East Africa is among the best safari destinations world over. It is home to a diverse assortment of wildlife including the Big 5 (elephants, Cape Buffalo’s, Leopards, Rhinos and Lions). It boasts some of the best beaches in the world including Diani Beach in Kenya which has been crowned Africa’s leading beach destination for six years in a row.
If you are a cultural tourist, Kenya and Tanzania are home to the Masai. The Masai are famous for clinging to their traditions and way of life, even as most of the world adopt technology and suffer from the cultural erosion that arises from globalization. The Masai are the most photographed people in the world. This article looks at 5 of the most popular safari destinations in East Africa.
1. Tarangire National Park – Tanzania
In Northern Tanzania, precisely 118 km southwest of Arusha is the Tarangire National Park that is usually overshadowed by the better known and massive Serengeti. But here’s a reason to include it in your itinerary – elephant migration and birding. The park has over 550 recorded species of birds.
The peak season, which runs from July through to October, is the best time to come here as over 300 elephants show their size. They roam freely here in their numbers together with giraffe, buffalo, cheetah – that runs faster than a horse in the the Breeders Cup 2019 race – Thompson’s gazelle, eland, greater and lesser kudu, and leopard.
Around Tarangire are various accommodation options, but the best way to experience a safari of this nature is to spend the night within it to feel the spirit of the wild. Swala and Oliver’s Camp are two of the best known and preferred, combining modern facilities and a rustic feel of the wild. Next time you are in Tanzania, spare a few days for Tarangire.
2. Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda
About 2 kilometers from Kigali international airport is one of the forests with the highest number of mountain gorillas – Volcanoes National Park, VNP. Though gorillas are what this 160-square kilometer park is known for, it has other inhabitants including golden monkeys, a variety of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Fun fact: VNP is part of the massive 8,000km² Virunga Forest that is shared by Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda.
So, what are some of the fun activities to do at Volcanoes National Park? Gorilla tracking, for which people travel far and wide, hiking Karisimbi volcano and Mount Bisoke volcano, and then the exciting visit to lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera.
If you are a conservation buff, you wouldn’t want to miss the chance to pay tribute to the woman who gave her life to this park and mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey. When you are done with this part of East Africa, you may want to cross over to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda for more gorilla tracking.
3. The Legendary Maasai Mara – Kenya
Now, Kenya has several national parks, but the Mara has refused to cede ground as the best of them all. The Masai Mara is a 1,510 sq. Km stretch of savannah that hosts over 95 species of animals, all members of the Big Five club, and over 400 recorded species of birds.
To top it all off, the wildebeest migration that is fondly referred to as the Olympics of Wildlife happens here annually. The wildebeest migration has been named one of the 8th wonders of the world. It is the largest land migration on earth involving over 1.2 million wildebeest.
The Masai Mara in no way steals the thunder from Neighboring Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Animals roam freely through the two giant parks, and so they share the glory. Masai Mara and Serengeti National Park are continuous, only separated by the Masai Mara river which also acts as the border between Kenyan and Tanzania.
A safari in Masai Mara presents many ways to see the park in its full glory. You can opt for day, evening, or full-day game drives to see wild animals in their element; or a hot-air balloon safari that happens early in the morning. You can also visit a Masai Village and learn a thing or two from this world-famous tribe.
July to November is the best time to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve. During this time, the migrating animals will have made their way from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Masai Mara. For a rare opportunity to capture the thrill the river crossing, plan your trip between July and August.
This is especially recommended during the Migration. Within the park are over ten luxury accommodations and the Maasai community lives all around it.
A safari in Masai Mara National Reserve is best combined with with a day or two in the best beaches in Kenya.
Kidepo Valley National Park – Uganda
Nestled about 510 kilometers from Kampala is one of Uganda’s most isolated parks, Kidepo Valley National Park.
It is home to over 75 species of animals and 470+ recorded bird species. Named as the third best national park in Africa by CNN in 2018, Kipedo shares its borders with a local community that is committed to its protection.
Apart from game drives, you can engage in nature walks, birding, and hiking. You can also take a nature trail to learn how the Karamojong, Acholis, and other indigenous tribes live and interact harmoniously with nature.
Diani – Kenya
It wouldn’t be a proper safari without ocean therapy, would it? Diani Beach, consecutively named the best beach in Africa several times, stretches a little over 17 kilometers and offers all the perks of a beach. Serenity and beauty have their permanent residences here too. What to do in Diani? Skydive, snorkel, water surf, Jet Ski, and play golf. If you happen to be here in December, then sit back and be treated to some of the most amazing cultural festivals the Kenyan coast can offer.
So, have you been to any of these destinations?