7 alternative safaris to take you off the beaten track

To come face-to-face with the incredible wildlife that walk this planet is surely one of the greatest adventures. But there’s more than one way to enjoy a safari these days than just sitting on a jeep. If you’re looking for a real heat-thumping wild encounter that gets you closer and takes you off the beaten track, then try one of these alternative luxury safaris. From chimp tracking to sea kayaking, paddle-boarding safaris to diving with the Big Five of the ocean, each one of these safaris come with adventure guaranteed.

Walk with elephants in Nepal

Forget traditional elephant safaris, for a really wild thrill nothing beats exploring on foot with these gentle giants. Tiger Tops’ jungle-based Tharu Lodge is the first in Nepal to offer walking safaris with elephants and their guiding team is second-to-none. Nowhere else in the country can you get closer to these incredible animals and immerse yourself in their day-to-day, from breakfast in their tented elephant camp to helping out at snack time. But it’s the elephant walks that steal the show—the experience of a stand-off between the rhinos, leopards and tigers that roam Chitwan’s lush jungle with elephants as your personal guard is one of those rare, spine-tingling safari moments.

Elephants Nepal

Jaguar spotting in the Pantanal

Look beyond Brazil’s Amazon and you’ll find another unique wildlife experience that’s sure to be off-the-radar for most. The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetlands and its ethereal wide-open marshlands never fail to inspire our inner Attenborough. Take a water safari into the interior and keep your eyes peeled for the jaguars, peccaries, bobcats, wild boars and endless birdlife that together make this one of our favourite off-beat safaris.

Pantanal Jaguar

Chimp tracking in the Mahale Mountains

Most safaris, you’re intent on seeing the Big Five—rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard—but the best wild encounters are always the ones that are hard won. Set on a remote stretch of Western Tanzania, Greystoke Mahale luxury camp is one of Africa’s hidden gems. Here you spend your days tracking the island’s families of chimpanzees. After an hour or two’s search, the experience of sitting quietly on the forest floor with baited breath, watching these creatures feeding, foraging and bonding, is a privilege worth waiting for.

Chimpanzee Mahale Mountains

Paddle-board and heli-safari in the Okavango Delta

The flowing waters of Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of the most thrilling safari experiences in the world. For a twist, a stand up paddle board (SUP) safari through the maze-like rivers puts you in pole position to spy the myriad animals drawn to the water’s edge including hippos, antelopes, wildebeest and more. You’ll be able to float deep into the Delta, and reach parts otherwise inaccessible to get a completely unique view, stopping on isolated islands to cook your own bush meals on the way. End at the paradisical Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, stranded in the Delta’s very heart, and for a final adrenaline rush take a heli-safari to see your route from above.

Paddle boarders Botswana

Take an Arctic safari

For a riff on the traditional safari, intrepid adventurers can swap bush for snow at the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge. Strategically located close to one of the last beluga nurseries on earth, you can choose between a sea kayak, raft or SUP safari to watch these unique graceful animals, or while your time away fishing for Arctic char. If you’re a photographer set on snapping some arctic wildlife, you’re in one of the top locations to get that all-important Kodak moment with arctic foxes, polar bears and seals. Basically, adventure lies at every turn.

Beluga Whale

Balloon over the Serengeti

See the Serengeti from a completely different perspective, drifting above in a hot air balloon. At the gentle pace of an African breeze, you’ll get wide-angle views of the migrating wildebeest, zebras, and gazelle, as well as the lions, buffalo and cheetah that call these magnificent plains home—all a-blaze in the golden African sun. Then, land and indulge yourself with bush dinners with your Masai guides at one of the luxury camps; a magical way to really appreciate the incredible array of wildlife that only the Serengeti can provide.

Hot Air Balloon Serengeti

An ocean safari in South Africa

Already have Africa’s Big Five crossed off your list? Then what about the Big Five of the deep? A tailor-made underwater safari into South Africa’s wildlife-rich waters is really the trip of a lifetime. So, if you’ve ever wanted to cage-dive with sharks, be entertained by whales, dolphins and seals as they frolic at sea, or paddle with penguins on Boulders Beach, then add South Africa’s ocean safari to your bucket list. The bonus? All that delicious South African wine to wind-down with afterwards.

Whales South Africa

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato.

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Comments (4)

  1. amanda says:

    I love this post! I thought I knew alot about safari but I had no idea about the island with the chimps off the coast of Zanzibar! Whilst it isn’t quite alternative safari at Kicheche in the Masai Mara does remain my personal safari highlight

  2. Nitin Khanna says:

    Wow! Great Post. I didn’t know much about these places. Thanks for Sharing. It will help me a lot to create my next list to visit new places.

  3. Rob says:

    I would really love to go for the Jaguar tracking safari in the pantanal. I understand the effort you make to finally spot a jaguar is worth every dime…the bird life is also great here. and the occasional jacares.

  4. Amanda – Greystoke isn’t on an island, it’s on the shores of Lake Tanganyika with the Mahale Mountains rising up behind. When I went there there was a power struggle going on among one of the families and the second day’s tracking was one of the most exciting things I’ve done. It’s something I always suggest to clients as a possible alternative to gorilla tracking.

    There are chimps on an island, but it’s Ngamba Island, a chimp sanctuary on Lake Victoria, off Entebbe in Uganda.

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