Named after the Swahili word for journey, African safari tours date back nearly 200 years to the 1830s.
That’s when famed explorer William Cornwallis Harris ventured into South Africa on a year-long hunting expedition, keeping track of his adventures through writings and paintings of the animals he encountered.
Later popularized by works like Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway, safaris have since made their way onto many people’s world travel bucket lists.
With Africa’s breathtaking natural beauty and diverse array of wildlife, the continent has become one of the world’s most popular places for travelers seeking unforgettable animal encounters.
From the vast open plains of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park to the lush wetlands of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, here’s our staff picks for the 25 best National Parks in Africa for wildlife safaris.
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Best National Parks in Africa for Wildlife Safaris Guide
One of the best safari parks for those seeking remote destinations, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the largest reserve in Botswana. It’s also the second largest in the world, covering over 50,000 km² of pristine wilderness.
Located in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, the park’s harsh desert habitat doesn’t offer the large variety of African animals found in other reserves. But the sightings you do get here are extraordinary.
Remarkable animals like Black-maned Lions, Springboks, Rhinos, Hyenas, Cheetahs, and desert-adapted Elephants roam the terrain. They often gather in groups around the water-filled pans in Deception Valley.
Because of the sheer size of the reserve, knowledge of the park and region is important here. So it is recommended to never travel the Kalahari alone.
Guided safaris (or guided self-drive safaris) offer the safest option, as well as allowing you to cover the most ground in this extensive game reserve.
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With the sparkling waters of the Chobe River (which flows through the park), vast grassland, thick shrubland, and striking savannah, Chobe National Park is home to some of the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa.
Giving the park its name and offering water for the animals to drink and cool off in, the Chobe River virtually guarantees an unparalleled safari experience.
Whether you take a riverboat cruise or a drive along the riverfront, you can spot Hippos, Crocodiles, Buffalo, Baboons, Giraffes, Impalas, and more. Just don’t forget to look up to see some of the park’s 450+ species of beautiful birds!
But the main attraction of this Botswana safari park for many visitors is the immense Elephant population that lives there. It’s estimated that some 120,000 pachyderms call Chobe National Park home, and can often be seen crossing the lush riverbanks in herds of 100+!
Formed as the Okavango River flows into the Kalahari Desert from the Angolan Highlands, the Okavango Delta is an oasis of lush wetlands and diverse wildlife.
Each year during the dry season (July to September), the remarkable “the river that never finds the sea” floods, dramatically reshaping and fertilizing the land.
The delta supports a wide variety of wildlife, including African Bush Elephants, Hippos, Blue Wildebeests, Giraffes, Nile Crocodiles, Lions, and Buffalos, along with a whopping 500 species of birds.
To explore the natural beauty and heavenly views the Okavango Delta provides, you can take seasonal motorized boat cruises, travel on foot, or embark on a game drive. But the best way to see it is gliding along the channels by mokoro, a traditional African canoe.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, Amboseli National Park is an undisturbed utopia of swamps, open plains, and stunning natural beauty.
Home to some of the best wildlife safaris in Kenya, the park is located near the Tanzanian border. It’s a great option for first-timers because of its compact size and guaranteed sightings.
Amboseli National Park offers one of the best safaris in Kenya, with year-round sightings of Africa’s “Big 5” mammals, Wildebeests, and Zebras. There’s also an impressive population of Elephants, which gave the park its nickname, “the Land of Giants.”
Observation Hill is a popular spot for visitors as it offers an extensive overview of the park, including the swamps where Elephants, Buffalos, Hippos, and waterfowl splash about.
In our opinion, Kenya is arguably the best African country for safaris. Kenya’s national parks are the stuff of legend, and their wildlife conservatories are equally impressive.
Situated in the Great Rift Valley and dominated by open grassland and acacia woodland, the Masai Mara National Reserve ranks among the best places to go in Africa for wildlife safaris.
People travel there from all over the world to experience East Africa’s Great Migration. Every year millions of Wildebeest, Gazelles, Cape Buffalo, and Zebras make their way more than 500 miles from the Serengeti in nTanzania to the Masai Mara.
The famed crossing at the Mara River is an astonishing sight, and a main reason many people consider this best safari park in the world. For a bird’s-eye view over the vast migrating herds, take one of the breathtaking balloon safaris that are offered by almost all of the lodges.
The reserve is also known for having healthy populations of all three big cats (Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah), as well as over 450 species of birds soaring across the terrain.
Located in the Laikipia region, in the foothills of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers 400 km² of vast open plains, wooded grassland, acacia woodland, and evergreen thickets.
