Luxury safaris are stuff that dreams are made of, where you and your guide rove the remote bush of private reserves in a chauffeured vehicle searching out elusive wildlife with few, if any, other humans in sight. Traditional safari game drives are an amazing way to get up-close to the incredible flora and fauna of Africa, but there is so much more to adventuring in these natural wonderlands. From the heart-pounding to the serene, here are our top 6 “only in Africa” adventures that can be blended into your next safari:
Hot air ballooning
Where? Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia
Game drives are one way to view the animals, especially for photography buffs who can zoom their lens. But you’ll find an entirely different, awe-inspiring perspective from the basket of a hot air balloon. You’ll drift, virtually silently, among the vast herds of the Great Migration, above elephants frolicking at waterholes and gazelles bounding through the plains. You might even spot a predator in the long grass and a hunt if you’re really lucky. What you will certainly gain is a new appreciation for the grandness of the landscapes and the interactions of the wildlife.
Where? Many safari camps located on private reserves offer nature walks focused on flora, animal tracks, and birds, but some of the most qualified guides leading tracking walks (whether single- or multi-day) can be found in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
A walking safari is yet another way to experience the African bush. It’s one thing to be above the animals in a balloon, or beside them in an idling vehicle, but just imagine observing wild animals at eye level, your feet sharing the same ground. Stepping foot onto some the wildest terrain in the world with highly-qualified trail guides is, for many, the pinnacle of African adventure.
Where? Anywhere in Africa’s wilderness areas, but Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve is recognized as a top Dark Sky reserve.
Aside from fascinating wildlife, the immense, undeveloped areas of Africa are home to some of the world’s darkest skies, making stargazing an unexpected bonus on safari. Many guides pride themselves on their star knowledge and are happy to share it over a fireside nightcap. Some safari camps even have luxurious, private sky beds for guests to sleep under the stars. You’ll feel enveloped by the universe as you stare up into the infinite, twinkling darkness.
The Okavango Delta represents life at its most fertile—abundant water, sunlight, and rich soil combine to form a paradise bursting with life and a landscape of indescribable beauty. Exploring the marshy canals in a traditional, hand-dug mokoro canoe (Africa’s version of the Venetian gondola), you’ll not only experience how the Botswanan bushmen have traditionally navigated these waterways, but you’ll also be just inches from the lifeblood of the region. Listen to the birdsong as your guide gently poles the boat among the tall grasses.
Coming face-to-face with humanity’s closest relatives
The thick rainforest of Volcanoes National Park is where the largest groups of remaining endangered mountain gorillas make their home, moving each day in search of food. Each gorilla family has a maximum amount of time that groups can spend with them throughout the day and permits are coveted, limited, and expensive. Trekking through the forest, you’ll emerge into a clearing and see these powerful yet gentle primates, a moment that never fails to impress even the most experienced adventurer.
Paddling on the Zambezi River
Where? Zambia or Zimbabwe
Why stick to land when you can be on the water that flows into Victoria Falls? For thrill-seekers, you’ll find class 5 rapids. Paddle furiously or cling to the side as a passenger! For those that aren’t quite up for the rampaging class 5’s, there are plenty of gentler class 1 and 2 rapids, as well. And if you’re looking for something more leisurely, enjoy an afternoon guided canoe trip through hippo and croc-infested waters (giving them a wide birth). Delight in the abundant bird life, and perhaps arrange a picnic lunch on one of the islands.
Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.