4 Safari Game Parks in Africa Not to Miss

There is no place on earth like Africa.

Visiting safari game parks in Africa was one of the most rewarding travel experiences I have ever had.

4 Safari Game Parks to visit in Africa

Experiencing the Big 5 in their natural habitat has been on my travel bucket list ever since I was a child.

Besides seeing the big cats and rhinos, I love elephants and can spend hours watching them in their family units and learning so much from them. They are some of the wisest animal species on our planet.

For many, the thought of traveling to Africa is enough to send them scurrying under their bed with fear. If you follow our Africa travel safety tips you’ll soon see there is nothing to fear.

Budget travel in Africa is possible as Africa in general is incredibly cheap. The cost of day to day living, transport, and accommodation helps to make Africa a budget destination.

What gets expensive are the cost of safaris, wildlife viewing, and other adventure activities.

Getting around East and South Africa for your wildlife viewing does come at a price, but there are many transportation options to suit each travelers budget, desired experiences and comfort levels.

There are numerous safari game parks in Africa. But I recommend you select only those you most want to see and that suits your budget, the animals that are present, and the season in which you are traveling.

Here are four safari game parks that we personally visited:

Masai Mara Game Park, Kenya

Travel Photo: Lion Kill, Masai Mara Game Par, Kenya

This was the first safari game park we visited and so has the “first love” attachment for me.

The memory of riding through the savannah in an open topped van is still strong in my mind.

Experiencing the plains dotted far and wide with zebra and wildebeest; giraffes loping by in the distance, stopping for lunch under the shade of an acacia; watching cheetahs on the hunt and seeing my first ever lion kill of a wildebeest in front of us will never leave me.

And then at night, we camped around the fire talking to a Masai warrior as he shared tales with us of life as a fierce nomadic warrior who fight lions and leopards with their bare hands.

How to get to Masai Mara Game Park:

The Masai Mara is approximately 280 kms west from Nairobi City. Driving will take you about 5-6 hours.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Etosha National Park, Namibia, Africa

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”is dominated by a massive dry salt pan which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time.

This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts impressive flocks of flamingos and the perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

Etosha National Park in Namibia is one of those parks known for night time animal viewing around the waterholes.

We unfortunately went during the wrong season, the rainy season, with the best time being from May to September.

We didn’t see much as the animals had ample watering holes elsewhere in the park so didn’t need to come to the floodlit ones near our camp.

We did, however, see a lot of animals during the day.

As a visitor to Etosha you can expect to see many buck species, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions, there is a network of roads linking the three campsites and subsidiary roads lead to various waterholes.

How to get to Etosha National Park:

Etosha is approximately 6 hours drive from Windhoek. The road is good tarmac and can easily be driven in one day.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger National Park South Africa
lioness and her cub

The iconic Kruger National Park would have to be one of the most well known safari parks to visit in Africa and one of the best in South Africa for wildlife viewing.

It boasts the most diverse game viewing experience in Africa. In terms of facilities and the range of accommodation offered, no national park anywhere in the world can match what Kruger National Park has to offer.

Kruger is abundant in wildlife, has an extensive and developed road system, and has many camp grounds and lodging options. From affordable Self-Catering family bungalows to luxury Private Game Lodges with all the trimmings – it’s all here.

After several months of trying to find the elusive leopard, we finally saw one sleeping in a tree and another stalking off into the bushes.

Be warned that the park is massive. You will have to choose carefully as to where you will spend the majority of your time. Don’t try to see to much. Stick to one pocket and use that as a base to explore.

Our favorite area of Kruger was around the Lower Sabie Rest Camp  on the banks of the Sabie River, which draws a wide variety of animals all year round.

Also, make sure you leave room in your budget for a night time drive and a guided safari
walk
.

Exhilarating as you stand up wind from rhinos grazing and miss lions by minutes, experiencing instead the lingering trace of their pungent smell.

How to get to Kruger National Park

Fly: Choose a daily flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town into Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) or Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport (HDS).

Drive: Pick up your car at the 3 national airports near Kruger National Park:

  • Nelspruit
  • Hoedspruit
  • Phalaborwa

A Self-drive is an excellent way to discover the wonders of the Kruger National Park at your own pace. With this type of flexibility, you can enjoy a more rewarding experience in the Kruger Park.

Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

Addo Elephant Park, South Africa
mud bath at Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

Addo Elephant Park, located about 75km from Port Elisabeth, was one of my favorite African safari parks and one that was totally unexpected.

If you want to have incredible experiences with elephants, then this is the place for you.

You will come across hundreds of them as families gather together by the waterholes for their daily mud baths. The  huge gathering of elephants at the mud bath is a highlight of a visit to this park.

Addo is a sanctuary to over 550 elephants, lions, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo.

How to get to Addo Elephant Park

Fly: The nearest domestic airport is in Port Elizabeth, 75km from the park. A number of hire car agencies have depots at the airport.

Drive: Travelling time from Cape Town to the Park by vehicle is approximately 9 hours.

Tips for the Best Wildlife Encounters in Africa

Photo of the week: Kruger National Park

Plan in Advance:

Decide what animals you want to see, as some animals are only found in certain parks.

Going to many different parks all over the continent will cost you. So prioritize and go for the game parks that will allow you to see the greatest variety of wildlife.

Which Season is Best for Wildlife Viewing in Africa?

In the dry season – the grass is short making it easier to spot wildlife. Also, choice of drinking water holes for the  animals will be fewer so they are moving around more in search of water so your chances of watching them socialise at waterholes is greater.

So find yourself a water hole and chances are you will have some company.

In the wet season – the grass is long making viewing more difficult and they have many options for water holes so don’t need to roam as much.

Animal Viewing:

Animals are most active at dusk and dawn hunting for food. It is very hot in Africa, so during the day the animals are usually hibernating in the shade.

Be sure to do the same thing yourself. If your excitement is too hard to contain and you go out during the day, the only result will be that you chew up your fuel budget, and an eventual visit to the chiropractor for neck strain.

Get up real early to catch the animals at play, rest during the day,  and then go out again just before sundown.

HOT TIP:

Lions like to sleep on the road at night to soak up the day’s heat trapped in the tar. If you’re up early enough you can usually run into one on the road. There were several times we turned a corner to find a lioness resting on the warm tar.

Take a Guided Night Drive:

In Kruger Park you can only go on night drives organized at your accommodation. All gates to accommodations close by nightfall and you better be locked safe and sound inside them.

Once night falls you can jump in an open topped vehicle with a huge spot light and a guide to tell you more about what you see as you drive around the park, hearing the sounds and seeing the sites of nighttime Africa.

Go on a Guided Walking Safari:

You can do this in Kruger Park also. Getting on the  ground with these magnificent beasts in their territory will get your heart pumping.

We didn’t have as much action as anticipated, but we did get close to rhinos (downwind) and we smelled the fear of the lions running away from us in the distance.

Tips for Wildlife Photography:

Be patient. Spotting your favorite animals can take time.

Spend the money to buy a good lens, at the very minimum a 300mm zoom but preferably a 600mm zoom lens. Animals are scared of you, they won’t come close for a portrait, and you won’t sneak up closer to them (I hope).

You’ve spent all the money, time, and energy to put yourself in a place of contact with these wild animals, you want to have something to take away from it and keep with you for memories and reflection.

Safety in Safari Parks:

Never ever ever, and I mean ever get out of your car, unless in a safe designated area, or with an armed ranger present.

This is the wild, don’t mess with it. I know this sounds a bit like a ‘No shit Sherlock’ kind of statement, but you will be surprised at how many people get eaten by lions trying to get that perfect shot.

Keep a safe distance when you encounter a wild animal and when in your vehicle keep your windows rolled up.

Now it’s your turn Have you been to Africa on a safari? What are your tips?

25 thoughts on “4 Safari Game Parks in Africa Not to Miss”

  1. Amazing photos! I’ve had a chance to visit Hluhluwe Game Reserve in South Africa (near Durban), and was so blown away by the wild nature. We even had an incident with an infuriated elephant who really seemed to not like our group =). Definitely wanna go to Kenya and Zambia next. Thanks for the tips!

    1. We’ve heard how great that park is as well. We cut that one of our list as we were running short on time. Always gotta leave room for more though. thanks for the tip.

  2. Like you, I love safaris. In my opinion, the more remote, the better. In South Africa, I stayed at Mala Mala which is adjacent to Kruger. The big advantage is that the land is privately owned so the rangers can take you off road which gives you a far better chance to see wildlife.

    My last safari was in Selous in Tanzania which was incredible. We hardly saw another person all day. Lovely photos !!

