The Kruger National Park, Serengeti and Masai Mara, some of Africa's most iconic destinations, have long delighted their visitors. But if you're the kind of person who likes to do things a little differently and prefer your wildlife encounters without the crowds, then maybe it's time to take the road less travelled in Africa.
Suitable for second-time-around safari travellers or first-timers with an adventurous spirit, there are plenty of virtually unvisited destinations that not only deliver game viewing as good (if not better) than more familiar places but are home to unique wildlife experiences - several of which are barely known outside the safari world.
There's amazing accommodation available in many of Africa's most remote regions and you can choose from safari lodges and tented camps that range from family-friendly to honeymoon-perfect. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite unique safari experiences in Africa, broken down by destination.
1. Tanzania: Wild & Remote
Many first-time visitors to Tanzania travel to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater for excellent game viewing. The Serengeti is particularly famous for being home to part of the Wildebeest Migration – nature’s greatest spectacle. But if this is your second time around visiting the country or you’re an adventurous spirit that prefers the road less travelled, there are plenty of hidden gems to explore:
Ruaha National Park
At 12, 226 square kilometres (7,467 miles), the pristine and untouched Ruaha National Park is a true hidden gem. This remote wilderness derives its name from the Great Ruaha River, a majestic body of water that flows along the southeastern margin of the park and is the focus for prime game viewing. Along the river, you’ll often find massive herds of elephants, buffalo, hippos, and crocodile, as well as impalas, waterbucks, lions, leopards and wild dogs.
Ruaha National Park is known as Tanzania’s best kept secret and one of the least busy places to visit, making it the perfect off-the-beaten-track destination for those seeking unique safari experiences. It is also easily combined with a Serengeti safari or a Zanzibar beach break.
Nyerere National Park
Spread over a whopping 30,893 square kilometers (11,928 miles), Nyerere National Park is one of the largest national parks in Tanzania. Formerly known as Selous Game Reserve, Nyerere has never been touched or altered by humans, and remains in its most natural wild state – making for some of the most stunning scenery and picturesque landscapes.
Beyond the beautiful views you’re sure to see, it’s Nyerere’s diverse and abundant wildlife that really steals the show. The number of animals that take up residence in the area is unprecedentedly high, and includes large populations of elephant, buffalo, lion, hippo, and crocodile, as well as some of the last remaining black rhinos in Tanzania. It’s also home to the endangered African Wild Dog, a rare safari sighting.
You can witness the majestic inhabitants of Nyerere through a range of unique safari experiences: traditional game drives in a 4X4 vehicle throughout the park, adventurous boat safaris on the Rufiji River, and on foot as part of a walking safari. A true highlight is an immersive fly camping adventure, where you spend a private night under the stars – just you and the surrounding wilds of Africa.
Secret Chimpanzees in Mahale and Rubondo Island
Uganda, Congo and Rwanda might be the chimpanzee trekking capitals of Africa, but they’re not the only countries where you can experience traversing through the winding forest paths and thick vegetation to witness these great apes in their natural habitat. A little-known fact is that this immensely rewarding adventure is also a unique safari experience in Tanzania – you just need to know where to go.
Mahale Mountains National Park and Rubondo Island are two of the few places on the entire continent where you have the rare opportunity to track chimpanzees in the wild. When visiting either of these destinations, you’ll get to spend an adventure-filled morning trekking the forested slopes of Mahale Mountain or navigating the forests of Rubondo Island in search of these boisterous creatures.
Chimpanzees can be difficult to spot at times, their movements depend on the season and availability of food and group dynamics. It’s important to know that chimp trekking can be a strenuous exercise that could require hours of hiking through rough terrain – but if you’re up to the challenge, this is truly one of the most unique safari experiences in Tanzania.
Tree-Climbing Lions at Tarangire
Tarangire National Park sits on Tanzania’s northern safari circuit with the world-famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and is a good choice for travellers wanting to encounter more animals and less tourists while on safari – an exclusive safari feel. The park is one of the country’s lesser-known destinations but rivals the Serengeti with its great number and diversity of wildlife.
