Vacation planning is ticking back up now that covid cases are down. And if you really want the trip of a lifetime, it may just be the perfect time for an eco-luxury African safari.
Covid took a toll on travel across the globe. For Africa, it was no different. NInety-three percent of tour operators reported at least a 75 percent decline in bookings; 90 percent of travel businesses across the continent said they had concerns about their survival, according to Aviation Benefits Without Borders.
The organization says pre-covid, tourism was a $39 billion industry for Africa, with safari travels accounting for nearly a third of it—$12 billion in annual revenues for several countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
Covid didn’t just take a toll on tourism—it increased concerns over elephant and rhinoceros poaching for ivory. As other sectors shut down, many turned to illegal poaching as a means of survival.
“For rural communities, the safari industry represents an important source of income for thousands of families and local businesses,” ABWB says. “The absence of tourism funds also hinders community development projects that support schools and health clinics.”
Now, two years after the pandemic started, Africa’s tourims industry is once again coming to life.
In June, the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia will be home to Lolebezi, a new luxury safari camp set to open on the park’s east side, created by African Bush Camps.
Completely off-grid, the camp is powered by a solar farm in a nearby forest clearing. The resort manages its wastewater to ensure it doesn’t pollute the forest. Food is sourced locally. The safari camp, which can accommodate 16 guests in its suites, emphasizes environmentally sensitive design.
Family suites offer private pools. All suites open to a view of the river. The hotel features a spa and wellness facility, open-air cinema, and river “pods” that allow for retreat and private picnics. Guests have no shortage of activities including game drives and guided walking safaris, riverboating, canoeing, among others.
“Lolebezi is a dream setting for travelers to experience the abundance of Africa and the beauty and power of the Zambezi River,” said Beks Ndlovu, a veteran professional guide who established African Bush Camps in 2006.
“As ABC expands its expertise in Zambia with a second lodge, our newest destination continues to redefine the safari experience with opportunities for adventure, learning, abundant wildlife amidst pristine wilderness and pure comfort designed to sustainably blend with its environment.”
Lolebezi is just one of a growing number of eco-luxury safari opportunities across the continent.
2. Marriott Masai Mara Lodge
Earlier this year, Marriott International and Baraka Lodges signed an agreement for opening the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge—Marriott’s first safari accommodations. Expected to open next year, the property will be located in the Mara National Reserve in Kenya, overlooking the banks of the River Talek.
“As a brand rooted in mindfulness, we cannot think of a more perfect retreat for the mind, body, and soul than the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya,” Bruce Rohor, JW Marriott’s VP and Brand Leader, said in a statement.
“JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge will offer guests a luxurious backdrop to make once-in-a-lifetime memories as they connect with nature and wildlife as never before. We are thrilled that the JW Marriott brand will be welcoming adventure travellers, including families, to this breath-taking part of the world.”
Conservation will be at the heart of the property, “creating harmony with the natural world and drawing inspiration from the elements: earth, wind, fire and water,” the hotel chain says.
“The signing of JW Masai Mara Lodge is a milestone in Marriott International’s growth in Africa as the company enters the luxury safari segment. This landmark project is in response to travellers’ growing desire for experiential offerings that enable them to build a deeper connection with their chosen destination. JW Marriott encourages guests to be mindful and present, which perfectly lends itself to meaningful safari holidays,” said Jerome Briet, Chief Development Officer, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International.
The announcement comes after fellow points hotel Hilton, announced its plans to open in the Galápagos Islands, for an immersive nature experience and conservation.
3. Roar Africa
Roar Africa, founded by Deborah Calmeyer, doesn’t just offer luxury safaris, but it also prioritizes carbon offsets, conservation, elevating women, and community empowerment.
“I got sick and tired of what I call the pale male safari industry, so I wanted to change that picture,” Calmeyer says. “Tourism is a natural fit for women; we are caregivers—it’s in our DNA. My vision for Africa has always been, ‘If African women rise, wildlife will thrive.’ That’s been a thread I have hung onto all the way and I weave that into every single trip.,” she says.
“We not only want to break the Western glass ceiling, but the tribal one,” she says. “The only way to shift the perception of working women is by actually demonstrating it. Now you’re seeing lodges promoting women to executive chefs, sommeliers, or general managers, and promoting it on their Instagram.”
Since 2005, Roar has been delivering clients top-notch safaris—including one it dubs, The Greatest Safari on Earth. That 12-day excursion starts at $125,000 per person. Roar’s tours cover 13 countries including Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
“Selling a destination is very different to selling ones’ home,” Calmeyer told Penta. “The thing about Africa is that it never disappoints, but it can be completely life-changing if it’s done correctly by the right people who are truly connected to the land.”
Previous tours have taken guests on life-changing journeys: “Mount Kenya, flying through the Great Rift Valley; picnicking atop the Selali crater; walking with anti-poachers; visiting the last-remaining pastoral tribes; walking with bushman; tiger fishing on Lake Kariba; flying in the Out of Africa plane; museum tours; and private dinners with conservation legends, ministers, chefs, filmmakers, and poets,” reports Penta.
Roar chooses luxury accommodations—often villas or lodges—replete with private pools, gourmet cuisine, and access to wildlife. The Greatest Safari on Earth spans 12 days, including a private jet that takes guests across the continent with ease.
“Travel is incredibly powerful,” Calmeyer says. “It’s something that speaks to so many of us in different ways, but we have an enormous responsibility as humans to make sure that where we go and what we do when we’re there has an impact.”
Check out our guide for more nature immersive vacations.