Flying Safaris – Maximise your Time & Experience
“Seatbelts on? Ready for take-off?” If you’re aiming to get the most out of your African safari experience or if you want to visit the best, most wildlife-rich destinations – then you’ll need to buckle up and spend some time in the sky.
There are two ways to think about flying safaris: firstly, there are entire safari itineraries that use a light plane – usually a six-seater but often larger – to transfer travellers between different accommodations instead of doing the journey overland. You’ll also see them referred to as ‘fly-in’ safaris and in many cases, if you are planning to explore places like Botswana and Zambia, or Tanzania and Kenya, then you don’t have much of a choice: many of their prime destinations and the accommodation in them can only be reached by plane!
And then there are the flying safaris – single activities – that make up part of a lodge’s range of things to do: this could be a scenic flight in a fixed wing aeroplane or wildlife spotting adventure by helicopter. And several safari destinations across both East and Southern Africa also offer the chance to take in the view from the wicker basket of a hot-air balloon – a popular sunrise experience.
You will, of course, have deduced that since time in the air is more expensive than time on the ground, these flying safaris cost than if you were to transfer between lodges in a vehicle or spend the morning on a 4X4 game drive. But let’s break it down and see why flying safaris are worth paying the premium.
Fly-in safaris – the safaris when you fly from lodge to lodge – do cost more than those that drive between them. But, by flying, you are super-sizing your wildlife watching experience. Firstly, you are not spending hours bumping around on horrible roads between accommodations. This leaves you more time for activities at the lodge. And secondly, flights between lodges in – say – Botswana’s Okavango Delta or over Tanzania’s Serengeti are a kind of safari activity in their own right. You’ll not only see animals below you but also the scale of wildlife – especially when there is a migration on the move. With fly-in safaris you are essentially getting extra game viewing and exclusive views.
There is a drawback to fly-in safaris: strict allowances on luggage weight. You’ll need to pack it all in a soft-sided bag and keep the total weight of it to usually around 15 kilogrammes, 33 pounds or so. It’s not a lot of clothes so pack carefully but you’ll be glad to hear that most lodges – especially on fly-in itineraries – offer a free laundry service.
Flying safari activities – scenic or game flights from helicopters and hot-air balloons – can be enjoyed whether you are on a fly-in safari or an overland one. These airborne activities are generally an extra option on the suite of activities offered at a lodge which means you’ll need to pay for them but there are plenty of itineraries with these activities already woven into the experience too.
Interested in these extra activities? Helicopter flights are available in South Africa – especially recommended are the Cape Town Peninsula flights and whale watching flights along the Whale Coast and Garden Route. You can also take to the sky by helicopter in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Namibia’s magnificent Namib Desert as well as Victoria Falls, whether you choose the Zimbabwean or Zambian side.
Hot-air ballooning is also widely available: you can find it in South Africa – in the Kruger Park area as well as the Cape Winelands near Cape Town – and in some of the continent’s most beautiful destinations: the giant dunes of Namibia’s Sossusvlei, the wildlife sanctuary of Zambia’s Busanga Plains, and the rolling grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara, home to the wildebeest migration.
Browse our hand-picked selection of flying safaris – we’re featuring an excellent Botswana fly-in wildlife safari, a Cape Town holiday with scenic helicopter and hot-air balloon flights, and a Kenyan safari that enables you to soar over the Masai Mara at dawn on a balloon safari.