In addition to the excellent year-round game viewing, Tarangire is famous for its tree-climbing lions. Some believe that these big cats climb trees as a behavioural adaptation to protect themselves from the constant irritation of insect bites that they are prone to when lazing on the ground. Others believe that they do it to escape the sweltering heat, as well as making it easier to spot prey.
You can spend your days embarking on walking safaris, marvelling at ancient baobabs, discover hundreds of ancient rock paintings in the vicinity of Kolo, and tracking some of Africa’s big cats from the comfort of a game vehicle. This national park is also well known for being a wonderful birding destination with over 500 species, some endemic to Tanzania.
Eco-Travel at Fanjove Private Island
Just south of Dar es Salaam sits a unique safari experience in Tanzania – Fanjove Private Island. Fanjove may receive less crowds than many of Africa’s other islands, but it will satisfy all your barefoot beach luxury desires. This slice of paradise is a little-known secret that offers everything you could want from a private island – luxury accommodation, pristine beaches and exquisite views that go on for miles.
This secluded and exclusive gem is the ideal location for a marine safari. With 11 kilometers (7 miles) of perfectly intact preserved coral reef, you can enjoy a day of snorkelling, diving, or boating in calm, azure waters as you search for nesting green turtles, bottle-nosed dolphins, adorable puffer fish, and occasional migrating humpback whales. In addition, there are plenty of water-based activities like kitesurfing, swimming, and stand-up paddling (SUP) to keep you entertained throughout your stay.
The cherry on top is that Fanjove Private Island leaves a featherlight footprint on the landscape, opting for eco-friendly practices such as solar power, sustainable building materials, and rain-harvested and desalinated water. It’s the ideal eco-friendly beach escape.
2. Botswana: Unique Water& Land Experiences
Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta are iconic safari destinations that offer fantastic game viewing and unique safari experiences in Botswana. But if you’ve already been fortunate enough to tick these off your bucket list and want adventures in destinations that are not as well known, then Botswana has a few other gems to offer:
Exclusive Safaris in Selinda & Linyanti
The Selinda Spillway and Linyanti Wetlands offer unique safari experiences in Botswana that are perfect if you’re wanting a more intimate getaway. Selinda and Linyanti Game Reserves offer all the luxury accommodation, fantastic game viewing, and water-based adventures of their more famous counterparts without the crowds.
What makes the Selinda Spillway so unique is that this waterway was bone-dry for decades before unexpectedly springing back to life. Since then, whenever water flows through the spillway, it attracts an unmatched game density that is hard to beat.
The Linyanti river system connects to the Selinda Spillway, with its surrounding region of splendid grasslands, riverine forest and meandering lagoons remaining wonderfully underused, despite its high concentration of game. Only a handful of guests are allowed on the reserve at one time, giving you exclusive access to exhilarating viewings of this hidden gem region’s elephants, cheetah, wild dogs, leopards and prides of lions.
Exciting Activities on the Salt Pans
Covering much of Botswana and stretching into parts of Namibia and South Africa, the Kalahari Desert is a mammoth sandy savanna that takes up 900,000 square kilometers (350,000 miles) of space. But more than just a semi-arid landscape, this region is also well-known safari destination that boasts exceptional game viewing and one-of-a-kind activities and experiences.
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans offers unique safari experiences in the Kalahari. One of the world’s largest salt pans, this part of the Kalahari is so remote that both sound and light pollution are nonexistent. It is truly a fascinating place that will have you begging to explore its untouched terrain.
One of the best ways to experience this beautiful area is through Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pan Sleepout. This activity is an immersive and unique safari experience in the Kalahari that can be experienced when staying at some of the lodges in the region, such as the luxurious Leroo La Tau. This exhilarating excursion, available from July to October, will see you spending a night under a dazzling sky of stars with nothing but a bed between you and this vast, tranquil expanse.
In addition, accommodations like Jack’s Camp offer unique safari experiences in the Kalahari that includes quad biking through this vast, beautiful landscape. But the fun doesn’t end there, you’ll also get to enjoy horse rides and meerkat encounters to better experience this Kalahari legend.
