Top 5 Safaris in Africa you don’t want to miss
Searing plains dotted with spritely gazelle, earth-shaking grey giants, and majestic lions reclining under acacia trees – embarking on an exhilarating safari excursion is a dream escape for any true wildlife & nature lover. Millions around the globe flock to Africa every year to see the “Big Five” of lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo. With a wealth of options to witness nature’s battle for survival, choosing the best safari in Africa can be a tad difficult.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to deciding where to go on a safari in Africa. If you’re keen to see the Big Five, South Africa, and the Kruger National Park in particular, is a solid choice, with options for all budgets, good tourism infrastructure, and family-friendly properties in malaria-free areas. If you’re more seasoned or just keen to avoid the busier spots, you might be tempted to tackle thrilling walking safaris in Zambia or southern Tanzania. Timing is a factor, too — most safari areas are at their driest between June and September which allows for extraordinary up-close wildlife sightings & encounters which will undoubtedly exceed your wildest expectations.
To ensure you experience the very best Africa has to offer – here are the top 5 safaris in Africa you don’t want to miss.
#1 Ruaha National Park | Tanzania
Located in the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is not only one of Tanzania’s most notorious wilderness areas, but one of the largest National Parks in East Africa, spanning 5,000 mi2 (12,950 km²). Despite its significant size, Ruaha National Park is one of Tanzania’s lesser-known National Parks, boasting only a handful of lodges. This ensures a truly exclusive African safari experience. Its relatively remote off-the-beaten path location paired with being one of Tanzania’s lesser-known National Parks, undoubtedly makes Ruaha National Park one of Tanzania’s best kept secrets and glorious hidden gems. But don’t for a second underestimate this wilderness gem, it sure packs a heavy punch and has a whole lot of surprises up its sleeve that’s bound to exceed all your expectations.
While this top Tanzanian National Park boasts a vast diversity of contrasting natural landscapes filled with rocky escarpments, baobab studded hills, and spectacular gorges, the Great Ruaha River is by far one of Ruaha National Park’s main features. The Ruaha River is known to attract an incredible abundance of wildlife species, especially during the dry season as the wildlife crowd the riverbanks to quench their thirst, thereby providing visitors, avid safari-goers, and wildlife enthusiasts with ample magnificent up-close wildlife viewing opportunities right on the riverbanks.
The game viewing in Ruaha National Park is second to none. Boasting a vast diversity of remarkable wildlife species, it isn’t hard to understand why Ruaha National Park is at the top of almost every wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list. Besides hosting one of the largest populations of elephant herds in all of East Africa (some featuring up to 10,00 elephants), Ruaha National Park is home to large herds of buffalo, gazelle, African wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, zebras, impala, bat eared foxes, and jackals, to mention merely a few.
Ruaha is also where you will find an estimated 10% of the surviving wild lion population in Africa – this is undoubtedly one of Ruaha National Park’s top wildlife highlights & sought-after wildlife attractions. That’s not all! Ruaha is also one of the only places you will see greater kudu in Tanzania.
In addition to Ruaha National Park’s vast and glorious diversity of wildlife, avid birdwatchers can look forward to sensational bird sightings as Ruaha is home to over 400 bird species that are not found in northern Tanzania. To take it to the next birdwatching level, the vegetation along the riverbanks is also home to countless water birds.
If you’re an adventurer at heart whose soul craves one-of-a-kind wildlife experiences, Ruaha will tick all your boxes and then some.
#2 South Luangwa National Park: The Home of the Walking Safari | Zambia
Welcome to South Luangwa National Park, one of the great remaining unspoiled regions of Africa.
Its officially time to discover, explore, and experience 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.
South Luangwa National Park is by far the greatest 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 any that visits this rare and remarkable wilderness gem.
South Luangwa National Park Wildlife
Beyond its untouched wilderness landscapes and sheer unapologetic natural beauty, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is known to draw wildlife enthusiasts and safari connoisseurs 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 most dense in all of Africa.
Brimming with exuberance and fueled by the life-giving Luangwa River – The pristine Luangwa River is 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 them 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.
South Luangwa National Park Birding
Calling all avid birders – South Luangwa National Park has you covered too! Boasting over 400 different species of birds, including 39 birds of prey, South Luangwa’s birdwatching is like no other.
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 riverbanks. 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!
With such a glorious diversity of birdlife to see, you’ll definitely want to pack your binoculars as well as a camera to capture all your remarkable bird sightings. 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.
South Luangwa National Park 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
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
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.
When to visit 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.
#3 Kruger National Park: True Home of Africa’s Big 5 | South Africa
South African tourism has a secret weapon – The Kruger National Park! This remarkable destination isn’t just one of the world’s greatest National Parks; it’s South Africa’s flagship National Park & its greatest pride and joy. Picture this: a vast, unspoiled wilderness sprawling across an astonishing 2 million hectares of African bushveld that stretches for 352 kilometers, cradled between the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo in the enchanting far north-eastern corner of South Africa.
