The natural wonders of Africa, from the wide open landscapes, thick jungles and arid deserts to the unique animals and birds, have dealt with many forms of over-exploitation over the decades. It is fortunate for us that conservation-minded governments have stepped up to the challenge of protecting their natural resources and created national parks and reserves. These are a vital tool in offering sanctuary to a dazzling array of fauna and flora and receive hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, all of them keen to get closer to nature on national park safaris.
These parks and reserves form a perfect place to view the natural wonders of Africa without the risk. The national park safaris that run through these areas nowadays are well managed, conservation minded and eco-friendly with the health and well being of the animals and the eco-systems at their core.
Excited to explore what these parks have to offer? Let’s dive into five of the best African national parks you can experience.
Kruger National Park stands proud as one of the largest animal reserves in Africa and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The size of Wales, it sits in the north eastern corner of South Africa with Mozambique along its entire eastern border. A vast tract of stunning bush veld, it’s 19,485 km² in total area. The south western border has been open in some places to include exclusive private reserves thus making the movement of animals much easier. Kruger has a high density of wild animals which includes the Big Five; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. There are hundreds of other animal species and around 500 types of birds.
With the greatest diversity of animals in the whole of Africa, Kruger National Park is one of the very best national parks for seeing a bit of everything! The park has a wide range of trails and many professional guides on hand so visitors can see the wonders of Africa up close. Accommodation choices range from exclusive luxury lodges to national park run campsites, so there is something for every budget making Kruger accessible for everyone.
The Serengeti National Park is one of the iconic landscapes of Africa, with a massive arc of wide sweeping plains with singular, beautiful, shady trees along the way. It stretches across western Tanzania northwards to connect up with the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Serengeti is home to a huge variety of wildlife, with over 500 birds and carnivores, including the African Big Five.
The most famous and unique event of the Serengeti National Park is the wildebeest migration. One of the greatest wonders of the natural world, this annual migration of over 2 million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles across north western Tanzania and into Kenya is a spectacular event. The yearly cycle is driven by the need to find fresh grazing, the seasonal rains and breeding patterns of the game. Generally, the migration is in the Serengeti until July when it crosses into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve before returning to the Serengeti in November. It’s possible to see the migration year round and just takes some careful planing to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. For example, February is the best time to see large concentrations of wildebeest in the Ndutu area while in June the wildebeest cross the Grumeti River.
3. Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park, the largest park in Zimbabwe, is situated in the north west between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. The park was founded in 1929 and is named after a local Nhanzwa chief. Its position on the edge of the Kalahari means it’s quite dry and sparsely wooded; the Kalahari woodland that makes up most of the park is dominated by Zambezi teak, camwood and Kalahari bauhinia. There are a number of pans and watering holes that are fed by seasonal rain and natural ground seepage, but for the most they are filled by pumps; the ‘duf, duf, duf’ sound of the pumps is a familiar sound in the park.
Hwange is best known for its huge elephant population and taking up watch at one of the watering holes at dusk is an ideal time to view them. The Hwange elephants are one of the largest groupings of elephants on the planet, along with the Chobe region in Botswana. There are also healthy populations of predators with lions top of the list. Most of the accessibility of the total 14,650 km² is around the northwest corner and there is plenty to see in terms of other species of both plants, birds and animals. Hwange is a great park with fantastic game viewing as well as only being an hour and a half drive away from the mighty Victoria Falls.
Bordering Tanzania and its Serengeti National Park, the Masai Mara National Reserve is one of Africa’s premier national parks. The Maasai word “mara” means spotted and the park consists of open grasslands dotted with single trees. There are seasonal rivulets that criss-cross the landscape, but the Mara River, which flows from its source in the Kenyan Highlands to Lake Victoria, is a vital source of water where lots of animal action takes place.
The Masai Mara’s expanse of land is home to large herds and animal groupings, including the annual wildebeest migration. In July the migration heads into Kenya from Tanzania, crossing the Mara River from the Serengeti National Park. As the herds arrive at the river the tension mounts, they have to cross but there are dangers lurking. The pressure finally bursts as the first group heads into the flow, then it’s a deluge as the entire herd follows. There is action everywhere: crocodiles getting their yearly meal, aerial wildebeest, grunting, river banks crumbling, until finally the herd is across, glistening in the sun on the opposite bank in the Masai Mara. During August, September and October the wildebeest and other animals graze in the Masai Mara before starting their journey back to the Serengeti in November.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is a shining jewel in the centre of Southern Africa. Located in northern Botswana, it spreads out like a giant fan into the Kalahari sands. Its origins are in the Angolan Highlands where heavy seasonal rains eventually flow down the Kavango river into the pan-handle on the Caprivi/Botswana border and then into the Delta itself. Around 11,000 billion litres of water flows in every year and spreads across a 250 x 150 km area. This yearly ebb and flow of water feeds the heart of Botswana and is a true wildlife paradise in the middle of the arid Kalahari. Life is abundant here with around 200,000 large animals living here, although not all of them stay year round. During summer the animals follow the rains to feed on the new growth. That said, game viewing in the delta is a year round activity if somewhat restricted during the rains.
Getting in and out of the heart of the Okavango Delta is by small plane which take visitors to exclusive lodges and camps. This does mean that the Delta is a top end safari destination but the reward is sensational game viewing, extraordinary bird watching and luxury camps. This exclusivity is further enhanced by restrictions on the size of the camps and number of visitors, all with an aim of protecting the habitat and the animals. The Okavango Delta is a must for an avid safari goer looking for an amazing national park safari and can be done in combination with other premier parks in Botswana such as the Makgadikgadi Pans, Chobe National Park and the Linyanti.
Finding the Perfect National Park Safari
These national parks cover huge stretches of land and are home to spectacular animals and rich bird life. If your sights are set on a memorable African safari adventure then any of these five parks are the perfect destination. These are just the tip of the iceberg – there are also a wealth of other incredible national parks and reserves throughout the continent, each with their own unique highlights and wonders.
When you’re planning a safari to experience one or more of Africa’s national parks, SafariDeal is a great partner and we’re eager to help; find out more about our safaris and start researching, comparing and booking with us!
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