Time stands still on safari—and when it does, it’s magic.
It happens when you watch a herd of giraffes lumbering along, their long necks moving in slow motion. Or when you spot your first leopard lounging in an acacia tree. And it’s there when you see the flash of a lion’s eyes on a nighttime game drive, its regal silhouette etched against the horizon.
“For many guests, being on safari is a very spiritual experience,” says Koinonia Baloyi, Communications & Fundraising Officer for African Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF), an arm of African Bush Camps (ABC), which offers bespoke adventures at 18 camps throughout Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Zambia. “It’s something you can’t really explain. You’re sitting in a vehicle, it’s quiet, you can hear the birds, and you are just watching an elephant eat. There’s a point where you’re just like, ‘How am I here in this one particular moment?’ It’s almost unnatural.”
When booking a safari anywhere within Africa’s tapestry of 54 countries, you’re bound to experience plenty of wildlife moments that follow you home in your heart. “But, there’s so much to Africa, that the best way to really experience it is being outside of the national parks,” says Baloyi. That’s where most of the people are, after all, and that’s where ABC’s Impact Safaris come in. Baloyi crafted three unique 9-day itineraries that allow travellers to dive deeper into local community and conservation issues and solutions. Each trip is completely bespoke, bookable by groups large or small, and delivers a holistic experience where the impact is felt both ways. Plus, donation amounts to ABCF are built into every group booking.
The Impact Safari collection is right in line with the core giving-back ethos of ABC, which was founded, alongside its foundation, by professional Zimbabwean guide Beks Ndlovu back in 2006. Still heavily involved today, Beks’ vision has always been to deepen ABC’s impact through tourism, not expand its footprint.
The first Impact Safari experience, the Learner Development Safari, is a nine-day adventure that begins in Botswana’s Khwai Leadwood camp, moves on to Thorntree River Lodge in Zambia, and ends in Zimbabwe at Somalisa Expeditions camp in elephant-rich Hwange National Park. A great option for families travelling with kids, it incorporates a visit to Botswana’s Khwai Preschool, where guests volunteer with the nutrition program, then time to visit or play netball or soccer with the little ones. “Our schools are not museums, you know,” says Baloyi, explaining how visits are planned around times that do not disrupt students. “This is a live learning environment.”
Next comes the Conservation Safari, more heavily focused in Zimbabwe, and perfect for animal enthusiasts. “Zimbabwe is where the crux of our human-wildlife conflict issues are popping up,” says Baloyi. “We begin in Mana Pools National Park, which went from being so rich in game, to massive poaching, to now, where we are starting to see the return of wildlife.” Seasoned guides share conservation methods used by local anti-poaching units, such as rhino tracking and how to recover snares. Next, guests pitch in to help build a community boma enclosure that protects livestock from lion attacks, which in turn reduces human wildlife conflict. Getting their hands dirty working in the heat and dust for a practical cause is an unforgettable experience.
Last year, Baloyi joined a boma-building group and one guest’s comments resonated. They said, ‘You know, I thought I’d come out to Africa, see some wildlife, and then do other trips [around the world]. But now I want to come back to do this again.’ For me, that was a pivotal turning point of realizing how the work we do as a foundation intersects with the safari experience—it really goes a long way.”
Furthering Female Empowerment
In 2021, ABCF kicked off their Female Guides Program, with a goal of developing 25 female guides by 2025. In a culture where guides are predominantly male, the program has inspired many and gained great momentum. To further support this, the Women Empowerment Safari gives guests a front-row seat to what female empowerment looks like in small, underdeveloped communities, starting in Botswana, heading to Zambia, then wrapping up in Zimbabwe. Guests have the opportunity to be led by the female guides in training, visit local communities to see basket-weaving and gardening, then volunteer at a local school serving up meals. With this safari, a $5,000 donation is built into the group booking fee, which goes directly toward the licensing and training of a new female guide. “This experience is great for a girls’ trip,” says Baloyi, adding that there are, of course, bucket-list moments that don’t involve roughing it: a scenic helicopter tour in Botswana, complete with a champagne drop,
as well as spa treatments back at camp.
Baloyi loves to see guests’ preconceptions of a trip completely challenged and, in turn, how it enriches their adventure. “Their expectation leaving home was that they’re going to be in a jeep, driving around seeing wildlife. But here they are standing in a remote community, it’s got no Wi-Fi, no electricity, it’s hot. And they are building a boma. You see their realization that this meant so much to the entire experience, and it changes the entire dynamic of a safari.” Talk about a bucket list adventure for the books.
This article was originally published in No. 32 of Globetrotting Magazine.
Get the latest travel trends & hear about the best deals on vacations around the world.
If you’re a Globetrotter, these are the newsletters for you!