Wildlife enthusiasts always seek for unique opportunities to experience the wildlife encounter and adventures and safaris is one of the best ways to experience the wildlife where one can watch the animals in natural habitat. When it comes to best African Safari Destinations Southern Africa is, without a doubt in my mind, the best safari in Africa in fact in the world. From the vast, dry plains of Namibia to the never-ending water of the Okavango Delta, Southern Africa boasts all this and everything in between. As a safari guide in South Africa, and having traveled to many of the best National Parks across 8 countries in Southern Africa, I should know!
A Guest Post by Emily Whiting of Safari Guide Diaries
Here, I give you my round-up of the best safari destinations in the region.
Kruger National Park
No self-respecting list of safari destinations could be complete without the Kruger National Park. As the flagship National Park in Southern Africa, this huge protected region covers an area larger than Israel. It was started by then president Paul Kruger in 1898 largely in response to his realization that over-hunting of wildlife was causing unprecedented damage to animal populations in the area. Nowadays, it has become a wildlife – and tourist – haven. Here you will find the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant) alongside many other incredible animals such as wild dog, cheetah, and hippos that makeup just a few of the 753 species in the park.
If you are looking for Kruger National Park accommodations there are several superb lodges based right inside the Kruger itself, as well as many more in the ‘Greater Kruger’ – private land that adjoins the Kruger Park with no fences in between, thus allowing free movement of wildlife. I spent 5 months working in the Kruger itself and had some unbelievable sightings, including one of a female leopard and her 3 cubs. Read about what happened here.
However, this isn’t what puts the Kruger National Park Safari at the top of my list. The best part about this place is affordability. You don’t have to stay at a lodge, paying a fortune for every single game drive. Kruger has a number of rest camps that include smart but simple self-catered accommodation – all the way from budget campsites to ensuite bungalows with a built-in kitchen.
There are storage facilities for those who wish to cook for themselves and excellent restaurants for those who fancy a night off. Then, at the crack of dawn, everyone climbs into their own vehicles and takes themselves on their very own game drive. The roads are a mixture of tar and well-maintained dirt and there are brilliant maps and even useful sightings boards to help direct you to any lion or elephants in the area. This is safari-ing at it’s most stripped-back level and it’s not for everyone, especially first-time visitors to Africa. But, if you’ve got a sense of fun and adventure and aren’t bothered about missing the turn-down service with a chocolate on your pillow, you might just have the time of your life here. Better yet, you can probably afford to do it twice 😉
Chobe National Park
Botswana is famed for its wildlife protection laws and, with many years of strict enforcement and conservation efforts including the removal of all fences, it has become a true wildlife haven. At this moment in time, Botswana contains over one-third of the world’s entire elephant population. Chobe National Park, in the northern region of Botswana, is said to have more elephants than any other park in Africa, with up to 50,000 moving through the 11,700km2 area. Having had some of the best elephant sightings of my life there, I can hardly disagree.
I visited Chobe National Park in 2012, along with many of the other parks mentioned here, and I have to say this was one of my absolute highlights! Named after the Chobe River, this stunning park with its lush life-giving water and vegetation harbors enormous herds of buffalo and a huge diversity of birds and raptors. Lions and wild dog flourish amongst the constant game – this is one of the only places in the world where lions are known to regularly hunt sub-adult elephant. Camping is possible here, however, you should consider using a tough 4×4 vehicle. Better would be to book yourself onto a river cruise safari and see what this incredible area from its very heart.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is another expansive protected area that resides in the northern reaches of Namibia. Most famous for its enormous 5000km2 salt pan that can be seen as far away as Space, Etosha is typically dry and dusty.
However, the few floodlit waterholes – both natural and man-made – have become a hotspot for wildlife sightings. Many an hour or even an entire day or night can be whiled away in one of the waterhole viewing decks, waiting patiently to see what treasures will come. You might even get lucky and spot one of the highlights of this park – the rare, endangered black rhino.
In the summer, the salt pan floods temporarily and becomes a haven for flamingoes and pelican, offering a completely different outlook to this normally barren land. Beyond this, beautiful open grasslands and dense thicket give rise to many different habitats and species, from the common elephant and lion to special sightings like caracal, gemsbok, and bat-eared foxes. As with the Kruger National Park, Etosha has a huge variety of accommodation types, from basic camping to all-out luxury and there is a self-drive option. What are you waiting for?
The Okavango Delta is a place unlike any other. Becoming the 1000th the site added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2014, it is a totally unique and spectacular experience. Beginning in the Angolan highlands, an annual flood of rainfall causes roughly 11 cubic kilometers of water to flow over 1200km into the dry Kalahari desert where, many months later, it will eventually disappear through evaporation. Before that happens, however, this huge rush of water brings life to an otherwise barren desert. Thousands of animals and birds flock to the area, making it one of the best wildlife destinations in the world.
Safaris here are seldom cheap or easy, owing to the difficult terrain and the elite nature of this incredible place. However, if you do decide to go you can choose from a multitude of high-end driving, walking or mokoro (traditional dug-out canoe) safaris. Operating mostly in the protected Moremi Game Reserve, the best safaris here are ones that can only be accessed by air. From there you can explore the Okavango’s secret waterways, sparkling lagoons and stunning islands all to the backdrop of the most
beautiful sunsets you will ever see in your life. Not one to miss!
On the northern tip of Zimbabwe lies a much forgotten National Park. Mana Pools is another World Heritage Site and boasts an incredible density of wildlife that thrives on the mighty Zambezi river. Having all the Big 5, including huge herds of elephants, as well as being one of the best places in the world to see my favorite animal, the wild dog, this is the only place on my list that I have not yet visited but am absolutely desperate to go!
If you’ve never heard of a wild dog, or simply want to know more about them, I’ve written a post explaining why they are the most awesome animals in the world – you can read it here. Mana Pools is also the only game reserve in Southern Africa where you can take unguided walks, although I would only recommend this if you have some experience in walking with dangerous game.
It is also the only game reserve in Southern Africa where you can take unguided walks, although I would only recommend this if you have some experience in walking with dangerous game. Otherwise, you can take an unguided canoe trip down the Zambezi river, or just do the normal camping and self-drive experience. But, if you don’t fancy doing it yourself, don’t worry. Mana Pools has some incredible upmarket lodges that offer a host of guided activities that promise to make your trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience no matter how many times you have visited Southern Africa.
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