The Best National Parks for Wildlife Spotting in Africa
By the Ghanian author, Ernest Edem Mensah
Wildlife spotting in Africa is possible thanks to over 1,200 protected areas spanning diverse landscapes, as the continent safeguards some of Earth’s most spectacular wildlife spectacles. The diversity of iconic species and stunning backdrops make African national parks the ultimate destination for safari goers and nature lovers seeking quintessential wildlife experiences.
In this armchair tour through the continent’s finest parks, prepare to be amazed by nature’s wonders. From the well-trodden trails of South Luangwa, where walking safaris began, to remote gems like Pendjari, where few set foot, these ten parks offer journeys that stir the soul. Africa beckons – will you answer its call?
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The crown jewel of South Africa’s national parks, the Kruger showcases some of the most spectacular wildlife spotting in Africa. Teeming with the “Big Five” and over 500 recorded bird species, Kruger delivers classic African safari experiences within its vast 7,523 square mile expanse. Herds of elephants, prides of lions, towering giraffes, and more roam this wilderness in numbers unrivalled across Africa.
Kruger’s excellent road network provides accessibility, allowing you to self-drive in search of sightings. For a more exclusive safari, stay at one of the luxury lodges bordering the park. Their expert rangers guide you to once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters. Kruger’s size means you can escape the crowds by heading north, where remote fever tree forests host leopards and hefty baobab trees dot the landscape.
You may spot wild dogs and their pups at a den site or a lumbering white rhino around every bend. Sunset game drives often deliver epic sightings of predators on the hunt. Whether you seek the Big Five or hope to spot 400 different birds, Kruger National Park is a wildlife utopia where each drive unveils new wonders. Ask your guide to take you off the beaten path for the best chance at unique sightings.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The sweeping Serengeti plains are the stage for one of the greatest wildlife spotting spectacles in Africa – the Great Migration. Over two million wildebeest, zebras, and antelope traverse the Serengeti and Masai Mara following the rains in search of fresh grasses. Their epic journey is a sight to behold, with columns of wildebeest stretching to the horizon.
Listen for their bellowing calls as massive herds thunder across the golden savannah. Aside from the migration, iconic safari moments abound in Serengeti National Park. Majestic lion prides can be spotted lounging under flat-topped acacias, resting before setting out to hunt buffalo and antelope as evening approaches. Cheetahs sprint in pursuit of fleet-footed Thomson’s gazelles.
Hot air balloons float over the plains, casting long shadows where elephants lumber below. The Grumeti River draws lazy hippos, sunbathing crocodiles, and giant Nile perch to its waters while flamingos line the shores of shimmering soda lakes in bright pink rows. To escape the crowds, head to the Seronera Valley, where muscular male leopards drape their bodies along the branches of sausage trees, soaking in the solitude.
Watch them flick their tails lazily as antelopes graze unaware below. As the setting sun turns the sky brilliant shades of orange and pink, stop for sundowners on the open savannah. Sip gin and tonics while elephants silhouette against the colourful horizon. Witness the changing colours as the last light fades over the endless wilderness. There’s no better way to end a day of epic wildlife encounters in the Serengeti.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Situated north of Namibia, Etosha National Park protects an immense salt pan that draws remarkably diverse wildlife to its shores. With an impressive area of nearly 15,000 square miles, Etosha is home to 114 mammal species, including elephants, lions, springbok, rare black rhinos, and 340 bird species. As the dry season takes hold, transforming this arid land, animals congregate around the sparse watering holes scattered along the pan’s periphery.
This seasonal phenomenon creates unparalleled game-viewing opportunities. Suddenly, you find massive herds of elephants jostling for space at the shrinking pools. Towering giraffes crane their necks to drink alongside skittish springbok. At night, the waterholes become the domain of lions, hyenas, and black rhinos. The days pass by in a thrilling blur of wildlife activity.
Drive the pan’s edge, frequently stopping to watch dramatic scenes unfold through binoculars or camera lenses. You may witness lions taking down zebras or a leopard hoisting an impala into a tree for safekeeping. Hundreds of bird species also flock to the perimeter, adding bursts of colour and song.
While most visitors stick to the park’s southern section, consider exploring Etosha’s less crowded reaches up north. Follow dusty tracks to reveal rare endemic species like the black-faced impala or diminutive Damara dik-dik. Spend nights at one of three unfenced camps in this area for an extra thrill, drifting off as elephants scrape their tusks on trees right outside your chalet. Etosha National Park promises a safari experience that few places can match.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Spanning over 14,600 square kilometres, Hwange National Park provides a sanctuary for wonderful wildlife spotting in Africa across its range of habitats, from desert plains to woodlands. As Zimbabwe’s largest park, Hwange protects a world of habitats, from desert sands to open woodlands, allowing species to thrive across this expansive wilderness. On the open plains, stalk endangered African wild dogs expertly, hunting fleet-footed impala.
