For safari enthusiasts, East African safaris typically mean witnessing Africa’s great wildebeest migration, watching large herds of animals, searching for the big five, seeking out the smaller mammals, or going chimp trekking in the heart of Africa’s rainforest. While these exceptional safaris will always attract visitors in their thousands, East Africa also has a few less-visited safari destinations, hidden gems which are off the beaten track.
Discovering these remarkable lesser-known safari destinations is another adventure in the making. Here are a few of East Africa’s lesser-known safari destinations.
1. Rusizi National Park, Burundi
Burundi has its fair share of attractions, including Gishora Drum Sanctuary, Snakes Park, Gitega National Museum and Kareral Waterfalls, but is much less well-known than its neighbours, Tanzania and Rwanda. However, the more adventurous travellers that visit will be richly rewarded.
Rusizi National Park is Burundi’s most popular safari destination. Located next to the Rusizi River, this national park is known for its healthy population of hippo and sitatungas as well as being a great birding spot. Visitors are likely to spot birds such as Sharpe’s pied babbler and red-chested sunbird. The Rusizi River is also home to one of Africa’s lethal predators, Nile crocodiles. Explore the park by boat, vehicle and on foot.
Recommended safari: 4-Day Burundi Cultural and Historical Tour
2. Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
The Simien Mountains, in the Ethiopian Highlands, has global conservation significance as it’s home to threatened species including the endemic Walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf and gelada baboon, as well as abundant bird life. However, it’s worth noting that unfortunately it’s hard to see the Ethiopian wolf here as the park is too large and the numbers of wolves too small. The best time to visit the Simien Mountains is between October and March with the warmest weather and clearest skies.
Recommended safari: Lalibela and Simien Mountains
3. Awash National Park, Ethiopia
Another one of Ethiopia’s less-visited safari destinations, Awash National Park is known for its high biodiversity and incredible landscapes. The park offers diverse habitat and ecosystems, acacia woodlands, savannah, thorn-tree bushland and riverine wetlands.
A great safari destination for avid birders. Awash National Park’s rich birdlife includes yellow-necked francolin, Abdim’s stork, bare-faced go-away-bird, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, grey wren-warbler, Abyssinian and black scimitarbill.
With over 81 mammal species calling Awash National Park home, it’s also an excellent spot for wildlife viewing. It is home to Soemmerignes’s gazelles, klipspringers, defassa waterbuck, salt’s dik-diks and kudus. A few lucky visitors might also witness predators such as leopards, lions, cheetahs and hyenas.
Recommended safari: 14-Day Ethiopia Birding Safari
4. Aberdare and Samburu National Parks, Kenya
While Masai Mara National Reserve and Amboseli National Park are two of Kenya’s primary attractions, there are plenty of hidden gems worth exploring such as Aberdare National Park and Samburu National Reserve, two of Kenya’s lesser-known safari spots.
Known as the majestic moorland, Aberdare National Park is a scenic delight characterised by its picturesque open moorlands and steep forested ravines. On an Aberdare National Park safari, visitors can see three of Africa’s big five animals – elephants, leopards and black rhino. Aberdare’s attractions also include its numerous waterfalls, such as Karuru Waterfall, Kereita Cave and Waterfall, Chain Waterfall, Magura Waterfalls, Thomsons’s Falls, Chasing Waterfalls and Guar Waterfalls.
Samburu National Reserve, located near Buffalo Springs National Reserve, is a great place for wildlife viewing. Visitors who want to escape the more crowded national parks in peak season can travel to this serene getaway. Samburu’s rich wildlife includes herds of elephants, buffaloes, hippos, zebras, and oryx. Visitors can also spot predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs. Similar to Aberdare, Samburu also offers abundant bird-watching opportunities.
Recommended safari: 5 Days Aberdares and Samburu Safari
5. Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park and Akagera National Park are the more well-known safari destinations in Rwanda, while Nyungwe Forest National Park is less visited. Located in southwest Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to 13 primate species, including chimpanzees, silver monkey, golden monkey, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey and dent’s mona monkey.
This idyllic destination houses one of Africa’s oldest rainforests known for its rich wildlife. Visitors can go chimp trekking and hike in the heart of the forest while the canopy walkway on the Igishigishigi trail offers extraordinary views of the surrounding forest and valleys.
Recommended safari: 3-Day Nyungwe Chimps and Canopy Walk
6. Saadani National Park, Tanzania
Although the annual wildebeest migration remains one of the jewels of East African safaris, Tanzania has much more to offer its visitors including Saadani National Park, one of it’s hidden treasures, and the only wilderness sanctuary located on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Saadani’s diverse wildlife includes four of Africa’s big five animals – buffaloes, elephants, lions and leopards as well as plenty of other interesting animals such as blue wildebeests, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, Masai giraffes, dik-diks, and Bohor reedbuck. The primate population includes colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, and yellow baboons.
A picnic site facing River Wami offers a great vantage point for viewing the crocodiles and hippos in the rivers, offering a chance to take memorable photographs.
Recommended safari: Saadani National Park Day Trip from Zanzibar
7. Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
Uganda’s Kidepo Valley National Park isn’t as popular as Murchison Falls National Park or Kibale National Park, but it has a lot to offer its visitors. On a game drive, visitors are bound to catch sight of giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffaloes and elands as well as predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs.
A visit here is more than a simple wildlife viewing experience, you can also spend time learning about the local community, the Karamojong people, as well as head to nearby Sipi Falls or go white river rafting on the river Nile.
Recommended safari: Kidepo Valley National Park Uganda
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