Answering the Call of the Wild: The Top African Safaris
The images of safaris, along with herds in the distance and elephants, giraffes, and more in the foreground often include the more familiar site of a LandRover teeming with tourists. Come to the central African nation of Zambia for the "up close and personal" walking safari. Cooped up in a minibus, peering out of a roof hatch, is still wondrous, but you are a mere spectator to the big game action. On a walking safari, you step up onto the stage with the main players. Although you'll probably see fewer animals--vehicles have the speed and instant mobility to chase down the game--the immediacy and excitement of walking among the beasts will more than make up for it. On foot, a mere rustling in the bushes triggers more excitement and adrenaline than a close-up sighting from the safety of a vehicle. Moreover, silent and fumeless, you'll often be able to sneak up closer to wildlife before it knows you're there.
Walking safaris can be taken either from permanent bush camps or, better yet, from mobile tented camps. In either case, you will always be accompanied by a guide and an armed guard. The safety record of walking safaris is excellent; we're not aware of a walker who's ever been seriously injured by an animal. They are prohibited in some of East Africa's popular parks--the Serengeti, for example. Zambia and Zimbabwe are the birthplace of the walking safari, and still the best places for this unique experience.
The night game drive is equally unique, providing a glimpse of animals in action in a whole new light. Many species hunt at night (lions), under the cover of darkness, and to escape the midday sun. That same cover of darkness allows you to get much closer to game than otherwise, and provides surprises for you both.
And the best place in Zambia for both is South Luangwa National Park. This is a huge park swarming with wildlife, among the best in Africa, which is why it's known as the Crowded Valley. There are elephants (some of the highest concentrations on the planet), giraffes, buffalo, hippo (the best place to see them entirely out of the water), and numerous hoofed animals and various birds. There is a good chance that you'll actually see the elusive leopard, especially on a night drive.
For walking safaris, plan to be on foot for several hours, averaging three to seven miles a day (some last for several days). Your base bush camps will vary in level of luxury. Although perhaps a bit less comfortable than permanent camps and lodges, the mobile tented choice is usually just as expensive due to the logistical demands of moving camp every day. In effect, you're trading a permanent roof, tile bathroom, and swimming pool for being remote and isolated from other tourists. For the typical Green Traveler, that's a good trade-off. Deluxe mobile tented safaris, with private baths and hot showers right in the tent, and five-star food and service, run $400-$600 per person per day for a party of four. A notch down on the luxe scale, with slightly smaller tents, separate (although still private) showers and toilets, and not-quite-white-glove service, are $250-$375 per day. With shared shower/toilet, and a smaller tent, figure $200-$250 per day. (Service and food are typically very good even down to this level.) Rock-bottom mobile "fly-camping" safaris, where you stay in small two-man pup tents at public campgrounds, help out with camp chores, and ride well-used vehicles with minimal staff, typically cost $75-150 per day.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication