It’s easy to see why the likes of East Africa’s Serengeti and South Africa’s Kruger National Park draw many first-time visitors to Africa. But the continent is also home to an array of untrammelled parks and reserves offering more intimate and often less expensive wildlife encounters. Here are some of our favourites.
Niassa Reserve, Mozambique
© Ariadne Van Zandbergen
Situated in the remote north of Mozambique bordering Tanzania, Niassa Reserve is the third-largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa, but it is surprisingly unspoilt – a rare feat in modern Africa. Dominated by the Lugenda River, the reserve is scenically spectacular, with enormous tracts of miombo woodland studded with bulbous fleshy grey baobabs and ribbons of lush forest. Although this isn't the best place to see the 'Big 'Five, it presents remarkable opportunities for walking safaris, past rainbow-coloured birds, giant hippos and majestic elephants. Niassa offers as intimate an African bush experience as still exists in the 21st century.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Black-collared barbet are a common sight in the reserve © dkeats, Wikimedia Commons
This once-obscure reserve has been the subject of an intensive programme of reintroductions, and it’s now one of the country’s best game-viewing areas, with a range of facilities including an impressive new luxury safari lodge. Lions were reintroduced in 2012, rounding out the 'Big Five', and birding is excellent, too, with more than 300 species recorded, including such noisy and conspicuous characters as trumpeter hornbill and black-collared barbet.
Phophonyane Reserve, Swaziland
The Falls run throughout the park © Africaspotter, Wikimedia Commons
This gem of a reserve just north of Piggs Peak has its lodge and accommodation ingeniously landscaped into the lush, indigenous vegetation. Overlooking the Phophonyane River and Falls, which run through the property, it has a good pool and restaurant, and a well-maintained network of self-guided trails with excellent birdwatching. Although it's not a big-game reserve, walk quietly on the trails and you may spot a timid red duiker, while vervet monkeys often hang around the lodge and troops of banded mongoose forage in clearings.
Obô National Park, São Tomé and Príncipe
Pico Cão Grande, located in the south of the park © Marco Muscara
Renowned among conservationists for its dense virgin rainforests, Obô dominates much of the islands. It's an excellent park for birwatching – look out for the maroon pigeon, the São Tomé scops owl and giant sunbird. Take your time to explore through the fantastically coloured trees decorated with monkey nuts.
Boma National Park, South Sudan
Over 1.3 million antelope embark on the migration across this park between March and June © Levison Wood
Established in 1977, Boma runs parallel to Ethiopia’s Gambella National Park, enabling large numbers of elephant, giraffe and zebra to roam across the frontier. The big cats here include cheetah and leopard, and the thousands of resident tiang and Mongalla gazelle ensure they never go hungry. From March until June (and in the opposite direction from November to January), almost 2 million animals make the journey south and east from the floodplains of the Sudd through Boma and into Ethiopia – a migration that is said to rival even that of the Serengeti.
Loango National Park, Gabon
© Annelies Hickendorff
Thanks to its irresistable mix of superb scenery and fascinating wildlife, Loango is surely Gabon's most treasured national park. It is renowned as one of Africa's last great coastal wildernesses, and its endless beach is one of the last places in the world where you will see buffalo and elephant walk into the sea. Its savannahs, lagoons and forests are home to gorillas, dolphins, humpback whales and many a rare bird.