There’s no question about it; Africa has some of the most beautiful sights in the world and visiting as many of them as you can during your lifetime should be one of your top priorities. However, there are so many national parks to choose from that it can be difficult to know where to start, which is why we recommend taking a look at this list of the 5 African National Parks You Have to Visit in Your Lifetime. It takes you through each park and describes the sights to see along with how best to experience them.
1) Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park needs no introduction unless you’ve been under a rock for several decades, in which case I’m writing this to give you an introduction to this renowned park. Recognized as South Africa’s first National Park, it became a world heritage site in 1926. There’s often a lot of debate about the park’s infrastructure, and for good reason: not only is it able to accommodate lots of visitors thanks to the rest camps, tarred roads, shops… yes, I’ll agree with you. But in all fairness, this area gives many people the chance to see it without breaking the bank, which is more difficult to come by when it comes to game reserves and safaris. Plus, I firmly believe that we need to share this amazing place with as many people as possible in order to raise awareness about its natural beauty and its delicate ecosystem.
In addition to Kruger National Park, there is an area known as Greater Kruger National Park, which has all the privately owned game reserves that border the park to its west, where animals roam freely from one part to the other. For those who are keen on safaris and wildlife, these game reserves like Sabi Sands, Thornybush and Timbavati are a must-see. The roads on these privately owned reserves are dirt rather than tar, and luxury lodges are instead of tar-coated.
2) Virunga National Park, Congo
Located in Africa and established in 1925, it is the oldest national park in the entire continent, and to this day is still one of the most diverse and mind-blowing destinations to visit on earth. Nevertheless, the park has faced its fair share of trouble in recent times; with its decline in visitor numbers, more fragile infrastructure, and its penchant for staying out of the spotlight. Back in 2010 the African Conservation Fund took over management of the park. This created an impetus to make the park more accessible to visitors, while also boosting international attention to it with the documentary Virunga. Well-known celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio also helped raise awareness and provide much-needed funds to maintain conservation efforts.
One of the three places on earth where mountain gorillas can be seen in their natural habitat is Virunga, the other two being Uganda and Rwanda just across the border. Aside from elephants, lions, hippos, there is a treasure trove of other animals roaming free in the park. However, due to ongoing security issues and inadequate infrastructure, getting a chance to see any of them is hard. It’s worth the visit for the gorillas, but you’ll also get the chance to climb the Nyiragongo volcano which holds the largest active volcano lake. In addition to that, you will be sleeping on the edge of the crater while listening to mother earth’s belly rumble. This is an experience like no other.
3) Okavango Delta, Botswana
There is nothing quite like the unique and lush environment found in northern Botswana, which is also known as the “Jewel of the Kalahari.” The largest inland delta in the world provides much needed water in an area that is otherwise extremely dry, making it an oasis for wildlife. Since there are massive amounts of water flowing into it, getting to your lodge will be done by helicopter or small plane. You’ll even be able to see wildlife from the air.
During winter, the largest amount of water reaches the delta and it floods the plain. This creates a maze of small channels, through which you can navigate a boat called a mokoro. What surprised me the most about visiting the Okavango Delta was that we encountered many different types of animals. A variety of animals from elephants and giraffe to lions, leopards and wild dogs inhabit the parks in Africa. Without a doubt, one of the national parks in Africa where wildlife is the most abundant. Another cool activity is heli-safari where you can discover a lot of animals.
4) Namib Naukluft, Namibia
Anyone who has seen the photos of Sossusvlei will recognize these old trees in the middle of a dried-up basin with towering red sand dunes around it. And yes, this is only one part of a much larger desert – Namib – which is equally the oldest desert in the world. To protect this area, Namibia chose to create the Namib Naukluft National Park in 1979. Located in the southwest part of the country, it’s easy to feel as if one has stepped into an entire new world where humankind has left the scene and left nature free to live its own life.
The area is massive so make sure you spend time really seeing it. One of my favorite things to do (apart from going to see Sossusvlei) is to climb on some of the big sand dunes. Visit here to see some of the tallest dunes in the world, some as tall as 300 meters. You can climb many of them, for example Big Daddy and Dune 45. Keep in mind that even weeks later you’ll still find these gorgeous red sand grains all over your apartment, which will constantly remind you of this fantastic experience. While it’s one of most dry places on this earth, you will still be surprised by the amount of wildlife that lives in this part of Namibia. Oryx, zebra and even leopards are just a few of the animals you might spot during your visit.
5) Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
The Maasai Mara National Reserve, although not a national park, is among the most well-known destinations on the continent and very similar to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. In terms of animal and human interaction, there is no clear distinction between one side of the border and the other. The culmination of it all happens during the great migration when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross the Grumeti and Mara River in order to reach new grassland. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is one of the seven natural wonders of Africa and equally one of the ten wonders of the world.
Unlike many of the safaris you’ll experience in South Africa, Zimbabwe and so on the Maasai Mara mostly consists of large plains where the animals are roaming around, often just grazing the hours away. Of course, predators are always on the lookout and this allows for some spectacular sightings. Large herds of wildebeest, gazelles, zebra and so on are the perfect food source for lions, cheetah and leopards, and as a result there’s a big chance of spotting some of the elusive big cats.