Travel & Leisure

Safari Experience: Return to the African Wilderness

As travelers return to Africa’s wilderness areas now that travel restrictions have eased, several environment- and community-conscious safari companies are welcoming guests into new and newly transformed camps and lodges

With much of Africa now open to international travelers, there’s renewed interest in safari experiences. This surge in interest may be in response to restrictions being lifted after such a significant period of lockdowns. But it’s also the heightened sense of importance placed on traveling with companies that have a positive impact while connecting with the natural world that make these safaris such an appealing option.

“After being pent up, safari is a great release . . . seeing those animals in their natural habitat really is regenerative,” says Dereck Joubert, co-founder and CEO of Great Plains Conservation. “It truly does rejuvenate your soul in so many ways,” adds his wife and fellow co-founder Beverly Joubert. “We need to embrace our areas of wilderness and be out in nature to appreciate what nature is giving us.”

Jeep behind three lions
Located in Zambia, Lolebezi, which opened in June, is set in 12 acres (5 ha) of protected wilderness in the Lower Zambezi National Park. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for lions, leopards, and elephants. Courtesy: African Bush Camps

Providing travelers returning to these wilderness areas with new and enhanced safari experiences, several lodges have emerged from the pandemic lockdowns fully transformed, while others are newly launched as brand-new properties. Each one of these conservation-led, community-minded properties offers an immersion into an environmentally unique pocket of the wildlife-inhabited African landscape.

See lions basking in the morning sun following a night of hunting, catch sight of cheetah stalking their prey by day, and watch elephants cool down from the heat in the waterholes, which draw animals and birdlife from nearby surroundings. You never know what to expect on safari, but each day is guaranteed to be unique.

Great Plains Conservation: Kenya, Botwsana, and Zimbabwe

The Mara Expedition Camp in the middle of remote land, Kenya
Mara Expedition Camp is on the Talek River in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The camp enjoys views of wildebeest migration between July and September. During the rest of the year, you might see herds of elephants and hippos. Courtesy: Great Plains

Of the safari companies affording new experiences at this time, Great Plains Conservation now benefits from using the periods of pandemic travel restrictions to renovate and enhance some of their existing camps in wildlife-rich pockets of Kenya and Botswana, while also building new camps in Kenya, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

In the conservancies surrounding Kenya’s Maasai Mara, the safari specialist enhanced its existing Mara Plains and Mara Nyika camps, from adding raised walkways to creating luxurious new suites, while also building Mara Expedition Camp from the ground up. August 2021 saw the launch of Tembo Plains Camp in the Sapi concession bordering Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, and July 2022 has marked the launch of Great Plains Okavango Explorers Camp in Botswana’s private Selinda Reserve.

Each camp in Great Plains’ portfolio is built with community collaboration, wildlife protection, and environmental preservation in mind, and together they are the base for the conservation and community initiatives of Great Plains Foundation. All of the camps are home to open-sided living areas with wine cellars and libraries, and they all exhibit the same contemporary take on the traditional safari aesthetic, with carved Lamu doors, African curios, and copper bathtubs featured throughout. Days are spent out in the wilderness with the camps’ expert guides before returning to dine under the stars.

Wilderness Safaris: Botswana

Sun loungers on wooden decked structure by the water
DumaTau Camp is built in the shade of mangosteen trees overlooking a large hippo-filled lagoon. Guests can choose excursions on both water and land, or opt to relax at the swimming pool and authentic bush pub. Courtesy: DumaTau Camp

Another leader in conservation wildlife tourism, Wilderness Safaris has also relaunched its two lodges just as travelers return to Africa. DumaTau Camp in the Linyanti Wilderness Reserve and Vumbura Plains in the Okavango Delta, both a part of the safari specialist’s Botswana portfolio, reopened this spring following significant enhancements.

Completely rebuilt, DumaTau Camp and its neighboring four-suite camp, Little DumaTau, are now joined by the central Osprey Retreat featuring a pool, deli, and boutique. All of its tented suites have been remodeled and added to with extended decks and plunge pools. Design details throughout reflect the locale.

Also entirely reimagined, Vumbura Plains now exhibits the interiors of Cate Simpson of Reflecting Africa, who worked with local craftspeople to design an authentic Okavango experience. The 14 suites, complete with outdoor living areas, private plunge pools, and indoor and outdoor showers, are joined by shared living and dining areas where the revitalized culinary offering aligns more than ever with traditional local cuisine.

American Bush Camps: Zambia

Double bedroom with doors open onto plunge pool and then the river
Lolebezi is a new property designed to take full advantage of a private riverside location. Guests can choose from game drives, walking safaris, river cruises, and fishing. Courtesy: African Bush Camps

Over in Zambia, African Bush Camps debuted Lolebezi camp in Lower Zambezi National Park this June. This new light-on-earth luxury camp on the banks of the Zambezi River celebrates Zambian culture and the surrounding environment through its sustainable design, which the safari company conceived in partnership with Fox Browne Creative.

The modern architecture and interiors respond to the camp’s wild riverside setting, and each suite, featuring its own plunge pool, faces on to the river. In each space, design details such as hand-carved wooden doors and regional basket-ware pay homage to the area, and the camp’s suites are joined by a dining pavilion and main infinity pool. Activities from here range from games drives and guided walking safaris to riverboating.

andBeyond: Tanzania 

A spacious bathroom with freestanding bath and huge windows onto the bush
There are only a few lodges in this far-flung corner of the Serengeti National Park. The Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge offers game drives twice each day, during which you may encounter lions, hyena, and colobus monkeys. Courtesy: andBeyond

In Tanzania, the prominent experiential travel company leading significant conservation projects across the continent, andBeyond, relaunched andBeyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge this June following a complete transformation of the property. The architecture of Jack Alexander and interiors of Fox Browne Creative have redefined the camp, which has low environmental impact, to bring guests closer to their natural surroundings. The main guest areas follow the contours of the river, and each suite comes with an outdoor deck and plunge pool. From here, game drives and guided safari walks introduce guests to Serengeti National Park.

Waterside at Royal Malewane: South Africa

A brightly coloured bedroom suite with large windows onto the bush
Each of the 12 bedrooms at Waterside lodge face the bush and a solar-powered heated swimming pool. A sunken hide below the main viewing deck provides a unique perspective for watching the visiting elephants and buffalo. Courtesy: The Royal Portfolio

Adding to its portfolio of luxurious properties, The Royal Portfolio has launched the brand-new Waterside at Royal Malewane overlooking a waterhole in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. The family-friendly 12-bedroom lodge is designed with the colours and textures of the surrounding bush. All of the rooms come with private decks, pools, and bright décor integrating maximalist artwork, and the shared living areas include a games room, wine cellar, yoga room, gym, and spa.

At each of these sustainably designed, environment- and community-conscious camps, the wildlife experience you come to these wilderness areas for is enhanced with inspired culinary concepts, luxury amenities, and carefully curated design concepts.