The world-famous conservancy hosts a variety of safari animals, including the Big 5, Spotted Hyenas, Cheetahs, Black-backed Jackals, and Bat-eared Foxes.
It’s home to the largest population of the critically endangered Black Rhinos, as well as the last two Northern White Rhinos on the planet. It’s also one of the few places in Africa to see Chimpanzees up close, at Jane Goodall‘s Sweetwater Chimp Sanctuary
Found on the southern end of one of the deepest lakes in the world, Lake Malawi National Park is a remarkable wildlife and safari park comprised of sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, wooded hillsides, swamps, and lagoons.
The world’s first-ever freshwater national park, Lake Malawi was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the most biodiverse lake regions on the planet.
Home to an especially large fish population (an estimated 1000 different species), the national park boasts a diverse array of African safari animals, including Elephants, Hippos, Baboons, Antelopes, African Pythons, and Black Eagles.
A popular destination for hiking, the park also offers snorkeling, kayaking, and scuba diving. Try taking one of the exhilarating night drives, where you can see cool nocturnal animals and the surreal sight of lights from fishermen’s boats reflecting off the lake.
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Established as a safe haven to rehabilitate wildlife, Bwabwata National Park is a hidden gem in Namibia. It’s commonly known as “the people’s park,” due to the government’s promise that local communities will benefit from the tourism the park brings.
This criminally underrated animal safari park is bordered by the Okavango and Kwando Rivers. The park’s main habitat is deciduous woodland and marshes, which makes it an ideal place to see Elephants.
You may also see large concentrations of Buffalo, Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hyenas, and even some packs of wild dogs in the park.
The best time to visit the park is during the drier months, which occur from May to October. This is when animals are more likely to congregate around the main water sources.
To catch the enviable sights, you can hop on a game drive or a boat cruise that offers fantastic bird-watching opportunities, with over 400 species of birds found in the park.
One of Namibia’s most visited attractions and one of the most unique African safari parks, Cape Cross Seal Reserve is located 80 miles north of Swakopmud along the Skeleton Coast.
The reserve is a sanctuary for the largest breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals in the world. An estimated 500,000 Seals live in the area, where they feed off the large fish populations found in the Benguela Current.
Just imagine the sight– hundreds of thousands of Seals basking in the sunlight on sandy beaches and diving into the surf!
The Reserve is also home to other African wildlife animals, such as Brown Hyenas, Black-backed Jackals, Caspian and Damara Terns, and the African Black Oystercatcher.
The third largest game reserve in Africa and one of the best places in Namibia for game viewing, Etosha National Park promises surreal views and unforgettable adventure.
The word Etosha means “great white area,” and refers to a large salt pan that is 130 kilometers long and up to 50 kilomters wide (covering almost a quarter of the park’s total area). This is the biggest salt pan in Africa, and can even be seen from space!
The park is filled with an abundance of animals that crowd around its many waterholes, making wildlife safaris here a highly rewarding experience.
Four of Africa’s Big 5 species (excluding Cape Buffalo) call the park home, along with the endangered Black Rhino and Black-faced Impala. There’s also a broad spectrum of birds, including the world’s largest (Ostrich) and the heaviest flying bird (Kori Bustard).
If you happen to be at the park after a good rain when the salt pan fills with water, you could even be treated to a flock of Flamingos!
After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Akagera National Park suffered greatly. Large areas were changed into farmland for refugees, and much of the wildlife was hunted for bush meat.
But with the creation of park boundaries, increased law enforcement, and ongoing efforts to protect and restore animal populations, Akagera has flourished.
Located on the border with Tanzania, the park is known for offering one of the top safaris in Africa due to an almost complete lack of crowds.
Akagera is Central Africa’s largest protected wetland and has breathtaking plains, rolling highlands, and glistening lakes that support a variety of species. These include the Big 5 (which were recently reintroduced), Giraffes, Zebras, Impalas, and over 480 species of birds.
One of the park’s top attractions is taking a boat trip on Lake Ihema, where you can see many Hippos, Nile Crocodiles, and water birds on the island in the middle of the lake.
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Though it’s under the radar for mosts travelers, Rwanda is arguably the best country in Africa to go on safari if you want to avoid crowds.
Located in northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. It’s best known for being one of just three places in the world where you can see critically endangered Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat.
With a small population of around 1000 left in the wild, half of these gorillas reside within Volcanoes National Park. There are 10 habituated Mountain Gorilla families that can be visited by a total of 80 trekkers for an hour each day.
Along with hiking to see these beautiful creatures, you can also visit the tomb of primatologist Dian Fossey, tour the various lakes and caves, go canoeing and mountain biking.
