10 Best African Destinations for First Time Visitors

Last updated on May 10th, 2023 at 10:37 pm

Every relationship must begin somewhere. Most people fall in love with Africa even before they travel there, feeling the pull as they organize their very first safari. I’m confident that as soon as you step foot on African soil and begin your safari, you’ll be hooked and itching to embark on your next trip!

But where should you go on your first safari to Africa when there are so many incredible nations, national parks, reserves, and conservancies to pick from? There are several nations that are ideal for a safari for first-timers, delivering the major bucket list events that you may want to check off while you are there.

African Safari
Image by Jolande from Pixabay

As an alternative, there are a ton of lesser-known, unique, and off-the-beaten-path destinations that will create the most unforgettable memories.

Whether you are interested in wildlife, culture, historical places, maritime adventures, family experiences, horseback riding, cycling, conservation, etc., where you go much depends on your interests and preferences.

Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

Masai Mara Kenya
Image by Vic from Pixabay

For good reason, the renowned Masai Mara is the safari area that first-time safari travelers instinctively think of when they are arranging their first luxury African vacation. A safari in Kenya to the Mara offers the chance to see some very amazing wildlife.

The Mara is home to the Great Migration from mid-July to the end of September, but it also hosts year-round wildlife residents. This is a particularly calm season when you might have parts of the reserve to yourself because the long rains fall in April and May. On a game drive in April of one year, you can spot all five of the Big Five in a single day.

Although spending time in the Masai Mara National Reserve is undoubtedly important, there is also more than twice as much land nearby that is set aside for private conservancies and conservation. These are great safari spots for grown-up families looking for the best adventure. They can rent a private villa or a small fixed or portable tented option.

From Game Drives to Hot Air Balloons: 10 Must-Do Activities in Masai Mara Game Reserve

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Serengeti Wildebeest migration
Image by Scheidt from Pixabay

The Masai Mara and the famed Serengeti National Park, which are separated only by a border, together make up the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Two million wildebeest, zebra, and other antelope make the Great Migration, a never-ending cycle of movement from the Mara to the Serengeti and back.

From early January through the beginning of March, the calving occurs in its southern Ndutu region. As one of my friends witnessed last year, up to 50 000 infants may be delivered on a single day. The wildlife that lives in the Serengeti and its neighboring conservancies is incredible. In addition to giraffes, lions, and leopards, there are also hyenas, cheetahs, lions, and leopards in some locations.

Serengeti Park: 10 Activities to Make Your Safari Unforgettable

Laikipia, Kenya

Laikipia Kenya
Photo by Gio’s Studio on Unsplash

Lewa and Borana Wildlife Conservancies are located in the gently sloping hills of Laikipia, in the foothills of Mount Kenya. One of the best places to go on the first safari is because it is ideal and appealing to everyone. The conservancies are dedicated to environmental preservation and cutting-edge wildlife protection initiatives, such as anti-poaching teams, the preservation of certain endangered species, and community assistance and development.

There is a variety of lodging available to meet every preference. You may choose from a number of entirely private, exclusive-use family residences and villas, like Lengishu, Sirai House, or Laragai House, or you could stay at the opulent and romantic Elewana Lewa Safari Camp, a typical safari lodge with a few guest rooms, or a safari tent camp.

The Lewa and Borana Wildlife Conservancies provide a wide range of experiences, including horseback riding among wildlife and the chance to see their rhinos (they have 169 black rhinos in the conservancy). Even from your lodge, you might be able to view zebra and giraffe, as they frequently meander over the lawns for the enjoyment of the whole family.

Spend time with the Masai as they lead you over the plains and share their knowledge of their enduring ties to the land and their centuries-long reliance on it. You could also pay a visit to the anti-poaching dogs and handlers that guard this lovely region.

Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Akagera National Park, Rwanda
Akagera National Park

First-time safari visitors who also want to observe primates should definitely pay a visit to Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda, which is a conservation success story. It was formerly completely destroyed by poachers and was on the verge of extinction owing to human encroachment, but African Parks has taken control of it since 2010 and has turned it around.

Akagera has been turned by the Rwanda Development Board into a spectacular location teeming with wildlife, including the Big Five! You can witness a wide variety of animals in one area due to the terrain’s diversity, which includes lakes, savannah, riverine forests, woodlands, and grassland plains.

You may combine Akagera with a mountain gorilla safari in the close-by Volcanoes National Park if you also want to view gorillas. This is the ideal animal combination that checks off so many items on the bucket list of an African safari.

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
Image by Steffen Pieper from Pixabay

Zambia is undoubtedly one of the best countries for a safari. All of the National Parks and Reserves are worthwhile stops on a trip. At least two of these should be combined, but my personal favorite is the Lower Zambezi National Park.

