Walking Safaris: What to Expect
“The more I walk, the happier I am” Devon Myers, camp manager at Sanctuary Swala, has been guiding across Africa for 12 years and took an interest in walking safaris early on in his career. He tells us why every safari guest should try a walking safari.
Why would you recommend a walking safari to guests?
Walking in the wild is the oldest form of safari. The aim is to enjoy nature in a natural, non-threatening way. As the animals do not know we are there, it allows guests to witness completely natural behaviour. It is not a thrill-seeking activity, although spotting an elephant whilst on foot will certainly get guests’ hearts racing!
A walking safari brings us back to our origins. It’s important to remember that humans were in the African wilderness before safaris began. We have evolved in this environment for hundreds of thousands of years walking upright, and have managed to survive based on intelligence rather than brawn. Humans naturally have a good sense of smell, hearing, touch, sight and taste, however in the modern world we have forgotten how to use some of these senses to the best of our ability. Walking safaris are a feast for the senses - listening to grass and leaves crunch under your feet, the sound of an elephant’s ears flapping against its neck, or the smell of a herd of buffalo on the wind are all wonderful ways to reawaken these senses.
How does a walking safari differ to a traditional game drive?
Walking safaris and game drives offer two very different types of experiences and I would always advise our guests to try out both of these activities, as each provides an interesting perspective.
A game drive allows guests to get closer to wildlife, whilst feeling safe within the confines of a vehicle. Close up views and photographic opportunities are better from a vehicle. On a walking safari, we do not get as close to the wildlife as this would make the animals feel threatened which is certainly not our agenda.
What does a typical day look like whilst on a walking safari at Sanctuary Swala?
Walking safaris are available in the morning from 7am – 10am, or 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 group and what we find along the way. We always tailor the walk to ensure it is at a comfortable pace and distance for the specific guests.
Sanctuary Swala is the most remote camp in the Tarangire, which means the areas we walk to from the camp are not only teaming with wildlife but are also void of vehicles. This provides a very natural experience for our guests.
Every walking safari is different and we are on the lookout for whatever nature offers us on the day. Sometimes we may encounter a great sighting within the first hour of the walk and spend quite a bit of time following and viewing what we have found. On the other hand, we may find tracks of a herd of elephants and follow the tracks to find the herd. This may take us further, but it is a rewarding experience for guests to find something by following the tracks.
What is the small bag you’re seen shaking in the video (below)?
This is an ash bag that I use it to accurately gauge the wind direction. Understanding the wind is very important on a walking safari – especially in a big game region. There are three senses that an animal can use to detect danger – sight, hearing and smell. We use cover so they don't see us, silence so they don't hear us and approach from a downwind position so they don't smell us. This enables us to view them without the animals knowing that we are there.
What advice would you give to those with safety concerns?
Before we set off, guests are given a comprehensive safety briefing which covers everything they will need to know, from how we will be communicating along the way, to emergency procedures. For example, we will use hand signals or clicking of the fingers or tongue to communicate. These are more natural sounds and therefore more likely to go unnoticed by the animals.
During a walking safari, guests will be accompanied by myself and a TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks) Ranger. My role is lead from the front and to guide the guests, whilst the TANAPA Ranger follows the group and has the very important job of keeping an eye out for wildlife from the rear.
It is a requirement by law and an industry standard to carry a rifle whilst guiding walking safaris in a ‘big game’ area. This is for the protection of guests and is there as an absolute last resort. In my career as a safari guide, and thousands of hours guiding guests on foot, I have never had to fire my rifle on a walking safari; this is a record that I endeavour to keep.
What is your favourite animal to track in the bush?
I enjoy the tracking and stalking of all game, but if I had to choose it would probably be buffalo. There are hundreds of eyes, ears and noses, looking, listening and smelling for what may be around them. This makes them a very challenging group of animals to stalk and view without being noticed. I really enjoy the challenge.
What is the most memorable sighting you’ve had on a walking safari?
I have been fortunate enough to see plenty of interesting things during walking safaris, including mating black rhinos and lion kills. If I were to choose one sighting, it would have to be watching a group of seven old buffalo bulls chase a pride of lions, forcing the lions to escape to the top of a tree. 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?
The walking Safari season opens on 15th July and closes at 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 packing list for a walking safari:
- Binoculars, binoculars and binoculars! These are important for spotting wildlife and getting a closer look. A decent set of binoculars will greatly enhance guest experience, whether on foot or in a vehicle.
- Comfortable, closed shoes and neutral coloured clothing (such as dark greens, grey and khaki)
- Hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses
- Water (provided by the camp)
- A small camera - I would recommend filming parts of the walk. This is a great way of capturing the beautiful visuals and sounds of the wilderness.
Sneak preview! Here’s Devon and guests on a walking safari in the Tarangire.
Walking safaris are available at Sanctuary Swala between July and March. For more information or to book, please contact us.