Get your safari fix in lockdown: our top virtual safaris
The stay-local message is one we’ve had to get used to over the past few months. But we adapted and discovered plenty of ways to satisfy our wanderlust from the comfort of our own homes whether through books, podcasts or television programmes. One thing we have really missed is not getting our first-hand wildlife fix so we got in touch with a few of our favourite camps, conservancies and reserves in Africa to see what they’ve been up to. Join us as we head out on virtual safaris in search of the continent’s famous Big Five, its birdlife and the jaw-dropping landscapes.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa
This Eastern Cape game reserve is one of our most popular, and for good reason: it’s one of the best places to spot wildlife – including the Big Five – and it’s got some pretty luxurious lodges within its borders. They are big on conservation and community too; the reserve is home to two Born Free sanctuaries and there’s a focus on both caring for wildlife and aiding local towns and villages. As we’ve had to swap sleeping under canvas for our own comfy beds, Shamwari has been sharing some footage and lockdown diaries over on their Instagram TV. Their rangers have been spending time on lockdown game drives, seeking out lazing cheetahs, lion prides with hungry cubs and patrolling leopards.
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Porini Camps, Kenya
Eco-friendly and low-impact, Porini’s authentic safari camps are located in private conservancies away from the crowds. The Amboseli Camp is set within the Selenkay Conservancy, right next to the park with the magazine-cover-worthy views: huge herds of elephants passing across the backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain. Adjacent to the Maasai Mara there are two conservancies – Olare Motorogi and Ol Kinyei. They provide the same incredible wildlife-viewing experiences that visitors would get in the Mara but with only a few other people (and a whole load of animals) for company. While our safari is on hold, you can catch a glimpse of the local wildlife on their YouTube channel. Porini are posting short-but-sweet videos from within the private reserves and national parks so sit back, watch and dream of your next in-person game drive.
Ol Pejeta, Kenya
We’re staying in Kenya for the next safari from home, this time heading north to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This cattle ranch-turned wildlife haven is the largest black rhino sanctuary in the whole of East Africa, home to two of the last remaining northern white rhinos and the only place you can see chimpanzees in Kenya. The reserve has taken conservation to the next level with a mission to provide a safe place for many of the continent’s most critically endangered species – in under 30 years, they’ve increased their population of black rhino from 20 to over 110 individuals. See the rewards of their incredible efforts and find out about life in Ol Pejeta at home by taking a look at their ‘sofa safaris’ on Instagram and Facebook. Not only do they go out on game drives and show us the highlights, they also give a rare glimpse into their anti-poaching unit training and take us to see the chimpanzees at feeding time.
Thornybush Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Kruger is South Africa’s poster-child national park and at nearly five million acres it’s the country’s largest. Alongside the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo – the park has loads of different antelopes, cheetah, plains wildlife and a diverse selection of birds from raptors to waders. With fantastic game watching come a large number of crowds so we prefer sending you to private reserves that border the park like Thornybush. There’s no fence between the reserve and park so wildlife can roam freely between the two but the only people out on game drives are guests of the lodges. During lockdown, the rangers are bringing the wildlife to us virtually on Facebook. Go online at the right time (usually 5.30am or 2pm BST) and you can watch a live stream straight from the bushveld, otherwise catch up on the twice-daily 3-hour-long game drives a little later.
Lion Sands, South Africa
We’re going ultra-luxe for the final of our five virtual safaris, Lion Sands Game Reserve is the sort of place that South African safari dreams are made of; there are waterside suites where guests have a front-row seat as animals drink straight from the Sabie River, a stilted lodge that gives an elevated view of the river, and of course those iconic slumber-under-the-stars tree houses. The game viewing here is considered to be some of the best in the country with both the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Kruger National Park right on the doorstep of the four lodges. The reserve and park are home to free-roaming animals including the Big Five, 142 other species of mammal and over 500 types of birds. Lion Sands’ virtual safari diaries began back at the beginning of April with the team sharing highlights of the week’s game drives on their Instagram TV feed. There’s plenty to catch up on with some incredible leopard sightings, lion tracking and time spent with some of the reserve’s newest arrivals.
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This feature was published on 4th June 2020. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Emma Tibbetts.