Southern Africa’s best national parks

21/10/2017 09:24

Written by Bradt Travel Guides


Chobe, Hippos by PlusONE, Shutterstock©PlusONE, Shutterstock

Chobe National Park covers 11,700km2 in the north of Botswana and is the country’s premier national park, contiguous with the greater Okavango region to the west. It is justly famous for the huge elephant herds that congregate in the dry season along the Chobe waterfront, and this is the most popular part of the reserve – easily accessible from Victoria Falls or Livingstone, just across the nearby borders with Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively. Among the usual large herbivores are a few less common antelope, including red lechwe, Chobe bushbuck (a local, more boldly marked race) and puku – found nowhere else south of Zambia. Enormous herds of buffalo, sometimes thousands strong, draw lions on to the floodplains, while other predators include leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog. Baboons raid the campsites, while hippo, crocodiles and, with luck, Cape clawless otters, can be seen in the river.


Sehlabathebe National Park by Luke N Vargas, Wikimedia Commons© Luke N Vargas, Wikimedia Commons 

A good selection of upland wildlife, including the rare oribi, can be seen in the Sehlabathebe National Park , a small, rugged reserve of 6,500 hectares in the remote eastern Qacha’s Nek district.


Elephants in Mozambique by Ariadne Van Zandbergen© Ariadne Van Zandbergen

In the very south, the Maputaland region shares a coastal, dune-forest habitat with neighbouring KwaZulu Natal (see page 271). Here, a few elephant still survive in the Maputo Elephant Reserve, along with small antelope such as red duiker and suni, while the rich birdlife includes dune forest specials such as Neergaard’s sunbird (Cinnyris neergaardi). North of the capital Maputo, the ‘Lagoon Coast’ comprises a string of lakes trapped behind the dunes, where the shallow waters and marshy wetlands draw flamingos and many other waterbirds. Further north, the idyllic islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago are now protected within a national park, where three species of turtle breed, rare dugong graze the seagrass beds and crocodile hunt the island lakes. The coral reefs here offer some of the world’s richest diving and snorkelling, while, offshore, whale sharks, manta rays and migrating humpback whales cruise the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel.


Etosha National Park by Joachim Huber, Flickr© Joachim Huber, Flickr

Etosha National Park, the country’s bestknown nature reserve, dominates this region and centres upon the huge 6,000km2 Etosha Pan – a blinding white expanse of dry clay. As the dry season wears on, animals gather at the waterholes and springs that fringe the pan. Peak-season game-viewing can be spectacular, and continues into the night at floodlit waterholes beside the camps. Most of southern Africa’s large mammals occur here. Burchell’s zebra, springbok, blue wildebeest, giraffe, kudu and elephant are particularly plentiful, along with eland, red hartebeest, roan, mountain zebra (to the west) and abundant predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted and brown hyena. Etosha specials include Damara dik-dik and black-faced impala, and it is probably the easiest place in Africa to observe black rhino at close quarters. 

South Africa

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve by Derek Keats© Derek Keats

Northeast of the Drakensberg lies the hot, rugged bushveld of Zululand, where the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, proclaimed in 1897, is one of Africa’s oldest. This is the rhino heart of Africa: the final retreat of the white rhino after near extermination in the 1930s and now an equally important refuge for the even more threatened black rhino. It also has a broad selection of other large mammals, including the rest of the ‘big five’ and most major herbivores.


Elephants, Mana Pools by Shutterstock, outdoorsman© Shutterstock, outdoorsman

Downstream from Kariba lies some of the wildest and most beautiful country in southern Africa, and Mana Pools National Park is the jewel in the crown of the Lower Zambezi Valley. Between towering escarpment walls – on both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides – lies a broad floodplain of riverine forest and trapped meander loops, where game masses during the dry season beneath the statuesque ana trees (Faidherbia albida). Over 12,000 elephant and 16,000 buffalo invade this area, along with zebra, kudu, eland, sable, bushbuck and the rare nyala.

 For more information of wildlife and safaris in southern Africa, take a look at our guide:

 Southern African Wildlife, Bradt Travel Guides

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