Maasai Mara

A hot air balloon glides quietly over the Serengeti, providing a rare view of the wildlife below. Photo by Wajahatmr

The word safari probably makes you think of people wearing khaki, bumping along in a jeep, and peering through tall savannah grass at a majestic lion. But did you know that there are other exciting ways to enjoy an African safari? Here are four ways to get a different view of Africa’s wild landscape.

Balloon Safaris

It’s 6 am. Dawn is just beginning to break over the Serengeti, changing the dark shapes below into trees. The only sounds that break the silence are birdcalls and the occasional ssshhh of the hot air balloon’s whisper burner. As the balloon approaches a river, the water stirs, disturbed by what look like large moving rocks. “Hippos,” the guide says quietly, lowering the balloon a bit for a better look. Balloon safaris take place at dawn, when animals are most active, and they offer a unique, panoramic perspective of the African terrain. Rides last about an hour, and they are offered year-round.


River Safaris

Gliding along the smooth water on a riverboat, you have a chance to see crocodiles, elephants, wild dogs, hippos, zebras, and other animals as they come to the water to drink. In the hot summer months in Africa, vegetation dries out and animals congregate near rivers, guaranteeing safari-goers an up-close look at some of Africa’s most popular wildlife. River safaris range from canoes or boats to luxury cruises that have suites with a private balcony.


Elephant-back Safaris

Most animals are more scared of us than we are of them, and the scent of a human can send rhinos and wildebeests running. But the scent of an elephant overpowers that of humans. So seeing Africa on the back of an elephant gets you closer to the rhinos, giraffes, and other animals than most other safaris. Some elephant safaris will let visitors brush and feed the elephants or even camp with them overnight.


Gorilla Safaris

To see a mountain gorilla, you might need to take a safari in Uganda and Rwanda, where most of the surviving mountain gorillas live. Gorilla safaris involve trekking through mountainous jungles, led by experts who know how to track this endangered species. A gorilla sighting is not guaranteed, however, because gorillas move around a lot. But if you do get to see gorillas, you’ll be rewarded by spending an hour or so watching these prestigious primates in their natural habitat as they go about their daily routines of grooming, eating, and playing.


—Lauren Truman