What is a Safari?

Going on safari during a holiday in Africa is an absolute must and it has become a popular activity when visiting the continent. Many have tried it and many still want to, but there are probably a few people out there asking: what exactly is a safari? The basic definition is that of an expedition to observe wild animals in their natural habitat. The word itself is derived from Swahili and means “long journey.” While this excursion is not limited to Africa, it is most renowned on this continent, specifically the southern and eastern regions.

Earliest Safaris

Safaris, as well as the search for the Big Five, have a long history. The origins actually lie in big game hunting, but over the years conservationists and tour operators have slowly changed these trips to entail the mere observation of wildlife, coupled with the opportunity to take plenty of photographs. The latter idea was introduced to the western world in the 19th century by William Cornwallis Harris, who expanded on the basic idea of a safari, heading out on a search for animals in the early morning and culminating with stories in the evening. The idea was popularised by literature such as Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines; while movies such as Out of Africa introduced the idea of luxury into the venture. Despite all these influences and inspirations, the tradition of animal encounters and storytelling throughout the continent remains intrinsically African.

Types of Safaris

Today the idea of the safari has expanded to include a number of extraordinary ways of viewing wildlife. In addition, the basic idea of camping and staying in tents has expanded to include game lodges of the most luxurious types. Safaris are traditionally undertaken in a hardy, open-air vehicle such as a Jeep or Land Rover; while some reserves and parks offer walking safaris. In South Africa these were started in the 1950s by conservationists Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela. In the 1960s a retired game warden, Norman Carr, introduced a private safari operation featuring walking safaris in Zambia. A popular feature of many safaris is the search for the Big Five, the origins of which also lie in hunting. The Big Five refers to the five animals considered to be the most difficult to hunt, but now refers to searching for these magnificent creatures and shooting them with no more than a camera. Besides safaris undertaken by vehicle or on foot, you will find many other options available, including:

  • Balloon safaris
  • Horse-back safaris
  • Self-drive safaris
  • Wing safaris
  • Canoe safaris
  • River safaris

The Best Safaris

A variety of safaris are on offer in many different African countries, but are most readily available in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya. However, you will also find safaris in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, amongst others. The further north you travel within Africa the greater the difference becomes, as the landscape, climate and wildlife change. The safaris in Egypt and Morocco are very different, and less touted, than in the southern and eastern regions of the continent. Make no mistake, Africa is a large continent and the countries are all different and diverse, but all offer an exciting adventure like no other.

Originally published on Best Safari.

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