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Skip the Safari Jeep: Discover Africa on Foot

Don’t get me wrong I love an African message. The complimentary kind that’s included on any bumpy jeep safari. But hear me out; leaving behind the rubber wheels of a vehicle has its advantages. Some of my most memorable wildlife encounters have been on foot, while immersed in the bush. Here’s why I think you should grab your hiking boots, be brave, and consider a safari outside the jeep!

Pride of lions encountered on foot
Pride of lions encountered on foot in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Discover Africa on foot

What is a bush walk, game walk, or safari walk? Simply put it’s a guided stroll through nature, in lieu of a typical game drive. No, they are not a multi-day backpacking trek through the wilderness. Think of a bush walk as a leisure-low-impact nature hike.

Most African safaris will offer guided walks as an option, in addition to the typical morning and afternoon game drives. Be sure to check on accessibility, many protected areas restrict certain activities like bush walks or night drives. During my travels, I have had the opportunity to add on walking excursions in Kruger National Park, Okavango Delta, Selous Game Reserve, and the Jozani Forest of Zanzibar.

Concerns about walking safaris

Many people worry that walking safaris aren’t as safe as staying inside a vehicle. But the likelihood of you experiencing an unwanted run-in is very slim. Of course, walking safaris can never have a 100% safety guarantee, but neither can a safari jeep, or any sort of travel for that matter. Personally, I place my trust in the highly trained and experienced guides leading these adventures. These professionals are extremely skilled in tracking wildlife, interpreting behaviors, and keeping their guests safe. On the two occasions when I encountered dangerous wildlife on foot, I felt like I was in great hands the entire time. 

Another concern many have about guided safari walks is that they won’t see any animals. Honestly, I myself had a similar thought on the first bush walk I took in Kruger National Park. But I stood corrected after just 10 minutes of walking. Our guides froze and silently instructed us to stop in our tracks. Only about 30 yards away in the thick grass we could see the tawny heads of lions begin to peer up back at us. The entire pride had just woken up from their afternoon slumber. It was my first time seeing lions in the wild and in the most unexpected way. Together there were about ten lionesses and adolescent cubs, all looking directly at us. Thankfully after a few moments, they ran off in the other direction. I had assumed wrong, any bush walk can include Africa’s wildest of residents, and the hairs standing straight up on the back of my neck were evidence of that reality!

4 reasons why you should safari on foot

Feel Grounded: Walking in the wilds of Africa gives you the opportunity to feel the bush, rather than passively observe it. Leaving the rumbling jeep behind will remind you just how deep in the wilderness you are. Being immersed in nature, where the only noises are your footsteps, helps to anchor you in the animals’ domain. It’s impossible to not feel grounded by the rawness of these moments. You’re experiencing the world on nature’s terms, of course in the safe hands of your professional guide.

Go Where Wheels Cannot: Getting out on foot means that your guided group can see places inaccessible to vehicles. Maybe it’s appreciating a closer look from the riverbank, or touching an ancient baobab tree, or soaking in a panorama view on top of a rocking outcropping. All these experiences are only possible outside the jeep on foot.

Be a Detective: Walks are a great opportunity to learn from your guides, as they hone their tracking skills from ground level. This exercise in playing detective will train you to look closer for clues right under your toes. The bush is filled with signs of wildlife: dung, tracks, burrows, nests, and even scent marks. Join your guide and try to figure out which creature might have ambled where you stand.

Better Perspective: On foot you will find yourself noticing parts of nature that would have otherwise been zoomed past. Sure being perched up high in a jeep might seem like a quality view, but truly great photos come from eye level. Some of my most cherished pictures were taken of tiny animals on bush walks. Remember that antlions and lizards are just as much African wildlife as leopards and rhinos. Skip the safari jeep for a bit and broaden your connection with all wildlife.

Charged by an elephant on foot

Another unforgettable bush encounter I had came from a walk in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. Our two guides, Lasty and Amos, cruised our boat through the freshwater channels before docking in the reeds of a small island dotted with sausage trees. There we climbed out and began our walking adventure. It was just the four of us: my friend, myself, and the two guides). About halfway through our island loop, Lasty and Amos realized we were in the company of a big bull elephant. I can still vividly remember just how close we somehow found ourselves to this elephant that was hidden in the brush. At first he calmly kept eating, grabbing a few trunkfuls of sand here and there to toss on himself. We watched from a respectful distance to not disturb him. Eventually, Lasty motioned for us to start walking around some thick shrubs to continue on. Our change in location caught the bull’s attention, causing him to turn and face us with his enormous ears held wide. We all froze. In that second he let out the loudest trumpet and lunged his massive body through the brush. Somehow we remembered to hold our ground, and resist every instinct to run. But before we could process all the chaos, the bull had stopped in his tracks to raise his head proud. Our hearts were racing out of our chests. Thankfully for the four of us, the bull had completed his mission to remind us that we were in his home. The message was fully received!

Being charged by a massive 13,000-pound elephant will forever be engrained in my memory. Even though I about blacked out, I fully trusted our guides Lasty and Amos. They were the professionals that knew exactly how to read the bull’s behaviors and keep us safe.

My recommendation is to lace up those hiking boots and leave the rubber wheels behind and take advantage of exploring Africa on foot. No matter what you encounter on your bush walk, just know that you are in for an unforgettable African experience!

Additional Safari Resources

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