Dreaming of an African safari? No doubt you've conjured up images of the wildlife you'd love to see and reserves you long to visit: the predator-packed Sabi Sands or seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti. But have you thought about how best to explore these incredible areas?
That's easy: game drives, right? Well, game drives certainly are the most popular option when it comes to seeking out Africa's herds and prides. Safari vehicles cover large tracts of land effortlessly and can safely get you up close to bigger game (providing you’re in a private reserve which allows for off-road driving). But game drives are just the start of a truly unforgettable safari experience.
How about setting off on foot into big game territory, galloping on horseback alongside a herd of zebra or drifting down a river though untamed wilderness? No roads, no other people, no distracting growl of an engine. If that sound like your kind of adventure, then you're sure to love these unique African safari experiences.
Guided bush walk deep in Botswana's magnificent Okavango Delta (photo: Camp Okavango)
Your senses sharpen when you explore the African bush on foot; you really notice the sounds and smells around you, along with the fascinating smaller creatures you may have zoomed past in a vehicle. What's more, you learn to read and understand signs such as the tracks in the sand or clever survival tricks of a plant or animal.
There’s a good chance of coming across big game too, and nothing compares to the thrill of crouching close to a pod of snorting hippo or hearing the crack of branches as elephant browse nearby trees. Rest assured you'll be in safe hands; Africa’s walking safari guides are amongst the best in the business and know how to handle any situation.
Find out more in our recent blog post Walking Safaris: Step Into the Wild.
Soar silently over the Namib Desert in a hot air balloon (photo: Wolwedans Dunes Lodge)
Hot Air Balloon Flight
It's a wonderful feeling floating under a massive brightly coloured balloon as the rising sun warms the chill morning air. The awed murmurs and camera clicks of your fellow passengers mix with the occasional whoosh of burning gas while you gaze down on areas inaccessible by vehicle.
A balloon safari in the Serengeti is the best way to fully appreciate the enormity of these grassy plains along with the large herds this area is famous for. Or for something completely different travel to Sossusvlei in Namibia where the golden morning light on ochre-coloured dunes is an incredible sight and a must for keen photographers.
Horseback safari in a private concession in Tanzania’s Serengeti (photo: Singita Faru Faru Lodge)
Horse Riding in the Wild
Leave the metal box of a vehicle behind and set out on a horseback safari. Not only can a horse get to remote areas, it can also keep pace with a herd of zebra or wildebeest. Imagine the thunder of hooves and your heart beating faster as animals race alongside you. There really is no better way to gain a deeper connection to your wild surroundings.
Only a handful of lodges offer horseback safaris, so ask a travel expert to recommend a few of their personal favourites. Two regions that are definitely worth looking at are of the watery floodplains of the Okavango Delta and the exclusive Grumeti reserves in Tanzania.
Canoe safari in the wildly beautiful Lower Zambezi National Park (photo: Baines' River Camp)
If a canoe safari sounds like hard work, think again. You'll find it’s incredibly peaceful as you drift more than paddle, going with the flow. And while you're unlikely to see as much wildlife on a river safari as you will on your game drives, looking up at the great, grey bulk of an elephant from the vantage point of a 2-man canoe is an experience you'll never forget.
Two fantastic options for canoe safaris are Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park and Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools. Both of these are wonderfully wild and crowd-free reserves: float past the gaping yawns of hippos, stop to watch wildlife gathered on the riverbanks and even non-twitchers are sure to be impressed by the colourful collection of birds.
Flying over the surreal and spectacular landscapes of Namibia (photo: Kulala Desert Lodge)
Sometimes just getting to a destination turns out to be a holiday highlight. In Botswana you might find yourself in a light aircraft flying low over the emerald green of the Okavango Delta, or in Namibia enjoying a bird’s eye view of the immense sea of sand that is the Namib Desert. It’s moments like these that put into perspective the vastness of Africa’s wild places.
If you're visiting Victoria Falls opt for a brief but unforgettably scenic microlight or helicopter flight over this thundering waterfall. Or for a country like Namibia consider itineraries such as the Flying Skeleton Coast Safari, which cleverly combine scenic flights and game drives to really give you a feel of the beauty and solitude of remote wilderness areas.
Exploring the calm waterways of the Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro (photo: Vumbura Plains)
The Okavango Delta is famous for its mokoro safaris. Explore the delta’s reed-lined waterways to the soothing soundtrack of water gently gurgling under your dugout canoe, the echoing call of a fish eagle or distant grunts of a pod of hippo.
This crocodile’s-eye viewpoint puts you close to water lilies, perfectly reflected on the mirror-like surface of the calm channels. Focus in on the smaller details like the dragon flies and intricately pattern reed frogs, while also keeping a lookout for elephant or sitatunga antelope emerging from the reeds around the next bend.
Spend a few days on the mighty Zambezi River in a luxury houseboat (photo: The Chobe Princesses)
Enjoy a few leisurely days aboard a luxury houseboat. Mornings are magical out on the water, as are those incredible sunsets. And, staying in a houseboat you won’t miss a thing. You can even start your game viewing from bed, just throw open your curtains and there you go! Truly a bucket list experience.
Each houseboat has tender boats and a guide for water-based safaris, and then there are the drinks on deck and fabulous dinners. I’d highly recommend choosing a houseboat in the Chobe Region. Here, during Botswana’s dry season, herds of up to a hundred elephant gather on the lush floodplains lining the riverbanks.
Find out more in our recent blog post Chobe River Safaris: Life Aboard a Luxury Houseboat.