Choosing where to have the best safari in Africa can be difficult. There are so many countries to choose from, parks to explore, animals to see, safari lodges, and a variety of unique activities to partake in that it makes picking one place impossible almost.
If you’re just starting out in your safari planning I would recommend taking a look at our how to plan a safari guide to give you a basic idea of the planning involved with this trip.
When you’re ready to take the next step in choosing the best African safari vacation head back here for first-hand accounts of safaris in all these incredible parks.
The Best African Safari Vacations
Best Place For Wildlife? The Masai Mara (Kenya)
What is the best place to safari in Africa for superb wildlife viewing? It’s almost impossible to beat the Mara Triangle in the Masai Mara. If it’s your first time to Africa and your main objective is to see as many animals as you can then you can’t go wrong with the Masai Mara.
It is here that you stand a pretty good chance of seeing the big five. Actually, this is the only place we have traveled to where we saw all the big five animals all on one game drive.
The advantage in the Masai Mara may be great wildlife sightings, however, the disadvantage is the crowds. Along with the Serengeti, the Masai Mara draws in huge masses of crowds for the great migration. Both parks are synonymous with “Africa” and living out that Lion King dream makes them extremely popular.
All of this demand drives the cost of the best safari operators up and brings in a lot of “low cost” operators that aren’t necessarily the best value when compared to elsewhere in Africa.
We also visited the Serengeti, which was great for wildlife, but this park loses to the Mara in our mind because it was jam-packed busy and we found Mara’s landscape to be more open. Or maybe we’re just in love with Out Of Africa.
Best Park For Self Drive Safari? Kruger National Park (South Africa)
Asides from one trip to Morocco, South Africa was the first country we traveled to in Africa. Two days after we landed in Johannesburg we were driving around Kruger National Park with a rental car. Kruger National Park is an incredibly simple park to do on your own. The roads are paved, directions are well posted, and there are plenty of other guides and rangers around to help if you get lost or to point you to a sighting.
I didn’t realize how easy Kruger was to self-drive until we made our way north and witnessed just how terrible the roads in African national parks can be. The Kruger also has a few coffee shops inside it, souvenir shops, public toilets, and even a Debonair’s Pizza shop in it…yeah, we’re not in Africa anymore here.
The best about bits about Kruger are definitely the paved roads, consistent wildlife sightings, and the price of park fees. 300 Rand for foreigners in a big five park that you can self-drive is a good deal, especially when compared to the costs of East Africa. The worst part about Kruger are the crowds and modernity making the Kruger seem a little bit more like a zoo than the wild.
Best Budget Safari? Etosha National Park (Namibia)
People usually gasp when I tell the price it cost us to get into Namibia’s Etosha National Park, and I’m sure you will too. Are you ready? It costs 80 Namibian Dollars a day to drive around Etosha National Park. That’s equivalent to $6 USD or less than two cappuccinos from Starbucks. Yes, for the price of your favorite McDonalds meal you can get into Namibia’s most popular park and hang out all day!
That’s why if you are traveling Africa on a budget and still want to go see rhino, elephants, jackal, and giraffe then I would suggest you head to Namibia. However, don’t be fooled that just because the price is so low the park is crap, because you would be sorely mistaken. Etosha National Park boasts incredible game viewing especially in the dry season when all the animals congregate at the natural and man-made watering holes.
The best part about Etosha is hands down the price and quality of roads, while we did find it be a barren arid park the quality of the game is top notch.
Best Safari For Primates? Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda)
If you’re in East Africa I would highly recommend sticking around a bit longer to see the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world. The 800 mountain gorillas can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC but I believe the best place to have an interaction with them is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This is where we went and trekked for only two hours to spend an hour with a family of 17 mountain gorillas, cute babies included!
Uganda holds 60% of the total mountain gorillas left in the world with about 400 of them residing in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. So, if I’m doing my math correctly about half of the last remaining gorillas are in Bwindi! Add that to the fact that it costs $600 to go gorilla trekking in Uganda and $1500 to go gorilla trekking in neighboring Rwanda makes me lean more towards The Pearl of Africa. Of course, one can always go to the DRC for $400, but with that comes the dangers of an unstable country.
The best part of gorilla trekking is seeing gorillas up close and personal! The worst part about gorilla trekking anywhere in Africa is the high price tag for just one hour of gorilla time.
Best Bush Safari? Linyanti Concession (Botswana)
If you want a real African bush experience it’s tough to think of a better place than Linyanti. 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 is a special place in the world.
The location all plays into an ecosystem that is interlinked as the Linyanti Channel, operating as an outflow for the water that does not disappear into the sands of the Kalahari in the famous Okavango Delta.
Over the years this extremely remote region of Botswana has grown in popularity for the access to wildlife it provides. We’d heard over the years that it was a magical region to go on safari, but finally got to experience it for ourselves and it now goes down as one of our favorite safaris in Africa.
In four days we saw the elusive leopard, a pack of wild dogs on multiple occasions, neverending herds of elephant, buffalo, and all the other amazing safari animals.
