Six Great Safaris in Africa

By Nomadic Matt | Published August 23rd, 2010

This is a guest post by Anthony of The Travel Tart.

Most people travel to Africa for one reason — to go on safari and check out the many animals that can potentially kill you. Viewing animals and what they do in their natural environment takes on a different dimension when compared to watching them in a zoo. It’s an addicting and amazing experience.

Everyone wants to see the ‘Big Five’ — the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino — but Africa is home to a lot of interesting wildlife and ecosystems. Here’s a quick guide to some great places to safari in Africa and view its diverse wildlife:

Kruger National Park — South Africa
A photo of an elephant from a safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger’s proximity to Africa’s main hub of Johannesburg and its easy accessibility make it a favorite with locals and visitors alike. It’s one of the most popular parks in Africa, and the Kruger camps are definitely the flashiest I’ve ever stayed in. You can take your own car, and many of the roads are paved, but you can also go on game drives on unsealed tracks. The camps are surrounded by electric fences, so you won’t have to fear coming across a large cat if you need a toilet break at night. If the planned extensions into Zimbabwe and Mozambique take place, Kruger will become the largest nature reserve on the planet. Because of its high standards, though, Kruger can sometimes feel like a massive zoo. Try to avoid the school holiday periods when the camps are usually full.

Etosha National Park — Namibia
A stunning photo of a sunset from a safari in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Etosha (meaning the “great white place of dry water”) in northern Namibia was my first ever safari. The best part is the Okaukeujo camping ground, located near a watering hole that is floodlit at night. Since most of the animals are active at night, you get a good look at their natural behavior. I remember watching a sole rhino having a drink, when an enormous bull elephant entered the frame. The lone rhino swiveled 180 degrees, snorted, scraped all four feet on the dusty ground and charged. The elephant panicked and accelerated into the crunchy Namibian bush. The rhino returned to his spot, finished his drink, and finally waddled off into the darkness.

South Luwangwa National Park — Zambia
A stunning sunset over South Luwangwa National Park, Zambia
While it’s not well known, this isolated part of Zambia is definitely worth the trip. This place makes you feel like you are truly in the wild. The camps are unfenced and situated next to the South Luwangwa River, where you can watch hippos and crocodiles swim past your tent. This is my favorite game park because it lacks the hordes of vehicles you see in so many other parks. South Luwangwa has one of the highest concentrations of leopards — the most elusive member of the Big 5 — and this is the only place in Africa I’ve seen one.

Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Park — Tanzania and Kenya
Female lion in Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Park in Tanzania and Kenya
The Serengeti and Masai Mara National Parks are probably the most famous parks in this list, and for good reason. Since most of the landscape is savannah (or flat grasslands), wildlife visibility is very high. The parks adjoin each other across two countries and are best known for the annual wildebeest migration that involves the treacherous crossing of the Mara River, usually around July or August. It’s also easy to spot many of the great cats here. For example, I took the picture above from my car window.

Ngorogoro Crater — Tanzania
Three wildebeest on the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania
This crater formed millions of years ago when a giant volcano exploded. Now it’s a large natural zoo, containing thousands of animals that use this area as a good place to munch on grass and each other. You can camp at the edge of the crater, but don’t walk out of your tent at night. You might walk into a lion, elephant, or warthog! The best thing about the Ngorogoro Crater is the campground itself. Animals freely walk in and out of the crater and often through the unfenced campground. I love trying to fall asleep hearing hungry lions howling in the distance. That’s what makes this place great. It makes you feel alive.

Okavango Delta — Botswana
The view from the campground on a safari in the Okavango Delta in Botswana
The Okavango Delta is basically a big swamp that drains inland into the Kalahari Desert. This phenomenon has caused Okavango Delta to be a haven of wildlife such as crocodiles, elephants, and lions. Once again, there are a number of accommodation options here. My favorite has been a permanent tent overlooking the swamp. You can hear elephants and hippos walk past at night. Safaris here are different — they usually involve canoeing in a mokoro (a hollowed-out piece of fiberglass). Once you reach dry land, there are walking safaris throughout the delta, and you will most likely come across animals just doing their thing.

There are many ways to book one of these safaris. You can book directly in the relevant country or before you go. You’ll usually find cheaper options if you book directly in the country. But no matter where you go or how you get there, a safari will be an adventure of a lifetime.

