Good wildlife safari photography is not only about composition and camera equipment because you first need to find your subjects before you can even lift your camera. This best five African wildlife destinations list helps you do that.
Once you have been going on wildlife photography safaris in Africa for a number of years you begin to realise and recognise that certain areas are better than others for generating good animal picture opportunities on a consistent basis.
The ranking is based on over twenty years of my safari photography experience, forums, countless trip reports and travel journals, travel magazines and prevailing wisdom in the Africa travel industry.
1. Serengeti NP - Tanzania
One of the best safari parks in Africa bar none, the Serengeti is a safari photography dream destination.
The wildlife viewing on a photographic safari here often borders on the spectacular aided by the fact that the vegetation is predominantly grassland which makes spotting animals from a distance considerably easier and provides less obstacles like bushes and trees to obscure your subjects.
The grassland is also able to sustain a multitude of herbivores like wildebeest, zebra and gazelle which in turn sustains a large population of predators to feed on them so it's no surprise that the Serengeti is often referred to as "big cat central". In the Masaai language Serengeti means "endless plain" which is very close to the truth.
Two extraordinary events occur here that make it an even more remarkable place to take a Tanzania safari. The annual wildebeest migration and the birth of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest foals.
The migration occurs as the massive herds of up to a million individuals begin their search for better grazing by moving north. The exact timing is dependant on the seasonal rains but they travel across the Serengeti en masse roughly between April and August.
In February - March, months before they begin their epic journey, the wildebeest give birth within a six week period to hundreds of thousands of calves, taking advantage of the sweet grazing available in the Serengeti at that time. They all foal at the same time to cause a glut of prey opportunities for the predators who make full use of the bonanza while they can.
And so can you with some remarkable picture opportunities in the offing.
2. Masai Mara Reserve - Kenya
This is one of the places where your camera will start steaming from overuse especially if you are after big cat pictures.
Along with the Serengeti in Tanzania, this is without a doubt the premier game viewing destination in Africa because of the quality and quantity of wildlife sightings and safari photography opportunities to be found here.
This sometimes works against it because in certain places it can be overrun with photographers and tourist in safari vehicles all jostling for the best position around a bemused lion pride or leopard in a tree.
But if predators are what you seek from a safari photography trip then this reserve will deliver them in spades in the form of lion, cheetah, hyena and even regular leopard sightings if you know the right areas.
Taking a hot air balloon ride over the plains will provide a unique perspective for your safari photography efforts not to mention an amazing experience.
3. Kruger NP - South Africa
The Kruger National Park has to rank as one of the best South Africa safari photography destinations, only slightly behind the Masai Mara and Serengeti when it comes to wildlife viewing because the vegetation in Kruger can be dense and sometimes mars the ability to see longer distances and get clear wildlife pictures.
But the variety of animals, birds and ecosystems that you can experience here are unparalleled anywhere else in Africa and the accommodation, roads and facilities are top notch and all at a very affordable price.
It's not unusual to see lion, leopard, cheetah, a pack of wild dog, rhino, elephant, buffalo and a whole host of antelope, crocodile and hippo in the course of a single trip including a variety of insects and reptiles.
On the bird front you will be spoiled with a seemingly never-ending supply of eagles, hawks, water birds and a host of migratory and indigenous species to the tune of about 510 different varieties.
You can easily do a self drive safari photography holiday here and still see a decent amount of wildlife especially if you stick to the central and southern portions of this massive park (larger than Ireland). The north has fewer animals due to dryer conditions but also less tourists which makes for a more isolated and intimate wildlife experience.
4. Okavango Delta and Moremi GR - Botswana
The Okavango Delta must qualify as the most unique and varied safari area in Africa and photographs of the landscape here are almost as prized as the wildlife pictures themselves.
The delta lies in the North of Botswana and it consists of narrow water channels lined by papyrus, floodplains covered knee deep in water, hippo filled lagoons, forest glades and savannah grassland.
You can go on outstanding safari photography expeditions here on foot, using a 4x4 vehicle, a mokoro (dug-out canoe) or a motorised boat.
Vast herds of buffalo, elephant, gazelle and zebra roam this rich ecosystem which is fed by the Okavango river which has its source in the Angolan highlands and floods the delta every year.
This treasure trove of available prey attracts the predators too and lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog thrive here. The dry season is the best for game viewing because the animals are drawn to the permanent water sources.
The Moremi game reserve consists of strictly controlled, privately managed concessions and it falls within the Okavango delta area and has no fences which leaves the animals free to roam around as they please.
There are a number of upmarket Botswana safari lodges in Moremi such as the Vumbura concession which contains both wetland and savannah areas for the best of both worlds.
The Delta is at its most impressive in August when the water is at its deepest and most of the young are born between November and March when the vegetation is lush and dense so it might be a good idea to plan any Botswana safari photography trips to coincide with these events.
5. South and North Luangwa NP - Zambia
Some experts have branded the Luangwa National Park as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world because the density of game you can find here mixed with the isolation and pure unadulterated wildness of it is almost without compare.
Because it is reasonably undiscovered except to the locals in the know and a select few foreign visitors, it hasn't been overrun by masses of tourists yet and you can experience a safari photography vacation here as it should be and some say that is the best Africa has to offer.
There are over 60 species of animal here with the unfortunate exception of rhino because they were poached into extinction and over 400 different kinds of birds.
They all rely on and are drawn to the winding Luangwa river which is crowded with some of the biggest concentrations of hippo and crocodile you will find anywhere in Africa. it has been estimated that there are 50 hippos per kilometre of this congested river.
The South Luangwa was the birthplace of the walking safari and it is still a very popular way to explore the area from a quality collection of safari lodges and camps. Night drives are another excellent way to see leopard which are reputed to be more regularly seen in this park than anywhere else in Africa because of the high concentrations of the predator. Lions and even rare sightings like honey badger, civet and wild dog are likely to be seen.
To take the true Zambia safari photography adventure a step farther, the northern luangwa area is even more remote, wild and isolated than the south and the wildlife and bird viewing experience is from the top draw. Definitely one for the safari cognoscenti.
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