The Big 5 Game Parks of Africa

13 May 2016

The Big 5 Game Parks of Africa

Deciding that you want to do an African safari is just step one. Once you've made that choice, the next question is – where? Africa is literally covered with wildlife reserves and national parks and choosing where to go can be a little daunting.

First up, consider what else you might combine with your safari – perhaps you want to explore more than one game park, visit massive Victoria Falls, or put your feet up on a beach jaunt on beautiful Zanzibar.

You should also consider the animals you want to see. Think beyond the 'Big 5' – they were the five animals that were considered hardest to hunt, back in the days of game hunting. The Big 5 are elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard – but in terms of wildlife thrills, maybe a baby giraffe, herds of wildebeest or rare wild dogs might provide more excitement.

To help you choose your wildlife adventure, here's our guide to Africa's five best game parks – the 'Big 5' of safaris.

  1. Serengeti National Park

Where:  Northern Tanzania, near the border with Kenya.

Why choose this park:  When you picture an African game park in your mind, you're probably picturing the Serengeti. It's quintessential Africa, with golden grassy plains, acacia trees and lions lazing in the sun.  The central location makes it easy to combine the Serengeti with Tanzania's abundance of highlights – and just about any other African destination.

Wildlife highlights:  The Serengeti is one of the best places to see lions. You'll probably see plenty of grazing zebra, eland, impala and gazelle, lots of wildebeest and herds of buffalo. There's also cheetah, leopard, elephant, giraffe, hippo, and hyena. (Big 5? Yes, they are all here.)

Combine it with:  Ngorongoro Crater, Mt Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Kenya's Masai Mara, Selous National  Park.

  1. Kruger National Park

Where: North-eastern South Africa.

Why choose this park:  Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and one of the largest national parks in the world. As well as having a massive abundance of wildlife, Kruger is one of the most accessible game parks in Africa. It's only four hours from the international airport of Johannesburg, and the roads to the park are paved, making for a comfortable journey.

Wildlife highlights:   Kruger has more species of mammal than any other game park. Elephant, buffalo, zebra, white rhino, impala and wildebeest are all pretty common. Plus it has incredible bird life – including massive vultures, eagles, storks and buzzards. (Big 5? Yes, they are all at Kruger.)

Combine it with: Due to its access to Johannesburg, this is the perfect park for a quick in-out safari experience – but if you have more time on your hands, combine it with South Africa's Garden Route, the beautiful South African coast and winelands, Mozambique or Victoria Falls.

  1. Chobe National Park

Where: Northern Botswana, on the border of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.

Why choose this park: Chobe has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa. The landscape changes from beautiful lush woodlands to dry flats to riverside grasslands – all of which are simply  teeming with wildlife.

Wildlife highlights:  Chobe is known for its massive elephant population. It's estimated that over 50,000 of them live in the reserve – they are a pleasure to watch as they jostle on the banks of Chobe River. There's packs of lion, cheetah, leopard, grazing zebra, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, warthogs, wildebeest, impala and abundant birdlife. (Big 5? You probably wont see rhino, so 4 out of 5.)

Combine it with: Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta, Namibia's highlights, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Great Zimbabwe Ruins.

  1. Masai Mara National Reserve

Where: Southern Kenya, near the border with Tanzania.

Why choose this park: Loads of wildlife, beautiful landscapes, access to the international airport at Nairobi and proximity to other east African highlights make the spectacular Masai Mara one of the most visited game parks in Africa.

Wildlife highlights: The Masai Mara and the Serengeti are home to one of the world's most incredible wildlife spectacles – the annual migration of wildebeest, along with zebra, gazelle and impala. One and a half million animals arrive in the Masai in July and depart in November, heading south into the Serengeti. The reserve is also well known for its high number of predators such as lion and cheetah. (Big 5? Yes, all 5.)

Combine it with:  The Rift Valley lakes, a cultural visit with the Maasai people, Mt Kenya, Tanzania's highlights, the mountain gorillas of Rwanda or Uganda.

  1. Etosha National Park

Where: Northern Namibia.

Why choose this park: A massive salt pan doesn't sound like a great reason to visit somewhere – but it's the waterholes around the Etosha pan that draw wildlife in from the surrounding desert environment. You are pretty much guaranteed to see a variety of wildlife gathered near the waterholes each day. With the shimmering salt pan, open grasslands, desert and thorn trees, this park is stark, beautiful and wildlife rich.

Wildlife highlights:  Endangered black rhino are a highlight here, if you are lucky enough to see one. There are lots of elephants – and giraffe, lion, cheetah, zebra and springbok are all very common sightings. Hundreds of bird species, like flamingo, pelican and crane, are attracted to the salt pan as it fills with water after the rains. (Big 5? Just 4 – no buffalo.)

Combine it with: The Namib Desert and Sossusvlei red dunes, fascinating Swakopmund, Fish River Canyon, Botswana's Chobe and Okavango.