Long a bucket list travel experience, a safari is a must for wildlife enthusiasts and those looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure. But where should you begin with countless safari parks, lodges, and one-of-a-kind animal experiences to choose from when planning a safari?
While the best safari destinations in Africa offer different experiences with exquisite wildlife and stunning scenery, these are the most impressive African safari experiences worth considering for your trip.
1. Spot the Big Five of Africa
Once known as the five big game animals most dangerous to hunt on the plains of Africa, the famous “Big Five” animals are now a favorite bucket list of impressive animals to spot and photograph while on safari. Seeing the African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, lion, and black rhinoceros on a safari is undoubtedly an experience to write home about.
While the black rhinoceros is traditionally considered a part of the Big Five, these critically endangered animals have nearly been poached out of existence. Most travelers are satisfied with spotting the more numerous white rhinoceros in its place, though this species is also considered near-threatened due to poaching.
If you’re headed out on a South Africa safari in search of the Big Five, Kruger National Park and its surrounding game reserves are some of the best places to spot these animals. Chobe National Park in Botswana, another famous safari destination, is another popular destination where visitors have a good chance of seeing the Big Five, as is the Serengeti and neighboring Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania.
2. Take a Self-Driving Safari in Kruger National Park
Most safari travelers look forward to daily game drives in search of elusive animals. But did you know that you can head out on a game drive sans guide in some safari destinations? While not all areas allow for self-driving safaris, national parks like the iconic Kruger National Park in South Africa enable visitors to explore the unfenced areas themselves, offering the unparalleled opportunity to shape your safari experience.
While self-driving safaris may not be something every traveler looks forward to, they can be an incredible way to craft your own independent African safari experience.
End the day at affordable rest camps or camp out under the stars for an authentic encounter with nature. It’s an unforgettable yet budget-friendly experience that should be on your safari bucket list.
3. Witness the Great Wildebeest Migration
Considered among the last large-scale migrations of land animals on Earth, the great wildebeest migration is truly a sight to behold. Every year, over 1.5 million wildebeests migrate from the plains of the Serengeti, making a river-crossing circular migration in search of greener grasslands for grazes, traveling in time with rains.
The scale of the movement is truly unprecedented, with herds during the height of the migration sometimes stretching on for up to twenty-five miles running through the plains.
While it’s impossible to predict the exact movements of the herds of these massive animals, as timing varies each year with changing weather patterns, most travelers aim to visit the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in Kenya and Tanzania between mid-July and September at the height of the migration.
4. Stay at a Luxury Lodge in Sabi Sands Game Reserve
While not all safaris have to be expensive experiences, many travelers opt to retreat to luxury lodges to follow full days of game drives. If you’re looking for a luxury safari experience, look no further than the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. It is well known for having some of Africa’s most incredible safari lodges.
Sharing an unfenced border with Kruger National Park, you’ll find much of the same wildlife in Sabi Sands as you will in Kruger, though this private reserve only allows guests at the reserve’s lodges to access the area with guided game drives. This is a great place to spot elusive cheetahs, leopards, and countless other species.
For a luxurious and eco-friendly stay, Cheetah Plains is among the very best destinations to choose from. Boasting private villa accommodations complete with pools, indoor-outdoor living and dining areas, and space for up to eight guests, it’s an incredible spot for a memorable family trip.
Each villa has its designated hospitality team, along with private guides and trackers for second-to-none game drives. The lodge’s ultra-quiet electric safari vehicles make roaming the reserve easy, with some of Africa’s greatest density of big game animals.
5. Feel the Mist at Victoria Falls
Marking the border between the southern African nations of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is a sight to behold. While Victoria Falls is neither the tallest or widest waterfall in the world, its combined width and height earn it the title of the world’s largest waterfall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
The national park surrounding the falls has access points on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, though most visitors prefer to visit both for the complete experience. You can quickly drive or walk across the bridge connecting the countries to see the falls from both perspectives in just one day. While you can get closer to the falls on the Zambian side of the border, you’ll enjoy more impressive vistas from viewpoints in Zimbabwe.
