If lockdown has had you dreaming of an African safari, you’re in luck: As the continent gradually reopens, lodges are becoming more and more exclusive—even offering private buyouts to accommodate your COVID bubble in the bush. With local villages and conservation efforts across Africa reliant on tourism dollars, each booking counts. “Today, our communities are more vulnerable than ever,” says African Bush Camps founder Beks Ndlovu. “And everyday we are losing wildlife to poaching.”
Here’s how to do a socially distanced safari—and simultaneously give back:
Reserve a Standalone Suite at an Iconic Kenyan Lodge
As part of its recent overhaul, Sanctuary Olonana—the first of Abercrombie & Kent’s (A&K’s) sustainably designed Sanctuary Retreats, in the Masai Mara—has introduced a two-bedroom Geoffrey Kent Suite. Accessible via private driveway, it has a fully stocked and staffed kitchen, retractable floor-to-ceiling windows, and an indoor-outdoor sundeck overlooking the Siria Escarpment (where Out of Africa was filmed, outfitted by none other than Kent). And with its specially appointed safari vehicle, driver, and Masai guide, no wonder the A&K founder stays here himself. Meanwhile, A&K Philanthropy has brought LifeStraw filters to local schools; its pandemic-relief partnership with Project C.U.R.E. has been delivering food and medical supplies to isolated communities.
Book a "Safari Bubble" in Botswana, Zambia, or Zimbabwe
African Bush Camps (ABC), one of the continent’s rare Black-owned outfitters, has made all of its locally crafted properties available as exclusive-use "safari bubbles" (the latest—intimate, riverside Khwai Leadwood—offers walking and mokoro canoe safaris in Botswana’s hippo-happy Okavango Delta). You can even buy them out consecutively, and connect via private charter flights. Better yet, $10 from every bed-night helps fund the ABC Foundation’s local conservation and community empowerment projects.
Get Off the Beaten Path in Angola
This southwest African country is untrodden territory for the industry—there are no lodges in these parts—but next year, Natural Selection is introducing custom-designed safaris with National Geographic Explorers, with 1.5% of profits going toward conservation projects on the ground. From the source lakes and highlands to the riverside Cubango Game Reserve to the Cuito Cuanavale and battlefields region, you won’t encounter any tourists; expect helicopters and pop-up camps, only for you and yours.
Take Over a South African Farmstead
Just as it expanded Cape Town’s Silo Hotel (atop Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) with private residences along the Atlantic Seaboard, the Royal Portfolio has introduced The Farmstead, a 10-minute drive south of its beloved Royal Malewane in Kruger National Park. With three art-filled suites, a four-bedroom farmhouse, and all the amenities of the main property—private landing strip; Big Five bush walks with a Master Tracker (three of the world’s seven work here)—plus a private butler, chef, game-drive vehicle and guide, it’s like your own personal mini-lodge. It’s also a community-based conservation project; the land is leased from locals, who have the opportunity to work at the lodge, which they’ll inherit.
Go for a Sky Safari in Kenya or Tanzania
Not only is SkySafari aiming to become carbon negative for 2021—it’s also launching buyout experiences with Elewana. Along with having a plane all for themselves, guests can book properties from the collection—including Kifaru House, in Kenya’s Lewa Conservancy, and Tanzania’s Elewana Serengeti Pioneer Camp—in their entirety. Each reservation comes with a private vehicle and a personal guide, and thanks to direct transfers, you’ll have 16-21 extra hours for game drives (and more). Each reservation helps fund projects from the Land & Life Foundation—the charitable arm of Elewana Collection and SkySafari—which, in addition to its conservation work, brings emergency aid to nearby communities.