Top Places to See Elephants in Africa

10 August 2018

We asked our experts, where is the best place to see elephants in Africa? For some, that meant the most exciting encounter with a sole bull elephant; for others, it’s all about being surrounded by a herd of females and babies. Below, you’ll find the YZ top 12 places to see elephants as well as our recommended safari camp or lodge. We reckon there’s something to suit all types of travellers here!

#1. Samburu, Kenya: take part in elephant conservation at Elephant Watch Camp

Elephant Watch in Samburu, Kenya, is part rustic chic bush camp and part elephant conservation stronghold. Leading the way by a mile, its dedication to the Save the Elephant Foundation is entirely admirable, with camp owner and wildlife conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton proving the perfect pacesetter. As well as enjoying the boho-esque luxury tents that certainly don’t shy away from any colour, guests can visit the Save the Elephants visitors’ centre, which we highly recommend. Here you can learn about the elephant collaring programme, how beehive fencing works in dissuading elephants from raiding crops, and how researchers can age and sex elephants from their bones.

#2. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania: meet old tuskers at Nomad’s Entamanu

Although breeding herds rarely roam through the area, the Ngorongoro Crater is home to some of the biggest tusker elephants still alive in Africa today. Place yourself in the middle of the crater with the colossal walls encompassing you, and scan the horizon for a lone elephant. Chances are you’ll spot an old bull elephant with a chunk of ivory on him that’ll make for a superb photograph and an even better game-viewing experience.

These gentle and magnificent creatures are able to reach old age because the Ngorongoro is so well protected. Their tusks, having grown for over 50 years, can reach six foot in length or more. Nomad’s Entamanu, situated on the rim of the crater, is our top tip and a strong contender for best property in the Ngorongoro region. It’s made up of six tented rooms, all secluded in a forested area overlooking the crater itself as well as towards the Serengeti.

#3. Chobe River, Botswana: watch large herds from a boat at Chobe Chilwero

Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero has done something brilliant in that it has positioned itself on the edge of Chobe National Park, right next to the largest remaining population of elephants in the world. Set above the Chobe river and affording views across the island and floodplains as far as Namibia, the lodge guarantees immense elephant encounters for guests to this small but cataclysmic corner of Botswana. It is not uncommon to see herds in excess of 100 elephants! An iconic and frankly incredible way to watch these large herds is on a sundowner cruise along the river, with your camera around your neck and a G&T in hand.

#4. Amboseli, Kenya: take amazing photos at Tortilis Camp

No list about elephants would be complete without mentioning Amboseli in southern Kenya. A snap of the famed view of big bull elephants grazing with a backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro is any budding photographer’s dream.

Amboseli is the second most popular park in Kenya, and we like to recommend staying at Tortilis Camp. It overlooks its own private conservancy as well as Amboseli and Africa’s highest mountain, so guests have constantly stunning views.

#5. Hwange, Zimbabwe: enjoy the best hide viewing at Bomani Tented Lodge

Travel to Hwange National Park during the dry season, and you’ll see herds of elephants actually queuing and waiting turns for a drink from the all-too-infrequent water sources. There are no major rivers in Hwange, and when there is no rain the wildlife relies on the manmade and man-monitored waterholes. On our last visit, we counted over 400 elephants in one day. Not for the faint hearted, this is truly a sight that’ll stay with you forever.

As well as offering epic sightings of the Kalahari-hardened wildlife, Bomani Tented Lodge is a great base for some unusual activities in Hwange National Park, including horse riding, walking safaris, night drives, excursions on the Elephant Express train, and time spent in the camouflaged hides. This part of Zimbabwe is particularly renowned for opportunities to spot cheetah, wild dog, and of course its immense elephant herds. Bomani is run by conservation-minded company Imvelo, which works hard to help both the local people and the wildlife. After your Big Five game drives, you can take part in ‘pump runs’ – as Imvelo looks after approximately 25 per cent of the waterholes that sustain Hwange’s wildlife, you’ll get a firsthand insight into the huge commitment they show in supporting the area.

#6. Skeleton Coast, Namibia: view desert elephants at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

Also known as ‘the land God made in anger’, the Skeleton Coast is one of the harshest and most inhospitable environments on Earth. With a long list of ships that have been wrecked along the coast and numerous wildlife species that have never returned from ventures across the desert, it is surprising that a group of elephants can traverse this landscape and survive. Adapted to the desert, the ‘desert elephants’ of Namibia have made places like the Hoanib river their home, using sand baths to keep cool and eating drought-tolerant plants such as the camelthorn bush and mopane tree. A fabulous property operated by Wilderness Safaris, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is a great bet for witnessing Namibia’s adapted wildlife and for experiencing the country’s stark landscapes.

