I’ve always dreamed of traveling to Africa to experience first-hand the elegant stride of the giraffe as she moves from her breakfast tree to her morning snack tree full of leaves. Or to have the wind blowing on my face as we follow a coalition of cheetahs across the plains in Tanzania. The closest I’ve come to experiencing this first hand is at a theme park or zoo, but I know it would be another experience to check off of my bucket list. I invite you to come along on a quest in search of the Big 5. Can you name them?
Where to Go and What to See
It’s no secret that an African safari is the ultimate wildlife vacation. There are a number of options that can give you a great chance of spotting all the big five: lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, rhino, and elephant. Those options will also give you options for which countries you wish to visit on a safari — Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa. In addition, Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a possibility, and you can cap off your African or Middle Eastern trip with a stop in the Maldives. North of the Sahara, the wonders of Egypt and the oases of Morocco are welcoming Americans.
East Africa – Kenya/Tanzania
When most people picture a safari, they’re thinking of East Africa. The great migration of wildebeest and zebras takes place annually across Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain and Kenya’s Masai Mara. Hundreds of thousands of animals make the trek in search of grass to graze on. The Maasai people provide an enriching cultural exchange. Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is rich in wildlife, while Olduvai Gorge is a goldmine for the study of human evolution. Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya are the tallest mountains in Africa and make for excellent, if challenging, climbing.
Though it’s nearly 1,000 miles long, the Okavango River never does quite find its way to the sea, instead of crashing into the sands of the Kalahari Desert to form the sublime Okavango Delta, a maze of swamp, salt, and lakes that provides a staging area for the dramatic interplay of animals large and small. Botswana attracts colorful birds, a huge migration of zebras, and large numbers of elephants. The San people, the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari, share insights on their culture and its relationship to the natural world.
A safari in South Africa offers loads of advantages. First, you can pair it with time in the spectacular city of Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Winelands. Second, malaria-free reserves make it an ideal choice for families with young children. Private game reserves are packed with lions, leopards, elephants, impalas, and zebra. To the northwest, Namibia is a vast wilderness of sand dunes where elephants, lions, and endangered black rhinos manage to eke out a living, and thousands of birds, including flamingos and pelicans, flock to the infamous Skeleton Coast.
Separated by the Zambezi River, these two countries are more or less defined by water, making them excellent venues for abundant wildlife. The main attraction is Victoria Falls, “The Smoke That Thunders,” but each country also offers national parks filled with Cape buffalo, impalas, zebras, and elephants, among many more diverse species. Zambia’s Kafue National Park is a great place for leopard-spotting, while Zimbabwe boasts splendid game-viewing along the shores of Lake Kariba.
In the highlands of the Virunga Mountains that straddle these two countries, you’ll find an entirely different and rare game: gorillas. Only a few hundred mountain gorillas are left in their natural habitat, and they offer a fascinating study in primate behavior. It is in Uganda that Lake Victoria drains into the Nile River, and Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to traditional safari species. Rwanda is renowned for its wide variety of bird and plant species, including more than 100 varieties of orchids.
Did you know that January is the perfect time to go on Safari? If your sense of adventure is calling you to Africa, I’m happy to serve as your advisor for this curated trip of a lifetime, taking care of everything door to door— all you need to worry about is if your passport is up-to-date. Contact me, your Chief Experience Expert, at Evolution of Travel.