For any avid safari-goer or traveler who seeks out individual experiences far from the rest of the world, rather than obtaining reassurance from a herd mentality, this article is for you!
Having spent my life travelling throughout Africa, the innate desire that keeps motivating the curious mind and the wandering soul is one in search of pristine areas where few traverse. To feel in some way like those early pioneers Livingstone, Speke and Burton, that one has discovered a gem, before the masses follow, renders one with a feeling of exhilaration (and just the smallest hint of smugness!).
So, for those who truly yearn for the original, who revel in open spaces, and who are the trailblazers in life, these suggestions are indeed for you. Central Africa; Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Republic of Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, Benin, and through East Africa to Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania can all, to a greater or lesser degree, provide this experience.
The further south one travels, naturally, the more commercial the experience becomes, but there are still little undiscovered gems to be found. I have chosen the stand outs, where these fabulous remote and offbeat experiences can still be had to some degree.
This is one for the absolute adventurer! Here one can undertake a camel train and four by four safari across the sands, or even a private helicopter exploration that you tailor with your pilot as you go, to get deeper into the desert.
If traversing over land, camps are set up en route, ending up at the most beautiful white, tarpaulin-style camp, shimmering against the backdrop of the massifs that dominate this region. As you travel, watch nomadic Berbers and their camel trains rise over the lip of the desert, moving towards you in a haze, and finally passing you, like ships in the night. Not a word is said. Time immemorial; the impression lingering long after in the mind.
Zakouma holds a special place in my heart, after several visits here that astounded even me, a seasoned-safari goer. This is my favourite wildlife area of all.
Here, swells of birdlife darken the skies above you, lions call out each night, and you are the only people there. It used to the one of the top wildlife experiences in the 50’s and 60’s before poaching decimated the wildlife and now, with a concerted effort in a tri-cameral agreement between the government, the EU and African Parks, a fabulous NGO, this park is once again being restored to its former glory.
Home to forest elephant, forest buffalo and the western lowland gorilla, this area is quite extraordinary and incredibly beautiful. In my opinion, it offers the best gorilla experiences as the gorillas are arboreal and therefore far more active. It undoubtedly is a far more immersive experience. There are also game drives and boat trips and the most wonderful walking.
The perfect complement to Odzala, one can take a boat trip along the river, past Cameroon, in the style of the early explorers. This truly pristine region, with little deforestation, offers both a cultural insight into the pygmy people, but also here is the opportunity to see one of the greatest concentration of forest elephant on the planet in this bai.
Sangha Lodge, where I stayed, has a pangolin rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary where you can get up close to these highly endangered creatures.
This is the world’s oldest desert and has the most extraordinary landscape. On the Namib Rand conservancy one can get away from it all, and stay in a wonderful tented camp or lodge that affords complete privacy.
Watch the sand dunes change hue in the early morning glow, from blues and purples to pinks and reds; it is truly breathtaking! Learn about desert adapted species and take a hot air balloon across the dunes in complete silence as the sun rises, the most exhilarating start to the day.
Home to the black rhino, this is such a special area. Arid, rocky, with a harsh beauty that is indescribable. Spend time on foot in search of these magnificent creatures who have been with us for over a million years.
Similar to Damaraland in habitats, Kaokoland adjoins the infamous Skeleton Coast. From magnificent sand dunes, to rocky outcrops, to vistas as far as the eye can see, to enormous mountains and inselbergs, this area is simply beautiful. Desert dwelling rhino, elephant and lion can be found as well as antelope.
Eastern Namibia is home to the last stronghold of the ancient San tribe. This is most genuine cultural experience there is with the oldest living tribe on earth. You can spend time with them learning how they survive in such a harsh environment, how they find water and forage for roots to sustain themselves. These are incredibly welcoming people and have been the custodians of their natural world for Millennia. They have such wisdom to share and are delighted to share their stories and culture with us, simultaneously helping to sustain their way of life.
Magnificent area with lovely herds of elephant that migrate, and with the mighty Kavango river that bisects it, it is an area of extreme beauty.
Truly beautiful, offering a private tented camp experience with private guides. A visit here can then be completed with a luxury lodge at the end. Fabulous for wildlife, including black rhino, and incredible mountain scenery.
Few tread here, and I can’t work out why! A fabulous conservancy, private, great for rhino, wild dog, and wonderful for walking!
These ancient pans form part of the Kalahari Desert. White salt pans, doum palms and ilala palms sit together so beautifully, to make this one of the most romantic places on the African continent. It is practically empty; there are only three camps in the 6,200 sq miles that they cover.
Home to desert dwelling species, including the black maned lion, antelope, and a zebra migration, the wildlife and experiences should make this a definite on the adventurer’s list. Walk with the San people and spend time game viewing by vehicle, exploring on foot, on horseback and by quad bike. One can even sleep out beneath the stars.
An ecological combination of East Africa and southern Africa, this area is both extraordinary and beautiful. One of the few places outside of East Africa that has true plains, Busanga is home to fabulous prides of black maned lions and huge flocks of crowned cranes. This is like having all of Africa to oneself. Just beautiful! There are only around three camps here.
Another success story for NGO African Parks with their reintroduction of lions. The most beautiful camp is Time + Tide King Lewanika Lodge, which serves as wonderful spot to see the most incredible birdlife. The main benefits of Liuwa is game viewing and boating with minimal walking in an area which is pristine and utterly stunning.