After a visit to Victoria Falls, embark on a safari to Zambia, traveling down the Zambezi River. Zambia is among the new trending safari destinations, with South Luangwa National Park considered one of the premiere safari destinations in Africa. While you can embark on classic game drives through South Luangwa National Park, it’s also a well-known destination for walking safaris.
6. See the Sossusvlei Sand Dunes
Are you looking to experience another incomparable natural wonder of Africa while you search for wildlife? Consider planning a safari trip to the western African nation of Namibia.
Home to the tallest and most dramatic dunes in the world, the Namib Desert is considered the oldest desert on Earth. You’ll be in awe at the otherworldly landscapes of shifting red sands in this remote corner of the planet.
The most famous dunes in the area are the Sossusvlei Sand Dunes, located towards the southern end of the desert. Home to stunning white salt pans with haunting dead trees and surrounded by towering red dunes, this unique destination is unlike any you’ll see around the world, much less in the rest of Africa.
Nearby Etosha National Park is a haven for wildlife like elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, and much more. While you can’t see the whole Big Five here because the Cape Buffalo isn’t present in this sprawling park, it’s an incredible wildlife destination. It is the perfect spot for a safari that combines one-of-a-kind natural beauty with impressive wildlife.
From Sossusvlei, head to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast for a stay at Shipwreck Lodge. The design of this unique eco-lodge mimics the shipwrecks scattered along this desolate yet beautiful coast and is among the best places to stay in Namibia.
7. Spot Wild Rhinoceroses at Phinda Private Game Reserve
After decades of severe poaching, rhinoceros populations remain endangered across Africa, making them one of the most challenging Big Five animals to spot. White rhinoceros are more numerous, with around 15,000 living in the wild today; black rhinos have been nearly poached out of existence. However, recent conservation efforts have successfully raised numbers to approximately 5,000.
Rhinos exist in various national parks and game reserves throughout Africa, including Kruger National Park, the Serengeti, and the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. However, one of the best places to spot these endangered animals is Phinda Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Known for its rhinoceros conversation programs, Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a great chance to get up close and personal with these incredible giants.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is also the flagship location of andBeyond, one of the most well-respected safari providers in the world. The reserve boasts six luxury lodges and over 70,000 acres of private land; its location along the Indian Ocean means you’ll find seven distinct ecosystems within the park, making for an incredible array of wildlife and record populations of rhinoceros.
The unique coastal environment of this private game reserve also makes it a birdwatching paradise, boastings nearly 400 species of birds. Why not add a few days to your safari itinerary in this stunning spot?
8. Visit Wild Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
There is no more special and memorable wildlife encounter in Africa than trekking through the Virungas Mountains to come face to face with mountain gorillas. This endangered species lives only at high altitudes, with most found among the extinct volcanoes along the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and in the Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
Standing between four and five and a half feet tall, these animals are impressive and intimidating. Encountering them in the wild is considered to be a transformative experience among those who have seen them. With populations of this endangered species dwindling, it can be challenging to spot them. Though expert local guides know the gorilla populations and individual animals well, even calling them by name.
For the best chance of spotting these impressive creatures, book your stay at Wilderness Bisate in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This gorgeous and eco-friendly lodge in the park’s heart promises a luxury stay and expert-led excursions you’ll never forget. Plus, the views of the extinct volcanic cones that give the park its name are breathtaking.
Your Safari Experience
Whether you’d love to witness herds of wildebeest swarming the plains of the Serengeti or towering dunes hiding age-old salt pans, there are endless bucket-list-worthy experiences to choose from when planning your safari trip. While each experience is unique, it will whet your appetite for even more travel.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler and the creator behind Home to Havana. Having visited twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides and travel tips to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path to Havana or beyond.