Going on a safari is simply one of the most incredible activities you can do in a lifetime. However, there are some highlights each one of us wish we could see.
The first time I went on a safari I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I was going to see wildlife at its purest form, but I was not sure what is considered something unique and special. I didn’t understand how rare it is to see rhinos in their natural habitat and I thought spotting a lion hunting a zebra was something I could see on a daily basis. What are the top safari experiences in Africa?
After more than 20 safaris all over Africa, I now have a better feeling of something unique and memorable. I also understand that wildlife is unpredictable and expecting to see everything on one single trip is something very uncommon and at the same time each single experience should be appreciated.
Every country in the Sub-Sahara has something different to offer and after visiting some of the best national parks in Southern Africa, these are in my opinion the best safari experiences you can find while traveling in Africa.
Spot a pride of lions
Seeing a single lion is already one of the highlights for many travelers in Africa. However, there is nothing more outstanding than experiencing the pride of them taking in the sun in the middle of the day. This is a scene to never forget. Lionesses playing with their cubs, young male lions cuddling, or simply a handful of lions sleeping next to each other are some of the most memorable scenes you can see.
At the same time, this is in my opinion one of the easiest safari experiences to find in Africa. Either you are traveling to Masai Mara in Kenya or to Etosha in Namibia, a family of lions is usually something you easily tick off the bucket list.
However, if you really want to see lions roaming everywhere, there is nothing like Serengeti National Park. This is by far the best spot in all Africa to see the king of the jungle – even several times per day.
Observe an elephant herd drinking at a waterhole
This is the classic image of wild Africa. 20 plus elephants standing next to each other and drinking water from a waterhole or walking next to the riverbed. It is a dream for every safari lover and no matter how many times you witness this moment, you will never get bored.
Calves standing next to their mothers, young elephants drinking water using their trunks and one or another elephant simply enjoying a bath in the refreshing waters are some of the most memorable images of an experience like this.
Without a doubt the best places to spot such a scenery are Amboseli National Park in Kenya or Chobe National Park in Botswana, home of more than 120.000 elephants – the largest single population all over the world.
See a cheetah running at high speed
This moment looks like a scene from Hollywood. The cheetah quietly waits for the right moment and then without any notice, stands up, starts walking slowly and steady and in just a split of a second goes full speed.
With a maximum speed of 130 km/h, a cheetah is the fastest animal in the whole kingdom and experiencing one of its runs is probably one of the most spectacular experiences any safari lover can see. It really catches you out of guard if you want to photograph it, but still, no matter if the photos are blurry, this is an experience you will always remember.
Unfortunately don’t get your hopes up. Witnessing a cheetah running at maximum speed is probably the most difficult event to experience in this list.
Want to get a glimpse of it? Private concessions and cheetah conservancies usually offer a cheetah run to visitors. It is not the same as seeing it in open space in a national park, but for some it is still an experience to have.
Observe a predator kill
A lonely lion moves towards an innocent prey in stealthy footsteps, your vehicle turns off and you wait in quiet while the animal observes and waits for the right moment. From one second to another, the lion charge upon the prey as quick as your eyes can see and you can hardly catch the moment when he bites the back and breaks their prey’s neck.
Everything goes very fast and you can barely see what just happened. All the other animals around the kill run away and the calm at the savanna returns.
This is probably the holy grail in wildlife photography and for any safari lovers. Observing a kill requires patience, a very knowledgeable guide, and lots of luck. This is something that does happen every day in Africa, but you have to be at the right time and at the right moment to see it happening.
No matter if it’s a cheetah, leopard, lion or even crocodile, observing a predator kill is observing the saddest but most intense and spectacular part in the circle of life.
Spot a rhino in the wild
They are probably one of the most endangered species in the animal kingdom and at the same time some of the most fascinating ones. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to spot.
With a population of only 27.000 thousand rhinos and with experts predicting its extinction within 10 years if no measures are being taken into place, spotting a rhino in the wild has become a challenge for anyone doing a safari. Many national parks in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia won’t even tell how many rhinos there are.
But don’t worry, places like Etosha National Park in Namibia and Kruger National Park in South Africa are doing great efforts to protect these giants. Today, if you visit one of these two places for at least a couple of days, there will be a big chance for you to see one of these beautiful species.
Hearing the sounds wildlife at night
Whether you are zipping a glass of wine under the stars or ready to go to sleep in your tent, hearing the sounds of nature is one of the most peaceful and magnificent experiences during a safari.
And listening to crickets, frogs and birds is already a highlight for anyone who wants to disconnect from urban life. Sounds of lions roaring, hippos eating grass or hyenas laughing are simply moments that are unforgettable for anyone who experiences them.
Yes, hearing a lion roaring the whole night for the first time is very intimidating. However, the longer you get used to it and the more safaris you do, the more you love it and want to listen to it more.
Remember, if you want to increase the chances of listening to lions roaring around you, book tented camps inside the national parks. They tend to be a little bit more expensive, but the experience is simply unforgettable.
Read more: How to get ready for your first safari trip
Witness the wildebeest great migration
Either you see the wildebeest migration at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, this is one of the top (if not the top) safari experience. It is the largest animal migration in the world with more than 2 million wildebeest crossing from one national park to the next.
Expect to see all kinds of activities during the migration. From predators hunting zebras and wildebeest while resting at the grasslands to hundreds of animals moving in perfect line at the horizon.
It is one of the best safari experiences I’ve seen in my life and the best way to explore the majesty and beauty of a safari trip.
Take into consideration that the wildebeest great migration happens all year long. However, the best moments are when the wildebeest cross the Mara river to get to Serengeti each October and during calving season at Serengeti from December until March.
NOTE: I visited the Masai Mara National and Serengeti National Park in October to witness the migration. It was my all time favorite safari experience and I’m happy I used local companies who knew the area and love wildlife as I do.
In Masai Mara, I traveled with Africa Kenya Safaris, a Kenyan operator with more than 20 years of experience. On the other side of the border at Serengeti National Park I used Cross to Africa Safaris, a tour operator from Arusha who knows the national park better than anything else.