Best Wildlife Safari Destinations in the World
Wildlife safaris offer an up-close and personal experience between animal lovers and natural fauna and flora. Unlike circuses and many zoos, safari experiences tend to be more ethical and respectful to wildlife.
If you're prepping for a trip to a safari hot spot, do your research to make sure the organization hosting any safari experience is sustainable and supports the long-term health of safari animals and the lands they inhabit.
The first step is choosing a destination. There are dozens of breathtaking locations to go on a safari, but these 15 are the best known for their mix of accessibility, affordability and wildlife diversity.
15. Mana Pools National Park
Size: 2,612 square miles
Bottom line: Located on the banks of the Zambezi River following the border of Zambia is Mana Pools National Park. This safari destination looks very different depending on the time of year.
In the dry season, it's a broad, dusty plain dotted with trees. In the rainy season, the plains produce a series of expansive lakes. Wildlife flourishes around these natural watering holes, and finding them is a breeze since they gravitate toward water sources.
The area is so special that it became a part of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Four pools are permanent all year round, along with thriving acacia, baobab, mahogany and ebony forests.
14. Samburu National Reserve
Size: 63.7 square miles
Bottom line: The rugged, craggy region of the Samburu National Reserve offers a more secluded safari experience in a remote location off the beaten path. It's located on the northern safari circuit of Kenya, and it beats neighboring destinations of Shaba and Buffalo Springs by a landslide. (Or should we say stampede?)
The density of wildlife is phenomenal, and there's much less foot traffic from tourists compared to Kenya's busier, easier-to-access parks. You can see towering, volcanic mountains and stately granite outcroppings while you explore the green oasis of palms along the Ewaso Nyiro River.
There, you'll find more than 450 species of birdlife, plus animals you can't find anywhere else, like the reticulated giraffe and Grevy zebra.
13. Kalahari Desert
Size: 359,075 square miles
Bottom line: We hope you brought sunscreen, because the Kalahari Desert's temperature can easily climb into the 100s on summer days. The sunny, semi-arid savanna in southern Africa covers over 350,000 square miles of Botswana.
The deep red sand dunes draw you in, but the wildlife will hold your interest captive. Spot the black-maned Kalahari lion, towering giraffes, warthogs, oryx and adorable meerkats peeking out to say hello.
Visitors can also meet the San people, who live off the land by collecting edible plants, desert melons and hunting large game. Don't worry. Elephants are definitely not on the menu.
12. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Size: 127.8 square miles
Bottom line: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda has something few other safari destinations can claim — gorillas. It's home to the majority of the world's remaining endangered gorillas outside of zoos and wildlife preserves.
On this safari experience, visitors get a break from dry, dusty plains and grasslands. Instead, they get to explore dense, deep green forests where gorillas can be observed snacking on leaves and tree roots. If guests are really lucky, they'll get to see a baby or two.
It's peaceful to watch, and the biodiversity in the area is hard to beat.
11. Chobe National Park
Size: 4,500 square miles
Bottom line: Botswana's very first designated national park is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. Chobe National Park has herds of wild antelopes running freely over grassy plains, along with herds of elephants and roaring hippos.
Tours take visitors out on the water, and you're guaranteed to see plenty of wildlife. Be careful when it comes to hippos, though. They're more dangerous than lions, tigers and crocs combined, and they don't even want to eat you. They just hate you.
We like them anyway.
10. Etosha National Park
Size: 8,600 square miles
Bottom line: If you've already been on an African safari and would prefer to experience something slightly different, Etosha National Park is the destination of your dreams. It's still in Africa, but the sheer number of watering holes in Namibia and the vivid sunsets set it apart from other safari destinations.
There are so many watering holes that visitors don't have to look far to see animals. Wherever you go in Etosha, there will be animals to see. Just cross your fingers that you don't run into a lion on your way to the bathroom.
9. Maasai Mara Reserve
Size: 580 square miles
Bottom line: The wild Maasai Mara Reserve is interlaced with peaceful rivers that wind through woodlands, acacia trees and thick grasslands.
Elephants, lions, zebras, cheetahs and hippos live there 365 days a year, plus wildebeests on their seasonal migration.