3. Unique Safari Experiences in Kenya
The Masai Mara is a legendary African safari destination that attracts at least 300,000 visitors each year. It offers front row seats to nature’s grandest show – the Great Wildebeest Migration – as well as fantastic year-round game viewing. Every year, visitors flock from every corner of the globe to see the world’s largest animal migration in the world, where more than 2 million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle and 20,000 other plains game migrate in a clockwise direction across the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya in search of fresh water and abundant grazing pastures. Pair this life-changing adventure with a few other unique safari experiences in Kenya:
A Nairobi Sojourn
Kenya’s capital city is more than a beautiful urban landscape – it’s also an undercover safari destination. Nairobi National Park, also known as ‘the world’s only wildlife capital’, is a large game reserve on the border of the city, situated just a short drive out of Nairobi’s central business district.
Towering skyscrapers and city skylines are a scenic backdrop to the wide-open grass plains, scattered acacia bushes and variety of wildlife that call the park their home. Nairobi National Park is best known for breeding endangered black rhinos, as well as being home to giraffes, zebras, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes and lions. And with game drives, camping, hiking and picnics available, this little-known urban national park makes for the perfect add-on to your itinerary.
Community Experiences in Amboseli
The natural beauty of the wide, open spaces and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters are the soul of Africa, but the heart lies with its people. The continent comprises approximately 3,000 tribes and 2,000 languages and dialects, leaving it brimming with natural diversity. One of the more well-known ethnic groups are the Maasai people, an indigenous ethnic group from Kenya and northern Tanzania. But it’s in Amboseli where you’ll really get to interact with these semi-nomadic pastoralists, who are famous for their incredible reputations as warriors and cattle herders, as well as their lithe, graceful physiques, and unique garb and body ornamentation.
When visiting Amboseli National Park, you’ll have the special opportunity to have deep, meaningful experiences by interacting with the Maasai community in a variety of ways, including walks with traditional Maasai warriors, observing their customs, learning how to use an authentic bow and arrow and more.
Off the Beaten Track in Laikipia & Lewa
Laikipia and Lewa might not have the same household name as the Masai Mara or Amboseli, but these two gems offer unique safari experiences in Kenya that are off-the-beaten-track without compromising on the wildlife, comfort and luxury accommodation associated with their more famous counterparts.
The Laikipia Plateau is an idyllic and lesser-visited safari destination that is often referred to as the gateway to northern Kenya. This untouched ecosystem of wilderness terrain covers 2 million acres, and comprises unique and varied habitats, scenic landscapes, and excellent Big 5 sightings.
Also known as Kenya’s Golden Child, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy acts as a haven for the rare and majestic wildlife of the region – the game viewing in Lewa is incredible – while simultaneously offering exclusive safari experiences in East Africa. The highlight of your visit, however, will be the picturesque views that accompany your adventure, comprising the breathtaking visual contrast between the lush montane forests at the base of Kenya’s tallest mountain, Mount Kenya, and the arid grasslands and sparse woodlands.
4. Exciting Activities in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo
Uganda, Congo and Rwanda offer unique safari experiences and destinations that were once reserved only for old-school ‘explorers’, and nearly inaccessible to tourists. However, thanks to improved infrastructure and regional stability, these amazing destinations can now easily be included in fly-in or fly/drive itineraries:
Gorilla Trekking in Africa’s Jungles
Fly to Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda for the awe-inspiring experience for an hour with a mountain gorilla family. It's a tough hiking country but these are the only places in Africa that you can visit these critically endangered animals safely. There are very few wildlife encounters on the continent that come close to the incredible experience of spending time face-to-face with these majestic great apes.
To participate in a gorilla trek, you’ll need to be fairly fit, equipped for the humid, muddy conditions of a rainforest hike, and in good health, as gorillas are susceptible to human illnesses but do not possess our immunities. This means something as mild as a common cold can be deadly to a whole family of gorillas. You’ll be led through thick vegetation by a professional guide and tracker through the forest’s secret paths, following the clues that end in witnessing these majestic great apes in their natural habitat for about an hour.
