Wildlife Safari, find the best!

elephants on Wildlife Safari - Etosha National Park, Namibia

Elephants greeting, on wildlife safari in Etosha NP, Namibia.

Best wildlife safari for number of animals, easy viewing

A good wildlife safari will not be cheap and will usually be in organised groups. Pick your operator with care, it’s worth spending a bit more to ensure a really magical experience because, let’s face it, this is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

We’ve done it on the cheap AND pricey on the same 3 month trip and believe me the cheap did involve some sad, bad times.

Our best safari on this extended tour was in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, the bad were in Uganda and Tanzania and the blame for the latter can be laid squarely at the feet of our second tour operator who drove us around East Africa.
Greedy, lying, cheating and using inferior infrastructure and uninformed local guides at all times, he was also hectoring and argumentative – and is now out of business!
However, we are still happy to have done the trip, but it could have been better. Here are the photos: East Africa.

Hire a safari guide or travel with a tour if possible as they will know where and when to find elusive critters, when and how to protect you where necessary on an African safari holiday and keep you comfortable.

If available and affordable try a tented camp for the full safari monty of night animal noises, you haven’t lived until you hear a hippo grumbling and munching beside your tent at 3 a.m.

Big game wildlife safari: Etosha National Park, Namibia

The great arid scrubland and salt pan of Etosha contains a massive concentration of wildlife, particularly huge herds of zebra, various antelope and wildebeest, but no shortage of elephants, giraffe or birdlife either. Predators are tricky to find and depend on luck and persistence.

There are three inexpensive, walled rest camps in Etosha, each with their own waterhole attracting animals.

Namutoni is less successful, Halali’s hole attracts a lot of elephants (picture above right) and giraffes, while Okaukuejo is the hands down winner, with superb huts (3, 5, 7 have the best views) and a wonderful waterhole with endless action, occasionally even getting lion kills.

Drive-yourself safaris (gravel roads) visiting other waterholes are excellent, with varied, stunning scenery. Cars can be rented in the unattractive capital, Windhoek, about 5 hours drive away.

Cape Cross, on the Skeleton Coast also offers 10,000 seals that you can get close to if you can stand the smell, the monstrous red dunes at Sossusvlei are totally amazing and climbable – up to 600m high, and Swakopmund town is pretty and relaxed. You can 2WD drive to all.

Best June-September, OK May, October, otherwise incredibly hot.

Big game safaris: Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya

Best Wildlife Safari - wildebeeste in serengetti, tanzania

The Wildebeest Migration from Tanzania’s Serengetti into Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Photo by Bjorn Torrissen.

Massive amount of wildlife in a huge savannah. Although it may have too many tourists and it’s not self-drive, it’s probably the most animal accessible game reserve (picture above left). Stay in a tented camp for the real safari experience.

Very best July-October at (3 week) wildebeest migration; this varies so check it. Good weather December-March. Avoid April-June (big rains).

Some say that recently too many jeeps are getting careless and scaring off animals, and Samburu National Park is now better – less busy and more romantic, though not the same quantity and variety of animals.

See Kenya Map

Marine life: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Best Wildlife Safaris - galapagos sea lions with tourist

Meeting the locals. Sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

15 actively volcanic islands that constitute a ‘living laboratory’ of mainly marine animals – sea lions, seals, iguanas, turtles, sharks (you can snorkel with them too) giant tortoises, penguins and more blue footed boobies than you can shake a stick at.

A bleak and blasted landscape but the local inhabitants are totally unaffected by human presence and easy to approach and photograph. Strangely it was the unassuming Galapagos finches that triggered Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

Best January-March. Avoid July/August (busy, expensive, windy, rough), and September – November (when the waters are coldest, roughest and services are reduced).

Best to stay on a boat (smaller ones are better unless you get seasick) that will move between islands at night. 7 nights at least needed. For the very seasick prone there are some land hotels at Puerto Ayora in Isla Santa Cruz, though wildlife viewing will be restricted.

Big game wildlife safari: Tanzania

a) Serengetti, Tanzania. The world’s most famous big game park and great variety of animals, though jeeps often have to follow specific tracks, whereas they can go anywhere in the Massalia Mara. The general infrastructure is not as good as Kenya’s.

Very best wildlife safaris are from June – early July before/beginning of wildebeest (more than 2 million) and zebra migration which lasts 3 weeks (check the timing with tour operators). Good also December- February. Avoid March-May (heavy rains).

b) Ngorongoro Crater (Conservation Area), Tanzania. Huge concentration of prey and predators, spectacular scenery and no migration. Better than Serengetti but relatively confined so tourist vehicles jockeying for pole position can be a pain. Best June-October, December-February. Avoid March-May (rains).

c) Selous Game Reserve, South Tanzania. If you want to have a walking with animals experience rather than riding one, try this monster game park. Best June-October or January-February for bird watching. Avoid March-May (rains).