Best Walking Safari? South Luangwa National Park (Zambia)
Being able to walk in a wildlife area allows you to connect with the bush in a more intimate nature, it is as close to our roots as we can get on safari. A walking safari is by all means adventurous. Walking through the bush in search of deadly animals heightens your senses. It allows you to step away from the engine noise and stretch your legs.
On a bush walk you are given the chance to witness the small details. Little things that often get missed on a traditional safari, such as, indigenous plants, methods of tracking, and even snakes. We found the best park for walking safaris to be South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Not to mention it was in South Luangwa that we got incredibly close to elephants, one of the most deadly animals. Bush walks are the only activity where you need to wear safari clothes and the safari boots.
The best part about South Luangwa was the game density (Leopards galore!), and walking safaris. We found the only disadvantage of South Luangwa to be the crowds, which still were nowhere near as bad as they are in the more well-known parks.
Best For Wide Range of Activities? Lower Zambezi National Park (Zambia)
In Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park one can partake in walking safaris, canoe safaris, night game drives, regular game drives, fishing, and river cruises. With this huge range of safari activities, it’s hard to ever get bored!
That’s why if you’re looking for a wide range of activities on your African safari or are traveling with a family with many interests the Lower Zambezi is a great safari choice. It’s likely in competition for our favorite park in Africa as it’s landscape is stunning place right in between the mighty Zambezi and a towering escarpment.
The game in the park is superb! It is here that we saw wild dogs, a lion kill, and the elusive leopard. Be on the lookout too! When our guide was on his way to pick us up from the airstrip he’d seen the first Cheetah in nearly a decade so it’s likely they may return, or at least one! We can’t recommend this park for its activities, natural beauty, low crowds, and game density enough.
Best Safari For Romance? Selous Game Reserve (Tanzania)
The Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is the largest game reserve in Africa, meaning that there is a lot of space to cover. Our entire time there we never saw a single other vehicle making the Selous one of the most intimate wildlife area in Africa. It’s the perfect place to go to escape from the crowds of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater and just enjoy Africa like it used to be – undisturbed.
Most lodges will be situated on the Rufiji River which is a beautiful location to relax. Every night you can listen to grunting hippos as you fall asleep. A popular activity is to partake in boat cruises along the river but the Selous also allows walking safaris as well, and is well known for big game hunting the old school way in the South of the park.
The park used to be teeming with elephants and in the 70’s the park had over 100,000 elephants – the largest population in Africa. Now less than 15,000 are in the reserve due to poaching. Sadly, this became a reality for us when our entire four days in the Selous only led us to see one elephant.
I loved the Selous Game Reserve for its seclusion and beauty, but unfortunately, I can not recommend it if your goal is to see elephants. Giraffes on other hand are as plentiful as the trees they eat!
Most Exclusive Safari? The Okavango Delta (Botswana)
In terms of privacy, exclusivity, and almost downright celebrity status safaris then Botswana’s Okavango Delta is the place to safari. You have probably seen the remarkable Okavango Delta before on Planet Earth or Nat Geo with Sir David Attenborough’s voiceover to soothe you away.
The truth is, the Okavango Delta really is just that incredible. The Delta is beautiful and you are almost guaranteed amazing sightings. Botswana is a superb African country with great efforts to protect their countries assets. The country has enforced a high-cost low impact model of tourism. Meaning that unless you are very wealthy, a safari here will be hard to afford.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done on a budget though! It’s very possible to self-drive into Moremi and takes in the Delta from the comforts of a traditional mokoro ride while camping on the banks. However, there are a limited number of campsite available and they’re extremely popular with the best sites being booked up a year in advanced by South Africans on holiday.
I loved the Okavango Delta for its beauty, tranquility, wildlife, and exclusivity. However, the high price tag is an understandable deterrent.
Best Safari To Escape Crowds? Mana Pools National Park (Zimbabwe)
Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools is a fantastic national park you can enjoy all to yourself! Mana means “four” in Shona and it refers to the four permanent pools fed by the Zambezi River found in the park. During the rainy season, the whole area gets its fair share of water and when the dry season hits the animals flock to the pools for a drink.
We visited in the shoulder season when the game was just starting to come back and we were in awe by the number of elephants, leopard, and buffalo we saw in the park. Furthermore, elephants are frequent camp visitors as they congregate along the river. It was here we had our closest encounters with elephants, including one elephant who visited our breakfast buffet in search of some tasty food.
Mana Pools is a great park to combine with Zambia’s Lower Zambezi. The parks are divided by the mighty Zambezi River, and even though they are so close in distance they offer completely different safari experiences.
Other Great Places for Safari?
A few other of Africa’s best parks not mentioned on this list are:
- Hwange National Park
- Kafue National Park
- Ruaha National Park
- Gondwana Game Reserve
- Chobe National Park
- Madikwe Game Reserve
- Khwai Concession
In the end, almost any safari in Africa is bound to be enjoyable. Especially if it’s your first safari! We personally have spent over 100 days on safari, and I can say they still never get old!
Book A Safari in Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
What to Pack For Africa?
There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari. We help you create your safari packing list and share some of our favorite safari products.
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.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.
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!
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 sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. 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.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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