Updated: Sep 21
The word Safari, meaning journey, is derived from Swahili, the language of East Africa. Swahili’s more precise interpretation being “an overland journey to observe wild animals, especially in Southeast Africa”.
In our journeys, (I mean, “safaris”) at Latitude we have discovered that there is no one way to take an overland journey to observe wild animals- indeed you may not even be going over land. You may be going on water, or sipping a Mai Tai in your hammock; and what’s more- the safari is not unique to Southeast Africa. It can be found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Australia, Asia, and even the polar regions.
There are a variety of modes (of transportation or state of leisure) for your safari, some being unique to your location.
4 Wheel Game Drive
This is the most common luxury safari experience.
These are typically 6-10 passenger Land Cruisers (or similar) specially equipped for wildlife viewing and photography, driven by a qualified guide and often accompanied by a tracker or spotter. Most are 3 row, open air vehicles that enable guests to stand-up for photos; many come with camera supports, charging stations, and are well-supplied with snacks and beverages. Latitude itineraries ensure each client has a window seat (no 3-across) for optimal viewing experience. For smaller groups or those wishing more privacy, we recommend 1 person per row in the vehicle to provide easy viewing from either side.
Drives within the national parks often prohibit travel off-road, so getting ‘up close’ experiences is limited. We always strive to put our clients in private reserves that can access the National Parks, but also allow off-road, close-up experiences only available in the traversing rights to a limited number of camps and tacit agreements among guides, to limit the number of vehicles per sighting to 2, ensuring a more intimate viewing/photo experience. Most common all- inclusive experiences include two game drives per day, one starting before sun-up in order to see the nocturnal animals heading home and others just getting their day started. The afternoon/evening game drives usually start at 3:30-4:00pm when the sun and heat begin to subside, and animals become more active. Both drive times create optimal light conditions for photography. In private reserves, night game drives and walking safaris with professionally trained guides are also a big draw over camps situated within the National Parks which have strict arrival and departure times. Animals know no boundaries. There are few if any fences.
Safari by Boat
This activity is common in the Okavango Delta and Chobe River in Botswana, and in the Zambezi River bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia. Though boat/canoe safari are found in many areas the water attracts animals. There is nothing quite like large herds of elephants cavorting in the river and the mud, or pods of snorting hippos, that spend most of the day in the water or crocs sunning on the banks with mouths wide open to soak up the sun. The water safaris are excellent for birders and non-birders alike who can spot a variety of magnificent species doing their thing. Look for fish eagles high in the trees or king fishers hovering above their prey and dive bombing into the water. You are sure to see various aquatic-adapted antelope like the Red Lechwe, Sitatunga or Waterbuck in deltas and marshes, even Lions and other predators that surprisingly can cross rivers to entrap their prey.
Either as an easy walk or trot or exhilarating gallop, safari by horseback is a fantastic way to see the animals. Zebras antelopes and giraffes are particularly curious of their four-legged friends with bipeds attached. They will often randomly pose for your photos as their inquisitiveness gets the better of their fear. The same can be done by camel in some parts of Africa but a) it’s not fast, b) it’s a bit smelly c) your butt will hurt and d) the camel is not interested.
We had an exciting experience in Kenya traveling with a journey (group) of giraffes on horseback.
Safari by camel is a bit slower and depending on what you encounter, can be loads for fun!
Safari by Bicycle
This is a newer safari experience, especially with e-bikes that allow you to cover greater distances at your own pace (or to accelerate beyond human speed if necessary!) Multi-day bike safaris are often launched from mobile, tented camps with surprisingly nice accommodations and cuisine. Pedaling along ancient elephant paths that have shaped jaw-dropping landscapes for centuries, you’ll pass acacia woodlands, mopane forests, lakes, rivers and savannah grasslands in pursuit of incredible animal sightings. Bicycle safaris are suited for novice to advanced riders and can now be found in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Walking in the bush, among the animals, birds and flora is a must do experience with little reason to be fearful. A walk in the bush is typically in a small group, 2-6 guests accompanied by 1-2 guides, one of whom will carry a rifle, which they will assure you has never been needed. You will likely have discussions on animal tracks and habits, flora and fauna, and other interesting things you encounter (like animal poop) that guides use for tracking.
