The sheer scale of Africa’s wilderness areas—and the amount of time it takes to access its remotest parts—has led to the rise of flying safaris, from fixed-wing Cessnas zipping from camp to camp to multi-stop bespoke helicopter trips. There is certainly no perspective more compelling than seeing Africa from the air; it’s why a hot air balloon trip in Kenya’s Masai Mara is a cliché still worth doing. Along with leading tours, most pilots also fly emergency evacuations, take geological surveys and perform anti-poaching work. The best of them have a deep knowledge of the territory they cover and will give context to everything you see, from reports on rhino populations to updates on emerging fracking operations. Choosing a trip comes down to where you want to go and with whom you want to fly: Helicopters are more versatile, able to land practically anywhere, while airplanes allow for trips farther afield. departures has traveled with the following two companies and found their itineraries to be well thought out and their pilots excellent.
Namibia By Plane
A Cessna 210 isn’t the most cutting-edge aircraft available in Africa, but it is possibly one of the most appropriate—nimble, low-flying, able to slip into the nips and tucks of the African landscape to reveal the raw wilderness up close. Nowhere is this machine used to more spectacular effect than in Namibia—specifically by the four Schoeman brothers, who fly bespoke safaris from Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, up the country’s desolate Skeleton Coast to the Kunene River on the Angola border (a 49,000-square-mile swath of Africa more or less impenetrable by more conventional means without weeks to spare). We recommend combining their Skeleton Coast Safaris, which include shipwrecks and seal colonies, with hops to the Sossusvlei dunes and Etosha National Park. From $6,775 a person for a four-day trip up the Skeleton Coast; 264-61/224-248; skeletoncoastsafaris.com.
Kenya By Helicopter
Nairobi-based Lady Lori Helicopters flies Kenya’s stretch of the Great Rift Valley with the same ease most people drive their suburban streets back home. The company’s Suguta Valley day tour into the heart of East Africa’s fault line makes an excellent excursion from any of the lodges in Laikipia (about 45 minutes of flying time). See pristine sculpted dunes, flocks of flamingos on Lake Logipi and the Singing Wells of the Milgis River, where the Samburu tribesmen burrow into the dry riverbed for water, singing as they work; the company’s chief pilot, Iltasyon Neepe, is also a Samburu. Another trip, the Super Fly, is a chopper and balloon combination in and around the Mara. Lady Lori’s star helicopter pilot—and now the company’s principal owner—is Kenyan Ian Mimano, 46, who trained as a pilot in England. He flew for the country’s former prime minister and still pilots a smattering of Hollywood stars and global executives from oil and gas companies. From $2,400 an hour for six people on a Eurocopter EC130; 254-20/600-5417; flyladylori.com.