Five African National Parks to Visit Before You Die

African National Parks

To go on safari is one of life’s greatest experiences. 

Those fortunate enough to enjoy the pleasure of spending time in the bush are enchanted by nature’s greatest wildlife spectacle. It is here the circle of life is on full view. Life in Africa is a constant struggle.

It is raw and wild. 

Anyone involved with the national parks of Africa fight to protect what wildlife and the land remains. Each park has it’s own merits and drawbacks. While we would never speak despairingly of anyone working to conserve wildlife there are clear highlights.

What are the highlights and our favorite parks?

Choosing between the fantastic parks of Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, and many other African countries is a difficult task.

After visiting nearly every major national park in Africa these are our favorites. When you plan your next safari here are five African parks you should visit before you die.



Five National Parks To Visit in Africa


Masai Mara National Reserve


The Masai Mara is one of the most popular places to go on safari. The wide-open grasslands that make up the Mara ecosystem are pretty synonymous with Africa.

At one point in time, the famous park was more popular than the Serengeti. However, with more travelers concerned about their safety in Kenya, the Kenyan National Parks have seen a decline in tourism.

All the more reason to get there now while crowds are low!

It is about a five-hour drive away from Nairobi in the southwestern part of the country and has a border with the Serengeti in Tanzania. The two famous parks share the same ecosystem with little dividing the two parks asides from a stone plaque.

Just like in the Serengeti the Masai Mara National Reserve is where you can find the great migration. Every June one million wildebeest come to the Mara to graze and mate. The massive herds are well known for their river crossings when prehistoric crocodiles lurk waiting for their once a year meal.

Lion Masai Mara

This was the only park in which we saw all of the big five in just one game drive, plus a cheetah and serval! If you’re looking for an extraordinary experience we suggest you check out what a balloon safari.


Where To Stay in The Masai Mara?


Masai Mara Cottars Tent
Cottar’s 1920 Camp

What if I told you there was a camp in Kenya where you could live out the old safari days of Africa? Well, Cottars 1920’s Camp on the edge of the famous Masai Mara is that camp.

At Cottar’s 1920s Camp guests are transported back in time to the essence of the original safari. Their guide on this journey is Calvin Cottar. The Cottar family has been guiding guests around Kenya since those early days. They are the “safari family,” and have guided a long list of celebrities, royalty, and aristocrats over a century of operating in Kenya.

Taking up the reigns of his family heritage Calvin and his wife built the Cottar’s 1920s Camp and formed the Olderikesi Conservancy. The 22,000-acre concession is exclusive to the camp and borders both the Serengeti and Masai Mara. Game drives around the conservancy also dip into both parks providing a real sense of adventure in pursuit of wild game.

The Lower Zambezi National Park is considered one of the last “true wildernesses” in Southern Africa. The park is directly opposite Zimbabwe and the Zambezi River is the dividing line between the two countries.

The mighty river is the focal point of the park as a dizzying number of animals come for a fresh drink of water in the dry season. It makes sitting on the river dry season one of the best places in the whole world to be!

Elephants in the park

We loved our time in the Lower Zambezi not because of our amazing wild dog sighting, but because of the wide range of activities. Instead of just game drives, visitors can join in on canoe safaris, river cruise, night game drives, bird watching, and even walking safaris. There is enough in this Zambian National Park to stay occupied for at least a whole week (or two!).

Wild dogs in Lower Zambezi

Mana Pools National Park


Speaking of Zimbabwe have you heard of Mana Pools National Park? Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage Site directly opposite the Lower Zambezi National Park and is one of the lesser-known (but amazing) national parks in Africa.

Mana Pools National Park

The park is all about the BIG GAME. Here you can lay eyes on many of the large bull elephants that enjoy the Zambezi River year-round. Or spend time with some of Africa’s most famed predators.

The name “Mana” means “four” in Shona and that’s what the park is named after. The four pools found throughout the park that help feed all the wildlife that call the park home.

Mana Pools National Park

We had a wonderful time in Mana Pools because of its tranquility and remoteness. There were few other tourists and it gave the true sense of wilderness, as if we had the whole park to ourselves!

Furthermore, if you’re truly crazy lace up your safari boots because Mana Pools is the only park in Africa that allow visitors to walk on their own.


Where to Stay in Mana Pools?


Little Ruckomechi
Little Ruckomechi

It was only five minutes after we walked into our room that three elephants walked only meters away from our tent at Little Ruckomechi. Little Ruckomechi, or “Little Ruck” is the sister camp to Ruckomechi Camp in Wilderness’s own private concession in Mana Pools.

Little Ruck has four tents and can only accommodate eight people at camp. This makes the whole feeling of being in Mana Pools much more intimate and relaxed. Mana Pools is already far removed from the madding crowds of busier parks so to stay in such an intimate camp feels wild and unique.

We loved the design of the Wilderness Safaris tents and main camp at both Ruckomechi and Little Ruck. They seemed to effortlessly blend safari and the modern touches. Safari activities are conducted on a private concession within the park so Wilderness guests have the wilderness to themselves.

