Africa has got some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing in the world. Travelers are always humbled and marvel at the cycle of wildlife playing right before their eyes in the continent’s magnificent wildlife theatres. It is here in Africa where you can see the breathtaking Great Migration of wildebeest in vast herds moving in the plains of Maasai Mara and Serengeti. You don’t want to miss the experience of watching elephants graze in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro while coming face-to-face with the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has been described as perhaps the best wildlife experience in the world. Most of these reserves are homes to Africa’s famed “Big Five” that features lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino plus a variety of other animal species. Experiences like game drives, walking safaris, hot air balloon rides, bird watching, boat cruises and many more are assured on your visit to these magnificent theatres. From Kenya to Tanzania, to Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, an experience in Africa’s best game reserves will forever live in your memory.
1 Maasai-Mara National Park – Kenya
Maasai Mara national park in Kenya often appears on the itineraries of safari lovers around the world. The vast park is famous for the annual Great Migration of July through October that features thousands of wildebeest including Thomson’s gazelle and zebra moving from here to Serengeti in Tanzania. In addition to the Great Migration, the presence of Africa’s “big five” the park offers some of the best wildlife viewing safaris on the continent. Maasai-Mara is home to large numbers of predators including lion, leopard, and cheetahs and the while hundreds of hippos and crocs are thriving in the Mara River. Travelers don’t leave Maasai Mara without a cultural touch with the presence of the red-cloaked Maasai people living in the park giving a social component to the visitors.
2 Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
Serengeti features beautiful and seemingly endless acacia-dappled plains and golden savanna inhabited by throngs of wildlife. Tanzania’s oldest and most popular wildlife reserve, Serengeti delivers on all accounts throughout the year. The Great Migration takes place here from December to July as more than a million wildebeest travel through the park from Maasai Mara in Kenya. Serengeti is also home to Africa’s famed “big five” of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. During the park’s dry season of June through October, visitors get a chance to see the battle of nail-biting predators as they hunt down their prey. Some 500-plus bird species are also available in the park for birders to spot their beauties including the Fisher’s lovebird and the crowned crane.
3 Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Tanzania
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, formerly part of Serengeti National Park features 3 beautiful volcanic craters including the most famous Ngorongoro crater and the legendary archeological site of Olduvai Gorge. The rest of the area is composed of more than 8,300 sq. km of savannah, dense forests and African bush. Ngorongoro is one of the few area in the world where wildlife coexist with humans peacefully with the amazing Maasai grazing their cattle alongside a variety of wildlife within this World Heritage-listed site. In addition to Ngorongoro’s volcanic beautiful scenery, other highlights in the park include the presence of one of Africa’s largest population of lions, black rhinoceros, leopards, buffaloes, cheetahs, wild dogs and more than 500 bird species. Since Ngorongoro is part of the Serengeti Ecosystem, the park too plays host to the Great Migration as over a million angulates go through here every year between December and June.
4 Amboseli National Park – Kenya
The diverse park of Amboseli, famous for its large herds of elephants is presided over by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Amboseli is Kenya’s second-most popular reserve after Maasai Mara inhabited by five different vegetation zones including swamp system, dense woodlands, savannah and the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli. These contrasting ecosystems give rise to varied wildlife featuring a variety of big cats including lion and cheetah. Other common species include gazelle, waterbuck, impala, elephants, over 600species, and many more. The magnificent view of elephants bathing in the red dust against the fascinating background is Mount Kilimanjaro gives visitors a golden opportunity to capture iconic photographs especially during the dry season. A community tour to visit a Maasai village around the park gives visitors a chance to meet with this fascinating tribe and learn about their daily life.
5 Kruger National Park – South Africa
Kruger National Park is the largest and oldest national park in South Africa, spanning almost two million hectares with incredible wildlife viewing experience. Africa’s “big five” are present in the park plus a variety of other wildlife species including zebra, giraffe, hippos, wild dog, cheetah, and over 500 species of birds. The presence of self-catering accommodation is one of the best features of this famous park, making it one of the most affordable safari destinations in the region. The vastness of Kruger accommodates a large scenery of dense forests, sweeping grasslands, and fertile river systems as well as bushman cave paintings and archeological sites. Several luxury private game reserves have also been set up along the park’s borders in addition to the state-run rest camps within the park.
6 Chobe National Park – Botswana
Chobe National Park located in northeastern Botswana is known for hosting the highest concentration of elephants in the world that are also joined by a diversity of wildlife. The park is popular among travelers who love self-guided safaris as they tour through its wildlife beauty. The presence of the beautiful Chobe River that runs along the northern border of the park and the Okavango Delta in the south has attracted abundant wildlife into the park. Africa’s “big five’ is available for all to see in Chobe and large herds of elephants can be seen along the lush banks of the Chobe River plus a variety of antelopes and buffaloes that come to quench their thirsty from the river waters. Key spots in the park include the Savuti Marsh which is known for its amazing predator sightings in savannah and grasslands and the Linyanti Marsh, a home to the rare red lechwe.
