African safaris are a travel classic — Karl Cushing rounds up a selection of what’s on offer at key destinations
South Africa remains a consistently strong performer among Brits. Buoyed by its great value, excellent cuisine, infrastructure and wildlife, it pretty much sells itself. Its myriad lodges, such as the freshly refurbished Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, are renowned for their excellent service and cover a wide range of budgets and habitats. Meanwhile, wildlife-filled national parks range from household names such as Kruger — famous for its big cat interactions — to lesser-known options such as Kgalagadi Gemsbok and Mokala, and there’s a lot more to the local wildlife than simply ticking off the Big Five. Safaris here can easily be backed by iconic drives such as the Garden Route and Panoramic Route or extended stays in areas such as the Cape Winelands and Cape Town — which are now even easier to reach, thanks to services launched by British Airways and Thomas Cook Airlines in late 2016.
Botswana safaris often come with a high price tag, with luxurious lodges such as Zarafa Camp, the recently refurbished Belmond Eagle Island Lodge and the upgraded Duba Plains Camp, which opened in March. More flexible high-end options include andBeyond Expeditions’ all-inclusive mobile camping safaris, while Ker & Downey Botswana’s Okuti and Kanana camps are great for families.
Botswana offers a diverse range of landscapes and experiences, from San bushmen interactions in the Kalahari or Makgadikgadi Salt Pan to dug-out canoe safaris in the Okavango Delta. Chobe National Park, to the north, is a good bet for more affordable options such as Chobe Safari Lodge. Another option is a group trip such as Rainbow Tours’ new exclusive Botswana small group tour, which takes in everything from the Savute region of Chobe to the Okavango and the Moremi Game Reserve.
The sprawling plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti host one of nature’s greatest spectacles, the annual Great Migration, and its mobile safari camps provide an excellent, flexible option for making the most of the experience. The phenomenon can be viewed twice a year, from January to March and then November to December. Away from the Serengeti are high-end lodges around the Ngorongoro Crater, including Asilia Africa’s recently opened Highlands Camp at Ngorongoro and Nomad’s Entamanu Ngorongoro. Selous Game Reserve is another safari magnet, supported by a wide range of lodges, while over in Ruaha, Asilia’s Jabali Ridge will open in September, with 10 suites and an infinity pool. Another impressive habitat is Lake Tanganyika, where properties include the recently refurbished 130-acre private retreat Lupita Island Resort. There’s a range of coastal properties in Zanzibar and Pemba, such as The Aiyana, which remain a solid bet for relaxing safari extensions.
Kenya’s peak season runs through July to December. The annual Great Migration can be witnessed around July to September in the Maasai Mara, where other major selling points include high-end Big Five safaris at iconic locations such as Governor’s Camp. Operators are increasingly widening the experience by adding in different habitats such as Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru, both popular birding centres. Other highlights include balloon flights over the Maasai Mara or vintage biplane flights over Laikapia. Trailblazing lodges include Campi ya Kanzi, which offers yoga and wellness safari packages; Loisaba Tented Camp, with its nearby Loisaba Star Beds; plus the new Saruni Rhino camp, which promises Kenya’s first rhino tracking experience. Good news for coastal areas, with the new-look Hemingways Watamu set for a July opening, Mombasa’s new cruise ship terminal due to open in August and the Nairobi-Mombasa rail link scheduled for the end of the year.
The valley on Zambia’s side of the Zambezi River is home to idyllically located camps such as Chongwe River Camp and Sausage Tree Camp. Notable recent openings in the Lower Zambezi include the luxurious Amanzi Camp, with just four rooms. Out west, the remote Liuwa Plains National Park offer a truly remarkable safari experience, and this year sees the opening of the first permanent camp here, Norman Carr Safaris’ King Lewanika Lodge. Liuwa Plains also hosts Africa’s second-biggest wildebeest migration, in October, and as flights from the capital, Lusaka, to Liuwa stop off in Kafue National Park, the two make a logical safari pairing. Plus, Proflight Zambia has added services, including Lusaka to Kalabo (for Liuwa Plains), and flights now link South Luangwa to Lower Zambezi. Another big draw in Zambia are walking safaris, offered by specialists such as Robin Pope Safaris.
Etosha National Park, in the north, is a key centre for wildlife viewing, while Damaraland and Kaokoland are home to desert-adapted elephants. More wildlife sightings can be had on hikes and tours in the vast Fish River Canyon, while the country’s famous and much-photographed sandy peaks are exemplified by the enchantingly named Dune Sea of Sossusvlei. Air safaris, such as those offered by Original Travel, open up the landscape, while visits to remote Himba settlements add a fascinating human element. Key local operators include Namibia Exclusive, which operates Sorris Sorris Lodge in Khaudum National Park and the recently opened Omatendeka Lodge, Xaudum Lodge and Sheya Shuushona Lodge. Shipwreck Lodge opens this year, on the country’s dramatic and wild Skeleton Coast National Park, featuring an innovative design complete with shipwreck-themed rooms.
Despite its ongoing political and economic turmoil, its safari proposition is regaining momentum thanks to pent-up demand for its stunning landscapes and game-viewing opportunities. Big selling points include watery habitats such as Lake Kariba, elephant-rich Mana Pools National Park and Victoria Falls. Hwange, to the west, is an excellent spot to view big game and is within easy reach of Victoria Falls — where the recent growth in demand is being backed by investment in the recently overhauled airport and lodges such as andBeyond’s Matetsi River Lodge, which completed its impressive refurbishment last September. Moreover, Singita Pamushana Lodge has a new seasonal, weekly flight option from Harare to Victoria Falls. Another must-see area for big game is the Mana Pools National Park, by the lower Zambezi River, to the north.
Volcanoes National Park has become the continent’s go-to place for gorilla trekking; the contrast between the habitat and wildlife here and that offered by the likes of Kenya or Tanzania make Rwanda an increasingly common feature in a twin or multi-centre African safari experience. This year’s big news is the June opening of Wilderness Safaris’ 12-room Bisate Lodge — the first of its two planned new lodges for the park. Other big draws include Akagera National Park to the east, which offers birding in its beautiful lakeland and wetland habitat, while Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south offers monkey and birdwatching plus rainforest hikes. Another hotspot for primate treks (including chimps) is Nyungwe Forest Reserve, in the south west, with trails and canopy walks through the mountain rainforest. Good times for Rwandan wildlife trips are June to September and December to February.
Further into the wild
Uganda is another hotspot for treks to see mountain gorillas, centred on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south west of the country, where Mahogany Springs has opened a new honeymoon suite. Big draws over at Kibale Forest National Park include chimpanzee trekking, while options for big cat spotting include the biodiverse Queen Elizabeth Park.
Madagascar is described by Original Travel as ‘Africa’s quirkiest country’ and it’s said that around three quarters of its species are found nowhere else on Earth. This spectacularly biodiverse island exudes adventure, from rafting down the Mangoky River to hiking its dry deciduous forests. Mozambique’s beach retreats, such as the high-end Vamizi Island Lodge and andBeyond Benguerra Island, are growing in popularity for safari extensions, and new services such as SA Airlink’s service from Phinda in South Africa to Vilanculos are making them more accessible.
Malawi staying options include Tongole Wilderness Lodge, with its new pool; Ntchisi Forest Lodge, which features regular special weekends, focused on subjects including birding and mindfulness; and Nkwichi, with its romantic Lake of Stars Bed. Meanwhile, new products, such as the luxurious 14-room Limalimo Lodge, in the north, are fuelling interest in Ethiopia.