Best Safaris in Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda or Uganda
Comparing Africa’s safari destinations can fill many guidebooks. But safari is all about nuance and subtleties, so we always caution against simplistic generalizations. We’ve found that four countries perennially deliver luxury safari, as defined by raw and authentic wildlife experiences. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya are our main recommendations for big-game safari.
But there are more. Here is just a taster of some of the other countries you can explore.
Exploring More of Africa
Best Safaris Namibia
Etosha in northern Namibia is one of Africa’s best safari destinations. We don’t recommend Namibia for a multi-destination African safari though; it’s neighbor Botswana has more to offer. However, we don’t believe there is a country on the planet that’s as wildly beautiful as Namibia. There’s only wilderness here, including the vibrant red dunes of Namib Naukluft and Sossusvlei.
Flying is essential and every light aircraft journey is also an aerial safari. We usually recommend mixing one or two Namibian destinations with those in Botswana or South Africa. But if you seek a really wild adventure – think mobile camps, safari walks, being hundreds of miles from everything – we can take you to the wildest and most beautiful places on earth. And that is what the best safaris in Namibia are all about.
Black rhinos drink water from a shriveling salt pan. Elephants are nearby, equally serene in their nighttime guzzling. Moonlight bathes the scene. Sonorous grunts alert you to lions nearby, causing a herd of black-faced impala to flee. Life in the desert revolves around water and nowhere is this better illustrated than in Etosha, a flagship destination for the best safaris Namibia. Luxury camps and lodges overlook the water, so you don’t need to move to find the wildlife. Even when dining beneath stars you’ll be watching and listening to Etosha’s four-legged residents.
Three private concessions border Etosha National Park. Onguma and Mushara offer a variety of accommodation to suit different budgets. Ongava is highly exclusive, a romantic getaway where encounters with leopards and cheetahs are so numerous they feel normal. All three offer a very rounded safari experience in a vastly under-rated destination. Black-maned lions, brown hyena, mountain zebra, desert-adapted elephant, the world’s greatest population of black rhinos…you’ll be astonished by how much wildlife can thrive in the desert.
Namibia’s huge scale mean fly-in safaris are highly recommended. After arriving in one of Etosha’s private concessions it’s worth staying at least three nights. That allows for time spent exploring the Etosha Pan and parts of the national park, along with exclusive non-game drive activities and the very intimate encounters that only private concessions can provide. And in a land of limited resources, three nights means a good chance of watching tense predatory scenes around the water.
Namib Naukluft and Sossusvlei – Part of the Best Safaris Namibia
The dunes of the Namib change color with the sun, a kaleidoscope of reds and oranges marking the movement of time. They are hypnotic from the air, a great canvas of ridges and sandy valleys where man has only ever left footprints. In some places they become accessible by land. Here, the experience is even more surreal, the raw appeal of the desert confronting you at every turn. Is there anywhere in Africa as wild and desolate?
Sossusvlei is the famous name, yet it is little but a dried salt and clay pan that floods once or twice a year – coinciding a visit with this natural phenomenon relies heavily on good fortune. At Deadvlei, another strange clay pan, you find 550-year-dead trees standing like sentinels beneath encroaching dunes. Breathtaking and beautiful, this landscape has long inspired photographers and desert dreamers, incredible iconicity created with every step you take.
Luxury camps are dotted across the dunes and it’s easy for them to be exclusive in such an enormous desert. Getting here is the challenge but an aerial safari is both an expedited way to travel and savor the famous visual experience. Don’t expect to see wildlife in such a vast and barren land. Mostly you only see sand. But what sand! After an hour you think you’ve seen it all. After a day you realize that nobody could ever see it all in the Namib Naukluft. As the sand comes and goes you find solace with nature and the nuance of a place that offers a different angle to every visitor.
Best Safaris Zambia and Zimbabwe
These two enormous countries have incredible safari potential. Both have the wildernesses and the wildlife. And they share a spectacle that makes every visitor swoon – Victoria Falls. Zambia can be a little tricky to get around but the best safaris Zambia really take you off the beaten track.
Zimbabwe has fallen off the tourist radar due to well-publicized political problems. But for every Cecil the Lion there’s another ten stories of conservation success. For example, some of the best safaris Zimbabwe are led by poachers turned gamekeepers.
