Safaris have evolved over time, named after the Swahili word for journey. Where once they largely involved hunting and “roughing it” in the wilderness, these days they’re mostly about watching/photographing wildlife and come in every level of luxury and budget you can imagine.
Wildlife safaris have become a global phenomenon, but Africa remains among the best continents for nature and wildlife lovers to explore. Here’s a look at some safari destinations in Africa, from iconic East African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania to up-and-coming ecotourism hotspots like Malawi, Namibia, and Rwanda.
Although an incredible 90% of Madagascar’s forests have sadly been destroyed, the flora and fauna of this unique island can be found nowhere else in the world. 5% of all known plant and animal species can be found here and only here – meaning that it’s more important than ever to protect the country’s 25 national parks and the endemic wildlife species which live in them.
Don’t miss the unique Malagasy culture, with influences from Borneo, Polynesia, France as well as East Africa. The fusion cuisine and cultural mix here are one of a kind. Canoe along the river for the easiest access around the island, camp in remote spots, and meet village communities along the way.
Winston Churchill once called Uganda “the Pearl of Africa,” and the country’s natural attractions have helped it move up in the rankings of the best safari destinations in recent years.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is home to nearly half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population, is the most well-known of Uganda’s protected areas. But the 93,065-square-mile country boasts nearly 30 other national parks, wildlife reserves, and sanctuaries that are equally worth a visit for lovers of nature and wildlife.
Visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park can enjoy tracking chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge and looking for the unusual tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha sector. Murchison Falls National Park allows visitors to take a wildlife-watching cruise along the Nile River. The area is home to approximately 450 species of birds and over 75 species of mammals.
The country’s aggressively forward-thinking approach to wildlife conservation and its unique array of national parks and game reserves make Botswana a haven for nature lovers.
Botswana has emerged in recent years as one of Africa’s hottest ecotourism destinations. The vast elephant herds of Chobe National Park and canoe-based wildlife safaris in the Okavango Delta are among the nation’s world-renowned tourist attractions. But there are also traditional Big 5 safaris at Moremi Nature Reserve (Botswana’s first protected area) and uncrowded gems such as Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Nxai Pan National Park, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Little Malawi is one of southern Africa’s least visited countries, but this landlocked safari destination has wildlife in abundance. The local culture is not to be missed either, and many visitors comment on the friendliness of the people, who are renowned for being warm, happy, and always smiling.
Despite the country’s diminutive size, Malawi is home to Africa’s third-largest lake, lake activities such as diving, snorkeling, kayaking, island-hopping, and beach sunbathing are great ways to wind down post-safari. Today, Malawi’s specialties include hippos, crocodiles, the endangered black rhino, and lions. Birders will also love Malawi for the 400 species of feathery friends found here.
Located on the continent’s southwestern coast, Namibia is utterly unlike any other nation in Africa. Namibia is positively teeming with life. With 12 national parks as well as numerous other reserves and protected areas, the country has plenty of wildlife-rich areas to explore.
Bwabwata National Park, located on a narrow strip of land near Zambia and Zimbabwe, has wetlands that make it a great place to spot elephants and birds. The remote wilderness of Khaudum National Park is home to loads of lions, cheetahs, hyenas, Roan antelope, and elephant herds. But the country’s most unique protected area may be the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. It’s home to one of the largest Cape fur seal colonies in the world, with a population that can exceed 500,000 animals!
If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track African safari destination, then little Swaziland is the place to go. An island of land encased within South Africa, Swaziland is roughly half the size of Belgium or slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.
However, its small size has no relation to its diverse and plentiful wildlife, making the country a great safari destination in itself or a great stop to include on a South Africa safari holiday, especially for self-drive tours due to easy border crossing and close proximity to South African national parks such as Kruger and Hluhluwe.
Due to highly effective anti-poaching units, Swaziland has grown its populations of endangered species, encouraging local communities to engage with nature and nurture conservation. In the big game parks, sightings include lion, giraffe, elephant, vultures, marabou, roan antelope, sable antelope, buffalo, black rhino, and white rhino.
Tanzania’s geography covers the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, the natural phenomenon of the Ngorongoro Crater, and a coastline of surprisingly quiet beaches. Within those environments, you’ll find millions of mammals on the Great Migration across the Serengeti, the largest herds of elephants in East Africa, and an abundance of diverse wildlife living on the microcosmic crater floor. Tanzania is deservedly one of the best safari destinations in Africa.
Tanzania is another Big Five safari destination, but you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to national parks and wildlife. Observe tree-climbing lions, pods of bathing hippos, migratory birds including flocks of pink flamingos, hyenas, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, jackals, the critically endangered African wild dog, as well as masses of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle on their annual trip around the Serengeti into Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Zimbabwe’s reputation has been tarnished in recent years, due in part to the iron-fisted rule of dictator Robert Mugabe and in part to the controversial killing of the world-renowned Cecil the Lion. But since Mugabe was ousted by a military coup that forced his resignation in 2017, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and the local tourism industry seem determined to make the country a premiere African safari destination.
The 354-foot-tall Victoria Falls is its most popular attraction, receiving over 1,000 visitors every day. Whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and wildlife safaris in the neighboring Zambezi National Park are among the many activities on offer in the area. There are other great safari options in the country. Hwange National Park is the largest and most famous, as this is where Cecil was killed in 2015. It’s home to more than 100 species of mammals and 400 species of birds.
Of course, your safari destination options aren’t limited to the 8 countries above, though here we have listed the 8 most popular places to go for the best Safari destinations in Africa. So, start planning your journey today!