10 Unexpected Safari Experiences In Southern Africa

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What do you first think of when you hear the words African safari? Chances are it’s open 4×4 game-viewing vehicles, safari guides, trackers and guests in search of the Big 5 in Africa’s bushveld.

This is the traditional safari holiday – and definitely one to experience at least once in your lifetime – but it just scratches the surface when it comes to the number of safaris you can expect in Southern Africa.

In fact, at our count there are at least 10 different safari experiences to add to your bucket list.

River Safari

Swap the lodge and Land Rover for a luxury houseboat on the Chobe River in the northern reaches of Botswana, and experience a completely new perspective on the traditional safari. Almost silent river tenders get you close to animals coming down to the water to drink – in the quietest, most conscious and responsible way possible.

“Botswana is an iconic safari destination, and a river safari along the Chobe River, which sustains incredible concentrations of game, is a real bucket-list experience,” says Kate Powell, General Manager, Sales & Marketing for the Zambezi Queen Collection.

“The region is home to the world’s largest elephant population too, and guests on our collection of beautiful houseboats never get used to seeing 100-strong herds on the banks – or splashing in the shallows of the Chobe River.”

Walking Safari

Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is well-known for its walking safaris, and for GILTEDGE Executive Chairman Sean Kritzinger, setting off on foot is the perfect way to immerse yourself in nature, truly soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of the bush.

“Walking safaris with experienced guides allow you to explore areas only accessible on foot,” says Kritzinger. “You’ll learn so much about the region’s fauna and flora, get completely off grid, enjoy unmatched game viewing, and learn how to track animals – as you completely forget about life back home.”

Desert Safari

From the red dunes of Sossusvlei in the southern part of the Namib Desert to Etosha Pan in the north of the country, Namibia offers unforgettable desert safaris. Spot desert elephants in Damaraland, or embark on a Living Desert Tour just outside Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast, and discover the geckos, lizards, snakes, spiders and scorpions that call the desert their home.

Birding Safari

For birders, Botswana’s Chobe National Park is a ‘lifer’ destination, explains Powell. “Although Chobe has an impressive resident bird population, the numbers swell with the arrival of the first summer migrants in spring. This means we have a strong birding season, with visitors heading to Chobe in September, October and November hoping to add ‘lifers’ to their count list,” says Powell.

“And it goes without saying that small, private excursions with expert guides along the Chobe River will give you the best opportunity to spot – and photograph – the birds on your list.

Balloon Safari

You’ll have seen beautiful images of hot air balloons sweeping over the African landscape and Kritzinger explains that there are a number of destinations where a balloon safari is a must-do, magical experience.

“If you’re in Namibia, floating over ‘Big Daddy’ – the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area – and Deadvlei is quite extraordinary. And of course, balloon safaris over the

Serengeti or Masai Mara are iconic,” says Kritzinger. “Chat to the GILTEDGE team about reputable operators, as we can organise balloon safaris in South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya.”

Fishing Safari

Keen anglers are also spoilt for choice in when it comes to fishing in Southern Africa – but it’s the elusive Tiger Fish that keeps bringing fishermen (and women) back. And for Powell, nothing beats the Chobe River.

The Zambezi Queen Collection’s Ichingo Chobe River Lodge is a favourite among local, regional and international guests looking for a fishing safari,” explains Powell.

“Experienced fishing guides take you out every day, and while the Tiger will be on your mind you’ll also have plenty of opportunity to catch (and release) catfish and bream.”

Astral Safari

“Africa has been called the greatest show on earth,” says Robert More, Custodian and CEO of the MORE Family Collection. “And it’s not only the wildlife that captivates visitors, but the landscape and endless skyscape too.”

At Lion Sands, MORE Family Collection’s private sanctuary in South Africa’s Greater Kruger, the team offer an Astral Safari where field guides point out planets and stars while telling you more about the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations on a night drive to remember!

Gorilla Trekking

Unsurprisingly, gorilla trekking appears on many a bucket list, with visitors heading to Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo Brazzaville and the Central African Republic (CAR) for the chance to see mountain gorillas, Western lowland gorillas and even the rare Grauer’s gorilla in the mountains and forests of Central Africa. Kritzinger says that choosing the best gorilla safari takes research – and depends on your budget.

“The best advice is always to choose a reputable operator. This is an incredible but costly adventure, and not one to be left to chance.” Kritzinger explains than chimpanzee trekking is also gaining popularity, with Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda among the few places left in the world where you can still see chimpanzees in the wild.

Conservation Safaris

Many of today’s travellers want to make a real, sustainable difference on their trip to Africa. A conservation safari allows visitors to play an active role in supporting local communities and conservation projects.

Just one example? Guests at MORE Family Collection’s Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, a rhino Intensive Protection Zone, can experience a Black Rhino Conservation Safari, where they not only experience a one-of-a-kind educational game drive to see this critically endangered species in the wild – but a portion of the monies raised contributes directly to the rhino monitoring and protection programme.

Combination Safaris

If more than one of the safaris listed above appeals to you, then Powell suggests curating a combination itinerary taking in a number of different experiences and destinations. “The beauty of Africa lies in her diversity,” says Powell.

“More and more visitors are asking us to design itineraries which, for example, include a Chobe houseboat experience in Botswana with a visit to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. Or a fishing safari out of Ichingo Chobe River Lodge with a river safari. There are so many ways to maximise a Southern African adventure – keeping birders, fishermen, photographers and wildlife lovers happy!”

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