African safaris are one of the most enduring travel experiences ever. For decades the safari has remained at the top of the “must do” list for many travelers. Such a trip is often seen as the ultimate escape, giving them a chance to visit a wild and untamed place, encounter amazing wildlife, and add a bit of adventure to their lives. Over the years, the traditional African safari has evolved greatly, and today it is still a fantastic experience with options for nearly every type of traveler, under nearly any budget.
The word safari traces its origins back to the Arabic word of “safara,” which when translated means “to go on a journey.” It was originally used by merchants traveling long distances trade routes throughout the Middle-East and Africa. As late as the 18th centuries, the term continued to refer to those traveling caravans that roamed the continent selling all kinds of goods, which was a profitable, yet dangerous, venture during that era.
During the 19th century, the writings of a number of prominent naturalists and explorers, such as Henry Morton Stanley, kept the public enthralled. They told tales of Africa that included vast herds of wild animals, deadly predators, primitive cultures, and dark, unexplored jungles. Those stories sparked the imagination and painted the continent in an almost mythic light. Many readers wished to travel to Africa themselves, and see these wonders with their own eyes, but in that age, few could make such a journey for a variety of reasons.The modern safari as we know it had its origins early in the 20th century, when larger than life figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway made frequent visits to Africa on big game hunts. Tales of their daring exploits were popular with the public as well, and soon the safari became synonymous with bagging big game on the wildest continent.
For the hunter, the ultimate prize was to shoot one of the Big Five, which include elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalos, and leopards. Well heeled travelers came from around the world just to have the opportunity to stalk one of these creatures and take its pelt home to put on their wall. Roosevelt himself once spent weeks on the hunt with his son, and over the course of their expedition, the two men claimed more than 500 kills, including 17 lions, a dozen elephants, 20 rhinoceros, and much more.
In those days, travel was often done on foot or horseback, with dozens of porters carrying gear, food, and other supplies. Travelers stayed in tents, although they were often quite luxurious in nature, with plenty of comforts from home. Later, trucks would make travel easier, as they could carry the travelers and their gear over rough terrain much more quickly and efficiently. In those days, the vehicles were prone to frequent breakdowns however, and they were far from reliable in the field. Later, more durable and sophisticated trucks, jeeps, and SUV’s would hit the open savannas of Africa, allowing for even more travelers to experience the safari first hand. The Land Rover was just such a vehicle, and for decades it was seen as the only way to travel throughout the continent.
The advent of cheaper, more reliable, vehicles meant that people no longer needed to be rich to go on safari. That realization brought a more diverse, and discerning, traveler to the Serengeti. One that wasn’t all that interested in killing the creatures they saw, but would rather see them thriving in their natural habitat. Slowly, the safari evolved once again, this time away from shooting the animals with a gun, to shooting them with a camera instead.
Today, travelers can go on safari in a number of countries across Africa, each offering a unique and amazing experience. You can now have a safari experience that is expensive and luxurious or affordable and basic, with just about every option inbetween. For example, you can catch the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania from a comfortable vehicle or go deep into the bush on foot in South Africa. You can glide across the Okavango Delta in dugout canoe in Botswana or sail above the African plains in a hot hair balloon in Zimbabwe. The options are nearly endless, and there is little to keep adventurous travelers from making the journey themselves.
The concept of the safari has come a long way in the past hundred years, and it is likley to continue to evolve in the future. No matter how it has changed however, the African safari remains a fantastic adventure that is unlike any other.