15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers

“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa,” – John Hemingway.

Every love affair must start somewhere. For most, their love of Africa starts before they even arrive, feeling the lure and excitement whilst planning their first ever African safari. From the moment you first set foot on African soil and fully immerse yourself in your safari experience it is officially game over – you will be forever hooked, hopelessly and head-over-heels in love with the wild untamed natural beauty and enthralling magic of the African bushveld, never wanting to leave, and always yearning to return.

From unsurpassed natural wonders, astounding wildlife, and a vast diversity of contrasting landscapes, ranging from searing deserts, freshwater wetlands, dramatic coastlines, and soaring mountain peaks to thunderous waterfalls, endless stretches of open savannah plains, and lush tropical rainforests, Africa is unlike any other continent.

Declared one of the top safari and wildlife destinations in the world, Africa offers travelers some of the most astonishing safari and travel opportunities. With more luxury, privacy, and once-in-a-lifetime safari experiences than anywhere else on earth, Africa should be right at the top of your travel bucket list.

Boasting an array of astounding countries, game reserves, conservancies, and close to 300 National Parks, each offering a completely different, yet equally thrilling and rewarding, safari experience – how exactly do you decide where to go on your first safari in Africa?

Here are our 10 best safari destinations in Africa for first timers.

#1 Kruger National Park: True Home of Africa’s Big 5 | South Africa

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Kruger National Park

South African tourism has a secret weapon – the Kruger National Park! Deemed one of the greatest National Parks in the world, the Kruger National Park is not only the second largest park in Africa, but South Africa’s flagship National Park. The pristine wilderness within the Kruger Park is spread across an impressive 2 million hectares of unspoiled African bushveld that stretches for 352 kilometres across the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo in the far north-eastern corner of South Africa.

As the oldest, largest, and most established park, the Kruger National Park is home to the highest population density of Big 5 in South Africa. It is one of the very few places in the world where you are able to see every member of the African Big 5 in one place in their natural habitat.

The Kruger Park is believed to support the world’s largest population of white rhino (one of the mighty members of the Big 5), roughly estimated at 8,000, despite the rapid increase in poaching activity. Black rhino, on the other hand, are extremely rare and seldom seen. However, if you do happen to catch a glimpse of this remarkable animal (regardless of how brief it may be), you can count yourself incredibly lucky. In addition to being home to the largest population of white rhino, the Kruger National Park also boasts the largest wild concentration of leopards anywhere in the world.

The Kruger National Park’s superior Big 5 status has undoubtedly made it a staple destination on any safari-goer’s bucket-list, whether they’re a beginner or a seasoned traveller to Africa.

Besides the highly sought-after African Big 5, the Kruger National Park is also known for its vast diversity of wildlife and birdlife species as well as its spectacular sightings of several endangered or ‘rarely seen’ wildlife species, including the sable, roan antelope, cheetah, and African wild dog. In fact, the Kruger Park’s African wild dogs are one of the few populations of this endangered species left in the world. Its unfenced neighbour, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, shares the park’s prolific abundance of wildlife.

Lying in the heart of the Lowveld, the Kruger Park offers an unparalleled African safari and wildlife experience that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It’s no surprise that wildlife and nature lovers travel from all around the world to witness the unspoiled natural beauty and untamed wilderness of the Kruger National Park first-hand. If going on an authentic African safari in the Kruger National Park is not on your bucket-list, you better add it right away – trust us, you won’t be disappointed in the slightest!

**Check out our ‘Kruger National Park’, ‘Why you should go on a Kruger Park Safari’, and ‘Best Time to go to the Kruger National Park’ blogs for absolutely everything you want, need, and absolutely must know about South Africa’s flagship National Park.

#2 The Masai Mara National Reserve: A True Out to Africa Experience | Kenya

The Masai Mara in Kenya is Nature’s magnificent masterpiece

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Masai Mara

The magnificent ‘nature’s masterpiece’ that is the famed Masai Mara is not only one of our favourite and most beloved African safari destinations but also THE safari region that immediately springs to mind for first-time safari travellers when they are planning their first luxury African safari – and for good reason!

The Maasai Mara National Reserve and its neighboring conservancies form Kenya’s flagship conservation areas is one of the finest wildlife and safari destinations in Africa. Located in south west Kenya, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is renowned for its vast scenic expanse of gently rolling African savannah plains, measuring approximately 1510 square kilometers in area, bordering the notorious Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the south. The Masai Mara’s sprawling wide-open plains provide a sanctuary for its abundant wildlife to freely roam the vast Maasai Mara wilderness and beyond.

Witnessing The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration – regarded as the ‘Seventh New Wonder of the World’ – also known as the Gnu Migration, Serengeti Migration and Maasai Mara Migration, up-close, in action, and first-hand is by far one of the top reasons why so many travelers tourists, globe trotters, and avid nature and wildlife enthusiast venture to Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. There are few things that can compare to witnessing and experiencing one of the greatest and grandest wildlife gatherings and spectacles in its full all-mighty force – It’s an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience to say the least!

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Masai Mara

Beyond being the site of the great Annual Wildebeest Migration – one of the greatest and grandest wildlife migrations and spectacles in the world – the profound Maasai Mara National Reserve is widely known and celebrated for its amazing abundance and glorious diversity of wildlife species. Boasting the highest concentration of wild animals in the world, in fact, more than 40% of Africa’s larger mammals can be found roaming the endless Maasai Mara plains and landscapes, the renowned Maasai Mara truly is a not to be missed African safari destination for all head-over-heels nature and wildlife lovers. As an extra bonus, game viewing in the Maasai Mara is excellent all year round thanks to its varied landscapes, wide open spaces, temperate climate, and diverse population of resident game. Its champagne-colored savannahs are home to safari heavyweights like lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino – making up the globally acclaimed African Big5. While rhino sightings are scare, these enigmatic and endangered animals can well be spotted – if you’re super lucky – in the Mara Triangle.

Believe it or not, this is simply scratching the surface of the beyond remarkable array of amazing game and wildlife wonders and encounters you can expect to see and experience when visiting the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Trust us, the Maasai Mara has SO much more up its sleeve! Not to mention various wildlife highlights, two of which include spotting the elusive and endangered African Wild Dog, as well as the famous Maasai giraffe – the largest subspecies of giraffe which can only be found in Kenya and Tanzania – How incredible is that?

**Note: Though the Maasai Mara is one of Africa’s and the world’s foremost National Reserves and exceptional year-round wildlife and safari destinations, showcasing spectacular game viewing 365 days of the year, each Maasai Mara season and distinct time of the year offer visitors an entirely different, yet equally exciting and exhilarating, safari experience, wildlife sightings and encounters, range of attractions, and wilderness highlights to look forward to. This means you will NEVER be disappointed irrespective of when you choose / decide to visit the glorious Maasai Mara National Reserve – It will forever be one of Africa’s GREATEST safari destinations.

