What defines great ecotourism destinations in Africa? Ecotourism reaches further than the here and now – it ensures a long-term future for African tourism centred around responsible travel. This approach helps preserve the natural spaces, protects vulnerable and endangered wildlife, and uplifts local communities, predominantly through the power of education. It's all about low-volume, low-impact travel with a strong focus on sustainability as a whole.
The Impact of Tourism
Africa's vast-open landscapes, fascinating fauna and flora, and unique wildlife have always attracted tourists. However, this also meant high foot traffic, which slowly but surely took its toll on the environment. And because Africa is one of the few continents that still has untouched wild spaces, it therefore only makes sense that we're trying to safeguard it the best we can.
The reality is that tourism will always have an impact. However, it's up to us to ensure it's a positive impact. Several ecotourism destinations in Africa are making a difference. From conservation efforts to protect South Africa's rhino, Rwanda's gorillas, Uganda's chimpanzee, sea turtles in Seychelles, birdlife in Kenya, and more.
Best Ecotourism Destinations in Africa
The best ecotourism destinations in Africa offer various wildlife experiences that benefit travel destinations and travellers alike. Here are some of our favourite ecotourism destinations in Africa.
1. andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal forms part of the andBeyond portfolio. Their ground-breaking conservation achievements have set the pace for the ecotourism industry in Africa. In fact, it was here at Phinda that the renowned luxury travel brand formed and tested its Care of the Land, Wildlife, and People impact vision.
Phinda is a South African safari success story. The 28,622 hectares of land was once used for farming. However, today it's a flourishing game reserve. Of this land, 790 hectares consists of critically endangered ancient sand forest. And for over 30 years now, this has been a haven for rhino, cheetah and pangolin, with Phinda actively protecting these vulnerable species.
Most notably, their rhino conservation experiences unlock the rare opportunity for a hands-on way to make a difference in rhino conservation. Depending on when you visit, you could partake in anything from rhino notching to dehorning. Although rhino dehorning might seem excessive, it has been immensely successful in saving our rhino from extinction by deterring poachers.
The reserve also works alongside Africa Foundation and in neighbouring communities, promoting local employment and investing in the education and welfare of the community. Furthermore, Phinda focuses on energy conservation and other sustainable practices to ensure a responsible approach to tourism.
- Impact experiences include rhino, elephant or pangolin research
- Local community experiences for insight and to contribute
- Bushwalking adventures offered
- Take part in hands-on rhino conservation experiences like notching or dehorning
Who's it for?
Perfect for small groups travelling together and wanting to make a tangible difference.
2. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
On the misty, forested slopes of the Virunga mountain range in the northwest corner of Rwanda lies Volcanoes National Park. Home to around half of the world's mountain gorilla population, it's one of the best ecotourism destinations in Africa. And as one of Africa's most biodiverse parks, Volcanoes National Park also boasts a symphony of birdsong with over 180 bird species residing in the dense forest.
Rwanda as a country is a leader in sustainable ecotourism, with initiatives ranging from banning plastic bags, lodges with a sustainable model, and strict animal conservation regulations. In Volcanoes National Park, the focus is on gorilla conservation, with around 400 mountain gorillas calling this ancient rainforest home. Guests can hike into the rich, thick foliage of the forest to meet these gorillas face-to-face, a heart-stirring experience. As you step into this magical world, you'll quickly understand why Diane Fossey devoted 20 years of her life to these primates.
As per her triumphant legacy, the park is now a conservation area for mountain gorillas. Therefore you need to obtain the required gorilla trekking permits before visiting Volcanoes National Park. Furthermore, you must follow strict conservation rules to ensure you tread lightly.
- Gorilla trekking adventures in one of the most diverse parks in Central Africa
- The Fossey Fund continues to track, research and protect the Rwandan gorillas
- These primates so moved Ellen DeGeneres that she chose the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as her first recipient for The Ellen Fund, a nonprofit protecting endangered animals
- Explore the Musanze Caves formed 62 million years ago after the final estimated volcanic eruption
Who's it for?
Ideal for a romantic holiday with a deeper purpose or for any adventurers and conservationists at heart.
3. Seychelles, Indian Ocean Islands
The small, private North Island in Seychelles is a prime example of how consistent conservation measures can have an exponential impact. North Island is fast becoming a model for tropical island restoration, and the opportunity to volunteer in Seychelles on a private island is one of the most exclusive experiences.