Anthony runs The Travel Tart, which focuses on the funny, offbeat, and weird aspects of world travel today. Feel free to say hi on Twitter. These photos are from his safaris.

comments 15 Comments

I’m lucky enough to have been to three out of the six mentioned here, Etosha, the Okavango and the Masai Mara. My parents have also been to Tanzania a few times and loved it. My favourite experience of the three has to have been the Okavango delta, taking a ride at sunset on the traditional hollowed out canoes was truly unforgettable. Hoping to get back to Africa at some point, it’s a mesmerising place!

Gorgeous photos from Anthony! I’m excited to do three of these safaris in October – Okavango Delta, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti for the tail end of the wildebeest migration. But while I’m looking forward to the big five, everything else seems just as exciting: seeing light change throughout the day over Victoria Falls, wide rivers and open plains; hearing dialects that’ll be new to my ears; eating food I’ve never tried; and discovering small creatures and plants I’ll have never seen before.

Is it October yet?

Hi Matt,
I wish I knew you were in NYC and we could have met up!

Anyhow, I am just dying to go on safari! These ones above are ALL on my list. I think Botswana is on top of that, and Zambia is up there, too. But ideally, I’d love to experience them all in this lifetime!! Good roundup by Anthony! Thanks!

Julie

I lived on the Mara for quite a few years, and my work also had me in the Serengeti and Olduvai Gorge. One of the downsides of the Mara and the Serengeti is that the animals are really way too comfortable with tourists. When there’s a kill, yes you’ll see and get pictures, but you will be surrounded by 10 other vehicles. I don’t think it should deter anyone, but that is a factor. It is WAY cheaper to buy a safari when you get to Africa. If you fly into Nairobi Let’s Go Travel on Koinage St. has a wide variety of choices. Also, get references for overland trucks before buying- particularly for those going to see the gorillas in Congo.

Mark

Julie says:
August 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm

“I lived on the Mara for quite a few years, and my work also had me in the Serengeti and Olduvai Gorge. One of the downsides of the Mara and the Serengeti is that the animals are really way too comfortable with tourists. When there’s a kill, yes you’ll see and get pictures, but you will be surrounded by 10 other vehicles. I don’t think it should deter anyone, but that is a factor. It is WAY cheaper to buy a safari when you get to Africa. If you fly into Nairobi Let’s Go Travel on Koinage St. has a wide variety of choices. Also, get references for overland trucks before buying- particularly for those going to see the gorillas in Congo.”

There are certain areas of the Serengeti that are more crowded than others. When I was there the Sereona(central) area of the Serengeti was like you described, but we also went to some less crowded areas where our vehicle was the only one in the area and we were able to get up close to the wildlife with no one else around. Since I am into photography it is a bonus the animals are indifferent to safari vehicles approaching them, it makes it easier to get great photos!

In response to JoshinWashington’s comments about not being able to see big game near Seattle- a days drive away is Yellowstone. No, it is not Africa, but you will be able to see plenty of big game such as bison, bears, elk, antelope, wolves, deer, bighorn sheep, and quite a few other North American animals. Is it the same as the Serengeti? No, but if you want to see some real animal herds before going to Africa it is the best place in the USA to see them. If you live in the western United States, I would recommend taking a road trip there if you haven’t already done so.

A legit bush experience in Africa is a big on my bucket list. Great list ya got here Matt, the only wildlife I can see in seattle right now are rats, seagulls and pigeons… not really big game!

Thanks for the comments everyone! It’s definitely worth going to any of these parks on safari. It’s unforgettable and will make you want to come back for more!

Cheers
Anthony

Kruger is extraordinary!!!

I’ve been to many safaris in my life but none of them have actually been in Africa. I would love to go in some of those.

NomadicMatt

You and I both! Africa is my dream!

I’ve dreamed of visitng Ngorogoro Crater for YEARS. Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks and much love from Texas ~ Terrah

How are people protected if an attack happen? Is there guns to hold back the wild animal?

I have been to a lot of wildlife tours in India but Africa is still a dream. Awesome post Matt, you have got a new fan :)

NomadicMatt

Thanks!

Stu Mallory

Matt(or others), I have advantage miles so I am flying into either Capetown,Johannesburg, Nairobi, or Lusaka,Zambia. I want a legit g adventures type safari. I can only go June-Aug. What is the best time during June-Aug. and where woiuld you suggest flying into for the best 9-day safari?
Thanks,
Stu