The perfect safari should involve plenty of up-close-and-personal encounters--ideally involving wild animals and not the strangers in the tent next door. Many high-end safari companies are responding to the yearning for even more exclusivity in what is already one of the world's most elite travel experiences, offering private excursions that allow guests to choose their travel companions, customize their itineraries and witness plenty of once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Andy Cluver, CEO of South Africa-based airline Civair, has organized private travel for scores of celebrities, royals and politicians. High-profile travelers including Bono, Richard Branson, Michael Jackson and Princess Diana have entrusted Civair with their vacation plans. And while some boldfaced names like Bill Gates have been low maintenance (the Microsoft founder opted to travel with just his wife, Melinda), others have asked for a little more.
"When Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen flew with us, he was accompanied by his entire security detail of ex-Navy Seals," recalls Cluver. "They required a separate helicopter and fleet of four-wheel-drives to act as an advance guard to secure the landing sites." Not every adventurer travels with an entourage like Allen's, but privacy, security and a support network are key for many private-safari clients. Adventure outfitters are increasingly catering to guests who want to book an entire camp, boat, balloon or helicopter for themselves and their group.
Experiential travel is hot the world over, and a host of destinations are getting in on the act, which was pioneered--and perfected--in Africa. Safari companies today offer the chance to encounter a whole ark's worth of animals, from kangaroos and blue-footed boobies to mountain gorillas and crocodiles. A river safari down the Amazon with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions offers a look at mythic river monsters like piranhas (without a swarm of camera-happy passengers snapping at your heels). At Anantara in Thailand's Golden Triangle, guests learn to handle elephants in utterly tranquil surrounds. And at Wildman Lodge in Australia's Northern Territory, kangaroo safaris through the bush encounter a variety of marsupials. Whichever you choose, the experience is truly like nothing else.