Before conservation and research work began here, rats, coconuts, and invasive birds ruled the island. The conservation of North Island involved restoring indigenous flora, indigenous bird species and monitoring the fish and endangered green and hawksbill turtle populations. The Aldabra giant tortoise, which was nearly extinct, has also been reintroduced to the area. Thankfully, they are now thriving!
Ecotourists who volunteer in Seychelles in partnership with Wildlife ACT conduct daily turtle patrols at sunrise. Hawksbill nesting season typically runs from October to March and green turtle nesting from March to October. You can often find fresh turtle tracks daily during these times, and volunteers might see the majestic sea creatures emerge from the water to lay their eggs.
- A variety of conservation activities, from turtle and other marine conservation to indigenous tree planting
- Camping out on the beach to see the emerging turtles
- Hike up Spa Hill, one of the three highest points, to get an incredible view of the island
- Enjoy the slow island lifestyle while helping to protect it for future generations
Who’s it for?
Perfect add-on experience to your romantic beach getaway or honeymoon.
4. Okavango Delta, Botswana
Botswana as a country has a very unique approach to sustainable tourism. This matches its truly unique landscapes, many still wild and remote. One of these is the Okavango Delta. Whereas most river deltas lead to the ocean, the Okavango Delta empties into the savanna, flooding the open land and creating a unique inland delta. The Okavango has developed various complex ecosystems with its rich aquatic environment. Today, thousands of plant species support the staggeringly diverse wildlife found here, making it a flourishing ecotourism destination in Africa.
Inlets lined with lilies make their way through the open grass plains overflowing with wild sage, and mopane forests invite wildlife to rest in its shade. From leadwood and candle-pod acacia trees to the famous marula and knob thorn trees, the Okavango Delta boasts natural phenomena of note. Over 500 bird species call this place home, including the rare Pel's fishing owl, one of only a few fish-eating owls worldwide.
In 2013, the Okavango was voted as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The following year, it became the thousandth place to be enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you won't need long in this unique paradise to see why it got these prestigious titles!
- The world's largest inland delta, a truly one-of-a-kind setting
- Walking safaris, mokoro (traditional canoe), water tours and night game drives offered
- Most lodges are very exclusive and remote as they can only be reached by boat or small aircraft
- Strict environmental standards form part of these leases, ensuring a well-preserved safari environment
Who's it for?
Perfect for solo travellers, couples or small groups of explorers seeking a true digital detox and immersive eco-safari.
5. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
South Luangwa National Park, also known locally as "the South Park", stretches over about 9,050km² of the Luangwa Valley floor in Zambia. The Muchinga Escarpment borders the park's western and northwestern edge, while the Luangwa River flows in the south, making this majestic place a wildly diverse paradise.
The park prides itself on a dense animal population, offering an array of wildlife to check off any safari bucket list, from famed predators such as the endangered African wild dog, majestic lion, and leopard to the larger favourites like the elephant, buffalo, and hippo.
South Luangwa grants unique animal sightings, such as Zambia's well-known Crawshay's zebra herds and various antelope species, including the elusive bushbuck. There are also over 400 bird species in the park. Since the national park offers day and evening game drives, a whole new world of viewing possibilities is open to guests.
South Luangwa National Park is a must-visit, with exciting activities including walking safaris, authentically African overnight stays, birding and mountain biking.
- Known for its thriving endangered African wild dog populations
- Famed for being the "birthplace of the walking safari"
- Exclusive ecotourism experience due to the remote location and low number of visitors
- One of Africa's greatest off-the-beaten-track wildlife sanctuaries
Who's it for?
Ideal for anyone who loves African wild dogs, wants to go on a walking safari, and looking for a more off-the-beaten-track adventurous safari.
6. Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
Lake Nakuru National Park is located in central Kenya, northwest of Nairobi. The Kenya Wildlife Service coordinates and initiates biodiversity research and monitoring through its Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Division. This Division not only provides scientific information that is used in the conservation and management of Kenya's invaluable biodiversity but also formulates policies for the sustainable management of wildlife and habitats.
