Best 10 National Parks in East Africa

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Pride of Lions in Masai Mara

The East African region contains 5 countries which include Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. These countries together hold diverse wildlife, beautiful landscapes and culture. The wildlife can be enjoyed in national parks of different countries in a number of ways such as such as going on a safari, primate trekking adventures, hiking. The best way to that is to obtain the East African Single Tourist visa which grants you free entry and exit into Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. Unfortunately Tanzania hasn’t joined, so you will have to purchase a separate Tanzania tourist visa.

With so many things to do and see, it can be difficult to decide the parks to visit. This list can help you choose the wildlife and attractions you want to see on a safari.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (South Western Uganda)

One of the biologically diverse places, this UNESCO world heritage site Bwindi impenetrable National Park is where half of the world’s mountain gorilla population lives. The most sought after wildlife encounter on earth is likely to be seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The main visitor activity is gorilla trekking which provides opportunity to see some of the 17 habituated mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The best time for a gorilla safari in the park is during the dry season from December to February and June to September. Planning to do gorilla trekking in this park, you have to book a gorilla permit and accommodation three months in advance due to get the best of your interest.

Bwindi is located in south western Uganda about 502 km from the capital Kampala. By road the journey takes 8-10 hours but includes stopovers such as equator crossing experiment, drum making experience plus friendly locals and scenery. However coming from Kigali Rwanda provide the quick access to Bwindi by 3 hours drive. Travelers can fly with Rwanda Air and then cross over to Uganda for gorilla trekking. In addition to gorilla trekking, tourists can take village walks in the local communities. There are Bakiga and Batwa pygmies offering cultural encounters. you get to learn about their traditions, food, dance performances and arts and crafts.

Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)

2 million wildebeests along with zebra, grant’s gazelles and other antelopes set off from Serengeti national park and thus this park provides the best chances to see the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth. The wildebeest migration is the most sought after experience as the animals move between Serengeti ecosystem and Masai Mara reserve in Kenya in search of green pastures and water. The best time to view wildebeest is during December to February and June to July.

That’s not all; in addition to the wildebeest migration, Serengeti is home to diverse wildlife including the big five African mammals. That is the elephants, buffalo, black rhino and the largest population of lions. Other animals include cheetah and about 500 species of birds including ostrich. Guided game drive safari offer the best chance to spot wildlife morning and evening. Black rhinos and are not frequently seen in this park but are largely found in the neighboring Ngorongoro crater.

Serengeti is very huge area covering an area of 14, 763 sq km. The beautiful savannah wilderness is dotted by granite rocks, yellow fever acacia, and lush palm trees and swampy areas around the Grumeti River and Serenore valley.

Tourists can get to the park from Arusha or Nairobi. Fly to Kilimanjaro airport and then again by charter plane to the park.  The road from Arusha is dirt and bumpy to Serengeti is 300 km taking 8 hours.

Masai Mara Reserve –Kenya

Explore the Land of the Masai People. The Masai-Mara wildlife reserve is one of the best places in Africa to see the big cats such as leopard, lion and cheetahs. It is found in the great east African rift valley floor contiguous with Serengeti national park. The great wildebeest migration also happens in this park during the month of July to September.

Masai Mara is Kenya’s true natural wonder incredibly diverse with hills and plateaus, rift valley escarpments, lush savannah grasslands and acacia woodlands. These habitats provide home to large mammals which include elephant, rhino, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and various antelope species. The wildlife is surrounded by the Masai cattle warriors. It wouldn’t be a complete wildlife safari without visiting the masi villages to learn their unique culture and grab souvenirs.

Nairobi National Park – Kenya

Located less than 40 minutes drive outside Nairobi Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi national park is 117 sq km park but home to endangered black rhinos. Successful conservation and protection of more than 50 black rhinos make this park one of the best in East Africa. Other animals include lions, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, zebras, ostrich, giraffes, and gazelles. Such a small park with abundant wildlife including 400 species of birds, and less than 10 minutes drive from Nairobi, so you have no excuse whatsoever to get there. If you are into wildlife viewing for any short amount of time while in Nairobi, you can do half day safari for game viewing. Animals can be viewed against the backdrop of the city and perhaps you could get that postcard shot of a rhino, giraffe, lion, or zebra. Get on the way by public bus or safari vehicle from Monday to Sunday and secure entrance with rangers for amazing wildlife viewing.

Murchison Falls National park- Uganda

Uganda’s largest conservation area, Murchison Falls National park is located at the northern tip of the Albertine rift valley. The park is bisected by river Nile creating Murchison waterfalls, the world’s strongest waterfall which is a magnificent feature of this park. The Nile creates diverse habitats such as the Albert-Nile delta wetland, savannah, rain forests, and palm forests. It is one of the wildlife rich areas. More than 75 mammals are recorded in the park including African elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard, white rhino, giraffe, and Uganda kob.

The Nile divides the park into north and south. Game viewing is mostly done in the northern part towards the Albert-Nile delta wetland and so you will have to cross the river by ferry. In the south of the park, there are chimpanzees in Budongo forest reserve. This park stands out with opportunities for tourists to do game drives, river Nile boat cruises to see hippos and crocodiles, as well do chimpanzee trekking in the south Budongo forest.

It is a great birding destination too, more than 451 species of bird that include shoebill stork, African fish eagle, Abyssinian ground hornbill, goliath heron, African darter, white faced whistling duck, martial eagle among others.

You can visit this park by minimum 3 days if you are not doing a trip around western Uganda. The park is located 4 hours drive from Kampala. En route to the park, you have the chance to stop at Ziwa rhino sanctuary for guided rhino trekking on foot with rangers. The top of the falls view is breathtaking when you hike to cliff above the waterfalls.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Tanzania

This UNESCO world heritage site Ngorongoro crater is referred to as the cradle of mankind. Traces of first known human species to live on earth about 2 million years ago were discovered at Olduvai Gorge by Dr. Louis leaky. Ngorongoro crater is home to over 25,000 mammals. The rich wildlife and human history has put Ngorongoro on the list of African natural wonders.

It is known as the best place in Tanzania to spot the big five African mammals. A pride of more than 50 lions lives within the crater along with predators like hyena and leopard. The crater is not actually a lake but an intact caldera up to 12 miles wide and it’s where much of the wildlife. Good enough, some of the luxury lodges enable visitors to sleep in the caldera rim and wake up to sunrise and game viewing with the best chance to see black rhinos and the big five too. the wildebeest migration also passes through the crater though not in big numbers as in Serengeti or Masai Mara.

Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda

The Volcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillas and these are the main attractions for any trip to Rwanda. Very easy to access by 2 hours drive from Kigali international airport, for travelers with limited time, volcanoes provide the best chance for gorilla trekking safari for a day or just 2. There are 10 habituated gorilla families which are found within the park. The price of a gorilla trekking permit was recently hiked to US$1500 per person. This was a quest to avoid overcrowding and that’s how Rwanda takes conservation very serious. Gorilla numbers in Virunga massif have increased to 604 with new census results, and partly volcanoes is boosting gorilla conservation. The park is part of the Virunga massif which straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. This area is home to golden monkeys, another endangered primate to see on top of the gorillas. The Virunga volcanoes also provide great hiking opportunities.

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