Best Places to See Hippos

Do you want to find out, what the best places to see Hippos in the wild are? Have a look at this article on the best locations for Hippo safaris and adventures. 

They are huge vegans with dangerous fighting teeth and show off with the size of their excrement heaps. Hippos produce their own sunscreen and their jaws have the force of a sledgehammer.

hippo tooth

But what are the best places to see Hippos in africa or around the world?

In this article, you learn about where the best places to see Hippos (hippopotamuses) are, what they are like and how to get there. You can read the whole article from the beginning or jump straight to the most relevant chapter for you:

Get to know Hippos

The name hippopotamus (hippo = horse, potamus = river) is misleading, as the hippo is related to pigs rather than horses. 

hippo in the water

The name “hippopotamus” can be traced back to the first specimens discovered on the Nile, but it is misleading because hippopotamuses have a much larger distribution area and, moreover, are completely extinct on the Nile today. The populations have declined sharply due to hunting.

The family of the hippopotamuses (Hippopotamidae) consists of two genera with only one species each: The hippopotamus (large hippopotamus) and the pygmy hippopotamus. 

Both species differ significantly in size, weight and preferred habitat. With a body length of 3.50 metres and a weight of more than three tons, the large hippopotamus is considerably more massive than the pygmy hippopotamus, which is a maximum of 1.75 metres tall and weighs a maximum of 280 kilograms. 

Characteristic of both hippopotamuses is the large mouth with large canine and incisor teeth in the upper and lower jaws.

Hippos are predominantly nocturnal. During the day they stay in the water and at night they migrate to their grazing grounds on land. The life of the large hippos can be described as sociable but solitary. 

Dominant males live in territories, but tolerate other bulls. The females gather in groups every morning at the watering places, but this behaviour has no social purpose. They migrate to the grazing grounds alone, at most with their offspring. 

In contrast to this, pygmy hippos are definitely loners. They only come together for mating or in mother-child communities. The large and pygmy hippos usually mate in water. The gestation period of the massive animals is with eight months for the large hippo and about seven months for the pygmy hippo quite short. The females usually give birth to only one young in the water, rarely on land. More to this later on the the best places to see Hippos.

Hippopotami are amphibian mammals that spend most of their days in or near water. Nostrils, eyes and ears are high and are the only ones that look out of the water. Hippos graze most of the night on land. They eat about 50 kilograms of grass per night.

The skin is very rich in glands, which secrete fluid that acts both as a sunscreen and antibiotic against pathogens. This liquid is colourless, but turns reddish after a few minutes and later turns brownish.

Hippos tend to walk under water rather than swim. They can stay under water for five to eight minutes. Birth is also usually under water, as young animals can swim immediately. It is a great picture to see Hippos underwater.

The bulls mark their territory by hurling the excrement with their tail when they leave the water. Hippos live in schools of up to 20 animals in fixed territories. They are considered to be very well-fortified. The bulls’ canines can grow up to half a meter long. Especially cows with calves often defend them against larger predators. Although they are very massive, hippos can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.

It is repeatedly claimed that hippos are the most dangerous large animals in Africa and that they cause more deaths than crocodiles or big cats. 

Are you a fan of the african continent? Have a look on the top 10 African Safari Parks in Africa were we collected everything about the most famous parks in africa. 

Endangerment of Hippos

The hippopotamus belongs to the list of “vulnerable” animals on the World Conservation Union IUCN classified, especially after its population in the Congo has decreased by 95 percent. The animal is hunted for its ivory teeth and meat. In 1994, the Congo had the second largest population of 30 000 animals after Zambia (40 000). These figures have now fallen dramatically, writes the IUCN.

Hippo Red List

There are some countries like Zambia, who blow for hippo hunting. According to government plans, wealthy big game hunters are allowed to kill 2,000 animals. The hippopotamus population is too large, is the flimsy explanation. In reality, it’s probably all about money. 

For example, the government does not provide scientific evidence of alleged overpopulation. One study even proves that such killing actions are not suitable to regulate the number of hippos. It is not convincing to contain or prevent anthrax by culling healthy animals.

