On Safari South Of The Sahara In Chad

One might not know that just south of the Sahara Desert in a remote location of Chad you can find the Big 5 and all kinds of amazing untouched wildlife. But this truly is a remote location, and as you will see, it is not easy to get to and from it. So is this Chadian wildlife haven worth a visit? Read on.

Setting the Scene

A few weeks after my visit to the Republic of Congo, I went to Chad to go on a safari in a very remote national park. Between my visits to the Congo and Chad, I traveled to Morocco, Portugal, and Dubai. I had a long flight to Chad from Dubai with a layover in Istanbul before I finally arrived.

Relaxing in the capital city while my paperwork is processed

The safari was in Zakouma National Park, one of Africa’s most remote national parks. It lies just south of the Sahara and north of the rainforest. It boasts that it’s “the primary safe haven for Central and West African wildlife,” but there are fewer tourists there than you’d expect.

After views like this, I was especially looking forward to seeing the more natural side of Chad.

It’s a pretty big park, but very few people visit because it’s very difficult to get to. Accessing the park requires an extremely long drive of around 15-20 hours from the capital city of N’Djamena. Plus, you need a visa to go to Chad, and although I think it’s pretty safe, a lot of people believe that it’s dangerous in that particular area, so they have very few visitors.

Sure, it wasn’t the safest country that I’ve visited, but it could have been worse. Right?

I wasn’t going alone on this trip to Zakouma National Park. I was going with two women from my community. There was also a guy named Marco who has helped me with some things and is generally a good client. Marco was joined by his wife Miriam and her friend who really wanted to join us as well. So, it was a really diverse group, and it was even one of the girl’s first time in Africa. We had quite an adventure all visiting Chad together. 😊

The scenery was interesting to see when we arrived. There were some hills and lots of trees growing from the sandstone.

Some of the local scenery

It was pretty quiet except for the occasional noise of donkey carriages driven by poor local people, which made for some nice pictures.

Some Chadian traffic

Our driver prepared a nice dinner for us. After that, we drank tea, talked a bit, played games, and went to bed early. The next day we had a long drive ahead of us to Zakouma National Park, where we wouldn’t arrive until after dark.

The long road to Zakouma

Heading to the Park

We spent the entire next day driving. We left around sunrise at seven and then we drove and drove as the roads got worse and worse.

We had a long day ahead of us.

The further we went, the more water we saw, as we passed through some rain along the way. Some of the roads that we came across were actually impassible.

The views were nice enough but the road was terrible.

In the early evening, we reached the road to Zakouma, but we couldn’t take the main road because it was full of water. We took another road, but even there, we got stuck out in the middle of the savannah.

It may look cute and quaint, but this is really not where you want to get stuck.

We weren’t within the gates of the national park, but we were practically already there, so we had to get out of the car in the dark to try to dislodge the car. After letting a lot of air out of the tires, we finally managed to free the car and find another way to get there.

The “locals” weren’t much help. 😅

It was quite late after a long drive before we finally reached the camp.

Driving to Zakouma

Along the way, we did make a couple of stops. We stopped to stock up on drinks and had a nice barbecue of camel meat for lunch that we ate in a hidden location out of town.

Nothing fancy, but it did the trick.

The reason that we had to hide our meal is that we were visiting during Ramadan, which means that the Muslim population (including our driver) is not allowed to eat anything during the day. However, because he needed to have the energy to drive all day, he had to eat something. So, we had to hide in order for him to eat his well-earned lunch.

We couldn’t risk any prying eyes seeing our driver eating in the middle of the day during Ramadan.

Making New Friends

It was a long drive, but at some point, we arrived, and we weren’t the only guests staying at that camp. There were two other tourists there, and – surprise, surprise – they were German too. 😅 We ended up chatting with them a bit and found out that they’re a couple. The man’s a retired eye doctor, and they go on a lot of safaris together, so we got to go on a lot of game drives with them.

Our home for the next few nights

After chatting with the German couple, we had a late dinner and went to sleep in our houses. It wasn’t exactly luxury accommodation, but considering the country and the remoteness of the location, it wasn’t too bad. Obviously, there was no internet there, but the accommodation was still nice. There was no air conditioning, but there was a nice fan that kept me cool enough while I slept.

There were lots and lots of flies though. I made the mistake of leaving the outside light on, and when I came back after dinner there were millions of insects all around the entrance to my house.

Other than that, I had a nice beverage at dinner, and we also got to meet the manager of the lodge. She was a French or Italian woman who was having some authority issues with her African staff, but we talked a lot with her, and that was quite nice.

Going on Safaris

For the next three days, we basically went on game drives all the time. We would go on one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

We saw lots of animals there, as Zakouma has the “Big 5” game animals: lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and buffalo. 🤩

It looks like the lion was enjoying that mud!

There was an abundance of elephants and buffaloes.

Hello beautiful

There were a couple of lions, and they say that there are leopards out there, but they are hard to spot. There are also rhinos, but they are very rare to see.

Welcome to the jungle

The highlight of our safaris was definitely seeing the lions, which there are many of in the park. We saw a couple of them in very nice positions, and we got some nice photos.

She was hungry 😨

We saw lots of water holes full of vicious-looking crocodiles.

Brave or stupid?

