Nature places in Africa
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Chobe National Park
Close to the border of Namibia, Zimbia and Zimbabwe
In terms of both variety and diversity, Chobe Naitional Park is just ridiculously good. It's divided into four distinct sections, where Chobe riverfront is the most popular - partly because the density of animals is great here and partly because of its proximity to Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe and Zambia). Chobe is famous for its large elephant herds, which you can get terrifyingly close to. But warthog, hippo, zebra, giraffe and different species of antelopes, including lechwe and sable, are all among the usual game - but there are no rhinos. There is a good chance to see lions and, with a bit of luck, even a hunting leopard or cheetah. Chobe River makes out the park's natural boundary to north and is great for some midday river safari when the animals come down to drink - this is particularly good during dry season (May through October). But for the best chances to see some predators, you can't beat morning and to some extent evening drives - and who wants to miss the wonders of the red African sun setting behind a herd of elephants!
Chobe River safari
On the border between Botswana and Namibia
Normally, a river safari on Chobe River is part of safari trip to Chobe National Park, but we have given it a separate entry because it's a very different type of safari than the usual game drive in jeeps. The animals use Chobe riverfront to drink from, particulary during the dry season (May through October). Shortly before midday, the first elephants usually show up, quickly followed by the rest of the herd. Most will just sip from the water edge, but some might go for swim or even dive. At midday, the riverbank can be packed with elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and various antelopes, all standing side by side cautiously sipping. Big pods of hippos cooling off in the water make river navigation a cautious affair for hippos are extremely protective of their younger ones and get easily agitated - and they are fast.
Makoro ride - Okavango Delta
There are many different ways of viewing wildlife, but none really come close to gliding along silently in a makoro dugout canoe. Makoros are used by local people of the Okavango Delta to fish and traverse channels, although as a tourist you may end up with a fibre-glass version rather than a traditional wooden one. Travelling by makoro is a magical experience. The silence is almost complete, and unlike walking safaris it is possible to get (sometimes disconcertingly) close to wildlife, all of which will appear enormous from half a metre above the water surface. But with or without wildlife, this is without a doubt one of the most memorable and special ways of experiencing the unique environment that is the Okavango Delta. Just watch out for those hippos!
Mokolodi Nature Reserve
23 km from Gaborone
A mandatory thing to do while in Gaborone is a visit to nearby Mokolodi Nature Reserve. This not-for-profit game reserve is run by the Mokolodi Wildlife Foundation. It has two of the Big Five, leopard and (white) rhino, along with giraffe, zebra, kudu, impala, hartebeest, wildebeest and hippo, just to name a few. Bird lovers will also be happy with more than 300 species, including easy-to-spot hornbills. Mokolodi also functions as a wild animal orphanage and is taking care of a few retired predators, like hyena and cheetah. You can do the safari in your own 4WD car or get there by public transport and join a two-hour game drive.
The Okavango Delta is a place of wonder – it is as simple as that. The myriad of waterways that weave their way through the otherwise unforgiving Kalahari provides sanctuary for a plethora of animals, from the Big Five and the rare African wild dogs to countless species of birds. The experience changes depending on your mode of transport – safari vehicle, plane, makoro canoe or on foot – and the seasonal variations are equally significant. The Okavango Delta is home to vast populations of elephants and is a great place to spot predators of all kinds, but it is also a unique habitat, and an Africa that is difficult to find anywhere else. Watch a herd of buffalo make their way across the water from one island to the next, or a clan of hyenas lounging on one of the many small airstrips, as you enjoy the many canals, swamps and islands that make up this stunning inland delta.
Gulf of Tadjoura
Gentle giants of the deep. The largest fish in the world. Whale sharks. It doesn't matter what you call them, these massive animals are incredibly elusive. Predominantly solitary, the chances of just happening upon one is slim to none. That is unless you're in Djibouti (specifically the Gulf of Tadjoura) between October and February. It is here whale sharks congregate in one of the highest densities on Earth. While nothing in life is guaranteed, the chances of not only seeing one but multiple whale sharks is about as close to 100% as you'll get. To make things all the better, swimmers and divers load into little zodiacs in a paramilitary-esque operation hoping not only to see them, but to swim alongside them. Truly an amazing experience.
Birds and butterflies
Kakamega Forest may not feature on the itinerary of many first-time visitors to Kenya, but for those with a bit of time on their hands, or self-drivers travelling between Kenya and Uganda, might want to take a couple of days to explore this remnant of a once huge forest, extending well into the Congo and covering much of western Kenya. The main attraction here is the huge array of butterflies and birds, although Colobus monkeys and the faint chance of seeing a pangolin also draw visitors. There are a number of guided walks in the area, although it is worth just exploring on your own as well – the guided walks are interesting, but overpriced. Butterflies enjoy the sunlight, and simply by driving some kilometres past the main entrance to the reserve you are likely to spot flocks of them by the side of the road. The forest also provides a refreshing change of scenery from the shrubs and open spaces of most of Kenya’s other parks and reserves, and cultural dances and story-telling (from members of the Luhya tribe) sessions can be organised.
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is quite unique - where else can you watch giraffes, antelopes and lions wander past your car to a backdrop of skyscrapers? Its location is convenient for those with limited time on their hands, and the park is accessible by 2WD. While it cannot compare to Kenya's premium wildlife parks, the bizarre combination of urban life and African wildlife is well worth the time - and hefty fee. The park also boasts a successful rhino sanctuary, and the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters are located by the main gate. A fence separates the park from the city, but human-wildlife conflicts still arise when predators venture out of the park and make for the suburbs.
Lake Naivasha National Park
If you have the slightest interest in hippos, you must visit the large freshwater lake Lake Naivasha, which lies in the Great Rift Valley. However, there are only enough activities to spend a single day/night at this lake, which is located 1880 meters above sea level. There is a very large number of hippos in the lake, and when darkness falls, the animals, who spend most of the day in the water, will emerge from the lake and graze on land. Tent sites are fenced off, since hippos are extremely dangerous. They are actually the large animal in Africa that kills most people per year. But you can sit safely and in tranquility in small cabins on stilts and observe/hear the animals eat in the darkness.
Meru National Park
If you want a remote safari experience without travelling more than a day (by car) from Nairobi, Meru National Park might just be for you. Huge, hot and dusty, but with more wildlife than Tsavo, Meru offers some good wildlife viewing for those with a bit of patience. The park has cheetahs, leopards, lions, reticulated giraffes, elands and a lot of birds. Staying in one of KWS's self-catering cottages inside the park is particularly rewarding, as giraffes, elephants and lions frequently make their way through. You need to look for the wildlife though - this is not the Mara or Lake Nakuru. But if you want to have a park largely to yourself, Meru is a good choice.