather is cooler and drier and the animals are easier to find near water holes. It does mean that it is necessary to consider what clothes to wear on safari. I recommend that you wrap up warmly especially if you are out on an early morning drive. The Pilanesburg is also a great area to enjoy dark skies. If you take an early evening game drive there is often the opportunity to stop and enjoy the stars and learn from the guides once the sun has set.
Entrance to the park costs R80 – 110 pp and R40 per car. There are 5 public gates into the park which is open all year round. Do check for times as they vary depending on the time of year.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Recommended By Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
There are countless places where you can go on a jeep safari, and even walking safaris are fairly common these days. But a canoe safari in the local dugout canoe known as a “mokoro” is something that only the Okavango Delta in Botswana can offer, making it one of the best African Safaris. This vast, wet landscape of narrow water channels and islands is home to all kinds of wildlife big and small, from tiny white frogs that live in the reeds to huge African elephants.
A local “poler” will propel the canoe through the water using a long pole, while you relax and enjoy the ride. You’re welcome to try your hand at poling too if you want, but be warned that it’s harder than it looks! While you may get lucky like I did and see elephants walk through the water right in front of you, wildlife viewing is always a matter of luck. Your best chance of spotting animals is probably on a walking safari on one of the islands.
Generally, on an overnight Okavango Delta safari you will set up camp on one of the islands, and your guide will take you out on a walk while the cook prepares dinner. For a two-day fully catered trip, expect to pay 5,500 pula per person. Prices are much lower if you’re willing to self-cater and bring your own camping equipment. The best time to visit is from July to October. This is the dry season in Botswana, which paradoxically is when the waters of the delta are at their highest, making it easier to access by canoe.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Recommended By Chantae from Chantae Was Here
Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is the largest natural reserve in Zimbabwe and home to the Presidential Herd, a herd of over 500 elephants that call the natural park home. Come sunset, the herd often makes its way to the watering hole in front of Hwange Safari Lodge for a drink. The sight of hundreds of elephants marching in a line with young calves trumpeting in the distance is a sight to behold. In addition to the elephants, you have a high chance of spotting giraffes, lions, painted dogs, kudu, hippopotamus, and much more.
Best of all, because Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is relatively offbeat compared to its big-name neighbors found in South Africa, you won’t have to worry about the park being overrun with safari cars who might scare animals into the bush.
Because the park is so expansive, there are tens of different safari operators to choose from. Drives into the national park cost about $270 USD per day and depart at sunrise for the highest chance at spotting wildlife. The best time to visit Hwange National Park is from July to January, when the weather is best. From December to March, many safari lodges close to cope with the low tourist numbers that accompany the wet season.
The Best African Safaris in East Africa
Tsavo National Park, Kenya
Recommended By Steph & Lewis of Book It Let’s Go
Tsavo National Park is the largest protected area in Kenya and is an underrated gem when it comes to choosing an African safari. We would recommend it because it is budget friendly and easy to cover in 3-days making it a family friendly choice. It is easily accessed by road from both Nairobi and Mombasa and offers a range of safari accommodation. The best time to visit Tsavo National park is from July to September which is dry season in Kenya. For a 3-day safari in Tsavo National park including tour guide, all game drives, accommodation for 2 nights and all meals we paid $800US for 2 people.
Tsavo is split into Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park with each side offering something different. Tsavo East National Park is flat and dry with expansive plains where you can spot elephants, lions, giraffes, cape buffalo and zebra along with a great variety of birds over 500 species to be precise.
Tsavo West National Park has a more mountainous terrain interspersed with rivers and lakes meaning you will likely encounter leopards, hippopotamus and crocodiles. Tsavo West is home to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, a 90sq-km area of the national park designated to protect the 80 black rhinos that live here. You can drive through this area around the tracks to the watering holes, but the black rhinos are elusive. Tsavo West also houses the Mzima Springs which provides all the fresh water to the city of Mombasa.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Recommended by Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer, a Cultural Travel Blog
To witness the great migration at Masai Mara was an experience of a lifetime! Every year, a few millions of wildebeest migrate from Serengeti, Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya in search of greener pasture. Along comes a number of predators, following the trail, surviving on flesh, thriving and living and reproducing and thus completing the circle of life.
Masai Mara and Serengeti are part of the same wild land, however divided by geo-political border. Animals however do not abide by man made borders. Masai Mara is significantly smaller in size hence you chances of animal spotting is higher. Masai Mara is famous for frequent sightings of the much lauded African big 5. However in my experience, the African rhino remains a shy and rather elusive animal.
