Deciding on the best place to go on safari can be a difficult decision. I remember when we first landed in Africa and we just simply went to what we thought was the closest national park to Johannesburg.
That happened to be Kruger National Park, and self-driving it ended up being one of the greatest decisions we made in Africa. We saw a plethora of wildlife on a self-drive safari and we had no idea what we were doing.
Now, we’ve been to every major park in Southern Africa and have countless stories of spotting African wildlife in their natural home. So where is the best place to go on a safari in Southern Africa?
The Best Place To Go On Safari in Southern Africa
The Kruger, South Africa
If we’re talking about the best place to go on safari in Southern Africa we have to start off with the beast, Kruger National Park. This park is the Disney World of national parks in Africa. It’s the size of Israel and so famous for safari it’s only referred to as “The Kruger,” not Kruger National Park. It is unparalleled to any other National Park in the world and is known for its mind blowing game density. With well-managed rest camps offering guests everything they could need, and a vast network of well-maintained roads the park is readily accessible. If you’re looking for a safari you can plan and drive yourself look no further than Kruger National Park. Located in South Africa there is plenty more to see outside of the National Parks.
The only downside is the sheer draw of tourists The Kruger brings in as things can get a bit crowded at times. However, the surrounding private game reserves are home to some decadent lodges with all the game and none of the crowds.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Etosha National Park without a doubt is the best value safari on this list. The park offers some of the best game viewing in Southern Africa. However, it does come at a price as Etosha is the least attractive of all the National Parks on this list and is dominated by a barren salt pan.
The lack of water in the area is also it’s saving grace as animals are concentrated at watering holes making them easier to spot. The quality of roads, lack of huge crowds, and general ease of a Namibian road trip are also big pluses and why adding it to the list of best places to safari in Southern Africa is an easy decision.
National parks in Namibia are regulated by NWR at the time of publishing, entry to the park costs only N$80 ($6). There aren’t a plethora of lodges for Etosha so that means the park never gets super crowded. Even with our best animal sighting we only saw three other cars, and that was a lion kill with hyenas, jackals, and vultures circling around waiting to get some dinner. If you saw the same thing in Kruger there would be about 50 cars. It’s little wonder why we consider this one of the best places to go on safari in Southern Africa.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe at one point was THE destination to go on safari. While that may no longer be the case due to recent political struggles that does not mean the land or wildlife have gone anywhere. Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest park and roughly half the size of Belgium.
After decades and decades of management, Hwange is still one of the best places to go on safari. It’s seen its ups and downs, but the game density is still one of the highest in Southern Africa. So, bring your favorite camera for safari and prepare for some awesome sightings.
The park itself faces a water scarcity issue, but due to the constant work of conservation 60 watering holes throughout the park provide the animals year round water. Hwange is also home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations. They’re also known for a healthy lion population, that was once home to Cecil the lion.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Hear the calls of fish eagles every morning and watch massive crocodiles slip away into the depth of the Chobe River. The Chobe is famous for its massive elephant population, that is by some accounts the largest in Africa. The park occupies a large swath of Northern Botswana ending at the Chobe River. We experienced the park in two unique ways, a houseboat that floats along the river and a luxury lodge with stilted villas.
There are a plethora of lodges along the river offering safari goers a chance to take safaris from the river. Visitors are given a chance to see Africa’s most elusive predator the wild dog and a host of other predators. There are only so many places left in Africa where the wild still reigns supreme.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
You’ll have a hard time comparing anything to what may be the top destination for a safari in all of Africa. The Okavango Delta stretches across Northwestern Botswana in a mix of land, marsh, water, and sand. Landscapes in the delta change in feet, not hundreds of miles.
The Okavango Delta is likely one of the most inaccessible places in Southern Africa, and arguably the most expensive. Botswana has opted for the high-cost low impact model of tourism and it has created an environment of five-star lodges with very few visitors. Which, creates for once in a lifetime safaris for those lucky enough to afford a safari in the delta.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
South Luangwa National Park is famous for bush walks and leopards which are an enticing combo for those looking to get up close and personal with some of Africa’s most dangerous game. Tracking African buffalo, lions, or elephants is an exciting experience that connects you to the bush.
The park is home to all manner of landscapes allowing for a large variety of game to call South Luangwa home. There is also a healthy dose of lodges that are accessible on the southern border of the park along the Luangwa River. There is something here for every budget.
If you’re going to go on bush walks in the park we can’t recommend getting a good pair of boots for your safari enough!
Central Kalahari, Botswana
The red sands of the Kalahari make for a visual spectacle. The monstrous swath of earth that is the Kalahari swallows you whole. Sunsets here take on a whole new perception as the whole sky lights on fire. Rust-colored sand stains the earth and green vegetation dots the horizon.
However, come midday temperatures reach up to 50C and the harsh sun scorches the sand. Do yourself a favor and get a safari hat to combat the heat. The red sandstorms that originate in the Kalahari reach up into the earth’s atmosphere and can affect global weather patterns.
Despite all of this, many desert-adapted animals flourish in the Kalahari. You can spot lions, ostriches, meerkats, cheetahs, oryx, zebra, and even desert-adapted giraffe. It a safari experience that is unlike any other in Africa. We were lucky enough to take in the Kalahari from both Namibia and Botswana.
Plan Your Trip to Southern Africa
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights. Are you going on safari in Botswana? We always carry our Robert’s Southern Africa Bird Book and a good mammal guide.
You’re going to need a electrical plug M to charge your electronics in most of Southern Africa. Make sure you have one before you arrive as they could be hard to find on the ground.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Africa since you’re near the equator. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones. Safari hats are also a great investment for any trip to Africa.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the African sun and it can be very hard to find outside major cities.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans. If you’re not going to swim in the ocean just go with a reliable name brand.
If you’re going on safari you will 100% want a good pair of binoculars to see all the game. See our favorite safari binoculars here.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
- Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park: The Ultimate Guide
- A Lower Zambezi National Park Guide: Don’t Arrive to Zambia Without It
- A Kafue National Park Guide: Zambia’s Forgotten Park
- All You Need to Know About the Masai Mara National Reserve
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