With the world now far more cognizant of the stark reality facing us, we need to change our habits and lifestyles. The great conundrum facing us is how to balance the equilibrium when so many of us enjoy travel?
If we don’t reduce our carbon footprint, there will be dire consequences for future generations. In short, our children, and their children will pay for our excessive consumer consumption. However it is possible to travel whilst making a positive impact to the environment!
The general consensus is that travel is good. It is necessary. It brings wealth to third world economies reliant upon tourism. It provides an income to local communities which in turn protects its wildlife resources.
It allows us to see the natural world and perhaps become a part of a conservation initiative, a community initiative or a micro finance project, assisting and improving the lives of others less fortunate than ourselves. It allows our innate altruism to prevail. It is a great educator – both for ourselves, but especially for our children. To engage, understand and witness other cultures can have life changing, beneficial effects on the way we think, act and behave.
With the close of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, we are again all much more aware of the importance of climate action and living sustainable lives. Every year, it is hoped that COP meetings result in agreements between world leaders to take measurable action on tackling climate change.
Friday 4th November was energy day at COP26, and countries declared their efforts to phase out coal use, one of the worst contributors to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. A global transition to green energy is vital if the world is to stop the worst effects of climate change, so deals announced could be huge milestones in the negotiations.
In what has been called by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa a 'watershed moment', the US, UK and EU have agreed to a deal that will see £6.2bn worth of funding given to the nation to help end its reliance on coal. The new deal will help the nation ease away from the fossil fuel much quicker than was already planned, a move seen as a big moment not only for cutting carbon emissions but also in helping to radically improve the air pollution that currently hangs over much of the country.
Over 30 years ago, The Explorations Company started with a vision of supporting various communities and conservation entities in Africa and Asia. We have continued this work with ever increasing passion and dedication. Now we have gone one step further through our tree plantings and our project to invest in solar cookers for rural African communities (that would usually harvest and burn firewood for cooking).
Whilst our model of sustainable travel admittedly does not reverse carbon emissions from the air, it at least mitigates it and contributes to clean air, whilst we wait for alternate fuel methods for aircraft, whether they be nitrogen, ammonia or electricity.
But there are other methods too, that we can employ on arriving at our chosen destinations. I encourage everybody to consider taking part in and supporting a local charitable project that protects wildlife, communities and the environment whilst they travel. Additionally, I always advocate for low-carbon methods of travel once you have touched down in your destination in Africa, Asia or Latin America.
Taking walking holidays, horse riding holidays, cycling holidays, canoeing holidays, camel trekking, or at least reducing the time spent in a vehicle – not only do these reduce your carbon emissions in your destination, but they also enhance your own safari experience, immersing you completely within the wildlife and ecosystems that you are visiting!
If you wish to take a more leisurely exploration, I can wholly recommend taking game drives by electric vehicles (powered by solar panels) should they exist. Safari camps in Africa are slowly coming around to the idea of electric vehicles, electric boats and electric bikes, despite the initial cost!
Below I have included some of my top recommendations for low-carbon safaris and holidays in Africa and Asia. Of course, all of these holidays can be taken privately for anyone concerned about social distancing or simply wanting a wonderful, exclusive experience with your family or group of friends, or for a couple.
In Africa, one can undertake a dedicated walking safari in pristine wildlife areas. They normally last for around five days, or as few as just a couple of days. For those who simply want to spend perhaps a few hours walking each day, this can be achieved, too. Essentially they can be tailored to your own preferences so they can be as long or as short as you wish!
The countries that offer the finest walking safaris, with wonderful amounts of wildlife to be seen en route, include:
In Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley, the walking safaris are usually conducted over a six-day period. The area is renowned for its concentration of wildlife and the largest leopard population in southern Africa, and you walk spotting wildlife as you go with your expert guide. The experience is similarly wonderful in the Lower Zambezi National Park.
