Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Wildlife Safari Locations And More


Our detailed Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Wildlife Safari Locations will help you embark on the adventure of a lifetime tailored to your preferred safari experience. 

Witness mighty herds stampeding across expansive savannas where survival unfolds daily. Spot an elusive leopard camouflaged in a tree, ever observant for prey as you explore lush rainforests. Wander through untamed landscapes guided by ancient elephant matriarchs to watering holes where life is sustained. Encounter playful baboon troops calling through the trees. 

Feel the cool shade of acacia trees as the hot African sun beams over boundless grasslands, and discover the thrill of quietly tracking herds of elephants through dense brush. Find insider information on optimal wildlife safari destinations across Africa to learn why this is a truly unforgettable journey into the heart of nature.

Choosing the Best Safari Location

Factors like budget, location, and personal preferences should guide your safari destination selection. 

Popular countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania each offer unique wildlife and landscapes. Less discovered safari spots, even in popular safari countries, can provide you with an off-the-beaten-path experience. 

Carefully weigh whether you want to join a group tour or private safari to match your needs.

Top Wildlife Safari Destinations In Africa

Iconic African safari destinations like Kruger National Park, Serengeti National Park allows amazing wildlife sightings and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is an immersion into stunning jungle. The Okavango Delta and Maasai Mara host the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra. See endangered species in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta or rare black rhinos in South Luangwa National Park. Discover which national parks match your interests.

7 Best Wildlife Safari Locations to Consider

Here are seven popular safari parks or reserves to consider, and why you should visit them on your safari tour:

1. Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The Maasai Mara is renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, leopard, cheetah, and large herds of elephant and buffalo. It is the northern extension of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and is famous for the annual wildebeest migration, considered one of the natural wonders of the world. The reserve's vast grasslands and savannas also provide some of the most dramatic game viewing in Africa.

2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Serengeti National Park is celebrated for its vast open grasslands and a high concentration of wildlife, including the Big Five. It hosts the spectacular annual Great Migration of millions of wildebeest and zebras. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most celebrated wilderness areas in the world, offering unparalleled safari experiences.

3. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

South Luangwa National Park is known for its walking safaris and high standards of guiding, providing an immersive wilderness experience. The park boasts a high density of leopards and offers thrilling night drives. Its riverine scenery is home to large populations of elephants, lions, and buffaloes, making it one of Africa's top safari destinations.

4. Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Greater Kruger National Park encompasses the Kruger National Park and numerous private reserves, offering a vast wildlife territory without fencing between the areas. It is known for excellent Big Five sightings and a wide variety of other wildlife. The park's private reserves provide exclusive safari experiences with off-road driving and night game drives.

5. Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is a unique inland delta known for its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife. The delta's seasonal flooding creates a lush animal habitat, offering both land and water-based safari activities such as mokoro (dugout canoe) excursions. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a variety of species, including elephants, hippos, and lions.

6. Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a leader in conservation and the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. It offers a rare opportunity to see chimpanzees in the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The Conservancy also provides a sanctuary for the two remaining northern white rhinos and a variety of other wildlife, including the Big Five.

7. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a prime location for mountain gorilla trekking, with half of the world's population of mountain gorillas residing within its boundaries. The park's dense forests also host a variety of other primates, birds, and butterflies. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its biodiversity and the critical role it plays in the conservation of endangered species.

7 Off-the-Beaten-Path Locations to Consider

Here are seven off-the-beaten-path safari parks or reserves to consider and reasons why each one is worth visiting on safari:

1. Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania 

This park is a hidden gem in northern Tanzania, often overlooked by safari-goers. It offers a sense of solitude with the chance to do game drives without encountering other vehicles. Mkomazi is also home to the Mkomazi Black Rhino Sanctuary, making it a prime location for glimpsing rhinos in the wild.

2. Katavi National Park, Tanzania

Katavi is known for its remote and uncrowded experience, providing exceptional wildlife viewing. During the dry season, you can witness large herds of buffalo and elephants, as well as impressive lion prides and concentrations of hippos

3. North Luangwa National Park, Zambia 

North Luangwa Park offers a wild and remote safari experience similar to the more famous South Luangwa but with fewer tourists. It's known for walking safaris and high-quality guides. It’s also the only park in Zambia with a population of black rhinos.

4. Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

Once a poached-out reserve, Majete has been transformed into a thriving conservation area with all the Big Five present. It's now one of Africa's most exclusive safari destinations, offering a truly intimate wildlife experience.

5. Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana 

One of the world's largest game reserves is also one of the least visited. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve offers a unique desert safari experience. You can see black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, and various antelope species in a starkly beautiful desert setting.

6. Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda

Kidepo is praised for its stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife, including species not found in any other Ugandan parks, including the greater eland, aardwolf, and caracal. It's remote and less visited by tourists, providing a more exclusive safari experience.

7. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa & Botswana 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is known for its red sand dunes and dry riverbeds, offering a different kind of safari landscape. It's a haven for predators like the famous black-maned lions and is also great for birdwatching.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Location

By taking the following factors into account, you can make an informed decision when choosing the best safari location for your safari:

Type of Experience: Consider how you wish to experience your safari, whether it's a stand-alone safari, a combination of water and land experiences, or an overland adventure.

Location and View: Pay attention to the location of the lodge and the views it offers. The proximity to wildlife-rich areas and the type of natural views you want to experience are crucial factors to consider.

Season and Migration Patterns: Identify the season and migration patterns, as they can significantly impact the quality of game viewing.

Amenities and Activities: Consider the amenities and activities offered, such as game drives, bush walks, boat rides, and other experiences that align with your interests.

Budget and Level of Independence: Establish a budget and choose the level of independence you desire during the safari. This includes considering the size of the safari, transit times, and the location of your lodging.

Wildlife and Landscapes: Determine which animals are a must-see for you and what type of landscapes you are most interested in, whether it's dramatic mountains, rolling grasslands, thick jungle, or coastline.

Quality of Staff and Guides: The quality of staff, including rangers, trackers, and lodge personnel, can significantly influence your safari experience. It's important to consider the expertise and friendliness of the staff.

Some of the details you should consider when researching your safari tour may be out of reach. Working with an experienced company like Born Free Safaris can bring your dream trip to life with local knowledge and over 50 years of experience. 

Planning Your Safari

Advance planning ensures a smooth safari experience. Book 6-12 months out with a reputable tour operator. Reserve your spot up to 18 months in advance if you want to see the Great Migration in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. 

Budget for park fees, accommodations, flights, and activities. Obtain needed visas and vaccinations. Schedule your visit during peak animal viewing seasons, avoiding the rainiest months. Determine if you want a self-guided or group safari tour. Prepare gear and research destination details.

When to go on a safari

While historical patterns once offered clear guidance, recent years have seen significant shifts in wildlife movement thanks to climate change.

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all safari seasons. Instead, the ideal time depends on your priorities and desired wildlife experiences. Craving iconic encounters with the Great Migration? Seeking diverse resident game without the crowds? 

While June to October remains the traditional peak season for the Great Migration, herds may move earlier or disperse differently. For the latest updates, consult expert advisors who can tailor your itinerary to maximize your chances of witnessing this awe-inspiring event. Beyond the Great Migration, Africa boasts incredible year-round wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Dry season - May - October

Sparse vegetation makes spotting animals easier, and predators are more active. However, expect cooler temperatures and fewer waterholes, impacting animal distribution.

Wet season - November - April

Lush landscapes and vibrant birdlife emerge, but game viewing can be trickier due to thicker vegetation and scattered animals.

Ultimately, the best time for your safari is the one that aligns with your schedule and interests. Find a more detailed breakdown on the best time to visit specific safari destinations with Born Free Safaris’ guide on When to Travel. We can help you craft a personalized itinerary that optimizes your wildlife encounters, avoids peak crowds, and caters to your specific preferences. 

How long to stay

To truly experience the wonders of Africa, your safari trip should ideally span between 10 to 14 days. Balance Africa's diverse ecosystems without feeling overwhelmed. 

The vast landscapes and the time it takes to travel between parks and reserves mean that each destination requires a minimum stay of 2-3 days to truly appreciate its unique wildlife and scenery. This approach not only maximizes wildlife viewing opportunities but also provides you with a deeper understanding of each area's ecological and cultural significance.

