There’s no more iconic African animal than the elephant. In stature, wisdom, and personality, elephants stand apart from all other species you’ll see on safari. But despite their impressive size, elephants have a way of finding themselves inside people’s hearts – many African travelers tell us that elephants are easily their favorite creatures. Several safari lodges around Africa are known for their resident or nearby elephant herds, so here’s our guide to the best elephant experiences you’ll find in Africa.
ABU CAMP, BOTSWANA
Also named for an elephant – who once starred in a Hollywood movie alongside Clint Eastwood – Abu has evolved from an elephant-back safari camp into a superb wildlife experience based on a committed elephant conservation philosophy. The resident herd – including orphaned Naledi, whose story you may have seen on Netflix – are eloquent ambassadors for saving their species. They get their message across persuasively but lovingly! Walking with the Abu Herd lets you see Botswana’s Okavango Delta through their eyes. And, while sleeping on the Abu Star Bed above their boma means that you’ll be serenaded to sleep by the contented rumblings of the elephants below.
MFUWE LODGE, ZAMBIA
The reception staff at Mfuwe Lodge, in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, don’t just get to welcome human visitors as part of their daily work. This lodge is also famous for the elephant families that walk through its tiled reception area. The elephants have worked out a short cut to their preferred wild mango tree that the lodge was built around. Generations of elephants visit it, and the fact that there is now a safari lodge doesn’t seem to worry them. It’s still more proof of just how adaptable and intelligent these animals are, and how welcoming they are to humans when we come with good intentions.
RETETI ELEPHANT SANCTUARY, KENYA
Situated in northern Kenya, amidst the remote magnificence of the Matthews Range, Reteti is ideally placed to assist elephants in need of help. This area is known for its large numbers of elephants, but it is also an arid and unforgiving landscape. Young elephants that get injured or sick in the wild get a second chance in life when they arrive at Reteti. As well as rescuing and ultimate re-releasing these calves, Reteti recognizes that elephants and humans must live together in harmony for both species to flourish. Anti-poaching patrols protect the region’s herds and safeguard jobs that depend on wildlife.
JABULANI SAFARI, SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa’s Jabulani Safari has a remarkable back story – and it’s one that will touch and uplift you. Jabulani takes its name from a young elephant who was rescued from a dam and restored to health, and then bonded with a herd of elephants rescued from Zimbabwe. Today, the lodge at this orphaned elephant sanctuary offers a ‘soulful safari experience’ which naturally centers around meeting the resident elephants and exploring the bushveld with them. Alongside a full range of other safari activities, you’ll have the opportunity to directly interact with the elephants and learn more about their heartening stories of hope and survival.
Fun fact: Jabulani was one of the film locations selected to shoot Netflix’s new movie “Holiday in the Wild,” starring Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis.
LITTLE CHEM CHEM, TANZANIA
Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park is renowned for its many bulbous baobab trees, and its large herds of elephants. Seeing these two unmistakable symbols of the African bush together – especially in the golden light at each end of the day, when their shapes almost seem to merge – is an unforgettable experience. The guides at Little Chem Chem have carefully studied the local elephants and talk about them as if they were close relatives. On arrival, you’ll receive a leather-bound book featuring family trees of the elephants you’re most likely to see, and on your game drives, the guides will bring these books to life as they ‘introduce’ you to the herds.
RUCKOMECHI & LITTLE RUCKOMECHI, ZIMBABWE
On the banks of the Zambezi in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, sister camps Ruckomechi, and Little Ruckomechi have everything you could wish for in a safari destination. We’re talking untamed African scenery, abundant wildlife, and a whole host of activities from guided bush walks to canoeing the mighty river itself. Easily the most noticeable of all the animals are the elephants. Spending time at either Ruckomechi camp means walking in the giant footsteps of these impressive creatures: families of elephants pass through the camp daily. They often pause to enjoy their favorite treat: seed pods from the albida trees. While the younger elephants pick fallen pods from the ground, the adults have been known to rear up on their back legs and reach high into the trees for the freshest pods.
BAINES CAMP, BOTSWANA
Baines Camp – in a remote corner of Botswana’s pristine Okavango Delta – is home to two extraordinary elephants. Jabu and Morula were rescued as orphans over thirty years ago, and because of their unique relationship with their long-term carers, Doug and Sandi Groves, these gentle giants have a remarkable affinity for humans. The Baines Camp Living with Elephants let you experience a day in the life of Jabu and Morula, as Doug and Sandi accompany you on a stroll through the bush that – elephants being elephants – is bound to include lots of foraging and a mud wallow or two. There’s no better way of learning about elephants than to spend time with them as they do their thing.
MARA ELEPHANT PROJECT, KENYA
Mara Elephant Project is one of Asilia’s Positive Impact partners in Kenya. They work to protect elephants in the Greater Mara ecosystem, which are under threat from human-wildlife conflict, poaching and diminishing space to roam. Their headquarters are in the Mara North Conservancy, and their work includes elephant collaring, monitoring and research, anti-poaching patrols, rapid response units and mitigating human-wildlife conflict through education as well as providing practical support to communities. You can visit the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) as part of a full day trip from any of the following Asilia properties: Mara Bush Houses, Rekero, Naboisho Camp and Encounter Mara.
ELEPHANT CAMP & ELEPHANT CAMP WEST, ZIMBABWE
With sweeping views of the spray rising above Victoria Falls, The Elephant Camp and its smaller, more intimate sister lodge, Elephant Camp West, are ideally located to explore Zimbabwe’s adrenaline adventure capital. But whether your bungee jumping or white-water rafting, you’ll not experience a greater thrill than spending time at the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary and Orphanage. The guiding principles here: rescue, rehabilitate, and release. Orphaned elephants receive expert care – and lots of love – as they prepare to return to the wild. During their stay at the sanctuary, you can meet and interact with them and enjoy elephant encounters that are up close and personal.
ITHUMBA CAMP, KENYA
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) pioneered the concept of ‘fostering’ elephants, whereby people could sponsor a named elephant orphan. After visiting with their orphaned elephant, they could follow their progress as they returned to full health and prepared for life in the wild. Ithumba Camp is where elephant foster parents get to spend quality time with ‘their’ elephants, in highly personal (but also fun and educational) visits that include watching the elephants feed and enjoy their daily mud bath (a highlight for them and humans). Ithumba acts as a halfway house for elephants who’ve been raised at the DSWT Nairobi nursery and are on their way into the wilds of Tsavo National Park.
Feeling inspired to plan your own elephant experience? Check out our 11-Day Kenyan Elephant Adventure from $9,775 per person.