**Check out our ‘Top Reasons to visit the Masai Mara’ & Best Time to go to the Masai Mara’ blogs to find out everything you need to know about this magnificent African wildlife and safari destination & why you will not only fall deeply in love with its unapologetic natural beauty and everything it has to offer, but why it deserves a top spot on your global travel bucket-list.

#3 South Luangwa National Park: The unspoiled Africa | Zambia

South Luangwa National Park is one of the great remaining unspoiled regions of Africa.

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - South Luangwa National Park

Its officially time to discover, explore, experience, and, of course, fall head-over-heels in love with everything the widely renowned and highly sought-after South Luangwa National Park has to offer – Are you ready? You better be, because it promises to be a truly unforgettable and beyond thrilling African wildlife and safari adventure – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-time safari-goer, an avid wildlife lover & enthusiast, or a wildlife & safari expert – South Luangwa National Park welcomes absolutely everyone with open arms, plus, you’re guaranteed to love every single second of your experience! Trust us!

South Luangwa National Park is by far the greatest safari highlight of eastern Zambia. Known by locals as simply ‘the South Park’, this impressive National Park covers an extensive area of approximately 9050 square kilometers of the Luangwa Valley floor. With its western and northwestern edge bounded by the Muchinga Escarpment, and the southern border lined with the meandering Luangwa River, there is no shortage of dramatic and fascinating topography and landscapes to explore in this stunning game-rich park. In fact, very few destinations in Africa can offer the unique combination of South Luangwa National Park’s open, grassy plains and mature, mesmerizing woodlands, crowned with the breathtaking Luangwa River.

One of South Luangwa National Park’s main allures, as well as what sets it apart from other pristine National Parks, game reserves, wilderness and conservation areas, and safari destinations in Africa, is that despite Zambia’s growing reputation as a spectacular and must-visit safari destination, South Luangwa National Park has retained its essence of true wilderness, remaining relatively untouched, and is therefore uniquely able to provide an unpredictable and exhilarating safari experience to absolutely anyone and everyone that visits this rare and remarkable wilderness gem.

South Luangwa National Park Wildlife & Birdlife

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - South Luangwa National Park

Beyond its untouched wilderness landscapes and sheer unapologetic natural beauty, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is known to draw wildlife enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. Accompanying its reputation for offering extremely high-quality expert guiding, South Luangwa’s concentration of wildlife is some of the densest in all of Africa.

Brimming with exuberance and fuelled by the life-giving Luangwa River – regarded as the most intact and unspoiled river system in Africa, with its tributaries and lagoons being the lifeblood of this region – South Luangwa National Park’s expansive savannah grasslands are home to over 60 species of wildlife, boasting a vast diversity of game that will undoubtedly satisfy any safari bucket list. From Africa’s top predators like the mighty majestic lion, lean and elusive leopard, agile cheetah, hungry hyenas, and the famed, yet endangered, African wild dog to big game favorites which include large herds of elephants, buffalos, rhinos, giraffes, and hippos (to mention merely a few) – you better believe South Luangwa National Park has it ALL, including the iconic African Big 5! *Here’s a quick tip – For the best Big 5 sightings and game-viewing experience, head to the Valley’s oxbow pools – you definitely won’t be disappointed!

South Luangwa’s wildlife wonders DEFINITELY don’t end there! This glorious National Park and wildlife haven is also home to a number of rare and endemic species as well as some of the most unique wildlife sightings, such as Zambia’s beloved Crawshay’s zebra herds (whose stripes are more distinct than those found further south and west), the Thornicroft’s giraffe, and Cookson’s wildebeest. Not to mention 14 different species of antelope, including the elusive bushbuck and the attractive kudu, with its spiral horns and delicate face.

Another one of South Luangwa National Park’s wildlife highlights takes place in late October, just before the start of the rain, when thousands of hippos gather in the Luangwa River’s deeper pools – It truly is a remarkable spectacle to witness as they jostle and fight for space.

Calling all avid birders – South Luangwa National Park has you covered too! In addition to its pristine wildlife, the park boasts over 400 different species of birds, including 39 birds of prey.

When Zambia’s dry season draws to a close, the Luangwa River becomes the ultimate hub of activity for hundreds of frolicking waterfowls – from the majestic yellow-billed storks and grandiose pelicans to the striking saddle-billed storks, elegant crowned cranes, and the stately goliath heron – you sure are in for quite the birdwatching treat! As if that isn’t enough, dozens of migratory species like the steppe eagle, the red-chested cuckoo, and the steppe buzzard swoop in just before the rains. On top of this, you’ll even get to spot hundreds of carmine bee-eaters nesting in the steep river banks. Talk about a utopia for twitchers! If you’re a head-over heals bird lover, South Luangwa National Park should be right at the top of your birding bucket-list!

To add an extra touch of thrill, South Luangwa National Park offers visitors both day and evening game drives, which is unique in the world of safari, this opens up a whole other nocturnal realm for your viewing excitement.

While South Luangwa National Park’s vast landscapes, abundant and diverse wildlife & birdlife species, and spectacular sighting & thrilling encounters is enough to make it one of the best safari destinations in Africa for first timers, there is so much more to discover, explore, and experience, believe it or not!

South Luangwa National Park Walking Safaris

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - walking safari

Loudly and proudly claiming the title as ‘The Home of the Walking Safari’ – Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is by far the top destination in Africa to go on a walking safari. Considered the birthplace of walking safaris, going on an exhilarating walking safari in the renowned South Luangwa National Park promises to exceed all your expectations – Because, as stated by the locals, a South Luangwa walking safari is not JUST a South Luangwa walking safari or a thrilling wilderness experience, adventure, or activity to be enjoyed, but rather a way of life.

If you decide / have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of going on a walking safari adventure on your visit to this iconic National Park you’ll have the additional privilege of traversing the untamed landscapes of South Luangwa National Park on foot while being guided by an exceptional, highly experienced, and incredibly knowledgeable wildlife guide or ranger.

So lace up those hiking boots and ditch the conventional 4×4 safari vehicle as you embark on your exhilarating and bucket-list worthy South Luangwa walking safari expedition – an experience this region pioneered and remains famous for even to this very day. As South Luangwa National Park is arguably one of the greatest wildlife-viewing destinations in Africa, you’ll cross paths with an incredible and diverse array of wildlife species, including large herds of elephants, buffalos, zebras, hippos, giraffes, an abundance of antelope, the mighty and magnificent lion – the ultimate king of the jungle – leopards, cheetahs, endangered African wild dogs, as well as Zambia’s beloved Crawshay’s zebra herds, the Thornicroft’s giraffe, and Cookson’s wildebeest. Boasting such an amazing abundance of wildlife your South Luangwa walking safari will undoubtedly be filled with the most magnificent up-close wildlife sightings and encounters.

