Since 1910, when Teddy Roosevelt made chasing wild herds across the African plains de rigueur for the not-so-idle rich, the idea of the safari has loomed large in the psyche of American men. Though the tradition has evolved – no modern traveler would brag about, much less admit to bagging 17 lions, 11 elephants, and 20 rhinos – a trip to the savanna, the desert, or the jungle is still fundamentally about getting back to basics and back to Earth. Nowadays, those basics often involve polished silverware, but luxuries are only ornamental on the best trips. Nothing could outshine the landscape.
New safaris are venturing into untrammeled areas as formerly war-torn countries stabilize and create sustainable tourism programs. Safaris may be Africa's past, but they are the future as well. Here's where to head in 2014.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
This tiny country wedged between safari giants Tanzania and Zambia has its dukes up and is ready to take on the big boys. Armed with a Lonely Planet "Top Destinations for 2014" designation, Malawi has some spankin' new safari lodges and thanks to a successful release of lions from South Africa, a full roster of the Big Five of African game animals. Only thing missing: big crowds and astronomical prices.
Better known for its ocean-size Lake Malawi (think sand like the Bahamas, without the killer sharks) than its game parks, this country rides the Great Rift Valley and played a starring role in Stanley and Livingstone's journeys.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, the LeBron James of Malawi's nine-game park lineup, is a smashing model of sustainable development and biodiversity. Its Afro-chic Mkulumadzi Lodge is worth visiting, if only for its swashbuckling suspension bridge over the croc-infested Shire river. Guests can view game by Jeep, by river, by foot, or (for those who really need to relax) by sitting in a bath that overlooks the river, the beautiful leadwood and mango trees, and a veritable menagerie of Africa's best.
Mkulumadzi has eight ooh-la-la rooms, each with an open wall, solar-powered air-conditioning, and a roof planted with endemic grasses. This five-star offering comes from the venerable Robin Pope Safaris outfitter, known for its four-to-one ratio (that's one guide for every four guests) and custom trips.
Everything's included, from guided morning hikes to late-night game drives (better to see you with, my dear), food, drink, and all the civets, bushbucks, elephants, and hippos you can photograph. [robinpopesafaris.net]
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