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The 9 Best Countries for Safari Vacations Around the World

Wildlife Insider Guides
by Suzie Dundas Mar 18, 2024

For centuries, the concept of the safari has captivated travelers, conjuring images of vast savannas teeming with iconic African wildlife. However, the modern safari experiences extends far beyond East Africa’s dusty plains.

Today, some of the best countries for safari across the world aren’t where you’d expect, but all offer opportunities to see animals in their natural habitats — albeit vastly different habitats, depending on where you go. Many counties offer excellent experiences, but the nine destinations below highlight the best of the best, including what makes them attractive to wildlife enthusiasts. You can still have a great safari vacation in the long-established safari powerhouses of East and Southern Africa, but lesser-known destinations like India and Rwanda also offer bucket-list safari experiences.

Whether you’re dreaming of encountering the Big Five in an arid savanna or observing a century-old endemic creature sauntering across a remote beach, one of the nine best countries for safari vacations below should suit your travel goals.

Botswana: the best for luxury

 botswana safari plane

Many safari vacations in Botswana include private flights between remote lodges. Photo: Rosa Zwaiman/Shutterstock

Botswana is also a bit unique in the world of safaris as it has smaller, more diverse landscapes, rather than vast savannas. In Botswana, the iconic Okavango Delta weaves a watery oasis through the Kalahari Desert, creating habitats for everyone from wildebeest and lions to flamingos and hippos. A popular activity is exploring the lush paradise by gliding silently in a mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe.

Botswana prioritizes low-impact, high-end tourism. More than 25 percent of the country is within national parks, giving the animals plenty of space to roam freely and creating a more adventurous safari experience, as there’s no set area where certain animals usually are at any given time. Some Botswana safari camps are luxurious and semi-permanent, ensuring personalized experiences with minimal environmental footprint. This exclusivity makes Botswana safaris pricier compared to others, but the focus on conservation is undeniable. Revenue directly contributes to protecting these magnificent creatures and their habitats. Because so much of the country is inaccesible via road, you’ll find more luxe safari packages that include flights between lodges, rather than driving between parks.

While Botswana excels in predator sightings, with lions, leopards, and cheetahs frequently gracing the landscape, it offers even more. It’s a haven for the endangered African wild dog and boasts rare antelopes like the sitatunga (an amphibious antelope). If you’re keen on animals that live in the water, book one stay near the Chobe River, where you’ll witness massive elephant herds gathering and see giant floats of hippos and thousands of rare birds.

Read more about Botswana

Rwanda: the best for gorillas (or road trips)

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A juvenile mountain gorilla Rwanda. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Rwanda offers a unique safari experience unlike any other in Africa. While most safaris focus on spotting lions, elephants, and other big game in the savanna, Rwanda’s specialty is encountering primates, particularly the majestic mountain gorilla. Volcanoes National Park, located in the Virunga Massif mountain range, is the most famous destination for gorilla trekking and home to more than one-third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas,. Travelers willing to shell out for a trekking permit, which costs about $1,500 per person for one day, can trek into the mountains to see the intelligent, emotive giants in their natural habitat, observing them as they go about their daily lives.

But recently, Rwanda has begun attracting attention for its other national parks. Akagera National Park is home to some of the world’s most successful rhino and lion rehabilitation and reintroduction programs, and Nyungwe National Park protects one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, as well as 13 primate species. The small country also has a very unique landscape, and the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” has lush rainforests blanketing volcanoes and volcanoes, as well as sprawling lakes. And because it’s a very small country, it’s possible to see it all in one trip.

When compared to other safari destinations in Africa, Rwanda offers a more intimate and unique wildlife encounter. While you won’t see the vast herds of animals found in the savannas of Kenya or Tanzania, the chance to come face-to-face with a gorilla family is a truly special experience. But for the ability to do a game drive at Akagera, then driving two hours to go see gorillas, it’s absolutely unbeatable.

Read more about Rwanda

India: the best for tigers

Bengal tiger in Kahna National Park. Photo: Suzie Dundas best countries for safari

Bengal tiger in Kanha National Park. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Unlike the open savannas of Africa, Indian adventures take place in vibrant jungles, rugged terrains, and protected national parks. While spotting wildlife requires patience and skilled guides, India is one of the best countries for safaris if you’re keen to see one particularly famous animal: the elusive Bengal tiger.

