Safari in the Best National Park in West Africa for Wildlife
Pendjari National Park (Parc National de la Pendjari) in Benin is known as the best place to spot wild animals in the whole region of West Africa. Although it cannot be rated as high as any other wild park in East Africa or South Africa in terms of density and diversity of wildlife, Pendjari National Park is worth visiting when traveling to Benin or neighbouring countries.
Various types of antelopes, baboons, warthogs, birds etc. are the easiest to be seen but with a bit more of luck, you can also spot elephants, lions, hippos etc.
About the Pendjari National Park in Benin
Pendjari National Park is located in north western part of Benin, West Africa. It is named after Pendjari river that flows in the park area and creates natural border between Benin and Burkina Faso (in the north).
Atakora range that stretches in north western part of the country makes this part of Benin the most scenic and provides a bit diverse views during driving to and from Pendjari. This wildlife reserve was established in 1961 and later, in 1986 added to UNESCO’s World Biosphere Reserves list.
It boasts stupendous diversity of wildlife from birds, small mammals to four out of the big five: lions, elephants, Sudanese buffaloes and leopards.
When to go for Safari in Pendjari National Park?
The chances of seeing more mammals depending on the season and also length of stay. Like every national park in Africa, also Pendjari has its best time to visit. Although the gate to the park is open throughout the year, a visit to the park during few months in a year should definitely be avoided.
- January – February: best time to visit, dried vegetation, clear view (visibility can depend on the strength of harmattan), bearable temperatures. Because of no rainfall, animals are forced to gather at water sources which means chances of spotting different (big) mammals are much higher during these two months.
- March: the hottest month, scorching sun can be unbearable, although views are clear due to dried grass.
- April – October: rainy season, therefore muddy or even impassable roads (especially in July and August), lush vegetation, bad view.
- November – December: dry season but still lush vegetation that makes it difficult to spot animals, hidden in the grass, treetops etc.
What to Expect From Safari in Pendjari National Park?
As already mentioned, safari experience in Benin can never be the same as safari in Tanzania, Kenya or other top safari highlight destinations. For travelers who have never seen wild animals in their natural habitat, a trip to Pendjari will definitely be one of the highlights.
On the other hand, for the ones who have visited Serengeti or Kruger National Park e.g., Pendjari can be a minor disappointment. Sceneries of savannah with grass, baobabs, palm tree are stunning, but can also get “boring” after 2 days of driving.
For better experience, try to visit the park in January or February and definitely avoid it in high rainy season and just after the rainy season, when roads are harder accessible and grasses close the view.
I visited the park in the beginning of December and vegetation was still lush. Waters did not yet get dry so animals didn’t have to gather at bigger lakes and ponds. On the other hand, strong sun made animals lazy and hiding in grass or under the trees. I was lucky to see many antelopes, baboons, birds, warthogs, hippo in the water, elephant family but no lions and buffaloes.
So, what was my experience in short: not bad, but not the best!
Pendjari National Park Safari in Two Days
I would recommend a two days visit to Pendjari. If you stay in Natitingou (Nati), you will more or less leave with your guide and driver (all in one) early morning, from 5 am to 6 am and enter the park’s gate in approx. 2 hours. After entering the park, you can climb up the 4×4’s roof and sit on the top seats for a better view.
First game drive will lead you to the north of the park, just close to Pendjari river and end up in Pendjari Hotel for a chill and rest. From 1 pm until 4 pm, scorching sun forces both animals and visitors to resort to shade.
After 4 pm, you will continue with the next game drive. Directions of game drives will also depend on a season of your visit, road accessibility etc. The first day will end up in a Pendjari Hotel, Pendjari Lodge or in Pendjari Camp in the middle of the park close to a big lake full of hippo.
For more adventurous travelers, I definitely recommend the latter! Although, to be honest, I did feel a bit afraid in the night while listening to different wild animals’ voices, I knew that the place is not dangerous. To enhance security, our guide lighted a fire in order to keep animals away from our camping.
Game drive starts again the following morning. The road you are going to take depends on how lucky you were the previous day. Our guide did his best to drive all around the park in order to get more chances of spotting lions, elephants, buffaloes etc. The park’s gate closes at 6 pm so the second day in the afternoon you will more likely be heading back south to the gate in Batia.
Visit Pendjari National Park with a Licensed and Experienced Guide
There are many guides all around Natitingou or elsewhere in Benin, but in order to have an excellent experience in Pendjari, it’s important to be sure of your guide’s knowledge and experiences. Official guidance identity cards are
Idivided into 4 categories. Guides with category A have the best knowledge and therefore would more likely charge more money. But it’s absolutely worth paying a few 1000 CFA more for a category A guide!
Kounta N’tcha is a trustworthy and professional guide with many years of experiences in tourism and guidance in Benin as well as in many other countries in West Africa. He is a licensed guide with category A – the highest category in national guidance in Benin.
Kounta is specialized in flora and fauna of Pendjari National Park. He is also very knowledgeable about culture and history of Benin. Besides French, he can also speak very good English which gives him another advantage, since (according to my experiences) it is difficult to find English speaking guides in (Northern) Benin.
Kounta will organize your trip to Pendjari the way you want and adjust it to the length of your stay. He is a guide and driver at the same time. Most of the time, he is based in Natitingou, bigger town close to Pendjari. He can pick you up and drop you off at any place in Nati or nearby.
He does his best to make visitors’ experience unforgettable, he is willing to answer all kind of questions regarding wildlife in Penjdari as well as ready to give you some other advices and hints for your journey. His honesty, respect and friendliness will not leave any of his customers apathetic.
Besides guidance around Pendjari, Kounta is also well known by his 10 days tour through Benin, called “Bénin Coctail 10 jours”, usually starting and ending in Cotonou. The tour can again be adjusted by the length of your stay and preferences and can even be continued to nearby countries such as Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
The highlights of “Benin Coctail” are more or less the following: lake village Ganvié, Royal palaces of Abomey, Road of no return in Ouidah, safari within Atacora mountains (Pendjari), Tata Somba dwellings and tropical beach in Southern Benin.