Africa is home to a plethora of national parks and wildlife reserves, world renowned for exceptional landscape and intimate game viewing, unparalleled anywhere in the world. The only place to see the ‘Big Five’ – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo – live and thrive in the wild is in one of the national parks in Africa.

The second largest continent on Earth, Africa is vast and wild and competition is rife when it comes to shortlisting the best national parks in Africa. Each has a unique offering, both from a wildlife and historical point of view.

 

 

Here are Africa’s 14 premier national parks:

1. KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA

Established in 1898, the Kruger National Park is one of the most famous of all the national parks in Africa. Covering two million hectares in South Africa’s north-eastern region, the Kruger offers exceptional game viewing and safari offerings that range from higher-end luxury experiences to more budget conscious options.

Kruger boasts hundreds of different routes to travel in search of the iconic ‘Big Five’, and often produces some of the most spectacular wildlife sightings of all the national parks in Africa. Day visitors are welcome every day during the park’s seasonal gate times and with a variety of picnic spots and rest camps, self-drive safaris are extremely popular. Private lodges offer guided game drives and walks – even under the cover of darkness – when the park is not accessible to the outside public.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Giraffe on a sand road – Kruger National Park

South Africa is one of the most developed countries in Africa and therefore Kruger is one of the most easily accessible. Various parts of Kruger are malaria-free, however it is always safer to contact the lodge or a park official in the area you’re visiting to find out the current status.

Other than viewing wildlife, visitors can also explore the unique historical and archaeological remains located within the reserve’s boundaries and witness things like ancient Bushman rock paintings.

If you aren’t able to make it to the park, you can also keep track of what’s going on through the park’s live webcams.

 

 

2. MASAI MARA NATIONAL PARK, KENYA

Kenya’s Masai Mara is widely rated as the greatest of all national parks in Africa. It is the site of the most incredible wildlife spectacle on earth – The Great Migration. Herds of millions of wildebeest and zebra cross over from the Serengeti into the fertile breeding grounds of the Masai Mara – providing epic and gut-wrenching scenes of giant nile crocodiles preying on the herds as they cross the Mara river.

The great migration in motion | Pixabay

The Masai Mara is one of the most wildlife rich national parks in Africa and boasts exceptional year-round game viewing. The Mara is  photographer’s paradise with an abundance of elephant, buffalo, giraffe and of course the iconic big cats. Not to mention the more than 450 bird species!

This portion of East Africa is also home to the Maasai tribes, an ancient culture famous for their fierce warriors, once expected to hunt and kill lions in order to prove their strength and manhood. Easily recognisable for their iconic red robes and beads, these tribes follow their cattle herds, moving their settlements in search of water and fertile pasturelands.

 

 

3. AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK, KENYA

If elephants are what you’re after then Amboseli National Park is the place for you!

Another East African marvel, Amboseli is home to the largest remaining bull elephants in Africa. Known as ‘tuskers’ these colossal pachyderms are world famous for their age and for the shear size of their tusks. Large breeding herds of elephants and giraffe can readily be seen grazing against the backdrop Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Elephant family herd grazing the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro | Pixabay

As if the elephants weren’t enough, Amboseli is one of the best places in the world for bird watching with more than 400 species of birds and 47 species of raptors. The abundant birdlife is thanks to the presence of large swamps ecosystems fed by an endless underground water supply which filters through expanses of volcanic rock from Kilimanjaro’s ice cap, and funnels into two clear water springs in the heart of the park.

 

 

4. SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA

‘Serengeti’ comes from the Masai word ‘siringet’, which means ‘a place where the land goes on forever’.

The Serengeti National Park is one of the oldest and potentially the most famous national park in Africa, thanks to the role it plays in the Great Migration and the various wildlife films and documentaries that have been produced on the reserve.

Cheetah using a termite mound as a vantage point while scanning the Serengeti Plains | Pixabay

The UNESCO world heritage site supports the largest concentration of predators in Africa and sightings of lion, hyena and cheetah are common. Thanks to the vast, open topography and the presence of expansive grasslands and plains, the Serengeti is one of the best places to observe Cheetahs hunting in the wild. The park is also home to over 500 bird species including Ostrich.

The best time to visit the Serengeti is between June and July as this is when the migration begins to move north and the chances of witnessing this gruesome yet spectacular fight for survival are the highest.

