African Safari blog

Top African Destinations Part 1 – The Great Game Parks


Heading the list of top African destinations has to be one that is associated with the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Africa, namely wildlife and the great game parks in which diminishing numbers of wild animals are being preserved (at least to some extent.) The Kruger National Park in South Africa is one such reserve and with 2 million hectares is one of the largest in Africa. Although committed to conservation, it is sad to report that even in a reserve that size, the Kruger is losing almost more rhino from poaching than are being born – thus this relatively peaceful prehistoric creature is becoming increasingly endangered.

Being a well known wildlife destination, the Kruger National Park is undoubtedly a top African destination and so attracts a huge number of visitors, which is also one of its disadvantages as it becomes pretty crowded. Another disadvantage of the Kruger is that, being a National Park, driving off-road is not permitted – so it is often difficult if not impossible to get close to the animals that one has come to see and any notable animal sighting is generally shared by a number of uninvited companions!

So rather than the Kruger itself, much more enjoyable african wildlife trips can be enjoyed in the private reserves adjacent to the fence-free Kruger. The ability to drive off-road, rules which limit the numbers of vehicles permitted on sightings and restricted access to lodge guests renders reserves like the Sabi Sands, Timbavati and Manyeleti Game Reserves some of the very top African destinations. Certainly the Sabi Sands has to be the top African destination for leopard viewing in the world.

Probably better known because of free publicity by Foxtel and the BBC are the Masai Mara and the Serengeti – which are in fact the one and the same wildlife area (being separated only by a notional man-made border ie that between Kenya/Tanzania.) The Masai Mara, with only 1 510 square kilometers of area is considerably smaller than the adjacent Serengeti, with 14 760 square kilometers. Nevertheless they each have their unique advantages and disadvantages and both are clearly top African destinations.

While the Masai Mara was the location for programs such as the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, the primary reason the Masai Mara as well as the Serengeti are on the list of top African destinations is because that is the location of the annual wildebeest/zebra migration as they follow the rain. It is no wonder that many are keen to witness the spectacle with Wikipedia describing it in the following terms:

“A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.”

While the sight of thousands of wildebeest and zebra all congregating in the one spot (albeit with a view to moving on) is quite awe-inspiring, I have to admit that I have no ambition to see the river-crossing as the realty is a lot less poetic!.

Though it is possible to find a variety of wildlife in both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, there is much greater variety per square area to be observed in the Greater Kruger area (which includes the private reserves such as the Sabi Sands). Indeed having spent 19 days in the Masai Mara, we teased our (wonderful) guide that there were no leopards in the reserve because if there were we surely would have seen them in 19 days! While we were pulling his leg, the humour serves as an interesting contrast with the Sabi Sands where it is not unusual to see leopards every day. Thus the Sabi Sands gets my vote as the very top African destination in terms of diverse wildlife viewing.

Being National Parks both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti are also subject to the same type of rules eg no off road driving. However in contrast to the reserves in Southern Africa, which are retained exclusively for wildlife and cordoned off from the residential areas, communities of locals co-exist with their cattle & goats in the conservancies adjacent to the Masai Mara and Serengeti. To witness wildlife side by side with domestic animals is quite a different if incongruent experience. Despite my preference for the Greater Kruger area for wildlife viewing, I must fully acknowledge the rightful place of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti in the list of top African destinations.



Top African Destinations Part 2 - The Iconic Victoria Falls