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4 Ways to Get Around on an African Safari

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Safari vehicle at sunset in South Africa

Safari vehicle at sunset in South Africa

Travelling between safari destinations can be as short as a light aircraft lodge hop or a days-long journey through the savanna, and how you choose to move between destinations can be a true highlight of your trip.

Journeys are a huge part of the African experience, elevated from functionality to memorable parts of a vacation. For some unique locations, getting from point A to B may be by humble boat, though most are by light aircraft or game drive. Africa is always an adventure, embracing the popular mantra that travel is as much about the journey as the destination.

1. Travel by Land

Game drive in Eastern Serengeti, Tanzania

Game drive in Eastern Serengeti, Tanzania

The most common way of traveling around the safari circuit is by land. Mesmerizing for most, the land journey unveils untrammeled scenes of humble Africa rolling past the window. Villages stand proudly on distant hills, then tumble down into small centers of chaotic charm. Tribes herd cattle along verdant slopes, chaperoning their goats away from the tarmac, and a young boy's pet dog lies lazily nearby. Watch in awe as a group of women straps babies to their back in vibrant sheets of cloth accompanied by small children carrying straw baskets on their head.

Depending on where and when, wildlife is often spotted along the road, especially on a Botswana safari or Kenya safari. There are always memorable natural panoramas, from gaping expanses of savannah and desert to the precipitous green slopes of flourishing montane forest. Images of African roads stick long in the memory, visuals of muddy orange trails and dust-enshrouded rural routes watched by a distant giraffe, perhaps a swerved journey past continual potholes.

Many countries have traditional safari circuits that ably connect local dots, providing an in-depth journey into a region's varied habitats. Distance and time are undefined by what is measured in miles and could take a lot longer to achieve in practice. Long, windy roads, dusty desert strips or pothole-filled tarmac making for a twisty trip. Once you step into your luxury vehicle, you feel confident you are in for a comfortable ride. As getting to your destination is part of your safari journey, enhancing your experience along the way with subtle touches makes the miles traveled enjoyable.

Travel is flexible, connecting distinct areas of different national parks and gateway cities with the daily itinerary discussed every evening. In east Africa, your driver and guide are yours for the duration of your safari, and what starts as cautious interest becomes a friendship and a sharing of stories. In some parts of Africa, traveling by land is the only viable option. The experience is most certainly part of the journey to immerse the traveler and showcasing an alternative side to a country yet one that's equally authentic and memorable. Viewpoints and villages offer unique places to stop, and there's always a sense of adventure as Africa is unveiled in all its unadulterated glory.

Depending on where you go on safari, your vehicle used will differ. Experience the thrill of an open-vehicle game drive as you traverse the bush in the Sabi Sands, your guide navigating the territory with ease as you feel one with your surroundings. When roaming across the savannas of the Serengeti or Masai Mara, your game drive vehicle will be a 4x4, likely with a roof that pops up to provide a better vista over the landscape. Traveling between cities or to and from parks and reserves is conducted in air-conditioned comfort.

2. Travel by Air

Plane landing in Botswana

Plane landing in Botswana

Travel by air was the original mode of safari exploration. Early European conservationists would fly above wilderness areas to estimate mammal numbers by sight. The thrill of this ancient adventure is retained as airstrips are cleared of mischievous wildlife, a herd of elephants or springbok briefly suspending take-off.

You can fly low, picking out large mammals on the landscape or watching the migrations of herds. Colors change, sweeping expanses of distinct habitats easily spotted from the air. From the wide-angle, you descend to macro detail, touching down on another delightfully secluded airstrip. Light aircraft flights remain a mode of transportation primarily, taking a direct route between two airstrips or camps, offering a true aesthetic delight. It provides an elegant concept of scale to complement the on the ground exploration.

A flying safari is conducted in small aircraft, and almost all safari destinations have an airstrip, with some of the larger national parks having up to a dozen. Airstrips are situated close to exclusive camps, allowing for short transfers between them. Landing in the national or private park means your safari starts immediately, often with the welcome of wildlife grazing near the airstrip. To avoid a long drive to parks and reserves situated perhaps five or six hours from the main city, travelers choose a commercial flight to speed the experience along.

