The World’s Best Safaris
By Scott Dicken – Photos by Scott Dicken
The classic African safari naturally conjures images of rugged wilderness and vast open savannah teeming with wildlife. Thankfully, gone are the days of glamourous elites donning safari suits and pith helmets to hunt big game with a blunderbuss (a la Jumanji). Instead, the last few decades have seen the rise of the African Safari for even the most budget-conscious of travelers. Whilst you might not be able, or willing, to afford the five-star, all-inclusive, safari lodge you’ve seen on TV, there are a myriad of budget options in all the major game reserves across sub-Saharan Africa. For those who haven’t been on safari before, there is a natural inclination to immediately think of Kenya and Tanzania- undoubtedly two of the best African safari options available – but other options abound. This month I explore 5 of the best destinations for anyone seeking a true safari adventure.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia: South Luangwa is my number one pick for a few reasons. Unfortunately, if you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay for a fly-in safari then I can personally attest to the fact that it’s a bit of drive to get there with a possible overnight stay in Chipata on the way. But therein lies the reason why Luangwa is number one. The long drive (or higher cost) means that it remains off the list of the more touristy national parks. Fewer visitors mean that Luangwa has a more remote, wilderness feel, and you can easily go for an hour without seeing another game vehicle. Unlike the Masai Mara, where if you find a big cat, you’ll have 25 other game vehicles parked next to you within 5 minutes, I sat parked under a tree watching a leopard for an hour before the next vehicle arrived. We were able to maneuver the 4×4 around the tree to get different camera angles; and anyone who has been to the Masai will attest how difficult that can be there. As a bonus, this is probably the most renowned park for walking safaris (not for the faint hearted).
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: The Serengeti (together with the Masai Mara which is the Northern extension of the Serengeti in Kenya) is host to probably the world’s best-known wildlife event; the wildebeest migration. The reason I’ve put the Serengeti above the Mara is simple; it’s ten times bigger – which means you can more easily manage to find areas of the park that aren’t deluged with other tourists (particularly in the private concessions). In addition, its larger size means a greater habitat diversity which adds a little bit of interest to your safari. Otherwise, the similarities are all there; an abundance of predators, far reaching savannah, picture-perfect sundowners and plenty of opportunities for ‘national-geographic moments’ such as big cats hunting or rutting antelope. If you can put up with the crowds, then head east to the Ngorongoro Crater. This volcanic caldera has probably one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife anywhere on earth.
Okavango Delta, Botswana: The Okavango Delta provided me with one of the most ‘get your hands dirty’ safaris I’ve ever been on. Joining the safari from Maun, we took (led by a local guide) a dug-out tree canoe (locally called a mokoro) three hours into the delta. From there we put up camp for three days, including digging out our own toilet, in the wilderness on one of the thousands of ‘islands’ that grow and shrink across the delta during the wet and dry seasons. During the day we went on walking and mokoro safaris and in the evening we pitched in with cooking duties and sat drinking around the campfire. Okavango hosts the big 5 so you won’t be short on opportunities for big game viewing, but if you’re planning for lodge accommodation then be prepared for potentially exorbitant prices.
Masai Mara, Kenya: The Masai Mara is probably the first destination that comes to mind for first-time safari-goers; and therein lies the problem. The Park is undoubtedly one of the best African safari experiences and the game-viewing opportunities are near second-to-none. But the chances are that you’ll be viewing that game alongside a gaggle of mini-buses and overland trucks topped off with some 4×4 self-drivers who might well scare the game off. All that said, it still makes my top 5 solely due to the cat-viewing opportunities. Nowhere have I been parked up under a tree watching three cheetahs sleeping only to turn around to the other side of the car to watch a lion kill a zebra. Top this off with the Northern end of the wildebeest migration and you’d be hard pressed not to have it on your top 5 African Safari experiences despite the hordes of tourists. It’s probably one of the best bets for a first timer as it will certainly whet your safari appetite!
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda: Not strictly the typical African safari, but tracking gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park is a once in a lifetime experience. Unlike a typical safari, where you’re safely sheltered in a vehicle, you’ll be guided (by an armed guide) into the forest on foot. Following an hour or more trekking and carving your way through the forest with a machete you’ll have the chance to sit, for an hour, mere meters from a troop of gorillas. I really can’t stress how close you’ll have the opportunity to get but the fact that the guides ask you not to stare the silverback straight in the eyes probably gives a good enough idea.
About the Author: Scott Dicken is a world traveler and amateur photographer on top of being employed full time at an internationally known company. His love of travel is evident – you can read more articles like this at takephotosleavefootprints.com