Best Big Five Safari Parks in Africa for Seeing All Five Majestic Animals

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For over a century, big game hunters romanticized the adventure of trekking through the African savanna and locating the “Big Five” game. Now, people are more apt to shoot the Big Five with their DSLR camera than a rifle, but the allure of these gorgeous, large, powerful and often elusive creatures remains.

Those looking to see all Big Five animals during their African safari trip will need a hefty dose of luck. But they can increase their odds by visiting the best Big Five safari parks in Africa, where they are most likely to see all Five in one trip.

Start planning your African safari vacation to see the Big Five by taking a look at our recommended Big Five parks below.

 

Kruger National Park, Madikwe Reserve — South Africa

Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in the world and home to millions of visitors every year. The size and popularity of the park make it one of the best destinations for safari game viewing, especially for first­timers. Roads are well­paved, the park features plenty of amenities and game trackers are well­versed in locating the best viewing experiences as the animals go about their routines.

Finding all Big Five safari animals is also most­easily accomplished with a visit to Kruger. The park is home to over 2,000 lions, equalling a density of 5 to 8 lions per every 100km2. There are also over 13,000 elephants, 37,000 Cape buffalo, around 2,000 white rhino and an estimated 1,000 leopards. Black rhinos, which are critically endangered, are a rare sight at just an estimated 300 across the whole park, but they are still numerous in Kruger relative to other areas.

For a more­intimate experience, you can visit the Madikwe Game Reserve, which is the fifth­largest reserve in the world and only a few hours’ drive northwest of Pretoria. Madikwe has ample populations of elephant, lion and buffalo — although, leopards and rhinos happen to be rarer. Madikwe is also famous for its population of rare endangered wild dogs.

 

Masai Mara — Kenya

The Masai Mara National Reserve sits along the path of the great wildebeest migration from the Serengeti. In late summer, millions of wildebeest and other ruminants make the long trek to find grass and water as the dry season sets in.

These wildebeest naturally attract predators, including lions, spotted hyena and enormous crocodiles. As a result, the Masai Mara is teeming with dramatic displays of wildlife throughout the year, including 35,000 elephants and 825 lions. Rhinos and leopards are more­scarce, but Cape buffalo populations remain healthy.

Witnessing the great migration from the Masai Mara is an unforgettable experience, especially in a hot air balloon ride overlooking the massive herds.

 

Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater — Tanzania

For those looking to adventure late or early in the year, November through March provides an amazing opportunity to view wildlife along the Serengeti in Tanzania. During this time, wildebeest and other ruminants return to sire their young and nurse them to be strong and survive the coming years.

Vast herds of 2 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, 900,000 gazelle and 70,000 buffalo call the plains home. Since these prey are numerous, the Serengeti also plays home to 4,000 lions and 1,000 leopards. Elephant and rhino populations are smaller, but elephants are still a common sight.

For a more­concentrated experience, the beautiful backdrop of the Ngorongoro Crater is packed with wildlife populations, including all Big Five. You can also see jackals, foxes, flamingos, cheetah, gazelle, hyena and other gorgeous animals here while on safari.

 

Book Your Incredible Experience at the Best Big Five Safari Parks in Africa

If you are interested in paying a visit to one of these breathtaking locations, you are in for quite a treat. Not only will you see most (or all) of the Big Five, you will enjoy the unique settings, sights and sounds of Mother Africa.

Start planning your trip now by taking a look at our sample Big Five safari tour packages, or book a custom safari trip made especially for you when you contact us today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

All About the Hyrax, the Elephant’s Cousin That Looks Like a Rodent

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In a continent full of unique and unusual animals, the plucky hyrax still manages to stand out. These medium-sized mammals are survivors of a primitive group of species that later split off to evolve into elephants, manatees and dugongs. They have some interesting characteristics, including complex barking “songs” and elephant-like rubbery footpads adapted for climbing.

You can find the four different species of hyrax all throughout Africa during an African safari tour. Observing them in the wild is a rare treat that makes them every bit as worth seeking out as any of the Big Five.

The Four Species of Hyrax

There are four different species of hyrax — also called “dassies” by those who speak Afrikaans — and they all have their own distinct habits and habitat ranges.

