The continent of Africa features two giant belts of savanna, running east and west, where the occasional tree dots grassland in a region of transition from jungle to desert. Look at a map of the continent and envision a line running from the top of Senegal to Ethiopia, and another across the middle of Namibia and South Africa. Subtract from this area the tropical rainforests of Zaire, Congo, Cameroon and Gabon, and you have delineated the tropical savanna of Africa. Within this giant swath of territory are many incredible adventures for visitors to pursue.
Go on a Wildlife Safari
Most tourists from Europe and North America head to East Africa for wildlife safaris, visiting classic examples of tropical savanna such as the Serengeti in Tanzania or Masai Mara in Kenya, two adjoining wildlife parks. Just after dawn and just before sunset, you can take a game drive in a pop-top vehicle designed for amateur photographers. The savanna's remarkable wildlife is most active at these times of day. See groups of warthogs, elephants walking single file, lions gazing across the horizon and herds of grazing antelopes, tails flicking in the dim light. You can click the shutter nonstop or just watch baboons bounding in a clearing or hippos bellowing in a river. The time not on game drives can be spent enjoying international cuisine at a luxury lodge or fine grub prepared by the safari chef around a campfire.
View Tribal Life
Bomas, the villages in the savanna where Masai people live, may admit your safari group for a fee to meet tribe members for part of the day. Children tend to take particular interest in your cameras and want to see photos of themselves. Full-scale cultural safaris arrange visits for you with natural healers and artisan cooperatives or sign you up for a community volunteering project. The three leading tourist magnets for American tourists – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – provide opportunities for your party to get a glimpse of authentic nomadic life in the savanna. You might visit culture centers outside the capital cities to enjoy a show of traditional dancers, singers and musicians.
You can combine cultural encounters with birding by hiring a trained guide from a rural village in the savanna to lead you on a nature walk. While you can figure out such giant specimens as the ubiquitous marabou stork or the bright pink flamingo on your own, there’s no substitute for local knowledge when it comes to figuring out whether that pretty feathered creature is a hornbill or spoonbill. Uganda and Kenya both offer opportunities for guided bird-watching safaris.
You may associate whitewater rafting and bungee jumping with thrill-seeking vacations in the west more than the African savanna, but Uganda is making a move into the adventure travel market with activities that focus on adventures on the Nile. Tour operators offer easy raft floats with a look at bird life near the Victorian source of the Nile as well as more extreme rafting that sends you plunging through rapids. If you want instead to get a look down at the savanna, you can join a trek to the top of Mount Kenya in Kenya or Mount Kilimanjaro, just across the border in Tanzania.