7 National Parks in Southern Africa That Should Have Your Attention
There is perhaps no word more synonymous with Africa than “safari,” and when you consider the quantity and diversity of the continent’s national parks and the wildlife they contain, it’s not difficult to figure out why that is. With vast deserts like the Sahara and the Namib, magnificent mountain ranges such as the Eastern Rift and Drakensberg, and a population of wildlife more diverse than on any other continent, Africa as a whole offers boundless opportunities to explore.
While national parks and guided safaris can be found all across the continent, some of the best options (outside of the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania) present themselves when you head down south to the likes of Zambia, Botswana, and, yes, South Africa. To give you an idea of what you’re working with in southern Africa, go ahead and check out this list:
1. Etosha National Park (Namibia)
Named for the Etosha pan, a large, flat expanse of land covered with salt and other minerals spanning 75 miles in northern Namibia, Etosha National Park was the second game reserve to be established in the country way back in 1907. Encompassing 8,600 square miles of land itself, the park is home to numerous camps, the newest being Olifanstrus situated about 65 miles west of the Etosha pan.
Each of the park’s camps is situated near a permanent waterhole where a variety of wildlife, including zebras, rhinos and elephants, can be spotted. The World Pursuit says Etosha is one of the best value safaris in southern Africa.
2. Ts'ehlanyane National Park (Lesotho)
Ts’ehlanyane is the largest national park in Lesotho, the landlocked kingdom surrounded entirely by South Africa. Perfect for hiking, horse riding, and spying elands (think antelopes), Ts'ehlanyane, which sits among the Maloti Mountains, encompasses one of Lesotho’s only stretches of indigenous forest. “This underrated and underused place is about as far away from it all as you can get,” according to Lonely Planet, which says that in addition to day walks, there is a 39 kilometer day hike or pony trek to and from Bokong Nature Reserve that’s worth checking out.
3. Liuwa Plain National Park (Zambia)
Included in The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018,” Liuwa Plain National Park contains more than 1,000 square miles of land in western Zambia that has been designated, unofficially, as a protected area since the early 1880s and as a national park since 1972. According to nonprofit conservation organization African Parks, Liuwa Plain bears witness to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa every year — though this has only become the case more recently as the organization has warded off poachers. Zebras and spotted hyenas are among other species seeing a resurgence thanks to African Parks’ efforts.
4. Table Mountain National park (South Africa)
A more recent addition to the long list of national parks spread throughout Africa, Table Mountain National Park, located in Cape Town, South Africa, was proclaimed a national park only in May 1998. Drawing 4.2 million visitors per year, according to Culture Trip, the park was created for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountains and the rare fynbos vegetation that exists there.
“Stretching from the north of Cape Town down to the southwest tip of Africa, it will take you a few days to explore the 22,000 hectare park,” Culture Trip contributor Lee-Shay Collison wrote in a 2017 article. One not-to-miss highlight? The penguins that hangout at Boulders Beach.
5. Bazaruto Archipelago National Marine Park (Mozambique)
Consisting of an archipelago of five islands off the coast of Mozambique, Bazaruto Archipelago National Marine Park was established in 1971 to protect dugong (marine mammals closely related to manatees) and marine turtles, as well as their habitats.
“Built of coastal dunes, mangrove forests, rocky and white sandy shores lapped by gentle azure waters, the islands are surrounded by vibrant coral reefs and vast seagrass meadows,” says African Parks, which, along with the National Administration of Conservation Areas, became the managing body of Bazaruto in December 2017. Check out Condé Nast Traveller’s guide for places to stay and things to see and do when visiting this unique marine reserve.
6. Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi)
Created for the express purpose of protecting fish and aquatic habitats — making it the only reserve of its kind in Malawi — Lake Malawi National Park, established in November 1980, is situated at the southern end of, you guessed it, Lake Malawi. The park, with its many hundreds of fish species, is described by UNESCO as being comparable to the Galapagos Islands in its significance to the study of evolution.
“Lake Malawi is a Great Rift Valley lake of impressive proportions and amazing variety,” says Siyabona Africa, a company which offers safaris and tours in numerous African countries. “It covers almost one fifth of Malawi, and its fishing industry supports a great number of people. For tourists it can be like heaven on earth, with desirable sandy beaches, incredible snorkeling and scuba diving in a vast aquarium of shining fish, or walking through rugged rocky territory on uninhabited offshore islands.”
7. Chobe National Park (Botswana)
Only one park can factually claim to be Botswana’s first and most biologically diverse, and that’s Chobe National Park, which was established in 1967. Home to some of Africa's highest concentrations of game, Chobe, located in the northern portion of the country, covers a wide variety of ecosystems, ranging from arid plains to watery swamps.
“Chobe Park is known for its excellent game viewing boat cruises along the Chobe River, which attracts plenty of animals and birds,” according to African Budget Safaris. “Winter (April to October) is the best time to go game viewing in Chobe Park as herds of zebra, antelopes, buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest gather at the water sources.”