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?
Where to Have the Best Safari in Southern Africa?
The Kruger, South Africa
If we’re talking about the best safari in South 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 (though it is possible to self camp). If you want to be right near the Okavango check out Khwai Concession!
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!
Waterberg Reserve, South Africa
Looking for the best safari in South Africa? You have to check out Ants Nest. We’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible safari experiences over the years, but riding through the bush on horseback was a first. The Ant’s Collection located in the Waterberg in South Africa has been treating guests to horseback safaris for two decades.
So for a long weekend away from Johannesburg, we were treated to some delicious food, luxurious accommodation, wildlife, and some beautiful horse rides. It wasn’t our first time riding a horse, but we’d never rode at a canter through a private reserve before.
Riding a horse up to a giraffe or other antelope is a completely different safari experience than when in a game viewer. The safari animals view you and your horse as one animal, instead of a human and animal and let you get incredibly close. No sound of engines or exhaust here – just pure nature.
40 species of animals roam the reserve including zebra, sable, roan, wildebeest, eland, rhino, porcupine, and giraffe. It’s also not an official resident, but we did come across leopard tracks as they’ve been known to migrate through the region with their ability to scale fences.
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.
Linyanti Concession, Botswana
It’s tough to think of a better place for a safari than African Bush Camp’s private concession located in the greater region known as Linyanti, located between the Greater Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. It all plays into an ecosystem that is interlinked as the Linyanti Channel.
Over the years this extremely remote region of Botswana has grown in popularity for the access to wildlife it provides. We’d heard that it was a magical region to go on safari, and it truly was.
The fortunate few that get to visit this special part of Botswana are also spoilt for choice with safari activities such as game drives, bush walks, mokoro rides, night drives, nature walks, bird watching, and a scenic helicopter flight. Guests are more or less guaranteed to have an incredible safari here as the game density is huge and the area is relatively untouched by man.
Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Madikwe is a tremendous reserve located in South Africa’ North West province home to 10,000 animals that are spread out over 60 species including the legendary Big Five.
While many think of Africa’s National Parks for safari, there are some tremendous private game reserves such as Madikwe that promise to deliver visitors and unforgettable safari. Madikwe is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa.
We spent four incredible days here and on our first game drive out we were treated with sightings of rhino, leopard, elephant, and everything in between. It’s a great alternative to Kruger National Park and is only a four hour drive away from Johannesburg.
What to Pack for an African Safari
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
A good hat is both stylish and functional. In peak dry season there is little to provide shade, UV rays are intense and can easily burn the unsuspecting traveler. Check out our full break down of the best safari hats here!
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).
You’ll want a safari shirt while on safari. They are lightweight and keep the bugs away. Plus they look ideal in photos and blend into the environment around you!
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? We always carry our Robert’s Southern Africa Bird Book and a good mammal guide.