Tourist season in Masai Mara starts from June and goes on till October, till the rains start. A few Masai Villages live nearby, who will be happy to guide you and showcase their tribal villages and old customs. More than anything, I loved Masai Mara for her spectacular sunset show! The sun is a big round red ball at the time of sunset, rendering a florid hue on the landscape at ease.
You need to pay $80 to enter Masai Mara everyday on a 4*4 vehicle. It is always economical if you can share your cost with the others of the group. The larger the group, the more economic the trip is. You need at least three days in Masai Mara. If you want to relax, stay for at least a week for a more immersive experience.
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Recommended by Jackie Szeto & Justin Huynh of Life Of Doing
Going on a safari in Tanzania is an incredible experience. One of the places you should visit is Tarangire National Park, located 3 hours away from the nearest city, Arusha.
This small national park is known for the highest population of elephants per density. You’ll see many elephants and calves roaming around and hanging out by their favorite tree, baobab. They love drinking water from the tree trunks and scratching the bark. Besides elephants, this national park has other wildlife sightings from ostriches, gazelles, zebras, and birds. Although, we didn’t see lions or cheetahs here. Many of the animals hang out at the Tarangire River or underneath the trees to cool off from the mid-morning and afternoon heat.
You can visit Tarangire National Park at any season – dry or wet. The dry season is from June-October, and it will have larger crowds but you don’t have to worry about the muddy roads. Since we visited in January and during the wet season, we didn’t encounter any rain during our visit.
The admission cost is $45 USD for adults and $15 for children (ages 5-15), which is included in your safari tour package. While you can self-drive through the national park, it’s recommended to have a driver as your driver will know how to navigate through the park.
Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania
Recommended By Ed Gold of Safaris Africana
Follow Safaris Africana on Instagram!
Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s smaller – and often overlooked – parks, but certainly packs a punch for its size. Lying in Tanzania’s northern-circuit, close to the more famous (and busier) Serengeti and Arusha national parks, Lake Manyara is one of the most diverse parks in the country. Habitats include savannah, marsh, evergreen forests, hot springs and a sparkling alkaline lake, dotted with large flocks of pink flamingos and hundreds of other bird species. The diversity makes Lake Manyara National Park one of the best African Safaris.
This diversity of habitat is now a UNESCO recognised biosphere, and makes for an impressive variety of wildlife. The best-known residents of the park are probably the unique tree-climbing lions. Other big cats include leopards and cheetahs, whilst large herds of buffalo, elephant, zebra and impala are often seen roaming the lake shores. Troops of several hundred baboons tumbling amongst the epic scenery and grazing wildlife also provide some wonderful photo opportunities.
The park is a year-round safari destination, though for large game viewing the best time to visit is during the dry season (June to October), when the vegetation is sparse and animals gather around water sources, making them easier to spot. Wet season (December to February) is a better time for bird spotting or any water based activities like canoe safaris.There’s a good range of mid to high-end accommodation inside and at the entrance to the park, most of which can arrange game drives, as well as game viewing by canoe, motorboat, bicycle, or on foot.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Recommended By Lina of Divergent Travelers
Located in Tanzania, the Serengeti National Park is one of the most popular places in the entire world to go on safari. Including the National Park and surrounding game reserves, the Serengeti spans more than 12,000 square miles of untouched land. Linked with the equally vast Masai Mara across the border in Kenya, this area is a mecca for wildlife viewing in Africa. It is also the location of the Great Migration.
Due to its popularity, it is possible to take a Serengeti safari on virtually any budget. The cheapest option will involve basic tent camping and you can expect to spend around $700USD for 3 nights, while an unlimited budget can find you in opulent luxury where you’ll be looking at around $7500USD for one week. Of course, options to suit everything in between exist too. The best times to go on safari in the Serengeti and surrounding preserves is January to February and June to September. While there is no concrete date, if you want to catch the movement of large wildebeest herds, known as the Great Migration, you’ll want to plan your visit between December to March or from May to November.
If you are looking for a classic African safari on your first trip to Africa, then the Serengeti will offer you the very best in wildlife, photography opportunities and accommodation options for all budgets.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Recommended By Lara of Both Feet on the Road
If you are looking for the best African safaris, Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda should be on your list for several reasons.
