Luxury of Wild
Helicopter safaris, houseboat Jacuzzis and canvas castle camps, all surrounded by the greatest wildlife show on Earth
I have nearly been bowled over by an acrobatic baby gorilla in Rwanda, stuttered with fright in a canoe as a hippo leapt off the riverbank to shower me with Zambezi spray, and watched an elephant crash by my safari camp bedroom on the way to a watering hole in Kruger.
Africa, Africa, Africa. It’s the ultimate experiential escape, the perfect memory maker, the most wonderful place on Earth.
And when the bass baritone of a lion booms through the night chorus, you’ll realise it too. That Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer roar will shake the ice in your gin and tonic, and reach deep inside to rattle your primeval DNA. Because there is nothing more exciting than suddenly understanding where you stand in the food chain.
So where do you start looking for the finest safari encounters money can buy? Easy. It’s right here, with our handy guide to 10 of the most luxurious safari experiences on the continent.
Wildlife: Botswana boasts the Okavango, the world’s largest inland delta, perfect for exploring by dugout canoe and packed with giraffes, elephants, lions and cheetahs. Then there’s the Moremi Game Reserve, a Big Five favourite populated with white and rare black rhinos, and the hippo-friendly waters of Chobe National Park, home to 120,000 elephants.
Highlife: Abercrombie & Kent doesn’t describe their tents as tents, but rather canvas castles. They also employ a professional photographer to offer technical tips and make it their business to know what guests like. “[They] like to return from a game drive to discover the copper tub has been moved onto the deck under a duvet of stars, the champagne’s on ice, and the bath water frothed to perfection using a fork attached to an electric drill.”
- An 11-night Botswana safari with Abercrombie & Kent starts from around US$11,000 per person (abercrombiekent.co.uk)
Wildlife: The Rift Valley’s Lake Awassa is packed with vibrant bird and monkey life; the Bale Mountains National Park offers Nyala antelope, warthog and guereza monkeys; and at the Sanetti Plateau, endangered Simien foxes, golden jackals and the Abyssinian hare run free. The magic of Ethiopia is that its tribes are equally fascinating, from the bull-jumping men of Hamer to the women of Mursi who adorn their lips with giant decorative plates.
Highlife: Ethiopia is not known for its über luxury accommodation, though there are charming rustic escapes such as Bale Mountain Lodge. Coming here, however, is the luxury of an experience your friends are unlikely to have enjoyed.
- Red Savannah has 13-day tours of the country’s wildlife and wild sights from US$5,692 (www.redsavannah.com)
Wildlife: The famous Maasai Mara savannahs provide some of the greatest concentrations of animals on Earth; Lake Nakuru is carpeted with millions of pink flamingos, while endless elephants and giraffes saunter across Tsavo West National Park. Like a scene from Out of Africa, predators chase millions of migrating wildebeest and zebras, right before your eyes.
Highlife: Sir Richard Branson’s 12-tent safari camp in the Massai Mara, Mahali Mzuri promises a “front row seat” to the migration. The camp’s viewing platforms, giant screen windows, infinity pool, contemporary dining tent, futuristic architecture, spa, vintage champagne and claw-footed bathtubs are as dangerously seductive as the wildlife.
- Prices for exclusive use of Mahali Mzuri start from US$18,240 per night (virginlimitededition.com)
Wildlife: Five per cent of all known animal and plant species live in the desert, rainforest, mountains and along the coastline of this extraordinary island. Of course lemurs are the children’s film favourite, but let’s not forget the spooky fossa (google it!), sharks and humpback whales, weird lizards, rare bird species, colourful frogs and photogenic chameleons.
Highlife: A lack of big carnivores on Madagascar means you can explore the land on foot and at night. So you will need five-star insight. Lucienne Wilmé is a local university lecturer, author, editor, biologist and research associate. She leads guests of Rainbow Tours.
- Prices for an 18-day Wildlife Extravaganza with Rainbow Tours start from £5,795 (rainbowtours.co.uk)
Wildlife: From the shipwrecks scattered on Skeleton Coast and the haunting wilderness of the Namib Desert, to the walking safaris of the San bushman and secrets of the Himba tribe, Namibia offers an otherworldly African perspective. This is all populated by coastal seals, desert elephants, cheetahs, black rhinos, chameleons, black scorpions and sand snakes, as well as the giraffes, antelopes, jackals and leopards of the NamibRand Nature Reserve.
