African safaris are usually top of most people’s bucket list when it comes to wildlife viewing. Its multitude of national parks, reserves and conservation areas number amongst some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and are home to a bewildering variety of wild animals, ensuring that a wildlife safari will undoubtedly be a major highlight of your trip.
However, with so many exciting wildlife experiences to be had at different times of the year, travellers often struggle when deciding when and where to go. Africa’s top safari destinations include wildlife parks in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. If you’re looking for the best safari where you’re almost guaranteed to see the Big Five you can’t go wrong with these choices. But Africa’s previously political no-go zones are also rapidly emerging as new safari destinations, now that more national parks are being designated and protected while tourism is increasingly welcomed.
From gorilla trekking in remote forests, to canoeing in pristine deltas to night-time game drives, the truth is that choosing the wildlife safari which is best for your trip to Africa depends enormously on you – what you want to see, how you like to travel and what kind of experiences you want.
Luxury travel operator and safari expert, Sanctuary Retreats is here to make the decision a little easier. Here are our top game viewing experiences, from the intimate to the truly spectacular. This list is far from exhaustive but you will find the crème de la crème of places, which offer outstanding wildlife experiences, as well as some which excel for very specific species or activities. Read on for your next travel inspiration.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
First on the list is a trip to the inspirational Serengeti, a classic Tanzania safari destination. This large park is considered one of the best places for safari for one very specific reason – the Great Migration. This annual event sees hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra pass through the park in search of food – and with the herds of grazers, come the predators. Sanctuary Serengeti Migration Camp moves between three different locations, literally following the migration as it travels across the Serengeti. Additionally it operates Sanctuary Kusini, a permanent camp in the Serengeti, and every year wildebeest congregate on the camp’s doorstep.
From US$450 per person per night twin share.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Next up, is the Ngorongoro Crater, another classic Tanzania safari destination. The breath-taking Ngorongoro Crater is a geographical wonder in its own right, with the caldera’s high, steep walls looming steeply over the valley below. And it’s these steep walls that also lead to the incredible abundance of wildlife in the crater, as they trap a rich assortment of large and small safari animals within.
With two rainy seasons – the long rains fall in April and May (into early June) and the short rains fall in October and November, the best times to visit are December, January, February or late June through to early October. And one of the very best places to catch all the action is Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp. Located right in the heart of the Park on the crater rim, and offering spectacular views of the crater and surrounds, it’s also home to one of the largest populations of animals in the Park including zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest, hippo and elephants – not to mention an amazing assortment of predators – lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs and the even elusive leopard.
From US$460 per person per night twin share.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
Still one of the world’s best-kept natural secrets, Uganda receives far less visitors than neighbouring countries. Bwindi is home to 340 mountain gorillas, just over half the world’s population of this critically endangered primate. The gorillas are completely wild, but have become acclimatised to seeing a few humans after years of habituation. Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is nestled deep inside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides unparalleled opportunities for sighting gorillas – who sometimes wander into the Camp itself. The best times to visit Uganda are December to March and June to September.
From US$380 per person per night twin share.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
With a well-deserved reputation as one of the best all-round safari destinations, the Okavango Delta forms part of the Kalahari Basin, situated at the southern periphery of the Great Rift Valley, and covers a massive 22,000 square kilometres. Although the periphery is semi-arid, the Okavango Delta itself is a patchwork of cool clear streams, lagoons, floodplains and forested islands.
Because of its unique terrain, the area is home to a wealth of wild animals (including all of Africa’s Big Five) and plenty of bird life, offering up superb game viewing. In the dry winter season vast numbers of wildlife flock to where the floodwaters infiltrate the delta, providing one of the world’s most spectacular sights. June to August is peak season for most safari areas within the Okavango. But September and October when temperatures really start to climb, leads to even higher concentrations of game around the few available water sources.
Sanctuary Retreats operates three luxury camps in the Okavango Delta – Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, Sanctuary Baines’ Camp and Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, all of which offer great game viewing experiences, which can be either booked alone or in combination with each other.
Sanctuary Baines Camp from US$750 person per night twin share, Sanctuary Stanley Camp from US$550 per person per night twin share and Sanctuary Chief’s Camp from US$1,160 per person per night twin share.
Madikwe, South Africa
From rocky peaks, across open grasslands, to verdant valleys, each area, with its own distinctive inhabitants, Madikwe is one of South Africa’s premier game-viewing destinations. The perfect setting to catch a sighting of the Big Five, it is also home to the rare African Wild Dog along with cheetah, giraffe, hyena, and a host of other game species and a staggering 360 species of birds. The 75,000-hectare Reserve is also malaria free and one of the best options for year-round game viewing, which makes it an ideal destination for families.
Situated within the Park, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge offers guests an unforgettable experience – falling asleep surrounded only by flickering lanterns while listening to a lullaby of roaring lions, crying jackals and laughing hyenas. The rustic double-storey structure is tucked away in a secluded part of Makanyane Safari Lodge’s private grounds overlooking a waterhole with spectacular views across the Madikwe Game Reserve, providing a truly romantic retreat for those with a sense of adventure at heart.
From $US460 per person twin share.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Experts have dubbed South Luangwa to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa. The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of this 9,059 square kilometre park. A country rich in natural beauty and wildlife, yet scant in tourists, a walking safaris is one of the best ways to experience the South Luangwa’s pristine wilderness first-hand – and also to catch sight of the elusive leopard. The best time for game viewing in the South Luangwa is during the dry season from May to October, when animals congregate around the rivers and waterholes.
For a truly luxurious experience stay at the luxuriously appointed Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge. Set on a magnificent hilltop location, the Lodge was once the personal retreat of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, and provides panoramic views across the game-rich valleys of South Luangwa National Park.
From US$390 per person per night twin share.
Masai Mara, Kenya
The final destination on Sanctuary Retreats’ list is the Masai Mara in Kenya. The Masai Mara is the Kenyan extension of the Tanzania’s famed Serengeti. One of Africa’s most famous safari destinations, the Mara also plays host to the famous Great Migration. Considered the birthplace of safari, Kenya offers up amazing game viewing experiences, and is a good place to experience Africa’s Big Five.
The migration is usually present in the Mara between July and October each year. During this time, dramatic river crossings are the order of the day, with crocodiles lying in wait for wildebeest and zebra.
Award-winning tented safari camp, Sanctuary Olonana, is situated on a private stretch of the Mara River in the heart of Kenya’s most famous game reserve, the Masai Mara. This small and exclusive luxury safari camp has been built along sustainable lines, which has earned it a Gold Award from Ecotourism Kenya. Game drives, cultural visits, bush dinners, sun-downers, scenic flights and balloon rides, all ensure that a stay at Sanctuary Olonana will be a truly memorable one.
From US$350 per person per night twin share.