Best places to see Africa’s giraffe
Giraffe are among Africa’s most enchanting animals. Spotting a head peering over the top of an acacia tree or admiring the effortless ease with which they canter across the plains never fails to delight. They are rarer than many would think, with current estimates suggesting just over 117,000 giraffe in the wild. Although still a precariously low figure (around one giraffe for every three to four elephant in Africa), there has been a heartening increase in numbers of around 20% since 2015.
These elegant creatures are not one, but rather four species, each with subtle differences and their own particular range.
Masai giraffe are found across Kenya and Tanzania with an isolated population (a sub-species known as Thornicroft’s giraffe) in Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley. The large leaf shaped patches on the Masai giraffe are noticeably darker than those found on other species and are surrounded by a creamy brown colour which continues down their legs.
The Northern giraffe range across Eastern and Central Africa and are the rarest of the four species. Their patches are much paler than the Masai giraffe and they have no markings on their lower legs. The Rothchild’s giraffe (more commonly known as the as the Nubian giraffe to which it is genetically identical) is a sub-species and found in Kenya and Uganda.
Reticulated giraffe roam northern Kenya with a few smaller populations recorded in southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia. With their distinctive orange-brown patches defined by obvious white lines, they are perhaps the most handsome of the species.
The Southern giraffe population accounts for more than 50% of Africa’s giraffe and splits into two sub-species – the Angolan giraffe which ranges through Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and the South African giraffe found in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Angolan giraffe is relatively light in colour – in some parts of Namibia they can be almost colourless – with spots of colour speckled across their lower legs. The large irregular shaped patches on the South Africa giraffe appear in various shades of brown and their lower legs speckled with uneven spots.
It comes as no surprise that they are the world’s tallest animal – the largest ever recorded stood at six metres. They are quick across the plains, easily able to sustain speeds of around 30mph, and can deliver a lethal kick, from both front and hind legs.
So where is best to see these charismatic animals?
Where to see biggest herds
You can see groups of up to 50 giraffe in northern Selous, Tanzania, and Murchinson Falls National Park, Uganda
The Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve) is perhaps the closest Tanzania gets to a true wilderness paradise, a fantastically large, remote region – the size of Switzerland and the biggest reserve in East Africa – and with plenty of water, opening up a whole range of activities other parks can only dream of. The wildlife is prolific and it’s a great place to spot giraffe gathered in large herds. Roho ya Selous and Siwandu are super choices here.
There’s a good chance to spot sizeable herds of Rothschild’s giraffe at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area. The park is famous as one of the best places to see the extraordinary shoebill as well as a diverse selection of mammals and birds. Stay on the banks of the Nile River, at Nile Safari Lodge, and enjoy wildlife drives and river trips.
Where to see reticulated giraffe
With only a couple of safari camps within its boundaries, Meru is little-visited and you’re unlikely to encounter many other vehicles here. It is one of the most rewarding of all Kenya’s national parks and certainly a great part of any safari. All the large mammals are found in Meru and, with a bit of luck, you can spot the ‘Big Five’ but that’s not really what you’ve come here to see. More rewarding is to search out the ‘northern five’ of gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx and Somali ostrich. Elewana Elsa’s Kopje or Meru Wilderness are wonderful places to stay in this peaceful park.
Samburu is a wild and beautiful place, and wildlife is easy to spot in the parched landscape. There are large herds of elephant and plenty of buffalo, waterbuck, reticulated giraffe, and zebra, along with dry country rarities such as gerenuk. There’s rarely much grass cover so lion, leopard and cheetah are also relatively easy to spot. The banks of the Ewaso Ngiro river with large shady trees, provide plenty of excellent vantage points as the wildlife gathers at the water for an evening drink. Moroccan style Sasaab is a lovely spot here.
Where to see Masai giraffe?
The Chyulu Hills is a stunningly pretty area of Kenya – gently rolling hills and expansive plains with Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. There’s good wildlife including lion, huge old tusker elephant, jackal, wild dog and large numbers of zebra, wildebeest and Masai giraffe. With only a handful of lodges in the in the area, visitors can enjoy all this in wonderful privacy. Ol Donyo Lodge is one of our very favourites and a superb spot to enjoy all that’s on offer here.
Another option is to head to one of the private conservancies adjacent to the Masai Mara National Park. The Mara Nabiosho Conservancy hosts an impressive amount of wildlife, including what is considered to be the greatest density of giraffe anywhere in Africa. Among other wildlife thriving here are healthy populations of elephant, buffalo, zebra, hyena, and lion. Naboisho Camp is a great place to stay, and since the conservancy is a partnership between local people and the safari camp operators your visit directly benefits the community.
Where to horse ride with giraffe?
For experienced equestrians, a riding safari with African Horseback Safaris or Okavango Horse Safaris in the Botswana’s Okavango Delta affords a unique way to glimpse this wildlife hotspot. Cantering through the delta floodwaters alongside giraffes is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although this is for confident riders, we can also offer options for novice riders wishing to ride out with giraffes.
Where to see giraffe on a walking safari?
You’re never that far from the wildlife in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park – it’s one of Africa’s finest wildlife areas with more than 60 animal species and at least 400 different types of bird. When you see a lion, others won’t be far behind as here they tend to roam in prides of up to 30. It’s also home to the Thornicroft giraffe, a sub-species found only in the South Luangwa. The park is famous for its walking safaris, with options ranging from multi day walks camp to camp to short bush walks for an hour or so. Kaingo Camp, Time + Tide’s Kakuli or Luwi, and Robin Pope Walking Safaris would all be lovely options here.
Camel supported walks can be arranged in many parts of Kenya such as the Laikipia region, or in lesser travelled areas such as the Mathews Range to the north of Mount Kenya. Giraffes are seen in good numbers in these areas and when walkers are alongside the camels, the giraffes are happy to allow them to get really close. Choose Karisia Walking Safaris for multi-day walking safaris or any of Sarara’s camps for lovey lodge-based walking safaris.
Where to see desert giraffe?
Namibia may not have quite the populations of wildlife as its near neighbours, but its desert adapted species are quite astonishing. Giraffe, elephant, rhino, giraffe, oryx and springbok are among those that have developed to cope with the harsh conditions here – those living in the Skeleton Coast National Park are as good an example of any. Footage taken near Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp featured in the BBC David Attenborough “Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants,” and provides an extraordinary glimpse into the lives of these animals here. The lodge itself is a great base from which to explore this rugged, remote region on foot of from a vehicle.
Where to see giraffe up close?
Giraffe Manor is a luxury house-turned hotel in the Karen suburb of Nairobi and, for those able to book well in advance of travel to secure a prizes space, is a fabulous place for a night before or after safari proper. Resident Rothschild giraffes join guests for breakfast or can be fed from your bedroom window. Cheeky giraffes have also been known to try and squeeze into the foyer. If you are just passing through Nairobi then the Giraffe Centre (in the grounds of Giraffe Manor) is well worth a visit. There are a handful of safari camps Epako Safari Lodge (Namibia), Sirikoi (Kenya) and The River Club (Zambia) which also have semi-habituated giraffes on their properties.
We would be delighted to help with planning your perfect safari holiday to include some of the best places to see Africa’s giraffe. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.