Jeep safaris are the standard mode of exploration as they’re well suited navigating dense forests and rocky hillsides. Expect encounters with tigers, elephants, rhinos, sloth bears, and a dazzling array of birdlife. And accommodation options are varied, catering to a wider range of budgets compared to Africa. Lodge operators like Pugdundee Safaris offer luxury lodges as fancy as any posh, five-star lodge in Kenya, but there are also hotels generally called “domestic” hotels — more budget hotels designed for domestic tourists who don’t want to spend as much money as foreign travelers. But anyone can stay at any hotel, meaning you can book a domestic hotel and save a ton of dough.

For prime tiger tracking, Ranthambore National Park reigns supreme with its high tiger density. Bandhavgarh National Park boasts beautiful landscapes with frequent sightings, while Kanha National Park’s lush forests shelter tigers and barasingha (swamp deer). Weather-wise, it can get pretty chilly in India, and on early morning safaris, you’ll probably want gloves, an insulated jacket, and a warm hat.

Most tiger and safari operations are in Madhya Pradesh, accessible via a two-hour flight from Delhi.

Read more about India

Sri Lanka: the best for leopards and elephants

best countries for safari - sri lanka elephant

An Asian elephant in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo: Suzie Dundas

The small nation of Sri Lanka has a remarkable concentration of wildlife within a relatively small area, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

Sri Lanka’s most sought-after wildlife encounter is one with the endangered Sri Lankan leopard, a solitary predator with the highest density of any leopard subspecies in the world. Spotting rates are excellent compared to other big cats in Africa or India. Sri Lanka is also a haven for Asian elephants, the world’s largest land mammal, and safari-goers will often see herds grazing and bathing, as the island has the highest density of elephants in Asia. It’s also home to five endemic primates, including the playful toque macaque and the endangered langur. More than 480 species of birds call Sri Lanka home, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.

Yala National Park is undoubtedly the most popular national park in Sri Lanka, with the highest density of leopards of anywhere in the world (plus sloth bears). Wilpattu National Park is the largest in the country, and Udawalawe and Minneriya national parks offer near-guaranteed elephant sightings. Sri Lanka game drives are relatively inexpensive, and you can find private half-day game drives for around $50-$60 per person. Depending on where you go in the country, you’ll want to avoid monsoon seasons. On the west and south coasts, December through April are wet and rainy, and September to November is the best time to skip the east coast.

Canada: the best for bears

polar bars in churchill best country for safari

Photo: GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for the best countries for safaris to see polar bears, you’ll want to head to Canada — specifically, Churchill, in Manitoba. Nearly 1,000 polar bears migrate through the area each summer and fall, making the small town one of the best places to see the endangered Ursus maritimus. Polar bear safaris in Manitoba prioritize safety and responsible wildlife viewing and are highly regulated at the federal level, with strict guidelines and laws to ensure minimal disruption to the bears.

Churchill is one of the most beautiful locations for a cold-weather safari, with the stark landscapes of the tundra creating a dramatic backdrop for observing the magnificent predators. Polar bear safaris in Canada are generally pricier than traditional African safaris, generally ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per person depending on factors like the tour operator, lodge accommodations, whether seaplanes and bush plane transportation is included, and the length of your stay.

The most well-known polar bear safari lodge operator is Churchill Wild, which runs three luxury lodges around Canada and sells extended, all-inclusive packages. But you’ll find local operators around Churchill offering polar bear tours in case you want to book just a quick day or overnight trip. And if grizzly bears are more your thing: head to western British Columbia, where resorts like Tweedsmuir Park Lodge cater to visitors keen to spot grizzly bears in their natural habitat via hikes and river floats around Bella Coola and Stuie.

Read more about Canadian safaris

The United States: the best for travelers short on time

bison in yellowstone - best countries for safari trips

Photo: CherylRamalho/Shutterstock

Travelers in the States may think they need to fly across the world to go on safari, but the US actually has several fantastic places to see rare animals in the wild. Many are close to national parks, since the US has 63 national park, covering 85 million acres. However, unlike in other popular countries for safari vacations, you have to work a little harder to find game drives in the US, as they’re not a standard offering at most parks. You’ll need to figure out what species you want to see, then seek our a wildlife viewing-tour or photo safari operator in that area. But it’s one of the best countries for a safari-filled long weekend, especially if you live near a major airport.

