The Seven Best Safari Experiences in East Africa
East Africa is a magical place with some of the best safari experiences on the continent that will leave you breathless. The region offers incredible wildlife encounters and scenic landscape views ranging from mountains, and lush tropical forests, to the big five wonders and great apes.
Words can’t do justice to the magnificence of the Safari experiences in East Africa. We dedicate this post to giving you the top most popular adventures you can have in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda.
1. Big five game viewing safaris
The big five animals, lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and hippo, are Africa’s most incredible wildlife and the main reason many tourists come to East Africa for safari holidays. The big five earned their name in the 20th century with wealthy big-game hunters from Europe who found it challenging to gun down these beautiful animals.
Today the big five are the biggest names in conservation and tourism. Seeing the Big 5 African animals living wild and free in their natural habitats is one of the best safari experiences in East Africa. Although they still face cruel threats from poachers, the big five roam freely in some of the best safari reserves in East Africa.
A well-planned short safari combination to see the big five (and much more besides) in Kenya would be the Masai Mara (for lion, buffalo, leopard, and elephant) and Lake Nakuru National Park (for black and white rhino). You can also have Big five safari experiences in Kenya in Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Laikipia Plateau, Amboseli, Samburu-Buffalo Springs-Shaba, and Meru.
You’ll visit Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area when you travel to Tanzania for the big-five experience. Serengeti gives the added excitement of witnessing the epic Great Migration as well. Watching the rhinos in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is extra special because they are confined to the Crater area, making sightings of these shy creatures even easier.
In Uganda, you’ll drive through Murchison Falls National Park to spot the big five. And in Rwanda, your Big five experiences will happen only in Akagera National Park in the extreme northeast.
2. Wildebeest migration safaris
Watching and following the Great Migration is one of East Africa’s safari experiences that no die-hard safari lover should miss. The spectacle is arguably wild Nature’s greatest show, with millions of wildebeest, gazelle, and zebra, traversing across the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Naturally, ferocious predators follow the herds for an easy meal, making for exhilarating wildlife experiences. The migration storms forward no matter the obstacles along the way, so it’s survival of the fittest.
The animals collectively travel across the savannah plains following the rains and searching for greener pastures. Although it’s not a set route, the beasts follow roughly the same yearly pattern.
The migration experience has become the postcard picture of East Africa. Think vast open savanna plains flooded with wildlife and flat-topped bushes on the horizon against the signature red African sunset.
The best safari experiences in East Africa, watching and following the Great Migration, are best in Masai Mara. Here, you’ll watch the beast herds struggle to cross the Mara River from Serengeti into the Maasai Mara National Reserve and back into Tanzania. From here, they make their way toward the Serengeti National Park, the ideal location to watch the birth of the beasts.
3. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
Climb to the roof-top of Africa and experience East Africa’s picturesque landscape from the sky on the continent’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro (Uhuru Summit (5,895 m)). You do not have to be an experienced mountain climber to conquer Kilimanjaro. You do not need mountain climbing equipment but a good pair of hiking boots and determination to climb to the top.
However, it would be best if you didn’t assume that the climbing mount Kilimajaro experience is a walk in the park. It is a grueling climb under often trying weather conditions on uneven terrain while being exposed to the elements. But the overwhelming sense of achievement and incredible views from the summit will be one of your best safari experiences in East Africa.
Get into Kilimanjaro a day before the climb, settle in at your hotel, and get a briefing. The climbing experience starts early in the morning amid banana plantations on Kilimanjaro’s heavily cultivated lower slopes. The most popular Kili hiking trail passes through dense rainforests and alpine meadows, crosses a barren lunar landscape, and ascends a slippery slope to the peak, revealing breathtaking views over the plains far below.
There are more than eight possible hiking trails. Selecting the best depends on what terrain you can handle, your acclimatization profile, the scenery, and the cost of the experience.
It can take at least 5-10 days to Uhuru Summit and back with a budget of at least $1700. The price can include entry fees, guides, rangers, porters, and a cook. Unfortunately, you cannot go on your own; you must be accompanied by a ranger and guide from the park headquarters.
Book your experience with Encounter Africa or with the many operators in Arusha and Moshi. Encounter will manage your accommodation, gear, guides, and everything else.
4. Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda
Mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda’s rainforests is undoubtedly one of the best safari experiences in East Africa. Mountain gorillas are one of the most endangered animals on the planet. As few as 1000 live in a small East African region; being close to these magnificent primates is one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
Mountain gorillas live only in mountain forests above 3000 meters in two populations around the Great Rift Valley. One population occupies the misty forest slopes on the Virunga Volcanoes Mountains that straddle the Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo borders. The second population of gorillas was cut off from the bigger bunch because of human settlements and lives in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
You cannot mention the best safari experiences in East Africa and not include the gorilla trekking experience because of its direct involvement with wildlife and community conservation. The gorilla trekking experience highly depends on the communities surrounding the protected areas and the conservation efforts by governments where they live and dedicated wildlife conservation organizations. A gorilla trekking trip is a huge contribution to the sustainable programs that protect the endangered apes within their natural habitat. And what better way to travel than to travel for the good of nature conservation.
