Top 5 African spots to see wildlife

BRITTANY MANN
Last updated 05:00 08/08/2014

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Wild and wonderful Africa has plenty of great spots to see the Big Five. Here's our picks for the best spots.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

This park in northeast South Africa is the continent's second largest national park.

It has the most large mammals of any African game reserve, including the 'big five' - lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros - and the endangered African Wild Dog, of which there are thought to be only about 400 in the whole of South Africa.

Other animals calling the park home include zebras, bushbucks, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, hyena, waterbuck, wildebeests, black mambas and crocodiles.

The best time to visit is in winter from May to September - it's the dry season, temperatures are bearable and you've got a decreased risk of contracting malaria.

Bonus: Sparser vegetation means you can see animals more easily. September is the best month to visit, as it is just before school holidays begin. 

Kruger has nine entrance gates allowing access to 21 camps, where accommodation options include budget-friendly camping, huts, safari tents, bungalows, cottages, guest houses and luxury lodges.

The park offers night-time safaris where you can see lions and other nocturnal species on the hunt. 

It also has nine wilderness hiking trails to explore, where you can spend days walking through untouched flora along animal trails - some bush-bashing may be required.

The trails are in high demand and there are limited spaces - you'll need to book your spot at least one year in advance. 

OKAVANGO DELTA

Neighbouring Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. 

The delta is an oasis produced by seasonal flooding from rainfall in the Angola highlands, which peaks in July and August.

The delta is inhabited by one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife on the continent, and has one of its most unique ecosystems.

A flat, protected area unsullied by poaching and war, it is home to a wide array of animals, including the elephant, buffalo, hippo, wildebeest, giraffe, crocodile, lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, springbok, rhinoceros, zebra, warthog, baboon, ostrich, ibis, and the endangered African Wild Dog. The lechwe antelope is the most populous species on the delta.

Tourists should make sure to visit both dry and wet areas, to note their differences and symbiosis.

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The delta can be experienced in a variety of ways - from a hot air balloon, horseback, canoe, or four-wheel-drive. You can also wander around on foot, or take in the sights from atop an elephant.

Wildlife are present year-round. During the rainy season, there are plenty of herds and it is birthing season for most species. The dry season is best for bird-watching and attracts wildlife from other parts of Botswana. 

Temperatures during the day range from mild to warm, plunging to just above freezing at night. October is the hottest month to visit - temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius.

There are myriad camps to stay at, where accommodation options range from five-star to rugged. All have a  small environmental footprint. 

MAASAI MARA

The reserve is named for its ancestral inhabitants, the Maasai people, a semi-nomadic ethnic group in Kenya and Tanzania recognisable by their bright red clothing.

The Mara is mainly vast, grassy plains spotted with trees, cloud shadows and a huge amount of wildlife, especially lions, leopards and cheetahs. Zebra and gazelle (also known as "lunch" by the aforementioned big cats) also roam the Mara.

The tourist highlight of the year is the Great Wildebeest Migration to and from the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania, which occurs between July and October. 

Accomodation options range from camp grounds, to safari tents, to lodges. Book a seven-day trip that includes the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, too.

It's a long time to spend sitting in a four-wheel drive, so consider a hot air balloon ride to mix things up. Even better, go on a walking safari - you'll feel like an extra in The Lion King in no time.

SERENGETI

The wonderment of the Maasai Mara continues over the border in Tanzania, where it goes by the moniker, Serengeti, Tanzania's oldest and most populous national park. 

It is the stage upon which most of the Great Migration plays out. The Migration sees a quarter of a million zebra lead 1.7 million wildebeest, 470,000 gazelles and myriad other animals on a circular grazing route. 

It is the largest land-based migration on the planet, and is another of the seven natural wonders of Africa. 

Again, accommodation ranges from camping to luxury lodges. Serengeti's satellite parks offer nighttime and walking safaris, but these are not offered in the park proper.

NGORONGORO CRATER

Located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Ngorongoro Crater is also in Tanzania and is another of the seven natural wonders of Africa. 

The crater is 610 metres deep and its floor is 260 square kilometres. It was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself millions of years ago, forming the world's largest unfilled, intact, inactive volcanic caldera.  

You'll find all the usual suspects there - except for giraffes and impala. Cheetahs, leopards and African Wild Dogs are also rarely spotted. However, it is home to one of the world's densest lion populations. 

Accommodation is of the lodge variety. Go during the rainy season in April or May - there are fewer visitors and vegetation is at it lushest. 

MORE INFORMATION If you're planning an Africa trip, check out House of Travel's Africa deals.

- Stuff

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