“Heritage Tours creates thoughtful safari itineraries that encourage contact with local communities.”
—The single-theme “Africa Now” issue of Departures
For centuries now, the adventurous and the daring have come to the African continent.
First it was the explorers and pioneers charting an unknown and vast continent. Later, the privileged and royalty of Europe came to hunt, often with hundreds of servants transporting enormous mobile camps. There was no possession more prized over a British mantelpiece than a trophy lion head or a photo of the hunter in his hunting khakis with the corpse of his prey.
But now, of course, it’s very different. And that’s a good thing. In our era of heightened awareness of endangered species, sophisticated, well-traveled global citizens come from all over the world not with rifles, but with cameras and iPhones.
The 21st Century Safari
The great African savannah remains the last place on earth that offers such enormous tracts of untouched land, with so many species of animals free to roam as they have for millions of years. The hippo has been there for 50 million years. That’s a long time.
The amount of protected land in sub-Saharan Africa is equivalent to about 20% of the continental United States. Some protected areas span two or three countries.
And no need to bring your own crew of 200 servants. Safaris today can be done in great comfort and ease – and if you choose, luxury. All the little details are handled (by us) so you can focus on what brought you to Africa in the first place.
People sometimes believe they are coming for the amazing photos – and they will have those in plentitude – but we also go on safari to be with the natural world we inhabit. We come to see nature in action. We come to support conservation. And, if we are lucky, perhaps we leave with a better understanding of ourselves.
Safari is about more than the “Big Five,” so-named by hunters who considered them the five most challenging prey: lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. As awe-inspiring as they may be, there is a rich diversity of other animal life including cheetah, hippo, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, wild dog, antelope, baboon, aardvark, adorable meerkat, and thousands of species of bird and butterfly – just to name a few.
As well as, the whale, shark, dolphin, penguin, turtle, and the plethora of marine life that inhabit the rich waters off the coastlines and their stunning coral reefs.
And then there are certain animals to be found only in specific areas, such as the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, 105 species of lemurs in Madagascar, desert-adapted lion and elephant in Namibia, or the Grevy’s (Imperial) Zebra in Kenya. Sadly, all of the above are endangered.
Why We Are Different
One of the most important decisions in planning any trip is deciding whom to work with. It can make or break your experience in a thousand different ways.
Our goal is simple: we want to maximize your game-viewing experience. That’s it.
Your first advantage to working with us is that we don’t have “beds to fill,” industry-speak for having our own camps. That is a big plus because we can choose what is best for you with no conflict of interest. We prefer to mix and match camps among different companies (bringing you the best and avoiding the mediocre) based on the merits of each camp, not who owns it. We also work with camps belonging to smaller local associations, and we support small, independently-owned camps. We maintain excellent relationships with camp managers and owners, some dating over 20 years.
Your second advantage is our own standards in camp selection. Each camp on your trip is hand-selected to offer you the best camps based on your needs. We choreograph your trip to offer you the greatest diversity. In a continent as rich as Africa, you want variety and depth from your game-viewing experience. It should never feel redundant.
At each camp our criteria are: location, the quality of rangers, guides and trackers, and of course, management and comfort – always important to us as well.
Our preference is for camps that allow you to follow predators off-road, include night (as well as day) game drives, offer game walks under the tutelage of a trained ranger, and maximize the number of vehicles at a sighting. All of these are critical factors in your game-viewing experience.
All the camps we work with are responsible to the environment and local communities.
The level of luxury is tailored to your preferences and budget.
What It’s Like
There is no “typical” safari, but generally speaking game-viewing is best at dawn and dusk.
Your day begins before sunrise on a vehicle specially outfitted for African terrains as you search for animals with your expert ranger and tracker. These are often local tribespeople raised in the African Bush trained by their fathers and grandfathers in the art of finding and following the tracks of the animals.
You return to camp about mid-morning for a late breakfast or brunch. You have the middle of the day free to take a dip in the pool or lounge around.
After lunch and tea, in the late afternoon, you head back out on your afternoon game drive in search of more wildlife. “Sundowners” (cocktails and canapés) are served in The Bush as you watch the brilliant African sunset, which never ceases to amaze even the most experienced African traveler. You continue on your game drive to experience the different nature of The Bush at night, before returning to an excellent and hearty dinner.
On game drives, you watch the animals go about their daily lives – feed their young, bathe, play with and court one another, tease or fight one another, take catnaps (pardon the pun) and search for their next meal.
Imagine following the journey of two cheetahs as they stealthily stalk their prey and then slyly separate only to encircle the prey and finally explode into a 60-mph sprint, converging from both directions.
Imagine sitting in your open-air vehicle in the dark as you hear the roar of the lion – from miles away. Imagine now, if you will – aided by the skill of your tracker and warden – finding that very same lion, and turning off the lights and engine perhaps ten yards from him, his massive mane lit only by the light of the moon. That is Africa at its finest.
And remember, safaris do not have to be standard. See the Safari-Plus part of our Idea Lab.
Every visitor – by virtue of his or her visit alone – lends financial and moral support to the urgency of conservation in Africa.
As the last place on earth with so much untouched land and such a population of wildlife, Africa’s conservation needs are significant. Most African countries are overwhelmed by the demands of taking care of their populations and developing their infrastructures and economies. The survival of many species is at risk due to land-clearing for farming, villagers protecting cattle from predators, and most seriously, from large-scale poaching driven by illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory.
Yet there is a growing awareness of the benefits of wildlife and land conservation. This is due to critical bonds between tourism and conservation. For Africans, a direct way out of the generational cycle of poverty is to attract travelers to their land – travelers who seek once-in-a-lifetime opportunities we do not have at home. A significant portion of the cost of your safari is for taxes and fees to do just this.
Jobs created by tourism are one of the biggest sources of employment in Africa. Every eight visitors to Africa support one yearly salary. And one salary often feeds an extended family of ten or twenty and keeps kids in school.
Those tourism dollars have started to lift countries out of the cycle of poverty and have begun to support conservation so that our grandchildren will be able to see an Africa where fewer species are endangered, lands are better protected, and local populations are leading significantly better lives.
This all has been achieved through a joint venture of governments, local and overseas NGO’s, private game reserves, and companies who believe in responsible tourism (like ours and many others).
Anti-poaching units are making gains. We can arrange for you to join a training mission of an anti-poaching unit in South Africa to learn about all of this first-hand. And we can arrange for you to visit projects in many countries that take in animals orphaned by poachers.
There has been great creativity. Tribal groups have changed their habits. Farmers are reimbursed for cattle lost to lions, and the Maasai Olympics are creating a new rite of passage for young Maasai boys– one that does not involve hunting.
Yes, we have lost a good numbers of species in the last 50 years. Take the black rhino: there were 65,000 in 1970. The population was only 2,300 in the early 90’s.
But there is hope. The black rhino population is now well over 5,000. Yes, still a small number, but we have started down a path that is cause for optimism.