During your visit you should definitely take a cultural tour of the nearby Gorilla Guardians Village, which employs many former poachers.
With its rolling red sand dunes, expansive scenic views, and undisturbed natural splendor, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the best game parks in South Africa.
Between the dry beds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers and the sparse vegetation, the park offers incredible mammal viewing.
It is particularly known for top-tier predator sightings, with Leopards, Cheetahs, Spotted and Brown Hyenas, and stunning Black-maned Lions common in the area.
Bird watchers will also have their share of adventure, as the Nossob Riverbed is one of the best places in South Africa to see raptors up close. Especially in the summer, when various migratory Eagles, Falcons, and Kites fly into the park.
One of the largest and best national parks in Africa, Kruger offers a gorgeous display of diverse wildlife, fantastic archaeological sites, and stunning terrain.
Spanning over 7,000 square miles across the northeastern Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, Kruger National Park is home to myriad animals, including over 500 bird species, 100 reptiles, and almost 150 mammals.
The park is world-renowned for being one of the best African safari destinations for self-drive safaris.
So you’re practically guaranteed to spot the Big 5 and other beautiful game, including Giraffes, Cheetahs, Hippos, and the rare African Wild Dogs.
The only downside to the park is that it can become overcrowded due to mass tourism. Fortunately it’s surrounded by many of the best game parks in South Africa, including world-renowned private reserves like Sabi Sand.
South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of Africa’s most gorgeous natural wetlands and one of the finest game reserves in South Africa.
Located in KwaZulu Natal along the beautiful Elephant Coast, the park is incredibly geographically diverse. It offers an array of undisturbed marine, wetland, estuarine, and terrestrial environments.
Other cool activities in this South African national park include admiring over 500 species of birds and visiting the St. Lucia Estuary, the largest estuarine system in Africa. There’s also hiking, deep-sea or estuary fishing, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and Scuba diving.
Second only to Kenya, Tanzania would be our pick for the best country for safari adventures.
Home to the largest intact, inactive volcanic crater in the world, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of the most incredible places for an African wildlife safari.
The crater itself is 2,000 feet deep and 100 square miles wide, providing a home for over 25,000 animals as well as having the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa.
The area is home to the densest population of Lions in Africa and healthy numbers of Hippos, Gazelles, Wildebeest, Buffalo, and more. It’s even home to a few of the endangered species in Africa, like the Black Rhino and Golden Cat.
Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ngorongoro is of global importance when it comes to biodiversity conservation due to the density of wildlife that live in the area. It also boasts serious archaeological importance, with evidence of human evolution often found in the area.
READ MORE: Exploring Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Serengeti National Park is known by many people to be one of the absolute best national parks in Africa. In our experience, it’s one of the most rewarding places you can go for an African wildlife safari.
Spanning 1.5 million hectares, the park proves true to its name (which, in the local Masai language, means “endless plains”).
Its fantastic fauna is one of the most diverse in the world, with over 1.3 million Wildebeest, over half a million Zebras and Gazelles, and healthy populations of Elephants, Hippos, Giraffes, Warthogs, Hyenas, Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, and wild dogs calling the Serengeti home.
Many come to this truly wild safari park to witness one of the most jaw-dropping natural phenomena on earth, the Great Migration. This is where millions of herbivores start their incredible annual northbound journey to Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Whether you’re spending time on unforgettable game drives, visiting a local Maasai cultural village, or just taking in the incredible scenery, this is one of the best safari parks in Africa !
Though it wasn’t originally on our bucket list of where to go on safari in Africa, Tarangire National Park has more than its fair share of exhilarating sights and amazing wildlife.
Located in Tanzania’s Manyara Region, between the meadows of Masai Steppe and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley, the park is dominated by savannah pains and marshy swamps.
The Tarangire River runs through the northern part of the park, and provides a vital water source for the wildlife that live there.
The best time to visit Tarangire is during the dry season, in the months of June to October. This is when the safari wildlife stays close to the river and swamps, virtually guaranteeing some amazing animal encounters.
Over 500 bird species can be spotted here throughout the year, along with Leopards, Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeests, and Tanzania’s highest population of elephants.
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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its immense biological diversity, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is renowned as one of the best places for safaris in Africa.
Situated on the edge of the Rift Valley in Uganda, the park’s dense flora (including bamboo and 100+ species of ferns) can often make travel on foot difficult. This is where the name “Impenetrable Forest” came from.
Although it may be a bit tricky to trek through, venturing into the forest is an incredibly rewarding experience. Nestled within its lush terrain, you’ll find animals such as Baboons, Chimpanzees, Elephants, and hundreds of gorgeous endemic Butterflies.
