East Africa, the region stretching from Uganda and Kenya in the north to Tanzania in the south, is widely recognized as one of the best places to travel for safaris on the African continent. But with so many potential east African safaris on offer, it can be difficult to know what and where to choose. After all, would-be travelers must decide between the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Murchison Falls National Park among a multitude of other destinations in the region. If you’re struggling to decide, our guide to the 5 best east African safaris is sure to help!
Great Wildebeest Migration Safaris
The stuff of nature documentaries, the Great Wildebeest Migration is an annual movement of up to 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra, and impala. They take a route across the near-unending plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania, between the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Victoria, before turning north to cross the crocodile infested waters of the Mara River in neighboring Kenya.
The Great Wildebeest Migration is a phenomenal east African safaris spectacle, opening up the full circle of life from birth to death. It also provides ample opportunities to catch sight of the region’s lions, cheetahs and leopards. They closely follow the mass herds, alongside iconic African animals such as elephants and giraffes. They mingle with the wildebeest throughout a trek that takes individual animals an impressive 300 miles each and every year.
Mountain Gorilla Safaris
A completely different experience from the vehicle led east African safaris of the Great Wildebeest Migration, mountain gorilla safaris are all about delving into the thick jungle vegetation of Uganda and Rwanda on foot. The aim is to encounter the majesty and mystery of animals only discovered by the outside world in the year 1902.
Sadly, the following one hundred years was dominated by a decline in their number due to the bush meat trade, habitat destruction, and disease. Their numbers fell to just a few hundred individuals, making them one of the most endangered species on the planet.
Thankfully, a revival in their fortunes has gone hand in hand with a growing number of visitors looking to encounter these wonderfully caring, family-orientated creatures in their natural habitat. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are the best places to head, although trekking permits can run out quickly, so be sure to book in plenty of time!
Murchison Falls Safaris
We know what you’re thinking – a safari on a waterfall? How does that work? The answer – magnificently.
An unmissable part of any Uganda safaris worth their salt, a trip to Murchison Falls National Park is easily combined with gorilla trekking, creating two center east African safaris that rival anything else the region can boast.
The largest and most popular of Uganda’s ten protected areas, Murchison Falls National Park is cleaved into two parts by the Victoria Nile. It takes its name from a narrow gorge which pushes the world’s longest river into a channel just seven meters wide before its churning whitewater crashes over 40 meters.
It creates an ideal habitat for animals as diverse as hippos, Ugandan kob, and Goliath heron. A top way to explore this Ramsar wetland is therefore by boat. Meanwhile, the surrounding grassland provides sustenance for safari favorites including herds of elephants, prides of lions, and groups of highly-endangered Rothschild’s giraffes.
Ngorongoro Crater Safaris
Officially known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, this UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Tanzania is centered around the planet’s largest inactive and intact volcanic crater. With a floor which covers an incredible 100 square miles, it has become a world within a world with an ecosystem believed to contain 25,000 large animals including black rhinos, Cape buffaloes, elephants and water bucks. There are also east African wild dogs, spotted hyenas and one of the region’s densest populations of lion.
But the Ngorongoro Conservation Area also provides a rare opportunity on east African safaris to delve into the lives of the region’s pastoralists. The Maasai have grazed their cattle on its grasses, within sight of its amazing array of wildlife, for decades if not hundreds of years.
In fact, the conservation area also contains Olduvai Gorge, a hugely important prehistoric site where archeologists have discovered remnants of early humans which have been dated to 1.9 million years ago.
Chimp Tracking Safaris
Almost three times to the size of the Ngorongoro Crater, Kibale National Park is primarily formed of evergreen rainforest situated in the hills of Uganda’s west. It protects one of the last remaining areas of pre-montane forest accessible on east African safaris such as our 15 day Uganda tour.
In some ways an extension of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale National Park creates a wildlife corridor which has become a top destination for those looking to track chimpanzees. Those who join the park’s rangers have a 90% chance of seeing these intelligent creatures, thanks to the park’s very high density and concentration of primates. There are no less than 13 different species of primate in total, including chimps, red colobus monkeys, and largely unheard of L’Hoest’s monkeys.
Beyond its primates, the park is well used by elephants, while leopards, serval, and African golden cats all enjoy its tree cover. But if that’s not enough of an impetus to book a safari, check out these other great things to do in Uganda!
The Best East African Safaris
East African Safaris are as diverse as the region is itself. There’s plenty of opportunity to go on traditional vehicle-led safaris across the plains of parks, such as the Serengeti and Maasai Mara, in order to take in the enormity of the Great Wildebeest Migration.
But stepping out of the 4x4s and Land Cruisers, the best east African safaris also provide the chance to get out on the water of the River Nile at Murchison Falls National Park, and crisscross the jungles of Uganda and Rwanda in search of mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
What unites all these incredible experiences is the wealth of wildlife you’ll encounter, including Big 5 species such as black rhino, elephant, and lion.