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Africa is home to a mind-boggling number of wild animals, offering the chance to see wildebeest and zebras migrating, feeling the vibrations of their thundering hooves underneath your feet, watch lions stalk their prey, a majestic elephant feed her baby or even track gorillas through the rainforest. With so many of these animals considered endangered, going on a safari is a bucket-list-worthy experience in Africa and can be a chance to glimpse rare and beautiful creatures and even fall asleep to the sounds of a lion’s roar.
Ngorongoro Crater may be the best spot for seeing wildlife in Africa. You’re practically guaranteed to see the “Big Five,” which includes lion, buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros and leopard. From the very first mesmerizing sight of the crater and the thrill of the descent down its inner walls, you’ll get a true sense of what Africa is all about. Arrive in January and you can even experience the incredible thunder of hooves across the dirt as the more than one million wildebeest and several hundred thousand zebra make their annual migration.
Translated as the “Place of Mirages” or the “Great White Place,” Etosha is Namibia’s premier wildlife venue as well as one of the continent’s most hypnotic landscapes with its practically endless pan of silvery-white sand and dust-devils creating mirages that blur the horizon. During the dry season, from June to November, is when massive herds of animals can be seen among the striking scenery, often at the water holes. Etosha is home to the Big Five as well as vast herds of gazelle and antelope, and even the endangered black rhinoceros.
Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda is an experience of a lifetime. In this small country on the highest African plateau in the heart of the continent, the undulating hills and mountains are enshrouded in mist every morning, hence the saying, “gorillas in the mist.” It is here in the forest that famed Volcanoes National Park can be found, the home of two- thirds of surviving mountain gorillas whose population is estimated to be just 880. Rwanda has groups of gorillas reserved for scientists and researchers as well as other groups for tourism. In this park, there are 10 groups of gorillas accessible to tourists through various operators which run tours racking the silverbacks and their troupes through the dense forest.
Chobe National Park, the second-largest national park in Botswana covering 4,500 square miles and home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Its uniqueness in the abundance of animals and the true African nature of the region offers an experience of a lifetime. The park encompasses swamps, floodplains and woodland, with the Chobe River forming its northern boundary. There are approximately 120,000 elephants here, along with herds of zebra, buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest who can frequently be seen congregating around the Savuti Marsh during the dry, cooler winter months between April and October. As the park is accessible by car, it also makes it less expensive to visit and you’ll find a wide range of accommodations available for just about every budget.
Lake Nakuru National Park is a bird lover’s paradise, home to as many as two million flamingos that linger around the edge of the lake, drawn by their favorite food, a green algae known as Cyanophyta Spirulina Plantensis. It offers one of the most unforgettable sights in the entire country. There are also more than 400 different birds that have been spotted in the park, which is on a migration route for many European species. You’ll also have a chance to view many water-loving creatures like waterbucks and hippos as well as giraffes, impalas and white rhinos.
One of Zambia’s premier wildlife viewing areas is the Lower Zambezi National Park, covering more than 1620 square miles along the northwestern bank of the Zambezi River. Embarking on canoeing safaris down the Lower Zambezi offers sightings of elephants swimming across the river, as well as impala, zebra, buffalo, leopard, lion and cheetah who stop to take a drink. More than 400 different bird species have been recorded in this region as well, including the unusual African skimmer and narina trogon and water birds like plovers and egrets.
Located in the valley between the dramatic slopes of Mount Kenya and the rolling peaks of the Aberdare Mountains in north-central Kenya, Solio Reserve is home to roughly 250 black and white rhino and considered the best place to see these increasingly rare species. The reserve was created in 1970 as a black rhino breeding center by American tycoon and nature lover, Courtland Parfet. Staying at Solio Game Lodge, set within the privately owned 16,800-acre reserve, you’ll also have the chance to visit the adjacent 75,000-acre Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a mixed wildlife and cattle ranch operation with 88 eastern black rhino and four of the world’s seven known northern white rhinos.