Lemurs, plus plus: Madagascar

Best Wildlife Safaris - Chameleon on friend's face, Madagascar

A chameleon at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar.

80% of the plant and animal species are unique on the huge tropical island of Madagascar.

Berenty is where you’ll get closest to more than 30 kinds of lemurs including the scary aye-aye, chameleons, tortoises and more. Also not far away are exotic plants of every description – baobab trees for example, funky graves/tombs and weirdly eroded rock formations.

Best May-June, September-November. Avoid December-March (rains, hurricanes).

Best Wildlife Safaris - Chameleon on friend's face, Madagascar

Mother and baby ring-tailed lemur, Berenty Reserve, Madagascar.

Wildlife and plants in National Parks, Costa Rica

What to see and when to see it

This tiny peaceful tropical country has dedicated about 15% of its land to national parks containing a vast variety of wildlife.  Birds are especially prevalent (850 species)- and over 12, 000 species of flowering plants. In addition the country offers tourists volcanoes, hot springs, beaches and adrenalin activities.
Generally a good safari in Costa Rica will take place from December-April.
Avoid May-November (rains), tho’ May and November may not be too wet and will be much less crowded.
There are around 70 nature parks, here are a few of the more interesting ones, north to south:

• Santa Rosa NP, old dry tropical forest on NW Pacific coast near Inter-American Highway, contains the largest protected tropical dry forest in the Americas, home to jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, monkeys, bats, iguanas, and 260 species of bird. Quite far from San José.
• Rincon de la Vieja NP, NW, is easy to access from Liberia and loaded with wildlife, especially monkeys, snakes and coatis.
• Palo Verde NP, NW, mostly for 280 species of water birds (best September-March).
• Tortuguero National Park on the north Caribbean coast is the spot for visiting/watching green sea turtles, as well as other wildlife.
• Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve (nearish to San José), the most commercial park, this upstart is home to 100 species of mammal, 400 species of birds and 420 species of orchids.Monteverde is nearer to San José (3hrs) than most other parks and contains the biggest canopy walk – Skytrek (3hrs, 2km/1. 25m) including a 400m slide, 80m suspension bridge,  24 kms of trails, and 3 huts.
• Cahuita and Manuel Antonio NPs (MA is nearish to San José), on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts respectively with good beaches, snorkel with varied fish and walk thru forests of monkeys, iguana, coatis, birds etc.

• Braulio Carrillo NP  near San José on Northern Plains and loaded with wildlife/plants but oddly difficult to reach but worth the effort.

• La Selva Biological Station, also Northern Plains with plenty of nature red in tooth and claw. Easy going.

• Corcovado NP is Costa Rica’s most diverse park, 200 sq. miles of varied habitats from thick rain forest to seashore jungle hosting 140 species of mammal from jaguars to tapir, 116 species of reptiles and 285 species of bird! Corcovado is in the distant SW and difficult to reach, humid, tough hiking, but a superb wildlife experience.

Self-drive wildlife safari:Kruger NP, South Africa

Best Wildlife Safaris - south africa rhino

A full size rhino three metres from our open car window in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

A massive reserve the size of Wales, offering all the usual wildlife.
Apart from the size, what makes Kruger different from most other safari parks is that you can self-drive around in your own car at your own pace and have a great choice of places to stay inside the park, from comfortable tented camps to luxury lodges – assuming that you book in advance for high season!

Animals are habituated to cars so a fair number can be seen beside roads, though you won’t see massive wildlife groups that you do in neighbouring Namibia’s Etosha, or on East Africa’s savannah. Beware busy South African holidays and book your rooms in advance.

The private lodges are superb experiences if you can afford them – beautifully designed and run, but ironically, because there’s less traffic in their private game areas the wildlife is less habituated to vehicles so the private, guided game safaris are likely to be less successful than just self driving on public roads!

You can also walk in the park with an armed guard if you so choose.

Best June-September, the dry season, when animals are more visible due to shorter grass and malaria is less/not a problem. OK May-October.

Best Wildlife Safaris - south africa rhino

Elephant face-off, Kruger National Park.

Bear necessities, Alaska

If you enjoy the unspoilt outdoors and want to wander in wonder among forests of snowy peaks, glassy fjords, crystal lakes and rivers jumping with salmon-fishing bears, then a summer trip to Alaska (far north USA) could be the place for you.

At this time there are also plenty of moose, deer, wolves, whales and marine life forms.

