If you want to interact with nature and view wildlife, you’re no longer limited to sitting with your binos in the back seat of a Jeep. Operators and outfitters have let their imaginations run wild on the traditional safari experience – the newest adventures are more active and engaging than ever before, plus they focus on fascinating wildlife beyond the Big Five. There’s never been a more exciting time to go on safari…

Botanical Safari in South Africa

Grootbos, a luxury eco-reserve perched above Walker’s Bay in South Africa, highlights the country’s small wonders – specifically fynbos, a unique vegetation found on the Western Cape. A 4×4 botanical safari on an open-top Land Rover challenges guests to look at plants and flowers in a whole new way. The reserve’s 2,500 hectares are home to more than 700 plant species and fynbos-savvy staff will have you geeking out on protea and the blackcurrant-scented buchu herb.

Photo Safari in Botswana

In 2015, Pangolin Photo Safaris took over a five-cabin houseboat, the Pangolin Voyager, and began running trips on the Chobe River. Five-day photo workshops led by top wildlife photographers, such as Grant Atkinson, teach guests how to capture National Geographic-worthy images of elephants, hippos, crocs, and the river’s diverse bird life. Two custom-built photo boats with fully rotating chairs and state-of-the-art camera mounts allow guests to get incredible shots from the river. The deck of the houseboat is outfitted with a braai for evening barbecues and a lounge area doubles as a photo editing studio.

Heli Safari in Kenya

Red Savannah’s Kenyan helicopter safari gives travellers a bird’s eye view of the Masai Mara and the peaks of Mount Kenya. Flying between classic lodges like Richard’s Camp in the Mara and Sirikoi Eco Lodge in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy allows travellers to maximise their game-viewing time. Guests can try to spot big cats and wildebeest from a hot air balloon in the Masai Mara and take in the landscape of the Hoodoo and Painted Valleys by helicopter. Sundowner flights land at picturesque spots including Ol Karuk, where a scene from Out of Africa was filmed, and Lake Turkana in Laikipia. Experiencing northern Kenya from both the ground and sky provides a totally fresh perspective on the region’s vast landscape.

Horseback Safari in the Okavango

A trip with pioneering outfitter Okavango Horse Safaris will make it tougher to ever go back to game drives. Travellers experience a true adrenaline rush as they canter alongside giraffes and hear the splash of crocodiles spooked by the sound of horse hooves. Riders spend four to six hours a day in the saddle, traversing the palm islands, grassy flood plains, streams and mopane forests of the Okavango Delta. From your mount, you’ll have the chance to spot iconic animals like lion and elephant, as well as meerkat, spotted hyena, duiker and kudu.

Fatbike Safari in Namibia

Nature Friends Safaris has purchased a fleet of fatbikes (bicycles with oversized tires), so cycling enthusiasts can now experience Namibia on two wheels. A nine-day cycling safari takes in the wildlife and culture of Windhoek, Kamanjab, Sesfontein, Damaraland and Swakopmund. Riders will cycle amongst huge camel thorn trees and might even pass the elusive desert elephant. A good fitness level is a must, as saddle time ranges from four to eight hours a day. Your legs will feel the burn pedalling the sand dunes near Walvis Bay, but the good news is that there’s also plenty of steep downhills.

Kayak Safari in Mozambique

Ibo Island Lodge’s kayak safaris allow guests to island-hop around the Quirimbas Archipelago. Five- and seven-night itineraries are supported by a dhow and a full crew. Guides take paddlers into pristine mangrove swamps and river mouths in search of red-listed bird species. You’ll visit local fishing villages, picnic on white sand beaches and snorkel amidst pristine coral by day. At night, a chef will grill up fresh-caught lobster and you’ll sleep under the stars in an eco-fly tent and wake to the sound of waves.

SUP Safari in Madagascar

Escape+Explore has pioneered the African SUP safari. A stand-up paddle adventure in Madagascar goes from rainforest to beach. You’ll set out from protected Lema rainforest and paddle through rivers and across lakes, mobile camping along the way. The remote white beaches of Manafiafy Beach will eventually be your base for whale watching and lemur spotting. Novice stand-up paddlers can spend three nights pre-trip training along the canals of the One&Only Cape Town and paddling with penguins on the Cape Peninsula.

jm-1560x2340_bwJen Murphy is a Colorado-based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Outside, Men’s Journal and Departures.