Without a doubt, east Africa is home to some of the best safari destinations in all of Africa. This region contains many of the epic parks often featured by the likes of BBC in its African wildlife documentaries, such as Serengeti National Park, Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Amboseli National Park. In addition, east Africa offers some very unique safari opportunities, including Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. East Africa is an absolute must for all wildlife and safari-goer enthusiasts!
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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
As one of the world’s most famous wildlife sanctuaries, Serengeti National Park needs no introduction. Protected since 1929, the Serengeti is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and truly one of the jewels of Africa. The Serengeti gets its name from the Maasai word “siringet” meaning “endless plain,” and it is here we find the archetypal African landscape, as depicted on nearly any kind of African wildlife documentary. The Serengeti forms the southern end of the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem and is home to the Great Migration, consisting of millions of wildebeest, zebras, and other antelopes, for just over half of the year. The sheer volume of wildlife in this park, particularly during the Great Migration, is simply flabbergasting. In addition to hordes of plains game, antelope, elephants, and other herbivores, the Serengeti is one of the best places in Africa to watch predators in action and is home to over 3000 lions, in addition to thousands of cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, foxes, and jackals. As with many of the other parks in east Africa, the Serengeti can be somewhat congested in certain regions during high season, although the utter size of this park helps mitigate the problem. For an unrivaled safari experience, the Serengeti lives up to its reputation.
Masai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara is one Africa’s most popular safari destinations. Located in southwest Kenya, this is the northernmost extension of the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem and consists of both the Masai Mara National Reserve as well as the many adjacent conservation areas managed by local Maasai communities. While the game viewing is always especially good in this region and worthy of a visit in its own right, what makes the Masai Mara one of Africa’s jewels is the annual Great Migration. Here this usually occurs from July to November and consists of millions of Wildebeest, Zebra, Topi, and other plains game pouring over the border from the Serengeti in search of fresh water and new grazing territory. This is the largest mammalian migration on earth where lions, cheetah, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, and other predators are never far behind the plains game, ever vigilant in their search for a new meal. Of particular excitement are the Great Migration crossings at the Mala and Talek Rivers where enormous crocodiles pick off whatever weak, injured, or careless bodies they can get their jaws on.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of Tanzania’s most well-known wildlife refuges, which together with the adjoining Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem forms an immensely rich African environment, dense with wildlife. But what really makes this area famous is Ngorongoro Crater, a World Heritage Site and the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, with a 100-square mile cavity surrounded by a 2000-foot high rim. This “Eighth Wonder of the World” creates a natural amphitheater for one of the densest populations of large animals anywhere in Africa. The rich soils and abundant year-round water provide an ideal habitat for approximately 22,000 animals with species ranging from Black-Maned Lions to Spotted Hyenas to the rare Black Rhinos to Thompson’s Gazelles, as well as many other fascinating animals species. The only downside to this incredible destination is the fact that it tends to be overcrowded with tourists, particularly in high season, which can ruin the wilderness experience for some. That being said, there is a reason Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most famous safari destinations in Africa and very few visitors leave here disappointed.
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Located in southeast Kenya just north of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park is the setting for the quintessential African landscape, the one that often comes to many people’s mind when thinking of a safari in Africa. Amboseli is where the snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, provides a majestic backdrop to vast, open plains dotted by flat-topped acacia trees. The allure of this awesome setting, as well as the plentiful game and large herds of wildlife, attract visitors from all over the world and makes this park one of Kenya’s top highlights.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is situated on Uganda's western border, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. This region is very close to the geographical heart of Africa where the Rift Valley and Africa’s Great Lakes converge to create an eco-system that is considered by many to be the very essence of the African continent, as depicted in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Fittingly, Bwindi is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The fertile 125 square miles of the park contain 113 species of mammals (including a herd of rare forest elephants), 200 species of butterflies, over 360 species of birds, and 324 tree varieties (ten of which are endemic to the park). In addition to this incredible diversity, Bwindi is home to seven species of primates, of which the most endangered is the Mountain Gorilla, attracting the attention of international conservation efforts. It is estimated that only 600 of these peaceful giants remain worldwide, and these mountains alone are home to approximately 300 gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an enduring pocket of primeval forest offering an enthralling Africa experience.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Selous (pronounced "Seloo) Game Reserve, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Africa’s largest game reserve, being approximately the size of Ireland or Switzerland. Selous is home to over 750,000 mammals. Here we can experience vast herds of migrating elephants, wildebeest, Burchell’s Zebra, and antelope of every kind including Roosevelt Sable and Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest. Most notably, Selous is the last refuge of the African Wild Dog, and it is estimated that over one-third of all Wild Dogs left on the continent live here. Unlike many of the other parks in Tanzania and Kenya, Selous tends to be less crowded and operates at a more leisurely pace. This makes for a slower, more relaxed safari, which is often a welcome change of pace after other parts of Africa.