By Sarah Kingdom (Travel Blogger)
Africa is a vast continent and if you are planning a trip there, you may well be wondering where to go and which of the hundreds of national parks and game reserves to choose from. Help is at hand.
Here, I weigh in on the top 10 parks and reserves per a safaribookings.com report that takes into account the reviews of 2 300 tourists and 1 000 African travel experts — and share what you can expect to see when you get there based on my decades of safari experience.
Serengeti National Park
Coming in at number one is Serengeti National Park, in northern Tanzania. The Serengeti shares a border with Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve (which we will chat about more when you reach the number 10 spot on this list). Serengeti’s sprawling grasslands make for those classic safari views with flat-topped acacia trees and grazing herds of zebra and antelope. These grazing herds attract large numbers of predators and the open plains make for a fantastic destination to watch lions and cheetahs in action.
The Serengeti is also home to the annual Great Migration, in which over one million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of other ungulates make their over-1 000km circular trek. The animals travel from their breeding grounds in the south to fresh pastures in the north, all the while with predators hot on their heels. The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events in the world. As an exciting and special bonus, black rhinos were reintroduced into the Serengeti, some in 2010 and more in 2019, and earlier this year, a black rhino calf was born to one of the re-introduced females — the first black rhino birth in the park for decades. Nomad Tanzania has the beautiful Serengeti Safari Camp which is the perfect location to catch the wildebeest migration.
Mana Pools National Park
Next on our list, we have Mana Pools National Park in the far north of Zimbabwe. The Zambezi River’s wide waters form the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. On the southern Zimbabwean side is Mana Pools National Park, a stunning Unesco World Heritage Site and a park known for fantastic wildlife visibility beside the river and flood plains.
Mana is the Shona (local language) word for four, and within the park, the river channels have created four large pools, giving the park its name. These pools are surrounded by forests of mahogany, wild fig, ebony and winter thorns.
In the dry season, the shady glades beneath these trees are filled with wildlife — herds of impala, eland, elephant, zebra, buffalo, waterbuck and kudu. These animals provide a plentiful supply of prey for both predators and scavengers. There are several sizable prides of lion as well as leopards and hyenas. Mana Pools is also a stronghold for wild dogs.
Mana Pools National Park is the perfect place for walking and canoeing safaris. British environmentalist David Attenborough’s wildlife series for the BBC, Dynasties, filmed the episode about wild dogs in the park. I have spent hours watching these same wild dogs and I can promise you the park is the perfect place to go to spot this endangered African animal.
African Bush Camps have three fantastic lodges in Mana Pools, each in a different park area.
MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala is the oldest and one of the largest private Big Five game reserves in South Africa. It covers 15 000 hectares, shares a 20km unfenced boundary with the world-renowned Kruger National Park, and is sandwiched in a prime position between the Kruger and the Sabi Sands Reserve, giving it great access to abundant wildlife.
In the local language, Xitsonga, the name Malamala means kudu, and the area got its name from the abundance of these majestic, spiral-horned antelope within the game reserve. The reserve is also home to the Big Five and is famous for luxury photographic safaris. MalaMala is the place to start your search for accommodation within the reserve.
The Okavango Delta is a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana. The area is known for its sprawling grassy plains, which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat. The delta supports an astonishing variety of wildlife.
The best time to visit is during the annual flood, when many of the animals are confined to islands created by the floodwaters, making them easier to spot. Highlights include great herds of elephant and antelope, hippos, crocodiles, lions and cheetah. Many of the birds spotted here are endemic.
The most exciting way to explore the area is by traditional dugout canoe (mokoro), which I first did in my early 20s, navigating past hippos, elephants and crocodiles, and spending several nights camping on tiny islands. About 40% of the Okavango Delta is in the Moremi Game Reserve, on the eastern edge of the Delta. Very much the centre of Botswana’s safari industry, the Okavango Delta features some of Africa’s premier camps. A good place to start your accommodation search is with Wilderness Safaris which has several beautiful luxury lodges in the Okavango Delta. — Travel Awaits.
- To be continued next week.