Luxury in the Bush - 10 Ways to Safari in Style
These days, when you hear the phrase "I'm going on an African safari," roughing it doesn't necessarily come to mind. Those with the wherewithal to get themselves to Africa usually also have the means to make their trip a pretty comfortable one, even in the bush.
If you're like me, you find that almost disappointing. It doesn't seem fair to impose a luxury hotel on the wilderness of Africa, and it definitely doesn't seem right to destroy natural resources just to make the bush more amenable to wealthy guests. But, consider that some of the money from those guests goes to support the national parks and the local communities, as well as protect the natural resources. Consider that they bring not only money, and lots of it, but that they are there to experience, not destroy, the wildlife.
I still had my apprehensions about this balance when I embarked on my recent trip to Zambia, where I visited four Sanctuary Retreats camps on a tour with Abercrombie & Kent, a Luxist Awards' Nominee in the Best Adventure Getaway Category. To my surprise and delight, I found the most exceptional juxtaposition of immersion in the wild and modern convenience and comfort I have ever seen. I had heard that the Sanctuary Retreats camps were designed to be eco-friendly, but I couldn't have imagined just how seamlessly they fit into the landscape, and how natural and harmless their remarkable luxuries felt.
Here are ten ways A&K and Sanctuary Retreats make the bush luxurious -- and how they protect the environment and local communities while doing so.
1. Location, location, location.
With the exception of Sanctuary Baines' and Stanley's Camp, all Sanctuary Retreats properties are located within national parks. This make for impossibly pristine surroundings -- and allows the camp managers to be stewards of those surroundings. In most camps, the wildlife is so present that you can hear various animals wandering around your tent or room at night. They definitely don't seem to mind the guests being there.
2. Hot water.
Hot water is definitely a luxury when you're in the bush -- and Sanctuary Zambezi Kulefu Camp (above) keeps it eco-friendly by using solar power to heat the water.
Gallery: Luxury in the Zambian Bush
3. Size matters.
Each camp obeys strict regulations as to how many people and guestrooms it can have. As a result, you are always in an intimate group of travelers (the maximum number of guestrooms I experienced was 14 at Sussi & Chuma). This not only keeps the camps' footprints small, but ensures that the staff can keep an eye on all the guests. This both protects the safety of the guests and the safety of the surrounding wildlife -- and gives the experience a highly elite feel.
Sundowners, the daily drinks served at sundown, made every evening's sunset feel like an event. Best of all, we had them in a different location every night -- sometimes served out of a cooler in the safari vehicle or boat, and sometimes served with portable tables and chairs at a scenic outlook. All the sundowners supplies were completely cleaned up after the event, leaving no trace that we were ever there.
5. The money trail.
According to David Spooner, Sanctuary's executive vice president of marketing, "all of the Zambian lodges and camps have park fees included in the rate which are paid directly to the national park. Over and above this, Sanctuary Retreats also pays $2.00 per guest staying at Sanctuary Zambezi Kulefu Camp to Conservation Lower Zambezi. With Sanctuary Baines' and Stanley's Camp, located in a private concession, a percentage of the revenue goes to the conservation of the area." So, what you pay for accommodation goes, in part, toward conservation of the very park in which you're staying. The parks make money by allowing Sanctuary Retreats to be there -- which in turn makes the parks lovelier and more authentic for guests.
6. Treehouses and other raised accommodations.
Many of the camps feature elevated walkways and rooms to allow the wildlife to grow and roam freely throughout the camp, as well as keep the guests safe. If staying in a treehouse like at Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma doesn't strike your fancy, the trees growing right through the roofs of the Chuma houses surely will (for more, see Peek Inside a Zambian Treehouse Hotel - Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma). Other camps like Puku Ridge (above) offer elevated balconies for supreme wildlife viewing right from your tent.
7. Fine dining.
Dining is a major part of any luxury travel experience, and the Sanctuary Retreats camps cater to American/European tastes with local ingredients when appropriate. My personal favorite meal of the trip was Zambezi bream at Kulefu Camp; a divine -- and fresh! -- fish.
8. Local shopping.
You can ask at your lodge or camp about local shopping; there's almost always someplace within a short drive where you can buy locally made art, textiles and gifts. Tribal Textiles (above) is near Sanctuary Puku Ridge Camp.
9. Local planes.
Hours and hours of driving wouldn't be a luxury experience, but flying in a nearly-private plane definitely is. Abercrombie & Kent utilizes Zambia's local airline, Proflight Zambia, to transport guests around the country. You and your companions will often be the only passengers on a tiny Proflight plane -- and the views from these low-flying local planes are breathtaking (below).
10. Cruelty-free game drives and fishing.
Another regulation of the national parks stipulates that no animals can be harmed, so guests can go on game drives and fishing trips, but they are all cruelty-free. You can catch a tigerfish, but you have to throw it back -- and though I dined on Zambezi bream at Kulefu, it wasn't caught within the park. Game drives are similarly respectful of the wildlife, with all the shooting being done by camera. Perhaps getting close to a zebra doesn't feel exactly luxurious, but it's an adventuresome thrill of incomparable value -- the whole reason one goes on a luxury safari in the first place.
My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.