These days, pandemics aside, people are travelling further afield and heading off ‘on safari’ has become almost normalised, especially when said in comparison to Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. To the uninitiated, a safari conjures up a picture of a Landrover bumping along through the dusty savannah conveyor belt, ogling at the ‘Big 5’ who are dutifully sat waiting to be ‘papped’. For some this is the perfect experience, for others, not so much. However, delve a little deeper and you will find there are so many variations of what a safari entails, and that there is pretty much something to suit everyone: from the serious ornithologists; to the first timers who don’t know if they are going to see tigers, bears or lions (and don’t really care!). The safari industry has evolved over the years and in the paragraphs below I try to outline what is involved and what would suit the vast spectrum of individuals looking to get a ticket to nature’s ultimate show.
The Original Safari
You can find this type of safari anywhere in East and Southern Africa as well as India or Sri Lanka. It is probably exactly what you would imagine: guided game drives in a safari vehicle in a national park or reserve. You are likely to see anything from antelope, giraffe, lion, hyena and much more and the aim (especially for 1st timers) tends to be to pick out the Big 5 (lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant). They are the original for a reason: they offer the best way to see the largest variety animals in a particular area. You can get reasonably close whilst being safely in your vehicle, protected from the elements. It ticks lots of boxes, you will get good information from your guide and will get into some great positions for photography. These safaris tend to be conducted with up to 8 people in the vehicle so be prepared to share your experience with others who may be strangers – however, at most places there is the option to upgrade to a private vehicle, and some of the more upmarket camps offer this as standard. Alex Walker’s Serian Camp in the Masai Mara offers private vehicles to each group or couple.
Best place for a first safari? Either The Masai Mara or The Kruger (and conservancies) – game rich, easy, access, good guiding and with the conservancies bordering the parks you can escape the crowds. The Masai Mara is also a great place to see part of the great migration from August through to October, roughly. Northern Tanzania also ticks a lot of boxes for this type of safari and takes in The Serengeti and The Ngorongoro Crater. As does the South Luangwa in Zambia…but you could probably put pretty much all our African destinations in this category.
These safaris have been around for years and are perfect for the more adventurous first timer or as a second or third safari. They can also be combined with a more traditional vehicle-based safari where you have the option of walking or driving depending on your mood or potentially the advice of the guide. The Kafue in Zambia is great for this.
Walking safaris tend to offer a more ‘off the beaten track’ feel and can vary from staying in a camp and walking from there or can mean walking from point to point. They tend to operate best in the remoter areas, and Zimbabwe and Zambia have this option perfected. A cracking option is to look at the very game rich Luangwa Valley in Zambia. There are two parts to this, the more frequented South Luangwa and the lesser known North Luangwa. The game is more prolific in The South but the North offers an almost off the grid safari with few roads and pretty much no other safari-goers. You feel like a true pioneer. Have a look at Mwaleshi Camp in North Luangwa and Crocodile River Camp in the south. Or indeed Robin Pope’s walking safaris for a great point to point option in South Luangwa.
Zimbabwe is also a super walking option with great walking in both Mana Pools and Hwange National Parks. The guiding is superb as is the scenery.
Family Friendly Safari
This used to be a default to the Eastern Cape safari reserves in South Africa, as they were easy to access and were malaria free. This hasn’t changed and the Eastern Cape still offers a great safari experience albeit not quite as Far and Wild as others. As families have looked further and further afield for new things to do as a unit, so various parts of Africa have developed to provide this experience. If a safari lodge is not family friendly, they will not really cater for under 12’s – this often includes going out on game drives or activities so make sure you find a lodge or camp that is specifically family friendly.
Madikwe Reserve just north west of Johannesburg on the Botswana border was set up to cater specifically for families and the lodges here do just that. Check out Madikwe Safari Lodge, (not the most original name), along with Jaci’s safari Lodge offer one of the best family set ups there is, with loads of interconnecting rooms or completely private units – have a look at The Nare Suite at Jaci’s.
