A safari is all about the animals—from watching a herd of antelope gracefully cross the plain to catching sight of a giraffe dipping its head into the river for a cool drink of water. Book a safari for your honeymoon, and you'll be sipping champagne by an open fire and snuggling up in a cozy tent as you listen to lions howling in the distance. There's a safari for every type of couple, from rugged explorers who want to drive around on their own to those who'd rather get someone to chauffeur them between water holes. And while images of roughing it may come to mind when you think of safaris, these have historically been luxury trips. Read on to learn about four remarkably different African safaris, in four different regions, with four different price tags—you'll know which one is best for you right away.
The Classic Safari Abercrombie and Kent 's "Hemingway" Tour
Best for: history buffs; luxury lovers
Not for: couples who want a do-it-yourself, come-what-may adventure
Time to Go: Game-viewing is best during the two dry seasons—June to October and January to February.
During the heyday of the high-society safari, which took place in the 1920s and '30s, American socialites and European royalty flocked to the East African bush. Rather than forsake their comforts, they brought them along, sleeping on feather beds, bathing in claw-foot tubs, dining on meals served on the finest china…and every once in a while they got around to noticing the animals.
Royalty may be rare in the bush these days, but the luxury, tented safari continues to thrive, and several tour operators offer plush journeys through East Africa. One of the best: Abercrombie and Kent's two-week "Hemingway" Safari through . This posh tour coddles you as you travel by Range Rover across the Serengeti Plain, along the shores of Lake Manyara and down into the depths of Ngorongoro Crater. The groups tend to be fairly small—no more than three or four people per vehicle and no more than a couple of dozen& on the entire safari—so you'll get plenty of personal attention.
On this trip, no effort is spared in making wilderness life as cozy as possible. Guests sleep in large, comfortable walk-in tents, each furnished with a queen-size bed, a dressing table and a bathroom with (surprise!) a washbasin, a shower, a mirror and an eco-friendly toilet. The tents even have elevated terraces, with canvas chairs for taking in the views.
Camp life centers on the "mess" tent, where linen napkins, silverware and candlelight create an impressively romantic dining atmosphere. Given how remote the place is, the food is incredible. You'll find freshly baked bread, airy soufflés, crumbly scones, fresh salads, meat dishes (including the occasional antelope or crocodile steak) and scrumptious desserts. After dinner, everyone adjourns to the campfire, where a portable "bush bar" dispenses just about anything you could possibly want to quaff, from martinis and margaritas to fine South African wines and ice-cold Tusker beer.
But the main attraction is nature, and the Serengeti offers the world's biggest and most diverse collection of large wild animals. This area, which is bigger than the state of New Jersey, is one of Africa's most spectacular national parks. Its vast grasslands provide excellent opportunities for viewing game, and there are also plenty of rocky outcrops and woodland and river ecosystems, where a variety of animals make their home. Millions of zebras, wildebeests and antelopes roam across the short-grass plains, tailed by lions and other predators. Water holes overflow with hippos, leopards lurk behind trees and crocodiles poke their heads out of rivers. Near Lake Manyara, you might see lions lounging up in the trees, as well as pink flamingos, and there's a primordial forest where pythons and giant lizards dwell. This is the Africa of storybooks—it's untamed, unleashed and larger than life. At the end of every day, you'll get to drive back to camp, soak in your solar shower, grab a gin and tonic, curl up in a canvas chair and listen to the sounds of the African night—just as visitors did a hundred years ago (abercrombiekent.com).
The Swanky Safari Earth Lodge at Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
Best for: sybarites who want to be taken care of beautifully—and are willing to pay for the privilege
Not for: those who want to cover a lot of ground on their trip
Time to Go: During the winter (April to August), sparse vegetation and temperatures in the 50°Fs and 60°Fs make for good game-viewing. Or go in mid-summer (December to January), when many animals are born; expect temps in the 70°Fs and 80°Fs, and humidity.
First-time visitors to Africa may be surprised to learn that not every safari requires perpetual motion. You can book a room in a resort and strike out on daytrips into the surrounding bush—and that's still considered a safari vacation. If you're looking for this kind of relaxing exploration, consider the 13-room Earth Lodge, located in private Sabi Sabi Game Reserve, a spectacular slice of bush adjacent to world-renowned Kruger National Park.
