Traveling in Africa and going on safari has always been at the top of Leslie Wahlgren’s bucket list. Now that she’s spent two weeks in three African countries? It’s still at the top of her bucket list. “It’s never the same experience,” she explains.
Where She Went
Botswana: 7 days. Go for “diversity, game viewing, incredible ecosystems from desert to delta, life-changing experience, vast wilderness, openness, isolation, great people.”
South Africa: 4 days (Cape Town) “Sophisticated, chic, modern, great wineries, shopping, history.”
Zambia: 1 day (Victoria Falls) “It wasn’t high on my radar, but when I went, it was fullest the falls have been. It’s humbling to be there and experience the roar of the falls.” Go to see the rhinos; it’s also a great way to see river wildlife.
The guides with whom Leslie went on safari were employees of African Travel. She describes African Travel as a “fantastic company” that has been in the business for 20+ years. They use unique, boutique-sized camps, from moderate budget to luxury. The guides are “awesome, passionate people” who challenge and educate themselves by rotating between different camps. Leslie says, “They know the ins and outs; they can tell you what to take and what not to take; they make transitions easy; they greet and guide you; and they are held accountable, which is incredibly important.”
Africa is a personal experience that affects people in different ways. Leslie has traveled a lot – these countries were #32-35 for her – but this is the first time she’s felt like she was home, an indescribable feeling. Leslie says, “It’s spiritual: you reconnect with loved ones, disconnect from the outside world, and family members can really interact with one another. It brings back connection, a basic human need.”
Leslie went “on safari” – as is the norm, she had two game-viewing experiences every day. A typical day:
Wake up 5:00am
Game drive 6:00am
Return to camp 12:00pm for lunch
Siesta for 4ish hours (until 4:30pm)
High tea, game drive 5:00pm
“Sundowner” in the bush for about 45 minutes
Back to camp for dinner 8:30pm
Bed by 10:30-11:00pm
Potential Travelers to Africa: Points to Consider
Leslie explains that travelers to Africa need to be mobile, and it’s best for people who are able-bodied, but it depends on the country. South Africa allows more for physical challenges, and Leslie saw someone in Botswana in a wheelchair. When you’re on safari, there are no paved roads. You’re getting in and out of jeeps, and in the jeep, you’re constantly getting jostled – the “African massage.” There’s lots of sitting.
There are a lot of factors here: “You can do Africa on a budget or luxury, but it depends on what time of year you want to go, for how long, which countries you visit, and what you want to see. You could get away with $6000-$8000 per person for land only (not including air), and you can bring down costs by traveling with a group.” Leslie would recommend 8 days as a minimum amount of time. Location has a significant effect on budget: Botswana is more isolated, which makes it more expensive.
One thing Leslie really treasured in her experience was the feeling isolation in Botswana, particularly on game drives. She experienced what’s called a “private concession”: fewer people, vastness, no other cars around on game drives, and they could follow a leopard for the better part of a day. In contrast, in a national park (Kruger, for example), there are good camps and game viewing, but it’s on the beaten path; there are other vehicles in the immediate area and it’s more crowded, which can affect not just the presence of wildlife, but the whole experience.
When to go
“Low season” is not so named because of weather, but because of the volume of tourists. Leslie traveled in low season. Fewer tourists are optimal for game-viewing; the weather was, in her words, “fantastic.”
So will she be returning to Africa? Absolutely: “It’s not goodbye—it’s just ‘See you soon.’”
To learn more about African Travel, or to contact Leslie with questions, please reach out to her at email@example.com. All photos in this article were taken by Leslie during her travels.