But don't think that the adventure stops there: each country offers many other exciting activities - like boating on ancient soda lakes, chimpanzee trekking and even classic big game safaris – leaving you with a nearly endless list of attractions.
5. Unique Safari Experiences in Zambia
Zambia is home to half of Victoria Falls – one of the most popular tourist destinations in not only the country but the whole of Africa. Africa’s adventure capital is a wonderland for the adventurous traveller. The Zambian side of the Falls offers exceptional game viewing in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, romantic riverside lodges, exceptionally close-up views of the waterfall, swimming in Devil’s Pool during low-water season, and visiting Livingstone Island when water levels permit. The good news is that no matter which side you’re on, you can easily cross the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe to explore what the other side has to offer:
Walking Safaris in South Luangwa
South Luangwa National Park is a wild and remote region of Zambia and is packed with big game, making it the country’s premier wildlife destination. The luxurious camps and lodges in South Luangwa are dotted along the banks of the meandering Luangwa River, offering picturesque views of the untamed natural landscape and wildlife that visit the body of water to quench their thirst. The rest of the reserve remains largely unexplored, giving South Luangwa a distinctively raw edge – making it a top choice for authentic safari experiences on the road less travelled.
But what really makes this national park so special is that it’s one of the few places in Africa that offer walking safaris – an adventurous activity where you embark on a slow-paced, guided safari on foot. South Luangwa is regarded as the birthplace of the guided walking safari and remains as the best place in Africa to experience the unique adventure of walking through big game country. Here, you’ll encounter large herds of elephant, buffalo, lion, hippo, crocodiles, giraffe, gazelles and antelopes on foot.
Unusual Safari Experiences in Kafue
Kafue National Park as Zambia’s largest conservation areas and one of the largest national parks in the whole of Africa. It’s one of country’s best-kept secrets despite its mammoth size and prominent location just outside Livingstone. Kafue remains largely unexplored and untouched, making it the ideal safari destination for those seeking an intimate big game viewing with little to no other vehicles in sight.
However, what makes Kafue National Park so unique is that its grassy seasonal floodplains are the grazing grounds for huge numbers of red lechwe and puku antelopes, as well as herds of buffalo and wildebeest - all of which are preyed on by cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena and lion. You can explore this beautiful location on traditional game drives in a 4X4 vehicle, boat cruises, hot-air balloon safaris, nature walks, and canoeing trips.
6. Zimbabwe’s Unique Safari Experiences
Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park are always top of the list for travellers visiting Zimbabwe, due to the wonderful game viewing opportunities and stunning, undisturbed natural landscapes. For instance, travellers flock in high numbers to Hwange National Park to see the 30,000-string elephant population, while Mana Pools offer an array of safari experiences to explore the floodplains of the park, including traditional game drives, kayaking, boating, fly camping and nature walks. After visiting Zimbabwe’s more popular safari destinations, enjoy a more intimate and exclusive experience in the country’s less-visited locations:
A Water-Based Safari in Matusadona
Lying on the border of Lake Kariba, Matusadona National Park is one of Zimbabwe’s lesser-known safari destinations, making it the perfect place for those seeking a more private and exclusive experience. Grassy floodplains and rugged, rolling hills make up this beautiful landscape that is home to a large concentration of wildlife, including some of Zimbabwe’s biggest elephant and buffalo herds.
Another highlight of this destination is Lake Kariba, the fourth largest man-made lake in the world and the second largest in Africa, with 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) of shoreline. This body of water is a truly impressive feat that is amazing to explore, especially by boat. The lake draws in healthy populations of hippos and crocodiles. While further inland, you may see elephants, buffalo, antelope, leopards and lions.
Epic Safaris in Gonarezhou & Malilangwe
The little-known destinations of Gonarezhou National Park and Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve are the ideal for the avid safari-goer who wants to experience a more intimate experience in the wild.
Gonarezhou stands as Zimbabwe’s second largest national park, sitting on over 5,000 square kilometres (1,931 miles) of pristine wilderness. Translating to ‘The Place of Elephants’, Gonarezhou is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in Southern Africa, including the iconic Chilojo Cliffs. It has over 11,500 gentle giants, 89 large mammal species, over 450 bird species and 61 small mammals.