A top activity in South Africa, visiting Kruger National Park is home to the greatest variety of wildlife on the continent, with 145 mammal species, including Africa’s Big Five and an incredible array of other creatures including everything from giraffes and cheetahs to wild dogs, hippos and crocodiles. Birdlife varies from huge eagles and raptors to scavenging marabou storks to colorful hornbills, parrots and songbirds. It’s also one of the best-maintained parks in Africa, making it ideal for a more affordable, easily accessible self-drive safari.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve, also known as “The Mara,” offers the quintessential safari destination as a real-life “Out of Africa” scene of practically endless savannah plains teeming with a diverse array of wildlife. Even the seasoned safari-goer is struck by the wild African spirit of Mara. Every year during the great migration an estimated 2.5 million animals make the round trip trek across the Serengeti ecosystem between Kenya and Tanzania, crossing through this spectacular region. This annual spectacle features wildebeest, zebra and gazelle that stampede across the plains in search of greener grass, from around July to October.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s most famous national parks, set across roughly 128 square miles of improbably steep mountain rainforest, home to an estimated 360 gorillas, the number one reason tourists come to Uganda. There are 120 different mammal species here, more than any of the country’s other national parks, though they aren’t seen as frequently due to the dense forest. If you get lucky, you might see 11 species of primate, including chimpanzees, African golden cats, the rare giant forest hog, duiker and bushbuck. There are also some 360 bird species, including 23 of the 24 endemic to the Albertine Rift and several endangered species, like the African green broadbill.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana is Africa at its rawest. It offers the ultimate remote experience, covering more than 19,000 square miles, most of which is inaccessible. Until only very recently it was closed to the public, though the San Bushmen have lived here for what’s been estimated to be 30,000 years. Today, it’s seen by just a handful of visitors annually. There only a few lodges allowing the opportunity to explore the reserve, but you’ll have the chance to camp in the heart of the Kalahari within earshot of roaring lions.
One of the top ten largest national parks in Africa, and the largest in Zimbabwe at nearly 5,700 square miles, it has an abundance of giraffes and lions as well as leopards and cheetahs and more than 100 other animals species. But the highlight here is the elephants, as the park is home to one of the largest populations on the planet with around 40,000. Hwange also has one of the biggest populations of wild dogs left in Africa. The best time for viewing wildlife here is from July through October when animals tend to congregate around the water holes and the forest is stripped of its greenery, making it easier to see them.
Cat lovers will love Sabi Sands, as it’s the best place on earth to see leopards, Africa’s most elusive big cat. The reserve has one of the highest densities of these beautiful, large felines. Its 65,000 hectares are adjacent to Kruger National Park, and with no fences between them, the animals wander across vast stretches of grazing land as they did years and years ago. You’ll also have a good chance to see the Big Five and a host of other animals.
Ruaha has it all. Other than rhinos, all major safari animals can be found here in this especially raw setting that has the feel of Africa long ago. This wild and untrammeled feel is what sets it apart from other reserves. Its biggest claim to fame is its wild dog packs – there are only a very few places on earth where they can be observed, and Ruaha is considered to be one of the best. It’s also home to lions, buffalo, Grant’s gazelle and a large and diverse population of antelope, including rarer species like roan and sable.
If you’re a safari buff who’s been there and done that, claiming to have seen it all, you haven’t if you’ve never visited Perinet Reserve. An astonishing 80 percent of Madagascar’s wildlife can be found only on what’s known as the mysterious “island of the moon.” The reserve is home to a large variety of lemurs, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. One of the most famous lemurs here is the giant indri, a fluffy, black-and-white lemur with extremely powerful long back legs, which they can use to propel themselves over 30 feet into the air. This amazing animal also sings an eerie, siren call that carries for nearly two miles across the mist-shrouded canopy. There are a total of nine different lemur species here, including the Aye Aye, which are rarely seen.