If you’re a first-timer to safaris, then be prepared to have an unforgettable experience when you visit Africa. From exciting wildlife sightings to breathtaking scenery, you’ll get to witness nature in her full, unbridled glory. Africa has so many beautiful parks that it’s hard to select only a few, but here are the best ones for first-timers (and even seasoned safari goers should make sure they’ve gone to these!
Maasai Mara, Kenya
Acclaimed by the World Travel Awards, the Maasai Mara is widely said to be the best game park on Earth, making it an essential destination for both beginners and seasoned travellers alike. It’s located in Kenya—Africa’s #1 safari destination—and the landscape consists of open grasslands occasionally dotted with acacia trees.
The Maasai Mara is the home of countless wild animals, including lion, cheetahs, and elephants. An amazing natural phenomenon is a Wild Migration, where more than 1 million wildebeests and other animals cross the Mara river in July and August. To maximize your experience, an overnight stay at the Angama Mara, where each tented suite has a 180-degree view of the Maasai Mara right below is recommended by Forbes.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The word “Serengeti” poetically means “the place where the land runs on forever.” This is appropriate, given that the Serengeti National Park encompasses a whopping 5,700 square miles worth of forests, woodlands, and savannahs. Aside from being the oldest national park in Tanzania, it’s also a UNESCO Heritage Site and has been described by many as the seventh wonder of the world.
It’s absolutely teeming with wildlife, containing one of the largest populations of lions in Africa along with aardwolves, hippos, birds, and many more. Similar to the Maasai Mara, which it’s next to, the wildebeest migration also takes place here, with countless wildebeests cross more than 40 km between Maasai Mara and Serengeti.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Built in 1898, Kruger National Park is South Africa’s oldest and largest National Park. Its size is comparable to that of a small country, covering around 7,500 square miles. Given that, it manages to be very tourist-friendly and easy to explore. Travellers can take a walk, indulge in a sweeping panorama of the area with a hot-air balloon, or go the traditional safari way of taking a 4×4. For accommodations, the Kruger Sunset Lodge is a popular choice.
Whatever you choose, you’re in for a treat, as you’ll find plenty of Africa’s “Big Five” here as well as birds, reptiles, and different trees and flowers. There are also more than 250 archaeological sites inside, including ancient rock paintings.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Among the largest national parks in the world, Etosha stands out because of a huge salt pan covering nearly ¼ of its area. This used to be an inland sea in ancient times before draining into a dry lakebed two million years ago.
While the setting is mostly barren and arid, with some savannahs and hills thrown in, what this park excels at is wildlife viewing. Compared to other parks where you normally have to search for animals yourselves, you can park near a waterhole in Etosha and then wait for the animals to arrive on their own. You’ll find a rich diversity of animals here, even endangered ones like the black rhino, but the highlight would be their elephants, which are the tallest in all of Africa.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Hwange is also the largest and oldest park in Zimbabwe, right at its border with Botswana. Encompassing more than 5,000 square miles, it features plenty of bushland and large populations of animals, including the Big Five and all of the endangered species noted in Zimbabwe. You’ll inevitably get a nice sighting of elephants, as this park has the world’s largest population at around 40,000 in number.
Water plays an important here as all of the animals are dependent on water holes and pans. It’s also the location of Victoria Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall. Thankfully, accommodations are plenty and uncrowded, and the Hwange Safari Lodge is a traveller favourite.
All in all, Africa’s parks can trigger a sense of awe because of their timelessness and the raw glimpse that they allow into nature. Whichever of these national parks you decide to visit, prepare yourself for a grand, one-of-a-kind adventure.