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Walking safari: what to know

“Just stay still. No sudden moves…” His soothing, calm voice let me know everything was fine, if I just followed his directions. Yet my heart pounded. I felt that rush of adrenaline… every part of me felt alive! It was amazing!

The situation was a walking safari (or sitting on the ground, in this case) with elephants nearby questioning my presence there, and the ‘he’ was my photographic guide and mentor, Marlon du Toit.

We were on a walking safari in Zimbabwe.

While walking safaris are offered in several parks throughout Africa, Mana Pools National Park is famous for its walking safaris. Animals are accustomed to seeing people on foot and are relatively relaxed when people are nearby. You can expect to get fairly close to elephants, wild dogs and even lions while out and about. (“Close” is a relative term, and it depends on the animal and the situation, but in some cases, we were within several meters!)

Image of a lioness watching us walk past while on a walking safari
Have you ever been watched closely by a lioness while on foot?
She sure kept an eye on us!

Why go on a walking safari?

  • For photographers, images captured at ground level take on a whole different look and feeling than those taken higher up in a vehicle looking down on an animal. That’s the main reason I chose this type of trip. Little did I know the next aspect would become equally, if not more important to me:
  • The experience is entirely different when there’s no vehicle between you and the animal. It’s a more adventurous and more intimate understanding and appreciation of the wildlife, an aspect I really came to love!
  • There’s no squawking radios or vehicle engine running, only the rustle of leaves beneath your feet.
  • You’re able to appreciate smaller animals you might otherwise miss, pay attention to bird calls and notice other flora and fauna.
  • You can learn about and follow animal tracks.

Is it safe to go on a walking safari?

While any safari, especially a walking safari, has some element of risk, you are always accompanied by a ranger who is there to protect you while on foot, as well as the animals. He can advise you what angle you can approach from and what to do if they seem uncomfortable. As you’re watching or photographing one animal, the ranger is monitoring that animal’s behavior, watching for signs of stress or change in temperament; keeping a look out for other animals approaching the area; and making sure you are keeping a safe distance.

Like any safari, to stay safe, you must always listen to and follow directions of your guide.

What’s the difference between a bush walk and a walking safari?

“Bush walks” are often an activity that you can do in addition to your normal game drives. They are geared towards the little things you might miss from a vehicle, much as walking safaris are. You might observe insects, scat or examine termite mounds. (all great things to do!) You’re also accompanied by a qualified guide on a bush walk. Ordinarily, you return to the lodge after an hour or so.

“A walking safari is a game viewing experience on foot rather than a vehicle,” says Marlon. On a walking safari, you can view wildlife in a completely natural environment, in their own habitat.

You may spend anywhere from a few minutes to all day with them and can observe and appreciate the animal on a much deeper level in this manner.

What are some do’s and don’ts?

  • Always pay attention to your guide/ranger and listen to their directions. Many times, they will want you to walk slowly, quietly, single file or have some other instruction.
  • Keep talk to a minimum and keep voices down. You don’t want to frighten the animal off.
  • Wear neutral colored clothing. No bright reds, white or other colors that make you stand out.
  • Have a good pair of walking or hiking shoes, sunscreen, a good hat and a water bottle.
  • Long pants vs. shorts are easier on the knees if you plan to get on the ground for photos.
  • Don’t wear camouflage. In some African countries (Zimbabwe included) camo is reserved for the military.
Photo courtesy of Noah M. Rosenthal

How do I find out more?

This safari was lead by Marlon du Toit, Co-Founder and safari guide of TandaAfrika. While this isn’t the only company or tour leader you could choose, I highly recommend him! (I was at this same park two years ago with a different company/leader with a VERY different outcome.) My advice: talk with the tour leader first and get a sense of their experience, expectations and passions to make sure they align with what you are looking for. Then go and have the experience of a lifetime!

Find out just how special Zimbabwe is for a safari in this post here!

P.S. This is not a sponsored post – just my own observations!

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Photo courtesy of Marlon du Toit.

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