The forest is also home to almost half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas. They can be seen via daily gorilla treks, which are available at about half the price of similar tours in neighboring Rwanda.
Other cool activities in the national park include Chimpanzee trekking, mountain trekking, and even whitewater rafting.
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Uganda’s oldest and largest safari park, Murchison Falls National Park gets its name from the magnificent waterfall that cascades through the land.
The water flows from the Victoria Nile River and surges through a gorge known as “the devil’s cauldron” before plummeting over a hundred feet. Once hitting the ground, the water transforms into a peaceful stream that glides across the Rift Valley floor into Lake Albert.
There are two main ways to view this breathtaking scene. You can take a 45-minute hike to the top, where you can actually see the water rushing through the gorge, or you can opt for a boat tour.
Although the falls are clearly the main attraction here, the national park is also home to an abundance of African wildlife. Its 70+ mammal species include Giraffes, Elephants, Buffalo, and Chimpanzees.
If you stay near the river, you’re almost guaranteed to spot a Nile Crocodile up close!
Set against the magnificent background of the Rwenzori Mountains, Queen Elizabeth National Park is unique for its incredible variety of habitats including grassland savannah, forests, lakes, and wetlands.
Some of our blogger friends who have visited this national park consider it home to one of the best safaris in Africa.
These diverse habitats harbor a multitude of African wildlife, including four of the Big 5 (excluding Rhino), 12 different primate species, and the unique tree-climbing Lions of the Ishasha sector.
In the savannah areas of the park you may come across large herds of Buffalo and Elephants. And if you take a boat trip along the Kazingo Channel, you’re sure to spot some Hippos!
Although it may be small (stretching roughly 9 square miles), Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park would be considered one of the best places to visit in Africa just for its gorgeous views.
Due to the park’s size and location along the upper Zambezi River, it allows for incredible safari drives. You can explore it in your own vehicle or on an organized open vehicle game drive along the river, where wildlife encounters are often up close and personal.
The drive can be completed in a couple of hours. And since no predators reside in the park, the animals are usually quite calm, offering some awesome photo opportunities.
African elephants, Angolan Giraffes, Burchell’s Zebras, and Cape buffalos are some of the most popular animals in the park. But you can also see plenty of Crocodiles around the river, along with Hippos and Sable Antelopes.
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Covering a stretch of undisturbed wilderness along the Zambezi River, Lower Zambezi National Park boasts authentic natural beauty and offers some unforgettable wildlife safari experiences.
Although the diversity of animals in this park may not be as large as other parks on this list, the opportunity to get up close to animals like Leopards, Lions, Impala, Waterbuck, and herds of Elephants (some up to 100 members!) makes it worth the trip.
The Zambezi River is the star of the park for both the animals and visitors. If you have time, check out their multi-day canoe safaris, which are sure to have you marveling in wonder as you experience African wildlife in its most raw natural element.
Boat safaris are also available, as well as safari walks and drives. Avid anglers won’t want to pass up the opportunity to go fishing for the river’s stout Tiger Fish.
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Zimbabwe’s largest natural reserve, Hwange National Park boasts a beautiful mixture of savannah grasslands and woodlands. They provide a home for some of the greatest biodiversity found in all of Africa’s national parks.
African animals including all of the Big 5, Cheetahs, and the endangered Cape Wild Dog are commonly sighted in the park.
The best time to visit if you’re interested in spotting some of these amazing animals is in the dry winter months from July to October, when they gather around the man-made waterholes.
Getting a good view of the wondrous assortment of wildlife is usually a breeze, because the park is easily accessible and generally offers a lack of crowds.
Self-driving and guided game drives are available in Hwangwe, along with walking safaris and even horseback safaris that can range from short rides to multi-day excursions.
Found on the southern banks of the Zimbabezi River, Mana Pools National Park has a surreal landscape. It’s scattered with acacia and baobab trees along floodplains and remote forests.
This relatively undisturbed area is one of the best places to go on African animal safaris, whether on foot or in a vehicle, due to thin vegetation that allows for clear views and the chance to have close encounters with big game.
It’s not uncommon to come upon large herds of Elephants, considering the park is home to some 12,000 pachyderms during the dry season. But Hippos, Crocodiles, Zebras, Impalas, Hyenas, Buffalos, and aquatic birds are virtually always around.
One of the park’s top attractions is canoeing safaris in the Mana Pools, where you can paddle along the Zambezi right next to Hippos and other animals gathered along the banks.
If you’re looking for a thrill, you can also go camping in one of the unfenced sites along the river, where you’ll feel like you’re a million miles out in the wilderness. But be prepared: Camping here might mean wild animals wandering right near your tents! -by Christina Maggitas