If going on safari were only about seeing Africa’s wildlife, it would be incredible enough. However, there’s so much more to enjoy, from taking in the sounds and smells as you sip a pre-dawn cup of tea ahead of a morning game drive to chatting and laughing with your fellow guests around a crackling open fire after a delicious dinner. And then there are unique experiences that add a whole new level of amazingness to any trip. We’ve chosen some of our favourites to inspire your next adventure.
Sleep out under the stars
Romantic and thrilling in equal measure, there’s nothing quite like spending a night in a cosy bed that just happens to be in the middle of the bush. You could opt for one on a sleeping deck raised above the landscape, whether it’s a four-poster by a much-visited waterhole in South Africa’s Greater Kruger area or a snuggly double in the Okavango Delta, where you can drift off to sleep to the sounds of the wild. Perhaps you’d prefer the perfect peace of the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pan – one of Botswana’s most extraordinary landscapes – where you can marvel at a night sky that’s bursting with stars from the comfort of your bedroll. Or maybe you like the thought of a luxurious treehouse just for two, from where you may be lucky enough to spot a member of the Big Five from your open-air bedroom. Whichever you choose, it will be something to remember for years to come.
Take a bath in the open-air
You don’t have to spend the whole night in the great outdoors to experience the magic of an African night. At many of our favourite camps and lodges, you can lie back and gaze up – or out – at the starlit sky from your bath. Adventurous types might appreciate an open-air bath for two tucked away in their lodge’s leafy grounds, surrounded by flickering lanterns and filled to the top with bubbles, which couldn’t be more romantic. If your dream bath is one that’s made for quiet contemplation, you’ll probably prefer to look out at the stunning views from the comfort of your open-fronted bathroom equipped, perhaps, with a roomy slipper bath. Or you could opt for a cross between the two with a tub on your outdoor terrace, so you can pick out constellations and take in the magnificent scenery at the same time. Don’t worry if you’re not a bath person, as many lodges have indoor and outdoor showers.
Fly high on a hot-air balloon safari
There’s something special about a trip on a hot-air balloon, from the remarkable feeling of stillness, broken only by the sounds from the ground and the occasional roar of the burners, to the 360-degree vistas that seem to stretch for ever. And when the landscapes you’re drifting over are as teeming with wildlife as those of the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and the Serengeti – heavy-hitters of East Africa’s safari scene – it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The flights take place in the cool of dawn when the winds are at their most obliging, but it’s definitely worth the early start. You may float over herds of wildebeest, elephants and all kinds of antelopes tinted rosy pink by the rising sun and see the scenery from a completely different perspective. After landing, there’s a final flourish: a superb breakfast served in the bush, complete with a celebratory glass of champagne.
See nature’s smaller details on a walking safari
If you have the opportunity to go on a walking safari – they’re available in private reserves and conservancies across Africa – it’s an excellent complement to traditional game drives. Accompanied by a skilled guide, you’ll focus on the smaller details you miss from a vehicle, from plants and insects to tiny animals and the paw prints, markings and droppings of much larger game. In Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools, that might mean seeking out the underground lairs of predatory antlions, insects that lay traps for their prey; in South Africa’s Kariega Game Reserve, listening out for the mournful whistle of a crowned hornbill. Sometimes there’s a cultural element, too, as a Maasai or Samburu guide explains how the locals use different plants for medicines. In other places, the experience might include getting safely, but still heart-poundingly close to members of the Big Five – it’s a large part of the appeal of the three-day walking safari at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region, for instance.
Enjoy a spa with a difference
While you probably wouldn’t go on safari for the spa, that doesn’t mean you won’t be delighted that your lodge or tented camp is blessed with one. There’s nothing quite as indulgent and soothing as a middle-of-the-day massage before an evening game drive, especially when it’s happening in a chic open-fronted tent or rustic cabana overlooking a waterhole, salt lick or particularly lovely splash of greenery. As you lie there with the warm breeze playing on your skin and the sound of birdsong washing over you, you’ll be able to agree with all those studies on the healing power of being in nature. To add to the benefits, many of the spas showcase eco-friendly African products made using local flowers, roots and seeds – that’s certainly the case at Mara Bushtops, a luxurious tented camp in a conservancy adjacent to the Maasai Mara that has an award winning spa.
