Safaris are one of the most popular holidays to go on. With the world becoming ever more connected, visiting these wild and untamed places is certainly still gaining popularity, especially with the rise of social media. Selfies from tourist hot-spots are the latest trend and there is a common misconception about safaris that I aim to tackle in this article. When people think of safari, I would assume 90% would instantly think about driving around in a Land Rover and viewing animals from the back of said vehicle, however this is just the tip of the ice-berg. When you enter a safari destination, you are surrounded by wildlife, you are immersed in a world of different possibilities and the more you experience, the better your understanding and enjoyment will be.
Land Rovers are certainly not the only way to get around in certain safari locations. Whilst Zambia and Botswana are very well known for their boating safaris (and their high prices that go with them) in the South of Tanzania, a huge private game reserve can give you a fantastic boating experience. Covering fifty-four thousand square kilometres the Selous is an area of huge proportion and is covered in meandering waterways and deep lagoons that are teeming with wildlife. Crocodiles bask on the sandy banks whilst hippos jostle for the best position. As the dry season progresses the lagoons and waterways do dry, but not completely meaning that all year round (minus April and May when the Selous shuts) you can generally be guaranteed a great boating experience.
For birders, boating is exceptional, the flashes of pied kingfishers hovering and white fronted bee-eaters nesting in the banks are just examples of the plethora of bird life here. Siwandu has a boat with a solar powered motor allowing you to glide through the water with minimal noise and permitting you to get closer to the wallowing buffalo or the yellow-billed stork that is wading through the shallows. With the prevalence of water, many of the lodges such as Lake Manze and Nomad’s Sand Rivers have a permanent ‘water-front’ that can be viewed from your room, the communal areas or both. This presents some wonderful game viewing opportunities without even needing to be out of camp.
Hot air ballooning
Probably the most known of the safari activities that I will cover in this article is something that a lot of people may have dreamed of. Getting a perspective of wildlife that many of us only see on the television is an extraordinary way to see the world below. This activity isn’t generally used for the sole purpose of wildlife viewing, instead it is about the feeling of soaring high above everything else, it is about seeing things from a new perspective and it is about being the tranquility and peacefulness of feeling free.
The Serengeti is of course the place where hot air ballooning is most popular. The open grassy plains that stretch into the horizon and the millions of wildebeest making their annual migration make for some beautiful morning memories. It isn’t just the Serengeti that offers this unique activity though, Ruaha has recently established its own fleet of balloons and only a handful of camps offer this activity. If you find yourself at one of these camps then it is certainly worth doing. Ruaha has its own micro-climate which makes hot air ballooning here very special. Due to the way the thermals and air-currents flow in Ruaha, it often results in you finishing your flight exactly where you began – something not heard of in many destinations. Once you have finished your flight, be it in the Serengeti or Ruaha, you will be greeted by a champagne picnic breakfast out in the wilderness that can be enjoyed by everyone on board. This doesn’t come cheaply though and high demand makes it very important that you book before you travel. At about $550 per person it is an expensive add on, but it’s definitely worth the money!
Away from any type of transportation, some of the best game viewing is done on foot. The reason for a safari is to envelop yourself in the natural world and there is no better way to do this than by walking. Without the noise of a Land Rover or the hum of a boat engine, a walk takes you into a world of peace and tranquillity that is hard to find in modern day life. Feel your senses heighten as you follow game trails into areas untouched by vehicles and feel your heart pound and the adrenalin pump when you come across some of Africa’s mega-fauna on their own terms. Although people may be worried about walking in areas where there are animals well-known to be very dangerous, walking safaris are always carried out by professional guides who have undergone extensive training and passed competency exams, your safety is always their priority and this shouldn’t be forgotten.
Just like a boating safari, birding opportunities are fantastic whilst walking, as is exploring the smaller things in the safari world. Learn about tracks, what medicinal properties bushes and trees have and realise that without the smaller and unseen elements of an eco-system, the big stuff couldn’t exist. Ruaha is one of the best places to walk, especially as the dry season progresses. With its baobab dotted landscapes and spacious grassy plains, walking here is a treat and tracking elephants, buffalo and lion isn’t an unusual occurrence. If you want one of the best walking experiences in Tanzania then Mahale is the place you should head to. Home to one of the largest known chimpanzee population, daily hikes through the lush forested mountains makes for an unforgettable experience as you search for one of Africa’s most charismatic primate species.
Fly camping and sleeping out
To sleep under the stars of Africa is normally only a thing of dreams. Gazing up at the Milky Way and watching the sparkle of shooting stars makes your safari holiday that little bit more special. The roar of the lion, the giggle of the hyena and the rasping of the leopard are all heard clearer and sound far closer than you would expect in the dead of night. This is the perfect way to experience Africa in its truest form.
Each camp that offers it (and not all do), will do it differently. In Katatvi, Western Tanzania, a series of walking trails each day will take you to your fly-camping spot and is certainly a more rustic and authentic safari experience. Katavi is one of the most wild and untamed safari destinations in Africa and fly-camping is one of the best ways to experience this without impacting upon the peace and tranquillity of nature. Most fly-camping, like that offered at Jongomero in Ruaha, involves a domed-tent experience, however certain lodges do have a more luxurious fly-camping experience and makes for the perfect way to add some romance to your holiday.
Some lodges like Beho Beho in the Selous have opted for a more luxurious option by building a luxury tree-house deck. Here you will be spoilt with all the normal amenities that your beautiful room would provide but with the addition of truly sleeping out under the stars. &Beyond’s Lake Manyara Tree House has taken this to the next level and actually has built its lodge amongst the tree tops. Situated in Lake Manyara National Park, it is a beautiful way to kick start a Northern Tanzania safari.
Visiting the hot springs
The natural world is full of many wonders and beautiful places. Luckily, we now have access to many of these different places around the globe and it’s often those that aren’t spoken of as much as the real gems. In Selous and Ruaha there are areas that have formed as natural hot springs. The wanderings of guides and rangers alike have led to the discovery of these pools of water that would remain unknown to the average safari goer. Sand Rivers, Selous is an ideal location for visiting the hot springs. The pools are naturally warmed from below the Earth’s surface and their secret and secluded location makes them extremely special places. Whether you pack a picnic lunch or decide to spend the whole afternoon there, the natural hot springs are certainly not to be missed and are definitely not your average safari activity.
Marc Harris is Managing Director of Tanzania Odyssey. Tanzania Odyssey is a leading tour operator that has specialised in Tanzania since 1998.