Are you a travel safari expert?
The best african safaris for specialists; are for those who’ve chalked up all the greatest hits and now want to go a step further, in search of unusual wildlife or a true wilderness experience…The best african safaris for specialists are known to be some of those high ended destinations and holiday spots that are somewhat, “luxurious”
- Northern Damaraland, Namibia
The harsh, semi-desert landscape of Damaraland, in north-western Namibia, lies outside any national park. This is a land where the dramatic geology, ancient rock art and unique plant life are of as much interest as the wildlife. Nonetheless, a fair selection of game wanders the stony plains and sandy wastes, with pride of place going to the uniquely desert-adapted elephant and black rhinos.
Other highlights include giraffe, oryx, mountain zebra and the occasional predator, including cheetahs and rare brown hyenas.
A series of river valleys, generally dry, enables visitors to penetrate deep into the rugged terrain; a number of exclusive lodges offer safaris both on foot and by 4WD. You will not be ticking off a Kruger-style checklist of game, but expect an awe-inspiring dose of true wilderness, with the rare opportunity to track black rhino on foot and camp out under the stars.
When to go: May-Nov (camps closed during rains)
- Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Most parks in Africa push the ‘ultimate wilderness’ line, but this one is hard to beat, being so far off the beaten track – even by Tanzania’s standards – that only a few hundred visitors get there each year. Its terrain comprises mixed woodland and two huge grassy plains, where the herds congregate. The only permanent water sources are the Katuma and Kapapa Rivers, which heave with hippos in the dry season. Elephant are plentiful, while lions tail the numerous buffalo.
This park is for safari connoisseurs who want the bush entirely to themselves. Flights to this remote corner of western Tanzania are expensive, and the park’s few, small permanent camps offer an upmarket and intensive wilderness experience. Distances are such that game drives often last the day. Walking is excellent, and overnight camp-outs – with all the trimmings – can be arranged.
When to go: Open all year; game viewing best May-Nov
- North Luangwa, Zambia
The ultimate safari frisson: coming face to face with a lion on foot. This remote park has similar terrain to South Luangwa but a wilder feel and a fraction of the visitor numbers.
The game is shy and sightings less reliable – the legacy of past poaching, but due also to the wildlife’s sheer unfamiliarity with humans. Big buffalo herds draw lion prides, while hyenas and leopards are abundant.
Only three small camps operate in the park so you will feel you have the place to yourself. Access is generally by air and activities are almost entirely on foot. Top-notch guides track the wildlife and reveal the secrets of this pristine environment.
When to go: May-Nov (camps closed during rains)
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
The Kalahari’s sandy grasslands and woodlands are an arid, challenging environment, where much wildlife is highly nomadic. This place is at its best early in the year – January to May – when rains bring fresh growth, and thousands of springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest, eland and others arrive for the grazing. Predators include cheetah, both hyena types and the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions. Meanwhile a wealth of specialised residents ranges from ostriches to meerkats.
Until recently, access to this enormous wilderness (at more than 50,000 sq km, the park tops Serengeti, Kruger and South Luangwa combined) was restricted, and visitors could enter on a mobile safari only. Today two permanent camps inside the park complement those outside. Game viewing can be hit and miss, and some species – notably elephant, hippo and buffalo – are absent. Nonetheless, the scale and isolation are impressive.
Budget: Medium / High
When to go: Best game viewing Jan-May, though access can be difficult then
- Southern Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Less famous than the Serengeti, Selous is Tanzania’s largest game reserve and the safari linchpin of the ‘southern circuit’. Its terrain differs from the savannahs of the north, with woodland, mountains and riverine forest. Being among the best african safaris for specialists, the game is not as visible as in the Serengeti, but the numbers and variety are impressive, with large populations of elephant, buffalo, lion and hippo, plus local specials such as sable and wild dog.
The Rufiji River runs through the park, dividing it in two. Most safaris are confined to the smaller northern sector, where a handful of upmarket lodges offer the full range of activities, including boat trips on the Rufiji. Since 2008 a venture called the Selous Project has been leading safaris into the remote south. These are serious adventures in a pristine wilderness, with expert guiding from former hunters, much of it on foot. Game can be skittish and itineraries are set on the hoof, but you won’t have a wilder safari.
When to go: Year round; activities adapted to seasons
- Liuwa Plain, Zambia
This remote savannah in the Barotseland district of western Zambia was once the hunting ground of the Litunga, king of the Lozi people. Today it is a national park, but so far off the safari circuit that it requires a serious expedition to get there. The few visitors who make the trek – by water and road – find themselves alone in a vast plain of grass, punctuated only by scattered pools, palm stands and the munching of innumerable blue wildebeest.
The wildebeest arrive with the rains to form the largest herds outside the Serengeti, their numbers peaking between November and June, and are joined by zebra and other grazers.
Hyenas are the dominant predators, with a few wandering wild dog and cheetah, and a small lion population. But Liuwa is not a place to tick off big game. Its flora and birds are as special as its mammals, and – best of all – it offers adventure, isolation and the unknown. At present, just one company leads expeditions here.
When to go: Expeditions in May/Jun and Nov/Dec