Good places for safari vacations around the US include:

  • Yellowstone National Park: Often called the “Serengeti of North America,” Yellowstone is a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts. Visitors with a keen eye may be able to spot wolves, bighorn sheep, and bears, and almost anyone visiting for more than an hour or so will likely see bison, elk, and dozens of other species. You can explore by jeep tours, guided hikes, or even horseback riding or even snowcoaches, if you visit in the winter.There are lots of private tour companies licensed to operate in the park, and the park’s lodges also offer wildlife-viewing drives, like the “Wake up with Wildlife” drive from the Roosevelt Lodge or Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
  • The areas around Everglades National Park: Visitors to Florida can glide through the lush wetlands surrounding the Everglades in an airboat, spotting alligators, snakes, turtles, and maybe even manatees, plus a vast array of birdlife. And the airboats are a unique way to explore the swampy ecosystem, even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot dozens of gators.
  • The Brooks Range, Alaska: Katmai National Park and Preserve is the crown jewel of grizzly bear viewing in Alaska but the Brooks Range in general has a hug amount of grizzly bears. Brooks Camp is the most famous location for bear watching, but local companies like Alaska Bear Adventures also offer guided tours. You’ll also find helicopter and bush plane tours to spot grizzly bears offered from most cities in Alaska, as well as from most luxury or wilderness lodges.

Read more about wildlife in the US

Brazil: the best for boat safaris

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A jaguar watching tourists in Brazil. Photo:

In Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, you’ll swap jeep rides through plains for exploration by boat, canoe, and maybe on foot, venturing deep into the world’s most biodiverse ecosystem. Unlike the open savannas of Africa, the Amazon is dense and filled with foliage, creating an always-lush canopy under which you’ll have to twist and turn at times. Brazil is one of the best countries for safari vacations if you want a sensory experience, waking to symphony of bird calls, and hearing the constant rustle of unseen creatures in the foliage.

The Amazon basin has the most biodiverse ecosystem on Earth with a staggering amount of wildlife, from graceful pink river dolphins and elusive jaguars to a mind-boggling array of birds, insects, and primates. After a few days in the Amazon, you’ll likely have spotted howler monkeys swinging through the canopy, colorful toucans perched on branches, and playful sloths hanging upside down. On Amazon safaris, you’ll likely do several boat “game drives” on tributaries, often in traditional canoes, and sometimes may even be based on a river boat, depending on what kind of safari you book.

Popular gateway cities for Amazon safaris include Manaus, Brazil; and Leticia, Colombia. From there, you’ll fly or take a boat to eco-lodges within the rainforest, from higher-end resorts like Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge to Amazon Eco Lodge near Manaus. Brazil’s dry season is May to October, during which water levels make exploring easier and offer a higher chance of spotting wildlife around water sources — but it’s also peak tourist season. The wet season is November to April, when the rainforest is alive and vibrant and waterfalls are flowing (and crowds are smaller). But some areas might become inaccessible due to higher water levels. Prices are generally cheaper in the wet season.

Read more about Brazil

Ecuador: the best for unique species

best countries for safari - Galapagos land turtle

Photo: IntoTheWorld/Shuttestock

On a safari in the Galapagos, part of Ecuador, you’ll explore volcanic landscapes, swim through coral reefs teeming with life, and walk on pristine beaches alongside unique animals found nowhere else on earth. The iconic giant tortoises are undoubtedly the stars, but look out for playful sea lions lounging on the beaches, curious blue-footed boobies comically jumping through undergrowth, and the elusive Galapagos short-eared owl perched in the cacti forests.

The Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with strict regulations in place to protect the ecosystem, and tight rules about sustainable tourism practices. Those are all positive things, but it does make the Galapagos pricier than some other safari destinations. Prices can vary depending on the itinerary, chosen cruise or land-based tour, and the level of luxury you desire. Budget options start around $3,000 per person, while luxury cruises can reach $10,000 or more. If you book your own lodging, like a Galapagos Airbnb, you can do it a little cheaper.

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are also one of the best places for a scuba-diving safari, as the remote marine environment is one of the healthiest and most unique on earth. The nutrient-rich waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands attract a staggering variety of marine creatures, from playful sea lions and graceful sharks to manta rays, rare swimming lizards, and whale sharks. Most scuba diving safaris in the Galapagos operate on liveaboard vessels and can cater to most experience levels, though experienced divers can venture to deeper sites known for encounters with larger pelagic animals.

Read more about Ecuador

South Africa: the best for maximizing sightings

best countries for safari drives - giraffe in SA

Private reserves often offer better odds of spotting multiple animals in a shorter amount of time. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Sure, if you live in the US, it may not seem like South Africa is the most convenient location for a wildlife adventure. But when it comes to cost, ease of travel, and finding Africa’s most well-known species with the least effort, South Africa may just be one of the best countries for a safari in the world.

