The truth is, anyone who has been on safari will tell you to go exactly where they went - because here is a fun little secret; everyone has an amazing time on safari. A lot of people therefore flock to the famous names to check them off a list, whilst casually glossing over some of the lesser-known and most spectacular experiences on the continent.
After travelling far and wide in Africa, I have compiled together my favourite pockets of true wilderness which hopefully might inspire you to get well and truly off that beaten tourist track on your next adventure.
1. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Ruaha is magnificent. Burnt red earth studded with towering, ancient baobabs — you could go here simply to marvel at the raw and unruly landscapes. It just so happens though, that the wildlife here is seriously explosive. It really does rival the game viewing in parks such as the famed Serengeti in the north, but with hardly any tourists. Ruaha is truly Tanzania’s – and in my view – Africa’s best kept secret. It really does deserve it’s place as number one on the list. There have been a lot of television programmes featuring Ruaha in recent years, so plan your adventure soon or you just might miss out on the very thing which makes it so special.
2. Liuwa Plains, Zambia
Liuwa Plains is eerily wild. For those who have done a bit of everything in Africa, Liuwa takes guests on a completely different adventure. It’s remote and wild nature takes you back in time to the golden era of safari. Stay at either the new luxurious King Lewinika permanent lodge, or fly camp under the stars exploring these wild plains — whatever your style, make sure you visit in November when the plains literally burst with life. What will await you has to be one of the finest safari locations on the continent; endless hazy plains marbled in lagoons and freckled with flora, the rumbling hooves of the second biggest wildebeest migration on the continent, the flutter of flight as hundreds of cranes take off into the misty moonlight, the cackling of hyenas in their 50 strong clans, red lechwe, zebra, buffalo, cheetah, wild dog… And pretty much all any safari enthusiast could want in a destination. For a wild experience which definitely doesn’t do anything in halves, it has to be Liuwa.
3. Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Step in a time warp to what feels like, and probably is, nature’s most spectacular and ancient core — there is a reason that Ethiopia is believed to be the cradle of mankind, and nowhere better encapsulates this narrative than when standing on the misty, jagged horizon of the Simien Mountains. It is not just the dramatic landscapes which make this mountain range so special, but also the array of endemic species such as Gelada monkeys, Walia Ibex and Ethiopian Wold. Ethopia offers a raw insight into the less travelled African wilderness, and is a perfect choice for those who seek unique adventure, spectacular scenes and well, something a little different.
6. Sao Tome and Principe
Sao Tome and Principe is Africa’s undiscovered Atlantic gem. Alike with the famous Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, these islands have never been connected to the mainland. As such, they have their own eco-system which is completely unique – for the ecology enthusiast, Sao Tome and Principe is Eden. The isolation of the islands also means that the wildlife (as with the Galapagos) are relatively unafraid of humans. Not wild, but not afraid either, you can get up close and personal to a variety of species here. It is not a white-sand beach destination, but a playground for nature lovers seeking the ultimate tropical island adventure.
7. Mahale Mountains, Tanzania
Mahale is a world apart. Pictured here is the charming Greystoke Mahale which is the place to stay in this remote mountainous wilderness — caught between the shimmer of the crystal clear Lake Tanganyika and the hum of the leafy labyrinth behind; it is a truly singular spot for wilderness and wildlife lovers alike. Here, you have the best chance in the world of coming face to face with wild mountain Chimpanzees. Mahale offers a rare glimpse into the fundamentals human nature— watch as these astonishing primates interact; the way they lunge, then charge, battle, muzzle, play, swing and barge at one another has to be the most exhilarating wildlife experiences the world has to offer. Strip back from the whirs of modern life to find simplicity and solace in these magnificent creatures; all with a guide who has followed them for years — Mahale offers one of the most unique, educational and grounding wildlife experiences in 2019.
8. Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana
Makgadikgadi — the area of Botswana whose name translates to “dry, thirsty place” is one of the most extreme and surprising environments on the continent. Waking up in the dry dawn of the expansive surrounding lunar landscape is a very special experience, and the activities you can enjoy in the Pans are endless. From fly-camping under the starry skies after galloping into the sunset on horse back, to quad biking with the whole family, or to waking up with a habituated meerkat cuddling up to you; the Makgadikgadi Pans really is as uniquely off the beaten track you can get in Africa.
9. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
Elephants wallow, wild dogs hunt, lions sleep and leopards prowl through this beautifully watery, enchanting, yet staggeringly action-packed part of Zimbabwe. Whilst most flock to Botswana, Mana Pools offers the privacy and seclusion of the luxurious Okavango Delta, but for half the price. Mana Pools is best for those who crave true African wilderness, pink reflections on the mighty Zambezi and wildlife in abundance. In other words, everyone who has ever considered a safari should look at Mana Pools!
10. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The Skeleton Coast has earnt it’s name. Scattered along this barren and formidable coastline sit a number of shipwrecks which encapsulate the eerie and indescribable atmosphere this area exudes. The Skeleton Coast is a canvas of silky sands in the sky, and rare opportunities endemic to this intriguing land. It’s beauty therefore is not in the quantity of wildlife, but about the quality of your unique experiences; catch a glimpse of seal eating lions, desert adapted hyenas and the skeletons of the past which have been engulfed by Africa’s isolated wild, wild west.
Marc Harris is Managing Director of Africa Odyssey. Africa Oydssey is run by a team of award-winning experts offering tailor-made African safari holidays.