This is the Africa most people come to see. A stampede of wildebeest hooves across the Masai Mara, lions prowling the long grasses of Kruger and families of black rhino plodding through the scrubland of Etosha. If there’s one activity driving Africa’s booming tourism industry, it’s a safari in one of its iconic national parks.
If possible, it pays to time your trip to coincide with the annual wildebeest migration between the Serengeti and Masai Mara. This occurs at various times throughout the year, so there are lots of opportunities to catch this incredible phenomenon. Obviously this makes Kenya and Tanzania the real safari standouts – but don’t discount the national parks of South Africa, Zimbabwe or Botswana either. That’s the good thing about Africa: there’s plenty of it to go round.
There’s a reason the word safari is so often preceded by the word Serengeti. This is the quintessential wildlife destination, stretching across 30,000 square kilometres of Tanzania and teeming with over 500 different animal species. It’s mostly rolling grasslands and acacia scrub, watering holes and the slopes of Naabi Hill in the distance. Journeying over endless plains and coming fact-to-face with some of the world’s fiercest wildlife? Just like an elephant, you’ll never forget it.
The Masai Mara is synonymous with Africa, and not just its photogenic wildlife. This is the beating heart of the continent, where tribal hunters once stalked their prey and many still hold true to traditional ways. Reliable rains and plentiful vegetation draw in the herbivores, herbivores draw in the carnivores and carnivores draw in travellers (not to mention the documentary makers). It’s the kind of place where sunset brings the click of insects, the roar of lions and the faint echo of David Attenborough’s soothing tones.
Kruger National Park is basically the Serengeti of the south: 20,000-odd square kilometres of world-famous safari country. It’s South Africa’s premier game reserve, but unlike the Serengeti it’s more bushveld than rolling grassland. The Big Five are all here, along with 517 species of bird and more large mammals than any other national park in Africa. We can put that down to Kruger’s anti-poaching measures and pioneering efforts in conservation over the last couple of decades.
From a distance, a smoke-like mist fills the air. Rainbows dance through the spray and a low rumbling permeates the atmosphere. This is Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall, a two kilometre-wide drop where the Zambezi River pours into a steeply walled gorge. It’s an essential stop when checking out the wildlife in the national parks of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Make sure to get a good soaking on the footbridge to the famous buttress known as Knife Peak – it’s one of the best ways to get a feel for the sheer power of the falls.
A tricky one to pronounce, but all words are tough to say when your mouth is shaped in a permanent O of astonishment. The base of the Ngorongoro Crater is a pristine and completely unique eco-system. It’s home to about 30,000 animals, including lion, zebra, elephant and the critically endangered black rhino. But it’s equally impressive from on high. Standing on the edge of this enormous volcanic crater and watching the sun set across the plains, it’s easy to see why UNESCO was quick to add it to the World Heritage List.
Not to be outdone by its slightly flashier cousins, Chobe is the quiet achiever of African national parks. First set aside as a wildlife reserve in the 1930s, today it’s home to the largest elephant population on the continent. But it’s the waterways that keep travellers coming back again and again. Cruising through the Okavango Delta is the best way to catch a glimpse of the resident hippos, crocodiles and iconic African fish eagles. If you’re after a safari with a difference, give Botswana a try.