The best places for safari in Africa

Going on safari in Africa is a longtime dream of many people. When you start looking it is a little overwhelming at first, but the African safari is a once in a lifetime experience. There are a million options and most are extremely expensive. Unfortunately we’re not all blessed with a fat bank account. Don’t worry, I got your back! As a student I’ve been able to make it work, so you can too. I’ve listed the best places for a safari in Africa and the budget option if there is one.

lions Serengeti national park

Tanzania: Serengeti

This may just be the most well known safari destination in the world, so no surprise it is also one of the most expensive ones. That being said, it is truly one of the most impressive places you’ll ever see. Seeing the big migration is a once in a lifetime experience and no other safari can live up to that in my opinion.

Tanzania: Ngorongoro crater

Have you ever heard of Caldera? Ngorongoro is a caldera, which means it was once a volcano and when it exploded it collapsed inward. Now it is a huge crater filled with wildlife. It may be the best spot in Tanzania to see the big five, but it does get busy. As one of the prime wildlife viewing spots in the world it is also very pricy. You may still choose to go here, because of the extraordinary location, but for a more intimate safari experience you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Kenya: Masai Mara

Masai Mara is not as well known as the Serengeti, but it is actually the same reserve. The Serengeti continues across the border in Kenya and is then called Masai Mara. You can just as well see the big migration in Masai Mara. You have to get lucky though to be at the river at the right moment to see the crossing of the wildebeest. Many enthusiastic photographers will be waiting by the river for days. I would have waited by the river all day, but couldn’t quite convince my travel buddies this was a good idea. I can’t blame them, because if you don’t have a lot of time, you may want to spend your day a little differently. Once the big migration is happening you will be able to see thousands of wildebeest roaming around the reserve. Another aspect that makes this reserve worthwhile is landscape and crazy beautiful light! If you are looking for a budget safari, you’ll spend around $100 a day (accommodation, food, transport, entrance fee, guide). You’ll stay at basic camps and have a food buffet in the evening and lunch packets during the day. We had an amazing time doing it this way and everything was well taken care off. Our guide Richard was super knowledgable and I would recommend going with him.

Kenya Masai Mara

Kenya lion masai maragiraffe safari masai mara kenya

Kenya: Amboseli

If big elephant herds are your thing (How can it not be?!) this is the place for you! I wouldn’t pick this reserve if I could only do one safari, but I highly recommend adding it to your trip after visiting Masai Mara. Imagine waking up to a view of the Kilimanjaro and later in the day being surrounded by 40-100 elephants! We also did this park with our amazing guide Richard. He now has his own company and you can find him here.

elephants Amboseli national park

Cabin safari lodging

Kenya: Hell’s gate NP

I included this place not necessarily for the best wildlife viewing opportunities, but for the incredible experience. You can rent a mountainbike and cycle through the entire park! The landscape is spectacular and I’ve been told part of the lion king was based on this landscape. You can mountainbike your way to the gorge where you’ll be able to get a guide for a short hike. Cycling and Hiking through Hell’s Gate only cost us about $26 per person. So this is really an experience you can’t miss.

mountainbike hell's gate national park

Uganda or Rwanda: Mountain Gorilla Trek

This is a safari I haven’t actually done yet myself, but I reckon it should be on everyone’s list. I’ll just break the news to you now… there is no way of doing this on a budget. These Mountain gorillas can only be seen here in Africa as they can’t survive in the zoo. You can choose to the trek either in Uganda or Rwanda. You’ll have to get a permit first which you will have to get well in advance. Only 8 people per day are allowed to see the gorillas. It is safest to buy the permit through a safari company as you buy a permit to visit a certain gorilla family. You’ll want to have a family that is near your accommodation. The permit costs $600 in high season and $450 in low season. This is just the permit! If you’re going for a low budget 3 days gorilla trek tour you’ll spend around $1250 (incl. Gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport). If you want a little luxury get ready to sell your kidneys;)

mountain gorilla Uganda
Photo: Mark Jordahl

Zambia: South Luangwa

This reserve is your place for unequalled game viewing. People come here for spectacular walking safaris, one of the most special ways to experience the bush. The Luangwa river attracts large concentrations of wildlife and the river is said to have about 50 hippos per kilometer.

Namibia: Etosha NP

Namibia is a magical country that everyone should experience once in their life. Especially if you’re there in the dry season you’ll have prime wildlife spotting opportunities. I was there during the wet season and we did have a hard time spotting animals through all the vegetation. In the end it was still worth it, if only for the sighting of rhinos at the waterhole next to our campsite. As public transport is scarce in Namibia you’ll have to self drive or do an overland tour. I did this as part of an overland tour with Nomad South Africa.

Botswana: Okavango Delta

Botswana is home to the biggest inland Delta system in the world. I had a slightly scary experience on this safari as we got attacked by a hippo. This is not a common occurrence, but the risk of this happening is bigger in the wet season. Don’t let it scare you off though, because they do these safari’s daily and if it was a really big risk they wouldn’t offer them. This is a completely different kind of safari, because there is water all around you. Seeing elephants wading through the water may be among the things you’ll see. There are over 400 bird species, so it is also paradise for birders! Some people come here especially to see the pell’s fisher owl! Most of you won’t really care, but I know I’ll make some birders jealous by saying we saw the Pell’s fisher owl up close! If you want to do this on a budget you’ll have to self drive and book a camping spot as the resorts are extremely expensive. Another option is booking an overland tour that has a trip to the Okavango included.

mokoro Botswana Okavango delta

Okavango delta malachite kingfisher

South Africa: Kruger National Park

The most famous safari destination in South Africa! It is the largest game reserve in South Africa and it’s even bigger than the Serengeti. It’s a great place for your first safari. The only downside in my opinion is that it attracts a buttload of tourists.

South Africa: Hluhluwe/Imfolozi

This game reserve may not be as well known as Kruger National Park, but the sightings are just as impressive. It is the oldest game reserve in South Africa and you’ll be able to spot the Big five here too. I would probably choose to go here over Kruger so you have the sightings more to yourself. Hluhluwe is also known for it’s rhino protection program and a great place to go if seeing rhinos is high on your list. I once volunteered in this reserve with wildlife ACT and it was one of the most special wildlife experiences I’ve had.

South Africa safari Kruger

South Africa: Addo Elephant Park

It is possible to visit this park as a day-trip from Port Elizabeth. I booked this from my hostel and if you’re not staying inside the park it isn’t too expensive. Addo is South Africa’s third biggest reserve and as the name suggests, known for it’s elephant population. You can expect to pay $80 for a day trip from Port Elizabeth.

addo elephant park