What image comes to mind when you hear of the word Safari?
Sitting in the bush on a moonlit night, so close to a lion that you can feel the rumble of its roar in your chest?
Many travelers might conjure up visions of tented camps, gourmet meals in the wild bushes, game drives through the golden savanna, relaxation under a tree enjoying the spectacular views of the vast landscapes and sun-downers at the end of the day.
The history of Safari dates back to the 19th century in colonial Kenya. The word itself is derived from the Swahili language which means ‘to travel’.
During the colonial era in Kenya, East African hunting safaris became a fashionable pursuit among members of the privileged classes, particularly in Britain and the United States. The completion of the Uganda Railway in 1901 provided easier access to the interior highlands of British East Africa (also known then as the East African Protectorate, and now as Kenya), where large game, especially elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceroses, was plentiful. The early hunting safaris were traditionally known as foot safaris and comprised of a small group of wealthy European visitors, professional hunter, several cooks, gun – bearers and porters.
Between wars during the Word War, the motor car to East Africa displaced porters. Established camps became more and more comfortable, with modern amenities such as daily newspapers, doubled walled tents, mosquito netting, chemical toilets, air mattresses and mess tables. A safari habitus was established. In the process, adventure was domesticated. In the following decades, the improvement of flight schedules to Africa, lower air-ticket prices, and new international travel arrangements made possible through professional tour companies organizing holiday packages, allowed the expansion of tourism.
As a commodity for the tourism industry, Africa and more so Kenya has become the terrain where a particular kind of experience is available to Western subjects: adventure, romance, and danger are available under a home-like control and comfort. Africa is packaged into a tour as a spectacle where difference is consumed and cultural difference erected as the provider of authentic experience.
Over time, a safari experience has gone from an “underdeveloped” experience to an evolutionary one. It has spread across Africa offering diverse and unique safari adventures in each African country. The word safari has definitely been redefined. Luxury safari lodges, open 4×4 safari vehicles/land rovers, amazing wildlife viewings, hot air ballooning and much more. What one could not experience or even dream of 100 years ago, it is certainly possible today.
A Safari experience in Africa is one of the greatest adventures any traveler will embark on. Freedom of travel, satellite connections informing of animal sightings, aerial views of scenic splendor have all added to the modernization of the whole African safari experience, but still the untamed wilderness, beautiful natural surroundings, traditional cultures and unforgettable African wildlife encounters remain.