The world’s greatest safari experiences

03/08/2018 16:27

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

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

Balloon safari Serengeti Tanzania by Harvey Benson Wikimedia CommonsHot-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.

Bumblebee safari, UK

Bumblebee safari UK by Rebecca BarrettThere are over 250 different species of bee in the UK – a handful of which you will be able to spot on the safari © Rebecca Barrett

How does one safari with bumblebees, you may ask? With a butterfly net in hand, through wildflower-rich meadows and referably in the company of children, so as to share their uninhibited curiosity in one of the most extraordinary and precious of nature’s creatures. There are several locations in England where guides from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust lead the safaris. There are over 250 different species of bee in the UK – a handful of which you will be able to spot on the safari.  

Canoe safaris along the Zambezi

Canoe safari elephants Zimbabwe by Wild HorizonsCanoe 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

Horseback safari Lake Mburo Uganda by Africa Image LibraryThe 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.

Whale safari, the Azores

Sperm whale Azores Europe by Dreamstime27 of the 80 recorded species of whale have been spotted in the Azores © pico, Dreamstime

Most people associate the Azores with whales. However for many years, until the 1980s, sperm whales were hunted commercially in the Azores from small boats with hand-held harpoons. Fortunately, today whale hunting has been replaced by whale watching. Short-finned pilot whales and sperm whales are the most common in the Azores and can be seen all year round. A single three-hour trip might reveal two or three whale species and almost certainly some playful dolphins. Numerous enterprises now offer the experience.

Bat safari, Zambia

Bat Zambia Africa by Chris MeyerKasanka hosts the bat migration in the later months of the year © Chris Meyer

Without doubt the most spectacular sight in Kasanka occurs around the start of the rains, in November and December, when an enormous colony of strawcoloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) converges on the park to roost in the mushitu forest. Sometimes known as flying foxes, they pour out of their resting-place each evening just after sunset, filling the sky as they fly in search of food. The bats have wingspans of up to 85cm, making a grand spectacle that is best observed from the area of the Fibwe hide. During late November and early December, bat safaris are run by two safari operators, including Robin Pope Safaris who organise seven-night trips that combine their Nkwali property in the South Luangwa with three days at Wasa Lodge and a night in Lusaka.

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.

Water safari Liwonde National Park Malawi by Central African Wilderness SafarisClose 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.

Puffin safari, Iceland

Puffins Iceland Europe by Visit-IcelandIt is common to see a puffin flying around with as many as ten fish in its mouth © Visit Iceland

Puffins are the iconic bird of Iceland, and quite an entertaining species. The puffin’s appearance is unmistakable: black wings, neck and hood, with a podgy white tummy and white cheeks. Their eyes look like triangles, and their parrot-shaped beaks show bright red, yellow and blue in summer. Látrabjarg is the very best spot on the island to encounter puffins as hunting is prohibited on the cliffs, so the birds are fearless and allow you to get within a few inches of them. At the height of summer, when the birds (and tourists) are in full force, the real secret is to go to the cliffs at night. Few realise that the puffins only start returning from the sea after 22.00.


Swarovski logo

Swarovski Optik, part of the family run Swarovski Crystal company, has been manufacturing optics from their factory in the Tyrol, for nearly 70 years. Using the latest cutting edge technology for crystal clear images, and excellent viewing, their binoculars are second to none. From an African safari to hiking in the Alps, a Swarovski binocular will add a new dimension to your travels. See the unseen with Swarovski Optik as your reliable companion. Find out more on their website here.


Start planning your next safari with one of our comprehensive guides:   

Azores the Bradt Guide by Murray Stewart Iceland the Bradt Guide by Andrew Evans Malawi the Bradt Guide by Philip Briggs Tanzania Safari Guide the Bradt Guide by Philip Briggs 

Uganda the Bradt Guide by Philip Briggs Wild Times by Jini Reddy Zambia the Bradt Guide by Chris McIntyre Zimbabwe the Bradt Guide by Paul Murray     

Back to the top


Post Comments

There are no comments on this article yet.


Submit Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.