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Visiting Africa is your chance to glimpse things you don't see every day: lions, giraffes, elephants and many other wild animals. Get close to them the safe and comfortable way on a safari holiday. A safari gives you the protection and advice of a guide with the flexibility to explore in your own way. Below are our top tips for safari tours and destinations.
Going on safari is a must when holidaying in Kenya. It's as essential as a gondola ride in Venice or sampling authentic pizza in Italy. Book a private safari experience, travel together, or be part of a small group tour.
Maasai Mara National Reserve is named for Kenya's indigenous Maasai tribe. The reserve has hordes of wildebeest – close to 1.3 million of them. Lions, leopards and cheetahs can also be seen in large numbers.
There's another national park in the capital city, Nairobi. Here, you have a rare chance to see the black rhino, which is on the verge of extinction. Kenya's nickname is 'the wildlife capital of the world', and Nairobi is where you can see almost 400 different varieties of birds.
For a close look at Kenya's big cats, like the Masai lion, trek out to Tsavo. At 8,000 square miles, Tsavo National Park is one of the world's biggest. The volcanic craters to the west of the park are surrounded by old lava flows from when they were active.
The incredible range of things to see and do in South Africa is as you'd expect from 'the rainbow nation'. It's a culturally diverse region with 11 official languages. People come to South Africa for destination weddings (and honeymoons), the rugby, the wildlife and the chance to explore.
Making your South Africa trip an active one is easy. Safari holidays are a popular way to see the country, which has around 20 national parks. Kruger National Park is known as the home of the 'big five': rhinos, leopards, elephants, lions and buffalo. The other tourist draw is Table Mountain National Park, which runs from Cape Town down to the Cape of Good Hope.
Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth, has more to discover than the name might suggest. It's also a conservation area for the great white shark and the southern right whale.
You can also book day safari trips and tours which start from Johannesburg, South Africa's capital. Jo'burg (as the locals call it) is going through rapid regeneration, and the centre buzzes with energy all day.
A Namibia safari opens up a whole world of possibilities. It's the location of the oldest desert on earth, the Namib, which forms a significant part of the country's landscape. And wildlife is certainly not absent from these sandy realms: Damaraland is known for its desert-adapted lion and elephant, while the red dunes and white salt pans of Sossusvlei are home to gemsbok, springbok, ostrich, aardwolf and the brown hyena among others. Meanwhile, the savannah habitats of Etosha national park can compete with any of Africa's other large game reserves in terms of the diversity and abundance of its fauna.
Many visitors extend their Kenya safari over the border into Tanzania. The Maasai Mara and the Serengeti form a continuous ecosystem, and large herds of game migrate in a circular pattern in search of fresh grass. The progress of the Great Migration varies according to the rainfall but the largest herds usually reach the Seronera Valley in the centre of the Serengeti in the first three months of the year. Elsewhere in Tanzania, the Ngorongoro crater is home to year-round populations of game animals, as well as big cats, hyenas, hippos and black rhino. Bull elephants hang out at the crater's forest-cloaked sides. Further south, the Selous national park offers a rather different safari experience, with more cover to conceal the animals but fewer other tourists. It also offers one of the best chances to see the rare African wild dog.
When you think of Africa, you almost certainly think of the "Big Five". These are five species of large mammals, once feared and prized in equal measure by big game hunters but now topping the must-see lists of today's safari-goers. Iconic as they are, the "Big Five" species of lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros are by no means the only exciting wildlife that African safari holidays offer. Giraffes and large herds of other hoofed mammals, including zebra, wildebeeste and Thomson's gazelle, are common sights. Bird-life also abounds, from large vultures and marabou storks feasting on big cat kills down to small flycatchers and vividly-coloured rollers.
If any animal epitomises Africa, it's probably the lion. African lions are larger and more numerous than their Asiatic cousins. They're also usually easier to spot, thanks to their preferred habitat of savannah and scrubland. A Kenya or Tanzania safari in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem not only features high up the list of anyone looking for cheap safari holidays but is also a superb choice for those who want to see plenty of lions. In South Africa, the southern part of Kruger national park in South Africa also has a healthy population. If a visit to Namibia appeals, lions are best viewed in the dry winter season, when they congregate close to waterholes in Etosha national park.
Although the African elephant has suffered greatly at the hands of poachers, it can still be viewed in large numbers in places such as Amboseli national park in Kenya and South Africa's Kruger national park. To enjoy the sight of elephants silhouetted against the snowcapped peak of Kilimanjaro appeals, Tarangire national park in Tanzania is a must-visit. Meanwhile, some of the most adventurous safari holidays take in north-western Namibia, particularly Damaraland, which is home to populations of slightly smaller, desert-dwelling elephants.
Large herds of Cape buffalo are an exciting sight on safari holidays especially if they happen to be defending their calves from opportunistic lions. The plains and acacia groves of the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti are ideal territory for Cape buffalo, as is the Kruger national park.
Shy and secretive, leopards can be hard to spot, even with the help of experienced guides. Maximise your chances by visiting reserves with high leopard populations. As well as the Mara-Serengeti and Kruger national park, Kenya's Nakuru national park, South Africa's Madikwe game reserve and Okonjima nature reserve in Namibia offer higher than average chances of a leopard sighting.
Africa is home to two species of rhinoceros: the black and the white. The critically endangered black rhino is a browser and, accordingly, tends to live in areas with dense vegetation, making it hard to spot. Tanzania's Ngorongoro crater is an exception to this general rule and, along with Nairobi national park, is one of the best places in the world to see this animal. White rhinos are grazers, preferring savannah plains. Look for them in Namibia's Etosha national park, the Lewa wildlife conservancy in Kenya and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park in South Africa.