East Africa is known for its extraordinary wildlife safari experiences and is undoubtedly the premier region. Boasting its abundant wildlife, East Africa safaris offer a complete big 5 game experience and also primate encounters. There are several scenic national parks worth exploring in Eastern Africa and each guarantee visitors’ unique experiences. Here are the 5 best national parks to visit in East Africa;
- Maasai Mara National Reserve/Park
- Volcanoes National Park
- Kidepo Valley National Park
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Serengeti National Park
Masai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) isn’t only Kenya’s premier wildlife reserve but also one of the leading destinations for the Big Five game viewing and the famous great migration safaris. Located in Southwestern Kenya, Masai Mara spectacularly spans over a land area of 1510sq.km featuring primarily the vast savanna plains.
At Masai Mara, there are multiple wildlife to encounter, especially on traditional game-viewing safaris. They include cape buffaloes, lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, gazelles, wildebeest, Nile crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, baboons, mongooses, dik-dik, and plenty of bird species.
The vast Masai Mara National Reserve is best for game drives, horseback riding, hot air balloon excursions, nature walks, birding, picnicking and cultural experiences. On a safari in Masai Mara, a comfortable night stay is guaranteed at the budget, midrange and luxury accommodation options spread in and around the reserve.
Top accommodations in and around Maasai Mara include Mara River Lodge, Mara Serena Safari Lodge, Sarova Mara Game Camp Safari Lodge, Sand River Masai Mara by Elewana, Ngerende Island Lodge, Entumoto Safari Camp, Porini Lion Camp, Mara Intrepids Tented Camp, Angama Mara Camp, Little Governors Camp and more.
Access to Masai Mara Reserve is possible by road or fly-in safaris. By road, you require about 6 hours to drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara in a comfortable 4×4 drive vehicle. Access gates to Masai Mara include Sekenani Gate, Talek, Sand River, Musiara and Oloololo gates. By air, you set off from Nairobi to any of the airstrips in the reserve including Ngerende Airstrip, Serena Airstrip, Keekorok Airstrip, Ol Kiomno Airstrip, Kichwa Tembo Airstrip and Musiara Airstrip.
Volcanoes National Park
Lying in Northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is East African top mountain gorilla trekking destination. Inhabiting about 12 habituated mountain gorilla groups, Volcanoes NP is incredibly one of the best places to find the rare mountain gorillas in the wild plus other primates all living harmoniously in the same habitat, including golden monkeys.
The Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is dominated by the bamboo forest and occupies 160sq.km. It was officially declared as a national park in 1925 and is known not only for gorillas and golden monkeys, but also as a home to five of the 8 magnificent Virunga Volcanoes (Gahinga, Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Bisoke and Karisimbi), 180 species of birds, and others.
The unique birds to identify in Volcanoes Park Rwanda include the dusky crimson wings, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Baglafetch weaver bird, red-backed shrike, strange weavers, Blue-spotted wood dove, cinnamon chested bee-eaters, Handsome francolins to mention but a few.
Top accommodations in Volcanoes National Park include but are not limited to Wilderness Bisate, Le Bamboo Gorilla Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Best View Hotel, Faraja Hotel, Tiloreza Volcanoes Eco Lodge, Garden Place Hotel, Mountain Gorillas Nest Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View lodge among several other options.
The Volcanoes National Park is accessible both from Kigali, Rwanda, and southwestern Uganda. From Kigali, travel by car or bus to Musanze, the closest town to the park, which takes about 2-3 hours. If coming from Uganda, cross the border into Rwanda at Gatuna or Cyanika border posts in the southwestern region, and then proceed to Volcanoes National Park. The journey from the Uganda-Rwanda border involves road travel, so it’s advisable to check current border crossing requirements and travel conditions.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Most popular as the “True African Wilderness”, Kidepo Valley National Park is one of the best parks in Uganda where tourists can find abundant savanna wildlife. Located in the far Northeastern Uganda stretching to the border with South Sudan, Kidepo is most famous for wildlife such as cheetahs, lions, zebras, elephants, buffaloes, Rothschild giraffes, and varied antelope families plus over 475 species of birds.