 

 

5. ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK, NAMIBIA

Etosha National Park is Namibia’s premier wildlife viewing destination. The reserve encapsulates a vast salt pan, which forms almost a quarter of the park’s land and is surrounded by vast savannah plains and acacia woodland. The area that surrounds the Etosha pan is nicknamed the “Place of Mirages”, due to the horizon-less blur that outlines the pan.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
The ‘great whites’ of Etosha National Park | Pixabay

Etosha was founded in 1907 in order to repopulate the region with wildlife after big game species like lion and elephant were hunted to the brink of extinction. The park is now home to a wide variety of species including a healthy population of endangered black rhino. Etosha’s most famous residents are its ‘Great Whites’, elephants often seen covered in a thin layer of white clay which protects their skin from the intense Namibian sun.

The area features a wide network of watering holes, that attract wildlife in mass as water is not easy to come by in mostly dry and arid park. Wildlife sightings are therefore quite easy to come by in Etosha, but water holes tend to get quite crowded with self-drivers and day visitors.

 

 

6. HWANGE NATIONAL PARK, ZIMBABWE

Founded in 1928, Hwange National Park is the oldest wildlife park in Zimbabwe, and is home to the greatest elephant population of any national park in Africa, along with over 100 mammals and 400 bird species.

Hwange was named after a respected leader of the local Nhanzwa tribe, and gives life to a plethora of wild animals who thrive in the unique ecosystem of forests at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Aside from the elephants – great herds of buffalo, eland, sable, roan and zebra all the thrive in the national park and so do the predators who prey on them. Lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dogs can readily be seen in the park.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Powerful male lion patrolling in Hwange National Park | Pixabay

Unfortunately, Hwange has suffered severe poaching in recent times, including the tragic death of Cecil the lion – a story that took the world by storm and shone a spotlight on the world of trophy hunting.

The primary attraction is safari and eco-tourism, which can be enjoyed either in a classic safari vehicle or by walking with what are possibly the finest guides on the continent.

 

 

7. VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Virunga National Park, located in the eastern DRC is the most biologically diverse part of the African continent. Here you’ll find rainforests, volcanoes, mountains with glacial peeks, savannahs, swamplands and more. As well as more mammal, bird and reptile species than any other protected area on earth – including the Great Apes.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Young gorilla emerging from the forest in Virunga National Park | Pixabay

Nyiragongo Volcano provides a view of the largest volcanic lake in the world and ‘gorilla treks’ allow you initmate face to face contact with mountain gorillas, western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. These treks are led by a dedicated group of forest rangers who also work to protect the apes from poachers. Finding the gorillas is no easy feat and these treks usually require 1-5 hours of hiking each way depending on the location of the gorilla families.

Featured in the 2014 documentary, Virunga, the park carries out groundbreaking conservation work in order to protect the mountain gorillas who are facing threats of extinction. Around one third of the worlds mountain gorilla population live in Virunga National Park.

 

 

8. NGORONGORO NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA

Tanzania’s Ngorongoro National Park is made up of expansive plains, savannah grasslands and savannah woodlands. Established in 1959, the area is home to the worlds largest caldera – the Ngorongo Crater – which came into being after a historic volcanic explosion.

Ngorongoro national park offers epic photographic opportunities, with large herds gathering in their thousands and the predators who follow them, frequenting the lands and showing off against the dramatic backdrops of the volcanic craters.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Giant ‘tusker’ elephant in the Ngorongoro Crater | Pixabay

The property, which forms part of the Serengeti, has immense global importance for biodiversity conservation thanks to the presence of a vast number of threatened species, the density of wildlife in the area, and the role it plays in the annual great migration into the northern plains. Archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.

The park is a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with tribes of Maasai people who practice subsistence farming and livestock grazing within the crater. Recently questions have been raised about the ethical side of the park’s management which is said to be trying to eradicate the native Maasai people with the aim of building luxury hotels and resorts.

 

 

9. BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST, UGANDA

Home to nearly half of the world’s mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is, for many,  the main reason to visit Uganda. Tracking these extraordinary great apes and spending time with them in their natural environment is without doubt one of the most memorable wildlife experiences anyone can have.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Thoughtful gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park | Pixabay

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda, on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its iconic mist-covered hillsides are encompassed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most diverse rainforests, dating back 25,000 years with almost 400 plant species. The region is also home to a further 120 species of mammal, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as forest elephants and antelope.

Expert guides lead treks to find the gorilla family groups and lucky visitors might even see forest elephants or the rare giant hog along the way.

 

 

10. LAKE NAKURU NATIONAL PARK, KENYA

Famous for its flocks of bright pink flamingos, Lake Nakuru is a bird watchers paradise. The lake is filled with a species of algae that attracts flamingos on mass, sometimes their numbers even reach into the millions. Other bird species on show include the pied kingfisher, African fish eagle, and the Goliath Heron.