The weather in this part of the world is erratic but the months for bear-fishing-watching are July-September. Early September provides best weather, best prices and least trouble booking best wildlife safaris.

See Alaska Map

Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

This game park covers about one third of the Okavango Delta, with habitats ranging from woodland through floodplains and swamps to lagoons.
Travel is usually by small boat and all the usual big animals are present. Moremi is an excellent location for viewing migratory birds too, (Birds November -March). But it’s costly! Best July-October. (tho’ near freezing at night).

The 4, 000sq mile Chobe National Park is also famous for massive herds of elephant.

Pantanal,  Brazil, South America

A huge swamp swarming with animals, especially birds ranging from emus to macaws, plus monster snakes, crocs, iguanas, some jaguars, anteaters. It’s better than the Amazon for wildlife sightings as it’s open wetlands.
Safari by truck, foot, small boat, or horseback. Primitive accommodation.

The Amazon is not included on this page because it’s density makes travel and animal viewing difficult, though smaller creatures can be discovered with a good guide and the general ambience is gripping.

Best April-September. Avoid November-March (endless rain , humidity and heat).

Orangutan, Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve, Malaysia

Not easy to reach so don’t hurry and stay in the area a few days, ideally somewhere within walking distance of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve – a part of Borneo island – so you can take wildlife walks or watch feeding time for the semi-wild orange beasties in the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, though that can get extremely crowded, with 100-200 visitors.
Best July-October.

Also Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia‘s Kalimantan (2/3 of Borneo) is excellent for orangutan safaris. More about orangutan.

Churchill, Hudson Bay, North Canada

polar bear sniffing tourist bus, Manitoba safari, Canada

A polar bear sniffs fresh protein in a portable meat storage vessel known as a tundra buggy, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Excellent arctic animal scenes – polar bears, caribou, wolves, huge number and diversity of whales (especially beluga) and seabirds. It’s also great place to observe Aurora Borealis (Northern lights).

For observing polar bears Churchill is best in October/November, otherwise March – November. Avoid the rest (dark, cold and horizontally moving snow).

See Arctic map, Canada map

Antarctic and South Georgia wildlife cruises

Around 2 rough days from Ushuia (Argentina) or Punta Arenas (Chile). Or about a week sailing from Hobart (Tasmania, Australia) or Lyttelton (New Zealand).

Also possibly from South Shetlands and the Falklands.

Some Antarctic safaris go to South Georgia island (just outside the Antarctic circle) rather than the continent of Antarctica – which is 1, 000 miles to the south. There’s a huge concentration of polar wildlife in the frozen blue valleys of South Georgia – 2 million fur seals, 5 million penguins, elephant seals, royal albatross. Plus whales and dolphins but no polar bears.

Best December-January. OK November, February, March. See the Antarctic map.

Dolphins, Bimini island, BahamasCaribbean

Just 50 miles off the Florida coast and only 7 miles long, Bimini has acquired a reputation as a place to swim with wild spotted dolphins that have taken up residence about an hour offshore. 80% success rate.

Best May-July but winter with wetsuits is OK.

Big Game on foot: South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

A huge country with 18 massive game parks and wide variety of animals, but underdeveloped as yet.
The South Luangwa National Park specialises in walking safaris where you see animals and events that would be impossible from a 4WD, but also the big five – elephants, lions, etc. and lots of birds. Not a lot of cultural activities available.

Also Kafue National Park. Take $ cash for spending. Best October, good July – September. and June for bird watching. Avoid November – April (rains)

Chimpanzees: Uganda or Tanzania

Uganda, Kibale Forest National Park and Budongo Forest or Tanzania, Gombe Stream NP and Mahale Mountains NP for chimpanzee tracking. Best June – September. Avoid March-May, October, November.

Tiger safari: Kanha National Park, India

Royal Bengal Tiger on safari in India

An 8 year old Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) walks along a dust track at Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh state, India. Photo by Dey Sandip.

The setting for Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, this 750 sq. mile park is your best chance to see a tiger in the wild, though the chance is small. However, the elephant back safaris are fun and apart from looking for tigers, also chance upon leopards, rhinoceros, jackals, bison, boar, sambar deer and monkeys by the barrel load.

Open November-June, but best February – April.

Rhinos and tigers wildlife safari: Royal Chitwan Park, Nepal

Pleasant elephant back expeditions in search of big cats, but it’s very rare to see one. We saw tiger paw prints and were kind of satisfied. In later years we heard of many visitors on tiger safari who saw prints but not animals. It occurred to us that it would be extremely easy for a safari park  to send out  an employee in the early morning/late evening with a clay model paw and punch a few prints into the damp mud…Just a thought!
Rhinos, on the other hand, are definitely visible.
Best November-April.

Best Wildlife Safari by month