The words “African safari” create vivid images of beaded Masai warriors in ochre-red robes, pulsating drums, countless herds of wild animals roaming the plains and long rows of porters.
The first step in planning an African safari is deciding where to go. “Nearly everything you envision about a safari comes to life in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa,” said Alexa Antonio, an African tour consultant for Abercrombie & Kent.
Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve is unmatched in Africa for its variety of game. With luck you’ll see all the “Big Five”: elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard. From July to September, there is the great wildebeest migration. Early one morning in the Masai Mara, you may view game from a hot air balloon or fly with a bush pilot to Lake Victoria to fish for enormous Nile Perch.
At Amboseli National Park, the snow-capped peak of majestic Mt. Kilamanjaro dominates the scene. Mountain climbers who want to scale Kilamanjaro’s 19,342-foot peak would “significantly increase their chances by spending an extra night at a hut at the base acclimatizing to the altitude,” advised Allen Bechky, author of Adventuring in East Africa.
Samburu Game Reserve in Northern Kenya is a unique dramatic landscape that showcases the semi-desert. Along the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro River and in bird-filled doum palms, you’ll find animals not seen in other parks.
In Aberdares National Park, there are dense forests and a wide range of moorland reminiscent of Scotland. Nocturnal wildlife is attracted to waterholes just outside the comfortable viewing lounges of the Ark and Treetops, well-known lodges in the park.
For a special adventure, popular five-day camel and foot safari extensions travel into the dramatic wilderness of Kenya’s Northern Frontier District. In this raw open-bush country of nomads, you can get off the beaten path for firsthand encounters with the fascinating lifestyles of the Samburu (cousins of the Masai).
For exploring the wonders of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro highlands and Serengeti plains, comfortable camping and walking safaris are attractive alternatives and an ideal strategy for meeting Masai. In the southeast Serengeti, from December to March, you can witness Tanzania’s wildebeest, gazelle and zebra herds in their mass migration north to Kenya.
Tanzania’s ancient Ngorongoro Crater is a paradise beyond compare. Its verdant volcanic floor is the tranquil home of a dense concentration of animals along with some endangered species such as the black rhino. Southeast of the Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara National Park’s biggest attraction is its tree-climbing lions.
WHAT TYPE OF SAFARI?
Once you’ve decided which African countries to explore, choosing the type of safari can be confusing. Each has unique benefits.
One of the most popular and reasonable safaris is an escorted lodge tour which provides the comforts of a hotel room and a convenient minivan to view the major wildlife parks. Many different special interests can be catered to (bird-watching or local crafts, for example).
However, many would argue that a minivan tour is not a real safari. Another type of accommodation is in permanent tented camps. These offer excellent food and a tented atmosphere fulfilling many of the fantasies and romantic flavor of a camping safari with the comforts of electricity and plumbing.
For the ambiance of an authentic bush experience, a traditional, private mobile-tented safari is the way to go. This type of safari usually caters to a maximum of 12 people and often costs more than staying in permanent tents because of the labor required to set up the various camp sites.
If you are traveling as a family or group of friends, you may want a custom safari, which tends to cost more. Or you can incorporate stays at “bush inns”, including small hideaway hotels, lodges of character and private farms.
THE “REAL” SAFARI
“Remember,” said Andrew Fentiman of Safari Consultants of London in Metairie, Louisiana, “if you go to Africa and do not sleep in a tent or walk in wildlife country, you have only been on vacation and not on safari.”
A typical day on a traditional safari includes two game drives in a four-wheel vehicle, at sunrise and again in the late afternoon, and perhaps bush walks. After hot showers and “sundowner” cocktails around the crackling campfire, waiters graciously serve a delicious dinner in the dining tent.
Flying between wildlife regions saves precious time and long tiring drives, but it’s more expensive. In addition, you miss the landscape and the tribes along the way. A combination of flying and driving offers the advantages of both.
Although you may think of your first safari as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Africa swiftly captivates the soul. When its
mystique has cast a spell, it’s likely you will have a strong desire to return.