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By Chris | March 8 2018
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
Few trips hold the tantalizing allure of a safari. The chance to be completely removed from everyday life, surrounded by stunning vistas and having close encounters with wild animals in their natural habitat calls to people from around the world. It’s said that visiting Africa will change your life, and we agree. There are endless ways to explore the continent, and with so many options it’s important to think about your priorities.Whether you want to focus solely on seeing animals and go on as many game drives as possible, fit in culture and historic visits, or find relaxation on a beautiful beach, Elite Traveler has the ultimate list of top safaris. And while safaris are closely associated with Africa and seeing the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) and mountain gorillas, there is incredible, and endangered, wildlife to be seen around the globe. So we’ve included a tiger safari in India and a global safari that visits 12 countries to ensure you can see it all.
If you want to see everything and do it all, a flying safari is the only way to go. Black Tomato, known for its attention to detail and over-the-top experiences, offers a two- or three-week itinerary from Cape Town to Cairo that ticks every box on your African bucket list, and perhaps includes some activities you didn’t even know existed. Traversing the continent in a Cessna 208 Caravan, the experiences span nature, wildlife, culture and history. Wildlife highlights include traditional game drives in the savannas of East Africa, where you’ll see wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and endangered black rhino, and flying at low altitude across the Okavango Delta in Botswana, home to nearly 900 species of animals including elephants, buffalo, hippopotamuses and African wild dogs. Instagram-ready sights await in Namibia, where you’ll watch the sun rise over the towering sand dunes in the isolated Namib desert, and at the volcanoes in the Great Rift Valley. End your trip in Egypt and explore the Valley of Kings, home to many a pharaoh’s tomb, and get reacquainted with city life after your incredible journey.
Head off the beaten path with The Explorations Company. This private safari will begin with a stay at Kifaru House—atop a hill in Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—the perfect headquarters for day and night game drives, nature walks and camel rides. You’ll then be whisked away by helicopter for the rest of your journey. Spend a day in the Great Rift at Lake Turkana, where you’ll find crocodiles and hippos; the beautiful but unforgiving Suguta Valley (known as the Valley of Death for its intense heat); and the remote Chalbi Desert, a flat expanse that seems to go on forever and whose name means ‘bare and salty’ in the local Gabra dialect. Next is a bespoke mobile safari in the Maasai Mara. This camp is designed just for you, to your exact specifications, and is set up in the best locations possible. These are frequently closer to the wildlife than permanent camps, allowing for more walking safaris than driving (although you will have vehicles for game drives). From here is a week in Ethiopia, exploring remote and inaccessible regions by helicopter. The landscapes are incredible, ranging from mountains, cliffs and active volcanoes to rivers, salt pans and acid lakes. Once on the ground, you will tour ancient churches, visit nomadic people and see endemic wildlife, including the gelada baboon, Ethiopian wolf and walia ibex.
From $96,000 per person for 14 days, based on two people traveling together with option to increase trip to four people. Contact Nicola Shepherd, owner and director, firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 136 785 0566, explorationscompany.com
Spanning six wildly different countries, Jacada Travel’s Faces of Africa safari highlights the best of the continent’s lush jungles, otherworldly deserts, mighty rivers, endless grasslands and diverse animals. Beginning in Uganda’s remote Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the tour spends two unforgettable days hiking and tracking mountain gorillas and observing L’Hoest’s monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and baboons. After game drives and possibly witnessing the Great Migration cross the Mara River in the northern Serengeti, head to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, which is famed for its walking safaris and abundant wildlife. From there, it’s off to the incomparable Victoria Falls for tours on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, and to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, where you will stay in two different regions. The first is the Mombo Concession, which offers the chance to see the Big Five, and the second is riverside in a private concession. In Namibia you’ll stay at Serra Cafema, on the banks of the Kunene River, within visiting distance of the nomadic Himba people, before heading to the Namib Desert. There the focus is on landscape and geology, which you will marvel at from hot-air balloon flights, on foot and by car. Recuperate from all of the action in Cape Town with local jaunts and regional day trips soaking up the culture, wine and fine food.