Malilangwe, on the other hand, is renowned for towering red cliffs, massive baobab trees, mopane forests, unique sandstone outcrops, and over 100 rock art sites that are over 2,000 years old. Beyond the beautiful natural scenery, the game sightings in Malilangwe are superb, where you might spot the high concentration of black and white rhino, large breeding herds of elephants, wild dogs and rare white lions.
7. Desert-Based Unique Safari Experiences in Namibia
Namibia is home to iconic and richly rewarding safari destination, single-handedly providing some of the most unique safari experiences in Africa. This hauntingly beautiful arid landscape comprises popular destinations like the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund and Etosha, that offer superb game viewing, dramatic scenery and incomparable adventures:
Feel the Sand Between Your Toes on the Dunes
The Southern African country’s huge, rolling sand dunes are the stars of the show. Dune 45 is one of Namibia’s biggest attractions, supplying a relatively ‘easy’ climb up to the top of the 170-metre-high mammoth landmark. The best time to kick off your shoes and start hiking up is early in the morning so you can watch the sun rise over the vlei from the top of the dune, as well as taking in the incredible panoramic view of Dune Valley.
After tackling Dune 45, next is Big Daddy – the tallest and most well-known dune in the Sossusvlei area. Standing at 325 metres, Big Daddy is a climb only for the brave and adventurous. Hiking to the summit of this landmark might be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is well worth it. The top awards breathtaking views, stretching as far as the Atlantic coastline. After conquering Big Daddy, you can descend into Deadvlei, a haunting salt pan that provides the perfect backdrop photographic opportunities.
Learning the Way of the Himba People
The Himba are an indigenous people that inhabit northern Namibia, with an estimated population of about 50,000 people, and are best known for colouring their hair and bodies with a red colour paste called ‘ochre’. After surviving over a century of change in the world and preserving their way of life, the Himba people are a resilient group with so much to share and teach.
Few people get the opportunity to take part in and learn the Himba’s culture, customs, and traditions, so be sure that you seize the opportunity when in the country. When staying at certain luxury properties, especially in the Kaokoland regions, you’ll have the honour of meeting and interacting with one of the world’s last remaining nomadic tribes.
Adventurous Activities in the Desert
Namibia’s rolling desertscape and mountainous sand dunes make the ideal playground for the adventurous at heart. Spend your mornings taking to the sky to get a birds-eye view of the Namib Desert. Enjoy scenic plane flights to the Diamond Coast or Sossusvlei to enjoy guided safaris along the coast or on rugged terrain. Kick off your shoes and hike up the famous Dune 45, or if you love a challenge, take on the mighty Big Daddy, to get a breathtaking view from the top of Namibia’s highest sand dunes. Or experience the desert in a new way by quad biking through the sandy landscape before enjoying a thrilling sandboarding ride down a dune. Whatever your idea of fun, Namibia has unique safari experiences for every type of adventurer.
8. Oceanside Fun on Africa’s Islands & Beaches
Tropical islands and pristine beaches may not be your first associations with Africa, but the continent has some of the best oceanside destinations in the world. From the Blue Flag beaches of Cape Town to the island paradise that is Zanzibar and Seychelles, there are fantastic adventures to be had on these beautiful shorelines:
Denis is one of the Seychelles lesser-visited islands but offers all the same unique safari experiences and beachside adventures of its well-known counterparts, like Mahe and Praslin Island. The 375-acre coral island is set amid the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and is covered with lush tropical foliage and edged with powdery white beaches. The luxury private villas are just metres away from the beach, while the island offers an array of unique safari experiences, including diving lessons at PADI dive centres, diving excursions in the tropical water to witness marine wildlife, deep-sea fishing, water sports, and hiking along scenic trails.
Nosy Be, Madagascar
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world yet remains a little-known secret, even among the more seasoned travellers. The island sees less than 30,000 visitors annually, which means its untouched landscape keeps its timeless quality and makes it a fascinating adventure for those who love to go off-the-beaten-track – especially the idyllic archipelago of Nosy Be.