Budgeting and cost considerations

When planning an African safari, it's important to carefully consider the associated costs. A realistic safari budget can break down the costs based on per person, per night to include meals, internal airfare, and most activities, as well as the different levels of accommodations on safari. 

Fixed logistical costs such as national park fees, community fees, conservation fees, and regional flights can significantly impact your overall budget To make the most of your experience and allow for a deeper exploration of each location, carefully evaluate your expectations, preferences, travel style, and preferred experiences to better plan and budget for your immersive safari experience. 

Packing Essentials & What to Expect

Pack versatile, neutral-colored clothing you can layer for early morning game drives. Bring a hat, sun protection, binoculars, and a high-zoom camera. Waterproof gear and insect repellent are essential. 

Clothing and gear recommendations

For a comfortable safari experience, wear neutral colors like khaki, green, and tan to blend with the environment and avoid startling wildlife. Dress in layers to adapt to changing temperatures, with a warm layer for chilly mornings and evenings. Choose clothing made from non-synthetic materials like cotton for comfort, and pack lightweight options to meet luggage restrictions on charter flights. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with polarized lenses, and sturdy footwear are essential for sun protection and navigating the terrain.

Camera and photography tips

When packing camera gear for a safari, prioritize a good zoom lens to capture wildlife from a distance. A DSLR or mirrorless camera with a telephoto lens of at least 200mm is recommended for quality images. Bring extra batteries and memory cards, as charging facilities may be limited. For steadiness, consider a monopod or beanbag to support your camera during vehicle-based game drives. Lastly, a dustproof bag will help protect your equipment from the elements.

Other essential items to pack

In addition to clothing and camera gear, pack a daypack for carrying essentials during game drives. Include a reusable water bottle, binoculars for wildlife viewing, and a travel-sized power strip for charging multiple devices. Remember to bring enough prescribed medication for the entire trip, and consider packing a journal to document your experiences. Avoid single-use plastic bags, as they are banned in several East African countries.

Safety precautions and guidelines

Safety on safari is paramount. Always follow the instructions of your guide, especially during walking safaris or encounters with wildlife. Stay inside the vehicle unless told otherwise, as animals are accustomed to the shape and smell of vehicles, not humans. At the lodge, keep your distance from wild animals and do not feed them. Ensure you have the necessary vaccinations and bring mosquito repellent to protect against malaria.

Etiquette and cultural considerations

Respect local customs and dress codes, especially in rural areas or when visiting villages. Ask for permission before taking photos of people. Learn a few words in the local language as a sign of respect, and be mindful of your environmental impact by minimizing waste and conserving water. Tipping is customary for guides and lodge staff, so inquire about the appropriate amount.

Spotting Wildlife

The migration in Kenya and Tanzania, from July–October, delivers epic wildebeest and zebra sightings. Visiting waterholes in the early morning improves your chance of witnessing predators. Top sightings also occur in Botswana’s Okavango year-round. See gorillas in Rwanda or chimps in Uganda.

Tips for spotting and identifying different animals

To spot and identify different animals while in the wild, it's essential to develop a keen eye for patterns and movements. Your guides can give you advice on how to familiarize yourself with the tracks and signs of wildlife, as they can lead you to animal hotspots and provide insights into their behaviors.

When scanning for wildlife, observe carefully and be alert for subtle changes in the environment, such as shapes that are "out of place" or colors that contrast with the surroundings. Use senses other than sight; listen for footsteps or animal calls, and pay attention to patterns on the water's surface, which can indicate underwater movement.

Learn to look for clues like tracks, droppings, or nests, and stay quiet to avoid startling animals. Binoculars are invaluable for observing animals from a safe distance. When you have questions, a field guide can help you identify the species you encounter.

Best times of day and locations for wildlife sightings

The best times and locations for epic wildlife sightings depend on the type of animals you hope to see and your personal preferences. 

Outside of the migration, visiting the Okavango Delta in Botswana promises exceptional year-round game viewing on both land and water safaris. Other ideal times include the dry season when wildlife gathers near water sources. 

The early morning hours tend to provide prime game viewing as nocturnal animals finish hunting while diurnal ones wake and start roaming. Considering the destination, season and daily timing can greatly improve your chances of wildlife sightings. Conduct thorough research to determine the best times and places to fulfill your safari dreams.

