History of the African Safari

Henry Morton StanleyHenry Morton Stanley

Immortalized in print and on screen an African safari is a lifelong dream for many people around the world and those privileged enough to experience a safari to Africa are never the same again. Once referred to as the Dark Continent Africa today still has many problems but this only seems to add to the romance of the destination.

History will show that the term safari, from the Arabic word safar meaning journey, was used to describe all journeys into Africa and beyond. These journeys included commodity and slave trading expeditions but the term today is used to describe a holiday tour to Africa to experience the wildlife and culture of the continent.

Missionaries, Slavers and Adventurers

From the middle of the 19th century missionaries, explorers and adventurers reported on their wanderings through Africa and a greater awareness of the richness of the African continent came to the fore. With colonization parts of Africa opened up to the world like never before and the legend of the great white hunters and African explorers took hold. It is this part of African history that has been immortalized by Hollywood.

The modern African safari, a concept that was born in East Africa, is a far cry from the elaborate safaris of the past where hundreds of porters carried every conceivable luxury across the African landscape. The first tourist safaris were hunting expeditions where hunters paid huge sums of money to spend up to three months in Africa - being portered and pampered by a huge contingent of locals.

The conservation ethic was born out of this period where far-sighted individuals saw the need to protect the wildlife from mass extermination. Although hunting was still the prime objective of most safari-goers the photographic safari was taking root ever so slowly.

The firsts of the Kruger National Park

The history of the Kruger National Park in South Africa shows the first tourists in private vehicles being allowed into the park in the mid 1920's. Pretoriuskop Rest Camp was opened to the public at this time to provide overnight accommodation for these first visitors.

The African safari has been in constant transformation through the 1900's - eventually taking on a dramatic new look in the 1970's and 1980's when the concept of the luxury safari was born in South Africa. Private reserves on the boundaries of the Kruger National Park undertook to providing luxury accommodations with the big game experience.

This expensive form of safari slowly but surely became the norm and today most people recognize luxury lodge safaris as the epitome of the African Safari. Throughout Africa the luxury safari is now the benchmark of the African safari. Even past critics now slavishly justify the move to the luxury.

African safaris - into the future

The luxury safari may have become the norm in recent years but there are rumblings of a shift towards more wilderness-based African safari travel and many safari-goers are now looking for something different from Africa.

What the future holds for African safaris is not certain but what is certain is that the romance of the African safari will be around for as long as travel is part of the human psyche.

African Safaris Guide to South and East Africa
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