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Africa’s Best Safari Parks

Published 09 September 2016

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

With over 270 national parks scattered across the continent, not to mention countless other game reserves, conservation areas and private parks, Africa offers a plethora of choice for safari-goers. But for first-timers or those who just want to see an elephant or a lion, the long list of options can be more than a little daunting. But that’s where we come in. Here, we’ve listed 10 of our favourite parks, sorted by interest. Take your pick!

Lion chasing zebra in the Masai Mara

Best for beginners: Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

If you’ve never been on safari before and want something easy to handle, the Masai Mara should suit you to down to the ground. Here under the sizzling African sun, they’ve been offering safari holidays since Victorian times, and today the park runs a slick operation that’s very easy to grab a slice of. Probably the world’s most famous safari destination, ‘the Mara’, as it’s often known, is chock-a-block with game including lion, leopard, cheetah, zebra and wildebeest, who migrate here from the adjacent Serengeti National Park between July and October.

Wild dog

Best for budget safari: Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Safari isn’t cheap. The mere nature of a game reserve means the better the wildlife populations, the more remote the park, and therefore the more difficult (and costly) it is to get to. Having said that, accommodation prices do vary considerably, ranging from your cheap-and-cheerful tented camp to your full-on, luxury private suite with your own personal butler on hand to bring you gin and tonics at all hours of the day. For a good value safari without compromising on animal sightings, try the Selous Game Reserve. Regular flights connect it to Dar es Salaam, and simple yet well-run camps keep costs down, while its lack of global fame means you’ll often have the wildlife, which includes wild dogs and elephants, to yourself.

Self-driving in Etosha National Park

Best for self-drive: Etosha National Park, Namibia

Another way to keep costs down is to drive yourself on safari. Sure, you won’t benefit from the in-depth knowledge of a guide, but you’ll have the freedom to go where you want. So if your idea of a perfect day is to spend six hours camped out by a waterhole waiting for a lion, you can do it! Just four hours’ drive by good roads from the Namibian capital Windhoek, Etosha National Park couldn’t be easier for self-drivers. Numerous safari lodges cluster just by the park gate and once inside, the waterholes are well signposted and the animals plentiful.

Black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater

Best for Big Five: Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Tanzania

The fabled Big Five – African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and rhinoceros – are the ultimate sightings for wildlife watchers. Originally, these were the five most difficult animals for hunters to shoot on foot, but today, they bring tourists armed with little other than a camera and a bucket load of enthusiasm. They roam all over the continent, but for a good chance of ticking all five all off your sightings list, try the Ngorongoro Crater, a huge volcanic caldera that effectively traps the animals within its steep sides. Here you’ll not only see a wide variety of game, but the mountainous scenery is simply breathtaking.

Pride of lions in Ruaha National Park

Best for big cats: Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Another of southern Tanzania’s safari secrets, Ruaha National Park is well known for its large prides of lion, sometimes topping 20 individuals, as well as cheetah and leopard, not to mention its impressive 12,000 elephant population. Being reasonably far from Dar es Salaam, Ruaha retains a wild and untamed atmosphere that feels more intrepid than Tanzania’s more touristy parks.

A crash of rhino

Best for rhino: Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

Consisting of a group of private game reserves just a stone’s throw from Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sands Game Reserve is home to a number of upmarket safari lodges. There are plenty of animals here too, including the Big Five, and while sightings are never guaranteed, it would be rare to not see at least one rhino on your visit. You might even see a whole crash of them. (That’s right, collective noun fans: a crash is a group of rhino.)

Elephants drinking from the Chobe River

Best for elephants: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe National Park is synonymous with elephants. In fact, say to any safari guide that you want to see elephants and they’ll point you in the direction of Chobe. For here you’ll find over 120,000 of the pachyderms, the highest concentration in all of Africa, and numbers are increasing. They’re big too, reaching heights of over four metres and weighing up to seven tonnes. The best time to see them is during the August to October dry season, when you’ll find them splashing about in the Chobe River.

Walking safari, Zambia

Best for walking: South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

If you want to go on a walking safari, South Luangwa is the place to do it. Here, the quality of guiding is some of the very best you’ll find, and they’re well-practised too. While you might spot the odd elephant or zebra on a walking safari, they tend to focus more on the smaller creatures – the insects, the lizards and the birds – while you might also take a closer look at the plant life and any footprints or droppings you come across. It’s a great way to learn more about the African bush.

A family on safari

Best for families: Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Africa’s flagship national park, Kruger is blessed with high densities of wildlife, ease of access from Johannesburg and Cape Town, and a low risk of malaria, which makes it ideal for those with young children. It’s easy to drive yourself too, meaning that families are free to move around the park as they choose, stopping to photograph the 17th zebra of the day if they so wish. Guides here are used to children, so if you do sign up for a guided safari, they’ll often throw in fun child-friendly activities such as bug hunting or footprint tracing.

Migrating wildebeest cross a river

Best for the Great Migration: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The great wildebeest migration is the annual movement of around 1.5 million wildebeest from the plains of the Serengeti, across the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara, and back again. As it’s a continuous loop, you can chase the migration all year round – if you go to the right place that is. For a particularly special sight, head out there between June and October, when the herds make their dramatic river crossings. Be warned though: it gets gory.

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