Obviously the government is concerned about something else: foreign hunters are supposed to bring money into the country. This is damaging Zambia’s reputation with other tourists who want to enjoy the beauty of the country and its animals.

The action is particularly irresponsible in view of the fact that hippos are on the Red List and are considered “vulnerable”. It is estimated that only 130,000 specimens live in freedom, which limits the best places to see Hippos.

Habitat and Distribution of Hippos

Hippos are today only widespread in Africa south of the Sahara. They are rare in western Africa and the population is divided into a number of smaller groups, which together comprise around 130,000 animals in 19 countries. 

hippo family

Because of the fragmented populations, the species is most threatened in western Africa. Overall, the wild Hippopotamus is considered an endangered species. In eastern Africa they were relatively numerous until recently, with around 30,000 in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and tens of thousands in Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. 

In addition, there were several thousand hippos in Kenya and Uganda, so that in eastern Africa there were about 70,000 of these animals.

In southern Africa, the total population was around 80,000, most of them living in Zambia, which had the highest number of all countries with around 40,000 individuals. 

Larger populations were also found in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. (Which are still some of the best places to see Hippos. ) In South Africa, they are restricted to the north-eastern part of the country – mainly the Kruger National Park Regionally, they are extinct in central and southern Africa, for example in most of South Africa and in Mauritania. 

In the southern Sahara, too, they lived until about 2000 years ago in the lakes that still existed there at that time.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, hippos also inhabited the Nile valley and the Nile delta in Egypt. Also the Jordan Valley used to be part of their distribution area. Near the Atlas Mountains in northwestern Africa they were found until about 3500 years ago.

During the Eemian warm period about 120,000 years ago, hippos were also common along the rivers Rhine and Thames, as bone finds prove.

The only free-living hippopotamus population outside Africa has existed in Latin America since the 1990s in the catchment area of the Colombian Río Magdalena. 

Four animals had been introduced ten years earlier as neozoa by Pablo Escobar. Initially, they lived in the private zoo of the drug dealer, who had the manure pr oduced used to conceal the smuggled cocaine. 

After Escobar’s death in 1993, the care of the zoo was discontinued, and the animals spread into adjacent waters. In 2018 between 40 and 60 individuals lived there, by the end of 2019 a population of about 80 animals is expected, whose reproduction prognosis is exponential.

Hippo Attacks on Humans 

Hippopotami, are considered the most dangerous animal species of all in Africa . The hippos seem harmless and ponderous when they lie calmly in the water with their bodies weighing several tons. 

hippos in africa
hippos in africa

But they are easily excitable: For example, if a boat gets too close, they can attack surprisingly aggressively and effectively thanks to their sharp canines. It is said that the animals kill about 100 people every year. Hippos cause more deaths than crocodiles or big cats. However, there are no statistics on this.

Adult hippos have hardly any natural enemies; young animals occasionally fall victim to crocodiles, lions, hyenas or leopards. Females sometimes join together to defend their young. They can become extremely aggressive. Larger herds of lions can also become a threat to adult hippos outside the water. So do not go to close to see a Hippo!

The social behaviour of hippos is variable. They can live alone or in groups, but the only lasting relationship is between the mother and her offspring. Groups can contain up to 150 animals, but the usual herd size is 10 to 15. These herds usually consist of females and young animals. More rarely, males without a territory of their own join together in bachelor groups, but they usually live solitary lives.

Dominant males try to establish their own territory in which there are several females capable of reproduction. These territories include 250 to 500 metres of lakeshores and 50 to 100 metres of riverbanks. Sometimes subordinate males are tolerated in this territory, provided they acknowledge the reproductive prerogative of the dominant male. The boundaries of the territory are marked by defecation, often resulting in larger dung heaps.

Males in neighbouring territories usually behave peacefully with each other. Ritualized actions during encounters include hurling their head out of the water or staring at each other from a short distance. The swirling apart of the droppings by rapidly circling tail movements, which is carried out in the water and on land, is also assigned more a signal function and less a territory indicating function. When they feel threatened, male hippos show their large incisors and canines with their mouth wide open.

A defender of a district tries to drive away intruders with showing off. If this does not succeed, it can come to violent arguments, which are carried out above all with the lower cuspids. Many older males have scars from these fights, also the death of an opponent is not unusual.