South Luangwa’s essence of true wilderness, relatively untouched surroundings, remote location, and limited number of visitors allowed ensures a pristine walking safari experience that’s genuinely unparalleled. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything quite like it! With all that being said, South Luangwa National Park continues to wear the crown and covet the title as the ultimate destination in Africa for those who desire to traverse big-game terrain on foot and entirely immerse themselves in the natural world.

South Luangwa National Park Game Drives

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - South Luangwa National Park

While Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is indeed ‘The Home of the Walking Safari’ and going on an exciting walking safari, where you traverse your way through the untamed natural landscapes of the park on foot and get up-close-and-personal with nature’s finest, is not only encouraged but an ABSOLUTE MUST, feel free to mix things up by going on a couple of game drives too! Because, why not?

With an expensive wilderness and countless untouched landscapes just waiting to be explored, going on an adventure-filled game drive in an open 4×4 safari vehicle is the perfect way to cover more ground as well as experience South Luangwa’s spectacular surroundings, wildlife, and birdlife from a whole new perspective – not only figuratively, but literally too! The high seats of the game drive vehicle provide unbeatable all-around views, making it easier to spot various wildlife species, especially those that enjoy being a little more elusive and harder to find, as well as capture every picture-perfect wildlife and safari moment on camera.

Going on a thrilling game drive in an open 4×4 vehicle with an experienced and knowledgeable wildlife guide by your side not only gives you the incredible opportunity to enjoy up-close wildlife and birdlife sightings and encounters like you never have before, but venture off the beaten path to game-rich areas where you’ll discover hidden wildlife gems seldom seen on foot.

If you’re eager to add a bit more excitement to your game drive experience why not venture into the South Luangwa wilderness at night and revel in every thrilling second of an exhilarating night game drive? Hearing a lion roar during a night drive or safari is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience you’ll never forget – there truly is nothing quite like it!

South Luangwa National Park River Safaris

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - South Luangwa National Park

With the twisting curves of the substantial Luangwa River flowing through this east part of Africa, it is no surprise that some of the best wildlife viewing on your Zambia and South Luangwa National Park safari will take place near and along the river itself. River Safaris and Boat Trips are an exciting and great way to be ‘wowed’ by the greatness of the iconic Luangwa River which is teeming with wildlife. River Safaris will also give you the amazing opportunity to spot and enjoy up-close sightings of some of South Luangwa’s wildlife species that are not as easily spotted by going on a game drive or walking safari. Not to mention the fact that you get to explore and experience the spectacular South Luangwa National Park from an entirely different and unique perspective.

Best Time to go to South Luangwa National Park

As most people travel to South Luangwa National Park for its sensational wildlife sightings – It does boast among the highest concentration of wildlife in all of Africa after all – the best time to visit / travel to South Luangwa National Park is during Zambia’s dry season, which takes place from July to October.

Due to the lack of rain / minimal rainfall experienced during Zambia’s dry season, most of the smaller water sources in South Luangwa National Park dry up. As a result, the famous Luangwa River becomes the primary gathering place for animals as an abundance of wildlife congregate around the river in search of the refreshment of the river’s clean water. As most, if not all, of South Luangwa National Park’s wildlife population congregate around this sole water source during the dry season, visitors to the park can expect to enjoy spectacular wildlife sightings and up-close encounters.

In addition to remarkable wildlife sightings and pristine game viewing, predator activity significantly increases during this time. As South Luangwa National Park is home to all of Africa’s top predators, including lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas, and African wild dogs, visitors can expect to see these predators in action as they wait for the perfect moment to strike. Due to the abundance of wildlife that congregate around the Luangwa River it is essentially easy pickings / open season for predators.

Pros of visiting South Luangwa National Park during its dry season (April – October):

  • The thick bush thins out and wildlife is easier to spot.
  • Animals will gather around the river.
  • Best time to spot the more elusive species on your list.
  • Expect bright days and lots of sunshine.
  • Less chances for malaria, since there are fewer mosquitos.

#4 Chobe National Park: Africa’s Elephant Paradise | Botswana

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Chobe National Park in Botswana

Are you eager to experience an authentic African safari adventure that will quite literally stampede its way into your heart and leave echoes of trumpeting giants lingering in your wildlife-loving soul? Then look no further than Botswana’s breathtaking Chobe National Park, where elephants reign supreme, and the powerful pulse of the great Chobe River breathes life into the endless stretch of unspoiled wilderness that makes up one of Botswana’s most glorious wildlife and safari gems. Diverse and dramatic, Botswana’s Chobe National Park is a force to be reckoned with – in the best possible way of course! Africa’s glorious elephant paradise – Chobe National Park – is definitely one of the top safari destinations in Africa for first time safari goers – no doubt about it! So, best you get your safari game-faces on first timers!

Nicknamed ‘The Land of the Gentle Giants’Chobe National Park boasts an impressive and exceptional population of African elephants, which is said to exceed 120,000 – Undoubtedly making it one of the top places, if not THE top place, on the planet to witness these remarkable gentle giants of the African bushveld in their natural environment. It’s safe to say that Botswana’s Chobe National Park’s elephants truly are celebrities in their own right with avid travelers, wildlife enthusiasts, and eager tourists flocking from all across the globe for the opportunity to witness these mighty and magnificent mammals and largest member of the African Big 5 in action and to experience breathless face-to-face encounters with these never-ending herds of the largest living land animal on earth.

**Tip: If you really, REALLY want to see as many wild African elephants as you possibly can on your Chobe safari trip, it’s hard to think of a better destination than the iconic Chobe River at the end of Botswana’s enervating dry season. Botswana’s virtually rainless winter begins in May and by late August the rest of the park has practically dried out completely; The bone-dry surroundings, due to the extreme lack of rain, means that ponds, streams, puddles, and smaller water sources around the park dry up. This forces animals to essentially congregate around the remaining large water source / sources – AKA the Chobe River – resulting in enormous concentrations of wildlife, including Chobe’s huge herds of elephants, on the riverfront – It truly is a sensational sight that has to be seen to be believed. That’s not all! During the months of September and October, thousands of elephants arrive cheek-by-jowl with enormous buffalo herds, trailed by prides of sleek lions. Game drives and boat cruises take you right into the centre of the action, providing you with seriously spectacular up-close sightings and encounters that are bound to leave you gob-smacked and utterly amazed.

Occupying a great woodland wilderness between the eponymous Chobe River and the fringes of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Chobe National Park is one of Africa’s heavyweight reserves and a sanctuary for some of the continent’s healthiest populations of elephant, buffalo, lion, giraffe, zebra, leopard, jackals, and the widely beloved and endangered African wild dog, to mention merely a few. Chobe is also one of the best places in Africa to witness the most dramatic predator action – its Savuti region is where lions regularly clash with hyenas and powerful prides famously take down Africa’s biggest game like buffalo, giraffe and even elephants.

**Check out our ‘Chobe National Park: Botswana’s Elephant Paradise’ blog for everything you need to know about Africa’s elephant paradise & what it has to offer as well as our ‘Top 5 Chobe National Park Safari Experiences’ blog for some of the best and most exhilarating safari adventures and exciting things to do, see, and experience when visiting one of Botswana’s most iconic wildlife and safari destinations.