The Laikipia area in northern Kenya not only provides jaw-dropping scenery but it also boasts a large number of private reserves that cater specifically for families. Most of the owners have young children of their own and want to be able to provide the ‘family experience’ to others: lots of interconnecting rooms; kiddie friendly guides or even drives (ours was MOST patient); safe bush walks; children’s dinner provided at sundowners in the bush; setting camera traps and in the downtime, plaster of Paris lion prints to boot. Have a look at any number of lodges in Laikipia (El Karama, Lewa Wilderness to mention just 2) and also have a look at my previous blog on ‘The best Family friendly lodges in Kenya’.
When people talk about water-based safaris they are generally talking about Botswana and more specifically The Okavango Delta and are conducted either on tender sized motor boats or a Mokoro. A Mokoro is a dug out canoe made of wood. These days for environmental purposes and to make the guides life easier they are mostly built of plastic. A water based safari in a Mokoro tends to focus on the smaller animals such as insects and birds, as well as the plant life, the reason being is that in and around the water there is plenty of these and as you cruise quietly through the reeds you don’t scare them off. Chances are you will come across some water dwelling antelope such as Sitatunga and are likely to see elephants from afar but as you are pretty sluggish the guides make sure that they stay well away from hippos and larger game. In a motorized boat there is more choice of what to see in the Delta. Just make sure when you book a water based camp in the Delta that you are either near permanent water or that the Delta will be in flood – July through to end of September. And also remember water levels vary year to year. Have a look at Oddballs Camp for a pure water based camp with permanent water, an interesting name and an affordable price tag.
Another good spot to game view from the water is Chobe National Park. This happens year-round and you can get pretty close to elephants, hippos, buffalo as well as all manner of bird life and if you are lucky, big cats too. This is a great area for switching between land and water, doing one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon. Its also an easy add-on to Victoria Falls, only an hour away. The Lower Zambezi in Zambia also offers good options on the water, particularly for those interested not just in game viewing but also fishing for the mighty tiger fish. Have a look at Sausage Tree Camp.
Another variation of the Safari that people are feeling more comfortable with. The most popular place to do this is in either Namibia (Etosha National Park) or South Africa (mainly Kruger) where the rest camps are set up to cater for this type of travel. It can be done in Botswana relatively easily too, you just need to book your campsites (which are basic) early and be a competent 4 x 4 driver – see our article on this. Tanzania is another possibility, but the financial gains from driving into The Serengeti on your own compared to doing the same route with a guide for a little more money is in my opinion not worth it
The rest camps in Namibia are excellent. Based within Etosha (no other camps or lodges are inside the park) they offer good quality accommodation, well stocked shops, restaurants, swimming pools, good ablutions for campers and possibly most importantly floodlit waterholes, so when the sun goes down and your game drives finish you can spend as long as you like being entertained by the nocturnal animals coming to drink.
The rest camps in South Africa are again in good spots within the national parks and offer good facilities but are not on a par with those on offer in Namibia. You can also self drive in both countries and stay at more upmarket lodges – particularly so in Nambia. Have a look at Onguma Bush Camp or King Nehale Lodge which are located on the edge of Etosha.
Whilst every safari is an opportunity for a budding photographer there are specialist safari’s for those serious photographers out there. Normally accompanied by a specialist photography expert or guide. These safaris tend to be led as groups with photography work shops in between game drives. Expect to be in the company of serious photographers wielding large lens and all the vehicles or boats will be kitted out with specific mounts to satisfy even the most obscure photographer. One specialist operator in Botswana is Pangolin Safaris that specialise in photography.
Private Mobile Camping Safari
This is possibly one of my favourites and its a real treat. As it should be as it tends to be on the expensive side unless you are a group or family but this is exactly what its perfect for. You have all the trimmings of a normal camp, but without anyone else. You feel like you are the only people in the wild, its quite a feeling. The tents are more often than not en-suite, you have a cook and a camp hand who do everything for you and all you need to do is enjoy your safari during the day with your guide and then enjoy great meals and drinks around the fire at night.
