I have been designing and operating travel itineraries to Southern Africa for over 16 years. Because of that, I have been on safari in many regions on my own, with family, with clients, as a guide, as a tour leader and as a client myself.
It still gives me a real thrill to see what a profound and often life-changing effect an African safari can have on a visitor. And that got me thinking: The world is big, and for the travel enthusiast there are many jaw-droppingly gorgeous travel destinations from which to choose. So what is it about an African safari that makes it so special and has people coming back time and time again?
To begin with, every day on route visitors stop to marvel at the natural beauty of many safari locations – scenes that are just breathtaking. Obviously, seeing animals – from birds to the Big Five – in their natural habitats is in itself an unbelievable experience. Aside from this, many of the safari camps are beautifully designed and decorated, including accommodations and food that are simply out of this world. Add to that the local people encountered, some as staff, and the ever-knowledgeable game rangers passionate about what they do and you have the makings for a truly phenomenal escape.
Of course, there is something else at play, something “below the line.”
Many people are visibly moved and sometimes overwhelmed by a safari experience. They experience it emotionally. On a number of occasions on my tours in the beautiful African bush, I have had people sob uncontrollably for no apparent reason.
It begs the question: What is it about an African Safari that moves people?
This Is My Take
Some believe that it is the “rawness” or freshness of Africa that sets it apart. I am sure that is a factor, but after many years of pondering this question, it all clicked while I was on a recent sales trip in the United States. I was driving a rental car on a seven-lane highway with four zillion other people between Long Beach and San Diego, California. During this daunting experience it dawned on me that, in this paved-over world of ours, we are now very far removed from the natural world to which we belong.
In a world that has been tamed and manipulated to suit our human “needs,” an African safari offers an experience in an environment beyond our control. We need that. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger. While it may come across as cliché, it is not safe to believe that we control the world and all that happens in it. Money does not make the world go around. The world will continue revolving long after we have left.
In our modern times – and specifically in what we call First World countries – most people live in largely manmade environments, a material world that has been constructed on top of the real world. A concrete jungle!
As a result and without even being aware of it, people end up disconnected from the real world. Basic instincts, like survival, have become economic, not actual. The production of consumer goods and services has evolved and become the driving economic force that, in many respects, defines our very lives. The pursuit of groceries at a shopping mall using money as our weapon is how we hunt today.
Yes, we have achieved amazing things but, in many ways, we often work against the forces of nature, rather than with them, to achieve our goals. Our natural world is bearing the brunt of this approach, but that is the topic for another article.
This Is My Answer
Africa levels the playing fields. On a safari, you soon become acutely aware that you are a visitor in the animals’ domain. You observe, you respect their territory, but you do not judge or try and intervene. Imagine chancing upon a pride of 10 lions crunching noisily on the bony remains of buffalo killed earlier in the morning. Or three wild dogs (one of the most threatened predator species) still bloodied from killing a steenbok, held in pieces in their mouths. There are scenes of both immense beauty and sadness, but we let them be.
The animal kingdom also teaches us a lot about ourselves and about symbiotic relationships in this world. Every living organism needs every other living organism. We all need each other, from ants to elephants.
Through simple observation, and with the support of an expert safari guide, all of this becomes obvious. What hits home and moves people during a safari? It reminds us of our connections to nature.