The morning light glows golden and warm as you follow your guide along a well-worn elephant path. Yesterday’s game drives were exciting, but today you really feel like you’re out in the wild. There’s no hiding in a vehicle, no rattle of an engine or smell of diesel fumes. You’re on foot, in big game territory.
Suddenly your guide holds up his hand and you stop. Against the background buzz of insects and birds you hear a crack. Your heart beats faster as you quietly follow your guide until you see them under the trees, a small herd of elephant - trunks outstretched as they feed on the leaves.
From this angle you notice their awesome size; you’re aware of each movement, each flap of the ear. You can't remember when last you felt this alive crouched there on the ground, and somehow connected to these wild surroundings. It’s a feeling that will stay with you long after you return home.
A big game encounter on a walking safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta Region (photo: Selinda Camp)
Walking Safari vs Game Drives
You cover more ground in a vehicle, and have a better chance of seeing Africa’s prides and herds. But on foot you become involved in the tracking process and learn how to read the signs: the paw prints in the sand, the flattened grass, the scattered droppings.
If you’re coming on safari for the first time, I’d highly recommend a lodge where you can experience both. Go on game drives and get those up-close photographs of a leopard on a tree branch or a lioness with her cubs. Then set off on foot, and gain a whole new understanding of your surroundings.
Good safari guides love taking guests on walking safaris. This is their chance to really share their knowledge and passion with you. Between identifying tracks and watching hippos grunt and gape in a river you’ll learn about medicinal plants, animal behaviour and the smaller creatures otherwise missed from a vehicle. Did you know that termites taste like peanut butter?
Below are my top picks for regions and lodges that offer an excellent mix of activities including top-notch walking safaris.
Remote but far from roughing it, this it Puku Ridge Camp in the South Luangwa.
South Luangwa, Zambia
The South Luangwa is an excellent choice for an authentic big game safari. This vast reserve has remained somewhat off the radar, so look forward to low visitor numbers but high concentrations of wildlife: herds of elephant, hippo-filled lagoons, prides of lion and plenty of leopard. It’s also where walking safaris were pioneered, and is still one of the best places in Africa to track big game on foot.
Where to Stay: Puku Ridge Camp has seven luxury safari tents in a fantastic location on the edge of an escarpment. Expect game viewing to begin before you’ve even left camp!
Top Tour: Highlights of Three Rivers combines the South Luangwa with Victoria Falls and Chobe.
The mokoro rides and walking safaris of Camp Okavango in the Okavango Delta.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango is an incredible maze of meandering channels, peaceful lagoons and forested islands. Tucked away in this watery wilderness are secluded tented camps where you can spend your days gliding along in a traditional mokoro (dug-out canoe) or exploring nearby islands on foot - tracking elephant, hippo, buffalo and even lion!
Where to Stay: Camp Okavango is a true water-based camp deep in the delta. Accommodation includes 11 safari tents and a luxury thatched cottage (perfect for honeymooners!)
Top Tour: Luxury Botswana Safari takes you to all of Botswana's top reserves including the Okavango.
Walking safari to see the desert-adapted elephants of Damaraland (photo: Damaraland Camp).
Namibia has recently been appearing in all sorts of travel lists and top places to visit in 2015. In the north of the country you’ll find the rugged and rocky Damaraland, a region of dramatic vistas, unique wildlife and starlit nights. Explore these desert plains on game drives and guided walks, learning more about the superbly adapted plants, birds and animals that manage to survive in these harsh conditions.
Where to Stay: Damaraland Camp has 10 thatched chalets each opening onto a private balcony with incredible views of the surrounding plains and soaring mountain peaks.
Top Tour: Best of Namibia Circuit is an exclusive fly-in safari including the Sossusvlei dunes, Damaraland and Etosha National Park
A Maasai warrior looking out over plains that seem to stretch on forever (photo: Mara Plains Camp).
Masai Mara Private Conservancies, Kenya
The Masai Mara is famous for its sweeping plains, big cats and thousands-strong herds of the annual wildebeest migration. Vehicle numbers are known to get high in this national park, but along its border are game-rich private conservancies offering a more exclusive safari experience along with a wide range of activities. These include walking safaris led by Maasai warriors who call this area home.
Where to Stay: Mara Plains is a luxury tented camp in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Here the day’s activities are tailored to suit you: go on game drives in the Masai Mara and walks in the conservancy.
Top Tour: Wildlife & Warriors is a 10-day Kenya safari packed with big game and unforgettable activities.