As the oldest, grandest, and most esteemed National Parks, the Kruger National Park teems with the highest concentration of the Big 5 in South Africa. It’s a rare wilderness gem & one of the very few places in the world where you can witness every member of the African Big 5 in their natural habitat, all in one place. The Kruger Park is celebrated for harboring the world’s largest population of white rhinos, estimated at a robust 8,000, despite the persistent poaching challenges. The elusive black rhino, while seldom seen, is a treasure to behold. If you happen to catch a glimpse of this remarkable creature, consider yourself incredibly fortunate! But the Kruger National Park doesn’t stop there. It boasts the world’s largest wild concentration of leopards, making it any safari-goer’s dream come true, whether you’re just starting your African adventure or you’re a seasoned explorer.
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 neighbor, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, shares the park’s prolific abundance of wildlife, creating an extraordinary spectacle.
Nestled in the heart of the Lowveld, the Kruger Park offers a safari and wildlife experience like no other. It’s no wonder that nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers flock here from every corner of the globe to witness the untouched natural beauty and untamed wilderness of the Kruger National Park firsthand.
If you haven’t already added an authentic African safari in the Kruger National Park to your bucket list, now is the time! Trust us, it’s an experience that will leave you spellbound and thoroughly enchanted.
**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.
#4 Masai Mara National Reserve: A True Out to Africa Experience | Kenya
The Masai Mara in Kenya is Nature’s magnificent masterpiece
Welcome to the incredible wonderland known as the 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 – this renowned destination holds a special place in our hearts and is a dream-come-true for first-time & frequent safari-goers & wildlife enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why. The Masai Mara National Reserve, along with its neighboring conservancies, is a jewel in Kenya’s conservation crown and one of the most breathtaking wildlife and safari destinations in all of Africa.
Nestled in the southwest of Kenya, the Maasai Mara National Reserve welcomes you with its expansive, rolling savannah plains that stretch across approximately 1,510 square kilometers. It shares its border with the iconic Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the south. These vast, open plains create a haven for a rich diversity of wildlife that roams freely in this pristine wilderness.
And then there’s the pièce de résistance – the Annual Great Wildebeest Migration – regarded as the ‘Seventh New Wonder of the World’. Witnessing the Great Wildebeest Migration – 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, eager adventurers, keen safari-goers, and avid nature and wildlife enthusiasts 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, bucket-list worthy experience you’ll cherish forever. This epic wildlife gathering is a spectacle of profound proportions that you’ll be talking about for years to come.
But that’s not all! Beyond being the site of the great Annual Wildebeest Migration – one of the last mass terrestrial wildlife movements left on the planet – the Maasai Mara is a treasure trove of biodiversity. In fact, it boasts the highest concentration of wild animals on the planet. Over 40% of Africa’s larger mammals call this place home. For nature and wildlife enthusiasts, this is nothing short of heaven on earth. The game viewing here is exceptional year-round, thanks to its diverse landscapes, wide-open spaces, temperate climate, and a thriving resident animal population. The Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos – all grace these champagne-colored savannahs. While rhino sightings are a bit rare, the Mara Triangle might just be your lucky spot. But wait, there’s more! The Masai Mara offers a plethora of wildlife wonders. From the elusive African Wild Dog to the famous Maasai giraffe, unique and enchanting encounters await you at every turn.
Here’s the exciting part: every season in the Masai Mara is a whole new adventure. Whether you visit during the great migration or another time of year, you’re in for an exhilarating safari experience. There’s always something extraordinary happening in this marvelous reserve, and disappointment is simply not on the itinerary.
The Masai Mara isn’t just one of Africa’s greatest safari destinations – it’s a life-changing journey through the heart of the wild. So, when will we be welcoming you to this extraordinary piece of wildlife & safari paradise?
- When is The Best Time to Visit the Maasai Mara National Reserve: Make your way to the Maasai Mara between June and October for the ultimate safari | It also depends on what you are most eager to see & experience (check out our blogs below)!!
**BONUS: 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.
#5 Etosha National Park | Namibia
The renowned Etosha National Park – which is brimming with life & exuberance – is one of Namibia’s top National Parks. It not only offers avid travelers, nature & safari enthusiasts, and head-over heels wildlife lovers excellent game-viewing opportunities, but is famous for its animal-packed waterholes and abundant predator sightings. With more than 40 waterholes at Etosha National Park, patient visitors will undoubtedly be well rewarded for their persistence with easy and extraordinary up-close wildlife sightings & encounters, as well as thrilling predator-prey interactions.
The Park’s flat landscapes and scattered watering holes makes Etosha National Park one of the best places in both Africa and the world to experience exceptional wildlife sightings and encounters. Enormous elephants, shy leopards, and gangly giraffes are merely some of the wildlife species you can look forward to seeing in this remarkable Namibian National Park. It is also home to a bounteous population of critically endangered black rhinos; with Namibia’s rhino conservation programme being one of the most successful in the world.
Another one of Etosha National Park’s major highlights and attractions is the Etosha Pan – a large shimmering white expanse of clay and salt that spreads across 5,000sq km in the arid desert landscape of northern Namibia. In addition to the iconic Etosha Pan being the largest salt pan in Africa, it is easily the reserve’s most dramatic feature. There are several watering holes scattered around the salt pan, which in turn attracts a tremendous concentration of incredible wildlife species.
**We love: There’s nothing like the sight of 1 million magenta flamingoes all gathered in one place. As the only known mass breeding ground for flamingoes, Etosha is the sole locating where you can witness this remarkable spectacle.