The magic of safari is that every day is different from the one before. You never know what you might see on a game drive or safari walk and the anticipation and excitement fuel the fun! We enjoy every sighting, but some animals are extra special for us. Learn more about the animals we’re excited to see in 2023 below. A few on the list may surprise you!
Elusive, sleek and breathtakingly beautiful, this big cat’s habitat is also widespread throughout Africa, though they take a bit more effort to find. Peer up into the trees on a game drive and if you’re lucky, you might find a spotted tail hanging down. Look closer and you might see the leopard’s body perfectly camouflaged in the dappled sunlight as she sleeps on a branch high in the air.
If seeing these incredibly lithe, largely solitary cats is high on your wish list, we recommend a visit to one of South Africa’s private game reserves around Kruger National Park such as Sabi Sand or South Luangwa Park in Zambia. A lodge in an area that allows for night game drives is a must. It’s a huge thrill to see a leopard on safari and we never tire of it!
Who doesn’t love elephants? They are among our favorite animals to spend time with on safari. Watching their social interactions is fascinating – from mothers caring for their young to adults greeting one another, it’s incredible to observe the complexity of their relationships. Being in proximity of the odd trumpet is quite invigorating as well!
Elephants are found many places throughout Africa. Some of our favorites include Botswana (it has the largest population of elephants on the continent), Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe which has a seasonal population that swells to 45,000 pachyderms, Amboseli National Park in Kenya where you can see huge tuskers with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background and Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.
Seeing a rhino on safari is very special indeed. While they are not officially endangered, the species has been under grave threat from poaching for many years. Fantastic conservation and protection work is taking place to keep their population stable so that generations of safari-goers to come will have the thrill of seeing one in the wild.
The rhino populations in South Africa and Kenya are especially strong and well protected. Additionally, Kenya offers the unique opportunity to see the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos. Namibia also hosts a population of desert-adapted black rhino which can be tracked on foot with guides and rangers.
They say that the Cape buffalo always looks at you as though you owe him money. It’s an apt description. Seeing these enormous beasts out in the bush is always cause for excitement and seeing them in great herds even more so! Seeing hundreds (or even thousands) of Cape buffalo thundering across the plains is nothing short of awesome!
Cape buffalo are common throughout Africa, and some off-the-radar parks hold a good chance of seeing huge herds (along with lots of other wildlife). Kafue National Park in Zambia and Katavi National Park in Tanzania are both exceptional, while Botswana and South Africa also have plenty of opportunities to see Cape buffalo in its natural habitat.
The fastest land animal is a favorite to spot on safari. Built for speed with slender, muscular bodies, the cheetah is elegant and beautiful. Seeing them on the chase literally takes our breath away, but even seeing them having a nap is pretty wonderful! Spotting cheetah cubs is extra special – look closely and you’ll see how they resemble honey badgers, perhaps as an adaptation to confuse predators.
Cheetah like open plains for good hunting. Among the best places to see them are the Serengeti ecosystem in Kenya (Masai Mara) and Tanzania (Serengeti National Park), Etosha National Park in Namibia, Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa and Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Spending time with mountain gorillas is unforgettable. We thrill to be in the forest with the primates, observing their daily lives for a precious moment. Seeing the hierarchy of the families, watching how they interact, looking at the adorable babies and the majestic silverbacks – the hour spent with them goes by all too quickly! We would (and will) do it again and again!
Mountain gorillas are only found in three countries in the world: Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. We recommend our travelers choose Rwanda or Uganda for their gorilla safari. Each country offers more than gorillas though. Rwanda has a variety of parks where you can see other primates such as colobus monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabeys, as well as parks where you can see the Big 5 (after lion and rhino reintroductions), as well as zebra, giraffe, and hundreds of bird species. Uganda boasts many options as well including excellent chimpanzee trekking, water/boating safaris and a huge variety of plains game and predators in its national parks. Both countries offer wonderful cultural activities as well.
Africa hosts thriving populations of chimpanzees, which are fascinating to see in their natural environment. Trekking to see the apes is an adventure in itself and coming upon them and spending time observing their antics is exciting and fascinating. We love to be in the forest with them – hearing their vocalizations, watching their sometimes frantic movements, learning about their interactions and family structures and more.
Our favorite place to see chimpanzees is Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, followed by Kibale National Park in Uganda and Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda. We recommend chimpanzee trekking as part of a larger East African safari.
We have to admit, the odds of seeing this incredibly elusive animal are not high, but it’s still on our wish list. There are seven species of this scaly anteater, four of which are found in Africa. This animal is the unicorn of safari species, but lucky guests do spot them on occasion. Places in Africa to have the best chance to see a pangolin are at Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa and Sangha Lodge in Central African Republic. There are also a number of rescue facilities where travelers can see a pangolin.
Lions are regal and fierce, and we love seeing them on safari. Roly-poly cubs play together and bother their mothers incessantly while the males of the pride laze away the day under a tree. Even when they are just sleeping, lions are a thrill to see, and very, very lucky travelers might see them hunt or attempt a kill.
Lions can be found many places throughout Africa (and Asiatic lions can be seen in India!). Some of our favorite places to see them include the Serengeti ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania (Masai Mara, Serengeti National Park and private conservancies and reserves), private reserves around Kruger National Park in South Africa, the tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and the desert-adapted lions in Namibia, though these are possibly the most difficult to track and spot.
Another less common species that we get very excited about seeing on safari is African wild (painted) dog. This endangered species is a rare and special sight on safari. Traveling in packs, the dogs are fast and intelligent with an 80% success rate in their hunts (just see if you can keep up with them – even in a vehicle!).
Wild dog can be seen Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe; the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana; Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa; South Luangwa National Park in Zambia; Lakipia, Kenya and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. As with all things in nature, no sightings are ever guaranteed, but these parks have a better than average chance to spot them.
These beautiful marine animals are sharks, not whales. They are filter feeders, meaning they don’t bite or chew (though they do have thousands of tiny teeth). Diving or snorkeling with these slow swimmers is an enchanting experience – exciting and serene at the same time.
Swimming with whale sharks is a seasonal activity, so it’s imperative to consult with a Journey Specialist to find the best place to go at the right time of year. Tanzania’s Mafia Island is a great place to swim with whale sharks as are Mozambique and Maldives. We also offer the chance to swim with whale sharks in some of our Out of Africa destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Coming across a dazzle of zebra is always special but seeing even one Grevy’s zebra is extra special. The Grevy’s is one of the ‘Somali Special Five,’ and can only be found in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Distinguished from plains zebra by its white belly and narrow stripes, the Grevy’s is the largest of the zebra species.
Grevy’s zebra are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and it is estimated that only 3,000 remain. We partner with Grevy’s Zebra Trust who work to engage and incorporate local communities in protecting Grevy’s zebra in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Photos courtesy Kym I., AAC Livingstone Club members Sean H. and Jennifer S., Tswalu Kalahari, Los Colibris Casitas and Grevy’s Zebra Trust