Safaris

For many travelers to Africa, a safari is the highlight of their trip and safaris today are one of the—if not the—greatest tourism draws in Africa. In popular use, it refers to overland travel to view the stunning African wildlife, particularly on savanna. "Primate safaris" and safaris in forests/jungle are covered in the "See/Flora & Fauna" section above. Aside from North Africa and the limited opportunities in the Sahel, most countries have at least one national park offering visitors the opportunity to go "on safari".

In colonial times, the main attraction of a safari was usually big game hunting; for most travellers today, it is instead about wildlife photography.

Understand

Safari is the Swahili word for a long journey (by any means). The safari as known to Westerners originates in an 1836-37 British expedition set out purely to observe and document wildlife and landscapes of southern Africa. This expedition set forward a style to be followed later by many other colonial-era expeditions and hunting parties in the savannas of Southern & East Africa, beginning with a minimally-strenuous rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then concluding with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and tobacco. It is from these Victorian-era explorers that khaki clothes, pith helmets, multi-pocketed safari jackets, and leopard-print clothes and accessories have become associated with safari style.

Today, a safari can take on a range of forms, from week-long stays at a private lodge with daytrips on the savanna in search of the "Big five" to a minibus and guide hired for the day to drive backpackers through a national park to view the wildlife. Not only do the general travel styles (accommodations, transport, difficulty, etc.) cover a wide range of options, but the terrain and types of wildlife also vary greatly by region. The most common image of a safari is one in which travelers are taken by 4x4 across the savanna in search of the "Big five" that generally attract the most interest—elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, & buffalo. Such safaris are offered primarily in Southern and East Africa, particularly Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, & South Africa. Safaris in this region are big business and nearly all local governments are keen on conservation and aware that the volume of visitors generated is a boost to their economy. As a result, many parks have strict regulations both on visitor activities and behavior in the park and on the safari guides who operate in them along with modest-to-expensive entry & camping fees. Among the most well-known park to experience such safaris are South Africa's Kruger National Park, Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater, the Okavango Delta region of Botswana, and the Tsavo East/West National Parks. Nairobi National Park on the edge of Kenya's sprawling capital is popular for its accessible location and the ever-elusive picture of cheetahs with skyscrapers in the distance.

Get around

The three basic safari styles are driving safari, walking safaris, & mobile safaris. In some regions, possible options include safaris on boats/canoes (similar to driving safaris) or riding on horses or elephants (similar to walking safaris). Some operators offer aerial trips over parks on hot air balloon or light aircraft which are marketed as "safaris", offering breath-taking views of the environment, but aren't as good for wildlife viewing as traditional safaris (except for the rare glimpse of large herds of animals. A "fly-in safari" is the term used for any of these types of safari where the visitor is flown directly (or very close) to a lodge on light aircraft, rather than arrive at an international airport and driving hours overland to the lodge. The driving safari is by far the most popular form of safari and is best for most first-timers as it is easier, often cheaper, and generally allows you to see more wildlife. A driving safari can be a one-day affair, but it often includes a couple nights spent camping (for low budgets) or in lodges within the park. Low-price driving safaris are often made in minibuses without a guaranteed window seat. Luxury safaris on a large budget will likely include drives in a 4x4 Land Cruiser or Land Rover with only a handful of others and stays at fine lodges with swimming pools, spas, private balconies, and numerous other quality amenities. A walking safari (also called a "bush walk", "hiking safari", or going "footing") consists of hiking, either for a few hours or several days. These safaris don't permit viewing as many animals as when driving, but allows a much more intimate experience. Hiking, safari goers will be able to get closer to some animals (not too close, as most are dangerous) and have experiences like stumbling upon the bones of a recent lion kill. Mobile safaris are the ultimate in luxury. Harkening back to the colonial era, a mobile safari is where an entire camp or lodge is set up each night of your safari. Waking up in the morning, you will leave by 4x4 or foot to explore the park, a small camp with meals already prepared is set up for lunch, and after more sightseeing, you arrive at a luxurious camp of spacious living, dining, and sleeping tents outfitted with comfortable chairs, beds, and accessories. These camps are moved during the day by an team of staff you likely won't encounter and ready for your arrival at the next location each night.

Cost

Interior of a more luxurious tented camp.
The downside to visiting large parks. One vehicle spots a lion in the shade (hidden), reports their location on the radio, and within minutes, a dozen other vehicles arrive on scene for the sight.

Destinations

See

Respect

Animal ethics

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