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Off-the-Beaten-Path Walking Safari Destinations in Africa

by Octavia Drughi

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Hiking may not be Africa’s number one attraction, but it sure is a great way to explore its landscape, wilderness, culture and observe its wildlife. There’s nothing quite like sleeping under a canopy of stars after tip-toeing behind your guide all day through complete wilderness. 

Walking safaris are very different from game drives. You simply cannot get any closer to wildlife than you do when on foot. This can sound like an open invitation for adrenaline-junkies, while others might get goosebumps just thinking about it.

But there’s no reason to worry. You’ll be in the safe hands of trained and highly experienced guides who know the bush like the back of their palms. Even though unpleasant incidents are very rare, there are a few simple rules you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t run! Running will make you look like prey in the eyes of the predators.
  • Listen to your guides! They often use hand signals, and you should react to them promptly.
  • Walk in single file to have less impact on the wildlife.
  • Try not to make any noise. When talking, lower your voice as much as possible.
  • Always stay behind the guide’s gun! 

So get out of the 4X4 and dive straight into the wilderness in these off-the-beaten-path walking safari destinations:

 

Walking Safaris in Botswana

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Camping Makgadikgadi Pans - Photo by abi.bhattachan

Botswana is pretty famous for its luxurious lodges and all-inclusive safaris. But let’s face it, elephants visiting your fly camp at night are hard to top. And yet, walking safaris in Botswana don’t enjoy the popularity they deserve. As a tourist looking for under-the-radar destinations, you might want to take advantage of this.

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Group of San Bushmen - Photo by Mario Micklisch

How does walking with the San Bushmen through the Makgadikgadi Pans sound like? With thousands of years of wildlife tracking experience and knowledge behind them, these nomadic tribespeople will show you a different face of Africa and welcome you into their community.

For the chance to interact with elephants, head to the Selinda Spillway and the Okavango Delta. Here, walking safaris can be as relaxing or as demanding as you choose, from two-hour morning walks to full-day treks through the unusual landscape, observing elephants, wild dogs, hyenas, jackals, leopards, and numerous lion prides.

 

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

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Rufiji River, Selous - Photo by Rob

Four times the size of Serengeti, Selous Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in Africa and one of the world’s wildest – 34,000 square miles (55,000 square kilometers) of untouched bush. That’s bigger than Switzerland!

The northern section of the reserve is dedicated to photography safaris, just above the Rufiji River, where there are only nine camps. South of the river, the remaining nine-tenths of the park are managed as a hunting reserve. It might sound unappealing, but the quota is controlled in a scientific manner not to impact wildlife populations, and the generated income is directed towards conservation efforts.

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Selous Game Reserve - Photo by Richard Mortel 

Walking through Selous, one will not help but notice the incredibly low influx of tourists, especially when compared to Tanzania’s most popular national parks. Low-volume tourism is indeed proving sustainable, offering those very few who do venture off-the-beaten-path the opportunity to observe rare wildlife – African wild dogs, rhinoceros, and a maneless species of lions.

 

South Luangwa Valley, Zambia

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Wild Leopard - South Luangwa, Zambia - Photo by Alex Berger

The capital of on-foot safaris, South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia is one of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries. The flat-bottomed valley is believed to be the birthplace of the walking safari, and with good reason – Luangwa River is the most intact major river ecosystem in Africa, with over 400 bird species living here. Also known as the Valley of the Leopard, if you return from South Luangwa without seeing one, then you need to have your eyes checked.

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Elephants, lions, antelopes, and rare subspecies like Cookson’s wildebeest, Thornicroft’s giraffe, and Crawshay’s zebra roam the open woodlands and grasslands of the 434 miles (700 km) long and 62 miles (100 km) wide valley. Zambian guides go through rigorous training, and will only take small groups of people to explore the valley on foot and walk amongst the Big Five.

 

Wild Safaris in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

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Gorongosa National Park - Photo by F Mira 

In central Mozambique, at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley, Gorongosa National Park tells a touching story of ups and downs, of losses and gains. In the 1960s and 1970s, Gorongosa was one of Africa’s premier big game viewing parks, with African buffalo, elephants, more than a dozen species of antelopes, hippos, lions, and warthogs.

Civil war ravaged Mozambique for almost two decades, decimating the country’s wildlife. After it was over, commercial hunters took what little was left, and in total Gorongosa lost around 90 percent of its wildlife. But there’s still hope for it, thanks to the Carr Foundation, a U.S. non-profit organization that has invested millions of dollars in reviving its biodiversity.

Today, Gorongosa is considered one of the most ambitious conservation projects in Africa.

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Wild boar in Gorongosa National Park - Photo by F Mira

If it’s pristine wilderness you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Despite its scars, it is still deemed the most diverse park in the world, with species of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else on the globe, and ecosystems varying from rainforests and flooded plains to lowland savannas.

Most walks do not take more than one day to complete, but those with itchy feet can embark on the three-day hike up the 6,112 ft (1,862 m) Mount Gorongosa, an isolated granite massif.

 

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Gorilla Trekking Rwanda - Photo by Andries3

One of the best ways to see the elusive gorillas in the country is through a walking safari in Rwanda. Keep in mind that you should not stare at the mountain gorillas, and guides will remind you of that during the trip. You will find it hard not to, as they look back at you with piercing eyes.

The Virunga Mountains, stretching over Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorilla population – some 480 individuals.

In Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda, part of the Virunga Mountains, more than ten gorilla groups can be observed by tourists, which is more than anywhere else in the world. The national park is the oldest in Africa and is also where famous zoologist Dian Fossey conducted most of her research and studies on primates. She’s even buried at the site.

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Gorilla Trekking - Photo by Ronald Woan

Guided gorilla treks are available all year round and can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Those who feel up to the challenge can hike to altitudes of 11,000 ft (3,352 m). With its forest-covered volcanoes, lakes, and grasslands bathed in mist, the national park is home to endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, as well as spotted hyenas, elephants, buffaloes, black-fronted duikers, and bushbucks.

Visitors can hike the 14,786 ft (4,507 m) tall Karisimbi Volcano and trek Mount Bisoke, a dormant volcano with a spectacular crater lake.

Planning on visiting this fascinating country? Here’s all you need to know about traveling in Rwanda.

 

Imfolozi Wilderness Trails, South Africa

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Imfolozi Wilderness Trails - Photo by Francisco Laso

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is a dedicated wilderness area where no development is allowed – no roads, no lodges, no campsites, no telephones, no man-made structures. Camping follows a strict “minimum impact – no trace” ethic. The only way to explore the area is by embarking on a walking safari.

Imfolozi is the hidden gem of South Africa’s wilderness areas. It was once the exclusive hunting ground of Zulu King Shaka, and white rhinos have been protected here ever since 1895, making this the oldest wildlife reserve in Africa. To this day, it remains a haven for the Big Five.

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White Rhino in Imfolozi Park - Photo by Michael Jansen

All trails in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park start at Mpila Resort. Hikers can take short walks through the park that take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day, or venture on several wilderness trails that can last several days.

The Imfolozi Wilderness trails in the southern sector of the Imfolozi Reserve run through 30,000 hectares of vast open spaces, where visitors can see the Big Five as well as numerous other species. These rather primitive trails involve backpacking and camping under the stars, teaching visitors how to live a simpler life.

 

Final words

The crackling campfire, the red and orange hues of the sky at sunrise and sunset, the big game, the scent of the African bush, all make walking safaris addictive. Especially for first-timers, fly camping is a wonderful surprise, so it’s better left unexplained and let you discover all the rest on your own.

 


Do you wish to experience the African safari in its purest form? Go on a walking safari in Africa that will take you to the heart of the bush and face-to-face with the continent’s wildlife!

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