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How to Choose an African Safari

How to Choose an African Safari
by Candyce H. Stapen

As our boat glides down the tributaries of Botswana’s Chobe River, we see kudu and impala dart through the banks’ thickets and scores of hippos wade in the water. In Chobe National Park elephants line up chorus-like in a clearing and on our night drive, a stalking leopard, revealed by his green eyes glinting in the moonlight, stalks past our jeep.

Africa is a dream vacation. There is something joyous about watching animals in their natural terrain, seeing a herd of elephants lumber across a grassy plain, a lanky giraffe munch lazily from the treetops or ostriches, necks swaying rhythmically, high step into the sunset.

Booking an African safari, however, can be confusing. Where to go, when to go, as well as what type of tour, lodge and company to choose are key concerns. Experts advise that you choose the destination first, and then the lodges or the tour operator.

Two of Arica’s most stable nations--Namibia and Botswana--also offer some of the best game viewing. Namibia’s jewel, Etosha reigns as one of Africa’s largest game parks. Etosha’s nearly 8600 square miles shelter 114 species of mammals plus more than 380 species of birds. At the park’s heart is the Etosha Pan, a shallow former lake bed covering nearly 1,738 square miles or 25% of the reserve’s surface. In the rainy season, pelicans and flamingos flock to the pan and impala, gemsbok, kudu and other animals drink at the springs along its edge.

What you won’t find in Etosha are crowds. Despite visiting in high season, we almost never encounter more than one other van alongside us when we stop to gaze at the animals and frequently our van is the only vehicle around.

The flat terrain also enables us to see large expanses, making critter sighting easy. Almost as soon as we enter the park, we spot zebras on our right, ostrich just beyond, wildebeests on our left and two lanky giraffes in front of our jeep, crossing the gravel road. Abenteuer Afrika Safari specializes in custom tailored explorations of Namibia as well as Zambia, and Mozambique

In Botswana, the Okavango River floods the delta during June, July and August, bringing water to the parched sands of the Kalahari desert. And the animals follow. In the Moremi Game Reserve, lions, leopards, cheetah, painted dogs, hyenas and jackals and other predators abound. Photography “hunters” come to Chobe National Park for its large number of elephants.

You also find small luxury lodges of 8-15 rooms situated on private concessions. As a result, the animals far outnumber the people. Game viewing in open vehicles as opposed to roofed buses is typical, and you have the rare opportunity for walking safaris and night game drives. In Botswana too you with some tour operators you can add on a day-trip to Stanley’s Camp, where led by guides, you walk in the bush with Jabu, Thembi and Morula, semi-habituated elephants. They allow you to stroke their wrinkled sides, sit down on their huge feet and, when asked, give you a wet, trunk kiss.

An African safari is a trip you will remember forever.

South African Airways provides service from a number of U.S. and international gateways to Johannesburg and into Botswana and Namibia.

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