The Serengeti, Victoria Falls, the Kruger National Park ... 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.
And you won't need to rough it either. 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.
Tanzania: Go Wild and Remote
Everyone knows the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and rightly so: the game viewing is excellent - especially in peak Wildebeest Migration season - but you'll have to share your sightings with many other visitors. So if you're looking for a more remote or unique safari experience we suggest you head for Tanzania's wild south central region. Here you'll also see huge numbers of animals in national parks such as Ruaha and Katavi not to mention Africa's greatest populations of elephant, buffalo, lion and hippo in the great Selous Game Reserve. But chances are you'll be the only people around.
And did you know that you can go chimpanzee trekking in Tanzania's Mahale Mountains National Park? It's a destination reached only by air and boat but lying on the deserted shores of Lake Tanganyika and offering access to a pristine, cathedral-like rainforest, it's somewhere where the rewards outweigh the effort.
How to do it: Click here to read more about Ruaha, which sees only 1% of all Tanzania's visitors. Check out safari options to Selous here or get a great overview of all south-central Tanzania safaris here. Remember, itineraries are completely customisable to your interests and budget - consider them to be inspiration rather than immutable!
Botswana: Unique Water-Based Experiences
Instead of jostling for position at the ever-popular Chobe River in a bevy of 4X4s, spend the day drifting down the scenic Selinda Spillway in a canoe, surrounded only by birdsong. This waterway connects northern Botswana's Linyanti Wetlands with the Okavango Delta but was dust-dry for decades before it unexpectedly began flowing again a couple of years ago.
Consequently, the now hippo-and-crocodile-filled Selinda has become a vital lifeline for thirsty animals in the dry season, turning a hit-and-miss region of the Chobe National Park into a simply-can't-miss destination. This type of adventure is ideal for those travellers looking for an action-packed trip in one of Southern Africa's wildest regions.
How to do it: our recommended Botswana adventures combine the best of the country's safari destinations with some truly special once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Gorilla & Camel Trekking: Wild & Authentic
Gorilla trekking in Africa's central rainforests and Samburu cultural encounters on Kenya's Laikipia Plateau... These experiences and destinations used to be for old-school 'explorers' only but thanks to improved infrastructure and regional stability can now easily be included in fly-in or fly/drive itineraries.
Fly to Uganda, Congo and Rwanda for the unique and, on occasion, life-changing opportunity to sit for an hour with a mountain gorilla family. It's tough hiking country but these are the only places in Africa that you can visit these critically endangered animals safely. But don't think that the adventure stops there: each country is slowly adding other activities - like boating on ancient soda lakes, chimpanzee trekking and even classic big game safaris - to its exciting list of attractions.
Wildlife encounters of a different kind are on offer on a Laikipia Plateau safari. You'll need to fly in to this famously scenic region of the Rift Valley but classic Big 5 game viewing lies in wait as do adventure activities such as mountain biking and camel safaris. And with local Samburu villages to visit, you'll enjoy a rewarding cultural element to your experience too.
If you're looking for a unique accommodation experience, then go fly-camping your way around a Big 5 reserve or watch the constellations move around the night sky from the comfort of your star bed. Many camps and lodges also contribute to the upliftment of the local community, from which most of the staff and guides are drawn, and you'll gain cultural insights through your interactions with them.