Yankari National Park, Nigeria

Photo: Tsumo9 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Tsumo9 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Are you sick of all the negative news? Nothing positive seems to be circulating about Nigeria. Islamic militants, Ebola, and never-ending corruption dominate the headlines. The “giant of Africa” has a firm place on travelers’ no-go list. It’s unfortunate. Especially because it’s home to one of the best national parks in West Africa.

Yankari National Park is in the southern Sudanian Savanna in northeastern Nigeria. It was established as a game reserve in 1956, named a national park in 1991, and is now home to more than 500 African bush elephants, the largest elephant that roams the continent. The park is full of low grassland, patches of woodland, and rolling hills. The Gaji River flows through it. African buffalos, waterbucks, and hippopotamuses flock to its tributaries. While clear springs are warmed by underground geothermal activity.

You enter the park at Maina Maji and head for Wiki Spring, the tourist center. A small museum displays tusks and bones, old hunting gear, and conversation efforts. Chalets and a restaurant take care of people departing for safaris. And the spring itself, which empties into the Gaji River, is ideal for a post-safari swim.

Ride to Kariyo Hill, the park’s highest point, for an amazing view over the savanna. A herd of roan antelope, the largest type of antelope, graze in the distance. Elephants have stripped the trunks of the baobab trees. While a white-rumped vulture circles overhead. Explore the nearby Marshall Caves. The 59 sandstone caves are full of rock engravings and paintings. Curious olive baboons wait for you to emerge from the caves. Then see the Dukkey Wells, where nearly 140 wells formed an elaborate water-storage system for early settlers of the area.

Getting closer to the river, you see western hartebeests, playful patas monkeys, and bushbucks. Saddle-billed storks wade through the water, and two cattle egrets watch from the shore. Startled, they suddenly fly away. It takes you a minute to understand why. Eight elephants come crashing down the small hillside. They spray water through their trunks, soaking themselves, each other, and everything around them. Their ears flap, and their trumpet-like sound can be heard for miles. This is the vision you should have of Nigeria.

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