There's plenty to see, and visitors can learn about local culture in one of the Maasai villages nearby.
8. South Luangwa National Park
Size: 3,494 square miles
Bottom line: The density of wildlife in South Luanga makes the park one of the hottest safari spots on the African continent. A tour through the open plains includes views of elephants, buffalos and impalas.
Keep traveling to the riverside to see intimidatingly large hippos, flocks of rare birds and leopards waiting to bring one down for dinner.
It's like stepping onto the set of an Animal Planet documentary for vacation.
7. Hwange National Park
Size: 5,657 square miles
Bottom line: The Hwange National Park is the largest safari destination in Zimbabwe. It's home to entire herds of elephants, large prides of lions and hundreds of African wild dogs that look more like marbled pound cake than animals.
The grasslands and woods are home to over 107 different species, but elephants are the main attraction here. Depending on the safari you select, you may be able to hand-feed an elephant during your stay.
6. Yala Park
Country: Sri Lanka
Size: 378 square miles
Bottom line: Yala Park in Sri Lanka is right next to the Indian Ocean, and it's much greener than most African safari destinations. It has dense forests with vibrant, green grasslands and expansive blue lakes, all of which are home to elephants, leopards, birds and crocs.
Unlike most safari stops, visitors are likely to run into a monkey or two, and there's plenty to see for history buffs too.
Venture deeper into the park to explore caves filled with rock paintings and visit the ruins of Magul Maha Viharaya, an ancient, abandoned Buddhist temple.
5. Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Size: 3,202 square miles
Bottom line: While the Ngorongoro Conservation Area falls fifth on our list, that's only because it has incredibly steep competition. The region is one of Africa's natural wonders, set near a massive crater with lakes, lush highlands, rugged mountains and more.
There are two halves of the NCA, and both are beautiful. While your game drive will likely be the highlight of your trip, don't miss a hike around the rim of the crater, which is brimming with wildlife.
You can also stop by Lake Empakaai to meet some hot pink flamingoes in a quieter setting.
Size: 11,583 square miles
Bottom line: Serengeti is a protected region of Tanzania that's best known for its annual great wildlife migration. The migration involves over two million zebras, antelopes and wildebeests. It can be chaotic and sometimes brutal, but the authenticity is part of the draw.
Peek migration time is between June and October. Safari trips can book up quickly during this time, so plan ahead. On your tour, you'll be able to spot the big five of Africa, including lions, leopards, rhinos, African buffalos and elephants.
The park takes up over 11,000 square miles, so seeing all of it is impossible. That's literally more ground to cover than the entire state of Maryland. But you don't need to. You can drive in any direction and see mind-blowing natural sights.
3. Kruger National Park
Country: South Africa
Size: 7,523 square miles
Bottom line: Kruger National Park is one of Africa's most mesmerizing. It gets crowded, but it's worth the wait.
It's one of the world's most popular wildlife safari destinations, offering a look at lions, elephants and leopards, plus long-limbed cheetahs and dozens of exotic birds.
Safaris usually take at least three days, and Kruger National Park offers several options for varying budgets, some as low as $160 per person, per day.
2. Ranthambore National Park
Size: 515 square miles
Bottom line: In Ranthambore, you'll find fewer lions and bears, but plenty of tigers. It's a scrub jungle rife with wildlife, including lakes flourishing with fish, waterfowl and crocodiles and striking, bright orange tigers.
The area is also home to ancient mosques and temples left behind by hunters from centuries past. It's like a trip down architectural memory lane, only with views of giant wildcats thrown in.
1. Okavango Delta
Size: 16,000 square miles
Bottom line: In northern Botswana lies one of the world's biggest inland river deltas. The Okavango Delta looks like a meandering chain of waterways, which provides an oasis for dozens of safari animals. Listen to the eerie calls of hyenas, roaring lions, and growling leopards on your tour through the delta.
Once you hit the damp, marshier grasslands, be on the lookout for hippos, big crocs and elephants. There are several safari experiences to choose from, including some backpacking options, but we'll stick with a Jeep tour to be on the safe side.