Off the beaten track: African safari alternatives

BY Richard Mellor

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Off the beaten track: African safari alternatives

Fancy getting off the beaten safari track? Want to spy leopards and lions in solitude? Here are Africa’s secret spots for in-the-know travellers.

Don't go to the Serengeti, go to the Selous

Selous African National Park

Few African national parks are as famous as the Serengeti. Of course, that means that few African national parks are as busy or expensive as the Serengeti.

The canniest wildlife-seekers head south and deposit themselves instead in the Selous National Park. This Tanzanian wilderness is twice-as-big, with half as many visitors.

The Big Five are present and correct, while the Rufiji, Tanzania’s largest river, creates a complex network of channels, lakes and swamps. As a bonus, you’ll be heaps nearer to Zanzibar and it’s heavenly beaches.


Don't go to the Maasai Mara, go to Samburu


Little known to international visitors, life in northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve revolves around its Ewaso Nyiro River. That shady, acacia tree-lined waterway’s reliability draws a terrific cast-list of fauna, from zebra and giraffe to healthy numbers of African big cats.

The dominant characters are around 900 elephants, which knock over trees, rip out saplings and gouge at waterholes.

Celebrated zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton has his research camp here and it’s also home to the friendly, camel-herding Samburu tribes people.


Don’t go to Etosha, go to Mundulea


Over in Namibia, every tourist visits Etosha and prices reflect that. Mundulea Nature Reserve, down in the country’s remote southeast however, is completely under the radar.

Owned by conservation guru Bruno Nebe, it’s a collection of plains and angular hills beside the Otavi Mountain Range.

Look out for a famous, rare black rhino called Hooker plus impala, zebra and leopards lurking in the wattle trees.


Don’t go to the Okavango Delta, go to Mokolodi

Mokolodi giraffe
Image via Safari Bookings 

The watery Okavango and its Moremi Game Reserve get all the plaudits from visitors to Botswana, leaving the south of the country relatively untouched by tourism, and free of 4x4 convoys.

That includes the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, where the white rhino, giraffe, leopard and impala are largely undisturbed

Consisting of swamps, lakes and scrub, Mokolodi features in Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency books. Visitors can thumb copies at night while resting up at a traditional, thatched rondavel hut.


Don’t go to Kruger, go to Timbavati

White lion

South Africa’s biggest expanse, Kruger National Park, is about as much of a secret as Nelson Mandela.

Most ‘alternative’ suggestions revolve around the neighbouring Sabi Sands Game Reserve but that is, consequently, well publicised too. Not so another adjacent space, the private Timbavati reserve, which abuts part of Kruger’s western flank.

Teeming with wildlife—including a famous white lion population—Timbavati can also boast savannah, woodland and riverine glades. It’s also affordable; lodges like Umlani are often a fifth of the price of Kruger or Sabi Sands equivalents.


Don’t go to South Luangwa, go to Hwange


Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is known—as in, very well-known—as the home of the walking safaris. Here travellers become trackers, ditching two noisy wheels in favour of two quiet feet.

An alternative place to practice the discipline is Zimbabwe’s premier reserve, Hwange.

Even though Zimbabwe’s darkest days seem thankfully long gone, holidaymakers remain cautious in visiting, meaning the prices are reasonable and crowds are few.

The animal line-up is excellent, too. Leopard, giraffe, hyenas, lions and tens of thousands of elephants can all be spotted.