Once upon a time, safari tours were only accessible to the wealthy and well-connected, but the safari travel industry is changing and this once-exclusive kind of trip is now open to more travelers across the globe. And it’s a good thing too since there really isn’t anything quite like the thrill of an African safari. There’s something so extremely satisfying and exciting about rising with the sun and heading into the wild to catch glimpses of some of Africa’s most magnificent animals. In the African bush, it’s all about the excitement of the unexpected as one never knows what new sights and experiences each day will bring.
The best part is that even though Kenya and Tanzania remain popular options for an East African safari, many of the previously no-go political zones are rapidly emerging as viable safari destinations, especially with the increasing rate of national parks being designated and protected. With that in mind, here’s our picks for the best safari destinations in East Africa:
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Arguably the most magnificent park on the African continent, the Serengeti boasts incredible amounts of wildlife in its sheer vastness and is refreshing in its dramatic staging. Given its lion population, it is safe to say the Serengeti is the best place to spot lions, as well as other large mammals like rhinos, hippos, elephants, and leopards. There’s also the Great Migration, an annual event that pretty much sums up the greatest land migration on the planet. There’s so much to see and do in the Serengeti and tours are available for just about every type of traveler. There are also several options for a budget safari in Tanzania so you can enjoy the wonders of the Serengeti without necessarily breaking bank.
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Sharing its borders with the Serengeti, the Mara Reserve is Kenya’s and maybe even Africa’s quintessential safari destination. With rolling grasslands and scattered acacia woodlands, it boasts some pretty dramatic game viewing, including the Great Migration. Spotting of the big five is common here, as well as is other wildlife, such as giraffes, zebras, hyenas, cheetahs, ostriches and hundreds of migratory bird species. Like Tanzania, Kenya safari tours are catered to suit individual travel needs and preferences.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve, Uganda
Located in the southwest region of Uganda along the edge of the famous Rift Valley, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve is blessed with surreal landscapes, jagged valleys and dense vegetations for miles on end. It is one of the best places on the planet to spot mountain gorillas. Here, you can track the habituated gorilla groups in the park, allowing you to come face-to-face with these powerful great apes. Your guide will ask you not to stare at them, but truly it’s a bit tough not to as it’s such a wonderful thing seeing animals thriving in their habitat. The park is also home to chimpanzees and baboons, as well as other mammals including antelopes and elephants.
Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Ethiopia is not exactly a safari destination, but if there is one destination that makes this list, it’s the Bale Mountains National Park. This protected area is critical for preserving a number of threatened Ethiopian endemic species. The Bale Mountains is home to more than half of the global population of the Ethiopian wolf, the world’s rarest canid. It has a varied ecosystem that allows it to support several animal species, including mountain nyalas, two-horned chameleons, Osgood’s Ethiopian toads, Rock Hyrax, Starck’s Hare and the Bale Monkey, among others. Six of the 18 birds endemic to Ethiopia can be found in this park, including the Blue-winged Goose, Spot-breasted lapwing/plover, Abyssinian longclaw, and the Yellow-fronted parrot.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Another excellent place for gorilla trekking, the Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s jewel. It also happens to be a great place to track chimpanzees and golden monkeys. The gorillas here are more habituated to humans, plus you don’t have to do too much strenuous trekking in order to find them. Another attractive feature is that the park offers more ideal photographic conditions with better natural lighting, compared to the more dense vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Whichever safari destination you opt for, keep in mind that there is always preparation involved before embarking on your trip. Many national parks and reserves across East Africa tend to be fully booked during peak safari seasons, so you may need to make your reservations well in advance. You’ll also need to check with your health provider for information on any needed vaccinations.