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