Into the Wild: African Safaris that Offer Close Encounters of a Whole New Kind

Paula Froelich
Editor at Large
May 2, 2014

(Courtesy: Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Rwanda)

Sitting in an enclosed Land Rover on safari is so yesterday. As anyone who’s been on safari can tell you: the first day, depending on where you’re sitting and who you’re sitting next to, is fine. The second day—okay. But by the third day your butt starts hurting and you start to feel like you are seeing everything through a window-sized television screen. To really experience Africa, you need to unbuckle, get out of the closed-top van, and go into the wild on foot, in an open-topped vehicle, on a boat, or by staying in a treehouse. And great news: as the continent settles down and political hot spots cool off, luxury lodgings at mid-level prices are popping up and drawing the crowds.

Richard Roberts, of Richard’s Camp, and friends. (Photo: Richard's Camp)

1. Kenya: Beyond the Maasai Mara

We start in the granddaddy of all safari countries: Kenya. The problem with a safari within the confines of the Maasai Mara reserve is that visitors are confined to a vehicle that must drive on specific tracks around the reserve. If you do spot a lion or other game, you’d better hope you get there first and get your shot in because lions and leopards command a bigger paparazzi gathering than the Kardashians. Your view will soon be obscured by other vans packed with tourists clicking away. So what’s a girl to do? Try out the Safari Conservation Company, an amalgam of owner-operated luxury safari outfits (Prince William asked Kate Middleton to marry him at one of their properties) and Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp, which have teamed up to buy tracts of wild land on the edge of the Reserve. All of which means, they not only offer luxury camps (our favorites are Richard’s Camp, Sirikoi, and Borana), but they have the freedom to take you to the animal spottings at a moment’s notice, in private. At Richard’s Camp, I went down to the river’s edge to watch the crocodiles and hippos; at Sirikoi, the elephants and rhinos come right up the the pool’s edge. The camps also offer walking safaris‚ where you walk for the day (with armed guards) and sleep in luxury tents erected along the way. It’s an unforgettable, unique, bespoke experience you’ll never forget.

2. Botswana: Chobe National Park

Africa’s densest game concentrations lie along a brilliant peacock-blue stretch of the Chobe River, and it is prime game destination. Even better, Chobe Chilwero Lodge offers boat safaris, so you can see the dense animal life from another point of view. Chobe Chilwero Lodge arranges immersive tailored safari experiences and is worth every penny.  

(Courtesy: Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero Lodge)

3. Zimbabwe: Hwange National Park

We here at Yahoo Travel have mixed feelings about Zimbabwe. On the one hand, you have the political unrest and a country led by the ruthless dictator Robert Mugabe. On the other, it is now emerging as one of Africa’s great safari destinations, due to its abundance of wildlife, knowledgeable guides, and truly special lodgings. Hwange National Park in the northwest of Zimbabwe, is the largest park in the country, known for one of the largest populations of elephants. An unforgettable trip-of-a-lifetime is seeing the World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls, by private helicopter. Book a stay at the Royal Zambezi Lodge or the whole trip with Asia to Africa Safaris.

(Courtesy: Royal Zambezi Lodge)

4. Zambia: South Luanga National Park 

Zambia’s Luangwa National Park is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world—and for good reason. Within the park are hippos, elephants, leopards, buffalo, lions, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, as well as over 400 species of birds. Because Zambia has fewer tourists than other countries, safaris here will feel less like Busch Gardens and more like “Out Of Africa.” Shenton Safaris is owned and operated by Derek and Jules Shenton, third-generation Zambians who run two camps in the area, including Kaingo Camp. Guests can spend a night on the Elephant Hide viewing platform. Elephants, lions, crocodiles, and wildebeest are so close you can hear them breathing. Because we here at Yahoo Travel love treehouses so much, we also have to mention the Tongabezi Lodge, which features a treehouse suite with breathtaking views of the Zambezi River.

Hippos battle for turf in the South Luangwa National Park. (Photo: Shenton Safaris)

5. Malawi: Liwonde National Park

Just a few years ago, Malawi was a mess. But with the help of president Joyce Banda, the country has done a u-turn and is now emerging on travelers’ radars. And for good reason. It’s a cheaper alternative to many other countries and the populace is laid back, genial, and welcoming. It also offers unique wildlife experiences. Located at the southern tip of Lake Malawi in the Liwonde National Park, Mvuu Camp is the country’s main safari lodge. Opt for a walking safari through the bush to see elephant, lion, antelope, and rhinoceros up close (but not too close!). Another option bird watchers will love: take a boating safari on Lake Malawi, where you can spy African fish eagles, the collared palm-thrush, palm swifts, and the great boababs, which sport spotty spinetails with amazing swept-back wings. Book tours through Africa Exclusive or Malawi Safari Tours.

Chelinda Lodge. (Photo: Africa Exclusive)

6. Rwanda: Parc National des Volcans

One of the more magical experiences anyone can have in their lives is to come face to face with our closest relative. And the place to see the gorillas is Rwanda.The site of one of the worst genocides in recent history, Rwanda has been facing its past and is now known for its welcoming aura and gorilla treks. The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is set in the foothills of the Virungas, the chain of 15,000-foot volcanoes stretching through Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lodge affords wonderful views of the volcanoes and the surrounding countryside—and can arrange treks to see the animals. Built and operated by the Governors’ Camp, the lodge is owned by a community trust that uses rentals and community fees from the lodge to drive socio-economic and conservation initiatives in the communities adjacent to the National Park.