Everyone can visualize the image of a classic African safari trip.
A big savannah plain, with some thorny bushes and trees scattered over it. Across fields there are antelopes, giraffes and zebras all over the place, while in the bushes warthogs, lions and leopards are hiding, waiting to be discovered.
The search for animals is done sitting or standing in a 4×4 car, with the roof raised high so you have a clear view to all sides but are still protected from the burning sun. Spotting the big 5 (elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard) is usually the primary goal.
That classic image is real, and I would highly recommend everyone to do a safari trip just like that at least once. However, what many people don’t realize is, there are many other ways to experience an amazing African safari, beyond sitting in a Jeep. They might be less iconic ways, but they are just as rewarding and will show more of the great diversity Africa has to offer.
5 Alternatives to the Classic African Safari Trip
1. Go Hiking in the Mountains
While the savannas are wonderful, and full of many types of animals, there are other landscapes that are just as beautiful but in a very different way. Higher up in the forests on the sides of the mountains it’s cooler and gives you a completely different viewpoint. Take a long and rewarding hike into the world above the plains in search of the animals that live there.
How about standing in the midst of a troupe of golden monkeys, seeing chimpanzees searching for food, or spending an hour with the rare mountain gorillas? You might even want to take your camping gear with you and make it an over-night trip. You’ll hear the animals scatter around your tent at night. Take care to keep your tent closed though, the monkeys are good thieves! Once, they almost managed to steal my husband’s brand new watch from inside our tent.
2. Take a Boat On The Lakes & Rivers
Why limit yourself to the land? For a more relaxed experience, take a boat. Africa has many rivers and lakes which offer great opportunities to spot birds and mammals. Obviously, rivers are the best place to spot crocodiles, hippos and water birds like fish eagles or the rare shoebill.
The best time to take a boat trip is around dusk or dawn, as it will offer an excellent chance to see the great mammals up close as they come to drink at the shores. Heading out during these golden hours usually result in very special encounters. Ever seen a hippo running under the water to scare and chase away an elephant? I knew they were fast, but this was amazing.
3. Head To The Sea
If you can’t get enough of the water, head out to the sea to spot the marine big 5: whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins. South Africa is the place to go. You’ll be able to spot all different kinds of marine creatures from different places on the shores or aboard a boat. The sea is also a great place to turn your water-safari into a more interactive experience. Why not go swim with the seals or dive in a cage for a close encounter with the sharks?
4. Slow Down Walking or Cycling
If you want to really experience an area, then slow down and take your time. Walking or cycling are great opportunities to do exactly that and get a bit of physical exercise on the go. As unlikely as it may sound to go walking or cycling in wildlife reserves, there are actually many opportunities.
How about walking with a group of rhinoceros? Or searching for antelopes and monkeys from an almost dry river bed? If you’re up to some more adventure, take a more daring approach and discover the Masai Mara on foot with a real Maasai (lions!) or cycle alongside elephants in Botswana.
5. Mount a Horse
Definitely not advisable in areas where there are large predators, but in parks without those, riding a horse is a unique experience. Antelopes and zebras don’t bother about the presence of a horse, so it’s easy to approach them. They might even let you trek along beside them for a while. Previous horse riding experience is not required, but with it, you can go for longer rides and even gallop over the savannah, which adds to the fun.
Know Before You Go:
These 5 alternatives to the classic safari will bring you new experiences and add to the beauty of Africa, but two warnings beforehand. Common sense, but too often not considered.
- Safety First. Make sure that you have a reliable local guide with you. Not only will you be obliged by law to take a local guide in almost all cases, but these experiences make you vulernable and bring you close to potentially dangerous animals. The risk is very low if you have a guide (in these cases sometimes armed) who knows what they’re doing, so do your research before you go.
- Consider the Welfare of the Animals. You’ll be very close to wild animals, so make sure you don’t disturb them. Don’t chase after them, don’t try touching or feeding them, give them space to move and leave after a while. One very important tip is to not go anywhere near apes if you have a cold or a flu. A good guide will ensure this, but if they don’t, pay attention yourself.
Bonus Tip: 6. Go At Night
Many national parks won’t let you enter the park or drive around after dark, so you can only go during daytime. However, there are a few parks who actually organize trips after dark, sometimes even allowing you to sleep inside the park. They will provide you with special equipment, especially very strong torches, so you will be able to see the nocturnal animals you normally don’t see in the daytime. Did you know you can recognize many of the animals by the color of the reflection of the torch in their eyes?
About The Author: Marouschka Buyten
I was born and raised in the Netherlands and in 2012 I decided to follow my dream and work with disadvantaged groups in developing countries. After some years in South Sudan, Cambodia, and Rwanda, I’m currently living in Cameroon and working to increase the inclusion and participation of vulnerable groups. Learn more at my consultancy site and personal blog.
Monday 6th of May 2019
Very true, Agness, that it is necessary to stay safe during these exciting experiences and that going all alone is usually not a smart idea when facing wild animals. Fortunately, it's very possible to do both, stay safe and have some exhilirating new experiences. If you do your homework and come prepared, and take a local guide, you will have a wonderful time, even if you don't want to do your whole trip in a tour.
Agness | the adventure traveler
Thursday 2nd of May 2019
It's always better to go on a tour instead of going alone. After all, this is your own safety that's at stake here. No matter how thrilling it is to go off path, it would be better to just stay on the safe side.