Responsible wildlife viewing practices

Embark on your safari adventure with respect for both wildlife and their habitat. When observing animals in their natural settings, be sure to keep a safe distance and minimize noise or disruption to their routines. 

By following responsible viewing practices - staying in designated areas, keeping voices down, and not leaving trash behind - you can help preserve pristine ecosystems and behavioral patterns for the future.

Minimize disruption

  • Maintain a safe distance as designated by your guide or regulations.
  • Avoid loud noises, sudden movements, and using flash photography.
  • Respect breeding grounds and nesting sites, giving animals space for essential behaviors.
  • Stay on designated paths and avoid off-road driving to minimize habitat damage.

Be an ethical observer

  • Never feed, touch, or tease wild animals. This disrupts their natural behavior and can be harmful.
  • Choose tour operators committed to animal welfare and conservation efforts.
  • Avoid venues offering unnatural interactions like riding or posing with animals, as they often involve unethical practices.
  • Speak to your guide if you witness any concerning behavior towards wildlife.

Leave no trace

  • Pack out all your trash, including biodegradable items, to protect the environment.
  • Avoid using single-use plastics and opt for reusable options.
  • Be mindful of water usage and respect local resources.

By following these practices, you can ensure your safari experience is enriching for both you and the wildlife you encounter, contributing to their conservation and long-term well-being

Other Attractions to Consider

Beyond spectacular wildlife sightings, Africa offers boundless opportunities to immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, sample flavorful cuisines, conquer rugged landscapes, and contribute to impactful conservation efforts.

 From the soaring Table Mountain of Cape Town to the thundering Victoria Falls; the spice islands of Zanzibar to the rainforests of Rwanda; the wildlife sanctuaries of Namibia to the remote villages of Ethiopia—a broad range of adventures await. Venture off the traditional safari trail to interact with local communities, support sustainability initiatives, challenge your limits on treks, and return home with a profound appreciation for this diverse continent.

  • Cape Town: Hike iconic Table Mountain for breathtaking panoramas, explore vibrant neighborhoods like Bo-Kaap, and discover culinary gems at the V&A Waterfront. Unwind on pristine beaches or delve into Robben Island's poignant history.
  • Victoria Falls: Witness the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall, from various angles: take a scenic helicopter flight, embark on a white-water rafting adventure, or cruise along the Zambezi River for a close-up encounter with the spray and rainbows.
  • Island and Marine Encounters: Unwind on Zanzibar's spice-scented beaches, snorkel alongside vibrant coral reefs in Mozambique, or kayak through Namibia's Skeleton Coast, spotting marine life like dolphins and seals. Immerse yourself in the unique island cultures and pristine coastal landscapes.
  • Trekking Adventures: Ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, for a challenging yet rewarding experience with breathtaking landscapes. Hike through Rwanda's lush rainforests in search of endangered mountain gorillas, or conquer Lesotho's Maluti Mountains for stunning vistas.
  • Culinary Experiences: Embark on a culinary journey through vibrant food markets in Ethiopia, savoring flavorful stews and injera flatbreads. In South Africa, sample regional specialties like braai, a typical barbecue, and bobotie, a classic casserole dish, or indulge in fresh seafood platters in Mozambique.
  • Connect with Conservation: Volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, contributing to elephant conservation. Track chimpanzees in Uganda's rainforests, supporting research and habitat protection. Learn about traditional land management practices in Kenya, empowering local communities and preserving ecosystems.
  • Cultural Immersion: Witness the ancient traditions of the Maasai people in Kenya or Tanzania, learning about their nomadic lifestyle, intricate beadwork, and warrior dances. Immerse yourself in the vibrant rhythms and rituals of the Zulu people in South Africa, or trek to remote Ethiopian villages to experience unique coffee ceremonies and community life.

Start Your Africa Wildlife Safari Planning

After reviewing the step-by-step guide to the premier wildlife safari locations across Africa, you have the key insights to begin designing your own unforgettable journey. 

Whether your dreams involve photographing majestic elephants in the Okavango Delta or trekking the Virunga ranges to sit among mountain gorillas, this guide lights the way to transform those dreams into reality. 

Speak to a Born Free Safaris travel expert to bring your tailor-made African adventure to life. The power is yours to Design Your Journey that awakens your senses and connects you to the natural world.