Interview: An expert guide to planning a luxury safari
Signature Luxury Travel & Style chats with the experts at Rothschild Safaris about the appeal of a luxury safari holiday, choosing the best destination for you and preparing for the adventure of a lifetime.
Africa is undoubtedly one of the last great wildernesses on Earth: a landscape of sun-baked deserts contiguous with impenetrable rainforests, punctuated by mighty rivers and mountains that cut and pierce the vast flatlands. One factor more than any other, however, continues to draw swaths of international visitors to Africa each year: its stunning variety of wildlife.
Nobody understands this better than the team at Rothschild Safaris, a company started in America by Leona Rothschild in 1998 and now with offices and 24/7 service around the globe. But despite the company’s increased international presence, every one of their Travel Designers has personally travelled to the destinations they specialise in and nobody is better equipped to field Signature’s safari-specific queries.
Is it safe to go on safari?
Africa remains a wild and unpredictable continent. It isn’t a good idea to travel on safari if your trip has not been well planned.
An experienced outfitter will design your safari to ensure safety and comfort at every step and transfer along the way. This might mean pointing travellers in the direction of a trusted concierge before setting out from their hotel in Johannesburg, or arranging tours with the best and most knowledgeable guides in the area.
The bottom line is: a well-planned, luxury African safari will always have safety at the forefront.
Can you outline some of the advantages of the most popular African safari destinations?
South Africa offers an incredible mix of culture and wildlife experiences, including ‘Big Five’ reserves (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos). Lesser-known areas like Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve contain ancient rock art, fields of wildflowers and the Marine Big Five, while the Cape Winelands is a world-class culinary destination.
Botswana is a high-end destination for the very best luxury safari with the option of staying in the Okavango Delta, visiting the semi-arid Kalahari Desert or Chobe National Park. The emphasis is on active itineraries and properties that blend into their surroundings. It is remote, incredibly beautiful, and it promises prolific animal sightings.
Namibia’s Etosha National Park is famous for its vast, otherworldly plains dotted with fossilised trees and populated by game, desert elephants, black rhinos and cheetahs. The challenge of navigating the country’s wide open spaces and formidable distances has many travellers opting for high-end, privately guided fly-in safaris.
Famous for walking safaris and canoe trips serviced by stylish bush lodges and river camps, Zambia brings the rivers of the South Luangwa National Park, the game of the Lower Zambezi National Park and the incredible Victoria Falls to the table.
If the Great Migration, Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar are not enough to take your breath away, Tanzania also boasts access to remote Lake Eyasi, the jungle-covered Mahale chimp habitat and the untamed Selous Reserve where you can see thousands of wildebeest by day and millions of stars from your riverside tent at night.
Kenya remains the most romantic of all safari destinations with the Masai Mara National Reserve and the private game reserves of the Laikipia region featuring a breed of new lodges and lodge owners. This safari destination will bring you as close to Out of Africa as you can get and it is very family friendly.
If you would like to experience luxury gorilla trekking and are short on time, then Rwanda is a great choice as it is home to Dian Fossey’s Virunga Mountains. Opt for Uganda for more affordable gorilla habituation permits, but be prepared for a more challenging trek.
How long should I go on safari for?
Africa is a big continent (you could fit the USA, all of Europe and China into it) so unless you have a lot of time on your hands, you’re probably best off focusing on one country. As a general rule, spend at least 10 days on your luxury safari with a maximum of three stops to ensure you have an immersive experience rather than spending the bulk of your time in transit.
Is it better to travel in a group or take a private safari?
The answer to this question really depends on who’s asking it: some people revel in the camaraderie of group travel – especially if it’s a group travelling for a specific interest (like birding or photography) – while others place more value on the privacy and flexibility that come with an exclusive safari. If you do decide to travel with a group, choose one with less than a dozen guests and a high guide-to-guest ratio. It’s also worth noting that there often isn’t a huge difference in price between the two options.
Should I bring my young children on safari?
While of course this depends on the child, from our experience almost all children love going on safari. There are many family-friendly properties that accept children over eight, as well as guides adept at keeping transfer days to a minimum while working in plenty of downtime and exciting experiences to delight young ones and make an unforgettable safari for all.
Just be warned: your kids are likely to return from safari with an enlightened perspective of the world around them and an insatiable desire for further travel.
Why should I consider using a Travel Designer to plan my safari?
We often liken this to cutting your own hair: it’s not impossible but the results are experimental at best and disastrous at worst. Travel in Africa can be dauntingly complicated, and a Travel Designer will put a plan together for free – getting the very best rates and utilising their close relationships with operators of properties and experiences to ensure you receive the royal treatment. A Travel Designer’s job is to plan the best luxury safari – finding the best accommodation and bespoke experiences possible – and they do this at no cost to you.