For starters, getting there is easy. Johannesburg is a major airport, and you can fly direct from several cities in the US, dozens of cities in Europe, and just about every city in the Middle East or Africa. And once you’re in JoBurg, your options for safaris are nearly endless. You can choose from week-long safaris in Kruger National Park, with two game drives per day and luxurious lodging, or do a budget tented safari in a long weekend. You can arrange your own safaris by renting a car and booking your own stays at South Africa’s national parks online via the SAN Parks website, or find extended tours on websites like Viator or GetYourGuide starting around $500 for a three-day safari trip. But you can find trips that leave from cities like Cape Town and Durban, making South Africa one of the best countries for safari trips no matter where you’re based.

If you’re hesitant about traveling to Africa for the first time but have a game drive on your bucket list, you’ll be happy to know that South Africa is one of the best countries for safari cruises. Norwegian Cruise Lines offers fairly affordable cruises that makes several stops in South Africa for daily game drives (and go to a few remote African islands), and Oceana offers higher-end South Africa cruises that start and end in Cape Town.

One thing that really sets South Africa apart as one of the best countries for safari vacations are the country’s private game lodges. Private game lodges often are near or abuting national parks, and are large parcels of privately owned land where animals roam mostly free (like South Africa’s national parks, the property may be fenced in). These game lodges offer similar experiences as national parks — on-site resorts and glamping, game drives, and other wildlife-viewing opportunities, but are often more upscale and private than national parks. Often, it’s easier to find wildlife, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Many private lodges work with tourism operators to offer all-inclusive stays, including game drives, all meals, lodging, and transportation to and from towns like Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Durban. They’re ideal if you only have a few days to spare and don’t want to rent a car.

Read more about South African safaris

What is a safari vs. a game drive?

game drive in addo

“Game drives” are what most other countries call the actual activity of looking for wildlife. Photo: Suzie Dundas

The terms “safari” and “game drive” are often used interchangeably among Americans on vacation, but there’s clear difference between them. In most safari destinations, lodges and drivers will make a distinction between the two. A safari is a broader term, encompassing the entire wildlife-spotting adventure. It comes from a Swahili word meaning “journey,” and refers to the whole trip focused on observing wildlife in the wilderness. A safari can include various activities, not just driving around to look for animals.

Game drives are specific activities that are part of a safari, but they’re the actual drives in open-air vehicles to try to spot wildlife. Usually, if you’re staying at a safari lodge, you’ll do several two- or three-hour game drives a day, most often at dawn and dusk. But you could do other safari activities, like bush walks, boat trips, and visits to local communities.

How much does an African safari cost?

bathtub in tented lodge

Some luxury safari camps have room with sitting areas, private decks, and high-end bathrooms deep in the savanna. Photo: Digital_Lions/Shutterstock

The cost of an African safari can vary greatly depending on several factors, making it difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Generally, East African safaris (Kenya, Tanzania) tend to be slightly more affordable than Southern African safaris (Mozambique, Botswana). That’s due to a combination of factors, including park entrance fees, transportation, and safari lodge availability. In South Africa, there are so many options between national parks and private game reserves that the prices really run the gamut.

No matter where you go, luxury lodges with private plunge pools and gourmet meals will naturally cost more than rustic camps with shared facilities. Budget camping safaris can start around $150-$200 per person per night, while luxury lodges can reach $1,000 or more per night. But when you’re evaluating the best countries for safaris that won’t break the bank, you need to look at more than just the overall cost. Some safaris include all game drives and activities in the base price, while others might charge extra for night drives, walking safaris, or cultural excursions. Extras like spa services, transfers, and alcohol may or may not be included, too.

Prices vary greatly from country to country, but here are some very basic examples for one-week safaris. None of the prices below include flights, so while African safaris may be cheaper than those in other countries, you’ll need to take into account the cost getting there. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the best countries for safaris are automatically the most well-known ones.

Budget safaris: You can book a 7-night group safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park for $1,299 per person, including all lodging, meals, game drives, lodging, and transportation from Johannesburg.And in Sri Lanka, prices for week-long safaris start just under $1,000 per person, as with this guided safari trip through several national parks.

Mid-range safaris: A week-long safari starting and ending in New Delhi focused on tiger sightings will set you back $2,700 per person, excluding alcohol and some sight/park entrance fees. In the US, you can do a Yellowstone Winter Wonderland Safari for $4,399 per person. It starts and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and includes almost everything, except for a few meals in the park at your leisure.

Luxury safari: When it comes to luxe safaris, there really is no upper end. Safari trips can be incredible expensive, as with this “Eco-luxury honeymoon safari” in Botswana that includes stays at luxury tented lodges and bush plane flights between parks that starts at $10,272 per person. If you want to do a luxury safari in the Amazon or Galapagos, you can easily spend $20,000 or more on a week-long boat trip.

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