Khaki-clad, binocular wielding safari-goers are perhaps some of the smuggest travellers out there, returning home with tales of spotting the Big Five and never-ending photo slideshows to prove it. But there’s no denying there are few things cooler than observing wild animals in their natural habitat, which also means safaris are one of the most expensive holidays there are. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting this once-in-a-lifetime experience right – here are our favourite safaris in the world.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta is lauded one of the world’s best safari destinations for the sheer diversity of wildlife. A glittering oasis in an area dominated by dryness and drought, animals migrate here in their thousands making for an unrivalled density of game. Also setting Okavango apart is the option to conduct your safari on horse or elephant, allowing for access to flooded areas impossible to reach by jeep. Spend time on the water aboard the Kubu Queen houseboat from which you can explore via a dugout canoe, before heading to a luxury lodges in the Moremi Game Reserve, such as Wilderness Safaris Mombo Camp.
Ongava Park, Namibia
Namibia may not be the most obvious choice of safari destination, conjuring up images of the ramshackle skeleton coast and sweeping red desert dunes, but the Ongava and Etosha National Parks are two of Africa’s best-kept secrets. The result is a safari experience that feels authentic and pretty trailblazing – you’re unlikely to jostle for space to spot the many lions, rhinos and elephants. For the most exclusive trip, stay in the three room Little Ongava Camp, with its elevated perch allowing you to spy on all the reserve’s wildlife while enjoying the unrivalled luxury of its lodges, which come complete with infinity pools and log fires.
Ranthambore Park, India
While safaris are synonymous with Africa, India has something different to offer. Rather than the famed Big Five, the main event here is the tiger. Head to Sher Bagh Hotel set right on the edge of the Ranthambore National Park and revel in colonial-themed tented bedrooms, a secluded pool and candlelit dinners around the camp fire. With a cap on daily visitors to the park, most tourists are carted around on giant open-sided trucks, which can’t stray from the main paths. A stay at Sher Bagh or the neighbouring Aman-i-Khas bypasses this and allows you private jeep tours of the park with guides who can sniff out a tiger from miles away.
Kruger, South Africa
With some of the world’s best luxury safari lodges, you’re spoilt for choice in South Africa. Our pick is the Kruger National Park, the country’s largest, where the Big Five are all on show alongside plenty of other mammals and birdlife. Stay in one of the lodges that hug the edge of the main reserve allowing for a more secluded game experience. We’re big fans of the Lion Sands Reserve, where you can book into one of their three treehouses for a night perched under the stars.
A safari rite of passage is witnessing the annual migration of wildebeest across the plains. For a front-row seat book into one of Singita’s Grumeti camps, located on a private but vast 350,000-acre estate. With four properties in total, time not spent in a jeep can be whiled away playing billiards, trying your hand at archery or seeking respite in the rejuvenating spa. But if watching the migration is your ultimate goal, book into Singita Explore, a mobile camp that follows the best game viewing by popping up and immersing you in remote locations.
Yala Park, Sri Lanka
India’s teardrop neighbour holds its own against the heavyweight African destinations when it comes to animal viewings. Visit Yala West National Park for your best chance of spotting a leopard, with one leopard per square kilometer of parkland. Uda Walawe Park is closer to the capital Colombo and, while it’s short on other mammals, it’s absolutely teeming with elephants. For a distinctive stay, opt for Chena Huts on the fringes of the Yala park. The luxury pavilions come complete with their own pools and views not only of the parkland, but the sea turtle-filled beaches beyond.
Chimpanzees and gorillas, Rwanda
Shunning jeeps and horses, a safari in Rwanda has you trekking through thick jungle on the lookout troops of gorillas. Further your primate knowledge with a trip to Nyungwe Forest where chimpanzees and monkeys are found. And just in case you get tired of all the monkeying around, Akagera National Park is home to plenty of elephants, giraffes, hippos, and so on. If you’re brave enough, stay at the soon to open Bisate Lodge, a luxury dwelling in the eroded crater of a volcano.
Canoe Safari, Zambia
For a truly unique perspective, it can’t get better than canoeing down the Zambezi. Itineraries depend on which operator you book with but on the whole cover two national parks and a total of 160km, with overnight accommodation in old-school pitched tents. This isn’t a trip for the fainthearted; you’ll cover roughly 24km a day on the water with your own guide and as well as canoeing over gorges and rapids, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for game lurking in the bushes. If all that sounds a bit strenuous, opt for a normal land safari and book in for a one-day canoe excursion.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
After years of political isolation, Zimbabwe, once a firm Africa safari favourite, is getting back on the map. Ahead of the anticipated decline of Mugabe’s influence, some of the country’s best guides are heading back to work on home turf and the first of what is sure to be many safari lodges have launched. Linkwasha Camp lies in its own private section of Hwange National Park, with access to its vast plains and game viewing to rival Africa’s other hotspots but without the crowds. Gonarezhou National Park, for years off limit due to the presence of Mozambican troops, is back in business with Singita lodge offering another option for undisturbed game viewing. Complete your trip with a visit to Victoria Falls and a stay at the revamped Victoria Falls Hotel.
Patagonia, South America
If you really want to break away from the crowd and subvert the traditional safari connotations, head to deepest, darkest South America and embark on a Patagonian adventure. Straddling Chile and Argentina, this rugged terrain encompasses everything from mountainous peaks, enchanted woodlands and mirrored lakes. Go inland to track the ever-elusive puma, as well as an abundance of native birds, flora and fauna, then head to the coast for orcas, elephant seals and penguins, with plenty of opportunities to hike hiking, kayak or horse ride along the way.