It’s impossible not to like giraffes. Their languid manner and slightly puzzled expressions have intrigued us for hundreds of years. It is an animal so peculiar in appearance that its scientific name – Giraffa camelopardalis – reflects its perceived similarity to both a camel and … a leopard.
A safari simply doesn’t feel complete without seeing giraffes in Africa. It’s a very popular animal sighting for most safari travellers. Watching the tallest of all Earth's creatures awkwardly manoeuvre into a wide-legged stance to drink water is an absolute treat.
Based on our extensive safari experience since 1998, here are our favourites places to see giraffes in Africa:
1. Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
While Kenya’s flagship Masai Mara National Reserve will deliver reliable giraffe sightings year-round, it’s the lesser-known Samburu that’s our favourite pick. Characterised by an arrestingly beautiful, rocky landscape that heralds Kenya’s vast northern deserts, the region is the traditional homeland of the Samburu people and a haven for the unique Special 5: Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk and Somali ostrich. A reticulated giraffe’s coat consists of large polygonal, liver-coloured blocks outlined by a web of bright-white lines. They are beautiful Africa giraffe and Samburu is the best place to see this extremely rare subspecies in the wild.
Where to Stay:
2. The Giraffe Manor, Nairobi
Not only are you guaranteed giraffe sightings at The Giraffe Manor, you’ll have them literally eating out of your hand. An historic guesthouse set in a quiet Nairobi neighbourhood, Giraffe Manor lies in 56 hectares (138 acres) of parkland and has become a sanctuary for Rothschild’s giraffe: a sub-species – together with reticulated giraffe – so rare that almost half its numbers live in zoos.
Sitting down for breakfast is the big event of the day. Floor-to-ceiling windows let the African sunshine pour in, but they also allow curious giraffes to investigate – don’t be alarmed if a 6-foot neck appears above your table! They will enjoy being fed special pellets and, after breakfast, you can simply stroll over to the next-door Giraffe Centre for more close-up encounters.
3. Ethosha National Park, Namibia
Flat, open and covered in thorny acacia trees, Namibia’s Etosha National Park is classic giraffe country. For some of the best sightings of giraffe in Africa, head for a waterhole – Etosha’s arid climate compels its wildlife to concentrate around meagre surface water sources. To witness the careful contortions required for a giraffe to enjoy a sip of water, an Etosha waterhole is the place to visit.
A thirsty giraffe begins by gazing around. Waterholes are a favourite spot for lions to ambush their prey, and a drinking giraffe – splay-legged and head down – is about as vulnerable as nature gets. Hordes of other animals – nervy impala, jostling zebra and rapier-horned oryx – keep you entertained while you wait until the giraffe starts to shuffle and squat before lowering its head to drink. Valves in the neck close to prevent a catastrophic rush of blood to the head but after a few sips, the giraffe snaps back into full height as if it has suddenly remembered something important. A quick look around and the painstaking process of lowering that endless neck to the water's surface begins all over again. Some giraffes reportedly often act as 'lookouts' while others take turns to drink.
4. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Africa’s most reliable Big 5 sightings and luxurious exclusivity are the two main reasons to visit the private game reserves that border the Kruger National Park. We’d like to add a third: giraffe spotting.
Not only are there plenty of giraffes around in the open woodlands of the Kruger but, given the stellar reputation of the reserves’ guides, this is the place where you’ll really learn about giraffes in Africa. Expert rangers show you how to identify their ‘browse-line’ – where they have been feeding on a tree – and how to interpret their behaviour, including ‘necking’ – the odd way that male giraffes fight. They’ll let you in on the secrets of distinguishing between males and females and how they cope with eating leaves protected by three-inch thorns.
5. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Bigger than Switzerland, Tanzania’s monster-sized Selous lies firmly off the beaten path. A raw, mostly undeveloped wilderness that’s a great fly-in destination suited for adventurous safari travellers. Why should you visit it? Because the Selous is so jam-packed with giraffe that it is affectionately known as ‘Giraffic Park’.
Thousands upon thousands of giraffes, arguably forming Africa’s greatest concentration, live in the Selous. It really is the best place to see giraffes in Africa. A handful of lodges offer game drives and boat cruises supplemented by walks and even fly-camping adventures, and guides are allowed to drive off-road for fill-the-viewfinder photographs. Visit during the June to October dry season when animals – notably giant towers of giraffe – crowd the reserve’s Rufiji River in biblical numbers.
6. Okavango Delta, Botswana
Believe it or not, a giraffe can run at speeds of up to 60kmh (37mph). While their normal walking gait – moving both legs on one side of the body at the same time – is distinctly abnormal in the animal world, it’s definitely the gallop that looks the oddest. Rocking back and forth on its hind and front legs with its long neck moving like a metronome to counter momentum, a sprinting giraffe in Africa appears to be moving in slow motion.
The problem, however, is that a giraffe in full flight is only briefly observed before it inevitably disappears into the bush. A visit to the Okavango Delta, a freshwater wetland at the heart of the Kalahari, is home to large numbers of giraffe all year round and it’s here you have the chance to enjoy a bird’s-eye perspective. Helicopter safaris skim over the Delta’s glittering floodplains, and it’s never long before your sharp-eyed pilot spots a journey of giraffe and swings in for a closer look, putting you in prime position to observe their mesmerising, rocking-horse locomotion.
Ready to Plan Your Giraffe Safari?
Get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help tailor-make a safari in some of the best places to see giraffes in Africa: