Africa. A huge continent packed with even bigger adventures. And although this dizzying assortment of countries and cultures is about so much more than safaris, for any traveller wanting to walk on the wild side this year, there’s no better place to witness some of the planet’s most mind-boggling biodiversity.
But where to begin? What to prioritise? When it comes to African safari experiences, how do you separate the impressive from the unmissable? Well, worry not, safari adventurer, because here’s our ultimate African safari bucket list. Take your pick from this lot, and you can’t really go wrong.
Witness the Serengeti wildebeest migration
The Serengeti – Tanzania’s sweeping plain – is a top African safari experience no matter what time of year you visit. But head there during its annual wildebeest migration (regarded to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World), and you’ll witness something that’ll stick with you forever: the largest migration of mammals seen anywhere on the planet.
Each year the Great Migration sees MILLIONS of wildebeest, gazelles and zebras searching for greener grass during the wet season, forming a mesmerising circular path between Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. (The migration typically occurs between Jan-March in the Southern Serengeti and July–October in the Northern Serengeti).
The wildebeest themselves are a sight to behold. But wherever you find prey animals in these numbers, predators such as lions, hyenas and crocs are never too far behind. So if you’ve ever wanted to see a pride of big cats hunt down a wildebeest, or simply want to improve your chances of spotting the big 5 on a safari trip, the Serengeti migration is a no-brainer for your African safari bucket list.
Cruise the Okavango Delta
In the north of Botswana you’ll find the Okavango Delta, one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. What makes it so special? An unusual wetland system that floods during the dry season. This means that the local flora and fauna have adapted their biological cycles with seasonal floods – so its little wonder that the Delta is home to some of world’s most fascinating endangered species, including African wild dogs, white and black rhinos, cheetahs and, of course, lions.
What’s more, if you visit during dry season you’ll get to witness the migration of thousands of African elephants, as they head through the Moremi Game Reserve in search of food (and a refreshing bath, naturally). You could take a standard drop-top game drive, or, if you want to get even closer to the action, cruise along the glassy lagoons on a river safari for one of the most spellbinding African safari experiences going.
Spot the big 5 in Chobe
Another beautiful Botswana destination, Chobe National Park – near the border of Namibia and Zambia – is one of Africa’s finest, thanks to its diverse and abundant wildlife (if you’re after the big 5 full set, there aren’t many better places to visit this year).
Just like the Okavango Delta, the best time to visit is during dry season (April to October), where cape buffalo and elephants can be spotted feasting and frolicking in huge numbers.
Refuse to compromise on South Africa’s Garden Route
Safari vacations are great. But you know what’s even better? Getting your fix of African safari experiences whilst also enjoying beautiful beaches, rolling vineyards, epic cave systems and verdant forests. Sounds to good to be true? Then you, my friend, simply haven’t become acquainted with South Africa’s Garden Route.
Combining stunning safari experiences such as the aptly named Elephant National Park, with the sweeping shores of Plettenberg Bay and the world class wineries of Stellenbosch, this is a road trip that truly has it all. So why compromise? And if you want to get your fill of wine without having to worry about designated drivers, why not take the road trip with Contiki? (We’re talking accom, transport, experiences and adventurers to experience it with – all included).
Spot mountain gorillas in Uganda
There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas in existence; so if you want to see one for yourself, it’s best to tread as lightly as possible. To find these (mostly) gentle giants you’ll need to venture to Uganda’s verdant National Parks, hiking to the misty cloud forests the gorillas inhabit.
Tourism is now Uganda’s biggest industry, so if this African safari experience is top of your bucket list it’s important to approach it consciously. Make sure you’re giving back to the communities you visit (for example, hiring porters who are reformed poachers), who can help you navigate the perilous treks and ensure you’re witnessing the greatest of apes from a respectful distance (without disturbing their increasingly vulnerable habitats).
Chill with some meerkats in Namibia
From the eerie skeleton coast to the boundless biodiversity of Etosha National Park, Namibia is jam-packed with adventures and stark beauty. From cruising sand dunes to checking out indigenous villages, this is a place that rewards the curious traveller. Especially if you’re looking for an African safari experience that’s a bit out of the ordinary…
Because in the Namid desert you’ll find desert-dwellers who are a tad different to the monstrous mammals migrating through the Serengeti. Namibia’s mischievous meerkat colonies are naturally wary of humans – but that doesn’t mean you can’t find them dotted around the desert, grouped in those characteristic upright poses, scanning the horizon for birds of prey and foraging amongst the dusty red dunes.
Go birdwatching in Tanzania
Home to the second largest lake in the world (the sprawling freshwater Lake Victoria), as well as the towering Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is a top destination for African safari experiences. But beyond the megafauna that stalks its plains, look up to the spotless skies for some of the most diverse bird species in the world, from eagles and hawks to giant kingfishers, fishing owls and the magnificently named bare-faced go-away bird (we didn’t just make that up, promise).
For the, ahem, eagle-eyed, you can even spot great flamingos in certain regions. So if you’re after an African safari experience with a bit less bloodlust, birdwatching in Tanzania may be just the ticket.
Take a balloon safari over the Maasai Mara
Got a head for heights? Looking to see wildlife from a slightly different perspective? A balloon safari over the grassy plains and rolling hills of the Masai Mara is an African safari experience without parallel. Soaring over the savannahs and rushing rivers, there’s no better vantage point to spot some of Africa’s most impressive flora and fauna.
Visit the Ngorongoro Crater
We’re back in Tanzania for another unforgettable African safari experience: the Ngorongoro Conservation area. Once an enormous volcano, it’s theorised that before its spectacular eruption, it would have been higher than Mt Kilimanjaro itself. Woah.
Today, after millions of years of erosion, it’s one of the most spectacular wildlife havens on the planet, with an epic, 600 metre caldera (volcanic crater) as its centre point. The crater was recently voted as one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa, so make sure it’s high up your African safari bucket list.