If you were to visit Africa once a year every year of your life, you would only scratch the surface of what this amazing continent has to offer: incredible wildlife, fascinating culture from cosmopolitan cities to tribal communities, arid deserts, verdant rainforests, vast grasslands and idyllic islands.
But if you get the opportunity only once, it should be to experience one of the following, says Red Savannah’s Africa specialist, Albee Yeend.
The Annual Migration
February sees the circle of life begin its ever-turning wheel with the birth of calves on the Serengeti where they remain grazing on the lush grass until spring. From April the herds begin their migration northwards towards the northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara, encountering the Grumeti and Mara Rivers en-route before returning south where their journey begins again. Two camps stand out for experiencing the migration: Singita Mara River Tented Camp offers a ringside seat where the vast herds cross the river risking life and limb as they encounter the resident crocodile population. For a more back to nature experience, albeit with the comforts of fine linen and chandeliers, Serengeti Under Canvas is a mobile camp which moves with the wildlife ensuring the migration can be observed at any time of the year.
An encounter with one of our closest relatives is a very special experience, though one reserved for a lucky few as the mountain gorilla is sadly an endangered species. Three countries offer excellent opportunities for spotting gorillas in their natural habitat: Uganda, Rwanda and the Republic of Congo. Trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is strenuous but the reward of a gorilla encounter far outweighs the effort. A hike into the Muhavuru and Gahinga volcanoes will also bring sightings of golden monkeys as well as an insight into indigenous Batwa tribal life. Far less visited but richly rewarding, is the rainforest of the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo where 100,000 lowland gorillas reside. Permits here are considerably less expensive than in Uganda and Rwanda but sightings equally rich.
Flying Over The Namib Desert
In Namibia the star of the show is not so much the wildlife - though sightings of desert elephant, black rhino and lion are frequent – but rather the spectacular landscapes which range from burnt ochre sand dunes to white salt pans and a hauntingly wild coastline. Roads are, in most places, barely tracks and access to some of the most fascinating places is difficult without spending several days (and nights) out in the desert. A flying safari, therefore, affords the opportunity to see this corner of Africa from the most unique vantage point.
Walking In The Bush
The comfort of a 4X4 and a cold drinks fridge enables you to reach distant places in comfort though set out on foot and you experience an African safari from a completely different perspective. Closer to nature your senses take in each scent, sound and sight as you see the bush from animal height. Zambia is particularly notable for walking safaris, with the bird and animal life of the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks offering excellent sighting opportunities of giraffe, leopard and Cookson’s wildebeest.
The Big Five
The ultimate on an African safari is to view the ‘Big Five’ in their natural environment – lion, African elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. Various countries in East and Southern Africa offer the opportunity to view the big five – Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe to name but a few. South Africa offers some of the finest national parks and game lodges on the continent. Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, for example, is set in a beautiful, malaria-free wilderness in the Eastern Cape, where the big five roam. Here, a choice of four lodges provide the base for game drives into the African savannah.