Five African National Parks to Visit Before You Die

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.

Lower Zambezi National Park

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 the 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.

Ruaha National Park

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

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 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.

What To Pack For Safari

Elephants in Zimbabwe

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!

Plan Your Trip to Africa

  • Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans. 
  • Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
  • Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
  • Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
  • Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
  • Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
  • Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
  • Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
  • Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
  • Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling to Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.

About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

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