There are dozens, if not hundreds, of national parks, game reserves, and other safari locations in Africa. Every one of them has something to offer, whether it’s a cast of compelling large animals led by the Big Five, the chance to track gorillas or chimps, or more subtle pleasures like hunting for rare birds or colorful butterflies.
However, for first-time visitors who are unsure where to go, the highlights listed below are among the top 10 places to visit in Africa.
10. Mahale Mountains National Park (Tanzania)
Mahale is one of East Africa’s most remote parks, protecting a swath of jungle-draped Rift Valley escarpment that runs beside the breathtakingly picturesque Lake Tanganyika. It is one of the best spots to visit in Africa if you want to get up close and personal with man’s closest living relative in the wild. It is home to 800 chimpanzees.
The Mahale chimps were habituated by Japanese researchers in the 1960s and are so comfortable that it’s not uncommon to see a full-grown adult brush past you nonchalantly, only a few inches away. Other primates and birds are well-represented, and the scenery is breathtaking.
9. Okavango Delta (Botswana)
The wide inland delta created by the Kavango River as it lowers into the sands of the Kalahari Desert is one of the greatest places to see hippos, crocodiles, and other aquatic animals in Africa.
The delta’s primitive feeling of place is best experienced in a professionally poled mokoro dugout canoe. There are lots of elephants and smaller numbers of lion and leopard, but the main draw is the delta’s primordial sense of place.
8. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda)
Mountain gorillas, in a nutshell. If you want to view these gentle giants – the world’s largest primate, weighing up to 200kg – in their misty mountain homes, this lushly forested Ugandan national park is one of the best places to visit in Africa. Seeing a huge silverback’s liquid chocolate eyes is probably the highlight of practically every trip to Bwindi.
It’s also a great site to watch forest inhabitants like yellow-backed duiker, L’Hoest’s monkey, and a total of 23 Albertine Rift endemic bird species, including the stunning African green broadbill.
7. South Luangwa National Park (Zambia)
South Luangwa National Park is known for its superb night drives and is one of the greatest places to visit in Africa for a gritty walking safari. The real experience is a multi-day travel between semi-permanent fly camps, soaking up the sights and scents of the wilderness without the distraction of a running engine.
Despite the absence of rhinos, this is a superb Big Five Reserve with a particularly high probability of close encounters with leopards.
6. Amboseli National Park (Kenya)
Amboseli National Park is home to the world’s tallest freestanding peak and the world’s heaviest terrestrial mammal. The most inspiring views of the snow-capped Kilimanjaro, which stands over the animal-rich plains of East Africa, may be had from here.
Amboseli is home to the world’s longest-running elephant study, which began in 1975, and is one of the greatest areas to watch elephant interaction in Africa. The elephants here are unusually well-behaved and powerfully tusked. The combination of seasonal marshes and semi-arid acacia savannah makes it an excellent birding location.
5. Kruger National Park (South Africa)
The incomprehensibly large Kruger National Park, one of the best destinations to visit in Africa for a self-drive safari, would take at least two weeks to tour in its entirety.
Most people focus on the south because of its proximity to Johannesburg, but if you want to get off the beaten path, head to the more isolated north. Kruger has the most mammal species of any African national park, with large populations of the five Big Five, as well as cheetah, hippo, zebra, giraffe, warthog, baboon, and more than 20 antelope species. It also has 517 bird species.
4. Etosha National Park (Namibia)
Etosha, Namibia’s flagship reserve, is characterized by the huge, saline, and typically dry pan that bears its name. During the dry season, a succession of permanent waterholes, some of which are floodlit at night, surround the pan, attracting vast herds of antelope, giraffe, and other grazers.
It’s also one of Africa’s most trustworthy parks for black rhinos, which live with lions, leopards, and elephants but not buffalo. Etosha is particularly well-suited to self-drive safaris.
3. Mana Pools National Park (Zimbabwe)
For the adventurous, Mana Pools is one of the best places to visit in Africa. If you’re seeking for a safari site that allows both unguided and guided strolling, this is the place to go.
Even better, it provides the thrilling experience of canoeing through one of Africa’s most pristine wilderness wetlands, the forest-fringed Zambezi River and its network of adjacent pools. Expect to encounter elephants, hippos, buffalos, crocodiles, and water-associated birds whether you paddle or stroll. It also has good populations of lion and leopard.
2. Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)
The smaller Masai Mara, Kenya’s answer to the Serengeti, is just as rewarding when it comes to game viewing. The star residents are the big cats. Prides of up to 20 lions take center stage, but it’s also a great area to observe cheetah and leopard, as well as elephant, buffalo, giraffe, and – with luck – black rhino.
Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti to cross the Mara River, the most dramatic stage of the yearly migration, in late July to early October, bringing the Masai Mara to life.
1. Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)
The Serengeti, Tanzania’s oldest and largest national park, is at the top of many safarigoers’ list of finest locations to visit in Africa. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in part because it is home to the world’s most dramatic annual wildlife migration, which includes up to two million wildebeest and tens of thousands of zebra.
Africa’s greatest lion population, estimated at 3,000 animals, may be found in the vast plains. The central Seronera Valley is home to the most consistent cheetah sightings in East Africa, while leopard sightings are common. Elephants, buffalo, giraffes, spotted hyenas, bat-eared foxes, and a variety of antelopes are among the other common animals.