Safari travel promises tourists a brush with something magnificent and wild, whether you watch a majestic lion catnap in the sun, an endangered rhino chew a clump of grass, or a gazelle, impossibly graceful, break into a run across the savannah. Safari holidays are often expensive and time-consuming trips, but they are also just as often journeys dreamed of for a lifetime.
The term “safari” comes from the Swahili word safar, journey, and while it means, in a general sense, an expedition whose purpose is hunting or exploration, its connotations are specifically African. The landscapes and ecosystems that contemporary safari-goers explore—most African safari travel is concentrated in the continent’s south and eastern countries including South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda—are deeply imprinted into western culture: lions are kings of the jungle and ostriches ignore the obvious, runners aspire to be as fast as cheetahs and no one wants to laugh like a hyena, jackals engage in disreputable and menial tasks and elephants have long memories. (It’s also hard for travelers born after 1985, when confronted with savannah, not to cue up the music to Disney’s Lion King.) Thus, western travelers who join safari tours generally arrive with a vested interest in animals they’ve never seen in the wild before. It’s a curious phenomenon, one founded in even more complicated historical relationships, but it’s one that helps the safari travel industry protect and preserve endangered species and habitats.
After a full day of spotting “the Big Five”—lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros—on safari tours, visitors stay at lodges or camps that replicate many of the amenities of home in a distinctly new setting and style. (Keep the air conditioning, but swap out the roof for eco-friendly thatch.) Safari lodges combine contemporary luxury with locally inspired architecture and design, whether they draw from the region’s indigenous or colonial past.
While Africa is the traditional home of safari tours, similar nature viewing journeys are available, increasingly, worldwide: Sri Lanka, Brazil, India, Ecuador, and the United States (Denali and Yellowstone National Parks in particular) all offer ogle-worthy ecosystems. Find the most worthwhile safari travel options here with T+L.