At muddy pans in the dry season, witness massive herds of elephants cooling off and socialising. Under shaded trees, spot lions and hyenas finishing up a buffalo kill. The birdlife here is phenomenal – nearly 400 recorded species fill the skies with colour and song.
Graceful giraffes, vibrant zebras, elusive leopards, swarms of antelope, hippos, crocodiles, and more comprise the extraordinary biodiversity.
Due to its remoteness, Hwange sees fewer crowds and offers better chances at unique sightings. While self-driving is permitted, guided open-top game drives unlock the most magical wildlife moments. Night drives prove especially rewarding, revealing Hwange’s bustling nocturnal fauna like civets, genets, porcupines, and big-eyed bush babies.
Spotlighting animals after dark induces an extra thrill. For the ultimate safari adventure, camp inside the park itself. Fall asleep to hyena calls and campfire smoke. Awaken at dawn to elephants grazing outside your tent. Whether exploring a day or a week, Hwange promises a personalised, exclusive safari experience overflowing with diversity, rarity, and wonder.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Don’t expect erupting volcanoes at Volcanoes National Park, though the name suggests otherwise. Established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park, it protects the steep slopes of the Virunga Mountains, home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Tracking these endangered great apes through bamboo forests is a profoundly moving experience.
The adventure begins at park headquarters, where guests are assigned to a gorilla family group and experienced guides. The hike into the forest leads through gardens of giant lobelias and wildflowers, where you may spot golden monkeys or forest elephants along the way. Suddenly, your guide whispers, – the gorillas are near.
Creeping forward, you spot a magnificent silverback surveying with a look of gentle authority. What follows are magical moments spent in the presence of these peaceful giants as they climb trees, forage for vegetation, and interact through grunts, gestures, and hoots. The youngsters tumble playfully as their mothers watch protectively.
Beyond the gorillas, Volcanoes National Park still delivers. Follow expert guides to find some of the park’s last remaining golden monkeys, a delight to watch as they leap acrobatically through the trees and light up the forests with their glowing fur. Discover the buffalo, bushbuck, and over 160 bird species sharing the park’s bamboo forests and alpine grasslands.
Volcanoes National Park provides a critical refuge for endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife. With responsible visits, we can help fund Volcanoes National Park’s vital conservation efforts.
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Imagine the world’s oldest desert, an immense sea of rust-red dunes, cut through by the yowl of a passing leopard. Welcome to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a realm of burned beauty and hardy survivors. At nearly 20,000 square miles, it’s the largest game park in Africa. Yet, in this vast landscape, you’ll enjoy the luxury of solitude.
The park features incredibly diverse landscapes, including the iconic Sossusvlei dunes, gravel plains, mountains, and coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Wildlife includes oryx, hyenas, jackals, snakes, and a variety of desert-adapted species. Rise before dawn to witness oryxes traipsing down empty roads and watch the sun crest over the gigantic sand mountains.
As shadows recede from Deception Valley, venture out on foot to discover a hidden world. Scan for the Palmato gecko’s camouflaged form, melting flawlessly into desert varnish. See tiny sidewinder snakes leaving funny cursive tracks in their wake, and listen for toktokkie beetles tapping out morse code messages.
Later, wander west to the coast as the landscape’s palette shifts under afternoon light. Stand in awe as the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean in an explosion of crashing waves. Scan for dolphins riding in the surf and seals sunbathing on beaches made entirely of crushed diamonds.
With zero light pollution, the night sky glitters like a scattered jewel box. The silent darkness under the symphony of stars makes your heart beat stronger.
Exploring the Namib-Naukluft, you’ll encounter unexpected bursts of life thriving against the odds. This park protects an ecosystem found nowhere else on Earth. Visit with care and marvel at Namibia’s sweeping painted desert, one of our planet’s natural wonders.
Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
Tucked away in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru National Park is a wildlife haven centred around its shallow, picturesque lake of the same name. Lake Nakuru is famed for the huge flocks of Lesser Flamingos that gather here, blanketing the lake’s surface in vibrant pink. Their massive numbers transform Nakuru into one of the world’s most spectacular bird spectacles, with over 450 recorded avian species.
But flocking here isn’t just for the birds. Nakuru also provides critical habitat for endangered rhinos, Rothschild’s giraffes, lions, leopards, hippos, and a diversity of other wildlife. Though small in size, this Rift Valley park packs a huge punch when it comes to iconic safari sightings. Arrive at dawn to hear the whooping calls of hyrax and choruses of birdsong.
