At dawn you awaken inside your tent and stretch, enjoying the cool fresh air after a restful night’s sleep. Outside your tent, the natural noises of the campsite emerge. Grasshoppers chirp in a hypnotic, high-pitched chorus. Frogs croon sad songs in the reeds. And a lion roars in the distance. A lion?
Eagerly you unzip the tent flaps and poke your head outside. Ten meters away an elephant wanders-surprisingly quietly-around the campground, sweeping its great gray trunk along the ground in search of fallen acacia pods. You grab your weapon of choice and quietly approach. Framing the great beast in your sights, you shoot! Great shot! You got him, the perfect photograph of the beast with the burnt orange sunrise forming a rising mountain of fire and light behind it.
Safaris, the only way to experience the beauty, romance, and soul of Africa.
Just mentioning the word “safari” immediately conjures up images of exotic treks through the bush in the heart and heat of Africa, thousands of miles from a Starbucks or McDonald’s, decked in khakis, and a pith helmet, exhausted and grimy with sweat and dust.
While a safari experience like that is definitely an option, you may be surprised to discover that it’s just one of many. Travel agents love to dispel this great safari myth. Ask one and they’ll roll out the long list of wilderness adventures available in every degree of comfort, adventure, and budget. The only constants are the stunning African landscapes and the amazing scope and proximity of wildlife.
Safaris range from luxury holidays, where elegant lodges and fine wines share time with tracking giraffes from a sturdy, open-roof vehicle, to mobile camping safaris where you follow predators or stake out the great wildebeest migration, sleeping in tents at a different locale each night. It’s all about how you want to get from amazing Point A to spectacular Point B-from a hot-air balloon, a canoe, or from the back of a horse or elephant.
While the word safari comes from Arabic for ‘to travel,’ Africa transformed the meaning into ‘to travel in the shadows of extraordinary animals.’ Each safari is judged by the thrilling wildlife it encounters, and many come through with high marks as they bring you into the playgrounds of zebras, lions, elephants, hippos, rhinos, gorillas and cheetahs and a whole ark-full of other animals. So many beasts roam these lands that the ground itself feels alive.
Many choose their safari destination based on the wildlife they most want to capture and cage in a picture frame on their wall. Yet travel agents also suggest considering the many natural wonders of Africa. From Victoria Falls to Table Mountain, safaris and unparalleled sightseeing wondrously go hand-in-hand.
One of the best locations for both is Kenya, the quintessential safari experience. Kenya’s must-see is the Masai Mara National Reserve, known as the Mara, home to a variety of wildlife where you can see the Big Five ”lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos-oh my!” all in a single day, usually before lunch.
The Mara is the ideal site for following the great migration, when more than 1.5 million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles cross swift-moving rivers along the Tanzanian border to graze in Mara’s lush grasslands. Hunted by lions, cheetahs, and hyenas, and circled by vultures at every turn, many wildebeests never complete the dramatic journey, but the birth of new calves the following year make up the numbers as they prepare for another migration.
This great migration begins each year in Tanzania at Serengeti National Park. When you think safari, images of the Serengeti subconsciously enter your brain. Dry, flat, and dusty, the land is punctuated by a scattering of flat acacia trees, under which lions lie to escape the midday heat, their manes billowing in the breeze. These rugged conditions keep some tourists away, yet those who come here are rewarded with the snow-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, which many believe to be the best single spot for game viewing in all of East Africa.
Thousands of unique safari adventures await you in Africa, from South Africa and Botswana to Ethiopia and Uganda, home of the mighty silverback gorillas. Whichever one peak your interest the most, it’s vital to get advice from a trusted travel agent.
Arrive in Tanzania for the great migration too late, and all you will be photographing are muddy, week-old hoof-prints. Travel agents also will help you find hotels that harmoniously blend in with the surrounding environments without damaging the eco-systems while keeping you away from monstrous tourist traps with zebra-striped buses.
Travel agents know what to pack for your safaris, too. They stress not to wear black because it absorbs the heat. White will reflect light and alarm the animals. And camouflage is fine in American cities, but not a good idea in Africa where you might be a mistake for military personnel.