Unusual Safari Experiences
The classic safari experience is timeless, offering unforgettable adventures and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but there is added wonder and intrigue when we venture to more unique destinations.
Of course, for first- or even second and third-time safari travellers, the plains of the Maasai Mara or bushlands of the Kruger are equally as unusual and captivating, but combined with the more recognised aspects of a safari itinerary, unique destinations can offer a new perspective to your journey.
We cannot extol the magic of a classic safari highly enough, fuelling our passion for sharing these experiences with our clients, but to take a step beyond these well-understood explorations and add a dimension of the unexpected to your schedule brings a new chapter to your itinerary. One that, like so many aspects of a Rothschild safari, will bring you the most remarkable experiences, and memories never to be erased.
Taking our more familiar journeys to another level, these five unique destinations may not be worthy of a two-week vacation in their own rights, but bring even more adventure to your global explorations.
Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Ethiopia is unlike any other African nation – a unique destination in and of itself. While it may lack the conventional safari appeal and unmissable attraction of other countries, it presents many more inimitable aspects for those willing to step from the beaten track. From the Simien mountains with their endemic gelada, or bleeding heart monkeys, to the fascinating, ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia comes straight from the pages of National Geographic to present a world beyond imagination.
The Omo Valley, carved by the river of the same name through Ethiopia’s south, is home not only to a wonderful array of wildlife – including kudu, lion, cheetah, and oryx – but also to several of Africa’s more fascinating and unique tribal communities.
Perhaps one of the most iconic peoples of Africa, the Mursi tribe are renowned for the wearing of debhinya – large clay or wooden lip plates. Deemed a sign of beauty, the women of the Mursi spend many years slowly and painfully stretching their bottom lip to accommodate ever-growing plates. The largest debhinya recorded was a staggering 7.6 inches (19.5cm) wide. Coupled with ornamental headdresses incorporating animal horns, metal hoops and woven twine, the debhinya is worn only at certain times, particularly when serving meals and in certain ceremonies, and often removed when at home.
The Mursi aren’t the only fascinating tribe of the Omo, and seven other peoples share the valley region. Amongst them, the Kara tribe are a semi-nomadic people, subsisting on fish, that only young, single men are allowed to catch. Their ornate woven and braided hair offsets their elaborately scarified skin. Precise incisions are filled with ash, causing raised scars that beautifully pattern their dark skin.
The single men of the Bodi tribe spend six months gorging themselves on fatty foods and cow blood mixed with milk to gain as much weight as possible. Considered highly attractive, their rotund stature is only temporary but is cultivated to lure a wife and gain renown throughout the tribe.
Though a relatively small region, the Omo Valley contains a significant contrast of cultures, and for those wishing to explore and experience the tribal communities of Africa, it provides an unequalled showcase of traditions.
Lake Turkana, Kenya
As the Omo River carves its way through the landscape of Ethiopia, it continues southwards, crossing the border to Kenya and emptying into our next unique destination – Lake Turkana.
Located in Kenya’s remote northern reaches, Lake Turkana is both the world’s largest desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake. Its hostile, corrosive waters support very little life, though some fish do exist and Africa’s largest single population of Nile crocodile also makes its home in this brackish lake.
The landscape is equally inhospitable, arid scrublands supporting only hardy grazing animals and a handful of their predators. In the lake’s centre lies Central Island, an active volcano spewing vapour upwards and adding to the harsh climate. Yet despite this bleak picture, Lake Turkana is a fascinating location to visit.
Best reached by helicopter, it is perhaps most known for its vast, resplendent flocks of vibrant pink flamingo, the filter-feeders dining on the wealth of plankton that live in the salty water. Algae within the water, and that the plankton eat, contains large amounts of carotenoids, a naturally occurring pigment that makes carrots orange, tomatoes red and the feathers of the greater flamingo pink. So adapted to this environment are the flamingo that their long legs have evolved hardy scales to withstand the corrosive salinity.
Viewing this unique landscape from the air is breathtaking, the volcanic mountains rising from the upper Rift Valley, steam pluming from their summits and plateaux offering spectacular picnic locations. Despite its inhospitable climate, Lake Turkana is a true natural wonder, the UNESCO World Heritage site well worth a day trip as part of a Kenyan safari.
After the tragic loss of her love, a heartbroken Incan princess escaped to the deserts of Peru to mourn in peace. There amongst the barren dunes, combing her hair and weeping in sorrow, her tears cascaded from reddened eyes down her cheeks to form a lake.
A hunter, searching the desert for his next meal, discovered the princess, startling her from her heartache, and she plunged into the lake to escape him. There she waited for hours for him to leave. But when he finally departed and she tried to climb back onto land, she was magically transformed into a mermaid, dwelling forever more in the lake of Huacachina.
So goes the myth of this magical desert oasis, a truly unique destination on our global journey.
