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.

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