  • Rock Hyrax — Also called the “rock badger,” these hyraxes are highly social and adept climbers thanks to their thick rubber-like pads. They spend 95% of their time sleeping or resting in the sun.
    • Distribution: Cape Hyraxes are found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia as well as across Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Yellow-Spotted Hyrax — Also called the “bush hyrax” or the “yellow-spotted rock hyrax” this species lives in clusters of boulders and rocky natural outcroppings found on the plains called kopjes. They are smaller and less-round than the rock hyrax.
    • Distribution: Found along the eastern coast of Africa and also within limited areas of Angola.
  • Western Tree Hyrax — Unlike the social rock hyraxes, this hyrax tends to live alone within tree clusters. They have coarser fur and unique white markings that resemble eyebrows or beards.
    • Distribution: Found in a limited range in western subtropical Africa, including the D.R. Congo and southern Cameroon.
  • Southern Tree Hyrax — The most elusive and smallest of the hyrax species, the southern tree hyrax lives alone or in pairs. They prefer humid regions of forests and savannas as well as rocky areas.
    • Distribution: A limited range in east-central Africa, including most of Tanzania and parts of the D.R. Congo.

Hyrax Size and Appearance

Hyraxes appear similar to rodents or guinea pigs, with the rock hyrax looking rather rotund and the other species looking more-lean. They can grow up to 28 inches in length and 11 pounds.

Hyraxes have interesting teeth structures, with front incisors that grow out into tusk-like formations, similar to their elephant cousins. They also have hoof-like blunt nails that resemble elephant feet.

Hyrax Group Behaviors

The two rock hyrax species are highly social, living in groups of up to 30. As a result of their social organization, they show signs of high intelligence, including the ability to communicate through 20 different vocal noises. In captivity, they tend to be extremely “talkative,” responding actively to caregivers when they approach. They also make chomping/chewing movements as a form of communication.

Unique Adaptations

All hyrax species have unique foot pad structures and sweat glands in between their toes to help them grip rocks and tree trunks. The foot muscles all curve inward to create a suction-cup-like grip.

Another interesting adaptation is the hyrax’s highly efficient kidneys, which can filter waste with minimal use of water. In fact, their concentrated urine creates mineral deposits over time called hyraceum, and the musky scent is highly prized as an ingredient in perfumes.

One thing the hyraxes are not well-adapted for is maintaining their internal heat. Rock hyraxes in particular must huddle together, rest frequently and bask in the sun to maintain their internal body temperature.

See Rock Hyraxes and Other Incredible Species During Your African Safari Tour

You can encounter hyraxes and other charming, unique creatures during your African safari trip when you book one of our safari tour packages.

Take a look at our sample safari tours to book your trip today, and contact us if you want to create a custom safari vacation where you can meet hyraxes in person.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Meet Africa’s Plucky “Small Five” During Your Safari Adventure

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Much attention is given to Africa’s “Big Five” game animals — and deservedly so — but those who come to Africa to look at just five species will miss out on incredible opportunities to see other beautiful wildlife.

Tackling this problem, conservationists decided to band together and make a push to recognize the not­so­big and not­quite­so­iconic animals you can find throughout the continent. The result was the “Small Five.”

None of these creatures are particularly rare, but they do feature names from each of the Big Five as a clever nod. The real purpose in highlighting these animals is to help people headed to top­rated African safari destinations focus on all the small details that make Africa great, not just Five of them.

Get to know the Little Five and what makes them so endearing by reading their species profiles below.

 

1.   Red­Billed Buffalo Weaver

The buffalo weaver lives in large colonies on savannas south of the Sahara all throughout Africa. Each colony is made up of breeding groups of 3­4 females and one male. The groups make huge nests in baobab trees and other plains trees on the savanna. Each nest contains multiple compartments for individual females to lay eggs and nest upon them.

Even though males often compete for female mates, and females do not tolerate other females in their chamber, red­billed buffalo weavers do cooperate when it comes to building their large nests. Males will even cooperate with one another to build nests, gather food for females and defend the colony territory from invaders.

 

2.   Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew is a fascinating creature known for their long snouts and rapid speeds. Even though the animals typically measure less than a foot in length, they can sprint at speeds of nearly 18 miles an hour for short distances.

Some species even modify their environment by clearing “lanes” or paths through the underbrush to make finding insects easier. They can also use the cleared lanes to rapidly scurry to safety when a threat comes near.

3.   Leopard Tortoise

Named for the vibrant leopard­like patterns sometimes seen on their hard domed shells, leopard tortoises are desert­loving reptiles found from Sudan all the way to the southern Cape. They eat grasses but prefer desert succulents and spiny thistles, making quick work of them with their leathery tongues.

Leopard tortoises are the fourth­largest species of tortoise in the world, growing up to 16 inches in overall length and 29 pounds in weight. Some tortoises along the Cape have gotten even bigger, growing to 28 inches and weighing more than 88 pounds!

4.   Rhinoceros Beetle

Africa has over a dozen species of rhinoceros beetle throughout its lands, including the huge Archon centaurus at nearly three inches long and Oryctes boas, which has a single horn large enough to make even a real rhino jealous!