There’s also a special type of giraffe that only lives in that region, which was interesting to see. It’s called the Kordofan giraffe, and it’s critically endangered as there are only two thousand of them still surviving in the wild in Western Central Africa. Despite their endangered status, these gentle giants are still hunted by poachers today for their beautiful skin, which is used for luxury goods.

It was cool to see so many of these endangered creatures living happily in the wild.

These giraffes are different from the regular ones that we’re used to seeing because they’re slightly smaller and have distinctive spots on the inside of their legs.

The park is also a famous wetland with many different types of rare birds. Apparently, it’s a breeding ground for migrating birds, and a visit to this park is basically a birdwatcher’s wet dream.

I’m not typically a birdwatcher, but these beautiful birds caught my attention.

We saw more interesting species there than I could even begin to identify or name. Some of them I had spotted in other parts of Africa, while others were entirely new to me.

Just hanging out, seemingly unconcerned about what lurks beneath the water 🐊

Besides that, we saw all of the normal animals, but for me, the lions were the best part.

I named him “Dinner.” Would you rather get eaten by a lion or a crocodile?

We saw lions on every game drive in different positions and in different locations, which was good to see.

We even got to see some cute little ones 🥹

Basically, every day is the same on a safari. Nothing notable happened until the last day when I was attacked and bitten by over a hundred tsetse flies on a game drive and had an allergic reaction, but in the end, I survived it. 💪

At least I wasn’t attacked by one of these guys.

The Long Road Back

On the fourth day, we had to leave and face the long drive back again. We said that we wanted to have more time at the park before doing the full-day return drive to N’Djamena, which was around 16 hours.

You can hardly blame us for wanting to spend more time at the park. There were more and more wild animals around every turn.

We started very early, at four in the morning when it was still dark outside.

The early bird catches the worm.

We tried to take a shortcut to save a couple of hours, but because of the rains that had occurred the day before, the roads were quite wet. 💦 We drove for about an hour along the supposed shortcut before the roads became impassible and we had to turn back. So we lost about an hour and a half and ultimately had to take a long way.

The local birds enjoyed bathing in the water, but it was a major annoyance for us.

We drove and drove and drove, this time not taking an overnight stop as we had on the way here. Instead, we drove all the way straight back to N’Djamena. I was worried that the driver wouldn’t make it for the entire drive, but he managed to maintain his energy and focus.

Seeing how the locals live (and some interesting rock formations) along the way

I thought it was kind of nice to drive for sixteen hours straight, but the girls didn’t feel that well. One of them had actually already gotten sick two days prior, and couldn’t do the safaris anymore, so it was a very stressful trip for her.

She missed out on seeing a lot of amazing animals.

It was a scorching climate, with temperatures easily at forty-five or fifty degrees all the time. The small car didn’t help her feel better, but that’s just how you get around in these regions.

I figure you’d rather see this cute photo from a safari instead of a sick girl in a car 🤢

Back at the Capital

We arrived in N’Djamena at around eight o’clock in the evening. We stayed at a pretty nice hotel. I was going to leave that same night because I had a flight around midnight that would take me through Istanbul to Germany, after which I would go to Jamaica.

Images of lions were still running through my mind.

We made it to the hotel with a couple of hours to spare until I had to go to the airport. The girls stayed another night in N’Djamena, even though there wasn’t much more to see there. We had already seen some of the main sites on the way into town when we drove to the hotel.

There was nothing as beautiful as this to see back in N’Djamena.

The hotel was pretty nice to hang out at for a bit anyway. It had a big swimming pool and a restaurant right by it, and I enjoyed a nice farewell dinner with the girls. We ordered some nice drinks and while we dined on some pizza together, some mosquitos dined on us. We finally said goodbye and I went to the airport.

Final Impressions

This time I flew with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. It was a pretty long flight, so I was looking forward to flying business class to relax. However, they use their domestic business seating on this route. It was just okay. Better than most European airlines, but still not that nice. It was a 10-hour flight.

I saw an astronaut at the airport 😂

The problem was that the N’Djamena flight doesn’t go directly to Istanbul. First, the airplane stopped in Niamey, Niger to pick up more people, which took me off in the wrong direction and added to my travel time, before going to Istanbul. I managed to get some sleep on the airplane anyway before catching another flight, now in a bigger, better aircraft with nice beds, to Frankfurt, Germany for a couple of days.

I tried to channel the patience of this tortoise I saw on a safari.

In the end, I thought that the safaris in Chad were pretty cool, but I’m not sure that they made up for the long, long drive there and back. I’ve had similar or even better safari experiences that have been much more accessible in other countries.

Another day, another safari.

However, it was nice that the park was empty. We were pretty much the only car around. In 100 kilometers, we only ever saw the one other German couple that we went on the safaris with, so it was a very intimate experience with nature.

There was no one in sight but the wild animals.

Other than that, Chad has the Sahara, but it’s a dangerous area and you need an escort to visit. I skipped it this time around, but I can imagine coming back later to see more. This time I had a safer trip to the Zakouma National Park and visited N’Djamena.

Getting up close and personal with the lions was enough danger for this trip.

At this point, I’ve visited most of Africa already and only have a few countries left to go. Check in next time to read more about my African adventures!