#7. Luangwa, Zambia: see elephants in Reception at Mfuwe Lodge

Watch the video below, and you’ll see why there’s no need for us to explain how incredible this experience is. When the wild mangoes start dropping off the branches, there is honestly nothing that will stop these elephants from getting to them – including a bunch of visitors checking in at Mfuwe Lodge reception. This property was unwittingly built on an elephant herd’s traditional pathway directly en route to their favourite food. Time your visit for late November, and you might be lucky enough to see this unique and one-of-a-kind occurrence.

#8. Katavi, Tanzania: spot the remotest herds at Chada Katavi

This off-the-beaten-track wildlife mecca is among the very best that Tanzania, if not the whole of Africa, has to offer! Isolated, wild, rugged, beautiful… all these words can be used to describe this almost-unheard-of national park, but the reality is that Katavi is so much more than that.

Katavi is Tanzania’s third-largest national park, and all that space is filled with big game, a serious variety of birds, and not much else – there are no luxury lodges here, just a couple of no-frills authentic camps where safari is the be all and end all. The best months to visit are without doubt between August and October, when it is dry season, as the floodwaters retreat and Katavi comes to life. An estimated 4,000 elephants, 1,000 buffalo, and an abundance of antelope congregate on the plains. To see these remote herds of elephant, we suggest staying at the classic camp Chada. Similar in many ways to the Serengeti’s mobile camps, it’s a perfect fit for such a wild and remote national park.

#9. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe: watch old bulls stand on their back legs at Ruckomechi Camp

Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park has a small number of bull elephants that have the ability to stand up on their back legs – it takes years of practice, but, having learned this trick, they can reach the high branches with the tastiest leaves! A beacon for elephant lovers, Ruckomechi is a ten-tented camp positioned on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river, right under the shade of the ana trees, which are much loved by the elephants for their nutritious seeds.

From the private veranda to the outside bathtub, guests will see wave after wave of roaming elephants. However, to experience the Mana Pools phenomenon in full, we recommend going on a walking safari with one of the knowledgeable guides, who will set you up for a stunning view of a bull elephant performing a balancing act.

#10. Odzala-Kokoua, Republic of Congo: admire forest elephants at Lango Camp

Odzala-Kokoua National Park, located in the northern corner of the Republic of Congo, is famed for its fascinating biodiversity. It’s home to the critically endangered western lowland gorilla, the forest buffalo, and the impressive-looking giant forest hog. It is also one of the last refuges of the African forest elephant, which is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and supports the largest forest elephant population in Central Africa.

YZ co-founder Julian Carter-Manning was lucky enough to visit Odzala-Kokoua in September 2017, and whilst staying at Lango Camp he spotted three forest elephants. There are three lodges here that we recommend; however, due to its treehouse-style bedrooms and superlative vistas across a bai, Lango was certainly Julian’s favourite.

#11. Selinda, Botswana: enjoy the most exclusive elephant experience at Selinda Explorers Camp

The Selinda Reserve is a private wildlife sanctuary in northern Botswana, and is shared by a maximum of 32 guests split between three camps. You could not ask for a more exclusive and private wildlife reserve, and the density of elephants during the dry season (May to October) is on par with those of the Chobe! Our pick of the properties in the Selinda Reserve, due to its top guiding, amazing wildlife, and great value for a luxury camp in a private reserve in Botswana, is Great Plains’ Selinda Explorers Camp. It combines a love of the country and a passion for adventure with supporting the phenomenal wildlife conservation, altogether melding into one of the greatest properties in Botswana. The camp is exceptionally intimate, with just four Meru-style canvas tents located on a remote stretch of the Selinda Spillway. The property’s wildlife-viewing activities (guided walks, canoe trips, and game drives) are definitely the main focus thanks to the knowledgeable guides. What more could you want?

#12. Okavango Delta, Botswana: get up close and personal with elephants at Abu Camp

Named after a very special bull elephant, Abu Camp helps guests form a strong emotional bond with its herd and gain an understanding of elephant conservation, the premise on which the camp is based. Located on the edge of a lagoon in the southwest of the Okavango Delta, Abu Camp offers an experience like no other, thanks to its incredible rehabilitated herd of African elephants.

During their stay, guests are invited to walk with the elephants of Abu and experience the elephants as individuals – from the playful youngsters, to the doting adults, to the wise matriarch Cathy. Abi, a Yellow Zebra team member, used to manage Abu Camp and says, “To be able to get so close to elephants and really discover the personalities of these gentle giants was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!”

If you’d like to witness a herd of a hundred or spend some time with a big tusker, why not speak to one of the YZ experts on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]