Kidepo is most visited for game drives/wildlife viewing, cultural experiences at IK and Karamojong communities, nature walks, birding and camping experiences.
Accommodation options in and around Kidepo Valley National Park include; Apoka Safari Lodge, Savannah Lodge, Apoka Rest Camp, Adere Safari Lodge, Kakine & Nagusokopire campsites and Nga Moru Wilderness Camp.
Accessing Kidepo Valley Park in Uganda offers diverse options. For those traveling by road, one route involves reaching Kidepo via Moroto, providing a scenic journey through northeastern Uganda. Alternatively, access through Kitgum offers another road option, though it involves a longer drive from Kampala. For a more efficient and breathtaking approach, travelers can opt for an internal flight to Apoka Airstrip from Entebbe International Airport, providing an aerial perspective of Uganda’s landscapes before ground transfer to the park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda
Situated in the extreme Southwestern Uganda, Bwindi is without a doubt the most preferred destination for mountain gorilla encounters. The park expands up to 331 sq km and protects over 459 mountain gorillas with more than 20 families undergoing full habituation.
At Bwindi, gorilla trekking is the premier experience and visitors begin their journey to see the rare mountain gorillas from any of the four sectors; Ruhija, Nkuringo, Rushaga and Buhoma.
Only persons above 15 years are eligible to undertake gorilla trekking in Bwindi and each gorilla group is visited by a maximum of 8 guests per day with the lead of an experienced park guide.
Aside from gorilla trekking, this park also offers the best of birding excursions, mountain biking, forest walks, and community or cultural experiences.
Accommodation options in Bwindi impenetrable national park include but are not limited to Ruhija rest camp, Rushaga gorilla camp, Buhoma Lodge, Chamaeleon Hill Lodge, Mahogany Springs, Bwindi Lodge, Bakiga Lodge among several others. It is important to note that accommodation in Bwindi is sector-based. Only book accommodation that corresponds to your gorilla trekking sector.
To reach Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for mountain gorilla trekking, travelers can either take internal flights from Entebbe to Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip, facilitated by several domestic airlines. Upon landing, ground transportation to Bwindi can be arranged through accommodations or tour operators. An alternative option involves a scenic but longer 8-10 hour road trip from Kampala, passing through scenic landscapes and towns.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti is a premier Tanzania Safari Park and East Africa’s leading destination, known for its vast savanna plains and abundant wildlife. Extending up to 14763sq.km, Serengeti National Park is most popular for its exhilarating wildebeest migration and Big Five game encounters.
Serengeti was created in 1951 and holds a huge concentration of elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, buffaloes, wildebeest, impalas, hartebeest, zebras, Thompson gazelles, giraffes, waterbucks, hippos, and birds. The best way to explore Tanzania’s Serengeti NP is by embarking on a game drive, a great migration tour, a visit to the Maasai cultural village, a nature walk, a balloon experience and camping, etc.
Accommodations in Serengeti National Park include but are not limited to; Singita Sasakwa Lodge, Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Sayari Camp, andBeyond Serengeti Under Canvas, Serengeti Migration Camp, Nomad Serengeti Safari Camp, Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge, Kati Kati Tented Camp, Serengeti Sopa Lodge, Seronera Campsites, Ikoma Tented Camp, Serengeti Acacia Camps among several other options.
To access Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, travelers have multiple options. For a swift and scenic journey, one can opt for an internal flight from Kilimanjaro or Dar es Salaam to Seronera Airstrip or Grumeti Airstrip. Alternatively, those seeking a more leisurely experience can embark on a road trip from Arusha or nearby towns, reveling in the scenic Tanzanian landscape along the way.
In summary, East Africa features savanna and rainforest parks, thus guaranteeing visitors unique encounters with faunal and avifaunal species. A visit to any of the 5 parks listed above allows you to enjoy distinct experiences and sight of varied species from different habitats.