However, if wildlife viewing is not at the top of your African safari bucket-list, but rather its abundant, diverse, and extraordinary birdlife – Botswana’s Chobe National Park is perfect for you too! If you’re an avid bird lover looking the explore and experience a different side of Chobe National Park and what it has to offer, you’ll absolutely love the green season / wet summer season which takes place between November and April. During this period, the summer rains transform the savannah into a luscious green paradise, making it the perfect time for bird watching as migrant birds are present and in breeding. If you’re an avid bird enthusiast, be sure to plan your trip to Chobe National Park around December to March.

With over 500 species of birds recorded, Chobe National Park is any head-over-heels bird lover’s paradise. Boasting a vast diversity of beautiful and captivating bird species, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for an enchanting array of avian marvels, from giant kingfishers and African fish eagles to the sleek African skimmer, melodious collared palm, dazzling lilac-breasted rollers, and giant eagle owls. And let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all, the southern ground hornbill. Be sure to catch a glimpse of these winged wonders in their natural habitat. Other birds to look out for are some of the world’s largest flying birds, the kori bustard (weighing up to 18kg!) and the secretary bird.

Chobe’s vast diversity of resident birds are exciting enough to captivate any birding enthusiast’s eye, HOWEVER, when the hordes of summer migrants arrive, it’s enough to make anyone, avid birder or not, reach for a pair of binoculars.

#5 The Serengeti National Park: Africa’s wildlife wonder | Tanzania

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - The Serengeti National Park

If you’re looking for the classic safari as seen in the cinematic epics, there’s no better place to visit and fall head-over-heels in love with Africa than the renowned Serengeti National Park. The Serengeti National Park is arguably one of the most extraordinary National Parks in Africa, as well as one of the most celebrated wilderness areas in the world. It is also regarded as one of the most famous protected wilderness areas in all of Africa as well as Tanzania’s flagship conservation area, boasting one of the world’s greatest concentrations of wildlife species. It’s no surprise people travel from all over the world to experience all the wilderness magic, wildlife spectacles, and wild unapologetic beauty the Serengeti National Park has to offer. Whether you’re a first-time safari goer or a seasoned safari expert, the Serengeti National Park should undoubtedly be on every avid traveler, nature lover, and wildlife enthusiast’s African safari travel bucket list.

While the Serengeti is known for its magnificent and diverse wildlife as well as boasts some of the best year-round game viewing in Africa, including the iconic African Big 5 and various rare and endangered species, it is most renowned for being the site of the Annual Great Wildebeest Migration  One may call it the Serengeti National Park’s official claim to wilderness fame!

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - The Serengeti National Park

A wilderness spectacle like no other, the Serengeti Great Migration sees millions of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle traversing the open plains of the park in search of fresh grass from seasonal rains. One of the greatest spectacles in the natural world, the migration follows the seasonal rains, spending the wet season in the south eastern plains of Tanzania and the dry season in the woodlands of north western Kenya. Witnessing this spectacular wildlife phenomenon truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

However, as millions of wildebeest and zebra traverse these lands in search of sustenance, you better believe that Africa’s wild predators, such as lions, leopards, and hyenas, are not far behind and constantly on the hunt. The sheer volume of wildebeest and other wildlife crossing the river to make their way from the Serengeti National Park to the Maasai Mara in Kenya means facing approximately 3,000 crocodiles, patiently waiting for a kill, as well as the famous Serengeti lion population – by far the largest in Africa – right and ready to pounce whenever the opportunity strikes. These dramatic scenes of huge herds on the move, crossing rivers and vast plains, pursued by predators looking for their next kill, truly are the stuff nature documentaries are made of. This undoubtedly makes it the prime time to not only witness exceptional sightings of Africa’s most famous predators but see them in action.

Derived from the Maasai word “siringiti”, which means “endless plains,” this park rests on raised platens between the Ngorongoro highlands and the Tanzania/Kenya border, extending almost to Lake Victoria, making up 50% of the wider Serengeti–Mara ecosystem. Here, a diversity of grassy plains, Savanna and vegetation stretches endlessly, only to be broken up by acacias, wooded hills, and mountainous backdrops. The Serengeti is said to boast one of the oldest and most distinct ecosystems on earth, featuring a varied, vibrant, and thriving vegetation that has remained largely untouched for millions of years.

Did you know that The Serengeti National Park is made up of the Southern Serengeti, Western Serengeti, Central Serengeti, and the Northern Serengeti, each of which is characterised by its own unique landscape and vegetation?

General Guideline: When to see the Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti National Park

(These guidelines are subject to change as per seasonal rainfall)

  Approximate time Region
Calving January to March Southern Serengeti
Intense Big Cat Action January to March Southern Serengeti
Rutting January to March Southern Serengeti
Grumeti River Crossings May to July Western Serengeti
Mara River Crossings July to September Northern Serengeti
On the Move October to December Northern Serengeti and Masai Mara

**Important Note: The above guidelines are approximate dates and places. The Wildebeest Migration is a year-round, circular journey and the river crossings cannot be predicted, although they generally occur between May and September.

As this awe-inspiring event is one of the last mass terrestrial animal movements left on the planet, experiencing the wild wonder that is the annual Serengeti National Park Great Migration is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be at the very top of every avid traveler and eager nature and wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list.

Check out our ‘Serengeti National Park’ and ‘Best Time to go to the Serengeti’ blogs for everything you need to know about this remarkable and thrilling African safari destination

#6 Akagera National Park: Central Africa’s Largest Protected Wetland | Rwanda

Akagera National Park is renowned for being the ONLY Big 5 safari destination in Rwanda. This makes Akagera National Park a true gem in Rwanda’s wildlife crown as it holds a special place as the country’s exclusive / one & only destination for Big 5 safari experiences and adventures.

Regarded as Central Africa’s largest protected wetland, Akagera National Park, located in eastern Rwanda, is a true conservation success story and definitely well worth a visit for first-time safari goers who are eager to see primates as part of their first African safari journey / experience. Akagera National Park’s amazing diversity, pertaining to both its wildlife species and terrain (which ranges from lakes, savannah, riverine forests, woodlands, and grassland plains), makes it a great safari destination in Africa for first timers as they will have the wonderful opportunity to experience and enjoy such an abundant variation of sensational wildlife, including sightings and encounters, all in one place.

One of the many things that makes Akagera so remarkable is despite the fact that it was once completely decimated by poachers and nearly lost forever due to human encroachment – well and truly being at the verge of vanishing entirely at one point in time – completely seizing to exist –  this National Park in the heart of Rwanda experienced one of the most miraculous revivals ever as the last haven for savannah-adapted wildlife species in the area to the extent where Akagera National Park is now considered to be a true safari mecca! This massive & miraculous turn-around is largely and primarily owed to the beyond incredible African Parks taking Akagera National Park under its guardianship since the year 2010. Now that’s a truly triumphant return!