The colors that cover the terrain in this park, which is located in Zimbabwe and is divided from Mana Pools National Park by the majestic Zambezi River and the Zambezi Escarpment, are what I find most wonderful about it. The purple-hued escarpment, the Zambezi’s glistening blue waters, and the albida forest’s soft tones. Hippos and crocodiles can be seen in great numbers in the rivers, which makes for exciting wildlife viewing.

The Lower Zambezi is ideal for walking safaris. You can choose to take daily short walks from your camp or a longer, five-to six-day trek across the park with a private guide while staying in a mobile camp that is specifically built for you and put up along the way. Along with the stunning Burchell’s Zebra, there are magnificent bird species to see (Boehms Zebra). To experience all the activities, both on land and in the sea, this park requires at least a four-night visit.

Luke Evans and Kyle Branch have created tented camps where you may go on daily walks, canoe safaris, and boat safaris with these exceptional private guides for an exceptional experience. Or, for a permanent base and more opulent lodging, Chongwe River House provides a wide range of activities and award-winning architecture.

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Image by TOM Chiponge Baroque M. C. from Pixabay

Combine the Lower Zambezi with the South Luangwa, the most well-known park in Zambia. It goes without saying that walking safaris are the norm here, and the educated and devoted tour guides make this one of my top three safari locations in Africa.

It has some of the highest concentrations of animals in all of Africa. The park is well-known for its fantastic leopard sightings, and on a five-day tour, I once saw twelve distinct leopards, including three in a single sighting!

Consider hiring a private safari home to add an exclusive twist while avoiding the crowds. Two bedrooms make Robin’s House ideal for a family with young children. Children enjoy going on safari excursions with your guide and learning all about the wildlife spoor that they find, or going on evening stargazing tours, and you have a staff contingent to tend to your every need.

A vast herd of elephants, impalas, giraffes and countless other species frequent the lagoon system where the Luangwa Safari House is elegantly perched on the edge.

Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe National Park, Botswana
Image by katja from Pixabay

I have a special connection to Botswana’s Chobe National Park because I spent 15 years there. This is the only location where, during the dry season, I have been able to sit on the riverbank and observe a thousand elephants sprawled out along the river.

There is also a ton of other animals here, but what makes this so unique is the game drives that mix land and river travel. I don’t think there is anything more special than spending an afternoon floating along the river, watching the animals come down for a drink, and watching the red and orange sunset.

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Elephant at Hwange National Park

With 45 000 elephants living in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, you are practically certain to see an elephant (or several). Spend time in hides and go on a walking safari. Spend a beautiful afternoon in a hide to get a close-up view of the watering hole where numerous elephant herds come to drink and roam nearby.

Spend some time alone and observe the wildlife approaching you. You will like watching the flocks of sandgrouse coming down to drink and wet their feathers to take back and give to their young chicks because there is always something going on near waterholes.

Crocodiles waiting in the shallows, kudu delicately tiptoeing to the water’s edge, and elephants arriving will also be seen. The elephants will sweep thirsty buffalo away so they may cool themselves with a refreshing shower of water on a hot afternoon.

Eastern Cape, South Africa

Eastern Cape, South Africa
Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay

There are so many options for your vacation in South Africa, which is frequently referred to as “a world in one nation,” that it can be difficult to pick one. Everyone may find something here, whether they are looking for a solitary retreat in a luxurious villa, or are families or honeymooning couples.

The Eastern Cape of South Africa offers a wide range of private reserves and National Parks where you may go on a safari in the morning and relax on a beach with the Indian Ocean lapping at your feet in the afternoon.

Many species can be seen on just one or two game drives in some of these parks with abundant wildlife if you choose a quiet and relaxing safari. For people who prefer to spend more time and travel in a leisurely manner to learn about the cultures, visit breathtakingly good restaurants, and engage in activities like walking and fishing, there are also classy boutique hotels.

On the other hand, there are so many things to do for new families that you won’t run out of things to do.

Escape to the Wilderness: 8 Breathtaking Eastern Cape Hiking Trails

The Sabi Sands, South Africa

The Sabi Sands, South Africa
Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay

Several private reserves known as the Sabi Sands that border the Kruger National Park is another ideal location for a first-time, luxurious safari to South Africa. The 65,000-hectare region is well known for being a spot where visitors are practically certain to see all five of the Big 5 in one day.

Its value is enhanced by the owners of Sabi Sands’ dedication to protecting the area’s flora and wildlife for future generations while also helping the communities in the area. There are several luxurious lodges, and when combined with the amazing experiences available, your first safari will leave you with only the fondest memories.

The popular Singita Castleton can be reserved exclusively for guests who want total seclusion. Another lovely resort is Lion Sands, which has two lovely treehouse apartments that are elevated and provide perfect solitude and comfort for a night spent sleeping under the stars.

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