I have to admit the mass crowds that plague the Serengeti turns us away. However, this turned out to be a good thing since it brought us to some of Tanzania’s lesser-known parks. When we planned our second trip to Tanzania we specifically sought to travel to Southern and Western Tanzania, far from the madding crowd of the Northern Circuit.

Ruaha National Park

That’s where the largest national park in the country comes in – Ruaha National Park! The park is 20,226 square kilometers (7,809 sq mi) and is all about the big numbers.

Ruaha National Park

It contains a massive population of elephants and the park’s landscape is littered with baobab trees. However, the most famous population in Ruaha is its lion population. By some estimates, 10% of the world’s wild lion population lives here and visitors are almost guaranteed to spot a few prides of lions.

The game density here is great, and lack the crowds make this one of the best parks in Africa.

Where to Stay in Ruaha National Park?

Kigelia Camp - Nomad Tanzania
Kigelia Ruaha Camp

Kigelia Camp is located along a dry river bed beneath Kigelia Africana trees. Each of the six tents is the perfect size for two people to enjoy comfortable beds and an outdoor seating area.

It’s worth noting that there is also a family tent for children above 12 to enjoy with their parents. Each tent has a flush toilet and a classic outdoor bucket shower. All in an effort to preserve water a precious resource in the park.

Staying in these tents allows guests to connect with the wild. Falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas and lions in the night is a memory never to be forgotten

Read About Our Time At Kigelia Ruaha Camp

Book A Stay at Kigelia Ruaha Camp


Etosha National Park


If you want value in Africa then Namibia is where you should head. Park fees are 80 Namibian Dollars ($5) for a day pass into one of the best African National Parks.

For those not familiar with the pricing in Africa, this is an absolute steal. Especially when you consider all the game that can be seen in Etosha National Park. Etosha National Park is home to four of the big five and on our first day in the park we were able to see white rhino!

Etosha National Park Lion Sleeping

Game density is amazing around the natural and man-made watering holes, the only source of water for miles.

The Etosha pan is a vast expanse of dry land that covers just about 25% of the whole park. It can even be seen from space! This arid landscape makes game viewing easy as visitors do not have thick bush obstructing views of the wildlife.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is a great park to self-drive as the roads are well maintained, the park facilities are decent, and crowds are less than some of the more well-known parks in Southern Africa.

Where to stay in Etosha National Park?

Gondwana Etosha Safari Camp

We would recommend staying at the Gondwana Etosha Safari Camp near the Anderson Gate or Onguma Campsite near Namutoni Gate. Both serve up fabulous food under the Namib night sky.

Book A Stay at Gondwana Etosha Safari Camp

Gondwana Etosha Safari Camp on Booking.com


Essential Items For A Safari


There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari:

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!

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 planning on going on a walking safari, make sure to pack a good pair of safari boots.

If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of safari binoculars is a must.

Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in depth on the best women’s safari clothes!

great daypack for travel is a solid idea to throw your stuff in for game drives and bush flights. Or you could try out a safari backpack.

Make sure to get travel insurance before your international trip. We like to use World Nomads!

If you want to get decent photos of wildlife on your safari to make sure to grab a camera well suited for your safari.


Book A Safari in Africa


African Safari

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.

Plan Your Safari in Africa


What To Pack For Africa


Elephants in Zimbabwe

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.

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Travel Insurance

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!

Check Rates


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.

African Safari Tours


Grayl Waterbottle
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.

Best Travel Water BottlesGrayl Ultralight Water Bottle


Travel in Zanzibar
Camera Gear

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.

Fuji X-T3

Best Cameras for SafariBest Cameras for VloggingBest Travel Cameras

Safari Hat

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!

Shemagh

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.

Safari 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 love my Merrell Moab Ventilators and have been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and we have a post on the best safari boots.

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.

Best Binoculars for Safari

Binoculars

If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of safari binoculars is a must.

Safari Clothes for Africa

Safari Clothes

Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in-depth on the best women’s safari clothes!

Safari Bag

great daypack for travel is a solid idea to throw your stuff in for game drives and bush flights. Or you could try out a safari backpack.

Safari Pants

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.

Women’s PantsMen’s Pants

Safari Shirt

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!

Shop on AmazonShop on BackcountryShop on REI

Africa Adapter

Adaptor

You’ll need this adaptor in Southern Africa, and this one in Eastern Africa.

Buy Before You Land


Africa Guidebook

Guide Book

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.

Lonely Planet


Things to do in Crete

Rainbow Sandals

Sandals are great for walking around at night when you’re relaxing. Get yourself some Rainbow brand sandals, seriously everyone around you will be wearing them – and for a good reason. They are uber comfortable once you break them in and last forever!

Rainbow Sandals


Buff Headband

Buff

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!

Buffs


Things to do in Crete

Sunscreen

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.

Purchase Sunscreen


Beach Packing List Sunglasses

Sunglasses

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.

See Sunglasses


Best Travel Towel - REI Micro Lite towel

Travel Towel

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.

Best Towels For Travel


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