7 Moremi Game Reserve – Botswana
Moremi Game Reserve is located in the magnificent Okavango Delta and it’s the only protected area in one of the richest and most diverse of all Africa’s ecosystems. Moremi supports a diversity of wildlife including all the Big Five and other animals like hippos, leopards, kudu, giraffe, Africa’s wild dog as well as more than 400 bird species. The park’s lush scenery is made up snaking sapphire channels, pools, lagoons, grasslands, and dense mopane forests. Moremi is one of a kind among all other reserves in Africa given the fact that it is the first reserve on the continent established by local people due to their concerns to protect the wandering wildlife. Moremi borders Chobe National Park and the two are always visited together by travelers given their excellent experience of self-guided safaris. Exploring the waterways of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro, a traditional dug-out canoe is the park’s unique experience.
8 Etosha National Park – Namibia
Etosha is located in northern Namibia sitting on 22,750 square kilometers and this vast, shimmering salt pan offers fascinating game viewing. More than 150 species of mammals are supported in the sweeping grasslands and thorn scrub of Etosha including elephants, cheetahs, zebras, jackals, lions, hyenas, and springbok. The park also hosts a variety of beautiful birds including flamingos that descend on the salt pans and paint them orange and pink during rain season when pans are briefly filled. The park also protect endangered species and some unique species like the black rhino, oryx, tsessebe, and the black-faced impala. The game viewing experience in Etosha is at its best in the dry season from June to November when hundreds of game converge at a few water-retaining wells to quench their thirsts.
9 South Luangwa National Park – Zambia
South Luangwa National Park is located in eastern Zambia hosting one of Africa’s highest wildlife populations. The park is fed by the Luangwa River, Africa’s most intact major river system. South Luangwa National Park is the most popular of the three national parks that are found in the vast in the vast Luangwa River Valley. The park boasts large numbers of elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, and giraffes as well as water animals like hippos and crocs that wallow in the waters of the river’s oxbow lagoons. Amazingly, its only in South Luangwa National park where lions are known to kill hippos! The park also offers an excellent experience of birding to travelers with over 400 species of birds available. Game viewing experience in the park is at its best in the dry season (April to October) when animals are easy to spot as they gather to drink water at perennial water sources in the park.
10 Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park – South Africa
Kgalagadi Transfrontier park is one of the largest wilderness areas in the world sitting at more than 3.6 million hectares. It is the first national park in Africa to traverse borders when it became a merger of Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park and South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. The beautiful and amazing black-maned Kalahari lions are perhaps the most iconic among the park’s resourceful wildlife. Other common species to see in the park include gemsbok, meerkats, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas as well as hundreds of bird species including social weavers and their large intricate nests. Unlike in Africa’s more densely forested parks where it’s not easy to see and photograph wildlife, the scant vegetation here allows visitors to enjoy see and capture their best shots of game uninterrupted.
11 Tsavo Conservation Area – Kenya
Tsavo Conservation Area is comprised of 3 different wildlife reserves including Tsavo West, Tsavo East, and Chyulu Hills National Park, making it the largest park in Kenya and at the same time hosting the highest population of elephants in the country. The presence of Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary and Mzima Springs with large numbers of crocs and hippos in Tsavo West makes it the most popular of the three parks. Chaimu Crater in the park is a great spot to see birds of prey. The lush landscape in the northern reaches offers a beautiful background to take photos while rock climbing is another popular activity in the park.
Unlike its western sibling, Tsavo East, located halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa is much more arid with its red dust hosting large numbers of elephants. Its parched plains are dotted with baobabs while the palm-fringed Galana River meanders through the dry landscape. Other interesting highlights in Tsavo include the world’s longest lava flow, the Yatta plateau; waterfalls, and a diversity of wildlife including lions, elephants, rhino, and lesser kudu. Rolling green hills, caves, volcanic cones and craters make up the beauty of Chyulu Hills National Park which also has fantastic bird-watching opportunities. The Hilly park is also one of the best places to see Mountain Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania.
12 Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park Rwanda in northwest Rwanda is one of the only few places on the planet where you can the magnificent and endangered mountain gorillas. An experience of gazing into the eyes of these gentle giants and largest primates will forever remain etched in your memory. It is here that famous American primatologist Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in 1967 to continue with her passionate gorilla conservation campaign. In addition to mountain gorillas, visitors to Volcanoes National Park can also see a variety of wildlife species including golden monkeys, buffaloes, elephants, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyenas, bushbuck, and more than 170 bird species. Mountain climbers also visit the park to climb some of the volcano summits within its borders including Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke. One of the most encouraging factors to tourists who like to visit Volcanoes National Park is that it lies just about two hours’ drive from the capital Kigali unlike many other parks on the continent where travelers are driven for a couple of hours before they reach their safari destinations.