A solo traveler’s very own Best of Africa: Top five safari highlights

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Sarah Sweeney January 29, 2021

Africa is a world all its own. I’d always wanted to explore this incredible continent — so rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity — but, for a variety of reasons, it seemed like it might stay on my bucket list forever. So, in 2018, when I got the chance to travel on Best of Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe & Botswana, I was beyond thrilled to experience something I never thought possible. This eye-opening solo journey — and my first safari experience! — was one of the greatest trips of my life. Here are my top five highlights from Best of Africa:

5. Experiencing nature in the wild (outside of game reserves!)
I’ll never forget the sneaky monkeys hanging out outside of my lodge in Botswana or hovering around the lodge dining room, waiting to pounce on a clandestine dinner roll or morsel of dropped food. These cheeky buggers are delightful to watch because they’re so curious and mischievous, just like humans! One morning, I woke early and was on my way to breakfast when a horde of warthogs came trotting down the cobblestone path. Just another day in the bush.

4. Chobe River photo safari
In this age of Instagram, I fretted about capturing the best wildlife photos to showcase my safari experience online. Thankfully, the Vantage-exclusive Chobe River photo safari allowed me access to a professional DSLR camera and photography experts to teach me how to use it! With a professional-grade zoom lens, I was able to get up-close to wildlife on the riverbanks, and even catch birds plucking fish from the river. You come away with a memory card of all your photos, so you can pick the best ones to curate for your family, friends, and followers!

3. Relaxing safari rides
If you’re like me, you love to take the odd drive around for no reason at all except to feel the breeze and escape for a moment. I loved the safari game drives — especially those in the morning and late afternoon — because you have to be quiet so as to not scare the wildlife. There’s an almost Zen-like calm that overtakes you on these rides, and you become hyper-attuned to the world around you, noticing shifts in wind, a rustle in the brush, and those colors in the distance, which just may turn out to be a tower of giraffes! In the evening, you’re more likely to see animals reemerging for their supper (and sleeping during the day to evade heat), but I was fascinated enough by the colors at dusk and fabulous safari sunsets.

2. Nighttime stargazing
Staying in Iganyana Tented Camp in Zimbabwe gave me an opportunity to discover the constellations of the southern hemisphere, including the Southern Cross. After dinner, I loved retiring by the campfire and waiting for the elephants that usually showed up each night while scouting for shooting stars. This nightly ritual was not only relaxing, but a great way to connect with nature outside of the traditional safari experience.

1. Vantage-exclusive Iganyana Tented Camp
I can’t say enough about Iganyana, located on a private concession in Hwange National Park. Being a newbie to safari, the phrase “tented camp” meant nothing to me. While it sounds quite rugged, think of a tented camp as a hotel room inside a sturdy canvas tent. You’ll find a bathroom, safe, sumptuous bed, robe, and slippers … all the amenities you’d expect from a hotel, only in the bush. At night, you truly feel the immensity — and danger! — of your environs because you must be escorted by an armed safari guide to your tent after 6 p.m., just in case you may encounter any unwelcome wildlife visitors!

My guides at Iganyana are what made my adventure, including the property manager, Terry, who led me on a walking tour through the bush one morning. First, let me confess something: I was so scared of doing it that I almost didn’t go. But Terry convinced me, saying it was the most authentic aspect of safari that I could experience. So, just after breakfast, we plodded through the bush — with an armed guide, of course — to see what we could find. We spotted a few lilac-breasted rollers, which are beautiful vibrant blue and turquoise birds that make their home in sub-Saharan Africa. Terry also got me to eat — yes, eat — a bit of an anthill, which apparently contain valuable nutrients. It goes without saying that it won’t become my favorite snack anytime soon.

Travel is all about getting out of your comfort zone, and while I longed to reconnect with nature, I definitely had to overcome a bit of anxiety on this walking tour. I’m glad I did — it was my hands-down favorite part of my adventure. I can’t wait to return to Africa!

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