With the world rebounding from two years of house arrest and with unused vacation money to spend, Africa is booming for international travellers.

For the uninitiated "safari" might mean viewing big land mammals from a 4x4, and while the Big Five game drives remain a cornerstone of the experience, these days there's so much more on offer; from walking safaris accompanied by bushmen, to hot air balloon rides over vast inland deltas, to getting up close and personal with our closest great ape cousins. The biggest problem is knowing where to start!

So we organised the top insights from our team of expert Africa travel writers to curate the following list of Africa's very best safari experiences and locations. Dig in!

Kenya wildebeest crossing

The wildebeest migration in Tanzania, the most iconic of Africa's safari sights

Africa's best safaris

Where to go, what to see

Africa's best all-round safaris

See the wildebeest migration in Tanzania & Kenya

Sometimes called ‘the greatest show on earth’, the wildebeest migration sees mega herds of almost two million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles continuously travel thousands of kilometres in a broadly clockwise direction from the southern Serengeti, north into Kenya’s Maasai Mara, and back again.

The migration is one of Africa's classic safari experiences, drawing visitors year round to witness this magnificent spectacle.

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Up close and personal with gorillas in Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Today the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda are both countries' biggest draw for international visitors. Perhaps there's something about these creatures' gentle vulnerability despite their colossal size that triggers a sense of empathy for our distant cousins. Do we see something in them that we wish we saw in ourselves? Whatever the appeal, visitors who come to spend a magical moment with the gorillas describe a life-changing experience.

Hot air balloon over Kafue National Park

For a different safari experience, head to the Busanga Plains in the North West corner of Kafue National Park, which is the only place in Zambia where you can take a hot air balloon safari. The season runs from August till the end of October. From the hot air balloon, guests can see the red lechwe (a medium-sized type of antelope), wildebeest, lion, zebra and hippo.

Chimpanzee Gombe Stream National Park Tanzania

Tracking chimpanzees in Gombe National Park

Chimp tracking in Gombe & Mahale Mountains National Park

In Tanzania’s far west, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park and Gombe National Park are widely considered to be some of the best places to see chimpanzees in Africa. It is in Gombe that legendary conservationist Jane Goodall has conducted one of the longest-running wildlife research projects on earth, and the habituated chimps here and in nearby Mahale Mountains National Park can be tracked through the forest, one of the continent's great nature experiences.

Herd at water hole South Africa Kruger national park

Elephants in South Africa's Kruger National Park

See the Big Five and more in Kruger National Park

The showpiece of South African tourism, Kruger National Park is one of the world’s most famous protected areas, and for good reason. This huge (19,485 sq km) park in the far northeast of South Africa is home to tens of thousands of mammals and birds including large numbers of all your African favourites.

Africa's best Big Five safaris

Kruger National Park - South Africa

One of Africa’s iconic safari destinations, Kruger and the surrounding private reserves are home to all of southern Africa’s big mammals, plus something like 500 bird species. For the classic Big Five (buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino) safari check out Thornybush Game Reserve, Balule Nature Reserve or Timbavati Game Reserve.

Lion on rock at Simba kopjes in Serengeti Tanzania

Lion relaxing on the Serengeti's famous Simba Kopjes

Serengeti National Park - Tanzania

The Serengeti is home to all the Big Five, although the rhino is rarer here and generally found in the park’s more northern reaches.

There are several private reserves around the Serengeti that offer the same wildlife experience but without the crowds—such as the Grumeti Reserve—but you’ll have to pay top dollar to stay there.

Kenya masaimara3

A classic sight in Kenya's Masai Mara

The Masai Mara - Kenya

The third of Africa’s trinity of iconic parks, Kenya’s Masai Mara, is home to all the Big Five although, again, the rhino is more elusive. In addition to the Big Five are up to a million plus wildebeest, dozens of species of antelope, gazelle and other herbivores including huge numbers of zebra, impala, Thompson’s gazelle and giraffe. And the rivers are stuffed with hippos and crocodiles.

South Luangwa hyena

Hyenas in South Luangwa National Park

Africa's best walking safaris

South Luangwa National Park - Zambia

South Luangwa National Park is one of Zambia’s most wildlife-rich national parks, home to more than 400 species of birds and over 60 different mammals, including antelopes, lions, elephants and more. South Luangwa is the only place in the world to see the Thornicroft species of giraffe as well as the Cookson’s wildebeest.

Walking safaris are a speciality of the park, and were pioneered by renowned conservationist Sir Norman Carr in the 1950s and 1960. They continue to be one of the most popular ways to view wildlife in the park.