My favourite way to walk on safari in Zambia is to spend two nights at a private camp erected just for your party, taking short walks from this base each day, then walking to a second camp before finally departing for your third camp for the last two nights. These tents are all erected for you and all you need to bring is a pair of binoculars!
You travel around 10kms on foot each day, which allows you to really become immersed in the bush. I personally adore a walking safari as one learns so much more on foot; from the footprints in the sand, the direction they were heading, the way the grass has folded or bent, drag marks if a predator had made a kill and if there are any accompanying tell-tale signs of blood. Your guide and tracker pull all this together to complete the story and show you how they read the signs.
Then one learns about the medicinal properties of trees and plants, for example the African bush willow provides evidence that it attacks the blood supply to cancer and that a single dose can kill up to 95% of a solid tumours’ cells by starving them of their blood supply! This is the traditional walking safari, whereby one has a story weaved each day by a professional guide, one of the best in the industry, and one walks from camp to camp, providing a journey and a sense of achievement!
If tents are not your thing, then my friends Carol and John Coppinger have a couple of amazing reed huts on stilts where you can spend the night, a thrilling experience with a bit more comfort for those adverse to more rustic accommodation.
Finally, one can stay at a fixed camp such as Takwela in North Luangwa, with just four rooms where the only activity is walking into this beautiful, game rich region. There are also luxury camps in the Luangwa where one can walk from one luxury camp to another, again providing one with that feeling of a journey but with a high level of luxury for those who require it.
You could walk from one camp to another in private concession adjoining the Serengeti, where you have the opportunity to see all the wildlife this ecosystem is known for whilst on foot. Alternately, my colleague Anthea had a wonderful experience walking and cycling between comfortable camps in the Ngorongoro Highlands, such a beautiful region and which truly lends itself to 'slow travel'.
In southern Tanzania, there is a beautiful area called Ruaha National Park which boasts 10% of the entire African lion population and where Moli, the finest southern Tanzanian walking guide, shares his home with you. One can either elect to stay at his camp (there are just three beautiful, luxury tents), or he has a fly camp which one can walk to and from, taking perhaps a week or just a couple of days.
In Kenya, one can go walking in the Loita Hills abutting the Masai Mara, on a mule-assisted walking safari. This region is one of the most beautiful imaginable, and one walks with a couple of Maasai guides completely privately.
It is wonderful to learn about their culture and discuss the differences between growing Westernisation and African traditional cultures. There are also camel-assisted walking safaris in the Laikipia region of Kenya, north of the equator. This is richer in wildlife, but also a simply beautiful location in which to walk, assisted by the nomadic Samburu herdsmen.
In South Africa’s Pafuri region of the Limpopo, there is a wonderful three-night walking safari staying at a rustic tented camp. The guides again are just superb and in fact, there is one of the most famous guiding schools on their doorstep.
In Zimbabwe, taking a walking safari in the magnificent wildlife-rich region of Mana Pools is exhilarating. This area is fabulous for elephant, leopard and wild dog. In addition, one is accompanied by Zimbabwe’s finest walking guide!
In Namibia, I recommend taking a walking safari for three days through the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert with the highest sand dunes or one can spend time in Damaraland, a geological Eden, with its fabulous rocks and dramatic scenery. Here one can go rhino tracking on foot each day. All of these walking safaris are private – just for you and your party.
In India, I have experienced the most fabulous walking safaris and holidays in Madhya Pradesh, just outside of Satpura National Park. These can be for two or three days and interspersed with a tiger safari.
Then of course, one of the finest places in the world to take a walking holiday is in the foothills of the Himalayas! In India, I recommend Sikkim, Ladakh and also Kumaon. These are all private with your own Sherpa guide, where you walk at your own pace each day, interacting with locals as you pass through villages and learning about their ways of life. You stay in very comfortable homestays along your route for an immersive experience; I truly cannot put into words how wonderful this is.
In Nepal one can go trekking through the Annapurna Mountains with a fabulous private guide, staying at tea houses en route. And of course, there is the option to trek to Mount Everest base camp too, should you wish.
