Those of us who are regular African safari addicts know that there's a lot more ways to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the African bush than you can have on regular game drives. Ever considered hot air ballooning over the Namib Desert dunes or the Maasai Mara savannah, experiencing the wetlands of the Okavango by mokoro (traditional wooden dugout canoe) or my latest favourite, sleeping under the stars in a 'sky bed'?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking the traditional game drive in an open Land Cruiser as a great way to see the wildlife of Africa. I love nothing more than waking up to the sound of lions and hyaenas in the early morning semi-darkness, jumping out of bed when a camp staff member gently says "Good morning", and rugging up for an early morning drive in an open game viewer. It's just that there's more than one way to feel the wild of Africa, and it's worth trying more than one while you're there if you can!
Hot Air Ballooning
Imagine soaring over the magnificent golden sand dunes of Namibia at dawn, watching the sun come up with the most amazing views you've ever seen. As the oldest desert in the world comes to life you'll have a birds eye view - followed by a champaigne breakfast! NamibSky offers hot air ballooning over Sossusvlei and beyond and our guests tell us it is absolutely incredible. Hot air ballooning is also offered in the Maasai Mara - Serengeti ecosystem. Can you imagine seeing the vast herds of wildebeests peppering the land from the sky? I mean, Wow!!
Wild animals respond completely differently to you when you're on horseback compared to when you're on foot walking or in a vehicle. A horse is less threatening so often you can get closer. But imagine how it feels to be in the Okavango Delta, surrounded by elephants and all manner of antelopes, watching African wild dogs and giraffes up close, while perched on a trusty steed! Makatoo Camp specialises in luxury horse-riding safaris and I'll be taking 2 groups there next June (to sign up click here).
Sable Alley Camp in Botswana's picturesque Khwai region is one place you can experience a night under the stars in luxury in your own personal tower. After your afternoon game drive, you end up having sundowners by a waterhole frequented by elephants as the sun sets, have dinner cooked over the campfire and then climb up into your personal sky bed for the ultimate outdoor experience. This is a lot like camping out, without the roughing it! Other places you can sleep out at a sky bed are Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe and Lions Sands Treehouses in South Africa's Sabi Sands Reserve. As you drift off to sleep, the sound of a leopard's cough or hyaena's cackling will permeate your dreams...
You need to experience a traditional dugout canoe at least once in your life and I recommend you do it in the Okavango Delta wetlands. This peaceful experience enables you to get up close with the frogs and the birds living in the reeds and if you're lucky you might get to see an elusive sitatunga antelope! There's no engine, just the sound of the water lapping at the edges of your mokoro as you are poled along the waterway. It's just pure magic at sunset, like meditation. Quite a lot of camps in the Okavango offer mokoro rides, including Xigera Camp by Wilderness Safaris and Sable Alley Camp by Natural Selection.
Honestly, there's nothing like walking in Africa to remind yourself that we were once prey animals! Walking in the bush is the closest you can feel to nature and you will feel your heart quicken as you appreciate how impalas feel on a daily basis. You probably won't see as much as you would on a game drive, but you'll learn heaps about the plants, tracks and the insects and all the little things that get overlooked when you're in a vehicle. If you get the chance to go walking in the bush with a specialist walking guide, I highly recommend it. Plus after all that good safari cooking you might feel the need to stretch your legs!
What other ways do you love to experience the African bush? Leave us a comment below!