You can plan a bucket-list-worthy safari getaway to Africa — and help protect some of the world’s most stunning habitats at the same time.
Travel is hot again — the U.S. Travel Association says that travel spending at the end of last year was 3% above 2019 levels — and so are once-in-a-lifetime trips. Case in point: Multigenerational family bookings to Africa were estimated to be up 40% in 2022.
Dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see why. Travelers today are prioritizing trips that let them deeply experience a destination’s culture, history, and environment while making lifelong memories with family and friends. Safari trips can fill the bill: Safari adventures often feature breathtaking wide-open spaces, rich traditions, and thrilling wildlife encounters. What’s more, many now go beyond passive observation and allow travelers to participate in hands-on conservation efforts.
Looking for a special safari experience for you and your family? The guidance here can help you make it a trip you — and they — will never forget.
What to expect on safari
Today’s safaris are a far cry from the hunting trips described in the book Out of Africa. (In fact, hunting is no longer on the itinerary.) Today’s safari outfitters often plan trips with an eye to the future, which means working to protect the surrounding ecosystems and the animals that call them home. Those efforts can take different forms, such as energy-efficient tented camps and lodges, partnerships with wildlife conservancy groups, and solar-powered vehicles to avoid hauling fuel into the jungle.
Many safari outfitters also work hand in hand with local governments’ conservation efforts. For example, Botswana has some of the strictest conservation regulations in Africa. All lodges must be designed so they can be deconstructed within 24 hours, with no trace left behind. As a result, lodges and camps are carefully (and creatively) constructed to cause the least amount of impact on the surrounding environment — without using concrete, mortar, or bricks.
Amenities? Yes, you’ll find those, too.
Choosing an eco-friendly safari doesn’t mean you’ll be roughing it. Egyptian cotton sheets, king-size beds, and room service are often available. After a day in the wild, you and your friends can return to your tent or villa for a relaxing soak in your jetted tub before toasting your time together with cocktails on a terrace boasting stunning views of the grasslands.
Whether you opt for a lodge or luxury tented camp, you’ll generally find accommodations for every guest — including multiple bedrooms so there’s plenty of room to spread out. In some locations, kids can enjoy splashing in an infinity-edge pool overlooking the savannah while couples can share a romantic candlelit dinner as they watch wildlife gather at a nearby watering hole.
Wildlife: What to expect
Catching a glimpse of the region’s animals in their natural surroundings can be an awe-inspiring moment. But most safari companies won’t let you get too close — and not just for your safety. Animal interactions aren’t good for them. For example: Elephant-back safaris used to be considered an essential part of the experience. But responsible safari groups discourage them because of the abuse elephants suffer during domestication, and to avoid causing physical pain.
Instead, prepare for more ethical animal interactions, like a visit to an elephant sanctuary or joining an elephant orphanage in time for morning feeding. Get an up-close look at big cats — without actually getting too close — during a guided nature walk or from a specially built hide. Gorilla treks offer the chance for a rare glimpse of endangered great apes in their rainforest habitats.
Travel with meaning: Embrace citizen science.
Safaris are embracing a growing travel trend: citizen science. In Africa, that translates to safaris that include conservation efforts. For example, you can help conservationists with The Explorations Company microchip elephants in Tanzania to track their migratory patterns and their effect on the local landscape. In Kenya, you can join skilled rangers from the Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy as they monitor endangered rhinos to prevent herd loss. Or you can join ex-poachers working with the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s Serengeti De-Snaring Program to remove dangerous snares, disrupting illegal meat poaching in Serengeti National Park. These experiences and more give you an up close, unparalleled look at some of the planet’s most majestic creatures in their own habitats — travel you can feel good about.
These trips don’t just benefit animals. The economy of many local communities is heavily dependent on tourism — for example, it brings $1 billion each year to Kenya. By working with safari operators that hire local guides and employ local residents in their lodges and camps, your stay can directly benefit the region’s economy. An added benefit of boosting local economies? It has a ripple effect, supporting other initiatives for education and conservation.
Ready to plan your trip? Remember these three tips.
- Consider working with a travel planner. Setting up a once-in-a-lifetime safari can be a big undertaking. In Serengeti alone, there are roughly 115 camps or lodges — how do you narrow it down to the one that’s best for you and your family? It’s best to work with experienced travel planners who are familiar with the region you want to visit. Look for one with close ties to Africa as well as published reports on its responsible tourism policies. To find a safari organizer for your needs, check out this advice.
- Keep it simple. Many people try to do too much on safari — seeing 10 countries in 10 days, or overscheduling activities and outings. Yes, you want to make the most of your time there, but the trip won’t be as meaningful if you’re zipping through it too quickly. Many travel companies suggest spending a minimum of 10 days in one country; if you want to add to the trip, you can plan several stops within that country.
- Know when to go. Different seasons bring different experiences, so keep that in mind as you consider the “perfect” time to get away. If you want to witness the Great Migration, the best time is usually July through October, but other seasons have their own attractions: Calving season in February increases your chances of spotting adorable baby wildebeest, while the green season in spring can mean lower rates, lush landscapes, and fewer tourists.