Are you an underwater enthusiast? Check out our posts about Great White Shark Diving, Whale Shark Diving, Tiger Shark, Bull Shark or Blue Shark Diving.

Best places to see Hippos

There are many places in africa where you can see hippos in their natural environment, we collected a list of the best places to see Hippos.

Criteria to Rank the Best Places to See Hippos

The following rakning is sorted after criteria which are in our opinion the most relevant for divers. We were evaluating the most important criteria when someone aspires to see Hippos in the wild, namely:

  1. How Likely is it to encounter Hippos. 
  2. How is the situation with tour operators at the respective Hippo spot.

9. Gola Forest, Sierra Leone

Let’s start with one of the rarest species of Hippos you can find. The pygmy hippo (small or baby hippo). They are extremely nocturnal and smaller than their West and East African family members. They are very difficult to spot during day time. 

hippo baby

The Gola Rainforest National Park is located in the southeast of Sierra Leone near the border to Liberia in the Eastern Province in the districts of Kailahun and Kenema. It is the only spot in the world where you can see pygmy hippos.

Since December 2011 the already existing protected area has the status of a national park. It is considered one of the most important forest reserves in West Africa and one of the last untouched primary forests in Africa. As part of West Africa’s Guinea Forest, it is one of the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots.

The national park is proposed for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Key statistics to see Hippos in Gola Forest, Sierra Leone.

Best Time to visit Sierra LeoneThe optimal time to go to Sierra Leone is in the dry season, (October to May). January and February are the hottest months.
Temperature20– 30 °C 
AreaCoastal areas through mangrove swamps and savannahs to primary and secondary primeval forest.

Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 50%

As one of the country’s most important protected areas, the Gola Forest is home to 49 major mammal species. Eleven species of monkeys can be found, including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), diana cats (Cercopithecus diana) and sooty monkeys (Cercocebus atys). The chimpanzee population is (as of 2010) stated as 270 animals.

In addition, the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and/or African elephant (Loxodonta africana), pygmy hippopotami (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) are also found. It is another great one on the list of the best places to see Hippos.

8. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The Masai Mara Nature Reserve is an area of pristine savannah in southwestern Kenya on the Tanzanian border. The animals living there include lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and hippos. Wildebeests cross the open spaces during their annual migration.

wildebeest river crossing

The landscape is characterized by grassy plains and gentle hills and is crossed by the rivers Mara and Talek. In the surrounding area there are numerous villages of Masai tribes.

Key statistics to see Hippos in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

Best Time to visit KenyaBest wildlife viewing: June to October during the dry season.
Temperature20– 33°C  
AreaGrass savannah formed. There is also bush and tree savannah with gallery forest along the Mara River.
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 70%

Moreover, the Masai Mara is a great place to see hippos in africa. For example in the the Mara, also called Mara River, a river with a length of 395 km.

Do you like big animals? We collected some ideas on the The best places to see Elephants,or  Where to see Giraffes

7. Liwonde National Park, Malawi

The Liwonde National Park is located in the south of Malawi near the city of Liwonde at an altitude of 470 to 960 metres above sea level. It covers 548 km² and is bordered by the Shire River in the west.

African Safari Tours

Here live waterbucks, black heel antelopes, bushbucks, horse antelopes, hartebeest, hippopotamus and crocodiles as well as a population of elephants, which at times declined sharply in the 1980s. In a fenced area within the national park live Cape buffaloes, zebras, antelopes and black rhinoceroses.

In 2016, an aerial census revealed 1086 buffalo, 1887 hippos, 578 elephants, 4477 waterbucks, 515 sable antelopes, 2107 black-heeled antelopes and 76 hornbills in Liwonde National Park. In 2011, 1269 warthogs were also counted and one year earlier 37 kudus, 17 reedbucks, 54 bushbucks and two ducks. 

Among the more than 400 species of birds, there are crested pygmy fishermen, Goliath herons and brown-mantled scissorbills. In 2016, 60 white-backed vultures and four long-eared vultures were also recorded.