Most large safari animals, like the Rothschild giraffe, hippo and buffalo, can be viewed at Lake Nakuru, except for elephants. Black and white rhino have been bred to healthy populations on the reserve, with white rhino frequenting the scenic lakeshore. The famous tree-climbing lion and leopard also occasionally appear to lucky visitors. Most guests, however, are captivated by the sight of the "Pink Necklace" of flamingos on the lake.
From the lakeshore, the Rift Valley escarpment rises, decorated here and there with euphorbia trees. In the mornings, yellow fever trees carry a shroud of mist on their shoulders which blankets the lake.
The recommended visiting time is from March to May in the wet season since the park is green and adorned with many flowers. This is also the best time for birding, with migratory birds present. Newborn animals usually appear during this time of year, and the park is less crowded with people.
- One of the most fascinating national parks in Kenya, well known for leopard sightings
- Lake Nakuru dotted with millions of pink flamingos, which is quite a sight
- Incredibly rich in birdlife and home to over 400 bird species
- Haven for many endangered animals like the Rothschild's giraffe, black and rhinos, etc.
Who's it for?
Couples looking for a romantic hideout while also partaking in wildlife conservation activities.
7. Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
One of the best ecotourism destinations in Africa, Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve shares a border with the renowned Kruger National Park. The park is packed with exciting wildlife to see, including the famous Big 5. It also has a high density of the elusive leopard, which means you'll likely see many of them! As a private game reserve, guests get a more exclusive experience than in public parks. This includes day and night game drives, the ability to go off-road to follow the animals, and walking safaris.
The Sabi Sand Reserve is widely known as the birthplace of sustainable ecotourism in Southern Africa. It conserves flora and fauna in the area, thereby creating a unique wilderness sanctuary that preserves every animal within its borders. The lodges on the reserve run a number of environmental management programs where they address alien plant control, wildlife diseases such as foot and mouth disease, soil erosion, and the prevention of bushveld fires.
The Sabi Sand Reserve lodges like Thornybush run many community outreaches and upliftment programmes, such as the Grass Roots Project, hoping to improve the local communities' quality of life. The employment of community members ensures a mutual benefit between locals and tourists, successfully promoting healthy and sustainable ecotourism.
Furthermore, guests are granted insight into the lives of people from a different cultural backgrounds, experiencing the unique traditions of the area first-hand, eventually leaving the reserve with a greater appreciation of Africa and its richly diverse heritage.
- Community and women empowerment initiatives and experiences
- Support local education, skill and enterprise development
- By staying at lodges like Thornybush, you support their initiatives and help support local communities
- Incredible wildlife diversity in a private reserve for up-close and exclusive safari experiences
Who's it for?
Ideal for visitors who want a luxurious, exclusive Big 5 conservation experience and support community upliftment activities.
The Future of Ecotourism in Africa
Ecotourism has never been about just "going green"– it's about implementing a sustainable, long-term future for South African tourism, respecting natural resources as opposed to decimating habitats for short-term gain.
A complete buy-in from the government and local communities is critical to achieve the future hoped for. Our most lucrative tourist resources in Africa are wildlife and natural scenery, so we must protect these resources at all costs.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry is slowly rebuilding. The sad reality is that, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 470,000 South African Travel and Tourism jobs have been lost. However, hope is on the horizon. As travel bans and restrictions eases, it also becomes easier for ecotourism destinations to welcome back guests, thereby getting the funds they need to continue with the remarkable work they're doing.
Taking a look at the best ecotourism destinations in Africa has definitely proven that, unless surrounding communities have ownership in the local tourism industry, there's no incentive to protect or support sustainable practices in the region.
However, parks and reserves, like Sabi Sand and those listed in this article that invest in the upliftment of the local community, are paving the way for other ecotourism destinations to follow suit.
But, although the growth in sustainable tourism in Africa has been tremendous, there's always room for more.
The Way Forward
Skills development is a great way to elevate ecotourism and establish local communities. In this way, we not only empower African communities but also educate tourists on nature conservation, helping our generation to leave a lasting legacy.
By supporting these ecotourism destinations, you can go on your dream safari while also positively impacting Africa and its residents. Travel on, and travel responsibly!
Visit Ecotourism Destinations in Africa to Leave a Lasting Legacy
From island paradise to Big 5 safaris, the best ecotourism destinations in Africa await.
If your heart is beating wildly at the call to adventure, answer it today. Contact our Rhino Africa Travel Experts, and let's start planning your trip to the best ecotourism destinations in Africa!
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