A safari to Africa, especially a first time visit, is never complete without viewing African wild animals in their natural habitat – the national parks and game reserves. There are hundreds of wildlife reserves in Africa, each of which offers a unique safari experience. Any pick of the top five is therefore a subjective judgement. In my opinion however, there are some reserves that stand out from the crowd, and provide an excellent game watching experience. These are South Africa’s Kruger national park, Masai Mara national reserve in Kenya, Zambia’s South Luangwa national park, Selous game reserve in Tanzania, and Etosha national park in Namibia.
1. Kruger National Park – South Africa
Perhaps this game reserve needs no introduction. Some of the most amazing African wildlife videos and pictures come from Kruger, for example the pictures of a leopard killing a crocodile and the battle at kruger video (below).
Kruger is the largest game reserve in South Africa, and is distinguished for its high animal density, and the great diversity of animals, birds, and plant life. All the big five game (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard) are present in large numbers in the park. No other African game reserve has as many mammal species as Kruger.
The birdwatching experience in Kruger is just as superb, with over 500 resident and migrant bird species found there.
Kruger national park is ideal for self-drive safaris owing to a good road network. Adventure travel enthusiasts find the far North part of Kruger quite alluring being very wild and also very difficult to access. There are a number of small private game reserves along the edges of Kruger, each providing equally rewarding wildlife tours.
Arguably, no other game park in Africa offers you that total wildlife safari experience you find at Kruger. More information about Kruger and the neighbouring reserves are available on this site.
2. Masai Mara National Reserve – Kenya
Again, no introduction needed for this game reserve. The spectacular great wildebeest migration, dubbed as the most impressive event of the natural world, has given the Masai Mara game reserve an international appeal that other parks must envy.
During the migration, millions of wildebeests plus hundreds of thousands of zebras and other ungulates move into the Mara from Serengeti national park in Tanzania, in search of water and pasture. Several lions and other predators follow these migrating herbivores as they present easy prey. Some of the most dramatic moments of the migration happen during the crossing the Mara river.
Yet, with or without the migration, the Mara is still a must-visit destination. The park has a very high animal population, including all the big five. Besides the wildebeest, the lions and the other big cats are the other star attractions of the Mara. In a nutshell, the Mara is as good a safari destination as Kruger.
3. South Luangwa National Park – Zambia
The Luangwa valley in Zambia is one largely unexplored wildlife destination with an astonishingly high animal density. This remote valley is located far from any major city, thus does not have very many visitors. Yet the valley contains four pristine national parks, the most outstanding being the South Luangwa national park.
Walking safaris in Africa cannot be any better than what you experience in South Luangwa. The safari experience here can only be termed as the greatest in Africa. Visitors get to see many animals especially around the Luangwa river and its oxbow lagoons. Being a bit off the beaten track, the park is not very “touristy” or congested. The tour guides are some of the best you can find in Africa.
Among the animals you will see in South Luangwa are four of the big five (big five minus the rhino), cheetahs, many other predators, hippos, crocodiles, and many more. The thornicroft’s giraffe is only found here, and nowhere else in Africa. The elephant herds in the park are exceptionally large, sometimes numbering as many as 70. South Luangwa is also regarded as the best place in Africa to see the very elusive leopard.
4. Etosha National Park – Namibia
Despite being situated in arid conditions (in the Namib desert), Etosha deserves its position as one of Africa’s finest wildlife sanctuaries. Etosha national park is home to over 110 mammal species, an almost equal number of reptile species, and 340+ bird species.
This magnificent game park also has one of the highest population of the black rhino in Africa. Other animals present on Etosha include elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and several rare species of Southern Africa antelopes.
The opportunity for wildlife photography Etosha provides is incomparable to any other park. The photo below, plus others found on blogoncherry blog attest to this fact.
Etosha has a very good road network making it perfectly suitable for self-drive wildlife safaris.
5. Selous Game Reserve – Tanzania
This top five list could not be complete without at least one national park or game reserve in Tanzania. There are several fine parks and reserves in the country but I think Selous, in Tanzania’s southern safari circuit takes top position.
Selous game reserve is the biggest game reserve in Tanzania and also in Africa. One similarity between Etosha and South Luangwa is that they are among the few remaining untouched wilderness in Africa. Like in South Luangwa, visitors to Selous can go for guided walking safaris within the reserve.
Selous has a very high animal concentration, especially along the Rufiji river banks. During the dry season, the Rufiji river is a magnet for many plains game, plus opportunistic predators preying on these easy targets.
One of Selous’ many reputations is in having the highest population of african wild dogs (pictured below: source wikimedia commons).
Other Parks and Reserves
This post was about the top five. However, there are several other game reserves worth mentioning. Depending on the criteria used to evaluate, some of them may even replace the above mentioned in the top five:
- Chobe national park in Botswana
- Ngorongoro conservation area in Tanzania
- Okavango Delta, in Botswana
Recommended African Safari Packages Booking
Visit the Africa guide Africa holiday packages to select a safari of your choice, including to some of the above destinations.