It's often surprising how much individual detail can be spotted from the air. Beneath the wingtips travel big herds, the viewpoint offers an understanding of their movements towards rivers or water holes. Even including just one aerial transfer offers this fabulous new vista of the safari landscape. Memories of intimate big cat encounters are transposed against the monumental scale of the wilderness, helping ignite the imagination to the true abundance of mammals.

Single or twin-engine planes are used, seating anywhere between four and 20 passengers and able to land on short remote runways. Since its inception, these planes have been a mainstay of the safari industry and are operated by a myriad of companies. If you are the lucky one that day, you could be seated next to the pilot. Luggage restrictions apply; however, your safari planner will make sure you are well-equipped with all "what to pack" knowledge. Operating planes in the wilderness requires flexibility, with planes taking off early if possible or waiting patiently for wildlife to clear the runway.

Scheduled flights are now very much part of a safari itinerary, transporting passengers along standardized routes, while a few operators offer exclusive chartered flight service to discerning travelers and groups. Traveling the safari circuit by air is both adventurous and convenient, cutting down travel time and allowing for access to remote parts of the park and multi-destination combinations in Africa.

3. Travel by Rail

Rovos Rail traveling on the Namibia Safari route

Rovos Rail traveling on the Namibia Safari route. Photo courtesy of Rovos Rail

One cannot deny the charm and romance the idea of luxury train travel invokes. Traveling by rail during your journey to Africa will enhance an already extraordinary experience by adding a level of service and class to the entire trip. Dramatic scenes stream by as the clickety-clack of the tracks below offer a sense of calm. Traveling in style takes on a new meaning and creates the canvas for a truly colorful and picturesque journey. Switch out a traditional campfire for a colonial lounge as you regale with stories of your day’s adventure.

Southern Africa plays host to several rail options with stops along the way for guests seeking a safari experience. Day trips to the Kruger or Hluhluwe National Parks become even more exciting as you step off the train and embark on an unforgettable outing. Take the rail option to Victoria Falls, a gateway to the Zimbabwe and Botswana safari circuit, or to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania as you get ready for the mighty migration. For those wanting so much more, a trip from south to north exists, taking you from the fairest Cape to historic Cairo.

Most safari programs operated from the train will have guests transferred in a luxury vehicle to the national park nearby. A day on safari is on the cards, returning to the idyllic hotel on wheels for a good night’s rest. Do it all the next day or follow the tracks to the next safari destination. Combining this way of travel with a couple of day trips into national parks with the ultimate private safari at the end creates the perfect African safari itinerary. Indulge a little in both luxuries.

4. Travel by Boat

Room aboard the Zambezi Queen

The Zambezi Queen

Every now and then, a situation arises where the best means of transport would be through the water. A unique means of getting to your next safari lodge or perhaps the nearest town, but a water taxi or tender boat transfer is required at times. Travel from Kasane in Botswana to Livingstone, Zambia, for example, and marvel at the water life and locals making their way across the Zambezi River.

The transfers are never too long yet act as part of a game activity if deep in the Okavango Delta perhaps, switching locations from your first camp to your next by gently drifting down a deep channel, luggage in tow. Choose the option as a classic alternative to accessing your next destination and take in the sights and sounds you may have missed traveling by traditional means.

For a different take on travel by boat, connect from one coastal city to a gateway to your safari adventure. Cruise ships hug the eastern shores of South Africa and travel across the Indian Ocean, taking valued guests from one destination highlight to another. Dock in Cape Town or Durban before being whisked away to your private game reserve or national park. Wildlife viewed from sea and land rounds off the ultimate safari experience.

We Can Help You Decide

Herd of elephants crossing the road in Amboseli National Park in Kenya

Herd of elephants crossing the road in Amboseli National Park in Kenya

The African continent offers well-established roads and runways, frequent flights, and quality luxury vehicles. Rail, boats, and even bicycles provide the opportunity to explore so much more and in fun, unique ways in some locations. No matter which way one gets around, the means of transportation is most definitely part of the journey.

Learn more at our Africa Safari Guide, and explore sample safari itineraries for more inspiration. Whatever your safari dreams, your Zicasso safari specialist is a destination expert and ready to answer your questions to help you plan your perfect safari. Ready to start planning? Fill out a Trip Request, or call our Traveler Care team at 1-888-265-9707.

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