Think African safari and most people picture the classic game drive, with khaki-clad groups watching for animals from a vehicle. While game drives are still the quintessential activity on safari, you’re no longer confined to a vehicle. Wildlife lovers can now go in search of animals by canoe, bike, on foot, from the air and even at night.
There’s a huge variety of activities available on a safari holiday, appealing to an array of passions from photographers to historians to archaeologists and culinary enthusiasts. You can also engage with communities to learn about the local culture and get involved in social and environmental projects.
An African safari lets you be as adventurous or relaxed as you want – climb Mt Kilimanjaro or trek to see mountain gorillas, then head to the shores of Zanzibar for a blissful island escape.
We’ve rounded up the top 10 things to do on safari in Africa, to help you customise the safari holiday of your dreams.
A walking safari is the best way to get to the heart of the African bush. You’ll leave your camp on foot, accompanied by expert, armed guides who are highly trained in safety procedures.
As you move through the bush, your senses will explode with the smells, sounds and sights. You’ll witness every intimate detail, spotting insects, plants, tiny reptiles and birds that you don’t get to see from a safari vehicle. You’ll roam along well-worn elephant and hippo trails, and even learn how to track big game on foot.
Walking safaris can be customised to your needs, from a few hours along a nature trail, to bush walks with tribal leaders, and sleeping under the stars on intrepid multi-day adventures. Nature trails are located all over Africa, but some of the best experiences are found in Zambia and Kenya.
Zambia is the birthplace of the walking safari, with the country’s best guides leading you through untamed wilderness. Laikipia in Kenya also offers authentic walking safaris, led by local Maasai warriors. With generations of knowledge and experience, your guides will share survival skills and hunting techniques, while teaching you about their unique way of life. You’ll also be accompanied by camels transporting your gear so you can camp in the bush under a blanket of stars.
Africa is endowed with some of the planet’s greatest waterways. All over the continent you’ll find great lakes, serpentine rivers, and a myriad of lagoons bringing life to a flock of animals.
A water-based safari offers a unique insight into Africa’s wildlife, from bellowing hippos, lurking crocodiles and water birds, to the elephants, buffalo and lions that feed around the water. Many safari camps offer boat rides, however for a truly intimate experience, try a safari in a canoe, kayak or mokoro.
The Zambezi River is the mecca of canoe safaris. You can venture out for a few hours or a few days, gliding with the hippos and crocodiles along the great Zambezi River. All canoe safaris are led by highly trained guides and you’ll be in safe hands on this exhilarating experience. On the multi-day expeditions, you can choose from participatory camping where you set up your own tent, or splurge on a luxury camping experience where your tent and meals are provided.
Kayaking and rafting can be done in many places around Africa, including the Kunene River in Namibia and the Orange River in South Africa. The Victoria Falls in Zambia offers some of the best white-water rafting in the world. The churning rapids will spit you out under the gaze of the mighty falls, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is renowned for the mokoro safari. A traditional dugout canoe is propelled by a ‘poler’, who stands at the end of the mokoro, guiding it through the channels of this wetland haven. A mokoro safari allows you to observe the delta’s tiniest treasures including birds and reed frogs, and unique species such as the Pels fishing owl and the sitatunga, a rare aquatic antelope.
Night game drives
Venture into the bush under the cover of darkness for a thrilling twist on the classic safari game drive. A night game drive offers the chance to see Africa’s fascinating nocturnal creatures and prowling predators come alive after dark.
You’ll head out in a safari vehicle driven by an expert guide and a ‘spotter’ using a spotlight to locate the wildlife. The rustling movements and yowling calls create a magical energy as you move through the bush.
Not all camps around Africa offer this activity, however you’ll find a number of exceptional night game drive opportunities in Zambia. The South Luangwa National Park is renowned for its incredibly high numbers of leopards, and a night drive provides an excellent chance of spotting this elusive creature. The Lower Zambezi also offers night game drives to spot civets, genets, hyenas, porcupines, honey badgers and even lions making a kill.
Africa from the air
Take to the skies for a striking view of Africa. Glide over sweeping plains, plunging valleys, and spot wildlife from above – this is the ultimate safari experience.
Hot air balloon safaris
You’ll drift into the air before dawn, holding your breath as the sun rays begin to spill over the horizon, revealing the astonishing beauty below. Rolling plains stretch out for miles, strewn with elephants, giraffes, and wildebeest cast in a golden glow. You’ll celebrate with a glass of champagne as you descend back to earth, toasting to an unforgettable morning.
There are a number of spectacular destinations for hot air balloon safaris. Head to the vast grass plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya, drift over the incredible sand dunes of the Namib Desert in Namibia, or even witness the Great Migration from the air over Tanzania’s Serengeti.
You can often take a small plane between camps and game reserves, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife below. It’s also possible to arrange a specialised helicopter or microlight tour to see some of Africa’s greatest wonders.
Take a helicopter flight over the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, glide over the Okavango Delta in Botswana, see Namibia’s extraordinary Skeleton Coast and Namib Desert from the air, or board a thrilling microlight flight over the Victoria Falls in Zambia or Zimbabwe. Visit Tafika Camp at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, for an incredible scenic microlight flight and game-viewing tour.