At the heart of Central Africa, you’ll discover the vastness of its largest protected wetland – a story of redemption and resilience that warms the heart.

African Parks, together with partners Rwanda Development Board and support from the Howard G Buffett Foundation, have transformed what was once teetering on the brink of disappearance into a Big 5 safari paradise, beckoning travelers, tourists, wildlife enthusiasts, and adventurers from all corners of the world. Brace yourself for thrilling game drives that bring you face-to-face with magnificent Maasai giraffes and captivating Burchell’s zebras. But that’s not all – as you explore the lakeside, prepare to be amazed by the graceful presence of hippos, the ancient majesty of crocodiles, and the intriguing elegance of shoebills among a vibrant tapestry of waterbirds.

Go right ahead, step into Akagera National Park, a place where the magic of second chances comes to life. Here, you’ll find yourself immersed in unparalleled wildlife encounters & spectacular Big 5 sightings amidst the magnificent untouched wilderness of Rwanda itself. Let the spirit of Akagera awaken your sense of wonder and curiosity as you forge unforgettable connections with nature and the magic of the African bushveld.

  • When is The Best Time to Visit Akagera National Park: You can expect a great trip if you visit between June to September and mid-December to mid-February.

#7 Lower Zambezi National Park | Zambia

A beautiful, diverse, and vibrant landlocked country in southern Africa, Zambia has emerged as one of the most premier wildlife and safari destinations in Africa for avid travelers, globe-trotting tourists, and head-over-heals local and international wildlife and safari enthusiasts alike. The fact that Zambia boasts such an impeccable array of National Parks and game reserves – each one as incredible & exhilarating as the next – means you’ll never be disappointed! This makes it a great safari destination in Africa for first-time safari-goers.

Speaking of Zambia’s impeccable National Parks – the amazing Lower Zambezi National Park should be right at the top of your Zambia safari bucket-list! Situated along the lower section of the renowned Zambezi River, the remarkable Lower Zambezi National Park is one of Zambia’s premier National Parks & top wildlife & safari destinations among avid wildlife lovers and eager safari-goers from around the world – For good reason too!

One of the primary things that sets the park apart from other ‘bigger’ & more ‘renowned’ National Parks is the fact that despite Zambia’s growing reputation as one of Africa’s top safari destinations, its landscapes has remained relatively untouched and unspoiled.

That’s not all! The Lower Zambezi National Park’s somewhat remote & off-the-beaten-path location is by far one of its main draws. It has also helped the National Park retain its essence of true wilderness – providing an unpredictable and exhilarating safari experience to anyone that visits.

Encompassing vast and varied terrains, including forests, grasslands, and floodplains, the Lower Zambezi National Park supports a vast diversity of birdlife and wildlife. Home to plenty of big game, including elephants, lions, buffaloes, hippos, and Nile crocodiles, as well as several other wildlife species – the Lower Zambezi National Park will definitely not disappoint!

Wildlife viewing is best along the rivers, which border the park on three sides. The Zambezi River is the region’s main source of water as well as its top attraction, both for game and visitors alike.

When visiting the Lower Zambezi National Park you can opt to go on an exciting safari / game drive and explore all the wonders the park has to offer, not to mention encounter some sensational wildlife sightings. If you’re looking for something more immersive, you can enjoy an adventure-filled nature walk / walking safari led by an experienced guide. However, the most popular / highly requested (and definitely the most thrilling) safari experiences is going on a adventure-filled canoe safari along the Zambezi River – In fact, a canoe safari is by far one of the Lower Zambezi National Park’s top safari highlights! It is both peaceful and undeniably thrilling paddling and drifting past the twitching ears and snorts of submerged hippos and knobbly Nile crocodiles basking on the riverbanks. The guides are utterly attuned to the animals’ habits and behaviour and are completely at ease predicting their next moves – So you can rest assured you are in safe hands!

#8 Sabi Sands Nature Reserve: Luxury Living in Leopard-Rich Lands | South Africa

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Sabi Sand Game Reserve

The spectacular Sabi Sand Game Reserve is without a doubt one of the most sensational must-visit safari destinations and premier private game reserves in South Africa, as well as one of the oldest and most beloved wildernesses in the country. Considered the birthplace of sustainable wildlife tourism in Southern Africa, the notorious Sabi Sand Game Reserve boasts 65,000 hectares of vast untamed wilderness and shares a 50km/30mi unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park (South Africa’s flagship National Park). This allows wildlife to roam freely between the reserves, ensuring an unforgettable and unmatched African safari and wildlife experience.

Boasting one of the richest game populations in the country, Sabi Sand Game Reserve is home to some of the most diverse and unique wildlife species in Africa. While Sabi Sands is regarded as one of the best places in Africa to view the renowned African Big 5 in its natural habitat, it is most famous for its spectacular leopard sightings, boasting the highest leopard concentration in South Africa – the most elusive member of the Big 5. However, in this revered Greater Kruger National Park reserve, you’ll find that leopards are not all that elusive at all – in fact, they are seemingly everywhere! These famously elusive creatures are so accustomed to cars that they are often seen in plain view and have even been known to hunt in the presence of a safari vehicle.

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Besides its world-renowned leopard sightings as well as enjoying glorious up-close encounters of the iconic African Big 5, visitors can look forward to seeing a vast diversity of other game when exploring the varied landscapes of the Sabi Sands. Other popular wildlife species that freely roam the Sabi Sands’ terrain include, giraffe, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, cheetah, aardvark, African wild cats, hyenas, jackals, Cape porcupines, pangolins, and a wide array of antelope and plains game, to mention merely a few. In addition, several endangered species have slowly been reintroduced into the area over the last few decades, one of the most notable being the beloved African wild dog. The MalaMala, a game reserve located within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, is especially known and celebrated for its remarkable African wild dog population as well as their various incredible conservation initiatives and efforts geared at keeping these extraordinary endangered species from going extinct. The vast, varied, and vibrant vegetation of the Sabi Sands Reserve provides a pristine wilderness haven for an abundance of magnificent wildlife species – big and small – especially white rhino, reedbuck, cheetah, eland, sable antelope, nyala, and hyena.

Bird lovers, this is for you! Beyond its top safari status and wildly diverse and abundant wildlife species, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve has become one of the most highly sought-after birding destination for passionate bird watchers from around the world. Boasting over 300 bird species, this premium birding hotspot is home to several curiously named species, some of which include the widow finch, buntings, cisticolas, mannikins, wydahs, and eremomelas. Other notable bird species avid birders should look out for when visiting the Sabi Sands include the Red-billed oxpecker, the Comb duck, and the purple heron. In addition, The Southern Ground Hornbill Project has also been doing some very successful conservation work here – Which is definitely something every bird lover can look forward to! By far the best way to experience the vast and vibrant birdlife of the Sabi Sands Reserve is by going on an exciting guided bushwalk or a walking or driving safari through the private reserve.

