The 17 best wildlife-focused experiences in Africa

Africa is the continent that makes you feel most alive. And these are its most exhilarating experiences…
Written by Matthew Sterne
03 September 2021

There’s no place in this universe, or the next, that can compare to Africa when it comes to wildlife. From migrations that blot out the sun to magnificent beasts that defy belief – Africa’s wildlife is incomparable. And the ways to encounter them – on foot, by vehicle, on horseback or in water – take you as close as you can possibly get, creating experiences that often border on the mystical. Here are the best of them.

Gorilla trekking in Central Africa

Source: Melanie van Zyl

Nothing quite prepares you for the moment you come upon a gorilla family in the wild. The first glimpse of black as a juvenile jumps off a nearby branch, a toddler clings to its mother’s back and a giant silverback rises to size you up. For many people, it’s the ultimate wildlife experience. David Attenborough described meeting the mountain gorillas as one of the most exciting animal encounters of his life. You can find them in mystical-sounding places such as Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park.

 

Swim with whale sharks off Mafia Island

Source: Simon J Pierce | naturetripper.com

‘Mafia Island is Tanzania’s smaller and lesser-known island destination. Lying some 160km to the south, it’s also the domain of ocean giants,’ The African Insider journalist Melanie van Zyl writes. It’s easiest to see the whale sharks, which can grow up to 20 metres, between October and February, with the first sightings from September. At this time, whale shark sightings are more or less guaranteed. What makes Mafia’s population stand out is that the fish linger nearby throughout the year, making it the longest whale shark season in the world. The trade winds bring in plenty of food and the world’s biggest fish has no reason to leave. Neither will you.

 

Witness Kasanka’s bat migration

Source: Nature Travel Expeditions

Despite what most people think, Africa’s largest wildlife migration does not take place on the savanna of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. Instead, it occurs in the skies over the Congo and Zambia, when more than 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats make their way to Kasanka National Park to settle in a small patch of swampy forest. The scale of it is immense, with bats as far as the eye can see in every direction. During the day, it’s not unheard of for branches to collapse under the weight of the migrating mammals. Come sunset, you’ll see the small, dog-like faces looking down on you as they soar past.

 

Walk among chimps in Mahale

Source: Britannica

The chimpanzees of Tanzania were made famous by Jane Goodall in the Gombe Stream National Park. Yet the best chimpanzee interaction in Africa is to be had on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in the western reaches of Tanzania, in the Mahale Mountains National Park. The scientists there have managed to habituate some of the groups to human presence, although a ten-metre gap is strictly enforced when viewing the animals. The park was originally created to protect the thousands of chimpanzees that inhabit the region. There are eight other species of primate and the sunsets over the lake are legendary.

 

Track Ethiopian wolves in the Bale Mountains

Source: Adventure.com

Ethiopian wolves are only found in the mountains of Ethiopia, where some 500 survive in small populations threatened by habitat loss and diseases. They’re one of the most endangered animals on the planet – even rarer than China’s giant panda. The Bale Mountains National Park is the best place to see them, a wind-blown place, home to soaring golden eagles, preying leopards, packs of spotted hyena and, in the nearby Harenna cloud forest, rare and magnificent black-maned jungle lions. It’s the highest plateau on the continent, earning it the name ‘the rooftop of Africa’.

 

Elephant cruise on Chobe river

Source: Africa Geographic

In the dry season, up to 85,000 elephants are found within Chobe National Park – making it the highest concentration of ellies in the world – with the majority of them found along the river. They tend to make their way to the river and onto the islands in the river to feast on the sweet grass. As the sun slips low and the day cools, a three-hour cruise will take you right past these magnificent herds. Hippos and crocodiles like to bask in the sun next to the water. You’re likely to see buffalo, giraffes and other plains game. While lucky visitors might see leopards and lions. Furthermore, there are over 460 bird species in the park.

 

Dive with great whites near Cape Town

Source: Surfer Magazine

It’s a special kind of thrill to see these magnificent, misunderstood creatures up close and in their element. Their behaviour at the tip of Africa is famous, as this is where they attack seals, at dusk and dawn, torpedoing them from below and launching them both out of the water. The memory of such an attack still takes my breath away. You’ll be lucky to witness such a spectacle. For a more guaranteed sighting, jump in a cage and go eyeball-to-eyeball with them.

 

Drive through the Ngorongoro Crater

Source: Swain Destinations

Nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth. Endangered black rhinos are protected within its rim, giant tusked elephants wander the forests, male lions stalk the grasslands and flamingos crowd the soda lakes. Aside from boasting a fertile floor and thus an abundance of wildlife, the crater is also the only intact caldera left in the world and is often referred to as Africa’s ultimate wildlife paradise.

