Top 10 African safaris

Kruger, Kalahari, Serengeti… Africa is home to some of the most famous names on the national park circuit. As well as rolling out a huge variety of landscapes – windswept coastline, mountainous sand dunes, swaying savannahs – Africa offers a choice of specialised safaris.

Would you rather track leopards with Kenyan conservationists or trail giraffes across South Africa? See as many of the Big Five as possible or learn how the Maasai live alongside lions? The accommodation changes with every trip, too, so you could end up staying anywhere from family-friendly hotels in Botswana to camping in Namibia. With such a big choice of holidays, it can be hard to know where to begin – so we’ve picked out our top 10 African safaris.

1. Tanzania safari & Zanzibar beach

The Big Five don’t keep a 9 to 5, so neither do safari holidays. It’s really a case of you snooze, you lose – which makes rounding a safari off with a spell at the beach pretty appealing. Pairing Tanzania and Zanzibar means you can start with a five-day circuit of Lake Manyara for tree-scaling lions, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. After your fill of storybook sightings, zip off to fine-sand beaches and coral seascapes of Zanzibar.

2. Camping in Botswana & Namibia

For a real adventure, consider a camping safari. You could wind up pitching your tent within hearing distance of Victoria Falls, in full view of riverside sunsets at Rundu, or in the midst of the Kalahari. Lions and antelopes drink at the campside watering holes of Etosha National Park, and the pitches near the Ugab River follow a path favoured by desert elephants. These are often hands-on holidays, so get stuck into washing up and packing up the trucks.

Our top trip: Namibia and Botswana camping safari
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3. The best of Kenya

Learn about conservation efforts spearheaded by Kenya’s Maasai communities and watch giants like black rhinos, lions and cheetahs from afar. Time your trip between July and October, and you could catch the Great Migration of almost two million wildebeest. Samburu National Reserve introduces you to the lesser-trodden trails of central Kenya, where a Samburu guide can take you to spot giraffes, zebras and elephants on foot.

Our top trip: Complete Kenya safari
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4. Uganda gorilla and river trek

When a country has a forest called ‘Impenetrable’, you know you’re in for an adventure. Uganda safaris are just that. Activities range from rafting on the Nile to seeking out lions, leopards and Cape buffalo against a backdrop of the towering Rwenzori Mountains. Gorillas are the real stars of the show, though. Climb up into the Kigezi highlands and Bwindi Forest for a chance to trek into the territory of these shy giants.

5. South Africa with conservationists

Kruger is one of Africa’s most popular national parks – so it’s a magnet for visitors. But how about a holiday that looks beyond the Big Five and gives you a glimpse into varied and complex conservation projects? For that, you’ll need to travel with conservationists. See how rangers track leopards in Wild Rivers Nature Reserve and go for a bushwalk in Thornybush Game Reserve. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse endangered wild dogs and rare white lions.

Our top trip: South Africa safari holiday
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6. Namibia road trip

If you fancy taking your time meandering between parks, consider a self drive safari. Namibia is a solid choice, thanks to its empty tarmac roads and range of landscapes and accommodation. You could loop south, where giraffes and leopards traverse the sprawling Kalahari Desert. Then head north, where the Okavango River feeds the forests and massive salt pans of Etosha National Park – as well as thirsty herds of elephants, oryx and zebras.

Our top trip: Namibia self-drive safari
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Read more: Self driving in Namibia travel guide

7. Tanzania with the family

Who said adults should have all the fun? In Tanzania, child-friendly accommodation (think rooms kitted out with child cots, panoramic communal areas and extra secure perimeters) is combined with easy game drives with guides who encourage all those whats, wheres and whys. The memories are invaluable, too – you’ll be talking about spotting that baby elephant or that lion stalking its prey for years to come.

8. Botswana luxury lodgings

Treat yourself to a luxury safari that gets you travelling the African bush in style. Botswana is particularly well stocked with five-star lodges and private reserves with restricted visitor numbers. Head for the watering holes and rivers of the northerly Okavango Delta and Kwando Concession, where you can go on night drives and canoe trips. Finish off with a cruise along the border-hugging (and croc-friendly) Chobe River.

Our top trip: Botswana safari and Chobe River cruise
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9. Exploring the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara hugs the border of Kenya and Tanzania, nudging alongside the vast Serengeti plains to the west and Rift Valley to east. Walk in the footsteps of the Maasai by staying overnight at a remote village in the Loita Hills. Setting up camp in the community gives you the chance to chat with village elders and learn about community conservation efforts. Lake Naivasha is also a highlight, thanks to the grumpy population of hippos.

Our top trip: The Masai heartlands safari
See all our trips: Safari holidays in Kenya and Tanzania
Read more: Kenya and Tanzania travel guide

10. Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park in South Africa is a 120,000km² public reserve that shelters hundreds of animal species in the rippling grasslands and woodlands. The Big Five haunt Klaserie and Balule reserves, so big game drives tend to focus there. Plus, a leopard research team bases itself at Wild Rivers Reserve, where the Blyde River crawls through the trees that hide these elusive animals.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Wild Frog Photography] [Tanzania safari & Zanzibar beach: Revaz Ardesher] [Uganda gorilla and river trek: Francesco Ungaro] [Tanzania with the family: Majkl Velner] [Kruger National Park: Chris Eason]
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