Moyowasi has one million acres of pristine game reserve bordering Burundi with the most fabulous birdlife as well and incredible beauty, with one of Africa’s largest rivers running through. Just one camp exists here and only for three months of the year. It doesn’t come more privileged than this!
Tanzania’s second largest national park and located in southern Tanzania, it has just seven places to stay. The piece de resistance is the fact that it has 10% of Africa’s entire lion population! Wildlife viewing is insanely good but without the crowds found in other dense game areas. Spot wildlife by vehicle and on foot here with walking safaris being my real recommendation!
A truly beautiful area with five different biomes and under the protection of the Greg Carr Foundation, this is a really stunning park with mountains looming over it. The wildlife is steadily increasing and there are specialists and researchers who can take you out and spend time exploring this richly bio-diverse area. Top wildlife to spot are unique birds, elephant, giraffe, zebra, lions, and its smaller insects and plants.
Lake Turkana is desolate, remote and completely fascinating. The best way to reach it is by a helicopter flight (stopping to land on the way on the Chalbi Desert too). Flying over ‘The Jade Sea’ as Count Teleki did when he discovered it in the early 20th century, swooping over the extraordinary flamingo population, is truly a sight to behold! It is a magnificent region with a fascinating culture, a definite ‘must’ to add to the list for those visiting northern Kenya.
With just two camps, this area offers such a pristine environment with which to explore on foot. The birdlife, butterflies, antelope and elephant are resident to this region, which is utterly beautiful. The local Samburu tribes are entirely uncommercial and this is a fabulous introduction to these wonderful nomadic people.
One of the hottest, driest and lowest places on our planet. Walking around the area you feel like you are on another planet. There are volcanoes with bubbling lava lakes, multi-coloured hydrothermal fields, sulphuric springs and great salt pans that dazzle the eyes. Accessible by helicopter only, this is an extraordinary area that should be included on any exploration of Ethiopia!
Home to some of the last truly unchanged tribespeople. Accessed by boat and air, this is one of the least commercial places one can visit and it has enormous archaeological importance. This is not an area for wildlife, but for spectacular cultural interaction.
Spectacular with overwhelming, wild scenery. All superlatives come to mind! The views of the towering cliffs, the deepest of green lichen-clad valleys, waterfalls tumbling down mountain sides, the scale from valley floor far below to the highest peak above (4543 metres), and the shepherds who lead their flocks over these remote lands in search of sweet grasses. These all make this one of the most breath-taking regions to visit in Ethiopia!
Bale Mountains and its Harenna Forest in the foothills below are entirely contrasting yet intrinsically linked. There are very, very few visitors here, yet this is one of the top wilderness areas in Africa. It is the last stronghold of the endangered Ethiopian wolf, and there are other endemic species here too. The scenery is dramatic with high peaks, giant lobelia, everlasting flowers, blue winged goose, and an occasional dusting of snow.
Yet, just a short zigzagging journey down the side of the mountain to the floor below finds you in the Harenna Forest, a vast forest mostly unexplored. Home to plant and animal species still being discovered. Harenna is enchanting with Spanish moss clad trees, exotic plants and flowers, waterfalls surrounded by tropical plants, elusive lions and the Bale Monkey, which mainly lives on bamboo.
Of course, my recommendation would be that you have a private guide and you undertake your journey the way it should be – privately. So this will entail private charter flights by either fixed wing aircraft or helicopters to take you to these special places, as many are difficult to access (which makes them all the more special) and they are generally quite far away from main international airports. The luxury is in having a part of Africa all to yourself!
Then of course, it’s private vehicle and private guides and private accommodation. For the most part, it will be private mobile camps, erected just for your party, sent in advance of your arrival and dismantled on your departure – leaving no trace as the region returns once more to its pristine condition, and for nature to envelop it.
These camps are generally incredibly luxurious, affording all of life’s pleasures. A comfortable bed, toilet and shower facilities with hot water just for you, fabulous meals, great wine and drinks, incredible guiding skills, good company.
More than anything else, a tented camp allows the outside world in, in terms of the scent that wafts along the breeze of the various wild herbs, on the early morning dew, or carrying the sound of lions roaring, demarcating their territory, or hyaena’s whooping or zebra’s braying; a constant reminder of the cacophony intrinsic to Africa. Her rhythm, her pulse, that edge which keeps it so alive. And then – those night skies, inky blue, punctuated only by those brightest of planets and stars. Showering beneath the stars at night beneath a bejeweled sky is an unforgettable experience!
With careful planning and if you wish, one can combine a wonderful private villa to end a fabulous safari in luxury!
If you would like more information about adventurous and remote, offbeat safaris holidays and safaris, whether to Africa, Asia or Latin America, I would be delighted to chat to you! Please do feel free to get in touch, or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images and video courtesy of:
CAR Sangha Lodge and Isak Pretorias, Maureen Kirk (Zakouma NP), Brian Meier (Ennedi), Michael Waidmann and Tropic Air (Ethiopia), Scenic Air [email protected], Piotr Naskrecki (Gorongosa), Kichaka Expeditions, Wolwedans, Chisa Camp Green Safaris, Time + Tide and Will Burrard-Lucas (Liuwa).