Lounging in a private chalet overlooking Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park. Sipping champagne at the Crater View Bar at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, Tanzania. Imagining tomorrow's game drive.
These are African safari dreams of the ultra-rich…or are they? To be sure, safaris don't come cheap—but for affluent clients tired of the same-old same-old, safaris can meet an upscale vacation budget that isn't necessarily super-sized.
African Travel Inc., the Glendale, CA-based tour operator, is among safari suppliers that have introduced more affordable itineraries while maintaining luxury standards. Feedback from agents, it turns out, gets some of the credit.
“When our guests and their agents recommend additional destinations and experiences for safaris, we listen and make it happen,” said Sherwin Banda, president of the company, which was founded 40 years ago and is now part of The Travel Corp. “When visiting our agent partners, many consultants requested luxurious, value-packed itineraries for their guests. Agents said their clients have become accustomed to luxury travel and are looking for affordable tours to exotic destinations. As a result ATI has implemented new safari vacation packages where heart-pounding wildlife safaris are paired with outstanding food, service and accommodations, plus unforgettable interactions with the locals for a glimpse into Africa at its most authentic.”
These packages, Banda added, start from less than $5,000 per person, and select itineraries include both internal and international airfare.
We went looking for such a tour, one that offers thrills and high-end accommodations for under $5,000 a person, on the company's web site. And indeed there are several, including one that focuses on East Africa. This program, called Discover East Africa, is a 13-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania that comes in at $3,999 per person, double.
Clients will explore the plains of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, discover an ancient caldera teeming with wildlife, experience glamping in a luxury tent in the Masai Mara and participate in interactions with a local Maasai community to learn about its culture and customs.
Agents who want to learn more about selling safaris can check out African Travel's new Safari Academy webinar series, featuring informative and exclusive content ranging from personal experiences from safari specialists and conservation initiatives to selling tips.
Meanwhile, African Travel’s latest brochure highlights six new itineraries for 2017, including two “new and improved” safaris and a four-day community experience in the northern Maasai Mara. These itineraries, venturing from South Africa to Mozambique, were developed to accommodate popular demand and suggestions from both agents and their clients, the firm said.
One of the new offerings includes the itinerary called Best of Botswana. This journey explores the diverse range of wildlife and landscapes that make up this special corner of Africa. Guests visit Victoria Falls, one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, and experience morning and afternoon safari activities in the immense Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another is called Under Kenyan Skies. Guests on this safari absorb the best of Kenya’s wildlife and culture in eco-luxury accommodations. Highlights include exploration in two iconic wildlife regions, Laikipia and the Maasai Mara, in open-vehicle day and night game drives, guided walks, horseback safaris, and visits to community and conservation projects. Guests sleep in handcrafted four-poster beds and are introduced to an orphaned foster elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
There's no shortage of companies offering safaris. One of the top luxury providers is the 77-room Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Serengeti. This Tanzania property, opened in 2012, is particularly well-suited for first-time safari travelers, extended families and groups. It has 12 suites with plunge pools, five free-standing villas with private swimming pools, a spa with six treatment pavilions, three restaurants, a Kijana Klub for kids and teens, and meeting facilities.
Two active watering holes on the property allow for animal viewing at peak times of day and every room has an elevated open-air sundeck providing direct views over the Serengeti.
Suitable for guests eight years old and above, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge is also home to its own Discovery Center, featuring museum quality exhibits and a lecture hall for guests to learn about the local wildlife, environment and culture.
The lodge recently rolled out one- to three-day add-on excursions that take guests farther afield. For example, it's offering a trek to Rwanda's Virungu Volcanoes, home of the mountain gorillas. On the one-night getaway ($1,530 per person), clients fly to Kigali and make it an early night – the trek begins at 4:30 a.m. the next morning.
Led by an expert tracker guide, they'll climb the mountain slopes at dawn in search of a magical sighting of the mountain gorillas. A late afternoon flight returns them to the lodge, hopefully with memories to last a lifetime. There are, according to wildlife experts, less than 900 of the critically endangered mountain gorillas left.
Donna Tunney's Luxury Report rotates on a weekly basis with her Cruise Report. Agents and suppliers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.