Key statistics to see Hippos in Liwonde National Park, Malawi

Best Time to visit MalawiRainfall Season: November to April. Best time to visit is during the winter months – early May to late October, when it’s dry. Winter gets chilly high up on the northern Plateau but down at Lake Malawi you can expect warm, sunny and dry days – great for going to the beach as well!
Temperature22 – 27°C  
AreaSavannahs and open grasslands and light dry forest. Closed forests only occur in mountainous areas and on the densely wooded plateaus
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 60%

In 2015 the non-governmental organisation African Parks took over the management of the park in partnership with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). In 2016, 336 of the over 800 elephants were resettled in the Nkhotakota Game Reserve. 

The measures implemented to combat poaching and human/wildlife conflicts include the removal of over 36,000 wire snares and the erection of 117 kilometres of electric fence. In 2017, seven cheetahs and one year later ten lions were resettled in Liwonde National Park.

In 2016, 16,000 tourists visited Liwonde National Park.

6. Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is a huge inland river delta in northern Botswana. It is known for its vast grasslands, which are seasonally flooded, providing a lush habitat for animals. 

African Hippos

The Moremi Game Reserve occupies the eastern and central regions. 

Here you can sail in dugout boats past hippos, elephants and crocodiles. On land, the wildlife includes lions, leopards, giraffes and rhinos.

Key statistics to see Hippos in  Okavango Delta, Botswana

Best Time to visit BotswanaThe best time is usually from May to September, during the Dry season and winter. Also, the Okavango is flooded from June to October. Wildlife viewing is good year-round.
Temperature10 – 25°C  
AreaDry and thorn bush savannahs. The Okavango Delta and the Chobe area are wet savannas with a high species richness.
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 70%

The Okavango Delta is one of the religious wetlands in personal Botswana. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in advance of Botswana. It is proud of a personal of animal species, the three large gray mammals – elephants, rhinos and hippos.

The Okavango Delta, which is heard as the “Eden of Africa”, is about a rich general diversity that others cannot be found in the life of Africa. 

On a tour of the Okavango Delta, you can be sure to include not only the Big 3 gray mammals, but also the largest of the Big 5 land mammals. 

5. Kazinga Channel, Uganda

The Kazinga Canal is a place with the highest concentration of hippos in the world. The Kazinga Canal is located in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

river uganda

The Kaziga Canal is a 32-mile long canal that connects two freshwater lakes (Lake George and Lake Albert) who are both part of the larger Lake Victoria Basin, most of whose excess water flows into the Nile River.

There are numerous boat trips along the canal, giving you the most accurate view of these densely concentrated hippos.

The Queen Elizabeth National Park is located in western Uganda. 

The park has been in existence since 1952 and covers an area of 1978 km², bordering Lake Edward and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo,

Key statistics to see Hippos in Kazinga Channel, Uganda

Best Time to visit UgandaThe best time to visit Uganda is during the dry bin December to February and June August.
Temperature21 – 29°C  
AreaThe savannah of East Africa merges into the rainforest of Central Africa, which has a positive effect on the biodiversity of plants and animals.
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 90%

The plant and animal communities include the habitats of the open savannah, tropical rainforest, dense papyrus swamps, crater landscapes and lakes, and the two lakes of the East African Rift Valley, Lake Edward and Lake George.

Another great place to see Hippos!

4. Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa. It is located in the north-east of the country in the Lowveld landscape on the territory of the Limpopo Province and the eastern section of Mpumalanga. 

Kruger National Park Hippo

Its area extends from the Crocodile River in the south to the Limpopo, the river that borders Zimbabwe, in the north. The north-south extension is about 350 km, in east-west direction the park is on average 54 km wide and covers an area of about 20,000 square kilometres. This makes it one of the largest national parks in Africa.

Ever thought about going to central africa? Have a look at The annual Wildebeest Migration or a trekking tour to the Mountain Gorillas in Central Africa on our blog. 

Key statistics to see Hippos in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Best Time to visit Kruger National ParkBest Time: Beginning or end of the region’s dry season, which falls between April to September. During Kruger’s dry season, temperatures are better.
Temperature16 – 27°C  
AreaOpen grass and tree savannah, thorny acacias and grassland.
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 70%

If you want to reach the Kruger National Park with your rental car, you should watch out for hippos on the normal country roads. Especially at night, hippos often cross the roads because they have a large territory.

