When people consider African safaris they may immediately envision a rough and tumble trek through the wilderness in a battled hardened 4×4. Though certainly this iconic and rather romantic image can still be re-enacted by travellers today, thanks to the burgeoning popularity of Southern Africa as a holiday destination the modern safari encounter offers a diverse range of formats that can appeal to a much broader spectrum of individuals.
From mobile safaris to balloon safaris there is a design to compliment your wants and needs whether you are travelling independently, as a family, group or on honeymoon. Southern Africa is such an unbelievably eclectic region; where the fine threads of ancient civilisations are interwoven into the tapestry of vibrant and contemporary culture and sweeping desert sands of the most brilliant burning hues are juxtaposed against dense and verdant forests. This is a land where the electricity of the unknown and the adventure of the frontier are still palpable; rugged beauty, fascinating culture and stunning wildlife coalesce to produce a unique amalgam of senses and experiences.
Understandably with such a vast canvas of sights and sounds on offer how we choose to interact with these environments has become a matter of increasing interest for holidaymakers and there may be more choice available than you are aware of.
The most common form of safari remains the ever popular guided safari and in fact most alternative experiences are simple or more elaborate deviations of this approach. Based out of a reserve or lodge tourists are guided across the landscape by a skilled and knowledgeable ranger who will transport you via safari vehicle to the most appropriate sites for game viewing in the area. Relying upon a wealth of knowledge and an appreciation of habitual routines these trackers without doubt offer the best chance for observing wildlife.
Both mobile and walking safaris propose a variation on this traditional scheme where, still accompanied by a ranger or indeed small convoy, travellers navigate the African bush either by foot or using a mobile camp that can be stored and independently transported. Walking safaris, though understandably covering a smaller geographical area promise a more intimate and intense exploration of a specific habitat, ideal for particularly diverse regions. Mobile safaris on the other hand offer an experience reminiscent of the early expeditions of the pioneering explorers. Ideal for tracking animal movements such as the Great Wildebeest Migration the camp is quite literally packed up and conveyed along with the group. Although ‘camping’ may not be everyone’s notion of an ideal holiday more luxurious tented options feature spacious double beds, en suite bathrooms, chefs and even a bar ensuring a secure and comfortable trip.
Fly-in safaris as a kind of antithetical arrangement to the walking safari might appear to some as a rather hurried or detached experience. In truth though, this kind of format actually facilitates those more traditional and personal encounters but with the added convenience of air travel. Via light aircraft tourists can be conveyed across vast distances within a fraction of the time it may take to travel via road or even rail. This method opens up a range of new possibilities allowing even the most compact of schedules to encompass a variety of destinations and attractions.
An alternative to the fly in safari is the balloon safari. Whereas a fly-in option harnesses the use of air travel for its convenience, a balloon safari does so for its awe inspiring beauty. Though more limited in range than a light aircraft there is a grace and elegance to hot air balloon flight that adds another dimension to the adventure. Silently drifting over the vast plains of Kenya and Zambia or observing the scale of the Wildebeest Migration from a bird’s-eye view is an unrivalled experience.
If you are more acquainted with independent and self governed travel, then a self-drive tour could provide the ideal basis for your trip. With the freedom of the road and the will to explore tourists can navigate around some of the most renowned conservation areas in the world such has Kruger National Park in South Africa or Namibia’s Etosha National Park; and all at their own pace.
River safaris of course embrace the continent’s numerous waterways and channels; famous areas such as Botswana’s Okavango Delta and the Zambezi River in Zambia provide a unique perspective for game viewing as well as aquatic and semi aquatic species such as crocodile and hippo. These arterial routes are central gathering points for a host of animals and perennial water sources, particularly during the drier months, provide the best opportunities for game viewing. Whether you enjoy a leisurely boat tour or a more active canoe trip the rivers of Africa abound with colour and life.
Speaking of unique perspectives, one of the latest safari types to become popularised promises a rather loftier panorama. Elephant back safaris are a new and exciting way to explore the African savannah and if you are in search of an intimate encounter then riding on top of one of the world’s most charismatic and emotionally intelligent mammals will certainly guarantee a rewarding experience. The most renowned of the elephant back routes is set through the extensive floodplains of the stunning Okavango Delta.
No matter where you go in Southern Africa, or how you choose to engage with this intoxicating landscape there is one thing for certain, you will have a truly unforgettable time.
Greg Fox is a Director at luxury travel specialists Mahlatini.