Flamingos feeding in Lake Nakuru | Pixabay

Aside from the bird life, Lake Nakuru also hosts a broad spectrum of animal species including white rhino, baboons, warthogs, cheetahs, giraffes, and many more. A relatively new addition to the list of national parks in Africa, the reserve recently expanded its borders to aid conservation efforts of the endangered black rhino.

Only a couple of hours from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, makes it a perfect destination for a day visit. The Rift Valley escarpment, the expansive lake and the surrounding patchy grassland make up the landscape. The river around the lake, hosts hippos, waterbucks, both black and white rhino, elands, impalas and plenty of birds, and seasonal waterfalls can be seen as well. The forested area, near the designated camp site, is where to find lions – up in the trees.

 

 

11. MANA POOLS NATIONAL PARK, ZIMBABWE

On the banks of the might Zambezi River, Mana Pools National Park, is considered among experts to be one of the very best in Africa. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a particular favourite for keen photographers in search of iconic wildlife. Large herds of impala, eland, elephant, zebra, buffalo, waterbuck and kudu can be found in Mana Pools and of course these attract predators like lion, leopard, wild dog and hyena to name a few.

The name ‘Mana Pools’ comes from the pools that lie in the abandoned river channels running through the terraces. During the dry season, wildlife gathers around the few inland pools in search of water, providing incredible sightings as cunning predators lie in wait. Another unique drawcard to Mana Pools are their population of elephants who readily stand up on their hind legs, reaching for fruit high up in the forest canopy.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Elephant reaching for fruit high in a tree, Mana Pools National Park | Pixabay

For keen bird watchers, Mana Pools is a must-visit national park. Fish eagles, heron, scarlet carmine bee-eaters, Pels Fishing Owl and the African Skimmer are all known to frequent the water ways.

All accommodation is unfenced, and bush walks are an experience like none other.

 

 

12. SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK, ZAMBIA

Experts have christened South Luangwa as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and for good reason. The wildlife density around the Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Hippos playing in the Luangwa River | Pixabay

The Luangwa is the most complete major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of the almost 1 million hectare national park. The reserve boasts a wide variety of fauna and flora. South Luangwa is where the now famous walking safari originated and still offers one of the finest walking experiences in Africa. The changing seasons add to the park’s richness and diversity, ranging from; dry, bare bushveld in the winter months, to a lush, green eden in the summer. In South Luangwa you can find over 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species, with the only notable exception being the rhino, sadly poached to extinction within the parks borders.

 

 

13. CHOBE NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA

One of Africa’s most vibrant and beautiful rivers, the Chobe supports a host of diversity and a concentration of wildlife unparalled anywhere else in Botswana. Established in 1968,  Chobe national park is one of the younger national parks in Africa, but is certainly no slouch, covering approximately 1.2 million hectares and encompassing vast floodplains, swamps and woodland.

There are four distinct geographical areas in the park: the Chobe Riverfront, the Ngwezumba pans, Savuti and Linyanti. The Chobe River forms the park’s northern boundary.

14 Spectacular National Parks In Africa
Tourists watch as elephants cross the Chobe River

The most accessible and frequently visited of Botswana’s ‘big game country’ is the Chobe Riverfront, which is famous for its large herds of elephants and buffalo that converge on the river to drink during the winter months. During a dry winter afternoon, you could see hundreds of elephants at one time and may even have your vehicle surrounded, as the main Serondella road becomes impassable and swarms of family herds cross the main road to make their way to the river to drink and play.

 

 

14. GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, MOZAMBIQUE

Once dubbed the Eden of Africa, and considered among the best national parks in Africa, the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is steadily returning to its former glory after years of civil war and poaching.

Originally established in 1920 as a 100,000 hectare hunting reserve for Portuguese authorities, the park was proclaimed a National Park in 1960 and hunting was banned. Gorongosa National Park quickly became one of the most sought after eco tourism locations in Africa.

A leopard in Gorongoas National Park | Pixabay

In its prime, Gorongosa was one of the most diverse national parks in Africa, with wide variety of endemic species. However the park was brought to its knees and reduced to little more than a wasteland in the 1980’s when rebel armies competed for bush meat and ivory during the years of civil war.

Located in Central Mozambique at the southern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, boasts a collection of varied ecosystems from grassland and savannah to arid forests and seasonal pans leading up to the plateau of woodlands.