Eat al fresco from dawn to dusk
Given the speed at which city cafés sprout outdoor tables at the first hint of sunshine, it’s clear that there’s something about eating outside that appeals to many of us. That pleasure reaches a whole new level, though, when the setting is a particularly stunning African landscape – of which there’s no shortage. You could, for instance, linger over an indulgent breakfast for two on a Kenyan escarpment that provides spectacular Serengeti views or a private corner of the Maasai Mara made extra beautiful by the sunrise. You could feast on a lavish barbecue lunch on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater, listening to the birds singing in the acacia trees. And you could round off the day in style with a peaceful, candle-lit meal on a floating deck in the heart of the Okavango Delta or bush dinner in a remote corner of the Serengeti where the night sky is at its most starry.
Spot wildlife from the water
Exploring by boat on Africa’s lakes, lagoons and waterways adds a whole new dimension to any safari holiday. No visit to the Okavango Delta, for example, would be complete without a trip on a traditional wooden canoe; as you’re poled through shallow channels between the reeds, you’ll spot everything from fish eagles to elephants – and it’s so quiet you can almost hear yourself breathe. Elsewhere, morning and evening game drives are replaced or complemented by riverboat safaris. At Chobe, that means cruising on small vessels – perhaps electric and solar-powered – along the eponymous river looking out for hippos, crocodiles and some of the 300 species of birds that are found there, and the chance to end the day with sundowners on a skimmer boat. You’ll find game-spotting boat trips on other big rivers, such as the Rufiji, and a sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi is almost compulsory if you’re in Victoria Falls.
Go behind the scenes and meet the locals
Africa’s national parks, reserves and conservancies don’t exist in a bubble and finding out about the hard work that goes into running and preserving them, and the communities that live on or around them, adds a fascinating dimension to any safari. There are visits to anti-poaching units, eco-tours where you’ll see your lodge’s sustainability practices in action and a host of other backstage insights. These are complemented by opportunities to visit local villages: immersive experiences where you’ll learn about the culture and see how green tourism is helping to support communities everywhere from the Maasai Mara and Matabeleland to Tarangire.
Take to the skies in a flying machine
For a bird’s-eye view of some of Africa’s most extraordinary scenery, it’s well worth splashing out on a soul-stirring helicopter ride, whether you opt for the headline Flight of Angels over Victoria Falls or something more off the beaten track. It’s the only way to access large parts of the Okavango Delta, so you could find yourself landing on an island no one else has set foot on before or skimming low over the ground with the doors off for unrestricted views of the amazing wildlife of the Delta and Moremi Game Reserve. It’s also a superb option in Rwanda; riding high in the sky over the ancient rainforest of Nyungwe National Park, you’ll really appreciate how it sits in the overall landscape of the ‘land of a thousand hills’. Alternatively, you could take to the air in a microlight – a small plane with room for the pilot and a single passenger – for a truly private adventure.
View big game from your private plunge pool
Choose the right accommodation and you could find yourself seeing elephants, giraffes and more without stirring an inch from your private heated plunge pool. It’s the most sybaritic way to safari imaginable – you won’t even have to put down your glass unless you want to take a photograph. In South Africa, you’ll find lodges and camps with en-suite pools everywhere from Shamwari to the Kruger. For a truly pampering alternative, though – perfect for a honeymoon or special occasion – the lavish tents at Kenya’s luxurious Mara Bushtops come with hot tubs and 24-hour butler service for the ultimate not-lifting-a-finger sundowner experience.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Adele, who's travelled extensively in Zimbabwe. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember – the ranger who can show you the best game viewing and fishing spots on the Zambezi, the guide who’ll introduce you to ‘moonbows’ at Victoria Falls and the locals who’ll share their dinner with you.
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