5 reasons to go on a walking safari

There’s nothing like your first encounter with a dangerous wild animal on foot: the excitement, fear and thrill of this primal experience is much more memorable than a hundred game drives where you’ve ticked off the big five. Escaping the confines of your 4×4 and exploring the bush on foot opens a whole new world of the wild.

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Here are 5 reasons to get out of the car and put your hiking boots on:

1. A new perspective on wildlife

Being on foot changes how you view animals. You may have previously dismissed impalas as boring when you see herds of them on game drives, but when you encounter them on a walking safari, you can’t help but marvel at their beauty, speed and grace. You realise how much work it is just to stay alive in the bush, and you can feel how vulnerable prey animals are: at any given moment they could be eaten, which endows you with a new sense of respect.

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2. You learn more about the bush

You do find out about the behaviour of animals on game drives but you learn a whole lot more on foot, especially if you have a good guide. Delve into the stories behind a pile of old bones, learn about the place of animals, insects and plants in bewilderingly complex ecosystems, discover that trees are more interesting that you think and find out about seeds that are almost magical in their evolutionary adaptations.

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3. Micro details

You don’t see as much big game on foot as you do on game drives, but you do get the chance to be immersed in a fascinating world of plants, seeds, insects, reptiles and small animals: all the things you don’t see on drives. You also become much more sensorially aware when you’re walking as opposed to driving: you’re constantly alert to the sounds of alarm calls and the smells of the bush, which means that you take in a lot more detail than you would in the car.

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4. Learning tracking

On some walking safaris, you’ll have a tracker along with your guide, who will teach you some of the basics of this master skill. Learn to read tracks in the sand to follow animals through the bush, how to identify the smell of rhino wee or work out when ablution time was by poking through middens. Tracking is interesting and fun, and adds another dimension to your wildlife experience.

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5. The chance to slow down

You can’t take cell phone calls or answer emails on your smartphone while on a walking safari. If you’re a technology addict, then this is the holiday for you: you’re forced to unplug, switch off and be totally connected to nature.

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Many lodges offer guided walks, ranging from a few hours to a few days, and there are camps that only offer walking safaris. Kruger National Park’s affordable wilderness and backpacking trails are gaining in popularity and you can choose from catered trails, where you stay in rustic cabins or more rugged multi-day hikes, where you carry your own gear and sleep under the stars.

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Sarah Duff is a freelance travel writer and photographer, editor of Peregrine, an online travel magazine, and writer for Discover Africa. She reckons she has the best job in the world - in the name of work she's tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda, eaten her way around Mauritius, hiked into a volcano in Reunion, road tripped from Joburg to Malawi in a Mini, beach hopped Mozambique, flown over the Namib Desert in a hot air balloon and tested out hammocks all over southern Africa. Follow her travels on Twitter @SarahDuff, Instagram or on her blog.

  • Roxanne

    Agree 100%. A good guide and a walk in the bush, nothing better (though, sadly, I forget a huge chunk of what I learn each time!)

    • Sarah

      I also forget so much of it! I’ve tried taking notes but then you end up walking into a bush while writing…

  • http://www.xplorato.com/ Xplorato Ventures

    Well, i would have to overcome the fear of being pounced on by a predator before engaging or should it be the drive?

    • Sarah

      You do overcome the fear when you’re actually out there – I think the anticipation is worse (kind of like the dentist). If you’ve got a great ranger who knows what they’re doing then you probably won’t feel nervous. It’s really unlikely that anything bad will happen – you must remember that almost all the animals are a lot more afraid of you than you are of them!

  • Jim Hill

    Some time ago, i was with agroup of South Africans in the Mana Pools National park. We were with a guide in an area where it had just rained and ALL the animals had moved – including the baboons and impala. The guide’s knowledge of the bush came to the fore and everyone in the group described the trip as being probably the best every because of being forced to look at the all the small stuff that supports the visible big stuff.

    • Sarah

      I love the small stuff more than the big animals on walking safaris. Nature is much more fascinating and beautiful than you realise when you’re on a game drive vehicle. I’ve been dying to go to Mana Pools – sounds like you had the most incredible experience.

  • JC The Kid

    I could not agree more. As a walking guide in northern kenya i can say that i never get bored of my job. Everyday is a new adventure.
    Cheers, James Christian
    Karisia Walking Safaris

    • Sarah

      Lucky you! You sound like you have the best job in the world :)

  • Jabedi Mapping

    I love this! Getting back to basics, unplugging from the world and experiencing the moment slowly, at ground level. Sometimes we need to be reminded that nature is far greater and more awe inspiring than technology. Dump the car, pull out the hiking boots. Thanks for a lovely piece

    • Sarah

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. Walking is definitely about getting back to basics – and we all need a good break from technology at least once a year.

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