The easiest way to reach the lodge is to fly directly to the Sabi Sabi airstrip from Johannesburg International Airport. (Cheaper flights connect Johannesburg and Mpumalanga, but bargain shoppers beware: From there, it's a two-hour drive by minivan to the park.) Once there, you'll see right away that the lodge is a fabulous blend of rustic ambience and offbeat design (think stone terraces, and gnarled tree trunks protruding through ceilings). Since there are only a dozen or so suites, privacy is a given. Luxury is guaranteed, too: Each room has its own plunge pool and secluded outdoor shower—and a butler. Couples can dine beneath the stars on their private patio. Plus, the hotel has a swimming pool, and a library stocked with books that cover everything you could want to know about Africa. But what really sets the Earth Lodge apart from other local lodges (and those just about anywhere else on the continent) is the full-service spa, which offers manicures, pedicures and massages—the perfect end to a dusty day on the game trail.
And what a trail it is. With no fences or walls separating 's public and private parks, vast herds wander free, creating one of the continent's largest undisturbed ecosystems. As a result, it's a fantastic spot to watch for game. And since you're staying at Sabi Sabi, you can return to any part of the property as often as you'd like if you don't get to see, say, thirsty elephants by a river or rhinos charging through a field on your first foray. Well-armed game rangers lead walks into the wilderness, teaching you how to follow tracks and observe animals in their natural habitats. Sabi Sabi is considered one of the best places in Africa to spot (and photograph) lions, leopards and cheetahs. Night drives, where you look for nocturnal creatures, are another Sabi Sabi treat (sabisabi.com).
The Adventure Safari Mountain Travel Sobek's "Flying" Safari
Best for: athletic couples who want to fill their trip with activity
Not for: anyone who is afraid of heights or can't swim, or those who want to sit back and watch the animals go by
Time to Go: From April to August, temperatures average in the 50°Fs and 60°Fs, and the vegetation thins out.
Mountain Travel Sobek calls its tour a "flying safari" because you travel from place to place in small private planes—but it's really more a "liquid" vacation. The two-week journey includes a canoe trip through the vast Okavango Delta, a cruise along the Linyanti River and a rafting tour of the raging Zambezi River, which runs below stunning Victoria Falls. (Consider going from April to August, when the wildlife is concentrated closer to the water.)
This safari spans 10 days of fairly constant movement between Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe) and the Kalahari Desert town of Maun (in Botswana), and it's limited to groups of eight or fewer. Guests hop small charter flights between overnight stops and explore the local areas on foot or by boat. The accommodations are an enticing blend of comfortable tented camps (similar to Abercrombie and 's "Hemingway" Safari) and luxury lodges, including the historic Victoria Falls Hotel, which is right near the thundering cascade. There's no question that Victoria Falls, which is wider, higher and louder than Niagara Falls, is a true highlight of the trip. Well-marked trails lead to viewpoints overlooking the impressive falls, where narrow slivers of rock seem to hang in midair. The value of seeing this area from the water cannot be overstated. The Okavango is a wetland created by the confluence of three major river systems that sprawls across an area larger than Massachusetts. That's a lot of wilderness—and that means a lot of animals. Picture Florida ’s Everglades , only with lions, zebras and elephants, and you’ll have an idea of what makes this swamp such a treasure. Best of all, because these boats don’t have motors, there’s little noise, so passengers have a much better chance to creep up on unsuspecting wildlife, such as a pool full of snorting hippos or a thirsty giraffe, with its front legs splayed to reach the water (mountainsobek.com).
The D.I.Y. Safari
Go2Africa’s Self-Drive Safari
Best for: true explorers, and independent types who hate traveling in groups
Not for: people who don’t want to carry their own luggage
Time to Go: Travel to from May to September, when daytime temperatures average around 75°F.
The beauty of having your own wheels in the bush is that you get to decide where and when to go, and how long to stay there. The good news: You don’t have to make all the arrangements yourself. Go2Africa, a tour operator based in Cape Town, , offers a self-drive safari with overnights at some of ’s best resorts. The cost includes a basic rental car (for a bit extra, you can upgrade to a Land Rover), accommodations and some meals.
Not all African countries have good roads, but does, and it is without doubt the easiest one in which to drive around. This former German colony, which has gingerbread houses and Teutonic place names, also has modern gas stations and little traffic.
It’s a peaceful country, blessed with two of Africa ’s most spectacular national parks. The self-drive itinerary includes Etosha, a wildlife wonderland, and Namib-Naukluft National Park , an enormous desert. You’ll also get to see the cheetah and leopard sanctuary at Okonjima, the beaches of Swakopmund and Damaraland’s prehistoric rock art.
At the end of a long and rewarding day on the road, you’ll find yourselves at one of ’s finest accommodations—fabulous places like the posh Sossusvlei Wilderness Lodge (where each bungalow has its own plunge pool) and the luxurious Hansa Hotel in Swakopmund. The best aspect of driving is the freedom to travel at your own pace. If you want to sleep in, nobody is going to stop you. You can linger as long as you want at a given water hole—and you’ll have the wilderness to yourselves (go2africa.com).