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Africa is a massive continent, the second largest in the world, with diverse terrain and 54 different countries. It’s also home to more than 50 national parks, and while you’ve probably heard about a few of them, there are lots of fantastic lesser-known parks that really should be visited too. Experience the exotic wildlife, culture and magnificent natural wonders by putting these options on your must-visit list.
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As top national park in Africa, Serengeti National Park ticks all the boxes as an amazing place for stunning golden sunrises along with lion, elephant and leopard sightings, but it may be most famous as a spot to witness one of the world’s most exciting events, the great wildebeest migration. Some two million of the animals take part in this over 1,800-mile-long journey accompanied by large numbers of zebra along with impala, eland, Grant’s gazelle and Thomson’s gazelle as the largest migration on the planet. August and September are the best times to witness it, including river crossings.
Kruger is another one of Africa’s bucket list destinations, inhabited by the “Big Five,” leopards, rhinos, lions, elephants and buffaloes, along with giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and a long list of other animals. In fact, it boasts the greatest variety of wildlife on the continent, with 145 different mammal species. The birdlife is incredible too with everything from colorful hornbills and parrots to massive eagles and raptors. As it’s one of Africa’s most well-maintained parks, it may be the very best for an affordable self-drive safari.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is focused around the Ngorongoro Crater which formed millions of years ago. The massive walls of the crater which rose to heights of 1,300 to nearly 2,000-feet, kept animals protected from humans, allowing them to thrive. Today it’s one of Africa’s few places where you can see the Big 5 in a single day, and it also hosts the endangered black rhino. Zebra, elephant, wildbeest, black rhino, gazelle, spotted hyena, topi, buffalo, leopard, golden jackal and bat-eared fox are all commonly spotted.
The great migration also passes through the most popular wildlife park in Kenya, Maasai Mara National Reserve, with wildebeest, zebra and gazelle stampeding across the plains in search of greener grass from around July to October. Big families of elephants, buffaloes, lions and hippos are commonly spotted during this time too. This is also the ancestral home of the Maasai, and today tribesmen offer tours that make for an interesting cultural experience as well.
The largest national park in Zimbabwe, covering 3.4 million areas, Hwange is home to one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. There are some 100 different mammal species here, including abundant elephant, buffalo and wild dogs, though lions, giraffes, cheetahs and leopards are all commonly spotted too. The elephants are the true highlight, however, with the park home to one of the world’s largest populations of these intelligent creatures. The best time for viewing is from July through October when wildlife often congregates around the water holes. Guided bush walks, sunset and night drives are a few of the most popular ways to experience it.
One of the world’s most endangered animals can be seen in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda. It’s home to an estimated 360 gorillas, and it’s one of the rare places where visitors can join a gorilla trek. Several families have become habituated to humans which allows small groups of people to track the animals and spend an hour near them under the watchful eyes of highly trained trackers. There are about 120 other animal species here too, although it’s hard to spot them due to the dense forest. If you get lucky, you might see chimpanzees, African golden cats, the rare giant forest hog, duiker and bushbuck along with impressive birdlife like the endangered African green broadbill.
Focused around the Simien Mountains, this park is often called “God’s playground,” due to its unique rock formations, with the rugged and remote range filled with rocky plateaus separated by deep gorges, valleys and towering peaks. The highest mountains in the range reach over 14,400 feet, providing a breathtaking backdrop for hiking. Hikes here also bring the opportunity to spot all sorts of wildlife like baboons, with many inhabiting the highlands, along with the rare Walia Ibex and the rare Simien wolf. Organized tours are available that include all equipment, food, a guide, scout and mules.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world can be found in Victoria Falls National Park. Located on the Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is quite apt, literally meaning the “Smoke that Thunders.” More than 330 feet high and a mile across, during the high season, from February to April, it’s the largest waterfall in the world. While you’re here, in addition to marveling at the falls you can embark on the world’s wildest white water rafting ride, whiz across a zip line, go gorge swinging or bungee jumping. Many birds can be spotted here, including hornbills, fork-tailed drongos, African paradise flycatchers and Goliath herons. If you’re lucky, you can see warthog and elusive bushbuck.
One of Kenya’s top national parks, Lake Nakuru was once famous for its flamingos, with millions taking advantage of the lake’s algae to feast on. While numbers of the pink birds have significantly reduced in recent years due to rising water levels, the park is still one of the most stunning, with rocky escarpments soaring over waterfalls, wooded hills. acacia forest and euphorbia tree. Creatures like waterbucks, hippos, baboons, all sorts of monkey species, giraffes, impalas and white rhinos are frequently spotted here too. Head to one of the popular viewpoints, Lion Hill, Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa, to picnic, enjoy the sights and capture photos.
Etosha National Park in Namibia is another one of the top spots in Africa to witness the Big 5. It’s home to 114 mammal species and 340 bird species that are frequently seen congregating around the waterholes, particularly elephants and black rhinos. At night, they’re lit up so you can even watch the activity after dark. The park is also famous for its vast salt pan which is so large it can be seen from space. In the wetter summer months, it can fill with water, becoming an incredible oasis for birdlife.