So let’s not dwell on the challenges, let’s tempt you with what these countries have to offer. We can make a Zambia and Zimbabwe safari safe and evocative for you.
5 INCREDIBLE DESTINATIONS FOR THE BEST SAFARIS ZAMBIA
- The Zambezi River, a serene place to relax after a Botswana and Victoria Falls safari.
- Mosi-oa-Tunya, home of Victoria Falls and the rare opportunity to track wild rhinos on foot.
- If you like nighttime game drives in untouched wilderness South Luangwa National Park is one of the best places on the continent.
- North Luangwa National Park is exclusively reserved for walking safaris and closed eight months of the year; come for a few days of walking through the wild.
- The lush World Heritage wetlands of Lower Zambezi National Park are home to more hippos than anywhere on the planet.
3 DESTINATIONS FOR THE BEST SAFARIS ZIMBABWE
- More of Victoria Falls is on the Zimbabwean side of the border; a South Africa and Victoria Falls safari is a wonderful combination.
- Swimming buffalo, grunting hippos, playful elephants and resident lions…experience them with diverse activities at Mana Pools.
- Hwange provides a classic safari experience, almost 15,000 square kilometers (6000 square miles) of raw animal-rich wilderness, but hardly another person around.
Rwanda and Uganda
Visit Rwanda or Uganda and you can see lions and elephants. But while both countries have game parks and reserves, they don’t come close to what’s on offer in Kenya and Tanzania. For a luxury safari we never recommend Rwanda or Uganda. Instead, the premier attraction hides high in volcanic forests, cut off from everything else in the world: wild mountain gorillas.
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are the only two places in the world you can encounter wild mountain gorillas. It’s one of Africa’s ultimate experiences, one of the world’s most intimate hours with wildlife. Our detailed gorilla trekking page gives you all the details.
Best Safaris Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park
Trek through the rainforest to a troop of wild mountain gorillas. The trees rescind and a whole troop comes into view; every single one of them is staring straight at you. A mother flaps her arms, a show of presence and power. Then she returns to gnawing at tree bark. A young gorilla jumps through the trees, branches snapping above your head. Another strident crack alerts you to the silverback tearing down part of a giant African redwood.
After the intense initial welcome the gorillas go about their day. For an hour you watch and admire, a whole troop of wild mountain gorillas feeding and foraging. A mesmerizing play of personal relationships unfolds and there’s a good chance you’ll be surrounded by the troop, unsure of which way to look. And although the troop has been carefully habituated to human presence, they are very much wild, part of the approximately 1000 mountain gorillas that remain.
Gorilla trekking is only possible in two African locations. Volcanoes is our recommendation if you wish to combine the gorillas with a more traditional East African safari. However, a private safari will allow you to combine Uganda or Rwanda with the rest of Africa. The park is more accessible as it’s only a 2 ½-hour drive from capital city Kigali and its international airport. The actual trekking tends to be a little shorter than in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, although this can’t be guaranteed and walking in such pristine rainforest is part of the attraction. Stunning accommodation is perched above the forest, on the edge of the national park, with a view that makes you realize why Dian Fossey called her book Gorillas in the Mist.
Best Safaris Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Shocks of black fur move through dense forest. Gorillas. Wild ones, on the move. They’re retreating from the scent of a forest elephant, crawling across steep slopes before stopping to feed in a small clearing. You creep closer. And closer still. Then you stop and wait, immersing yourself in the behavior and beauty of a troop that isn’t accustomed to human visitors.
For all the preconceptions of fists beating chests, gorillas are bashful and reclusive animals. They seek privacy, not confrontation, even if silverback males can jump into aggressive displays of power and pride. It takes three to four years to habituate wild mountain gorilla troops to human presence, so they can later be visited on a gorilla trek. In Uganda’s Bwindi it’s now possible to be part of this process on a gorilla habituation experience. Traveling with researchers and conservations you get to spend four hours with a troop (compared to one hour on a gorilla trek). And there’s never any predicting what will happen.
For gorilla trekking we recommend Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda due to its accessibility. For something that’s even more personal visit Bwindi and be amongst the first human eyes to see a certain gorilla family. Raw and redolent the experience is for real wildlife lovers, not those hoping for a selfie with gorillas in the background. You’ll need patience and you’ll need time, because getting to this remote Ugandan park isn’t straightforward. But the reward is one of Africa’s most unique and incredulous wildlife experiences.