Both male and female rhino beetles have horns, but only the males use them to battle for mates. They also use the horn as real rhinos do: to dig, lift objects and help navigate their environment. When threatened, some rhino beetle species “squeak” by rubbing their abdomens against their thin inner wings.

5.   Ant Lion

The most­common of the Little Five but nonetheless fascinating, the ant lion species can be found all throughout Africa and the world. These voracious insect predators are actually the larva of lacewing insects. They burrow into the ground and make trademark “funnel traps” in the sand to capture unsuspecting insect prey. Antlions’ powerful jaws can seize prey many times their size, and their large abdomens and forward­facing bristles help keep them anchored during the struggle.

Africa is home to some of the largest antlion species, including one species of Palpares that grows to 6.3 inches as an adult!

Come Meet the Small Five at Top­Rated African Safari Destinations

When you book a safari destination vacation package, feel free to get excited about lion, leopard and elephant sightings, but don’t forget to take a closer look at the world around you. You just may see an ant lion funnel, or catch the call of a buffalo weaver as they exit their large nests.

Take a second to appreciate all of Africa in this way, and you will get much more out of your trip to come home feeling like you truly experienced as much splendor as possible.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

What is Ecotourism, and How is it Transforming African Safari Tours?

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Chances are good that if you have looked into booking an African safari vacation, you have encountered the word “ecotourism.” This term can be confusing since it is used in many different ways by different organizations.

At its heart, ecotourism refers to a method of travel that minimizes your negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Many also include education as a necessary component of ecotourism; they believe that visitors to a region should learn about the local ecosystem and the lives of the people that live within it. Whereas normal tourism may seek to change the appearance of a destination to make it more of a pleasure-focused experience, ecotourism intends to transform the perspective of travellers by introducing them to new ways of thinking, living and acting.

Abiding 100 percent to the principles of ecotourism is tough in our consumer-focused economy, especially given the impact of our growing populations around the world. Yet, many ecotourism safari tours split the difference by minimizing their impact on the environment, promoting conservation causes and enlightening travellers while still providing a comfortable experience.

Ecotourism Definition and The Importance of Education

The concept of ecotourism has been defined in many different ways by different organizations. These organizations themselves even shift the definition over time to reflect the goals and realities of ecotourism.

Perhaps the best definition comes from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015).  Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

TIES only recently solidified education’s role within their definition, but they have a good reason for it.

People who adhere to ecotourism principles believe that anyone who visits a destination should not just enjoy the exact same comforts they find back home, nor should they be presented with the same simplified “cartoon” version of the locale they might see on TV. Instead, the goal is to momentarily share the life of others there, including both the local people and animals.

By understanding more about how the Maasai people in Tanzania maintain their nomadic traditions, for instance, you can see how the lives they lead are a conscious choice that brings them satisfaction. You can also learn about their history of strict conservatism and dedication to the rights of living beings, including their refusal to eat game and birds.

Similarly, learning about the unique beauty and characteristics of the white rhino can help you understand why it is so important to prevent their extinction.

Conservation Ecotourism

Most public parks and private organizations in Africa now have a dedicated conservation component to their operations. Instead of trading off the sanctity of their ecosystems and preferred lifestyles for the sake of tourism income, they adapt their visitor programs to have a minimal impact and include significant educational components. Additionally, many of the proceeds from visitors are now donated to wildlife programs or used to directly fund operations like animal rescues.

For instance, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya uses funds generated by visitors to support innovations and advancements in wildlife protection. These funds help them do things like pioneer the use of aerial drones and image-recognition AIs, which track wildlife movements and detect poachers before they can make their move.

Learn Some of the Three Best Ecotourism Safari Tours to Try

Africa is rich with organizations and programs offering transformative ecotourism experiences. We will cover three of the most interesting examples in our next post for you to take a look at.

You can also find many other ecotourism-related experiences within our curated African safari tour packages. Start planning your trip today with our helpful suggestions, and contact us if you are interested in custom ecotourism safari tours to match your interests.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

The History of Kruger National Park

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Kruger National Park is South Africa’s first national park and one of the largest game reserves in the world. Every year, it hosts millions of visitors from all over the world anxious to go on an African Big Five safari tour and see the continent’s most celebrated, majestic wildlife. The efforts the South African government and local private reserve operators put in also make Kruger one of the most convenient, comfortable and easy-to-reach destinations for Big Five safari tours.

The current success and popularity of Kruger would never have happened without the hard efforts of past South African government officials and passionate conservationists. Learn more about the park’s history and how it came be one of the most popular wildlife preservations in the world by reading on.