I have personally been up close on walking safaris to: elephant, rhino, giraffe, cheetah, lion, impala, gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, wart hog, eland, sable, duiker, jackal, and many species of birds.
Gorilla, Chimp, Golden Monkey Trekking
Imagine being face to face with a 700 lb silverback gorilla, or having a mama with her baby settle in next to you, or a curious adolescent check you out. In a very small area of the world, Rwanda and Uganda (and the Congo) a number of gorilla families have been habituated (introduced) to humans in the wild. This is a fun and unique two-part experience: first you have to find the gorillas, then you get to spend one hour observing them (up close!) in their daily activities of foraging and interacting as a family. The ‘tracking’ part is led by experienced guides and scouts who know the previous day’s location of a family and direct your group (of at most 8 guests) within a 30 min to 4hr hike to find the constantly moving family. You will be in mountainous, jungle terrain with porters to assist you in the trek, carry your gear, lead you through the dense jungle and in negotiating the steep climbs and declines. The experience is best described as a moderate to strenuous activity depending on your physical ability and where the gorillas are located. We have had guest from 15 years old to mid-80s on these treks – the moderate pace and porter assistance allows almost anyone to enjoy the experience.
Other less strenuous treks could include the Golden Monkeys (Rwanda), or Chimpanzees (Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania)
Close encounters on gorilla trek - literally 10 feet away filmed on iPhone
From a hot air balloon, get a birds-eye view of vast herds of animals and the expansive landscape. This mode is especially thrilling during the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania. Float along with the herds, skim the treetops, surprise the hyenas in their dens, and follow the rivers - a balloon covers a lot of ground and presents wonderful photo opportunities. After a 60-90min flight, the balloon settles down away from the animals for the bush breakfast (of course with a traditional champagne toast!).
For a bit noisier, yet faster ride, you may enjoy a helicopter safari as well.
Many safari camps are built around water holes, ponds, lakes or rivers and have large viewing decks off the guest rooms or common areas, which enable one to relax at camp and watch the animals and birds come to them. Other camps have hides that border the water that attracts animals- a hidden underground viewing area or elevated platform where you can see amazing activity at ground level or from above. Many is the time I have been enjoying a Gin and Tonic in the hide when a curious elephant trunk searches for information about this unusual opening underground. I was amazed, in the picture below, to learn that when big bull elephants come into camp to get water, they are docile and respectful. Not so when you are on their land in the bush. Very smart ! And they don't forget !
While a number of parks allow for self-drive safaris that may appeal to independent travelers, (notably Kruger National Park in South Africa) it is not worth the sights you will be sure to miss. First, you are not allowed off the road, typically meaning you will not be up close. Second, having an experienced guide/tracker is a must for finding the animals. Third, the professional guides work together, so they have a wide network on the job. Fourth, a view from a safari vehicle is 4-5 feet higher than a typical passenger vehicle with an open roof and you can’t exit the car to get photos of the giraffe’s head you cannot see or find that leopard in the tall grass.
Safari by Van or Bus
Many mass-market tour operators pack 10 to 20 people in a single vehicle. Noise, random movement, lack of privacy, inability to interact with the guide are some of the reasons that this mode can ruin a safari experience and is never used by Latitude Expeditions. You can find these guys all over the internet with a safari at a discount price.
Having the best safari experience demands knowledgeable, experienced tour operators who can take your interest, budgets and preferred mode of travel into consideration, and then add the “wow” factor. Whether you have never been to Africa or have been ten times, Latitude can assure you the trip of a lifetime or one of many trips of a lifetime, each unique from the rest.