You will arrive at your camp which will already be set up in a private designated camping site. You will enjoy a completely private experience in the wild - and by the way no corners are cut. In the morning you head out on your safari as you would as if staying in a normal lodge or camp. After a mornig game drive you will head back to camp and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast and then chill out before being served an amazing afternoon tea before heading out with your guide once again in the afternoon. On return there will be hot water for showers, drinks for all and a super dinner.
If you are doing more than 1 stop in your private mobile the camp staff will pack up after you have left on safari and head to the next destination and have the camp back up and running before you are back in the afternoon. Its a great way of travelling as a group and creates tremendous family memories.
Special Interest Safari
As with any activity, if you delve a little bit deeper there are any number of specialist offerings. On safari this ranges from specialist Wild Dog weeks, where all time is spent looking for and keeping pace with said Wild Dogs, to specialist trips to Kasanka National Park for the yearly bat migration in Zambia. These safaris are fairly niche and you will be in the company of people who are extremely keen, bordering on obsessive (in a nice way!) about the particular thing you are there for. We would not necessarily recommend one of these trips to a newcomer but more for the old hands who have developed a particular fondness for something in particular!
Carbon Neutral Safari
As we try to reduce our carbon footprint in every aspect of what we do in our daily lives, safari camps and operators are doing the same. Whilst every safari camp operates on a pretty low carbon footprint and always have, some go the extra mile with electric vehicles or invest into schemes to fully offset their carbon and legitimately operate as fully carbon neutral. Asilia Africa who operate in Tanzania offer a variety of safaris and all their camps are carbon neutral - have a look at any including Olakira, Sayari or Olivers. Meaning that you can enjoy your safari safe in the knowledge that everything you do on the ground has no carbon footprint. We can easily help you off set your flight and then your whole trip would fall into that bracket.
Overland or Group Safari
Group safaris are popular as they help keep costs low and offer single travellers an opportunity to experience a safari without hefty single supplements as well as having company whilst away. In order to be cost efficient these are generally conducted by vehicle and expect to spend a decent amount of time on the road. This is certainly no bad thing as you get to see the country you are travelling through - whether its stunning scenery or local people going about day to day life - there is always something to catch your eye. Gone are the days when overlanding was the choice of the young (and generally unwashed!) and now there are a large choice of the type of safari you go on - be it a camping participation trip or one where the group stays in lodge accommodation or similar. The different companies offering this style of trip will help determine the type of trip and its demographic and we can help you with that too. Just bear in mind that you will be travelling with strangers for a particular timeframe!
Uganda, Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo can offer the chance to see the mountain gorillas. Currently due to the instability within the DRC we don’t think it is safe to offer treks here. Rwanda and Uganda offer opportunities to track these creatures and then spend a magical time with them in their habitat. Both countries operate the same way with a maximum of 6 people per group tracking to its own designated family of gorillas.
Once the gorilla family are reached, the group has a maximum of 60 minutes where they will sit in proximity and watch the gorillas play, groom, eat and go about their daily business. Whilst you are very close to these large beasts, the guide you trek with will be familiar to the silverback and they will communicate to one another through guttural tones. You are free to photograph and film to your heart’s content within your allotted time frame, after which you are led back down and out of the forest. Treks can vary in length from a couple of hours to ½ a day.
The minimum age to do this is 15 and you have to prove this by bringing your passport. Permits must be bought months in advance and Uganda is the ‘cheaper’ option at $600 (US Dollars) per person per permit. Rwanda charges $1500 (US Dollars). If you are desperate to spend longer than the allotted hour, Uganda does also offer habituation days where you spend longer with a newly habituated family. Have a look at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda or Clouds Mountain Lodge in Uganda.
Hunting safaris are conducted across nearly every country where photographic safaris are organised. Whilst they are seen as barbaric and atrocious by the wider population, they do contribute to the overall conservation of the animals if run legitimately, as the numbers hunted are controlled and large fees charged. Whilst we do not offer hunting safaris we do acknowledge their role they play within the safari ecosystem. The 2 different types of safari are not conducted in the same areas and there is no chance of being mistaken for prey by one your own.