In Bhutan, one can take wonderful walking holidays, walking from one tented camp to the next. They are erected just for your party and the journey itself is amongst staggeringly beautiful scenery. Alternatively one can base oneself in a hotel such as a Como or Aman property, which of course offers the height of luxury!
Walking is not the only option for sustainable low-carbon holidays. My own preferred method of taking a safari is riding on horseback. One can get so close to wildlife and of course, horses can reach many off-grid locations that 4x4s cannot. Cantering through the waters of the Okavango Delta, or galloping along the flat salt pans of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, or the Namib Desert in Namibia is one of the most wonderful experiences ever.
One can go on a Big 5 riding safari, which are operated by an excellent horse-safari guide in South Africa. Or there is the most exhilarating horse safari along the Wild Coast near the Eastern Cape, which I experienced earlier this year. We rode for a few days across deserted wild beaches, fording rivers and cantering over hills amongst rugged geology. We stayed at comfortable lodges along the way before returning to base over a circular route. This was such fun and truly escapist!
Kenya and Tanzania offer the ultimate experience of riding amongst the Great Migration of wildebeest, Africa’s greatest wildlife phenomenon. 2 million animals converge in search of new grass and water in an endless cyclic journey through the Maasai Mara and Serengeti ecosystems. The horses mask your scent so you can get closer than you would any other way and move amongst them unnoticed. Again, one can opt to ride from camp to camp on a private mobile safari set up purely for your party.
Alternatively for those who want more luxury, then there are static camps and lodges across Africa which specialise in horse safaris, which are ideal for those who would rather come back each night and stay at a fixed lodge. There is also South Africa’s premier polo establishment where one can reside.
In India, one can ride through Rajasthan, staying at royal palaces and tented camps en route. This is absolutely exhilarating, with the Aravalli hills framing the background. With such a large array of horse safari options across Africa and Asia, there is certainly a perfect riding safari that can be tailored for you, whatever your riding ability is!
Cycling holidays are so exciting. This is a fabulous way of staying fit whilst being amongst wildlife. They can be effected in Madhya Pradesh in India, as well as in Uganda, Botswana and South Africa. In India, one cycles between villages in Central India, one of the most beautiful parts of the Indian countryside. It is the perfect way of interacting with the local villages, too.
In Uganda, I recommend cycling safaris around Mount Elgon, or you could even take part in the exhilarating Ride The Rift challenge. In South Africa, one can either go mountain biking through beautiful scenery or take to the road along the Cape Peninsula, with the most outstanding, extraordinary views imaginable!
The best canoeing safaris take place in Zimbabwe, in the Mana Pools region. Here, for a minimum of three nights or up to a week one can travel with the country’s finest guides. This was one of the best safaris I have taken, and it was fabulous to be paddling down the Zambezi River, kilometres wide at certain points, with elephant and buffalo grazing along the water’s edge.
They use Canadian kleppers and tents are erected on various islands along your route. The canoeing is interspersed with walking so that one can explore the surrounding wildlife regions. This is a rustic safari, but a real must-do for anyone with a sense of adventure and who enjoys peace and escapism!
If you are interested in a low-carbon safari or holiday to Africa or Asia, please do feel free to get in touch for more information. The Explorations Company’s charitable arm Philanthropy Plus also supports various charities that run climate and environmental initiatives if you would like to make a difference. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
This blog was originally posted on 08/10/2020 then updated and republished on 15/11/21.
Images and videos used by kind courtesy of:
Tusk and Mane, Robin Pope Safaris, Remote Africa, Bryan Jackson, Kichaka Expeditions, Shakti Himalaya, Como Shambhala Retreat Bhutan, Bijaipur Horse Safaris, Natureways Safaris, Clark Expeditions, Wild Coast Horse Safaris, Huab Under Canvas, Karisia Safaris, Uthando South Africa, Green Safaris, African Bush Camps Foundation.