It’s undeniable that the number one reason visitors come to Africa is to see its wild natural beauty and abundant animal life. And the best place to do that is in any one of the hundreds of national parks and reserves. Though it’s impossible to include all the greatest national parks in Africa on one single list, we’ve whittled it down to 10 that we think capture the best of north, south, east and west Africa.
Sources: lonelyplanet.com, wikipedia.com, travel.cnn.com, audleytravel.com.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Ahaggar National Park, Algeria
We’ll start with the most desolate. Located in the southern part of Algeria and running along the Tropic of Cancer, this protected area boasts the Hoggar Mountain range and Sahara sand dunes. Trivia: In the early 1900s, French priest Charles de Foucauld built a hermitage way high up in the Assekrem (the highest point), and lived among the local Tuareg population.
2. Kruger National Park, South Africa
South Africa’s most-visited national park, prized for its diversity of species and accessibility, covers more than 7,000 miles of protected area in the northeast tip of the country. Proclaimed by founder Paul Kruger in 1898 as a government wildlife park, its 147-plus species of mammal attract visitors from around the world. There are nine entrance gates to the park, and plenty of lodging and safari tour options.
3. Perinet Reserve, Madagascar
In Madagascar you won’t find savanna or desert, but rain forest. The Perinet Reserve, also called the Analamalaotra Special Reserve, is part of the greater Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The entire park is about 155 square kilometers, and its rainforest flora hosts multiple species. Most popular is the indri, a large lemur native to the island. It has a haunting cry. Logging and deforestation have threatened this unique species, but the park does a pretty great job of keeping it safe.
4. Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
I visited this park in 2011, and thought it looked like the setting for “The Lion King.” Turns out it’s where the illustrator came for his inspiration. So there you go! In Uganda’s Northwest corner near the Congo border, you’ll find this cascade pouring down into the break end of the Victoria Nile. In 1954, Ernest Hemingway drunkenly crashed a small plane here. The morning game drive is stunning; you’ll see four of the “big five” (lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards) as well warthogs, crocs, hippos and other amazing species.
5. Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve, Tanzania/Kenya
With more than 5,000 square miles of protected grasslands, savanna, and forests, the Serengeti is one top spots Africa to see the “Big Five.” It’s also home to gazelle, cheetah, baboons, giraffe, and impala. More than 3,000 lions live here — Africa’s largest concentration. A massive annual migration occurs between the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, with more than 2.5 million animals making the round-trip journey every year. The name Serengeti is derived from the local Maasai word, siringet — “the place where the land runs on forever.”
6. Chobe National Park, Botswana
One of the largest inland waterways in the world, the Okavango River catches rain from Angola and the Kalahari in January. It dumps into the delta, which floods until the summertime, when high temperatures evaporate the water. Since there is a constant back and forth between wet and dry, safaris are offered either on land or on water (or both). Gawk at the Nile crocs, cower away from the hippos, or marvel at the giraffes feeding along the road. Most of the large mammals leave during the winter, and migrate back to feed during the summer.
7. Parc National de la Pendjari, Benin
Many consider Parc National de la Pendjari in Benin the best national park in West Africa. Named after the local Pendjari River, it is part of the greater WAP Complex, which protects areas in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Hosting endangered species such as elephants, antelopes, and hippos, and known especially for its rich bird species, it is home to the pallid herrier and the African swallow-tailed kite. The lion population is considered one of West Africa’s largest, and the rare Northwest African cheetah lives here. Burkina Faso’s Arli National Park is adjacent and provides wonderful safaris and vistas.
8. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Named a game reserve in 1907 by the governor of then-German South West Africa, Etosha was elevated to the status of national park in 1967. Located in Namibia’s northwest region. it’s a sprawling, sensational wonderland covering roughly 8,600 square miles including the 1,900-square-mile Etosha Pan — a dry, lakebed covered in salt and minerals (much like the Bonneville salt flats in the USA). The park is also home to savannah, grasslands, and woodlands with elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas and more.
9. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
One word: Gorillas! This is where Dian Fossey, famed gorilla scientist and enthusiast, made the friends of a lifetime — and was buried. Established in Africa in 1925, the continent’s first national park holds in the bamboo forests of its upper slope 300 endangered mountain gorillas. Tourism is tightly controlled here: less than 70 viewing or visitation permits are issued per day to see the gorillas. The lush rainforests and bamboo lead to five major volcanoes which can be trekked in guided tours. High altitudes and high adventures await.
10. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
From the Virunga Mountains in the south to the Rwenzori Mountains in the north, this park spans 3,000 square miles. Also established in 1925, it shares the title with Volcanoes National Park as the first-ever national park of Africa. Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth Park also borders it. The most magnificent sight is the Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcano, the most voluminous of its kind in the world. With stunning mountainscapes and a wonderful biodiversity, the park has seen a recent resurgence in tourism after previous incidents with poachers and armed militias scared visitors away.
Related content on AFKTravel:
Beyond The Serengeti: 10 Lesser-Known National Parks In Tanzania
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The Best National Parks and Reserves in Kenya