It’s 5 a.m., barely daybreak, when you’re rousted from a comfortable sleep by a soft tapping on the frame of your tent and a voice calling out your name. You’re given 30 minutes to dress and make yourself presentable before being escorted to the main dining area. As you climb from your plush sheets, you’re immediately alert to the sounds of the African Bush. Baboons are frolicking on your tent’s roof, and a hippo is chewing on reeds just a few steps away. You throw on your khakis, grab your camera and binoculars, and trustingly follow your guide through the darkness to the breakfast tent. Along the way, he shines his flashlight on fresh lion tracks left minutes before. Once in the dining tent, you and your fellow campers will enjoy morning coffee and a continental breakfast before heading out for your first safari of the day. You’ll return later in the morning for an epicurean brunch and time to rest, read, swim, organize photos or gather in the common tent to share safari stories.
Most safaris last about three hours and take place at sunrise and sunset when the game is awake, active and easiest to spot. It’s also your best chance of achieving what is the primary goal for most safari-goers; spotting and tracking the Big Five. This exclusive club consists of lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and the Cape Buffalo. Your guide is an expert, highly trained and educated, and your 4x4 Land Cruiser is open-sided. Your chances of achieving your goal are excellent. Not all safari camps contain the Big Five, but the Kruger and Chobe National Parks are known for its abundance of these honorary club members.
Mala Mala, which shares an unfenced border with Kruger and the Sabi Sand Reserves, is one of the largest, private big game reserves in South Africa. Located along the Sand River and containing three separate camps within its boundaries, the reserve has been in existence since 1927. All three camps are luxurious and have their own unique characteristics; private villas with pools in Camp Rattray and lodges with expansive suites in Camps Sable and Main Camp. Massage services, gourmet meals, well-stocked bars with impressive wine lists and large viewing decks are customary in whichever camp you stay.
Tubu Tree, located in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, is known for its concentration of game viewing on land as well as through its twisting estuaries. Whether you’re gliding through the lagoon in a “mokoro,” (a traditional dug-out canoe) or placidly cruising in an open passenger boat, you will see herds of elephants; pods of hippos; and a variety of birds including the Wattled Crane, African Fish Eagle and the Red-Billed Hornbill. Accommodations consist of eight traditional-style tents on raised platforms overlooking the floodplains. All tents have ensuite bathrooms with private outdoor showers and are well-stocked with superior bedding and toiletries. Gourmet meals are served in a main dining tent or, on occasion, under the stars, and the open bar is shaded by a large Marula tree. Camp Tubu Tree does not contain the Big Five, as lions do not inhabit the area, but the beauty and allure of the Okavango is incomparable.
Savute Safari Lodge, within Chobe National Park, offers luxury safaris along the waterways of the Linyanti River and deep within the bush of Botswana. Built of natural woods and covered in thatch, the 12 first-class suites offer every modern convenience while still blending with the ruggedness of the landscape. Lounge at the pool and watch elephants bathe in a nearby watering hole, relax on the expansive deck with binoculars and a gin and tonic, or simply read a book. The Big Five live here along the river and within the depths of the park. When it’s time for dinner, you might be treated to a traditional Botswanan dish called Seswa, a stewed and shredded meat slowly cooked over an open fire.
Most camps offer their own unique experiences. Some guides serve their passengers a “sundowner” cocktail during the evening safari. Along with their beverage, guests are given the opportunity to take a short walk in the vicinity of their cruiser to watch the setting sun. Other camps invite the local villagers to sell their hand-woven baskets and beaded jewelry or to perform traditional folk singing and dancing around the campfire.
The months of July through September are the most barren and dry, and the animals are easiest to spot. It’s also when many of the young are born and the viewing of cubs is at its best. During the rainy season, October through February, the landscape is blooming and lush, making for beautiful views, but the thick, green bush can easily hide the wildlife.
There’s little that compares to tracking the Big Five through the vast expanse of the African bush, but several other species are thrilling to spot as well; giraffes, zebras, lemur, kudu, impala, wild dogs and many more species inhabit the region. And then there’s the Ugly Five, the underdogs that only a mother could love: warthogs, wildebeest, hyenas, vultures and the Marabou Stork. They’re not as attractive as their counterparts but are significant contributors to the cycle of life just the same; forever giving and taking back.
For reservations, contact Africa Adventure Company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.