Hippopotamuses are among Africa’s most fascinating animals. While they are most often seen with only their ears, eyes, and nostrils prodding above the water surface of lakes and rivers, these massive creatures are famed for their aggressive and territorial behavior. Despite their build, hippos are fast runners, hitting speeds of 8 kilometers per hour (5 mph) on water and sprinting 30 kilometers per hour on land (19 mph), outrunning humans. And, though they have huge incisors, hippos are actually herbivores, eating mostly plants when they leave the water and graze at night.
With such traits, witnessing hippos in the wild is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have. You can safely see them in Africa by boat on the water or on a walking safari accompanied by trained and armed guards. Either way, you’ll be amazed seeing these heavyweights in their natural habitat, along with the other wildlife and stunning vistas the continent has to offer. So, let’s cut through the chase! Here are the best places to see Hippos in Africa.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Established in 1951 and covering an area of 5,700 square miles, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is renowned for being the location of the Great Migration. Yet, it’s not all that Serengeti is also among the top locations to see hippos.
Nestling in Central Serengeti is the Retina Hippo Pool where you can see over 200 hippos submerged or wading in the water. Only a few places in Africa permit tourists to leave vehicles. Thankfully, the Retina Hippo pool is one of them. Be sure to savor the moment when you see hippos on foot.
Serengeti’s main attraction is its teeming wildlife. So you’re not only bound to see hippos, but giraffes, elephants, and lions as well. Thus, making the experience even more complete and memorable.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Famous across the world, Kruger National Park is Africa’s largest and second-oldest national reserve. It’s home to an incredibly exceptional diversity of wildlife. A part of which is the hippos bathing and lazing in the parks’ rivers and dams. Some excellent spots to see hippos include the Olifants River, the Letaba River, the Sabie River, the Luvuvhu River, and the Crocodile River. With the well-maintained tracks, well-built tourist infrastructure, and great array of cheap to luxurious accommodations around, Kruger National Park is indeed a premier locale for hippo-viewing.
Hluhluwe National Park, South Africa
Another wildlife hotspot in South Africa is Hluhluwe National Park in the coastal province of KwaZulu Natal. See hippos relaxing in the parks overlooking pans and waterholes by joining a boat tour or self-drive or guided safari. Apart from hippos, the “Big 5” (elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards, and rhinos) also find their home in the scenic park.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an impressive ecosystem, boasting a stunning array of untouched terrestrial, coastal, marine, estuarine, and wetland environments where hundreds of animal species thrive.
Around 800 hippopotami live in Lake St Lucia, making them a regular sight in the area. See them wallowing, playing, and splashing in the water, but don’t forget to snap some photos to document the experience. If you’re joining a night drive instead, devote extra caution as it’s uncommon to encounter these giants on the road as they forage for food.
Kazinga Channel, Uganda
Nestling inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Kazinga Channel is a wide, 32-kilometer long channel that links two freshwater lakes, Lake Albert and Lake George of the Great Rift Valley. A dense concentration of hippos live in the Kazinga Channel, which is why seeing these giants is always a certainty. Ride a boat cruise and see them submerged in the water. If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll see their full might as they come ashore. Apart from hippos, you can also see waterbucks, warthog, elephants, buffaloes, serval cats, leopards, and lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, making a visit truly worth it.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Dubbed as the “Eden of Africa,” Okavango Delta is one of the planet’s largest inland river deltas. It floods seasonally, becoming a lush wildlife habitat. Many animals have adapted to life in the delta, including many hippo pods scattered around the area. A haven for hippo enthusiasts, hearing honking noises, laughs, and shorts are a typical sign that there’s a pod of hippopotami in the nearby river, marsh, or flood plain. Pay attention so you won’t miss spotting these big gray mammals.
Believed to be home to the Kenyapotmus, African hippos’ oldest ancestors, it’s no surprise that these heavyweights are widely spread in the country’s freshwater bodies and wetlands. Some good spots to see hippos include Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Mwea National Reserve, and the Lake Victoria Basin, the largest lake in Africa whose various rivers are deemed to have paved for the spread of hippos to the rest of the continent.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
One of the longest remaining intact rivers in southern Africa, the 500-mile Luangwa River also holds the world’s largest concentration of hippos, with nearly 48 hippopotami present in one kilometer of the river. During the dry season, their huge population becomes more apparent as the river dries and these giants fight for their space in the shrinking body of water.
Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Stretching 250 miles, the Shire River traverses the Liwonde National Park, where one of the highest hippo concentrations in southern Africa can be found. With a hippo population of nearly 2,000, spotting hippos is a breeze as numerous hippo pods are scattered in the river’s length. Plus, the Shire River is navigable by boat. All you need is to join a boat cruise to see these hippos up close.
Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
With its wide expanse and lots of waterways and tributaries, the Zambezi River, the continent’s fourth-largest river, makes the perfect environment for the hippos. Large herds can be found in the river, so it’s impossible not to see these impressive animals when you go on a boat trip. Ease your worries, as guides keep a decent distance away from hippos as respect to these animals’ might and unpredictable temperament.
Nyerere National Park, Tanzania
The winding Rufiji Rivers that passes through the Nyerere National Park (formerly the Selous Game Reserve) is another perfect habitat for hippos. Adding the channels and lakes formed by the river allowed large congregations of hippos to thrive in this vast Tanzanian park. What you’ll love more is that many top-notch safari camps are operating in the area, which means you’ll have lots of options where to stay while having great sightings of Africa’s “river horse.”
If you enjoyed seeing the Hippopotamus amphibius or the common hippopotamus, you’ll certainly have fun seeing their sibling, the Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis). They are the smallest and rarest hippo species, native to the forests, swamps, and streams of West Africa, especially in Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.
Gola Forest, which cuts through Sierra Leone and Liberia is one of the last remaining habitats of these small hippopotamids. Yet, seeing them can be a daunting task. Pygmy hippos are extremely nocturnal and reclusive creatures, hiding in thick vegetation during the day and only emerge at dusk to forage for food.
That’s the rundown of the best places to see hippos in Africa. Whichever place you choose, always be a responsible tourist, respect these magnificent animals, and cherish the unforgettable experience of witnessing them in the wild.