One of the great things about the iconic Sabi Sand Game Reserve is the fact that it is regarded as one of the top year-round wildlife and safari destinations in Africa, The Sabi Sand Game Reserve boasts two distinct seasons, the dry winter season (May – September) and the wet summer season (October – April), with each season offering travelers, adventurers, and nature and wildlife enthusiasts something unique and exciting to look forward to.

From one of the handful of exclusive luxury lodges in the reserve, guests can enjoy unparalleled exploration, tailored service and unmistakable silence and reverence of the African wild.

What’s more, together with the highest leopard concentration in South Africa, Sabi Sand’s Big 5 territory boasts many award-winning luxury lodges and excellent game viewing.

**Check out our Sabi Sand Game Reserve’ blog for everything you need to know about this extraordinary wilderness regions.

#9 Hwange National Park | Zimbabwe

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Hwangwe National Park

Time to venture to Zimbabwe! Home to a number of game-rich wilderness areas, northern Zimbabwe is regarded as the top region for wildlife safaris. Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is arguably one of Africa’s very best Big 5 safari destinations and National Parks. Covering a vast expanse of around 5,655 square miles/14,650 square kilometers, it is both the largest and the oldest National Park in the country, not to mention one of Zimbabwe’s most sought-after safari destinations among avid wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.

Home to over 100 species of mammals, including the iconic African Big 5, Hwange National Park is considered to have the biggest diversity of mammals out of the world’s National Parks – Ensuring truly unparalleled game viewing and unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings and encounters! If that’s not impressive enough, in addition to its extraordinary game viewing and exceptional diversity of wildlife species, this world-renowned National Park has yet another claim to wildlife fame – its profound population of elephants which is said to exceed over 50 000. The Hwange elephant population is thought to be one of the largest in both Africa and the world.

That’s not all! This magnificent wilderness and wildlife gem also boasts one of the largest populations of endangered African wild dogs in the continent. Furthermore, travelers and wildlife lovers can look forward to spectacular sightings of various other wildlife species, including masses of hippos, crocodiles, zebra, giraffe, impala, cheetah, several rare antelope species such as roan and sable antelope (a Hwange special), plenty of plains game, African wildcats, serval, honey badgers, civet, and spotted hyaenas, to mention merely a few. Not to mention hyenas, bat-eared foxes, and springhares, all of which are known to inhabit the Kalahari sands of the region. With such a vast and impeccable diversity of wildlife sightings and encounters to look forward to, Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park truly is any avid wildlife enthusiast’s dream safari destination and one that is not to be missed.

To top it off, Hwange National Park offers eager travelers, tourists, globe-trotting adventurers, families, and wildlife lovers various exciting and memorable ways to explore and enjoy their bucket-list worthy Big 5 safari adventure – from exhilarating 4×4 open-vehicle game drives, immersive walking safaris, horseback rides, and helicopter flights – there is something for absolutely everyone!

  • When is The Best Time to Visit Hwange National Park: The best time for Big 5 safaris is between July to October.

#10 Laikipia National Park & Conservancy | Kenya

Once dominated by livestock ranches in the colonial era, the immense Laikipia Plateau has since been transformed into one of East Africa’s finest, highly acclaimed, and most exclusive National Parks and wildlife & safari destinations in Africa. Overseen by the non-profit Laikipia Wildlife Foundation, the several dozen private and community-owned sanctuaries of the vast Laikipia Plateau now function as Kenya’s second largest wildlife sanctuary and conservancy, encompassing a vast 9,500km2 in total.

In addition to its exclusivity, top-tier African safari standing, remarkable conservation status and size, Laikipia is home to a wildly abundant and incredibly diverse wildlife population – it is unmatched, to say the least! As the plateau is transitional to the central highlands and northern deserts, it provides an extremely important stronghold for wildlife rarities such as the endangered African wild dog, Grevy’s zebra, and the black rhino – giving avid and first time safari goers the incredible opportunity to witness these remarkable and rare wildlife species first-hand. The Laikipia National Park and plateau also supports several dry-country wildlife species, such as the greater and lesser kudu, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, and Beisa oryx, along with substantial populations of Africa’s iconic and highly sought-after big cat predators – leopards, lions, and cheetahs!

There are also a number of extraordinary sanctuaries and conservancies located within Laikipia and Laikipia Plateau. Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a Big 5 conservancy found in the foothills of Mount Kenya, is one of Laikipia Plateau’s prime / top conservancies and sanctuaries. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is widely renowned for its exceptional conservation initiatives. Its highlights include the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa; a population of southern white rhino; a refuge for the last two northern white rhinos left in the world (Ol Pejeta Conservancy is where the last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in 2018; the last females of the sub-species still live at Ol Pejeta and are protected around the clock). The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary can also be found in the Laikipia Conservancy. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary houses orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees as well as chimpanzees rescued from the black market. Lewa and Borana Wildlife Conservancies are two more conservancies situated in and among the rolling hills of Laikipia, within the foothills of Mt Kenya. These conservancies are fully committed to conservation and innovative wildlife protection programs which include anti-poaching teams, conservation of specific endangered species, as well as community development and support.

Visiting the iconic Laikipia National Park, Laikipia Plateau and its profound and beyond remarkable array of sanctuaries and conservancies, especially Ol Pejeta Conservancy, is not only one of the top (not to mention most remarkable and rewarding) things to do / experience in Kenya and all of Africa, but a great destination, perhaps even one of the greatest, to learn more / as much as you possibly can about the relationship that exists between people / humans and wildlife. Not to mention learn about the vast and various challenges, complexities, extreme difficulties, and constant, deeply-rooted uphill battles the conservation industry has to face / encounter as they fight the good (yet, incredibly tough) fight in order to ensure the preservation of our beloved wildlife species.

**BONUS: Wildlife lovers & visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy a range of exciting wildlife and safari experiences and adventures such as lion tracking, horseback riding, exhilarating bush walks / walking safaris, and thrilling night drives and safaris / game drives – How lucky are you? Be sure to soak up every glorious second of these once-in-a-lifetime African safari experiences! You can even spend time with the Maasai people who guide you across the plains, teaching you all about the deep connection they have / share with this land and how they have lived off it for millennia – it is a truly immersive, enriching, eye-opening, and rewarding experience everyone that travels to Africa should add to their bucket-list!

#11 Okavango Delta: One of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Okavango Delta

Deemed one of the last remaining pure wildernesses in the world, The Okavango Delta is not only Botswana’s most iconic wildlife haven, but one of Africa, and the world’s, most extraordinary wilderness regions and largest inland deltas on the planet. This vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland area is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

What makes the Okavango Delta particularly unique is that unlike nearly all deltas around the world, which are generally places where rivers and other bodies of water empty into an ocean or sea, the Okavango Delta is an inimitable and ever-changing inland delta. Approximately 2.5 trillion gallons of water carried by the Okavango River, and other permanent and ephemeral rivers, empty into a dusty plain hundreds of miles from the nearest coast. The delta is therefore responsible for transforming an otherwise bone-dry landscape into a lush, green, bustling, and thriving hub of activity. Pretty extraordinary isn’t it?

