An African safari can be a life-changing experience, connecting with nature is a soul soother and gives you a whole new perspective on life. It’s every ecophile’s dream to explore the wilds of Africa and see the ‘big five’ – the elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard. From Serengeti to the Central Kalahari reserve, the wildlife and landscape is diverse and unforgettable. Here’s a guide to some of Africa’s best safaris – the stars and the rising stars of reserves – where to go, what to see and the best times to go.

UGANDA

In East Africa, Uganda deserves a visit for the opportunity to spot mountain gorillas and the big five. The safe and friendly country offers you the option of trekking through the fabled Mountains of the Moon – the Rwenzoris in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve: The UNESCO World Heritage Site lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its biologically diverse rainforests date back over 25,000 years and is home to about 320 mountain gorillas, half the world’s population.

Best time to visit: June to August and December to February.

best African safaris Photo: Rod Waddington via Flickr/ (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo: Rod Waddington via Flickr/ (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Murchison Falls National Park: How about a visit to Uganda’s largest national park?Murchison Falls National Park encompasses a vast swath of African savannah, sliced by the Nile creating the dramatic Murchison Falls. What to see: Elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds.

Best time to visit: December to late February, and June to September.

best African safaris Photo: Oliver Sedlacek via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Oliver Sedlacek via Wikimedia Commons

Kidepo Valley National Park: The park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya. An abundance of wildlife earns Uganda’s most isolated national park the distinction as one of Africa’s finest wildernesses. The highlight is spotting the buffalo herds in a spectacular landscape.

Best time to visit: January to May, and October to December.

best African safaris Photo: Mark Jordahl via Flickr/ (CC BY 2.0)

Photo: Mark Jordahl via Flickr/ (CC BY 2.0)

TANZANIA

This friendly East African destination has star attractions Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Serengeti National Park: The grasslands at Serengeti offer the chance for spotting lion kills and a memorable experience in the untamed wilderness. The migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra starts here. Given its size, the park is blissfully low on pesky tourist numbers.

Best time to visit: Annual migration circles the Serengeti from Oct to June. Birthing season – between December and March.

Wildebeest during Great Migration. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons-

Wildebeest during Great Migration. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area: The conservation encompasses three spectacular volcanic craters, including the world’s largest crater which works as a natural enclosure for wildlife. Here is a rare example of man, livestock and wild animals living in harmony. Spot the rare black rhino, wildebeest, zebras, lions, leopards, elephants and other untamed residents in this World Heritage Site.

Best time to visit: The dry season – June to March.

Photo: Sachi Gahan/ CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Sachi Gahan/ CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

BOTSWANA

For lesser crowds, head to Africa’s most exclusive safari destination as the reserves are unfenced and the Okavango Delta is one of the world’s most spectacular environments.

Okavango Delta: Okavango is unusual because you can see wildlife from land and water by taking a traditional canoe, a mokoro. Situated in the Kalahari Basin, this magical wilderness is fed by the third largest river in Southern Africa, Okavango. This UNESCO World Heritage site comprises of many small islands, formed when vegetation takes root on termite mounds. Chief’s Island, the largest, was formed on a tectonic fault line. Best for leopard spotting, the rare wild dog, elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, lion, zebra, cheetah, and ungulates (hoofed mammals).

Best time to visit: For birders, October when the heronries are full of birds breeding and nesting. July or August sees game numbers start to increase.

Photo: Tim Copeland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo: Tim Copeland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chobe National Park: The park combines the natural wonder of the Victoria Falls and magnificent wildlife sightings. It has the highest concentration of elephants anywhere in the world and houseboats cruise/ water safari on the Chobe River. Catch a glimpse of the wild dog, cheetah, hyena here.

Best time to visit: May to early November to see animals attracted to the water of the Chobe River, August to October for game, December to March for bird watching, the impala birthing season and to witness the zebra migration.

Elephants by Chobe river. Photo: http://www.botswanatourism.co.bw/

Elephants by Chobe river. Photo: http://www.botswanatourism.co.bw/

The Central Kalahari Reserve: Prepare to be amazed by the immensity and wildness of this reserve. With waist-high grass stretching interminably, the Central Kalahari Reserve is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 52 800 sq kms. Spot large herds of springbok and gemsbok, wildebeest, hartebeest, Kalahari lion, eland and giraffe.

Central Kalahari game reserve

Photo: http://www.botswanatourism.co.bw/

KENYA 

You can hand feed a giraffe, adopt orphaned elephants and take breathtaking balloon safaris at dawn in Kenya. The magic never ends.

Masai Mara National Reserve: This unfenced wonder lies in the Kenya Rift Valley in south-western Kenya and forms a northern extension to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Renowned for its magnificent Big Cat population that hunt the wildebeest, zebra and other plains game that dominate the Mara, it has been nicknamed the ‘Kingdom of the Lions’. The Mara is home to all three big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah – and has the largest lion population in Kenya.

Best time to visit: July through October. Early November and February also offer excellent game viewing.

Photo: Wajahatmr/ CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wajahatmr/ CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

SOUTH AFRICA

Kruger National Park: The famous Kruger National Park, home to the big five, was established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld. Covering nearly two million hectares, Kruger National Park is unrivalled in diversity. With an estimated 1,500 lions, 12,000 elephants, 2,500 buffaloes, 1,000 leopards and 5,000 rhino (black and white), you’re guaranteed unforgettable sightings.

Best time to visit: May to September.

Photo: http://www.southafrica.net/

Photo: http://www.southafrica.net/

And remember responsible travelers, when choosing safari tour operators evaluate their eco conscious practices toward the animals and environment.