First, Murchison Falls is the largest national park in Uganda and with over 800 different species of animals, you will never get bored of a game drive. Four of the big five can be spotted in Murchison (the rhino is the only one missing), and almost half of the world’s population of the critically endangered Nubian giraffe can be found at Murchison Falls N.P. Trust me, if there’s one animal you will surely see in Murchison N.P. it’s a giraffe.
The second reason is because of the similarly named waterfalls that are part of the park. With an extremely powerful drop of 40 meters, the Murchison Falls is a must-visit during your safari in the park! Besides visiting the waterfall, the river cruise to spot dozens of hippos and enormous crocodiles are another reason to visit Murchison Falls N.P. December to February is dry season in Uganda and would be considered the best time to visit. Though, when I visited Murchison Falls N.P. in August and we had no rain at all.
For a self-drive safari of 3 days, 2 nights, expect to pay around 300 dollars per person (budget price), which includes the rental car, gas, park entry game drives, Nile cruise, and 2 nights accommodation. If you’re looking for a tour, the Red Chilli Hideaway offers perfect 3-day budget tours starting from 320 dollars. Murchison Falls National Park is one of the best African Safari experiences.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Recommended By sustainable travel bloggers Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the highlights of a trip to Uganda. It is one of the best places to go on an African safari for its incredible biodiversity and unique landscapes. The park is home to sprawling savannah, forest, lakes and wetlands.
Inside Queen Elizabeth National Park you’ll find over 95 mammal species, including four out of the Big Five. However, the park is most well known for its tree climbing lions. They can be found in the grasslands of the Ishasha sector of the park.You’ll also have no trouble spotting elephants, hippos, buffalo and many species of the African antelope in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Besides mammals, there are over 600 bird species. Birders will love spotting rare birds like Shoebill’s and Pel’s fishing-owl. This is largely due to the diverse landscapes within the park. The diversity found within the park makes it one of the best African Safari experiences.
Another benefit of visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park is that it will give you the opportunity to combine a traditional African safari spotting the Big Five with a gorilla tracking experience in the nearby Bwindi National Park. So you can combine two really unique safari experiences into one trip.
The Best African Safaris in Central Africa
Gorilla Trekking in the Congo
Recommended by Kesi of Kesi To and Fro
Gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the best African Safari experiences. Although gorilla trekking is expensive, it is worth it! Gorilla permits are $400 but are discounted during the rainy season. $800 is a recommended budget, which includes transportation, visa fees, accommodation, and permit fees. Gorilla trekking is a one-day activity, but it’s necessary to arrive in Goma, DRC the day before, since the gorilla safari starts very early. I preferred visiting during the rainy season because I wanted to get a discounted price. My gorilla trekking experience was not impacted because of the weather.
Gorilla trekking is different than other safaris because you walk on foot and observe gorillas from a close distance. It’s impressive to notice all the similarities between humans and gorillas; we share a lot of similar DNA to them. The safari consists of hiking until you find a gorilla family, and then you get to spend one hour to take photos and look at the gorillas go about their daily life. During my trip, a baby gorilla crawled over my feet!
I’ve backpacked across Africa and have been on different safaris, but gorilla trekking was definitely the best experience.
Gorilla Trekking and Safaris in Rwanda
Recommended by Amandine of Les Berlinettes
Rwanda is definitely THE new go to safari destination in Africa. Rwanda has quite a bad reputation because of the Genocide that happened in the 90’s, but the country has since changed a lot and the communities at war are making an effort of forgiveness in order to build a future together. In the past years, Rwanda has grown to be the Singapur of Africa and developed a lot in terms of tourism. The main attraction in Rwanda is definitely the gorilla trekking. Gorillas habit this region of the world and it is only in Rwanda that you are assured to see them. But Rwanda also has the big 5 and safaris are becoming more and more popular in this area of Africa too. Safaris are available in Akagera National Park in the Eastern part of the Country at the border of Tanzania.
You can go there all year long but I would suggest going during the short, dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. It is when there are the lower risk of getting sick of malaria but it is also the best time if you would like to visit other places in the country. Safaris in Africa don’t come cheap but Rwanda is an exception. Unless you stay inside the park at Magashi, you can book a safari with a ranger for around 40Euros. Additionally, the price to enter Akagera national park is 40Euros per person and 10Euros per car. Also I think Akagera is a great option for a safari in Africa as it is not crowded yet and you will be almost the only one in the park. You will find some of the best African Safaris in Rwanda.