As a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR site), the Okavango Delta’s unique and wildly complex ecosystems nurture a vast diversity of superb wildlife and birdlife species. In fact, while this virtually untouched freshwater wetland that is the magnificent Okavango Delta lies at the heart of Botswana’s arid Kalahari Desert, it supports a prolific abundance of various wildlife within a setting of dazzling natural beauty. In fact, the Delta is widely known as one of the most wildlife-rich areas in Africa.

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Okavango Delta

A myriad of wildlife species can be found within the delta, some of which include: African Bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Topi, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nile crocodile, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, Black Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Plains Zebra, Warthog, and Chacma Baboons (to mention merely a few). That’s not all! You will also encounter several unusual antelope species like puku, sitatunga and red lechwe (many of which you may never have encountered before) – Making the Okavango Delta any wildlife lover’s dream come true! The Okavango Delta is also famous for being a stronghold for predators. This means wildlife enthusiasts are in for quite a thrilling wildlife experience and African wilderness adventure when visiting the Okavango Delta.

Each year, large numbers of wildlife retreat from the dry interior towards the Delta’s floods.  It is estimated that around 260,000 mammals congregate around the delta during this time. As the Okavango Delta is affected by seasonal flooding with flood water from Angola reaching the Delta between March and June, peaking in July, coinciding with Botswana’s dry season, it results in a great migration of plains game from the dry hinterland. In addition, enormous herds of buffalo, elephant, zebra, and wildebeest (to mention merely a few) flock to these water sources, creating a prime hunting ground for predators. Not to mention sensational wildlife sightings and encounters.

In the Dry Season (between May and October) when the flood waters have made their way down and the Delta has doubled in size, that’s when the true spectacle begins. It is also the time when many fall head-over-heels in-love with not only the Okavango Delta, but Africa as a whole.

**Okavango Delta BONUS: The Okavango Delta is by far the best destination in Africa to go on a thrilling water-based safari – AKA a traditional Mokoro Safari!

**What is a Mokoro: A Mokoro is a traditional dug-out canoe which is used to traverse and explore the waterways and channels of the Okavango Delta. Enjoying a mokoro journey through the Delta is not only a unique bucket-list worthy safari experience, but gives you the opportunity to see and explore hidden gems, secret spots, and rare sightings you might miss on a traditional game drive.

Nowhere else in the world can you experience the sublime serenity of being poled along in a traditional dugout canoe as birds like jacanas and herons walk among the lilies, elephants peacefully feed on the surrounding soft grass, and sitatunga antelope retreat shyly into the reeds. Trading in the 4×4 game-vehicle for an authentic and exciting Mokoro safari opens up the world’s most unspoiled wetland of Botswana’s Okavango Delta to be fully explored, discovered, and experienced from a whole new perspective. The Delta truly becomes a game viewing paradise!

Check out our 5 Reasons to Visit the Okavango Delta’ and Best Time to go to the Okavango Delta’ blogs for everything you need to know about this extraordinary wilderness regions, and largest inland deltas in the world.

Why the Okavango Delta is a great destination for those going on their first safari in Africa:

  • The Okavango Delta offers a truly authentic African safari and wildlife experience – perfect for first time safari goers to Africa
  • The Okavango Delta is one of the premier safari destinations and is one of the last true wilderness areas left in Africa
  • The number of visitors is very tightly controlled, you can experience the beauty of the area as it has been for hundreds of years
  • The wildlife has been undisturbed for generations, resulting in spectacular game viewing & thrilling wildlife sightings and encounters

#12 Madikwe Game Reserve | South Africa

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Madikwe Game Reserve

Deemed as somewhat of an African safari hidden gem, the expansive Madikwe Game Reserve is the fifth largest game reserve in the country and lies in South Africa’s North West Province, bordering Botswana and the Kalahari Desert. With diverse landscapes, including bushveld, grasslands, and rocky slopes, the area is a pristine location for Big 5 safaris. Boasting an extensive and gloriously diverse wildlife population, Madikwe Game Reserve is not only home to all the members of Africa’s highly sought-after Big 5, with encounters almost guaranteed on any visit, but also gives wildlife enthusiasts the incredible opportunity to witness several endangered animals, especially African wild dogs, as well as enjoy exceptional sightings of various wildlife species, including the elusive cheetah, brown hyena, aardwolf, elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, and zebras (to mention merely a few), all of which are a common sight within the reserve. In total, the reserve is said to shelter approximately 10,000 mammals and 350 bird species.

In addition to its wild, untamed, and unapologetic natural beauty, and abundance of wildlife species, Madikwe Game Reserve is regarded as one of Africa’s most sought-after wildlife and Big 5 safari destinations as well as one of the continents best conservation areas.

Beyond preserving wildlife, one of the many things that sets this remarkable game reserve apart is its unwavering dedication to community upliftment. Madikwe is not only a massive champion of social investment and responsible tourism in the region, but plays a major role in economically uplifting the various communities within the area.

Why Madikwe Game Reserve is a great destination for those going on their first safari in Africa:

  • It offers world-class game viewing
  • Madikwe Reserve is malaria free
  • The reserve is home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) as well as excellent cheetah and wild dog sightings
  • Madikwe is highly exclusive. The general public is not permitted into the reserve, only people staying at the lodges can go on safari in the Madikwe Reserve
  • The perfect destination to find some quiet and enjoy the beauty of the African bush
  • This beautiful reserve is just a four hour drive from Johannesburg Airport

When is The Best Time to Visit Madikwe Game Reserve: Plan your visit around May to September for the best wildlife viewing.

#13 Timbavati Game Reserve | South Africa

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Timbavati Game Reserve

A piece of unspoiled Africa, the renowned Timbavati Game Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park and offers wildlife enthusiasts from all around the world some of the best game viewing and Big 5 encounters in all of Africa.

Located in the heart of the Lowveld region of South Africa, Timbavati Game Reserve shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park – this allows wildlife to migrate and roam freely between the reserves, ensuring high-quality, exciting, and exceptional sightings and an unbelievable and unforgettable African safari and wildlife experience in every way possible.

When it comes to birdlife & wildlife sightings & encounters – Timbavati Game Reserve is truly unmatched. Home to the Timbavati ‘Magnificent 7’, which includes the lion, leopard (Timbavati Reserve boasts a large leopard population), elephant, rhino, African wild dog, buffalo, and cheetah, Timbavati Game Reserve has loudly and proudly established itself as one of the top and most highly sought-after African wildlife and Big 5 safari destinations in Africa and South Africa for local and global wildlife lovers alike.

