A beginner's guide to safari vacations
Africa is a vast and incredible continent. South Africa, Namibia and Botswana make up but a fraction, yet contain some incredible natural landscapes and wildlife reserves and many different types of safari, each unique and unforgettable. There is a lot more to African safaris than you might imagine, and here are just a handful of highlights...
One of the largest game reserves in Africa, Kruger is famously where wildlife enthusiasts make their pilgrimage to seek out the Big Five. Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Rhino and Buffalo actually share their home with 142 other species of mammal, more than in any other reserve in Africa. This is not to mention the hundreds of bird species, various reptiles, amphibians, fish and native flora and fauna. So there are plenty of other things to keep your camera snapping whilst you stake out those illusive and dangerous big five. Kruger was my first safari experience, and what an introduction!
Table Mountain National Park in the south-west of the country offers various driving, cycling and hiking opportunities for the energetic explorers, away from the dangerous big game of course! You can find rare native vegetation and plenty of wildlife. The adorable Jackass Penguins rule the pristine sands of Boulders Beach, and the Chacma baboons can be spotted around the mountainous cape peninsular. Of course if you would rather journey into a more urban jungle, then Cape Town has to be one of the highlights of South Africa’s human habitats. An exciting and colourful city with plenty to do within it, and an endless list of sights to see and adventures to be had in its surrounds.
From sea to desert to mountains to sand valleys to tropical forests, Namibia is a rainbow of different landscapes, each as breath-taking as the next. But the Namib Desert is a place that inspires wonder. Believed to be the planet’s oldest desert, this hyper-arid land is one of most inhospitable places on earth. Yet it is a fascinating and rich place to visit. There are many species who have adapted to life in this harsh land, and learning about them and the geology of the desert is intriguing. Activities like quad biking, sand boarding and skydiving mean there is plenty of fun to be found too. It can get very hot in the desert and its not easy climbing a sand dune in the desert heat, but nothing feels quite so liberating as careening back down it in just your socks.
Etosha means ‘great white place’. This is because of the enormous mineral pan, once an ancient lake which covers about 25% of this 22,270km² park in Northern Namibia. It is an unusual natural phenomenon and a white barren expanse when it is dry and attracts a plethora of different species when the rains come. The water-holes of Etosha are definitely where much of the big-game action happens, and three out of the five camps within the park have floodlit water-holes. Safely behind the fence, you can sit and simply wait for the animals to come to you.
Botswana has some unique eco-systems to discover and offers a more remote safari experience avoiding the traffic of big parks like Kruger. Surprisingly, for a country that is 80% arid it boasts some of the most famous water safaris in Africa.
The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world. Gliding through the reeds and water lilies into the delta in a Makoro canoe, your head barely a foot above the water provides a unique and privileged vantage point and up close and personal encounters with animals. You can really enjoy the peace and serenity of this fascinating water-world. Plane flights over the delta are also highly recommended to gain a completely different perspective of a fascinating landscape and the stunning marbled effect of water and vegetation.
Chobe National Park might be the place for you, if like me, you love elephants. Situated on the outskirts of the delta, Chobe has the highest concentration of elephants in Africa.
The best way to see them might be on a boat safari down the Chobe River. It is a very chilled-out approach to safariing, cruising down the river with a drink in one hand and your camera poised in the other, spotting elephants, trying to capture that coveted shot of a yawning hippo, or trying not to fall in as you lean over the rail to smile at crocodiles.
This is just a snap shot of what can be found in these countries and like all pictures, it doesn’t seem to do the reality justice. And this is just the tip of the continent.