Huacachina has become one of the most exceptional destinations for thrillseekers. The small town that surrounds the lake is filled with small hotels, funky bars and superb restaurants, while the dunes offer opportunities to enjoy sandboarding, buggying and other activities.
Perhaps a little more of a youthful party town, HUacachina still holds exceptional appeal for travellers of all kinds. And the diminutive town – home to only 100 permanent residents – has plenty to offer. Quiet lakeside relaxation, a paddleboat on the tranquil waters and incredible desert sunsets exude romance, and the distinctively unique setting is well worth visiting on any Peruvian journey.
Nearby, the Takama winery offers tours and delicious produce. Venturing into the dunes for a dinner evocative of the Bedouin of North Africa is simply breathtaking, while, parallel with this remarkable oasis, the Nazca lines fairly nearby bring one further aspect to this unique destination.
India abounds in unique destinations, but few compare to Ladakh. Set in the foothills of the Himalaya, this otherworldly province has an almost lunar presence. Rocky mountainsides tower above sweeping plains, ribbons of glacial water meander through the winding valleys and, but for a handful of towns and Buddhist monasteries, one can feel wonderfully lost in the wilderness, the real world nothing but a distant memory.
At 11,500 feet (3,500m) above sea level, Leh is the second-highest capital in the world (though not officially, as Ladakh is a province of India, rather than its own autonomous country). Home to little over 30,000 residents, it is a wonderfully fascinating base camp from which to explore. Sitting atop a craggy outcrop 30 minutes from Leh is Thiksey monastery, a stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism and a fairly regular visiting place of the Dalai Lama.
Though any visitor will be transfixed by the stunning landscapes, crystalline lakes and pervasive happiness of Ladkah’s people, for safari enthusiasts there is one specific reason to visit this mountainous outpost: the ghost cat.
Snow leopards, or the poetically-dubbed ghost cats of the Himalaya, are notoriously elusive, but under the protection of Hemis National Park, their numbers are slowly solidifying, and expert guides offer the very best chance of a rare sighting. Good field binoculars or large telephoto lenses are imperative, but to catch even a glimpse of these wondrous rare creatures is worth every arduous step upwards through the elevated altitude.
But the snow leopard isn’t the only animal to be found in this lofty region. Lammergeiers, golden eagles and Himalayan vultures spread their vast wings and soar in the clear, blue skies, ibex, antelope and gazelle leap across the craggy cliffs, and foxes and wolves stalk small rodents and other mammals.
At first glance, Ladakh can appear desolate, even uninviting, but even a day spent in this incredibly unique destination will reveal an isolated nation that is beautiful, captivating and simply unforgettable.
Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert, located in the heart of Chile, holds the somewhat unfavourable title of being the driest place on earth. So arid is this 41,000 square-mile (105,000km²) region that it has been used as a testing ground for Mars exploration equipment.
But stay with us for a moment; the Atacama is also a superbly unique destination to visit. Valle del Arcoíris (Rainbow Valley) is reflective of its Peruvian mountain namesake, with mineral deposits causing an array of hues, the hills appearing as if Van Gogh swept a casual brushstroke across their sides. Nearby, the petroglyphs at Yerbas Buenas are a fascinating gallery of rock carvings thought to date back up to 10,000 years. Including flamingos, llamas and human forms, overzealous guides might suggest influence by the Egyptians or even aliens, but the truth of these representations is, almost more intriguingly, still mostly unknown.
Despite is parched reputation, the Atacama does feature several wonderful lakes. However, the lack of fresh water sources and rainfall has turned these oases into Chile’s equivalent of our other unique destination, Kenya’s Lake Turkana. Surrounded by salt flats, Lago Chaxa is equally as saline and also home to three species of flamingos.
Similarly, viewing the Atacama from the sky is a must, and there is no better way than in the basket of a balloon, drifting serenely on the desert breeze. From here, you can begin to comprehend the expanse of the desert, see distant volcanoes and pass over several of the Atacama’s vibrantly blue lakes.
With steaming geysers, it’s very own Death Valley and a nightfall and starfield unlike almost anywhere in the world, any Chilean vacation is incomplete without a visit to the ‘driest place on earth’.
Visiting Unique Destinations
As mentioned in our introduction, these and other unique destinations to not a complete vacation make. For some, a day trip will suffice, for others, a handful of days will provide more than enough time to experience these incredible locations. Instead, they provide an exceptional addition to an otherwise complete itinerary. If you are visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu – Peru’s greatest attractions – then perhaps the addition of Huacachina could appeal; if you are exploring Kenya’s Maasai Mara, Laikipia and Samburu counties, then a day’s helicopter trip to Lake Turkana will add an unequalled dimension to your more traditional safari, and so on.
Whatever the desires of your safari, with an open mind, a little bit of adventure in the heart and some faith in your Travel Designer, you will discover some of the world’s truly unique destinations.