On average, Timbavati is home to approximately 40 species of mammals, including various endangered animals, such as the Honey Badger, Bat, Oxpecker, and the Ground Hornbill. An abundance of plains game like kudu, giraffe, wildebeest, and waterbuck (to mention merely a few) can frequently be spotted, as well as several fascinating nocturnal species such as Porcupine, Serval, Genet, and Civet, amongst many others, when embarking on an exciting Timbavati Game Reserve night drive safari adventure.

Where not done yet – oh no! In fact you’re not going to want to miss this next part!

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Timbavati Game Reserve

Undoubtedly one of Timbavati’s top wildlife highlights is its white lions! Timbavati Game Reserve is home to one of nature’s most magnificent wildlife species, the remarkable, rare, and highly endangered white lion. White lions are indigenous to the Timbavati Game Reserve, with the earliest records of white lion sightings in this region dating back to 1938. Born with a crème-coloured – snow white coat, and ice blue eyes, the sheer beauty of this extraordinary animal is beyond captivating.

**Interesting Fact: While the magnificent white lion has been the target of countless trophy hunters and poachers over the last few decades, several anti-poaching organisations and wildlife protection initiatives have made it their mission to preserve and protect this beloved species. In fact, The Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) reintroduced white lions into their natural habitat in 2009, and they have been breeding successfully ever since.

Here’s another interesting fact – Due to the continuous hunting and poaching efforts of these rare and remarkable white lions, as well as their endangered status and small numbers, white lion offspring have been known to be born by ‘normal coloured’ lion parents. This phenomenon is known as Leucism. This has resulted in a ‘new’ very pale species of lion (as they carry the pure white lion gene) which can frequently be spotted roaming the vast Timbavati Game Reserve.

  • When is The Best Time to Visit Timbavati Game Reserve: We recommend you visit during the dry season from May to September.

**BONUS: Check out our ‘Timbavati Game Reserve’ blog for everything you need to know about this incredible South African game reserve.

#14 Hluhluwe iMfolozi-Park: The Gateway to Natal’s wild Wonders | South Africa

The village of Hluhluwe (roughly pronounced shloo-shloo-wee) lies within the heart of Zululand on South Africa’s east coast. Surrounded by bright sugarcane fields and pineapple plantations, the village is located near the banks of the Hluhluwe River and acts as the gateway to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Covering approximately 96,000 hectares of forested, mountainous, and rippling savannah landscapes, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is renowned for being one of the top Big 5 safari destinations in Africa.

This National Park in the heart of Zululand not only boasts the largest population of white rhino on the globe, it is home to an incredible and diverse variety of birdlife and wildlife species. In addition to over 350 bird species, visitors to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park can expect excellent and exciting sightings of the highly acclaimed African Big 5, wildebeest, cheetah, hyena, and giraffe (to mention merely a few), as well as carefree crocodiles, hefty hippos, and an array of fish which can be found in the park’s lakes deeper inland.

Game aside, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is also renowned for its remarkable conservation efforts and initiatives. The Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Project for example feeds and cares for threatened African cats, creating the perfect opportunity for visitors to interact with cheetah, serval, caracal, and various African wildcats.

While many know Hluhluwe to be a Big 5 reserve, few people are aware that Hluhluwe is, in fact, a small town located in the north of Durban in central Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Its prime location acts as a gateway to several great areas and destinations, such as Lake St. Lucia, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, various private game reserves, and of course Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

The unspoiled beaches of St Lucia, Cape Vidal, and Sodwana Bay are all easily accessed from Hluhluwe. The surf is popular for diving, snorkelling, canoeing, surfing, body boarding, and fishing. Dolphins are frequent visitors to the bays and can be seen frolicking in the waves while the humpback whales make their slow, annual migration to the warm Mozambique waters. It’s all this and so much more that makes the impeccable Hluhluwe a destination that should be at the top of every traveller and wildlife enthusiast’s bucket-list.

  • When is The Best Time to Visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park: May to September is a great time to visit Hluhluwe iMfolozi-Park.

#15 Moremi Game Reserve | Botswana

15 Best Safari Destinations in Africa for first timers - Moremi Game Reserve

Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, also known as the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, is situated in one of the largest inland deltas and premier wilderness areas in the world, the vast and virtually untouched freshwater wetland of the glorious Okavango Delta. Encompassing a quarter of the Delta within its borders, covering most of its eastern sector, Moremi Game Reserve spans across several thousand square kilometers, boasting vast floodplains, lagoons, grasslands, forests of acacia trees, remarkable open savannahs pains, islands, and dense mopane woodlands. Celebrated for its ecological diversity, Moremi Game Reserve is not only host to Botswana’s richest blend of habitats (which directly translates into awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and prolific birdwatching), but also one of Africa’s most renowned protected wilderness areas of incredible biodiversity.

Regarded as the beating heart of the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve is the only proclaimed wildlife reserve in the Okavango Delta – and is known to boast an exceptional and abundant diversity of wildlife species – including the highly sought-after African Big 5 – undoubtedly making it a prime destination for a Big 5 safari in Africa. While sightings of these sensational wildlife species are more rare than other large National Parks (making it all the more worthwhile when you do spot them) Africa’s critically endangered black rhino and near threatened southern white rhino have both been re-introduced into Moremi Game Reserve successfully.

Extending into the immense Okavango Delta, the Moremi Game Reserve preserves the heart of Africa’s finest game viewing region. Well protected, the reserve provides refuge for an abundant and diverse population of African wildlife. Moremi, together with adjoining private land concessions in the Okavango, also provide the perfect environment in which to see endangered African wild dogs and other rare wildlife species in their natural habitat. Some of these rare species include, the Black-maned Kalahari Lion, Sitatunga, Puku and Red Lechwe antelope, Brown Hyena, the African Skimmer. and Aardvark.

To top it off, the local Basarwa Bushmen also reside in the area, offering visitors an intimate look into their traditional way of life – adding something entirely unique, authentic, and memorable to your Big 5 safari experience in Africa.

**Interesting fact: The reason why Moremi was elected as a game reserve instead of a National Park was to still allow the native Bushmen and people of Batswana (native to the land) to stay within the Moremi area in 1963, which made the Moremi the first protected reserve of the Okavango Delta.

  • When is The Best Time to Visit Moremi Game Reserve: You should aim to visit between July to October for the best safari experience.

**BONUS: Check out our ‘Moremi Game Reserve’ blog for everything you need to know about this extraordinary and must-visit game reserve.

#16 Bwindi National Park | Uganda

Although Uganda isn’t your conventional first time safari destination, it is definitely one to consider if you have the mountain gorillas on your bucket list. The safari experience is very different to other countries in East and Southern Africa like Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. Instead, the parks are very green and dense but, with elephants, buffalos, lions, and hippo aplenty, Uganda still offers a good safari experience in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park. For a first time gorilla trekking experience, Uganda’s Bwindi National Park is a fantastic option: the rangers, guides, and trackers are excellent and the experience is completely humbling.