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The best places — and best times — to take a safari

In some African cultures, the mixture of rain and sunshine signifies that a leopard and a lioness have given birth to a cub.  

I used to be hoping that this was the case as we traversed Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve in a four-wheel drive jeep within the midst of a sunny downpour.

In the seven years that I’ve been a travel journalist in Africa, the sport drive experience has all the time been considered one of my favorites.  Wildlife is Africa’s treasure, and tourists experience watching the animals — particularly the cats — of their natural habitats.

Travel journalist Harriet Akinyi watches a herd of elephants in a game drive at Mugie Conservancy, Kenya.

Source: Harriet Akinyi

There are 10 countries in Africa which have a robust wildlife focus: Kenya (my motherland), Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia and Rwanda.

Here are highlights that I like to recommend.


For greater than 25 years, skilled safari guide Geoff Mayes has taken tourists to the very best parks in Africa. He believes that many select Kenya — and specifically, Maasai Mara — for his or her first trip to Africa since it’s secure and fairly accessible.

Known as considered one of the eight wonders of the world due to the wildebeest migration, Masaai Mara is considered one of Africa’s most famous parks, said travel journalist Harriet Akinyi.

Wldavies | E+ | Getty Images

“It’s easier to catch flights to Kenya, making it high on peoples’ bucket list,” he said. “Also a game drive experience in Kenya will give you the option to satisfy the travelers’ expectations when it comes to catching ‘the Big Five.'”

Less than an hour flight from the capital city of Nairobi is Nairobi National Park, where there’s likelihood of seeing lions and rhinos, he said.  

And “when you come to the Maasai Mara, you will see the elephants and leopards and lions,” he explained as we drove through it.

In total, Kenya has 25 national parks and 16 national game reserves with countless private conservancies, that are smaller, private-owned wildlife reserves.

Amboseli National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is understood for its massive elephant population and spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Harriet Akinyi having a bush breakfast with a view of the rhinos after a game drive in Solio Conservancy in Kenya.

Source: Harriet Akinyi

Tsavo National Park, Kenya’s biggest park, is considered one of the world’s largest game sanctuaries. It was highlighted by President Barack Obama within the five-part Netflix docuseries “Our Great National Parks.”

South Africa

Kenya shouldn’t be the one country where I’ve gone on game drives.

South Africa is one other and is home to a number of the oldest and most iconic national parks in Africa. It’s a year-round safari destination, but the very best game-viewing conditions are within the cooler winter months from May to September.

A game drive at Kruger National Park, South Africa.

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There are 20 national parks, including the worldfamous Kruger National Park — which has Africa’s “Big Five” game animals: lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffaloes.

There’s also Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, near the border of Botswana, and Pilanesberg National Park. The latter is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Johannesburg. It’s smaller than Kruger, but wealthy in wildlife — and, fascinatingly, it’s contained in the crater of an ancient volcano believed to be some 1.2 billion years old.

Another highlight, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, has the “Big Five” in addition to a thriving population of African wild dogs.

I’ve also been to Addo — the most important park within the Eastern Cape and third-largest in South Africa — which is legendary for its elephants. According to Ncediso Headman Nogaya, a game guard at Addo, October to April is the very best time to go to.

“We usually tend to receive rains from May to September and while the season is great since it gives food to the wildlife … it may be a slippery drive and muddy,” he noted.


Uganda is understood for its diverse wildlife and stunning landscapes in its 10 national parks and 12 game reserves. Of the national parks, seven are situated on savannahs and three in forests. In those three, one can track mountain gorillas in Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Around 1,000 mountain gorillas exist today, greater than half which live in Uganda, in line with the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Jason Edwards | Photodisc | Getty Images

My favorite memories at Queen Elizabeth National Park are of tracking chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge, watching tree-climbing lions and a herd of elephants walking majestically on the plains, and observing buffaloes, warthogs, hippos and Nile crocodiles while cruising the Kazinga Channel.  

Another park to contemplate is the Kidepo Valley National Park, with its sweeping plains and valleys overshadowed by the brooding Mount Morungole. The mountain is sacred to the Ik tribe, considered one of the smallest tribes in Uganda. The park ranks amongst the very best birding safari destinations within the country too.

I loved my game drive experience at Lake Mburo National Park, regardless that it’s considered one of the smallest national parks within the country.

It’s the one park where travelers can enjoy boat cruises, walking safaris and horseback riding, tour operator Dennis Kahungu told CNBC Travel.

A gaggle of massive horn Ankole Cattle in Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda.

Christopher Kidd | Photodisc | Getty Images

Plus “it is the only national park in Uganda with the impalas,” he said. “It’s also where one can find the massive horned Ankole cows.”


Located in eastern Rwanda, Akagera National Park is a protected wetland and the last remaining refuge for savannah-adapted species in Rwanda. Park visitors can take boat safaris along Lake Ilhema, the second largest lake in Rwanda, for wildlife and birdwatching.

Weaver birds and nests over Lake Ihema, Rwanda.

Inti St. Clair | Photodisc | Getty Images

Travelers looking for mountain gorillas often go to Volcanoes National Park within the northern a part of the country. It’s also home to golden monkeys, and well regarded for climbing and mountaineering.

Recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Nyungwe National Park is one other part to explore and is situated in southwest Rwanda and is understood for its chimpanzees and colobus monkeys. It’s also popular for cover walks on a suspended bridge some 70 meters (230 feet) above the forest floor.

While the parks may be visited all 12 months round, it is best to avoid April, as that is when Rwanda typically receives heavy rains.


Botswana is a fast-emerging ecotourism destination — visitors are drawn to the vast elephant herds of Chobe National Park and the canoe-based wildlife safaris within the Okavango Delta.

A herd of elephants at Chobe National Park, Botswana.

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One may see the “Big Five” at Moremi Nature Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in addition to Central Kalahari Game Reserve.


In Tanzania, I visited the long-lasting UNESCO-listed Serengeti National Park, which rivals Kenya for probably the greatest wildlife experiences in Africa.

Tourists watch a herd of wildebeest from a land cruiser within the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Patrick J. Endres | Corbis Documentary | Getty Images

My first time there was in the course of the calving season when the wildebeests and the zebras give birth on their strategy to Kenya in the course of the Great Migration.

Another wonder is the Ngorongoro Crater, considered one of the most important calderas on the planet.

Some consider it probably the greatest places to go on safari in Africa.


Apart from the renowned Hwange National Park, I actually have also visited Matobo National Park, which has a large diversity of fauna and lots of white rhinos. The area around Matobo Hills is home to the stays of early settlements and the graves of historical figures like Cecil Rhodes.

The rock formation in Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, which is home to the grave of Cecil Rhodes.

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The best time to go to the parks is in the course of the dry season, from June to October. That’s when the bush is thinner — making wildlife easier to identify.

Mayes said the very best time for safaris in Kenya and Tanzania is, after all, in the course of the migration season. But he recommends visiting Zimbabwe and Zambia from July to October.

In other parts of the continent, months like February, June and September may be very rewarding too.

“The wildlife is unbelievable and there are fewer vehicles around,” he said. “And you may often profit from a low season price structure which after all is all the time nice.”

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