Small Beginnings: The Sabi Game Reserve

The Sabi Game reserve was established in 1898 by the former South African Republic. Early park commissioners established a general area equivalent to just over 4,000 square miles. Soon after the game reserve lands were declared, the Second Boer War broke out. A resulting British victory caused all of the formerly Dutch-held Transvaal lands to be transferred to British rule.

The British appointed several wardens to the reserve, and the third one, James Stevenson-Hamilton, became successful at expanding the role of park management. He appointed his own game rangers, assigning them territories to protect within Sabi and surrounding areas. By 1903, a new reserve was established nearby, the Shingwedzi Game Reserve. In 1906, the first hunting ban was enacted between the Olifants and Letaba Rivers.

Around 1916, some within the commission in charge of operating the reserves began to request that the boundaries be shrunk to make way for industry, hunting and exploitation of resources. A report was conducted to study the effects, but when it was released in 1918, it firmly established that not only would the reserves remain intact, but that they would be developed for visitation and easier access to game wardens.

As the report wrote: “The provincial administration should be directed toward the creation of the area ultimately as a great national park where the natural and prehistoric conditions of our country can be preserved for all time.”

The Formation of Kruger National Park

Tourists first began to visit the Sabi reserve in 1923 as part of South African Railways’ renowned “Round in Nine” tours. At the time, park visits consisted of a short bush walk while escorted by armed rangers. These walks proved so popular that the efforts to expand them hastened the establishment of the reserve area as a true national park.

The park was officially proclaimed in 1926, and it was named after the former South African Republic president Paul Kruger, who governed from 1825 to 1904. The first game three tourist vehicles wound their way through Kruger in 1927. Visitors then had to establish their own camps in the bush since the park was devoid of any amenities.

Road construction began that same year, and by 1929 over 383 miles of road were created. In 1948, the park hit a new record of 58,739 visitors. However, the first sealed tarmac roads were not created until 1965. The park was seeing around 300,000 annual visitors by that time.

Visiting Kruger and Big Five Safari Tours Now

Today, Kruger remains one of the most popular natural destinations in the world. Over 1.6 million visitors came to the park in the 2014/2015 season, with 382,396 guests staying overnight.

Big five safari tours and game drives remain one of the most popular attractions in the park, with dozens of comfortable safari lodging options to accommodate a wide variety of budgets and preferences.

If you are interested in visiting Kruger on a safari tour of your own, we offer many different South African safari tour packages to choose from. You can select from a range of amazing and transformative experiences, or you can create your own custom safari tour package when you contact us today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Safari in the City: Windhoek

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Namibia safari tours offer wild adventures in desert landscapes, the awe-inspiring Fish River Canyon and among the savannas of Etosha Park. But, the country of Namibia also offers plenty of cosmopolitan comforts in its capital city, Windhoek.

Windhoek is a historic city that shows off the region’s unique mixings of cultures and lifestyles. The city as it is now was formally established by the Imperial German Army in 1890, taking over from Dutch Afrikaans settlers after the original settlement had fallen into neglect. Now, Windhoek stands at over 330,000 strong and growing. Afrikaans, German, Oshiwambo, Khoekhoe, Kwangali, Herero and multiple Bantu languages are all languages that can be heard and seen in the city.

Cultural experiences Windhoek offers include gourmet dining at an authentic castle, world class museums, incredible shopping, gorgeous historical sites and more. Read on to discover the most incredible sights you can see during your trip to Namibia as part of an African safari holiday.

Christuskirche

“Christ Church” is a Lutheran Church established in 1910 by German colonialists. The church features Carrara marble imported from Italy, and its peaked steeple and clock were shipped directly from Germany. Emperor Wilhelm II gifted the church’s massive stained glass windows for its chapel.

Visiting the humble yet magnificent church offers both a trip to the past and a treat for those who appreciate gorgeous architecture. The church is also located near the Tintenpalast, Namibia’s seat of parliament, so visiting it allows you to also see the nearby Parliament Gardens and gorgeous government buildings.

Namibia Crafts Centre

Finding beautiful handmade crafts in traditional African markets can be a bit like panning for gold — the good stuff is there, you just have to know where to look. From that standpoint, Namibia Crafts Centre is a mine filled wall-to-wall with pure gold.

The outlet sells incredible finished handmade Namibian crafts, including woven baskets, pottery, leatherwork, needlepoint, paintings, embroidery, jewelry, hand-sewn garments and more. All displayed pieces reveal the origin of the piece and its respective artist. Prices are very reasonable, so you are almost guaranteed to find the perfect sentimental gift to take back home to someone you care about.

