Africa is a continent brimming full of extraordinary wildlife reserves and game parks, housing all of nature’s animal wonders and much more besides, and here we take a look at the very best National Parks.
The name alone conjures images of sweeping African plains and herds of wildebeest, and Tanzania's iconic Serengeti National Park never fails to deliver.
Sitting across the border from Kenya’s Masai Mara, it is a vast wilderness area which covers over 6,000 square miles and is home to some of Africa’s, if not the world’s, best safaris. Although home to the annual Great Migration, superb game viewing can be enjoyed year-round, with hot air balloon rides high above the wildlife an undoubted highlight.
Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Zimbabwe’s largest National Park is home to one of the world’s largest populations of these incredible pachyderms as well as to healthy populations of buffalo, lion, cheetah and the magical painted, or wild dog. A series of waterholes help to sustain the wildlife and a railway line cuts through the middle of the Park, providing some unique game-viewing opportunities. Zimbabwe’s guides are amongst Africa’s finest, with Hwange the perfect setting in which to enjoy an extraordinary up-close walking safari.
The original home of walking safaris, and still one of the top spots for getting out on foot with a guide and experiencing the African bush in all its glory. The Luangwa River, from which the Park takes its name, is an important source of water for the wildlife, and it provides a scenic setting for many of the safari lodges, and also the opportunity to enjoy a spot of game-viewing by boat. The Park is famed for its lion and leopard populations.
South Africa is home to over 20 National Parks, but none is more famous and well-known than the Kruger. Originating out of the Sabi Game Reserve and proclaimed a National Park in 1926, the modern-day Kruger is nowadays home to a phenomenal range of wildlife, including the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino & buffalo), and all of the usual suspects. It also plays host to a wide choice of accommodation – from simple chalets and rondavels to tented camps and some of Africa’s most luxurious and opulent safari lodges.
Busting the myth that National Parks are all about open grass plains and lush, thick vegetation is Etosha - Namibia’s iconic and flagship reserve. Dominated by a large and extinct salt pan, the landscape is almost other-worldly, with the game contrasting strikingly against the barren background. A sanctuary for the endangered black rhino, accommodation within the Park is largely limited to state-run rest camps, with the majority of the luxury tented camps and lodges set outside the Park gates.
Although technically a National Reserve rather than a National Park, the Masai Mara is where safari really began, with the first pioneers leading expeditions into the region as long ago as 1919. Now one of the most popular game-viewing areas on the entire African continent, it is home to the famed Great Migration – which every year between July and October sees vast herds of migrating wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelles arrive in search of pastures new.
A slight cheat because although not technically a National Park, it really should be! The largest inland delta in the world, formed when the waters of the Okavango River flow south and flood the dry desert plains, this extraordinary ecosystem is home to some of Africa’s finest game viewing and, following Botswana’s stated mission to follow a high income / low volume policy, to some of the most expensive safari lodges on the planet. A particularly unique activity is silently exploring the channels in a dug-out mokoro canoe.
Le Parc National des Volcans, to give it it’s native name, was Africa’s first, created to protect their most precious of cargoes – the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Found only in neighbouring Uganda and the DRC, these magnificent creatures remain the jewel in Rwanda’s tourism crown, and with just 80 permits issued each day, those wanting to view them are strongly urged to book well in advance. The Park is also home to golden monkeys and to a scenic string of volcanoes.
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