Blessed with abundant vegetation, the country has many national parks – enough for us to easily do a 10 best listicle – but Yala National Park is clearly the most famous, and covering an area of 979 sq km, also the largest in the nation.
This jewel of the Indian Ocean sits an hour away from Hambantota in the South-eastern coast of the country. The park is about 300km from the capital city Colombo, if you want to have a stopover at the capital city first – although, there are direct flights from Singapore to Hambantota.
The king of the jungle at Yala is the leopard (which includes the native SriLankan leopard) so you can count on seeing a few of these majestic animals, along with Sri Lankan elephants (they are reportedly larger in size than the average Asian elephant), sloth bears, peacocks, spotted deers, sambhars (and more) and almost 215 species of birds, of which six are endemic to the country. Two pilgrim sites (reportedly from 1 and 2-century BC), Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, are also situated within the park for those who like a mix of history and culture as well.
A safari is not really a safari unless you camp in the woods. Ruhunu Safari probably comes closest – even though their luxury tents are located well within the protected confines of their camp. Yala park falls under the dry semi-arid regions, which means very humid climes, so we suggest going for the air-conditioned comfort Ruhunu offers (like the Tusker Tent above). Most of the tents – air-conditioned and “fan-cooled” – have private pathways that lead to the in-camp “watering hole” Bush Restaurant & Bar, which serves traditional (read coconut-milk delicious) South Sri Lankan and some European cuisine – the produce for which comes mainly from the four-acre farm inside the camp itself.
One of the two owners, Simon, a bio-science graduate (and a qualified lawyer), is big on conservation – he is founder of Sea Sanctuaries, an NGO that focuses on marine conservation in the waters of Indonesia. Just as well, the jeep safari tours and the night safaris – the camp is just five minutes away from the main entrance to Yala national Park –include a naturalist who will educate you on the flora as much as the fauna. If you are feeling a bit safaried out, enrol into one of their cooking classes at the restaurant, to top up your take-home memories with some skills.
For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +94 (0)77 600 2717
Known to house the largest area of wilderness in the African continent – 17% of the country is protected wilderness – a safari in Botswana’s Okavango delta and Choba National Park are decidedly must-dos for action-packed safaris.
This includes the remote Savute channel region of Chobe National Park. Once a rich and lush marsh, the area mysteriously went arid for about 30 years – unrelated to the amount of rainfall the region received. But today, with the channel back to its past glory, you can find an abundance of wildlife – from the usual suspects lions and elephants, to zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, plus two native African antelope species, tsessebe and kudu. The Savute also has a rich and diverse bird population, including Africa’s native Kori bustard. Trivia: It’s the heaviest of birds who are capable of flight.
If you plan a trip during the monsoons (if you fell up to braving the rains, that is), in January and February, Savute is like the stage for one of the largest zebra congregations – migration in safari-speak – they all gather around for a grass tasting of sorts (it reportedly gets sweetened by the rains).
For a very off-the-beaten-track way to explore all these fauna, we suggest horseback. No, not apache Indian style (although, its tempting) but in complete luxury with Belmond Safari’s horseback safari package. The package is a six-night affair (from 25 September to 1 October), where you will traverse the region between the Savute to Okavanga Delta on horseback. Elevating it to glamping standards, aside from the luxury accommodations at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, is international fashion model and British equestrian polo player Jodie Kidd who will be hosting the safari and keeping you company as you ride off into the African wild.
The resort is situated on a secluded island with exquisite panoramic views from its tented camp. A far cry from the wild day out, nights are spent relishing delicious Botswanian cuisine set up in Boma style. A traditional Boma dinner is typically open-air (the starry African night sky is a sight to behold) and comprises a barbecue meat buffet – with soups and salads for the vegetarians. The best part of the set-up is the African drum, dance and song performances, as well as a traditional storyteller who will regale his audience with folklore (the land has its fair share).
The six-day safari comes at $13,850 per person, inclusive of the accommodation, meals, internal flights and safari activities, internal flights and meals, and some drinks. For more details, email email@example.com
Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari, Arctic Canada
This one takes you to a different kind of wilderness – not to mention, clime. Head away from the African heat and tropical humidity to the icy wilderness north of the Arctic Circle. The area is very sparsely populated – the Inuits are the indigenous people of the region – but that by no means extends to the wildlife. Aside from the cuddly – but fierce – king of the Arctic, the polar bear, you will find snow owls, the Arctic fox, the fantastical narwhals (they look like unicorns) and, if you happen to make it in the summer months of July and August, you can catch beluga whales – even snorkel with them. Then there’s the landscape, which is like no other you would see on our continent. As for the skies: If you time it well to catch the Northern Lights, ad with a bit of luck on your side, you will be ticking off one major event in your bucket-list already.
Accommodation-wise for this safari, you want to be as close to the action as possible and Arctic safari camps, an intimate mobile camp is your best bet. They set up right on the ice (although, it’s fast ice) – so luxury here translates more to keeping warm (you are not really going to be yearning for anything else), and this camp scores high on comfort and warmth. But you will have to keep your Instagram posts for later as they have no WiFi or telecommunications – we doubt you will really be missing it that much though because the safari will be quite action packed. The camp sets up on Baffin island, the largest island in Canada (and the fifth largest in the world). The population is barely a 11,000 so you are looking at seeing more wild life than people.
The best time to travel there, they say is between October and November if you want to get your fill of polar bears. But the summer months promise a different kind of experience – it’s a lot colourful for one – with a different variety of animals too. For details on the five-night camp safari, email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Images: courtesy Eric Baccega, Arctic Kingdom; Belmond Safaris; Premium Safari Camp; Ruhunu Safari Camping; Shutterstock–Andre&Anita)
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