Highlife: Brown+Hudson offers private planes and makeshift airstrips to explore your own exclusive safari wilderness, sandboards to surf those ghostly dunes, parachute flights to get a bird’s eye view of this romantic land, and accommodation that ranges from designer boutique hotels in the capital of Windhoek to wilderness camps overlooking watering holes with en-suite bucket showers and tempting “bush bars”. If you wish, you can learn survival techniques in the desert with television explorers such as the BBC’s Ben Fogle.
- Prices on request. Contact Brown+Hudson for details (brownandhudson.com).
Wildlife: Chem Chem, Ngorongoro Crater and Singita—these are African wildlife legends. And they are all in Tanzania. Take Ngorongoro, for instance. There are more than 25,000 large animals here including the black-mane lion, leopard and black rhino, as well as Maasai taking their cattle down to drink. As for the Serengeti, well, it hosts the greatest wildlife show on Earth—the summer migration of millions of wildebeest and zebras pursued by predators looking for an easy lunch.
Highlife: Colonial-style cottage luxury, contemporary vintage tents, gourmet menus, massages under baobab trees, stilted thatched suites, personal butlers, fine whiskies, cigars, libraries, infinity pools—Extraordinary Journeys has got the lot in Tanzania as well as the five-star service that gets you up close and personal with the animals.
- Extraordinary Journeys has a 12-day tailor-made luxury Tanzania tour for US$16,500 (extraordinaryjourneys.com)
Rwanda and Uganda
Wildlife: Two iconic destinations, one key reason to visit: gorillas. Lions, cheetahs and leopards are all amazing to see, but nothing compares to seeing a baby gorilla playing with its mum. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and Virunga National Park in Rwanda are the best places in the world to enjoy gorilla family fun. Both countries also offer superb volcano landscapes, verdant forests and endless varieties of monkey, orchid and bird life.
Highlife: The rustic splendour of Bwindi Lodge is wonderful; the chance of seeing a roaming gorilla on the lawn, sublime. Mount Gahinga Lodge is cottage cosy and Virunga Lodge in Rwanda offers priceless views of the Virunga Volcanoes.
- Red Savannah offers 13 days of unforgettable gorilla and monkey action in both countries from US$10,880 (redsavannah.com)
Wildlife: The Luangwa and Zambezi rivers bring life to the wildlife in Zambia and the best way to get into the thick of the action is in a canoe to watch the elephants crossing, the crocs waiting and the hippos playing (watch out for leapers). Game drives can track down the big cats in the bush (a night drive is unforgettable) and walking safaris get you up close with rare bird life. You can finish your Zambia adventure staring in wonder at Victoria Falls.
Highlife: The riverbank lodges in Zambia provide extraordinary views and extraordinary comfort. Chiawa Camp and Old Mondoro are among the best, offering river-view splash tubs, high Egyptian cotton counts, game viewing hides and thatched bars for sundowners. Dinner on the nearby river islands is highly recommended.
- Abercrombie & Kent offers a 13-day adventure exploring four wildlife-filled destination highlights of Zambia from £5,795 per person (abercrombieandkent.co.uk)
Wildlife: In Kruger National Park, I’ve seen lazy leopards waiting, cheetahs crouching, lions lunching on gazelle and watched a harassed hyena herd her babies. Off the coast of Hermanus, I dived with great white sharks and whale-watched. On top of that, it really isn’t an overstatement to say that driving along the continent’s famous coastline is an experience of life-changing proportions.
Highlife: There is nothing like coming back from a game drive to an alfresco bush dinner with trees illuminated by lanterns or a little wine tasting in the cellar of Singita Boulders in the heart of a private 45,000-acre game reserve.
- Scott Dunn can customise your South African safari to perfection and offers nights at Boulders from US$1,500 (scottdunn.com)
Wildlife: After helicoptering over Victoria Falls and gazing at the hippos, crocodiles, elephants and giraffes by the Zambezi, you jump into another chopper to Linkwasha Camp on game-packed Hwange National Park near the famous Ngamo Plains for a few days. This is followed by a private plane ride to Lake Kariba and the luxury 29-metre houseboat of Matusadona that explores remote reaches of the bush. Then it’s into another private plane to the forest-based Pamushana Lodge for a couple of days of rhino tracking, bird watching and game drives in Zim’s famous Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve.
Highlife: All those helicopters, private flights and extraordinary camps, lodges and houseboats are the epitome of personalised luxury and part of an itinerary organised by Journeys by Design. Yoga before your drive? Check. Jacuzzi on houseboat? Absolutely. The most qualified guide in the country? Naturally.
• US$40,801 per person (journeysbydesign.com).