There is no set rulebook for creating an “old school” safari experience; it’s something in the adventurous spirit of a journey, the fresh air across the grasslands as you admire a lioness with cubs or the grace of an elephant. It’s the thrill of discovering a simple and true authenticity.
Don’t get us wrong. We love our ultra-luxe options, too, but polished marble, cell service and Wifi isn’t always what you want. Sometimes you just want to escape the thrum of day-to-day life and experience wilderness without all the bells and whistles. To help you, we’ve put together some top tips for creating your perfect old-school safari.
RELATED: Back to Basics 9 Nights in Zambia
1. Go small (and maybe even mobile)
By nature, smaller camps create a sense informal intimacy and keep the amenities simple. Mobile camps kick this up a notch for regular movement. Both cases tend to house just a handful of guests at a time, and focus strongly on experience over creature comforts. The small-group camaraderie small camps generate harkens to safari expeditions of ages past. Picture sitting around the camp fire with a few new friends after a long day seeking out lion, elephant, wildebeest or zebra. Swap stories by firelight with drinks in hand, a vast spread of stars above you.
2. Opt for established camps and guides
There’s nothing wrong with new, but when you’re going old-school, you want camps that have been around a while. For one, they’ll be well-practiced in the daily rhythms of both guests and game, and know exactly how to maximize your experience. Even better, the longer the staff, especially your guide, have been around, the more they can inform you about the area and its resident wildlife. Learn about how the region and inhabitants have changed from decades past, with the first-hand experience to recreate actual “old-school” days.
3. Owner-run makes a difference
The devil’s in the details. In our experience, owner-run camps and lodges offer warmth and personal touches that can make a world of difference. Speaking personally with owners or learning about their personal Africa stories, how they got started, or what inspired them to preserve the places they love casts a spell all its own and keeps you grounded in specific place and history.
4. Keep the canvas
Classic canvas tents go a long way in creating ambiance and immersing you in nature. Without four solid walls to keep the bush at bay, you start to recapture the thrill of adventure. Don’t worry, you’ll be perfectly safe and camps enforce safety seriously, but the feeling of sleeping just yards from wild animals or swaying trees is unbeatable.
5. Downgrade some amenities
Sound counterintuitive? We promise, they’re plenty comfortable and without all the niceties, you remember the little joys of experiencing the outdoors. Think bucket showers instead of running water, long drop or flush loos, the gentle whir of fans rather than A/C, and coffee/tea delivery as you wake to the first rays of sunlight.
6. Take the road less traveled
Going remote is ideal to recreate the adventure of old-school expeditions when few travelers ventured to the continent. Heading further afield allows you to skip the tourist crowds and competition of sharing good sightings with other vehicles. Lose yourself in forested mountains along the lakeshore, in sprawling parks off main circuits, or seeking out hidden gems in private conservancies.
RELATED: How to Explore Kenya’s Remote North
7. Keep the activities private as possible
Yes, sharing can be great – especially when it’s back at camp over a freshly cooked meal – but sometimes it’s better to have the day just you and your guide. Explore as if you’re the only travelers on the planet on bush walks to expand your sensory experience, with a private vehicle, or perhaps opting for a special tree-house sleep out, or conservation visit. It also ensures your guide is fully focused on you and whatever preferences or questions you have.