Top 10 lesser known national
parks in Africa

Think of Africa’s national parks and your mind will likely picture great herds of wildebeest careering across the Serengeti’s dusty plains. But while the Serengeti, Masai Mara and Kruger are justifiably famous, our top 10 lesser known national parks in Africa offer up their own great wildlife spectacles, from mountain gorillas to flocks of flamingos. Grab your binoculars and strap on walking boots for adventures in some of Africa’s most awe-inspiring and dramatic landscapes.

1. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana

Botswana does big landscapes beautifully, and nowhere quite matches the otherworldly Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Once part of a huge African lake, this series of vast salt pans stretches to the horizon between ancient baobab trees and pockets of sandy desert. You’ll enjoy some of Africa’s most memorable sunsets here, and in the wet season, some of the continent’s biggest zebra herds.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Namibia and Botswana camping safari
See all our trips: Botswana holidays
Read more: Botswana travel guide

2. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar

Tsingy de Bemaraha’s bizarre rocky forests of limestone pinnacles are home to unique wildlife including lemurs, sifakas and fish eagles, some found nowhere else in Madagascar. Narrow ravines are linked by a series of ladders and two circular walks, the Petit and Grand Tsingy, offer you the choice of an easier or more challenging way to explore.

When to go: May to December
Our top trip: Small group holidays to Madagascar
See all our trips: Madagascar wildlife holidays
Read more: Madagascar travel guide

3. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

Chobe National Park may be top dog in Botswana for huge herds of elephants, but little sister Moremi, part of the Okavango Delta, offers some of Africa’s most spectacular wildlife experiences. Get your binoculars ready to spot scores of species – its network of wetlands and islands attract a huge diversity of animals. Moremi’s game reserve (rather than national park) designation has also ensured residents can remain on their ancestral lands.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Botswana Lodge Safari
See all our trips: Botswana safari holidays
Read more: Okavango Delta travel guide

4. Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

It may be one of Kenya’s smaller national parks but Lake Nakuru packs some big wildlife punches. Here you’ll have some of the best opportunities in Africa to spot white and black rhino, often seen during game drives across the savannah. It’s biggest draw, however, are the flocks of flamingos which descend, conditions permitting, on the shores of its eponymous alkaline lake to feed on algae.

When to go: June to February
Our top trip: Gorilla safari & the Masai Mara
See all our trips: Kenya holidays
Read more: Kenya travel guide

5. Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

A hiker’s heaven in the heart of Ethiopia, the dramatic basalt cliffs and plateaus of the Simien Mountains offer a breathtaking mixture of panoramic vistas, waterfalls and traditional mountain villages. Due to the altitude and terrain, treks here can be challenging but you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of this World Heritage Site’s unique wildlife, including Gelada monkeys, Ethiopian wolves and several species of ibex.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Ethiopia holidays, tailor made
See all our trips: Ethiopia holidays
Read more: Ethiopia travel guide

6. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Almost four times the size of the Serengeti and double the size of Kruger, Selous is vast, yet its remote location in Southern Tanzania keeps this wildlife haven off East Africa’s well-trodden safari routes. Other tourists are one thing you won’t spot in this park, but keep your binoculars at the ready – Selous is home to one of Tanzania’s largest populations of endangered African wild dogs.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Tanzania Selous safari holiday and Zanzibar
See all our trips: Selous Game Reserve holidays
Read more: Selous travel guide and Tanzania travel guide

7. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Its name alone invokes a sense of adventure. Bwindi’s volcanic mountains draped in dense rainforest hide half of the remaining population of one of the world’s most critically endangered animals, the mountain gorilla. Access here is strictly controlled – you’ll need a costly permit to trek to see them – but seeing these great apes in their natural habitat is a spellbinding privilege.

When to go: November to June
Our top trip: Gorilla and game safari in Uganda
See all our trips: Gorilla safari holidays
Read more: Gorilla safaris travel guide and Uganda travel guide

8. iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Incorporating a number of reserves and national parks, this varied and vast tract of protected wild KwaZulu Natal coastline is home to white Indian Ocean beaches, open savannah, forests and mangroves. Here you can dive among some of the most diverse coral reefs in the world, cruise on the St Lucia estuary to spot hippo and crocodiles or watch whales breaching offshore. Visits to traditional Zulu villages add a fascinating cultural element.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: KwaZulu Natal tailor made tour, South Africa
See all our trips: KwaZulu Natal holidays
Read more: KwaZulu Natal travel guide and South Africa travel guide

9. Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Safaris in the Lower Zambezi are chock-full of hippos, elephants and buffalo. The difference? You can watch these African giants from your canoe as you paddle quietly past. With nights spent wild camping on river islands, and walking safaris with expert local rangers, the Lower Zambezi offers you a uniquely intimate way to experience some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife.

When to go: June to November
Our top trip: Small group safaris to Zambia
See all our trips: Zambia safari holidays
Read more: Zambia travel guide

10. Matabo National Park, Zimbabwe

Peculiar sandstone rock formations, sunset views from granite escarpments and ancient rock paintings form the backdrop to wildlife safaris in this ethereal, off-the-beaten track national park just 35km south of Bulawayo. Alongside game drives, there are also guided hikes and horse riding available here. If you’re lucky you may even come across some of Zimbabwe’s critically endangered black rhinos.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Zimbabwe and Botswana game tracker accommodated safari
See all our trips: Zimbabwe safari holidays
Read more: Zimbabwe travel guide
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Dave3006] [1. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana: Michael Jansen] [4. Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya: Paul Mannix] [7. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda: Martijn.Munneke] [10. Matabos National Park, Zimbabwe: Susan Adams]