After an action-packed day out on safari, there’s nothing better than heading back to your camp for a glorious sundowner. This classic African safari experience takes you to a spectacular viewpoint, where you’ll be served cocktails in the cool dusk air, as the sun dips below the horizon.
You can enjoy this activity in camps across Africa, from the brilliant sunset over the Zambezi River to the awe-inspiring twilight of Tanzania, where lone baobab trees become silhouetted against the sizzling golden sky.
Once the sun has set, you can continue the magic with a campfire bush dinner. Venture into the wilderness to find a buffet set out by a crackling campfire. Cosy up to your loved ones and enjoy the feast, surrounded by the serenity of the African bush and be offered to sample the forbidden bush meat.
You can do it all again the next day, rising before dawn to take a morning game drive. En-route to spot some wildlife, you’ll stop at a gorgeous destination where a delectable breakfast will already be laid out by your personal team of chefs. It’s the best way to start your day on safari.
Africa is full of soaring peaks and incredible trekking adventures. From the mountain ranges of Uganda to the summits of Tanzania, you’ll cross off a number of top bucket list activities on this continent.
One of the most iconic treks is Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Uhuru Peak at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa, towering at 5,895 metres. The trek is an incredible addition to a Tanzania safari and there are multiple trails accommodating for varying levels of fitness. The Lemosho Route makes a gradual ascent, while the challenging Machame Trek is for more experienced hikers.
Other fantastic mountain treks include Mount Kenya and Uganda’s Ruwenzori ‘Mountains of the Moon’ for serious hikers, while the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa are more suited for all abilities. You can also check out Rwanda’s Virguna Volcanoes, Namibia’s Damaraland, Kenya’s Mathews Range and Laikipia Plateau and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Highlands.
For a rare and often life-changing encounter, head to Rwanda or Uganda to trek to see mountain gorillas. These magical creatures are the last of their kind and it is a true privilege to witness them in their natural environment.
A gorilla trek can be quite challenging, however you can tailor it to your fitness level, with treks lasting from two to eight hours. Those who venture deeper into the forest face steep, gruelling trails, however you’ll be rewarded with one precious hour of time spent with these incredible animals.
You can choose to hike through the Volcanoes National Park or the Virunga National Park in Rwanda, or head to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to see the gorillas. You can also track chimpanzees in Kibale Forest in Uganda, or combine your treks with a safari in nearby Kenya or Tanzania.
Mountain biking safaris
Swap four wheels for two on a thrilling mountain biking safari. These scenic journeys will take you through the shaded woodlands, desert plains and rocky mountains of Africa. Mountain biking safaris are certainly not for the faint-hearted as you get up close to big game in the untamed wilderness, however you’ll always be led by an expert, armed guide.
There are only a few destinations which offer this exciting activity including Tafika Camp at South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo in Uganda, Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, and private reserves in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
You can also try quad biking through the the dunes of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay in Namibia and the open Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana.
Africa is made up of a myriad of tribes and people, and each country is home to dozens of unique cultures and languages. An African safari is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about these incredible cultures and customs.
Many safari lodges and camps work closely with their local community and can arrange visits to the local village, or help you can get involved in local social programs. In Kenya, you can visit the Sarara Singing Wells of the Samburu tribe, where the Samburu warriors carry out the ancient tradition of singing to their herd to bring them to their well for water.
You can also witness some amazing cultural festivals around the continent. If you visit Zambia in late March, you may witness the migration of the Lozi King during the Kuomboka Ceremony. The Lozi people decorate colourful barges and beat royal war drums in a ceremonial procession, to migrate from their summer home in Lealui to their winter home on dry ground in Limulunga.
Specialist safaris & courses
Africa is a captivating continent full of unique wildlife and environments, offering the chance to gain specialist knowledge and skills. You can go on photography, botany and art safaris, or take historical, archaeology, wine-tasting and golfing tours.
Wildlife enthusiasts can undertake a field guides course, ranging from one week to six months. These courses are popular in South Africa and you’ll learn about the incredible biodiversity of the African bush through daily lectures and practical field activities. Chiawa Camp in Zambia also offers annual guide training exercises for regular visitors.
A photography safari is another popular option. You’ll head out into the wilderness with a professional photographer to snap some spectacular images and learn how to improve your skills, all while enjoying the thrill of an African safari.
There’s no better way to end an extraordinary African safari adventure than with a dreamy beach escape. Although Africa is renowned for its striking deserts and vast plains, it also boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the world.
Hop over to Zanzibar, a pristine archipelago off Tanzania, for a luxurious beach retreat. You’ll touch down onto powdery white sands, unbelievably blue waters, and incredible marine life. Here you can go hiking, cycling, bird watching, stand up paddling through the mangroves, windsurfing, kitesurfing, sea kayaking, sailing, or simply relax on the stunning beaches with a cocktail.
Zanzibar has some of the most luxurious hotels offering incredible day spa services, and gorgeous infinity pools overlooking the ocean. You can also experience the delicious food, rich history and vibrant culture of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best of all, you can continue your African safari with Zanzibar’s vibrant marine life. Explore the island’s beautiful coral reefs with a snorkelling or diving excursion. You’ll spot huge shoals of dazzling fish, green turtles, playful pods of dolphins and migrating whale sharks.