5 Locations for Aerial Safaris in Africa

The ways that you can experience wildlife in Africa is extremely diverse but not all suit all safari goers.

The most widely utilised of methods to ‘go on safari’ is in a 4×4 open topped safari vehicle – used widely throughout southern Africa but with closed topped ones used in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). You cover a lot of ground and the animals are generally very relaxed allowing you to get incredibly close to them; your guide will know though not to get too close. The wildlife just see a vehicle and know they are not a threat. A little noisy and smelly perhaps; but not a threat………..just don’t stand up as this changes their opinion of what you are instantly.

At the other end of the spectrum you have walking safaris, which are arguably the most romantic way of experiencing a safari. The trouble is that the animals hear, see and smell you before you have any idea that they know you’re there, and by the time you can see them, you can’t, because they’ve long moved away.  You also are unlikely to cover much ground but it is a good way to walk off last night’s glass of wine too many and to see the smaller things which you often miss when in a vehicle.

My personal favourite is by boat or canoe (mekoro in Botswana) but this too has its drawbacks as your view is limited to a few yards from the bank, as you are sitting at water level, before the undergrowth comes into play.

So……………….how to see wildlife, without the noise of a vehicle and the limitations of being on foot.

Simple, just approach the problem from a different angle – from the air.

Here are a few ideas for you.

The Busanga Plains in Zambia’s Kafue National Park – the Busanga Plains, a vast network of seasonal floodplains, teems with wildlife with huge herds of buffalo and their attendant predator, the lion.  Large herds of lechwe and puku are also often seen and birdlife flourishes here.

The camps in the Kafue only open in the winter months, from June to October, when the early morning mist rising off the channels evoke an almost mystical feeling to the scene. You can float above the wildlife in almost total silence in the locally based hot air balloon. And the great thing is that if you stay for three nights or more at either Busanga Bush Camp or Shumba Camp, your balloon flight is complementary. The flights operate in August, September and October only.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana – there are no balloon safaris offered in the Okavango presumably due to the network of water channels which would make safe landings far more difficult than the Serengeti.

But here’s an off the wall idea for you – a ‘doors off’ helicopter flight over the delta. Helicopter Horizons operate trips, private or shared, with most likely a pick up and return to your lodge. Their helicopters, Bell Jet Rangers can take four guests of which three are guaranteed a window seat; unsurprisingly your pilot has the last one!

Your pilot will fly as low as he is able but without causing stress to the animals, since helicopters aren’t the quietest form of transport.

I’ve never had the thrill of a helicopter safari over Botswana but have flown in many over the years and it is an experience that will leave you wanting to do it again.

The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania – the word ‘serengeti’ means endless plains and it couldnlt be more apt, as the area enclosed by the national park covers an area of 5,700 sq miles of largely rolling savannah. And that’s just what’s inside the national park boundaries. In this environment wildlife viewing by 4×4 is principal way to see the animals which, especially during the annual migration, cover huge distances.

But after being on the receiving end of a bush massage for day after day, calls for something different and a balloon safari drifting above the huge herds has to be the way to give your back………. and bottom a rest.

You’ll leave your lodge or camp before dawn and travel to the launch site to watch your balloon being inflated and receive a safety briefing before launch shortly after first light. Generally you fly quite low but occasionally drift up to 1,000 feet, so your pilot can scan the area for the wildlife. A bush landing followed by a superb breakfast finishes your experience before you re-join your safari guide and return to your base.

Victoria Falls in Zambia – okay, so strictly not a wildlife experience but there’s lot of those close-by in either BotswanaNamibiaZambia or Zimbabwe, so as it’s my blog I’m counting it as one!

Victoria Falls is one of the wonders of the natural world with the widest unbroken curtain of water in the world and during its peak flow in late April, 700,000 cubic metres of water goes over the falls each minute – that’s about 2½ million gallons of water per second.

To see the falls from the ground is something special and you will get wet, and usually from the bottom up – call me and I’ll explain why but to get an idea of the perspective of the falls, take to the air. There are regular ‘flight of angels’ trips in light aircraft and helicopters that take you over the falls cateract but I’d go a little more adventurous and do it by microlight. That way you can really hear, see and feel the power of Victoria Falls.

I favour staying away from the falls and one of my favourite camps is Toka Leya.

Sossusvlei in Namibia – and finally, a balloon safari that has to offer some of the most remarkable views anywhere in Africa.

Sossusvlei is located within the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which itself is part of the Namib Desert, the oldest in the world extending to some 13.3 million acres. The great sand sea that surrounds Sossusvlei for some 250 miles up to Walvis Bay on the Atlantic Coast and contains many dunes in excess of 1,000 feet on height. Big Daddy being the best known due to its accessibility at almost 1,250 feet high.

A balloon flight from one of the lodges in Sossusvlei of which Little Kulala is my personal favourite as a mid-range property, is an incredible experience as the early morning timing of the flight means that the rising sun over the dunes cast ever changing shadows. In addition the sand reflects the colour of the sun, lightening from a deep red as the light increases. Offset that with the azure blue sky and the white of Deadvlei, if you are lucky enough to be flying in that direction, makes a balloon flight in Sossusvlei a photographers dream.