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Safari Session I: Offbeat African Safari Destinations

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The Serengeti. Kruger National Park. Ngorongoro Crater.  So infamous are these names that, when planning your dream safari, it’ssimply a given that you’ll visit one of them.  Right?

But ask yourself this: Do you really want to share your leopard-sighting with twenty other safari vehicles or stand in a backlog of cars while elephants cross the road?

If your answer is no, consider visiting one of my own personal favorite African safari destinations instead.  Each park listed below is sure to afford you close-up animal encounters minus big crowds.

1) Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe:

“Mana” means “four” in the local Shona language, and it refers to the four large pools around which the park’s animal life is centered.  Visit one and you’re sure to see hippos, crocodiles, and more.  The elephants here are particularly unique, as they’ve developed the very photogenic habit of reaching high into the trees to graze.

This is one of the only parks in Africa where you are allowed to safari on foot without a ranger or guide.  This affords the most unforgettable close-up safari experience.

Most of the accommodation is located in open bush, along the beautiful riverbank.  You don’t even need to leave your lodging to watch hippos amble out of the water, hyenas creep past your camp, or elephants parade along the water’s edge.



2) Bwabwata National Park, Namibia:

Located in the Zambezi panhandle, this park is an important elephant migration area between Botswana and Angola, and in the right season is chock-full of elephants.  They’re no ordinary elephants, though – the memory of the war and the lack of tourists make them wild and nervous.  This in turn makes for exciting viewing!  The park is also a wonderful location for spotting the rare roan and sable antelopes.

Bwabwata is perfect for avid off-roaders, as the tracks are mostly deep sand.  The campsite is particularly stunning as it’s a forest-island in the middle of savanna, with a lookout tower offering great sunsets, beautiful wooden, open-air toilets and showers, and elephants wandering through the riverside site.

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3) South Luangwa National Park, Zambia:

You’re guaranteed to have a successful safari here because of the sheer number of savannah animals.  Though the rhino has been poached to extinction, you have a higher than normal chance of seeing the rest of the Big Five.  It has a reputation for easy leopard-spotting, and you have a good chance of seeing wild dogs.  This is the only region in the world to see the endemic thornicroft giraffe.

The Luangwa River runs on the southern edge of the park, with the majority of animals concentrated in this area.  Most lodges are located on the other side of the river, where you can see elephants, hippos, crocs, antelope, lizards, monkeys, and even the occasional leopard.

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4) Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary, Kenya

Sandwiched between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Tsavo West, the land here was set aside by community ranches as a wildlife corridor between the two major national parks.  There are thus a lot of animals here.  Though smaller than their southern relatives, the elephants here are particularly beautiful, as they are coated in red dust.  At Lion’s Bluff, a rocky outcrop in the savanna, there are large feline populations as well as klipspringers and dassies.

Lumo’s landscape is stunning, as the plains are vast and stark, everything is powdered with a red dust, and Mt. Kilimanjaro can be spotted in the distance on a clear day.

Entry into this park benefits the local community and also affords you entry into the adjoining Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary.

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5) Tuli Block, Botswana

Tuli is a series of privately owned game farms, including the North East Tuli Game Reserve, the largest private game conservation area in Southern Africa.  There is the possibility of seeing black-maned lions, and independent night drives are permitted, a rarity in African parks.

In addition to game viewing, you can visit Soloman’s Wall, a stunning natural basalt cliff wall, and there are ancient rock paintings hidden in hills around the area.  The Limpopo River and the plethora of baobab trees make the landscape here picture-perfect Africa.

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6) uMkuze Game Reserve, South Africa

This tiny private reserve has a high density of white rhinos, and vast plains which makes spotting them easier.  There are four excellent hides, where you can get out of the car and watch animals drink at water holes and pans.  The hide at the Nsumo Pan allows for good bird-watching and crocodile-viewing, while the others receive a plethora of mammal visitors.  Without even driving, you can tick a lot of animals off your list.




Consider one of the above parks when planning your safari and that private leopard sighting you’ve always dreamed of will be within your grasp!

On the next Safari Session, get tips on safariing on a budget!

About the author

A sometimes expat, an oftentimes wanderer, and ever a documenter of experiences, I have been obsessively traveling the world almost non-stop for nearly a decade. Now two years into an around-the-world-trip in an old Toyota-cum-camper van with my husband, and we're STILL stuck in Africa! Read about our trip (and see our photos) at

3 thoughts on “Safari Session I: Offbeat African Safari Destinations”

  1. I have dreamed of going on safari for as long as I can remember, but I have been waiting for this kind of article, with some truly ‘off the beaten track’ destinations. I wouldn’t know which one of these to choose! My African wanderlust has just gone up another notch. Sigh. Thank you so much for this, Brittany!

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