“People say they want to come to Africa to see the Big Five.” Sherwin Banda from African Travel tells me. “But when you ask them about their experience afterwards, they always say, ‘I went for the wildlife, but I will return because of the people’.”
South Africa-born Sherwin is president of the longest established luxury safari operator focused exclusively on Africa, and his enthusiasm for the continent is catchy.
“Africa is often referred to as the cradle of humanity, and when you are there, it’s as if you connect to the rhythm of Africa. Something magical happens with that ancient cultural connection. It’s a feeling that comes through your bones. You can leave Africa, but there’s no way Africa will ever leave you.” He says.
Sherwin’s eyes widen as he talks about his love for his homeland and why seeing the Big Five is, quite rightly, high on the agenda. “The experience is something unique to Africa, and it stirs something in you that you can’t explain until you have personally come face-to-face with a lion, leopard, rhino, elephant or buffalo.”
To make the most of your experience, he suggests staying at private concessions within national parks.
“These are lodges that have special areas within the national park and so there are no boundaries. The animals patrol the area and you get to go and safari any time of your choosing. If you just think of cats, they are more active at night than during the day, so you get experiences that everyone else who has to leave the national park doesn’t. And, because the lodges are small, you will never have over-tourism.”
Sherwin says anyone planning on a safari must also do one thing before they go. “Disable geotagging on all of your electronic devices. This stops poachers from tracking your location that can be found in images you share on social media and protects the wildlife.”
Nothing beats an African sunset
Opening your horizons
Sherwin says while the intention of most travelers is to see the Big Five, there are also plenty of other fascinating wildlife to be found on an African safari and it provides an incredibly rich experience.
“My favorite are painted dogs,” Sherwin explains. “When you understand the psychology behind these animals, it is fascinating. They operate as a pack and therefore they have a higher success rate in hunting than big cats.”
He says giraffes are another incredible species to watch, particularly when they are eating given they have four stomachs.
“The joy of safari is that no two days are the same. You don’t know what’s around the corner. When you are on safari you are having your own National Geographic moment.”
“When you are there, it’s as if you connect to the rhythm of Africa. Something magical happens… it’s a feeling that comes through your bones.”
While travelers gain much from a trip to Africa, you’re giving much more than you could imagine in return. “Countries here would not survive without investment in tourism. The largest number of people employed benefit from tourism. When people travel to Africa, they not only support the livelihoods of many local communities but when they purchase local products or souvenirs they also allow culture and heritage to survive.”
He says women in particular have benefited greatly from visitors to the continent.
“They have learned the skill of beadwork. Jewelery and souvenirs are made by women who in some cases have not married or are widowed and are supporting their families.”
People say they come to Africa for the wildlife, but they return because of the people says Sherwin Banda
The key to leaving Africa feeling fulfilled, he says, is to be present.
“Travel does something nothing else does, it transforms your mind and bias. You cannot do with books or television and everyone who is willing to be present and awake and take in the full breadth of the experience will leave transformed.”