Delicious Food

Whether you love local African favorites like Kapana or want to sample new twists on gourmet dishes from Germany and Britain, Windhoek has lots in store for your gastro-enjoyment.

Leo’s at the Castle is a must-visit for anyone interested in atmospheric fine dining. The restaurant is located inside the Hotel Heinitzburg, which itself is housed in an authentic European castle constructed by architect Wilhelm Sander. The patio overlooks Namibia’s skyline, making for a breathtaking and unforgettable experience.

Other great places to dine at include:

  • The Stellenbosch Wine Bar and Bistro
  • The Social
  • Craft Cafe
  • Sardinia Blue Olive
  • O Portuga
  • Old Continental Cafe & Take Away

Lively Nightlife

Windhoek is alive with tourists and locals alike seeking good times well into the night. Joe’s Beer House has a wide selection of both Namibian and German beers, making it worth lingering at for hours if you are a beer lover. The Boiler Room @ The Warehouse Theatre spins live music and has dancing until the morning hours.

Museums and Attractions

There are far too many amazing attractions to mention when visiting Windhoek, but some of the most popular include:

  • National Botanic Garden of Namibia
  • National Museum of Namibia
  • Trans-Namib Railroad Museum
  • Owela Museum
  • Mary’s Catholic Cathedral
  • Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve

Book a Namibia Safari Tour Now to Experience Windhoek’s Wonder and Glamour

If you are interested in seeing Windhoek during your African safari tour, take a look at our sample Namibia safari tour packages, and then contact us to create your own custom Namibian safari experience today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Secrets of Namibia: Explore the Skeleton Coast

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You can find the Skeleton Coast in the northern part of South Africa’s Namibia coast. It stretches alongside the Atlantic Ocean, south of Angola from the Kunene River. Over time, it has been referred to as “the gates of hell.” But the Skeleton Coast isn’t just a destination for horror fanatics. In fact, despite the storied history of crashed vessels and shipwrecks, the Skeleton Coast is popular today as an excellent place for surfing.

Curious about the history of the Skeleton Coast? Eager to hit the waves? Explore the Skeleton Coast of Namibia on your African safari journey and take home a story to remember!

About The Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast gets its name from a myriad of sources. For one, when the whaling industry was at its peak, whale and seal bones littered the shore, leaving literal skeletons behind as the rest of the animals were harvested. Today, a different type of carcass can also be stumbled upon: rusting ships and boat debris from the numerous accidents and tragedies that have befallen sailors who took on the seas while unprepared, battling intense winds and shifting currents as well as a cold, dense fog.

One of these vessels, the MV Dunedin Star, ran aground in 1942. A complicated but successful mission saved all of its passengers and crew, and the historical rescue was documented in a novel by John Henry Marsh, published in 1944. The book’s title? Skeleton Coast. The name has stuck to maps and with locals ever since.

Exclusive Shores

The Skeleton Coast National Park contains the most inaccessible shores, seized by a combination of harsh weather conditions, loose sands and massive shipwrecks. To best navigate the coast, the park is divided into two sections, north and south. The southern section can be traversed by 4-wheel drive vehicles, and you can drive as far up as the Ugab River Gate before the terrain becomes too dangerous. The northern section can only be explored by plane.

Salt Pans, Clay Castles and Seal Colonies

But it’s not just a bleak history tour. In the northern half of the park, you can visit the Agate Mountain salt pans and the clay castles of the Hoarusib River for some breathtaking views or ideal photography opportunities. For an extra delight, you can also go to Cape Fria and see a huge seal colony, with almost 50,000 seals taking advantage of the fish and plankton that fill the waters.

Epic Surfing Spots

Then, in the southern region, grab a surfboard and join the many thrill seekers in the ocean. Swells consistently hit along the Skeleton Coast and, with enough training and tact, you can find some epic spots to surf. The water produces waves in fast and thick bursts, with strong tidal rips crashing in. Follow the line of surfers from May to September and keep an eye out for sharks — for surfer enthusiasts, the experience will be well worth it!

Namibia Safari Tours: See More of Africa

It sounds brutal, but despite its perilous reputation, the Skeleton Coast is a beautiful spot to discover — and certainly unique as a tourist destination. Some tours can be costly, particularly to the northern region of the park, where extra travel precautions must be taken. However, a trip to the Skeleton Coast will more than make up for it with the exclusivity of experiencing one of the best kept secrets of Namibia.

So what are you waiting for? Namibia safari tour packages are available right now and can be customized however you choose. Earn your bragging rights by braving the Skeleton Coast. Or, at the very least, make friends with some seals. Book your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui