Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Creativity is high on the agenda for today's travelers to Africa. They no longer want the cookie-cutter safari experience. Instead, they want their experience to be "unique" and "out-of-the-ordinary."

"Today's traveler wants to go beyond the 'scheduled, twice-daily game drives' and take a deeper dive into authentic Africa. The grit is what makes Africa so interesting. Of course they want a nice bed, plenty of hot food and a cold beer to return to, but it's the adventures of the day that put the smile on their face," said Teresa Sullivan, Safari Pros member.

Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, agreed that there is no question that clients are looking for more creative and original wildlife experiences. "Clients no longer want to just be passive observing wildlife from their seat in a safari vehicle," he said. "They want to get out of the vehicle and interact with the safari world around them."

This need for creativity has prompted safari operators to come up with innovative and creative safari options. Here are eight original safari ideas for 2017:

Creative accommodation options: A night camping out under the stars can be incredibly powerful, according to Safari Pros' Charles Mardiks. He explains travelers can opt for treehouses in northern Kenya or choose sleep-out platforms in the Selous or in Hwange National Park.

"A star-bed experience is unique to Africa," said Holden. He explained that the experience entails being driven to a remote location to spend a night in an elevated bedroom above the floor of Africa. "Star beds are located in areas with great views surrounded by wildlife."

A zombie safari: During the hot weather periods in the Kalahari Desert, consider turning things upside down with a "zombie safari" for your clients. They will head out with their guides and trackers at midnight and stay out until dawn.

"People want the 'real Africa': knowing locals who can help guide and reveal, walking where it is safe, going out at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. What travelers want today is a noncommoditized plan with flexibility built in. When Africa feels wild and open, the sense of wonder is compounded immeasurably. Trips to Africa should be unpredictable by nature, and that is why people love them so," said Betty Jo Currie, a Safari Pros member.

Jogging and mountain-biking safaris: Jogging and mountain biking in wildlife areas among the wildlife have become a popular option. Said Holden: "Those clients who particularly enjoy jogging, mountain biking etc. get a kick out of finding new and invigorating places to indulge their passions. Jogging in a wildlife park certainly gets the adrenaline going."

Henk Graaff, managing director of SW Africa, said that a cycle safari such as Cycle Mashatu is a very novel and exciting way to embark upon a safari. Based in the Northern Tuli Reserve of Botswana, the Cycle Mashatu Wilderness Trail provides a rare opportunity to ride at leisure along ancient elephant migration paths.

Chimp trekking: Travel Beyond's Kota Tabuchi reports that chimp-trekking trips in western Tanzania in the Mahale Mountains National Park has become increasingly popular.

He said: "Chimping is much like gorilla trekking in that you are hiking to view apes in their natural environment for up to one hour at a time. I have been with both mountain gorillas and chimps and find that my time with the chimps has been more fascinating. For various reasons, mountain gorillas are a more coveted wildlife experience, but chimps are close to humans genetically, are more active/interactive with one another and much more vocal than their cousins in the Virungas."

Super sensory safari: African Bush Camps is pioneering a new experiential safari concept called the super sensory safari. The safari takes place in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe and includes specific sense-stimulating activities.

With the use of individual headphones linked to sophisticated and powerful microphones located in the wild, animal behavior specialist and wildlife sound recordist Derek Solomon introduces travelers to the sounds of the bush, from the songs of elephants, hyenas and lions to a multitude of birds, frogs and insects.

Said Solomon: "When travelers don the headphones, the bush suddenly comes alive. The specialists leading the safari are there to interpret all the sounds and the behavior for you."

The sensory safari also includes biomimicry, the practice of learning from nature and then emulating nature to solve challenges and create a more sustainable world.

'Eco-Nect' family safaris: From 2017, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa is introducing "eco-nect" activities for kids and their parents, enabling them to explore wildlife in a fun and creative way.

"We have seen a demand for more authentic, tailor-made experiences that allow guests to immerse themselves in their surroundings and to connect with loved ones and nature in an environment away from the 'noise' of our modern lives," said Kwandwe's Saskia Brown "This also means bringing some fun back into the activities we offer, which is one of the reasons why we created the range of 'eco-nect' activities. They allow families to reconnect with each other in an uncluttered environment in fun and adventurous ways."

Active conservation safaris: "2017 is a year for conservation," said Craig van Rooyen, director of Tour d'Africa. "With the massive decline in rhino numbers and numerous focus groups on illegal hunting and the bush meat trade, the time has come to shift our focus from a traditional Big 5 safari to an 'involved,' endangered species safari."

Craig noted that Kenya has a few interesting conservation activities, including the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi and the Save the Rhino Projects in Kaikipia. He said: "These out-of-the-ordinary experiences not only give back to the projects that run them but are bound to leave the conscious traveler with lasting memories."

Also Jonty Medcalf, head of sales at Go2Africa, agreed that conservation safaris offer unique and out-of-the-ordinary experiences for travelers. "Seeing how the expert and highly trained tracker dogs at Loisaba in Kenya work to keep wildlife safe is a truly unique experience," he said.

Back-to-basics safaris: A back-to-basics bush experience is a great way for travelers to reconnect with nature and forego the stresses of everyday life. Wild Wings Safaris' Onne Vegter said the Bateleur Main Camp in Timbavati in South Africa is the ideal location for a back-to-basics experience.

"There are no frills, there is a bush toilet and a bucket shower, there are no fences, and travelers will be sleeping on a mattress only in a dome tent," Vegter said. "It is a very different experience to a luxury lodge experience, but one travelers will never forget. They'll partake in interactive workshops that will help them learn more about scorpions, snakes and the African night sky as well as bushcraft and tracking skills."

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