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  • Jamie Thom

The Luxury Safari Bucket List - 2020

My top ‘bucket list' safari experiences has evolved over the years. As I have enjoyed visiting different places, often more than once, I have grown to really appreciate a destination for it’s unique experiences and offerings. Here are my top 9 safari destinations - and the reasons why I love them;

1. The Okavango Delta [Botswana]

This is one of the few places in Africa where you can find great wildlife and vast areas of pure wilderness, in some areas it feels like humans haven't set foot here and that there is an elephant around every corner. You can explore immense areas without seeing other vehicles. Wonderfully varied landscapes and a mix of activities like boating and kayaking create a truly alluring safari experience.

2. Gorillas in Rwanda

Spending time in the presence of great apes is spellbinding. That they will allow us so close, to such a big and wild creature, is disarmingly wonderful. When you make eye contact one can only wonder what their thoughts about us are. It is a spiritual experience being amongst such powerful yet peaceful animals. Hiking the forests of this volcanic region is a physically active experience and makes a change from the more sedentary game drives of traditional safaris. Combine it with some other parks in Rwanda to make a well-rounded safari experience.

3. Chimps of Mahale [Tanzania]

Experiencing the chimps of Mahale is closely linked to an amazing lodge experience, there is only one lodge, and it is a super special experience, like the chimps themselves. A more remote destination is hard to find, 3 hours by light aircraft from Arusha and then 1,5 hours by boat on Lake Tanganyika gets you to Greystoke Lodge in the foothills of Mahale NP, made famous by Jane Goodall and her research. Daily hikes into the forest reveal creatures big and small but spending time with characterful chimpanzees is the real attraction, along with time in one of the wildest places in Africa.

4. Zimbabwe's rich dry season

Hwange and Mana Pools are two of Zimbabwe's most famous parks and together make for one of my favorite safari experiences, especially in the dry season when animals are drawn from of the bush to find water. Hwange's waterholes are incredibly productive; one can sit for hours watching elephants, buffaloes and plains game streaming in and out to drink and interact. Predators too of course! Further northeast, along the great Zambezi River is Mana Pools, more remote and wild with excellent wildlife too; life throbs along the flood plains and amongst the tall forests that follow the waterline. Walk, boat, kayak and game drive to experience it all. Let me add that the people of Zimbabwe and the staff in the camps are among the most friendly you can find anywhere!

5. Northern Namibian Wilderness

Ancient river beds, vast valleys, herds of oryx and elephant, black rhino tracking, wild oceans and shipwrecks, desert lions, alien landscapes, quad bikes, hikes, game drives, campouts, nomadic tribes, precious stones, brown hyenas, dunes, mountains and bizarre rock formations are just some of the thoughts that enter my mind when I think about northern Namibia. Add to that amazing lodges, passionate guides and you have the ingredients for a sensational safari escape in a far-flung hinterland.

6. The Serengeti and the migration [Tanzania]

Ignore the migration for a second, and imagine the Africa portrayed in picture books from childhood with vast golden, grassy plains and towering umbrella trees, maybe with a pride of lions snoozing beneath. From north to south, east to west, the Serengeti is remarkably beautiful and that is what attracts me back, not specifically the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra, which is something incredible on its own. If you did an entire trip exploring different regions of the park over ten days you would see a great range of animals, birds, habitats and landscapes. The migration is largely misunderstood, it isn't about thousands of animals leaping across rivers, those are brief moments in a year-long journey they make. Where they will be and what they will be doing at any time in the future, is impossible to know, so I prefer to promote the Serengeti experience and plan as best one can to include the migrating herds.

7. The Great Rift Valley and Samburu Country [Kenya]

This is more of a remote wilderness and landscape experience than one focused on animals, although there are plenty of wild creatures to view along with nomadic Samburu tribal people. The experience is a combination of activities from a lodge base with game drives, camel rides, horse rides and hikes, and then taking a helicopter flight into the Great Rift Valley, where countless flamingoes decorate ancient saline lakes, formed during the great split of continents over millions of years. Extinct volcanoes, lava flows, bubbling waters, windblown deserts, huge and bare rocky mountains with wide valleys below are just some of the visual feast from above. A rare view into the earth's crust. Some luxury lodges along with some very adventurous fly camps make up an experience that truly took my breath away.

8. The great Tuskers of Tsavo and Amboseli [Kenya]

We live in such a pivotal time, with so much debate about Loxodonta africana (African elephant); overpopulated in some regions, locally extinct in others, prized for their ivory, highly intelligent - their fate seems to mirror that of humans. Having viewed elephants in many countries in Africa, the Tsavo-Amboseli region stood out for me because I got to spend time with some truly famous individuals, one of which was a male elephant by the name of Tolstoy, whose tusks were so big one of them needed to be trimmed to aid his mobility. I sat in awe of this ginormous elephant and it reminded me of a time when I was in the presence of Nelson Mandela, who had the most incredible aura about him. In a way that Mandela was a great statesman, it feels like Tolstoy is a leader among elephants and any possibility of viewing or being in the presence of such magnificent beasts is a rare privilege.

Zimbabwe and Botswana also offer incredible elephant viewing, with great volumes and herds of animals.

9. Pure Predators of Kruger [South Africa]

I spent four years guiding guests every day at MalaMala in South Africa's Sabi Sands Game Reserve, easily some of the best years of my life. When I think back on those days in the mid-'90s, everyone wanted to see cats, and we did, every day. There were days when we would see a couple of different prides of lion and a few different leopards. My record was nine different leopards in a day - we were spoilt! Generations of cats had lived there in peace and were extremely comfortable around our safari vehicles; we spent hours with them and got to know most individuals, their territories, habits and which females were due to have cubs. We watched them hunt, mate, grow up, fight for territory and more – it was a rare glimpsein to the private lives of big cats. Many guests came back every year to catch up on the cats of the Sabi Sands, you can get a taste of it too.

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