There’s no shortage of five-star lodges and luxury glamping sites in Africa. They have their purpose, and even the most champagne-soaked safaris make efforts to reduce their impact on the environment and better the lives of the people who live there. Wild places were hit particularly hard during the pandemic, as tourist dollars disappeared and hungry people turned to poaching.
Throughout Africa, most safari company owners (and many tour guides) are white, and a local guide’s monthly salary is often less than the cost of one night at a luxury lodge. Only around 15% of the African Travel and Tourism Association’s members are Black. However, there are some safari tours in Africa doing an exceptional job trying to mitigate these problems. These three touring companies work hard to support both conservation and local communities, and have been recommended by The Wild Source, an operator that specializes in empowering local ownership.
Bushman Plains Camp, Botswana
DNA studies show that the Indigenous hunter-gatherers of the San tribe (also referred to as Bushmen) are the “First People” of southern Africa, dating back perhaps 20,000 or more years and considered to be the ancestors of all modern humans. Botswana’s Okavango Delta (the world’s largest inland delta and an official UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the home of Bushman Plains, the first Bushmen-owned safari camp in the nation. The intimate four-tent camp is located within 370,000 acres and has water channels throughout the year, allowing for explorations in traditional mokoros (dugouts), as well as game drives in open-air vehicles.
The uncrowded country allows for private viewing of predators, including leopards, lions, and cheetahs, while dens of wild dogs frolic and elephants, giraffes, and buffalos amble amongst seldom-seen birds and the occasional sable antelope.
The A-frame tents are rustic, boasting comfortable beds and flush toilets, with gravity-fed showers. Food is plentiful and tasty, but the biggest raves are for the guide-owners and staff, who provide a truly authentic and unforgettable experience.
Enaidura Mobile Camp, Kenya
The “Great Migration” on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is a wildlife wonder of the world. ("Enaidura" literally means “migration” in the Maasai language.) This luxurious six-tent camp is located on a bank above the Talek River, near the confluence of the Mara, offering access to popular wildlife crossings. The Michelin-star quality of the cuisine is surpassed only by the accolades for Johnson Pingua “Ping” Nkuku and Paul Kirui, who are both on Conde Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Guides for all of Africa” and who own 25% of Enaidura. Regal Maasai warriors escort guests to their tents to guard against the ever-present wildlife, including hippos, elephants, big cats, wildebeests, zebras, and other animals making the legendary migration across the Serengeti. At Enaidura, you’ll feel like you’re living in a National Geographic documentary.
Njozi Camp, Tanzania
The first and only Tanzanian safari camp to employ local wildlife biologists, Njozi Camp is 100% owned by Deo Magoye, who began as a local guide with one safari vehicle. He now has an exceptional team of people who are passionate about the preservation of their magnificent surroundings and particularly devoted to researching the wild cats that roam the region. "Njozi" is Swahili for “dream,” and the camp is truly a dream come true for wildlife enthusiasts, who will find their days arranged around the animals’ schedules and sightings. (No sense leaving for lunch when a pride of lions has just arrived; the staff has carefully prepared a packed feast to enjoy while watching the cats!)
The camp relocates seasonally according to the wildebeest calving season. Cheetahs flock to the area during this time to prey on the more than 300,000 calves born on the Ndutu plains in just a few weeks, before moving to the Mara River for the Great Migration. Njozi is entirely solar-driven, and the seven tents have luxury linens and comfortable beds.
Endangered Wildlife Viewing Around the World
These three camps make safari dreams come true, but if you’re lucky enough to have already experienced Africa, there are other places on Earth that offer opportunities for up-close-and-personal wildlife encounters — especially if you’re trying to spot an endangered species. Here are three other places to safely encounter endangered animals in the wild.
Snow Leopard Lodge
There aren’t very many snow leopards on Earth due to the big cat’s increased loss of habit in the high mountains of Asia, so finding these elusive felines isn’t easy. But if you don’t mind high altitudes and low temperatures, the Snow Leopard Lodge in a remote valley within the Ladakh region of northern India offers the best shot at seeing one.
Wanglang Nature Reserve
Even pandas have a hard time spotting one another in the dense bamboo forests of China’s Sichuan Province, so mere humans are mostly out of luck. But the Wanglang Nature Reserve is home to 32 of these beautiful black-and-white bears in a setting that’s as far as you can get from a zoo.
Kanha Earth Lodge
The area around what is now Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve served as the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and the Kanha Earth Lodge is a great base for creating your own tiger tales. The owners have embarked on an impressive reforesting and rewilding initiative, and the park itself is one of the best tiger habitats in the world.