Before the modern 4WD safari became so popular – and, in fact, before arrival of cars in general – the only way to experience the African bush was on foot. The most famous African explorers of the 19th Century, the likes of Burton, David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, and even Ernest Hemmingway in the early 20th Century, would all have discovered Africa on a walking safari of sorts. Expeditions were typically fraught with drama and danger in equal measure, a far cry from today's safari experience.
In the 1940s, however, the concept of the modern walking safari was pioneered by Norman Carr in Zambia's Luangwa Valley, who wanted to give people an opportunity to experience wildlife in close proximity. Today, the walking safari is considered one of the most authentic and exhilarating ways to explore Africa's national parks and reserves.
Devon Meyers has been guiding across Africa for 12 years, and is a passionate advocate of the walking safari. Here he tells us why is should be a must-try experience for every safari guest.
Why do it?
"Walking in the wild is the oldest form of safari and the aim is to enjoy nature in a natural, non-threatening way. More to the point, climbing out of a vehicle and stepping down to the same level as lions, elephants and zebra delivers an incredibly intimate insight into the intricacies of the African veldt, not to mention an opportunity to encounter some of country's most exciting wildlife from a unique – and often thrilling, perspective."
How does a walking safari differ to a traditional game drive?
"Walking safaris and game drives represent two very different types of experience, and I always advise our guests to try out both. Certainly a game drive generally allows guests to get a little more up-close-and-personal with wildlife – albeit from within the confines of a vehicle, and photographic opportunities are sometimes better from a vehicle. On the other hand, while we don't get as close to bigger wildlife on a walking safari, it's a great chance to see other lesser known species including birds and insects – and the experience is definitely a more visceral one."
What does a typical day look like on a walking safari?
"Walking safaris generally take place in the morning from 7am – 10am, or in the late afternoon from 3pm – 6pm, with a maximum of six guests per group. The distance of the walk will depend on two key factors – the fitness level of the guests, and what we find along the way. Generally, we try and tailor walks to ensure they are at a comfortable pace and distance for specific participants.
"Sanctuary Swala is the most remote camp in the Tarangire, which means that the areas our walks cover are not only teaming with wildlife, but are also pretty much devoid of vehicles, which delivers a very natural and authentic experience for our guests.
"Every walking safari is different and we're always on the lookout for whatever nature offers us on the day. Sometimes we'll encounter a great sighting within the first hour and spend quite a bit of time following and viewing what we have found. On other days, we might uncover elephant tracks and follow them to find the herd. This sometimes means we cover slightly longer distances, but it's incredibly rewarding for guests when they track down wildlife themselves."
Are Walking Safaris Safe?
"Like any interaction with wild animals, walking safaris have their risks. Before we set off, all our guests are given a comprehensive safety briefing, which covers everything they need to know, from how we'll be communicating along the way, to emergency procedures. For example, we'll often use hand signals or clicking of the fingers or tongue to communicate, as these are more natural sounds and therefore more likely to go unnoticed by the animals.
"During a walking safari, guests are accompanied by me and a TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks) Ranger. My role is to lead from the front and guide guests, while the TANAPA Ranger follows the group, and has the very important job of keeping an eye out for wildlife from the rear.
"It's also a requirement by law, and an industry standard, to carry a rifle while guiding walking safaris in any 'big game' areas. This is obviously for the protection of guests, but is there as an absolute last resort. In my career as a safari guide, having spent literally thousands of hours guiding guests on foot, I have never yet had to fire my rifle on a walking safari – and that's a record that I endeavour to keep!'
Favourite animal to track in the bush?
"I really enjoy the tracking and stalking all types of game, but if I had to choose, it would probably be buffalo. In any herd, there are hundreds of eyes, ears and noses, looking, listening and smelling for what may be around them. This makes them a very tricky group of animals to stalk and view without being noticed, and I really enjoy rising to the challenge."
Most memorable sighting on a walking safari?
"I have been fortunate enough to witness plenty of interesting and memorable sights during walking safaris, including mating black rhinos and lion kills. But watching a group of seven old buffalo bulls chase a pride of lions and force them to take refuge at the top of a tree was one of the most astounding. The lions had to wait until the buffalo had lost interest in them before they were able to come down and make for cover."
When is the best time to do a walking safari?
"Walking safaris from mid July until the end of March. Outside of this period the grass is extremely tall, making walking uncomfortable and less safe due to low visibility."
Devon's walking safari essentials.
"First up, binoculars, binoculars and binoculars! These are important for spotting wildlife and getting a closer look. A decent set of binoculars will significantly enhance any safari experience, whether on foot or in a vehicle.
"Comfortable, closed shoes and neutral coloured clothing (such as dark greens, grey and khaki) are also important for comfort – and to make sure guests bend into the environment.
"Hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Water. And of course, a small camera!