.The safari holiday is one of the grand wonders of travel – a special sort of escape, with its growls, howls and noble felines on the prowl – that everyone should sample at least once.
And Africa is the obvious environment for this – the planet’s most ecologically-diverse continent, the perfect playground for the animal kingdom at its most glorious. But where exactly should you go?
This depends on the type of safari you are seeking. Exciting enclaves where the wildest of creatures appear almost on cue are easy to find – and, as a result, are usually crowded with visitors. But look around, and you can find less-appreciated possibilities where you might well have the kings and queens of the jungle (or at least the savannah) to yourself.
The biggest country in East Africa is something of an unknown quantity in safari terms. True, it has the galloping, stampeding wonderland of the Serengeti, that epic swathe of grassland where, each October, the ‘Great Migration’ sees two million herbivores (zebra, wildebeest and buffalo) come charging out of Kenya, thirstily chasing the seasonal rains.
But it also has patches of wilderness that are truly off the beaten track. Or any track at all.
A case in point is the Ruaha National Park, an unspoiled expanse, roughly in the middle of the country, that is home to some 20,000 elephants – but very few tourists. Similarly, the Selous Game Reserve, 200 miles to the south-east, can boast Unesco World Heritage status thanks to the undisturbed creature-conditions it proffers. Lions, wild dogs and hippopotamuses thrive here, while 350 feathered species flit across its peaceful skies.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic has regular flights to Nairobi (in Kenya) from London Heathrow. From here, there are daily services to Tanzania’s biggest city Dar Es Salaam.
The African continent’s final ebb is well established as a first-rate safari destination – not least because of Kruger National Park, that 7500-square-mile wildlife paradise in the north-east of the country (it even forms part of the border with Mozambique) where the full fabulous quintet of the Big Five (lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard, elephant) roam.
But there are also smaller pockets of hoof and claw. Forty miles from Kruger’s west edge, Moholoholo is a game reserve where all manner of indigenous beasts – giraffe, elephant and rhinoceros – wander. And beyond this, the reserve has a conservation element. Its Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre specialises in the treatment of injured animals, from lions, cheetahs and leopards to birds of prey like vultures and buzzards. Here is a chance to be close to nature, while also witnessing the good man can do in these delicate ecosystems.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic has flights to Johannesburg from London Heathrow.
West Africa is rarely viewed as a must-see safari hotspot. But those seeking a wildlife adventure with a difference can certainly find it in the less-trawled confines of Nigeria.
Yankari National Park is the country’s biggest protected zone, 870 square miles of savannah laid out across Bauchi State. Here is a fur-and-claw nirvana, fed by the River Gaji – a crucial water source that, in dividing the park into two, gives life to the many animals clustered here – including elephants, monkeys, antelopes, lions, buffalo, waterbuck and hippopotamuses (as well as 350 bird species). Yankari’s year is also cleaved into two distinct halves. May-September is the wet season, when persistent rains revitalise the grassland. October-April is rather dryer – and frequently dustier, with winds sweeping south out of the Sahara, darkening the sky with the sands of the great desert.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers regular flights to Lagos from London Heathrow.