 

Watch turtles nesting and hatching on Africa’s East Coast

Source: Thonga Beach Lodge

Africa’s east coast is a nesting ground for loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles. Indian Ocean turtles nest in summer generally between September to February, with incubation lasting between two and three months. Seeing this phenomenon is tricky to guarantee but you may just be the lucky one who ventures out at night to see mothers labouring over the sand or hatchlings emerge and make their perilous journey to the water.

 

Canoe down the Zambezi

Source: Timbuktu Travel

The mighty Zambezi is the fourth largest river in Africa and cuts through six countries on its way to the Indian Ocean. There are many national parks and safari concessions that stake their claim along this famous river creating a magnificent wildlife haven. The canoe safaris are entirely self-sufficient, there are no support teams – just guests, guides and an ancient river. You’ll navigate a maze of sandbanks, hippos, and islands crossing back and forth between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and camp overnight in the middle of the river’s many islands.

 

Experience the Great Wildebeest Migration

Source: Asilia Africa

This one’s no secret – the Great Wildebeest Migration is probably Africa’s most famous wildlife phenomenon. The world’s largest land migration (involving over two million animals) is certainly a dramatic event. The river crossings that occur around July include thousands of zebra and wildebeest braving the Mara and Grumeti Rivers. The waters are filled with Nile crocodiles, and waiting on the other side are predators lying in ambush, ready to pounce just as their prey steps onto dry land. Nothing quite compares to it.

 

Horseback safari in Botswana

Source: Equus Journeys

Considered by many to be the ultimate riding safari holiday, a horseback safari in Botswana offers something truly special. The country boasts a huge array of wildlife, huge fence-less landscapes and scenery which is out of this world. The flooding that occurs in the Okavango Delta each year leaves large parts inaccessible to vehicles, while on horseback you can explore beyond the 4×4 tracks. There are now riding safaris also based in the Makgadikgadi pans and in the south east of the country on the Mashatu Reserve in the Tuli Block, allowing riders to explore a diversity of landscapes.

 

Walking tour in South Luangwa

Source: Safarico

The home of walking safaris, Zambia gives visitors the chance to go in search of big game on foot with some of the best guides in the safari business. Being out of the comfort of a game viewing vehicle and in the open with wild animals heightens your senses. The snap of a twig could be a Cape buffalo hiding in the bushes or a lion slowly stalking. It all feels surreal and pulls you into your surroundings. It grants you the closest connection to nature and is known as one of the best safari activities in Africa.

 

Mingle with meerkats

Source: andBeyond

Despite their small size, and seeming insignificance, meerkats are one of Africa’s most loved and iconic animals. They’re known to create dust clouds to distract predators and can dig through sand equal to their own body mass in seconds. You can visit, and sit, with habituated gangs of meerkats in the dry, arid regions of Botswana and South Africa – where these tough little creatures thrive and can live in groups of up to fourty strong.

 

Follow the zebra migration

Source: Journeys Discovering Africa

In comparison to the wildebeest migration, relatively little is known about the annual zebra migration, which occurs in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. This landscape is semi-desert and, after the summer rains, once-barren grasslands spring to life for the green season. New grazing and rainfall prompt 25 000-strong herds to move into Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pan. The zebras travel incredible distances to reach grazing lands, so although this is not the largest land migration in Africa, it’s the longest. They migrate across mile and mile of shimmering white salt pans, stretching as far as the eye can see. The arduous journey takes up to six months with the herds spending a couple of months at the Boteti River before making the journey back north around late October through November.

 

Track desert-adapted rhino in Damaraland

Source: The Explorations Company

Set out in the morning by vehicle to follow the Save the Rhino monitors as they track one of their charges – the desert-adapted black rhino. Due to the vast terrain, long distances can be covered, with other wildlife to be seen along the way. You will then leave your vehicle and track the rhino carefully and silently on foot before spending some time with these incredible animals.

 

Visit penguins at Boulders Beach

Source: Inside Guide

Over the years, the penguins at Boulders Beach have become Instafamous. Just thirty minutes outside of Cape Town’s city centre, the beach is home to thousands of the mini tuxedoed birds. The African penguin is the only species of penguin found in Africa and you’ll be amazed at how close these comical birds come up to you.

 

If you’d like to find out more about having these incredible experiences yourself then please drop us a message and our travel experts will be able to tell you exactly how you could do it. 

Book your next trip with us

South Africa Namibia Morocco Kenya Ethiopia Madagascar Rwanda Mozambique

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