Home » General » The 10 best safaris to do in Africa


“Leopard!” It’s one of the most thrilling words you can hear from your guide at the wheel of usually a Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser in the most common way of viewing wildlife: on a 4WD game drive. As we peered through our binoculars at the fabulous beast prowling through the undergrowth of Sarara​ Camp in remote northern Kenya, our Samburu​ guide Malakai swung into action, darting off-road and expertly skirting around her path so we could follow her progress. Three little dik dik, the smallest species of the antelope family, scattered for their lives. Only two reappeared. We heard a terrified squeak… and then the leopard reappeared with her prey hanging limp in her jaws. Nature can be cruel but you can see so much of it from a good vehicle with a great guide. Sarara Camp, Namunyak Conservancy Kenya. See bush-and-beyond.com/properties/northern-kenya/sarara/.


These days, most game walks are led by a guide accompanied by a rifle-toting guard, just in case of an unexpected too-close encounter. It can add a spine-tingling  air of menace to the march. There’s something terribly grounding, too, about actually walking on the land on the same level as the animals, and the guide will usually point out interesting paw-prints, droppings, birds and plants along with the actual wildlife. On my last one, I froze when I heard a sudden crashing behind me. I spun round, fully expecting an elephant – or worse. It was my travel companion, who’d tripped over a tree root and had smashed to the ground. Lucky for me, but not for her. Emakoko, Nairobi, Kenya. See emakoko.com.


There’s little that can beat gliding almost silently through the water in a boat made from a hollowed-out tree trunk – or a fibreglass replica – looking for the water-loving antelope lechwe​ or jewelled reed frogs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Until, that is, you come almost face-to-face with a giant croc or a honking hippo, and realise just how low in the water you are, and how flimsy your “makoro” appears. But, says your guide nonchalantly as he poles you along, you’re in no danger at all. By then, you have no alternative but to believe him. Vumbura, Botswana. See wilderness-safaris.com/camps/little-vumbura.


I don’t ride and was skeptical about the claims that viewing wildlife from the back of what could look like a tasty treat for a lion was a wise way to go, especially if the horse bolted and left me behind as the entree. But after pleading for the smallest, most dependable horse in the stables, I climbed gingerly on board. And … it was wonderful. The wildlife seemed to accept a horse in their midst as just another creature and didn’t appear to turn a hair. So you can actually get up close and personal, and take some great photos once you have the confidence to let go of the reins. You can even look into a giraffe’s eyes when it bends to feed. Ol Donyo​ Lodge, Chyulu​ Hills, Kenya. See greatplainsconservation.com/ol-donyo-lodge/.


Lurching along on a camel being led by a Samburu warrior across their ancient lands in remote, rugged northern Kenya must be one of the most magical experiences possible. Especially since you’re up so high, you have majestic views over the plains of the wildlife gambolling, striding and even hunting all around you. From your lofty perch, it’s so much easier to spot the endangered Grevy’s zebra, the elephants swimming in the waterhole and the endangered painted dogs gambolling after a successful hunt. Ahhhh! Ol Malo, Laikipia. See Kenya olmalo.com


They can be flimsy fences you duck behind, or majestic underground bunkers with viewing openings, but either way they allow you to sit quietly in close quarters with the wildlife, unobserved, as they go about their daily business. The best are right by favourite waterholes or “vleis” – dry open riverbeds – that enable you to see a big variety of game. At Zimbabwean lodge The Hide, there are so many lions, elephants, buffalos, painted dogs, etc, that you are escorted there and back by an armed ranger. The Hide, Hwange, Zimbabwe. See thehide.com.


Many African game lodges these days have access to a plane or helicopter for a joy ride for anything from 30 minutes over a conservancy to a whole-day expedition to some isolated scenic spot that is otherwise pretty inaccessible. I chose a plane ride over the pale yellow lands of Lewa Downs, Kenya, studded with thorny acacias and speckled with wildlife. Soaring over a herd of buffalo, zebra or startled impala, as well as being able to appreciate the mountains, dramatic escarpments and slow-flowing rivers of the landscape, is an incomparable experience. Lewa House, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya. See lewahouse.com.


Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon? Yes, please. The major plus with a hot air balloon is that it glides silently (apart from the roar of the gas that passengers can hear from time to time) above the animals, so they’re not disturbed. I took one over Kenya’s stunning Maasai Mara, which has such sweeping plains it’s easy to spot the critters, and it’s even more incredible during the annual migrations. Mara Plains, Maasai Mara, Kenya. See greatplainsconservation.com/mara-plains-camp/.


When you have good distances to travel to spot wildlife, and narrow tracks, quad bikes are often a fabulous option. At the edge of the Namib Desert in northern Namibia, for instance, you whizz around spectacular scenery, steep escarpments and dizzying drops, with the Cunene River and Angola in the distance, looking for desert-adapted oryx and springbok. Unforgettable. Serra Cafema,Namibia. See classicsafaricompany.com.au.


It’s great to view African wildlife in the wild, but when things go wrong for the animals, it’s nice to see that there are some safety nets. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, rescues orphaned and injured elephants, rehabilitates them and then reintroduces them back to the wild in Tsavo National Park. It took 28 years to discover that the best substitute for young elephants’ mothers’ milk is a special powdered baby milk formula. Here you can watch them being fed and playing, and even sponsor one for $US50 a year. See sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/.

Sue Williams travelled courtesy of The Classic Safari Company and South African Airways (www.flysaa.com.au). All these experiences can be booked via The Classic Safari Company classicsafaricompany.com.au.