    1. The Mala Mala sounds great. WE want to explore so many more parks in AFrica. We went through the Selous on our train journey to Malawi, which was a pretty cool experience

  3. My walking safari in Botswana was really one of the high points of my life; I am anxious to see Kruger and the others as well. I love to read about a place before I go there, and this novel about South Africa has totally captured my imagination–which will have to hold me for awhile.

    1. Kruger is amazing. I would have loved to have spent time in Botswana. Walking safaris are the best! So exciting to be on the ground with the wild animals

  4. Thanks for this post- I’m heading to Kenya and Tanzania in a couple of months and this information is incredibly helpful. It also makes me uber anxious to get going! I have a feeling after this trip, I’ll be hooked on safaris.

    I was debating whether or not to get a zoom lens but now I think I’m going to have to just go for it.

    1. Awesome! You will have an amazing time. Definitely get that zoom lens, you will not regret it, especially when you see your animal shots

  5. I am in the process of selecting an African safari park destination(s) for a 2013 journey along with my family and a couple of other families as well. Our objective is to see the Big 5 and personally I want to use my camera. From your experience, can you help answer the following questions?

    1. Please list the top three (ranked) safari park destinations in Africa?
    2. What is the best way to see the parks? Independently or with a tour company? If the latter, how do you select the ideal / best tour company? Do you have any recommendations?
    3. The best time of the year to visit the parks, though the time that may best work for us given our schedule will be between May and August.

    Many thanks in advance!!

    1. Hi Aunupam,
      It is difficult to answer these questions but will do my best.

      1. It all depends on who is ranking them. Each park is noted for different things and as there are so many park destinations in Africa, you really need to narrow it down to a particular region or country. Some of the most well known ones, and for good reason are Serengetti, Masai Mara, Kruger National Park, Okavanga Delta, and ETosha. I would also say Addo is great for viewing elephants.

      2. It all depends on how much money and time you have. It’s great to have your own vehicle and camp within the parks. I prefer this way of doing it and then doing tours once inside the parks such as a guided night drive or walking safari. We took a tour in the Massai as it was more practical and would have worked out cheaper taking into consideration time and distance. It’s best to organize tours from the towns nearby to the parks. Do some research online before you go to get an idea of what tour companies are in the area.

      3. You will have to research this online. It all depends on what countries you are going to as they all have different best times. You want to go in the drier seasons as you will see more animals.

  6. Anupam Tantri

    Many thanks, Caz!! This is helpful and will allow me to start my research. There is valuable information elsewhere in your blog that I got a chance to check out that I will use. Thanks again!!

  7. You are very lucky. Do you discover this beautiful places. I have to visit, I love to explore new places. Africa travel plan within two years. I added the information you have given out my trip. Thank you.

  8. Thanks Caz, great reporting and photos. Seen S. Africa on my own. Planning for an African trip with a husband & 2 teen girls. Very independent adventure travelers and do not want to be in a too touristy place. We have 3 weeks, June/July 2014. Wildlife is priority and safety for my girls. Which country would you recommend? On my backpacking days I was keen on Namibia but never made it. We also scuba dive and would be great to do that. Thanks so much.

    1. I always think it is hard to beat South Africa. I loved Uganda, although you won’t get scuba diving there! NAmibia is a fantastic country. Etosha is one of Africa’s best parks, just be sure you are there during the dry season or it is difficult to see the animals. Also Kenya is great and should be safe enough. Although the driving there is a little crazier, but still Africa style

  9. Kwa Madwala Private Game Reserve (South Africa) is an amazing place to vacation and spend some quality time in the bush! Great people and activities as well. Close to Kruger, but not a touristy place.

  10. Great pictures! The Samburu in Kenya is one I have visited and an amazing place. It is very dry and desert-y looking. There was a lot of wildlife there we saw leapords, genet cats, white tailed mongoose, many lizards, and all the usual!

  11. This is the best blog I have come across. The best African Safari feature! As I prepare my trip next week to East Africa, I can’t wait! I came across a travel insurance company for East African safaris. They have very nice rates, they are called flying doctors society of Africa.

  12. A big dream for me have always been to visit the Blixen Camp in Kenya. Don´t know have many know about Karen Blixen, but I just fell in love with her stories about Africa.

  13. I’ve been to the Masai Mara in Kenya and the number of animals and birds is stupendous. We stayed at Saruni Mara and the views from the luxury safari lodge were amazing.

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