Visit Makalia Falls to watch colourful weavers flit between trees. Pause along the shore as acrobatic skokia warblers emerge, dancing through roadside brush. Scan the forested thickets for lounging leopards, their spotted coats camouflaged among dappled light and shadows.
At the lookout point, a sea of flamingos covers the shallows, packed wingtip to wingtip in vivid pink. When the sun sinks low, Nakuru glows a fiery gold – capture the magic in photos before returning to camp. Nakuru is an ecological gem protecting diverse habitats and species, perfect for rejuvenating wildlife spotting experiences in Africa. Fall under Nakuru’s spell, and experience a rejuvenating wonder tinged with the sweetness of hope.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Forget quiet game drives – a boat safari down Uganda’s Kazinga Channel is a must for thrill seekers. This narrow passage, teeming with wildlife, connects Lakes Edward and George within the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park. Listen to hippo chuckles while watching elephants cross the banks.
Look for cunning crocodiles camouflaged in crags along with over 600 bird species. This is just one pulse-pounding adventure awaiting in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park contains a variety of ecosystems, including sprawling savanna, shady forests, and wetlands. Wildlife highlights include tree-climbing lions, hippos in the Kazinga Channel, elephants, chimpanzees, antelope species, and over 600 bird species.
If bold, up-close encounters are your safari style, spend a day chasing chimps through the shadowy Maramagambo Forest. These acrobatic primates swing wildly through the trees, stopping to hoot and embrace. Continue the quest on open savannahs, stalking the elusive tree-climbing lions this park is famous for. Photograph these big cats napping on branches, paws hanging lazily below.
With Uganda’s most stunning scenery as your backdrop, everything about Queen Elizabeth National Park feels epic. Experience migrating masses of Ugandan kob antelope flooding the plains. Witness huge herds of elephants kicking up amber dust. Return each evening to swap stories around the campfire, serenaded by the wild soundtrack of the bush. Queen Elizabeth National Park promises a safari experience to quicken your pulse.
Pendjari National Park, Benin
Tucked into Benin’s northern reaches, Pendjari National Park in Benin is an emerging wildlife spotting destination in Africa where lions, elephants and antelopes roam undisturbed. Far from the crowded reserves of eastern Africa, Pendjari promises exclusive wildlife encounters and stunning scenery all to yourself. Spend sun-dappled days tracking endangered West African lions through winding forests as they unleash guttural roars that shatter the stillness.
Feel your heart race as elephants rumble past your vehicle, exchanging wisdom-filled stares. Venture out to the open savannah, where oryx bound through windswept golden grasses as vibrant tropical birds soar overhead. When the sun sinks low behind the Atakora Mountains, continue the adventure into the darkness on a moonlit game drive.
Spot the glowing eyes of nocturnal creatures emerging in the shadows. Cozy up around the nighttime campfire, listening to hippo chuckles and hyena cackles singing the wild soundtrack of Africa. With Pendjari National Park poised for tourism growth, now is the time to experience this re-emerging gem and support its budding potential. Whether you crave rugged adventures or tranquil nature escapes, Pendjari delivers a lifetime of safari memories.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Our safari ends where it all began—the birthplace of the walking safari deep in the wilderness of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. The Luangwa River cuts through the park’s sweeping valleys and woodlands, shifting the landscape from calm to thrilling with each bend. Established in 1938, this nearly 9,000 square kilometer wilderness is home to over 60 mammal species and 400 different birds.
The changing landscape provides varied habitats for wildlife like elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, and the rare Thornicroft giraffe. Expert Zambian guides help you spot tracks and listen for nearby hippos. Watch silently as elephants parade past at sunrise, their young calves following obediently.
After lunching along the riverbank, spend afternoons on game drives, taking in South Luangwa’s riches – stately giraffes dotting the plains, leopards draped along branches, and lions on the prowl. Other highlights include night drives to spot nocturnal creatures and game viewing along the riverbanks where hippos gather. With an isolation that has preserved its pristine wilderness and focus on sustainability, South Luangwa provides quintessential wildlife spotting experiences in Africa. Its biodiversity, walking safari origins, and breathtaking scenery leave an indelible impression.
By Ernest Edem Mensah, Author from Ghana, Africa.
Edem is a travel writer with a flair for storytelling. Armed with an arts degree from the University of Ghana, he has been exploring and writing for over three years. His passion for travel was reignited through a part-time gig with ViewCation, a travel-focused YouTube channel. This experience inspired him to extensively explore Ghana, his homeland, and parts of Togo, his father’s native country.
When not travelling or writing, Edem is an avid comics fan and gamer. His unique blend of interests adds a special touch to their articles, making them relatable and engaging for a wide range of readers.
With a bold goal to explore all of Africa by 2026, Edem is more than just a writer; they’re an adventurer at heart. His work doesn’t just guide readers; it inspires them to embark on their own journeys