Few things in travel beat the thrill of coming face-to-face with the animal kingdom's biggest stars. Cathy Adams and Laura Chubb track down epic safaris to suit every taste.
Best for: The Big Five
Kruger, South Africa
Kruger isn’t the classic for nothing: South Africa’s showstopper is bigger than Ireland, the most popular safari destination in the country and home to more than 147 species of mammals. A Kruger Safari with Exodus includes game drives and walks to spot that all-important pentad and more. There’s also a special conservation departure where you can help out with micro-chipping rhinos.
Nine days from £1,949pp includes breakfasts, dinners, accommodation, safaris and flights.
Mombo Camp, Botswana
Overlooking the floodplains of the Okavango Delta, Mombo Camp sits pretty in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, which combines drier, wooded areas with the area’s signature, wildlife-teeming lagoons.
Game drives will help you stalk the Big Five. Four nights is £4,363pp, including full-board and transfers. originaltravel.co.uk
Singita Sasakwa Lodge, Tanzania
Just as essential a safari experience as The Big Five – which Tanzania naturally offers – is the annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras, which sees more than two million animals surge between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. At Singita Sasakwa Lodge, you can watch the spectacle from a sprawling veranda, before bedding down in luxury cottages, each with an infinity pool.
Rates from £1,107pp, including all meals and beverages, accommodation and transfers. singita.com
Best for: Luxury
Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Tanzania
When the Four Seasons sets up camp in the Serengeti, you know it’s going to be good. Infinity pool overlooking a watering hole? Check. Traditional Maasai spa treatments overlooking lions roaming the bush? Check. If you’re looking for no-expenses-spared African luxury, well, you’ve found it.
Rooms start from £722 a night. fourseasons.com/serengeti
Mnemba Island Lodge, off Zanzibar
Why settle for just the bush when you can peg a beach break onto the end? That’s where private Mnemba Island comes in – it’s three miles off the coast of paradise island Zanzibar, and only lodge guests reside here, providing your very own stretch of Indian Ocean. Plus, you’re only a short flight from the heart of the Serengeti for that safari.
Rates start from £470pppn on an all-inclusive basis. andbeyond.com
Volcanoes Lodges, Rwanda
Rwanda has one big trump card over the Serengeti and Maasai Mara – its chimpanzee and gorilla populations. From your base at one of Volcanoes’ eco-safari lodges in north-eastern Rwanda, there’s gorilla tracking in Parc National des Volcans and game drives around Queen Elizabeth National Park in neighbouring Uganda. At the camp, relax on terraces with views over misty volcanoes in classic ‘bush chic’ surroundings.
Rates start from £375pppn. volcanoessafaris.com/lodges
Best for: Budget
Addo Elephant Park, South Africa
If you’re looking for a safari that won’t totally blitz your bank account, steering clear of the big names and driving your own vehicle will go a long way. Addo Elephant Park, just north of Port Elizabeth (handily near the end of the Garden Route), is South Africa’s third-biggest national park. Despite the name, it’s not just elephants here – there are also lions, hyenas and rhinos, alongside abundant antelope and zebra.
Park entrance costs around £11pp. Game drives are available from £16pp. sanparks.org
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Celebrate World Lion Day on 10 August by heading to Majete Wildlife Reserve to get up close with the lions. Over the weekend of 9-10 August, stay at Mkulumadzi Lodge in the country’s only Big Five park and learn all about tracking the big cats.
Costs £210pppn on a full-board basis, inc. activities, park fees and transfers. robinpopesafaris.net
Adventure Camps, Tanzania
In the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania, bed down in a rustic tented camp, smack-bang in the heart of the action – think animals wandering up to your tent, and enjoying cheeky sundowners under the stars. While here, try a safari along the Rufiji River.
Rates start from around £250pppn at the Selous Impala Camp. adventurecampstz.com
Best for: Conservation
Zambian Carnivore Programme
You won’t just be watching the animals at Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park – this specialist safari offers a hands-on six days of tracking and surveying carnivores including lions, African wild dogs and their prey. You’ll get to go a-wandering in one of the best-known national parks for walking safaris, checking out giraffe, elephants, hippos and more on the way.
Seven nights cost from £2,320pp, including all safari costs and a donation to the programme. robinpopesafaris.net
Wildlife Research in South Africa
Join a wildlife conservation team with social enterprise GVI and you’ll be posted to one of two animal-rich regions in South Africa: Limpopo in the north or “garden province” KwaZulu-Natal. You’ll be asked to play an active role in the research and conservation of reintroduced predators and large herbivores on a private game reserve, receiving training in the use of equipment, adjusting to life in the African bush and getting acquainted with all the major game.
Two weeks from £1,195pp, including all meals, accommodation, training and permits. gvi.co.uk
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park is one of the world’s largest conservation areas, thanks to a huge conservation effort that’s been going on over the past few years. As a result, it now boasts small colonies of lions, leopards, elephant, buffalo and zebra. Visitors can see conservation in action on game drives around the park.
Park entrance for international visitors costs around £10pp. gorongosa.org
Best for: Off the beaten track
Odzala Fly-in safari, Republic of Congo
Spotting lions and leopards is all well and good, but if you really want to one-up your mates, head into the thick jungle of the Congo to track the country’s abundant gorilla population. Not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo – locked into a long-running civil war – the Republic of Congo’s vast swathes of impenetrable rainforest and inhospitable swamps have kept the humans out and the gorillas thriving, giving you the chance to see huge groups of the great apes.
Nine days from £6,369pp including full-board accommodation, transfers, park fees and flights. expertafrica.com
Xugana Island Lodge, Botswana
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is a unique African oasis of lagoons and grassy floodplains, which means you can leave the 4WD parked up and explore its snaking waterways by dugout canoe. Xugana Island Lodge is a hush-hush hotspot offering reed-thatched, lagoon-facing chalets with private viewing decks, so you can linger over the vista without even leaving your lounger.
Lodges start from £522pppn in high season, including accommodation, meals, local brand drinks, and safaris. desertdelta.com
Jawai Leopard Camp, India
A spectacular safari doesn’t have to automatically mean Africa. In between Rajasthan’s ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur and stunning town-on-a-lake Udaipur, Jawai Leopard Camp pitches its tents in the remote Aravalli Hills, where leopards roam the rocky ridges. Along with leopard-spotting (sorry) drives, there are swimming pools to cool the dusty heat and a spa on site, should all that being driven around leave you in need of a pampering.
Three nights in a luxury tent from £1,050pp on a full board basis. originaltravel.co.uk