Eighteen endangered species, 12 countries, one million dollars. We can’t imagine a more comprehensive tour than Natural World Safaris’ Journey to Nature’s Edge. With the sad reality that many of the world’s most critically endangered species are disappearing at alarming rates despite conservation efforts, it offers a chance to see these animals while they still exist, and to make a significant contribution to local conservation programs working to save these magnificent creatures. Accompanied by Natural World Safaris’ managing director, Will Bolsover, you will crisscross the globe by helicopter, private plane and boat to see these animals in their natural habitats, with donations made to each destination’s wildlife preservation efforts. A large portion of the program takes place in Africa, visiting the six countries with the best game viewing. In Kenya, fly by helicopter to lay eyes on the last four northern white rhinos, a subspecies the Save the Rhino foundation has declared functionally extinct. The organization plans to use the infuriating story of their extinction by poaching to galvanize research and protection efforts for two other critically endangered, but savable, rhino species. On a more optimistic note, you’ll see mountain gorillas in Rwanda and lemurs in Madagascar and track chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Mahale Forest. Then you’re off to Antarctica, where you’ll stay at Whichaway Camp, on a 200ft ice cliff, to observe emperor penguins. In India, trek through the lush Kanha National Park and snow-covered Himalayas to see the royal Bengal tiger and snow leopard. En route to the Galápagos to check out the giant tortoise, a stopover in Borneo will likely reward you with sightings of hawksbill and green sea turtles, the adorably petite sun bear, orangutans and pygmy elephants. A water safari in Brazil’s remote Pantanal wetlands lets you admire jaguars when they come to drink from the river. Finally, up in the snow-covered wilderness of Arctic Canada, see the king of the north, the mighty polar bear, in all his glory.
For a truly immersive experience, Alluring Africa offers a 42-night private trip through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. A trip of this length can be taxing, but with three nights at each luxury accommodation (many have only opened in the past two years) and private charters between them, it strikes the balance between relaxation and packing in as much as possible. The itinerary comprises multiple game drives, of course, offering myriad chances to observe wildlife, including the Big Five in Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe, as well as a host of unique properties and experiences, such as hot-air balloon rides over the Busanga Plains and sleeping outdoors under the endless, impossibly bright stars. King Lewanika Lodge, the only permanent camp in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park, is far from the crowds, making it a photographer’s dream. Little Ruckomechi in Zimbabwe is located on a private concession where elephants frequently come into the camp and can be seen from your private plunge pool. Midway through the journey, a stop at Victoria Falls River Lodge on the private Kandahar Island allows you to stay in treehouse suites with butler service on your way to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In Botswana, the Okavango Delta is home to leopards, lions, hyenas, buffalo, elephants, zebras, and tons of spectacular birds. After lush Botswana, the alien landscape of Namibia is a stark contrast. The world’s oldest desert has Mars-like features including vast stretches of red sand and stunning rock formations and boasts a rich array of desert-adapted wildlife.
Africa isn’t the only place to go on safari, and if you want to see tigers, India is where to be. For impeccable service and ultra-luxurious accommodations, visit all three of Taj Hotels’ safari lodges with a custom trip from Abercrombie & Kent. India has excellently preserved national parks and tiger sanctuaries, including Bandhavgarh, which is home to one of the country’s densest tiger populations, as well as leopards, deer, boar and jungle cats. Twice daily game drives and walking safaris provide plenty of opportunities for tiger sightings. Back at the Mahua Kothi lodge, relax with treatments at the Taj Jiva Spa or on a private massage deck, or in the large outdoor pool. For a decadent evening, your butler can arrange a private dinner in a picturesque spot. In a private concession in Kanha National Park, Banjaar Tola lodge is set in a sal forest along a river. In this jungle environment, you can see barasingha (endangered swamp deer), gaur (Indian bison) and tigers. Then, at The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest, an adrenaline-pumping Jeep safari will have you tracking leopards, hyenas and the endangered Asiatic lion through the jungle. End your journey in complete luxury at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi.