Giraffe at Samburu National Reserve Kenya

Giraffe at Samburu National Reserve

Samburu, Buffalo Springs & Shaba National Reserves - Kenya

Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves are three interconnected reserves on the edge of northern Kenya’s vast semi-desert wilderness. Although walking in the reserves themselves is forbidden it is possible to arrange fascinating bush walks led by Samburu tribesmen on the periphery of the reserves (the best place to organise this is the fast growing village of Archer’s Post, which is the main gateway to the reserves).

Lake Manyara National Park - Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park is a narrow, deeply forested strip of land that sits in the shadow of a dramatic wall in the Great Rift escarpment.

The lake is a haven for some 350 species of waterbirds and the park is famous for its population of tree-climbing lions, as well as one of Tanzania’s most-studied elephant populations. In addition to wildlife drives, walking safaris are possible, and there’s a treetop walkway that takes you up into the forest canopy.

Sabi Sands Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger Region in South Africa

High-end luxury in Sabi Sands, South Africa

Africa's best luxury safaris

Sabi Sands - South Africa

This 65,000 hectare reserve is, in many respects, the finest chunk of wildlife-filled wilderness in southern Africa. The choice safari destination in South Africa for the wealthy, Sabi Sands is actually a grouping of smaller private reserves rather than one single entity. And these reserves restrict visitor numbers to the lucky few guests staying at a handful of small and intimate camps.

Rwanda Volcanoes

Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park - Rwanda

All Rwanda’s habituated gorillas reside in Volcanoes National Park (VNP), which is just a two-hour drive on good roads from Kigali International Airport. Rwanda has positioned itself for the higher-end tourism market, and gorilla trekking accommodations are generally pricier and more exclusive than in neighbouring Uganda.

Selous national park

Tanzania's remote Selous National Park

Selous Game Reserve - Tanzania

The Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa but with only a few camps, it feels far more remote than Tanzania’s busier northern parks. As well as lions, leopards, elephants, black rhinos, hippos and buffalos, the Selous is a key area for endangered wild dogs. The Selous has some seriously exclusive safari camps and lodges, notably the super high-end Siwandu Camp.

Chobe National Park - Botswana

Situated on the Chobe River, not far from the mighty Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park offers some excellent wetland and river cruises along with its enormous (and growing) elephant population. Chobe has some notably high-end and exclusive accommodations, popular for couples and honeymooners.

Kenya masai mara safari elephants

On game drive in Kenya's Masai Mara

Africa's best family safaris

The Masai Mara - Kenya

Kenya’s Masai Mara is an accessible and popular safari destination for families. There’s a wide range of accommodations for most budgets, and many camps are well geared up for families and younger guests. By far the best places to stay are in the private conservancies that surround the park itself.

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Jackal in the Western Cape's Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

The Western Cape - South Africa

For most visitors to South Africa, the Western Cape is more about beach and city life than safari. However, all the famed Big Five are present in this region although in most cases they’ve been re-introduced into fairly small, fenced private game reserves. These are not zoos, but they’re also not vast wilderness zones like the ones you might find elsewhere in Africa. If all you’re looking for is a family-friendly, short safari experience that can be easily slotted into a wine tour or a Cape Town city break, then the Western Cape fits the bill.

Giraffe close up from Pilanesberg National Park South Africa

Giraffe in Pilanesberg National Park

North West Province - South Africa

This is one of the more easily accessible wildlife areas of South Africa. Three or four hours after stepping off an international flight in Johannesburg, you can be holding your breath as a lion paces confidently towards you in one of the province’s fabulous national parks or game reserves. Both Waterberg Biosphere Reserve and Pilanesberg National Park are geared up for accessible and more affordable (but far from cheap!) safaris.

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Glorious views in South Africa's Kwazulu-Natal

Africa's best crowd-free safaris

Kwazulu-Natal - South Africa

Centred on the beach bum surf city of Durban, the huge, and hugely diverse, province of KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa’s east coast doesn’t have the stellar international wildlife reputation of other parts of South Africa.

And yet, with its rich ocean currents, soaring mountain plateau, searing savannahs and swampy shorelines, sub-tropical KwaZulu-Natal is actually one of the more rewarding wildlife-watching areas of the country. It’s a wonderful region to explore and one that, for the moment at least, is mainly the preserve of in-the-know South African wildlife watchers.

Kasanka National Park - Zambia

Kasanka National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Zambia. Found in the Central Province in the northern part of Zambia, Kasanka is run through a public-private partnership between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the Kasanka Trust. Safari-goers coming to Kasanka can expect a more remote, ‘wilderness’ style safari with fewer visitors and unique wildlife.

Ostrich meru national park kenya

Ostrich in Meru National Park

Meru National Park - Kenya

Kenya’s forgotten national park – Meru was once one of the most popular parks in the country. But during the 1980s, when Kenya was going through a rough political patch and instability overwhelmed some parts of the country, Meru turned into a hotbed of poaching. Security and stability have long since returned to both the country and Meru, but yet somehow this national park never again found its former fame. But for those in the know—and that now includes you—Meru National Park is safari gold.

