Africa is renowned as the ultimate safari destination, but game drives aren't limited to just driving around reserves in a 4x4. For a safari experience with a difference, check out these extraordinary wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Balloon safaris over the Serengeti
Hot-air balloon is a great way to see the wildlife of the Serengeti © Harvey Benson, Wikimedia Commons
Although not cheap, a balloon safari is definitely worth the expense if you can afford it while in Tanzania. Gliding serenely above the trees as the sun rises allows you to see the expansive plains from a new and quite thrilling angle. It also offers the chance to see secretive species such as bushbuck and reedbuck, and, because you leave so early in the morning, you are likely to spot a few nocturnal predators. That said, any images you have of sweeping above innumerable wildebeest and zebra may prove a little removed from reality. Launching from Seronera or the Western Corridor, you can only be confident of seeing large herds of ungulates during the exact week or two when animals concentrate in the immediate vicinity. Odds are a lot better from Ndutu as the large herds tend to congregate there throughout December to March.
Canoe safaris along the Zambezi
Canoe safaris on the Zambezi are one of the most enjoyable wildlife experiences in Zimbabwe © Wild Horizons
Many people would challenge that there is nothing better than a walking safari to give you an appreciation of the African environment. Cruising on the Zambezi in a canoe is possibly an even more appealing way to be at one with nature, and like bush walking there is a similar range of comfort options. Words like ‘tranquil’ and ‘serene’ leap to mind as you gently paddle downstream, wending your way round pods of hippo and marvelling at how close you can get to that elephant quenching his thirst from the bank. Binoculars and cameras will be used to the full with the dazzling array of riverine birds and wildlife on offer, but don’t put your paddle down for too long or you’ll find yourselves drift ing a little too close for comfort towards hippo territory.
Horseback safaris in Lake Mburo
The horseback safaris on offer in Lake Mburo are the first of their kind in Uganda © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Mihingo Lodge has introduced horseback safaris in the east of Lake Mburo National Park, a first in a Ugandan protected area, and a great opportunity to get close to animals such as zebra and buffalo, which are far more relaxed around horses than around cars. Rides are tailored to individual experience and requirements. Kids can be led on good-natured ponies while (at the other extreme) experienced riders can help a couple of retired racehorses burn off some calories.
Water safaris in Liwonde National Park
Motorised launch trips along the Shire River leave Mvuu every morning after breakfast and from the other camps by arrangement. The vegetation along the river is splendid: thick stands of borassus and wild date palms, ghostly baobab trees, yellow fever trees and dense beds of papyrus. Close encounters with hippos are guaranteed, you can be confident of seeing elephants, waterbuck, impala, crocodile and vervet monkeys, and there is a fair chance of seeing sable antelope from the boat. Birds are everywhere: among the more common species are fish eagle, jacana, white-breasted cormorant (these breed along the river profusely in the dry season), darter, long-toed lapwing, African skimmer, and a variety of kingfishers and herons.
Close encounters with elephant are guaranteed on a water safari in Liwonde © Central African Wilderness Safaris
Night boat safaris from Mvuu Lodge are a must for serious birders as they offer an excellent chance of spotting Pel’s fishing owl in action, as well as the nocturnal white-backed night heron. You’ll be amazed at how closely the boat is able to approach roosting birds such as giant and malachite kingfishers (the latter nothing short of dazzling in the spotlight), as well as huddled flocks of colourful little bee-eaters.
Walking safaris in Zambia
Zambia is the place for walking safaris © Raldi Somers, Dreamstime
For those in the know, Zambia remains the place for walking safaris. In its three main safari areas – the Luangwa Valley, the Lower Zambezi and northern Kafue – you’ll find top, owner-run camps, superb game and some of the continent’s best guides. The concept was pioneered here, in the Luangwa Valley, by the late Norman Carr. The Luangwa still has a strong tradition of walking – which, in itself, fosters excellent walking guides. One of the reasons behind the valley’s success is the stringent tests that a guide must pass before he, or she, will be allowed to take clients into the bush. Walking guides have the hardest tests to pass; there is a less demanding exam for guides who conduct safaris from vehicles.
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