There are only two airports you can fly in to track the gorillas; Entebbe International Airport, located about 500 km from Bwindi; and Kigali International Airport, located about 100 km from Volcanoes National Park. The two national parks offer the best safari experiences with mountain gorillas. You would need at least three nights in the country.
However, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda offers the high-end of the budget, with gorilla permits going for $1500 per person. On the other hand, Uganda provides a more manageable budget for the experience, with gorilla tickets going for $800 per person. Accommodation at both national parks is readily available just outside the entrances offering world-class lodges to just a place to stay.
The gorilla trekking experience is extremely in high demand, meaning that you can’t just walk to the park and buy an entry ticket. The number of visitors is restricted to a few individuals per day, so you have to book months in advance to secure your permit. It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis.
To avoid bad experiences associated with local logistics, book through a trusted safari operator like Encounter Africa Safaris Ltd. They’ll secure your gorilla permit from the government, book your accommodation, transport and manage your entire trip.
5. Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda
Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest is one of the most unmissable safari experiences in East Africa. Chimpanzees have for a long time been known to mimic human cultures and share the highest percentage of our DNA than any other animal. The trekking experience allows tourists to get the closest to these great apes and observe their exciting behaviors and body structures.
There are many attractions across Africa where you can get close to the chimps. Still, because Uganda has a high concentration of them and a successful conservation tourism program, your best experience with the chimps will be in Kibale National Park. The park has more than 1500 chimps, 13 other primate species, and a list of other exciting animals to encounter.
Chimpanzee trekking experiences in Kibale occur daily in the early mornings and spend almost half the day in the rainforest. Some chimpanzee groups are habituated for tourism, which means that you can spend at least an hour observing their peculiar behaviors. Other chimp groups are not fully habituated, and you can spend almost the whole day walking among them. Armed rangers and expert guides manage the excursion, allowing you to come close to the endangered primates at the most comfortable pace.
You should know that the chimpanzee experience demands moderate physical fitness, although anyone above 15 years can do it. These primates are hyper-active and swiftly move across the rainforest from 2 km to 10 km in a day. So keeping up with their movements is an active experience that will require a bit of your energy. Some exercises before booking your chimpanzee trek will be of outstanding contribution to a good experience.
A chimp permit costs $300 in Kibale Forest or less in other forests like Budongo and Kyambura Gorge. The habituation experience with the chimps for a whole day costs $300 per person.
You basically need about three nights in the country to pull off a great experience with the chimps. You could also add the gorilla trekking experience to your trip. Gorillas are located about 350 km from the chimps in Kibale, and the two safari experiences are a great combination.
Please email us at email@example.com to help you plan your chimpanzee trekking experience in Uganda with trusted local expertise.
6. Beach holiday in Zanzibar
Zanzibar Island was once a bustling trading center and important spice route. Today, it is one of Africa’s most tranquil and idyllic vacation destinations. Zanzibar offers serene safari experiences strolling along the soft, delicate, white sand beaches.
The Island’s unending miles of seashore that embrace its marine ecology is the last stop after exploring the mainland East Africa attraction.
The Island’s lush tropical vegetation creates a vibrant, verdant contrast to the magnificence of the beaches; you can enjoy the spectacular African sunrises from the east of the Island or the golden colors of the breathtaking sunsets on the west coast. Birders will enjoy the many colorful Zanzibari birds, including the yellow-collared lovebird.
Zanzibar is not simply a single island of the Indian Ocean but an archipelago of Unguja, Zanzibar, Pemba Island, and surrounding islands like Chapwani, Mnemba, Chumbe Bawe, Changuu, and others.
The glorious Zanzibar beaches and coral reef experiences are perfect for families and honeymooners. There is superb boutique accommodation and all the indulgences for a relaxed traveler.
7. Watching The Tree Climbing Lions
Driving through the vast plains of Lake Manyara Park in Tanzania or Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda will reward you with scenic landscape views and one of the most unforgettable safari experiences in East Africa; watching the exceptional tree-climbing lions.
In Ishasha, you can watch these interesting lions atop huge fig tree branches as they keenly watch their prey of peacefully grazing impala, gazelle, and kob herds. You may catch the rare spectacle of the tree lion pouncing on the ground for a kill if you’re fortunate.
The advantage of watching them in Isasha is that you can add the gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi (65 km) to your trip.
You can spot the other tree-climbing population of lions around Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks in Southern Tanzania. Their awkward, almost unnatural behavior of climbing trees with their massive weight is a sharp contrast to the excellent agility of leopards.
The sight is fascinating, and watching a 300-kg agile cat navigate the thin branches of a fig tree is one of the unique safari experiences in East Africa.
A Safari in East Africa
In Africa, there’s nowhere that you’ll get the most authentic wildlife experience than in East Africa. East Africa is a classic safari destination with seasoned experiences for all types of travelers, including you.
However, planning a safari in East Africa can be a daunting experience if you do it on your own. That’s why we are here. Encounter Africa Safaris Ltd specializes in planning and managing safari experiences in East Africa. We give you the best advice, help you plan your safari, handle the local logistics and manage your confirmed trip.
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for a free quote and start planning your experiences in East Africa.