Katavi National Park - Tanzania

The third largest national park in Tanzania, but with a fraction of the visitors, Katavi feels very distant from the likes of the Serengeti. Indeed, it is estimated that Katavi gets as many visitors in an entire year as the Serengeti draws per day. In the dry season, there are great wildlife spotting opportunities, with big herds of buffalos, lions, elephants and lots of plains game (topis, zebras and impalas).

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Flamingo on Kenya's Lake Nakaru

Africa's best birdwatching & wetland safaris

Lake Nakuru National Park - Kenya

Lake Nakuru National Park is centred on the large Rift Valley soda lake but also encompasses fringing grasslands, acacia woodlands and rocky escarpments. At times there can be over a million flamingoes in residence here.

Okavango Delta Botswana

Paddling by mokoro canoe in the Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta - Botswana

The Okavango Delta is widely regarded as one of the best safari destinations anywhere on earth, and is yet little known compared to Africa’s other big hitters. This is earth’s largest inland delta, providing a habitat to a mind boggling range of wildlife. The Okavango is best explored by boat, and meandering by mokoro – a traditional dugout canoe – is a classic safari experience.

Lower Zambezi Canoe Zambia

Canoes on Zambia's Lower Zambezi

Lower Zambezi National Park - Zambia

Lower Zambezi is best-known for its canoe safaris, which take place on the Zambezi river. Guests can book 3-5 day canoe safaris which involve overnight stays at bush camps along the riverbank.

A canoe safari allows you to get to some of the more remote parts of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Your canoe safari guide will direct you through the waterways, where you’ll encounter big game including elephants, hippos, crocodiles and baboons. Most canoe trips are self-supporting and you’ll be wild camping along the riverbank or on isolated islands.

Clouds Bwindi Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Africa's best budget safaris

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest supports almost half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. It is one of Africa’s richest rainforests and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seeing mountain gorillas in Bwindi is far from cheap, but compared to Rwanda it is considerably more affordable with a bigger range of low cost accommodations and cheaper permits.

The Masai Mara - Kenya

The Mara has a huge amount of accommodation options. In fact, with over 300 registered camps and lodges, many conservation experts fear that there is too much tourism development. Options range from shabby, basic and cheap (think around US$50-150) to something fit for the royals and with a price tag to match (it’s not hard to find places costing over US$1,000 a night).

Nairobi National Park

City safaris at Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park - Kenya

London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park, Nairobi has Nairobi National Park, a fully-fledged safari destination with all the Big Five except elephants.

And its proximity to the city means visiting could not be easier, or more wallet friendly. There are hundreds of places to stay ranging from grimy backpacker hangouts to swish boutique hotels as well as the whole array of international chain hotels.

In this series:

The Best Safaris In Africa

Stuart Butler

Stuart is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China and the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. He also writes widely about East Africa and conservation issues.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Hans Cosmas Ngoteya

Hans Cosmas Ngoteya is a conservationist from Tanzania, a National Geographic Explorer, and co-founder of numerous conservation organisations including Ngoteya Wild, Landscape and Conservation Mentors Organization and Tanzania Wildlife Media Association.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Heather Richardson

Heather is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She writes for the BBC, Sunday Times, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Departures Magazine, among others.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Anthony Ham

Anthony has been travelling around Africa for more than a decade. He has returned many times, seeking out stories about the people and wildlife of west and north Africa.

In recent years he has broadened his horizons into more traditional wildlife haunts, exploring Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. You can see his work in Lonely Planet and Africa Geographic.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Mazuba Kapambwe

Mazuba is a freelance writer from Zambia whose travel writing has appeared on CNN Travel, Unearth Women, Culture Trip and several in-flight magazines. Her travel podcast Mwende Bwino (Go Well) was recently featured on Conde Nast Traveler’s website and listed as one of the top five Zambian podcasts. Mazuba co-wrote the Lusaka Arts and Culture guide produced by the National Arts Council of Zambia.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Charlotte Beauvoisin

Charlotte is a travel blogger based on the edge of Kibale Forest, Uganda. She is a contributor to the Bradt Uganda Guidebook and has written for Lonely Planet, The Daily Telegraph and Fodor's. She first arrived in Uganda in 2009 as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer with the Uganda Conservation Foundation.

The Best Safaris In Africa

Julie Olum

Julie Olum is a nomad, writer, YouTuber and architecture graduate from Nairobi, Kenya. The hands and mind behind FrameAmbition.com, she makes online content around solo travel, festivals and visa hacks for holders of “weak passports". Her love affair with travel is now a near-obsession with slow travel and exploring cultural similarities across the world.

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