Writer: Sarah Kingdom;  Photography: Edward Selfe, James Duncan-Anderson

Private safaris don’t need to cost the earth. With the right planning, a private safari could cost less and give you more than a regular safari…

Image Credit: Edward Selfe

What is a private safari? It sounds expensive, but does it have to break the bank? Some private safaris are incredibly expensive, but with the right planning, a private safari could cost less and give you more than a normal safari. Private safaris mean different things to different people, and this is often dependent on the size of a person’s bank account. Some people might choose to fly to Africa on their own private jet and stay at ultra-expensive properties. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A privately guided safari can help you make the most of your safari time, and ensure that you experience the safari that dreams are made of.

Also Read: Getting Around Zambia

Whilst sharing your safari experience with a few other guests is normal and often great fun, when you choose a private guided safari you do get the advantages of tailor-made travel, including the ability to focus on your special interests (like birding or photography), the opportunity to hunt for that elusive animal without worrying about schedules and timetables, and the flexibility to linger over attractions that interest you most. A private safari can also be the ideal choice for families and small groups travelling together. A passionate and professional private guide will be able to share with you their years of experience and knowledge. They will draw on their practical knowledge of local flora, fauna and animal behaviour, shape your game viewing activities around your specific interests, ensure you are in the right place at the right time to capture that once in a lifetime image and can really add an extra dimension to your safari.

Image Credit: Edward Selfe

Generally speaking, there are two main types of safaris… tailored and scheduled. Both offer a holiday with various inclusions (meals, accommodation, activities, transfers etc), and offer varied ‘comfort’ levels and ‘extras’. The biggest difference between tailored and scheduled is how much freedom you will have to choose what happens when you are actually on safari, and the other people with whom you’ll share your experience. This is where, for some people, choosing a private safari comes into its own. At some camps, lodges and parks it is possible to hire specialist ‘private guides’ (a good idea if you have specific interests like photography or birding) to take you on specific activities or even to host you throughout your entire safari. The other alternative is to hire a professional guide to host you throughout your entire time on safari. Whilst it may not suit everyone, doing a safari with a private guide can really ensure your safari is a life-changing experience.

Image Credit: Edward Selfe

James Duncan-Anderson is a private guide, who owns and operates Wild N’ Beyond Safaris in Zambia. Read on for his take on the business, and for an account of one of his private guided experiences with clients in Kafue National Park

How do you see the safari industry in Zambia these days?

“Zambia has become a truly special destination for wildlife enthusiasts… and it only seems to be getting stronger… from seasoned safari veterans to first-time safari-goers… I have been guiding for nearly 20 years in Southern Africa, and for just over 10 of those years, have been in some of the most sublime parts of the country. Zambia is rich in wildlife, famous for the largest falling sheet of water and the largest mammal migration (straw-coloured fruit bats in Kasanka National Park). The beauty and change of habitats within its national parks, showcase a true land of wonder. Leading trips throughout Zambia has been a privilege.”                                              

How would you best describe a private safari?

“A private guided safari allows both seasoned safari lovers and safari ‘newbies’ to go at their own pace and experience their own journey. A private safari is a fantastic way to enjoy what you really want from your safari without having to worry about mixing experiences or not being with like-minded people.

For me, tailor-making a trip to fit the needs of a guest, means building a relationship with both the environment and your guest. It is a richly rewarding experience. Being a private guide allows me to set up trips that include some of the best locations, to fit with exactly what my guest is looking for. It also allows me to be right there holding their hand throughout the trip making sure it is always running smoothly and in the direction that they want it to go. My personal experiences as a private safari guide have led to lifelong friendships with people who were once former guests.

In Zambia, the private guiding industry is still quite young, but one that can definitely help showcase the dynamic people that call this country home.”

Do you think there is a particular place for private safaris at the moment?

“In these uncertain ‘covid times’ many travellers are wary of travel and of mingling with too many other guests. A private safari may once have seemed ostentatious and unnecessary in the past, but now aside from allowing you to focus on your interests, a private safari also gives you ‘social distancing’ peace of mind.”

Here is James’ account of a morning out with his guests in Kafue National Park…

“It’s a lazy winter’s morning, and you’re awakened by a gentle tone of ‘good morning’ through the thin walls of your luxury tent, by your smiling room attendant. The sun is not yet risen, but the dull dawn light creeps through your room, and you can feel the crisp morning air on your face. An all too familiar start for an African safari morning. After a light breakfast, it’s onwards to adventure in the famed savannahs of Africa.

We had chatted the night before and planned an adventurous attack for the morning, a walking safari through the ‘bush’. The focus is on finding elephant whilst out on foot, and sitting and observing these majestic creatures, free of the confines of a vehicle, but in a safe manner, where neither party is disturbed.

The sun has been up for an hour, but there is still a chill in the air and moisture on the ground, perfect for early morning tracking, and observing changes to the substrate where creatures may earlier have walked, or rested on the ground, before our arrival. There are dark marks on the grass, where our quarry may have passed earlier; leaving tell-tale signs for those willing to search for them and those knowledgeable enough to know what to look for.

Image Credit: James Duncan-Anderson

A story is forming around us. The signs we see on the ground are pieces of a puzzle, clues to the previous night’s activities of the creature we are searching for. Our excitement builds as we get closer to what we seek. We find a very fresh elephant trail. The large prints and gait suggest a bull, moving through the area. Immediately we take up the trail and stealth mode is engaged. A primaeval instinct, deep within us, takes over and we go in search of the end of the trail.

Many areas have their permanent residents and they are often creatures of habit, which helps the guide to envisage where they may be now, even before we can actually see them. The scout, our protector, is in the lead, and he gently pushes forward, alert to any sounds that may give away our presence to the pachyderm giant, that wanders on the ground ahead.

I look back at the guests, and, preparing the group for an encounter with the world’s largest land mammal, I whisper to keep close, not to talk and, for now, to take no photos. We are very near. These regal giants have walked the planet for millennia, and now we have the privilege, as only a few can, to look through an imaginary window and catch a glimpse of their everyday life. A gentle breeze blows on my face and the morning sun is on the back of my neck… perfect conditions for an elephant encounter on foot. I point forward, through the grass and fallen trees.

Image Credit: James Duncan-Anderson

My guests hear the swishing of grass, as the mighty beast thuds his breakfast against his underside, shaking the mud from the roots, before placing it in his open, wrinkled mouth. Then they see him. We are less than fifty meters from the gentle giant, and he has no idea we are there. We sit, in the shade of a tall ebony tree, hidden in amongst the termite mound, and gaze in awe at his every move.

What memories this ancient giant surely possess. He’s walked the land for over forty years. The scars on his ears, breaks in his tusks and an aged face tells of a hardened life, but a successful one. These moments must be cherished, but not over-stayed, so we gently move out and away. Now we will be able to tell a story of a gentle encounter with one of Africa’s most iconic species.

Join me on a private trip to Zambia and spend some incredible moments in a place I love with all my heart.”

Image Credit: James Duncan-Anderson