Bespoke safaris - from birders to Big Five enthusiasts

Date Posted: 05/01/2012

Pictured: the Samburu Tribe share their culture in Kenya .

Africa might be best known for the traditional Big Five safari, but special interest groups that are willing to get off the beaten track might find there is much more on offer when it comes to this exotic continent, explains Leanne Haigh.

Small group safaris are an ideal way to travel, with itineraries that can cover remote and secluded regions. Plus the addition of culture, adrenaline, community and conservation initiatives, and of course wildlife, can add yet more excitement to the mix. Aside from being a cost-effective way to travel, group trips allow travellers to pick and choose destinations and map out more bespoke routes. And as these itineraries are tailor-made for groups of between eight to 14, larger parties have the option to extend their stay in areas that lend themselves to their specific field of interest.

Botswana, the ‘Jewel of Africa’ is perhaps best known for the Chobe National Park, and its huge elephant population numbering around 120,000. However, head south into the Okavango Delta, and you’ll find an enchanting reed filled haven. From November to March the region is a birders paradise, twitterers exploring these remote wetlands in traditional mokoros. The summer season welcomes a variety of migrant birds, one of the highlights of the birding calendar taking place between September and October, when the carmine bee-eaters arrive from central Africa. Literally awash with colour and plumage there are 20 per cent more birds in the Okavango Delta at this time of year. Wild bush camping adds to the intimate feel of the small group safari and the tranquil islands are just begging to be explored on foot with local and informative guides.

While the wildlife viewing in Africa can only be described as wonderful, the many differing cultures residing on the continent also have much to offer. Being able to communicate with tribal communities in a small group setting is often a deeply moving experience, the landlocked country of Lesotho home to the Basotho people, and KwaZulu- Natal, one of South Africa’s more remote provinces ensuring rich cultural experiences with the Zulu tribe. History buffs who want to delve into the Rainbow Nation’s past can also gain a greater understanding of the country’s heritage on group tours. The country’s battlefield sites date from the colonial wars involving the British, Zulu and Afrikaneer settlers, and knowledgeable local guides breathe life into locations that share a rich sense of place and time.

The transport system in Africa, especially for those getting off the beaten track isn’t easy to master, and this is one of the main reasons why group travel is a growing phenomenon. In particular, countries which are up and coming, for example, Zimbabwe, lend themselves to this type of experience, and with tourism still in its early stages, groups can only benefit from the logistical know-how of established operators. The Hwange National Park is home to the Wild Dog Project - these endangered animals in constant threat from disease and conflict for habitat. In total, the park is home to 400 bird species and 105 mammals including the Big Five, opportunities to take game drives and even 4x4 nocturnal excursions in a relatively crowd-free environment ensuring unforgettable safaris.

The Matopos National Park is another little known area of tranquil beauty. Bushmen paintings line the wind-sculptured Matabo Hills and groups can explore the area on foot, numerous white rhino residing in this untouched wilderness. The town of Gweru is yet another hotspot, one of Africa’s leading lion projects allowing ‘voluntourists’ to participate in the conservation of the big cats.

Groups that are itching to whet their appetite for Africa on a first tour might also want to consider east Africa. More well-developed than other regions, there is access to a wider range of accommodation, but the experience will be no less enticing. The Masai Mara is still one of the continent’s main draws; the annual migration featuring on many a travel bucket list. Groups following the migratory path of the wildebeest from July to October will be rewarded with some amazing photography opportunities; the Samburu Game Reserve and Lakes Bogoria and Nakuru adding plenty of spectacular game and bird viewing to any group tour.

You can do this with: Not restricted to smaller numbers, Acacia Africa (020-7706 4700 / info@acacia-africa.com) is an ATOL and ABTA bonded specialist tour operator with a sales team also able to create bespoke group tours for larger groups of up to 24 people, owning and managing its own fleet of 18 trucks.

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