The reason is that there are many water pools outside the national park where hippos are living. Hippos are very fast and can run up to 60 km/h in danger!

Keep to the indicated speed limits. The communities around the park have discovered a new source of income and many roads have three radar traps within 20 km!

3. Hluhluwe National Park, South Africa

Hluhluwe Park (formerly Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park), 280 km north of Durban, is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa.

hippo relax

It covers 960 km² of mostly hilly terrain and is located in central Zululand in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

Key statistics to see Hippos in Hluhluwe National Park, South Africa

Best Time to visit HluhluweApril to September when in dry season
Temperature17 – 29°C  
AreaMostly wetlands and savannah
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 80%

The diverse vegetation provides habitat for many mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The “Big Five”, elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard are represented in the park as well as cheetahs, wild dogs and giraffes and nyalas. 

Hluhluwe and Imfolozi were established as separate game reserves in 1895, when the population of these animals was endangered by excessive hunting.

2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

An omnipresent experience in Tanzania’s largest national park is the fight for life and death between predator and prey. The majestic lions rule on the vast plains, while the graceful leopards stalk through the dust-orange coloured acacia tree landscapes along the Seronera River and cheetahs hunt their prey in the south-eastern part of the Serengeti National Park. 

serengti hippo

Hardly any other national park is home to all three African jackal species. In addition, spotted hyenas and a variety of smaller predators such as the insectivorous aardwolf and the beautiful serval also live here.

But the Serengeti National Park is not only inhabited by large mammals. Brightly coloured settler agamas and cliff-dwellers scurry across the scattered rock formations in the middle of the savannah, also called granite kopjes.

 In addition, almost 100 species of pill-poaching beetles have been sighted in the Serengeti, as well as more than 500 bird species, including ostriches, secretary birds and kaffir eagles.

Key statistics to see Hippos in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Best Time to visit Serengeti National ParkAll year round
Temperature17 – 31°C  
AreaContrast between dusty savannah and wildly overgrown plains
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 99%

However, the Serengeti is also a great place to see hippos! Near wetlands, which are abundant in this park, you can easily observe hippos playing in the waterholes while trying to cool their skin.

One of the most famous sights of a large group of hippos is the Serengeti Retina Pool.

1. St. Lucia  – iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

St Lucia (in theiSimangaliso Wetland Park) is a rather unknown city but an absolute highlight on any hippo safari. More hippos than people live in St Lucia.

Admittedly, St. Lucia is not a place worth seeing. There is only one big main street with shops and a few restaurants. The countless guesthouses have all settled in smaller streets around it.

The only access to the place is a bridge that connects the “island” St. Lucia with the mainland. But the place offers a speciality.

 In addition to the human inhabitants, it is also home to over 800 hippos, which have made themselves at home in the waters of the St. Lucia Wetlands.

Key statistics to see Hippos in St. Lucia  – iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Best Time to visit St. LuciaAll year round
Temperature18 – 29°C  
AreaMostly wetlands
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 99%

But if you think you can only observe the pachyderms in water, you will be disabused. 

Hippos at night
Hippos at night

Already on the road to St. Lucia as well as in the village there are signs pointing to the animal inhabitants. 

By the way, St. Lucia is not only ideal for observing hippos.

From there you can also make wonderful excursions through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to Cape Vidal or go on a day safari in the Hluhluwe National Park.

Best tour operators to see Hippos

There are many tour operators that offer Hippos viewing in africa. We collected some of the best companies to the best places to see Hippos.

Summary

In summary, there are some amazing places to see hippos in the wild. It doesn’t matter where you decide to go, always be cautious and be aware of not getting to close to any hippo. 

They may look very cute and harmless – but are fierce protectors of their families and habitat. 

We totally recommend places like St. Lucia to see hippos, because they are less touristy and there is a lot to discover. 

If you also like to read more about Big Cats, we have posts on the best places to see Leopards in Africa, Walking with Lions or seeing the European Lynx.

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