Lying off the northwest coast of Madagascar, Nosy Be is a volcanic island that boasts luxury accommodation, soft white sand, turquoise waters, year-round tropical weather, and fresh seafood. In addition, Nosy Be is also a water-lovers paradise, offering an array of aquatic activities that include diving, swimming, snorkelling, sailing, fishing, and excursions to the surrounding islands.
And if you want a break from the seascape, the little-explored hinterland offers rolling landscapes that include the brilliant Parc National Lokobe, ylang-ylang and vanilla plantations, crater lakes and waterfalls, and miles of dirt tracks accessible only by foot or quad bike.
Lake Malawi, Malawi
Malawi might be one of Africa’s smallest countries, but it has a huge personality with unmatched beauty. Lake Malawi is the highlight of this stunning destination – a massive freshwater body that perfectly emulates a palm-fringed, sandy beach with sapphire water stretching as far as the eye can see. Naturally, this lakeside getaway is the perfect playground for water-based activities, such as suntanning, swimming, fishing, kayaking, sailing, boating, snorkelling, scuba diving, and water skiing.
Here, you’ll get the best of both worlds – a pristine beach without the choppy waves and tides of the ocean. This lakeside paradise is wonderfully untouched by mass tourism, providing the ultimate privacy, luxury and exclusivity – no queues and no crowds, just a stress-free beach holiday in a unique environment.
9. Private Island Experience on São Tomé and Príncipe, Gulf of Guinea
São Tomé and Príncipe are the ideal destinations for those seeking an authentic, luxury vacation that’s off-the-beaten-track. This stunning region provides you with a true exploration of jungle trekking and island lifestyle immersion:
Unique Experiences in a Hidden Gem
While São Tomé is the larger of the two islands, Príncipe holds its own by being the dream destination for every travelling escapist seeking a spot that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. This hidden African island is a protected UNESCO-recognised biosphere reserve that remains virtually undiscovered and undisturbed.
While here, you can enjoy unique experiences that include watching whales frolic off the deserted beaches, exploring untamed jungles with professional guides, canoeing down secluded mangrove rivers, beach picnics, snorkelling from boats in the bay, swimming in crystal-clear rock pools sheltered from waves, and adventuring through crumbling cocoa plantations.
10. Unique Safari Experiences in South Africa
One of the most-visited countries on the continent, South Africa is filled with an endless number of unique safari experiences – many of which are widely known by those that visit the country. If you’ve already experienced the top destinations of Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, then these destinations will tick all the right boxes:
Everything Nocturnal at Tswalu
Tswalu Private Game Reserve, the country’s largest privately owned reserve, sits on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in a remote corner of northern South Africa. Comprising two luxury lodges – The Motse, Tarkuni – a stay at Tswalu is all about experiencing the wonders of the Kalahari in luxury and comfort. During your stay here, you enjoy fascinating bush walks, stargazing trips, sleepouts, birdwatching, guided walks across the dunes, game drives in open-air safari vehicles, hot-air ballooning, horse-back safaris and trips to Bushmen rock engraving sites.
Take a Self-Drive Holiday Up the Garden Route
If you’re keen to have a safari adventure where you’re in the driver’s seat (literally!), then the Garden Route might be the ideal holiday destination for you. Located just a few hours outside Cape Town, South Africa’s world-famous Garden Route comprises a fantastic mix of scenic coastline, sunny weather, immaculate beaches, untouched forests, tranquil lagoons, and buzzing seaside towns.
The Garden Route is a perfect self-drive, family-friendly trip that takes you from the beautiful small harbour town of Mossel Bay through the attraction- and activity-laden Knysna and ending in Storms River in the east.
Nature-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will have a great time ticking off adventures, including forest canopy tours, monkey and bird sanctuaries, classic bucket-and-spade fun on the beach, going out to spot dolphins and whales (in season), play a round of golf on the country’s best courses, and enjoying an authentic Big 5 safari in one of the Eastern Cape’s many malaria-free reserves.
Ready to Plan Your Unique Safari in Africa?
It’s time to get off the beaten track and start planning your next African getaway. Get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help craft a holiday itinerary that’s right for you: