Walking safaris. The chance to see, smell and feel what’s going on around you, combined with freedom, butterfly-inducing excitement and exhilaration all at once. However, if you don’t know what to expect, the thought of heading out on your own two pins can be scary. And that’s exactly why we’ve put together our handy guide on your walking safari trip. Once you’ve made the decision to book, you might never get in a vehicle again…
First things first, what’s a walking safari all about?
A walking safari trip is about looking for things you might miss from a vehicle. You’ll examine footprints on the ground and follow them into the grass, watch dung beetles rolling across the ground, and stop and listen to the birds twittering in the trees. If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to track big game on foot, but this isn’t always the aim of a walking safari. Really, it’s about appreciating the finer details of the bush – and it’s magical.
Is it safe?
As with any activity around wild animals, there are risks involved, but walking safari guides go through rigorous training and know the bush like the back of their hand. Your guide will always give you a comprehensive safety briefing before you set out and you should follow instructions to the letter, despite what your instincts might sometimes be telling you. And if it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t be doing it…
Who will come with me?
There are different rules in different parks, but normally you will be accompanied by at least two people, one to act as a guide and one as a tracker – two pairs of eyes are better than one after all. Sometimes it might be two qualified walking guides, sometimes a walking guide and a park ranger, but one of them will always be armed. There may even be a tea-bearer or an assistant bringing up the rear of the group (and carrying the all-important tea and biscuits!).
How long are the walks?
Every camp is different, but most are able to tailor their walking safaris to suit you, and are happy to take you out for shorter or longer jaunts. We would say the norm is anything from 2-4 hours at a relaxed pace, with plenty of stops along the way. If you want to step it up a notch, there are some wonderful multi-day walking safaris, particularly in Zambia’s South Luangwa, where you can walk between camps, often fly-camping under the stars in between. On some expeditions, the camp even comes with you – how very Ernest Hemingway.
Do I have to be fit?
Walking safaris are gentle strolls, generally with no goal or destination, but with the aim of just seeing what’s out there. You’ll stop several times to examine different things (dung and poo being very popular) and there’s usually a tea break in a pretty spot. You should be comfortable walking over uneven ground, and be able to manage in the heat, but no real level of fitness is required.
What should I wear?
This is where the khakis come in. Away from a vehicle, you are more obvious to the wildlife and bright, block, colours are a definite no-no, yellow, red, black and white being the worst. Several layers in neutral colours are ideal, as are trousers that cover your ankles, or failing that, long socks. And make sure what you’re wearing is loose and comfortable – those safari trousers might look the part, but if they’re not comfy, don’t wear them…
What about my shoes?
This depends on what type of walking safari trip you’ll be doing. If you plan on doing a couple of morning walks, then a pair of trainers is fine. If you’re heading off for a multi-day trek or walking is the focus of your walking safari trip, a pair of hiking boots might be appropriate. Again, the golden rule is comfort (and no flip-flops!) and if you must wear those brand-new boots, bring a supply of plasters…
Do I have to wake up early?
In short, yes! Some camps offer walking safaris in the afternoon, but nothing beats waking up with the sunrise and heading out on foot into the crisp dawn air. Aside from it being cooler in the morning, the animals are usually more active and you’ll get to decipher the activities and tales of the previous night from the footprints and tracks in the earth – who needs a TV?!
Where’s the best place to go for a walking safari?
We’ve written a couple of guides all about the best walking safaris in Africa and our favourite lodges – check them out here and here if you haven’t already. Our top spots are Zambia’s South Luangwa, the home of the walking safari and still the King, Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools, and the Selous and Ruaha in Tanzania.