In addition to a classic East African safari, Rothschild offers an exclusive elephant experience and a chance to soak up the sun and swim in the sea at a beach resort. Beginning in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara, take day and night game drives, trek through the area on guided bush walks, enjoy cultural visits with the Maasai, ride on horseback and see Mount Kilimanjaro tower over the savanna. You’ll stay in luxury tents and Cottar’s Bush Villa, all offering privacy, stunning views and proximity to wildlife. Deep within Tsavo National Park, Kenya’s largest, is the four-tent Ithumba Camp in the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Guests there are able to make a donation to become a foster parent to an orphaned elephant and participate in an impossible-to-forget day with these incredible creatures. Aid in their rehabilitation by feeding milk to a young elephant, walking with them around the Trust, then watch them play in the mud nearby. The trip’s final days are spent on the water at &Beyond Mnemba Island, just off Zanzibar Island, where you can while away the time scuba diving, kayaking, fly-fishing and stand-up paddleboarding in the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
From $36,123 per person for 17 days, based on double occupancy. Contact +1 800 405 9463, rothschildsafaris.com
Aboard a customized Boeing 757 with 49 flat-bed seats, accompanied by world-renowned experts that only National Geographic could bring together, visit six countries and a staggering number of sites on this luxurious 19-day trip. One of the few safaris that departs from Europe (round-trip from Lisbon), the Africa by Private Jet tour operated by TCS World Travel, ensures not a minute is wasted during your journey. Begin with one of our Top 50 Adventures, meeting anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Louise Leakey at the Ngorongoro Crater, and learn about the important fossils that her family of three generations of anthropologists has discovered. Next you’ll travel to Madagascar — a rare stop on an
African safari — famed for its 60 types of wide-eyed lemurs and large number of endemic species. Explore the rain forests or nature reserves, or snorkel in the Indian Ocean. In South Africa, visit Cape Town, wildlife preserves, the Cape Winelands, Johannesburg and the Cradle of Humankind with Lee Berger, who discovered two new species of human ancestors at Rising Star cave. See whale skeletons, countless shipwrecks, charming Cape fur seals and the iconic red sand dunes in a low-flying tour along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. In Botswana, take a water safari in the Okavango Delta, where you might even spot lions swimming. Finally, in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, track mountain gorillas in the same place esteemed primatologist Dian Fossey studied them, providing the basis for her renowned book, Gorillas in the Mist. As a limited trip, this itinerary has two date options in 2018: from August 15 to September 2, or from December 27 to January 14, 2019.
From $85,950 per person for 19 days, based on double occupancy. Contact +1 800 224 1894, natgeoexpeditions.com
Adventurers and conservationists will love Deeper Africa’s explorer safari, Keeping Zimbabwe Wild, which provides the inspiring opportunity to be directly involved with conservation and antipoaching initiatives. Zimbabwe remains an emerging safari destination, but it offers rich wildlife encounters that represent a major victory in the battle between conservationists and ranchers. In Hwange National Park, see the innovative ways that locals safeguard their crops and livestock from elephants and predators, without harming either—drums, trumpets and cattle pens are effective deterrents for the hunting lions. Walking safaris and drives provide chances to see the Big Five and other large animals, while a visit to the Painted Dog Conservation Center offers access to the experts who are doing important research on saving Africa’s endangered wild dogs. Head off on patrol with an antipoaching unit in Bumi Hills wildlife sanctuary at Lake Kariba and help defend the local elephant population by tracking the animals, looking for evidence of poachers and removing snares and traps. For the past two years, not one elephant poaching has occurred in the area, proving their efforts have been successful. End the trip at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge in the remote Gonarezhou National Park. This true wilderness—home to thousands of elephants, cheetahs, lions, leopards, antelope, zebras and more—is so healthy largely due to the community-led program Campfire, founded by internationally recognized conservationist Clive Stockil, who has spent his life finding ways to engage the Shangaan people in protecting their beautiful land and its wildlife.
Styled after the epic safaris taken by the aristocracy at the beginning of the 20th century, but with all of the conveniences and luxury of the 21st, Micato’s Grand Safari takes you through five preserves in 15 days, allowing enough time to experience each without feeling rushed. Stays in Amboseli, the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Ngorongoro Crater provide opportunities to see a huge variety of wildlife. Experience game drives galore; hot-air balloon rides across the plains; excursions to the Mara River, home to crocodiles and hippos; and visits with the Maasai. At the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, meanwhile, amenities include an infinity pool with a remarkable up-close view of an elephant watering hole. Lake Manyara is also a magical sight: thousands of pink flamingos mill about the lake while black-and-white zebras graze on the banks. Other local residents include rhinos, hippos, giraffes, elephants and tree-climbing lions. We suggest adding on a four-day trip to Rwanda to track mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. Hiking through a lush forest brings you closer to the peaceful primates than you could ever imagine. The 10 gorilla families who live in the park are familiar with human encounters and will walk within yards of your small group (only eight people are allowed to visit each day).
From $23,350 per person for 15 days, based on double occupancy with the option to make the trip private. Gorilla addition from $5,350 per person, based on double occupancy. Contact Fran Doherty, general manager, email@example.com, +1 212 340 7118, micato.com