Anyone who’s spotted big animals in the wild knows that each appearance is a humbling experience, but those who are pros in safari travel should be happy to know that there are also new and exciting products popping up in the African landscape—and that’s not counting the myriad encounters with exotic creatures.
In South Africa, a spectrum of ecosystems allowed us to come face-to-face with great white sharks—via the help of a sturdy underwater cage—in the waters off the Western Cape, spot cranky orangutans from the safety of our van near Cape Point and greet dozens of waddling African penguins at Boulders Beach. In the Northern Cape, we got an eyeful of giraffe and zebras at Mattanu Game Reserve, staying in luxury tents, then flew by private plane to Dundi Lodge Augrabies Falls (dundilodge.co.za) for a different kind of adventure: conquering the intensity of the Orange River on a raft.
In our case, this involved lots of time in the water, helmeted head bumping against the rocks and even losing our pants to the river—it sucked them right off. Thankfully, the five-star accommodations at Dundi are matched by its service, so a pants-less walk through the lobby upon return was met by a stoic staff. The lodge can also arrange game drives, horse riding, quad biking and dune boarding on the Kalahari, the latter which also saw us eat a bit of dust. Rates at Dundi start at approximately $85 pp per night.
Those clients just dipping their toes in wildlife waters, however, might prefer to start off with a mix of comfort, animal viewing and great value like Lion World Tours’ 9-day Safari in Absolute Style, which allows clients to spend four nights at the renowned Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa before jetting off to the South African bush for a stay at Madikwe Safari Lodge. Here, they’ll get the chance to view area wildlife in the Madikwe Game Reserve, one of the country’s biggest and home to the Big Five. Each suite at Madikwe has its private plunge pool and a circular fireplace, and game drives are led by expert rangers.
“This package is great for a first-time safari visit as it is not only extremely affordable, but also offers five-star luxury in a malaria-free area,” says Lucille Sive, president of Lion World Tours (800-387-2706; lionworldtours.com), who adds that Madikwe welcomed Michelle Obama and her daughters in June. The package includes international airfare from JFK or Dulles, plus most meals, transfers and flights within South Africa. Rates start at $2,995 pp dbl.
Botswana with a Bang South Africa’s neighbor to the north is not without its generous share of natural attractions. And you can see it all from horseback with Uncharted Africa Safari co. (unchartedafrica.com), which is now offering unique 5-night Equestrian Journeys in the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi ecosystems of Botswana. These journeys take visitors into the Salt Pans and acacia woodlands with equestrian safari pro David Foot. The horseback tours are offered during the wet and dry seasons and come with a 2-night stay out in the bush. The other three nights are spent in Camp Kalahari and its fully equipped meru tents.
When selling this rugged type of product, Simona Quaglia, marketing manager for Uncharted Africa Safari co., says clients need to know what to expect. “It is important for travel agents to know that the Uncharted Africa Safari co. properties and Mobile Expeditions are located in a very remote and unique area of the world and this impacts the entirety of the guest experience,” she explains. “It makes for a very exclusive and one-of-a-kind experience for guests and takes them to places they would otherwise not be able to access. It also means that it is necessary to be mindful of certain luggage restrictions, as guests need to travel on small planes. There is also no electricity at the camps due to their remote location and the ecological approach of the company.”
The second thing, adds Quaglia, is the holistic approach with which Uncharted Africa operates. “The company tries to treat its guests to as broad and enlightening an experience as possible, including wildlife and game of course, including specially adapted desert fauna, but also cultural interaction with the Bushmen, an understanding of the varied and breathtaking landscapes, and insight into the anthropological history of the region,” she states.