Wild African Trek in Animal Kingdom
A privately guided VIP expedition offering close encounters with exotic African wildlife in their native habitat
Swahili for amazing. Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek, a three-hour guided expedition of the Harambe Reserve, is nothing short of ajabu. Take magnificent wildlife, lush landscapes, picture-perfect backgrounds and delicious cuisine and you barely get a glimpse of all this exclusive VIP tour has to offer. From breathtaking, up-close looks at the animals to the ability to view special, restricted areas of the Serengeti, the Wild Africa Trek is not to be missed.
Your tour begins adjacent to the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari. It is advised to check in approximately twenty minutes before your tour. Since you will be hiking, crossing suspension bridges on a harness and being quite mobile, participants are allowed to bring almost nothing besides a water bottle (which will be provided), sunglasses and a camera (as long as you can fasten it to the vest you will be wearing). Free lockers are provided so no cell phones, wallets, etc. can come along with you. And you won’t need them. You will want to focus all of your attention on the the majesty and incredible encounters awaiting your arrival.
After being weighed in (participants must weigh between 45 and 300 lbs), you are fitted with a special vest/harness, and your adventure begins. On this day, my companion and I found we were the only two guests who had booked the 10:15am tour so we had Aaron and Jenny, our amiable and outgoing guides, all to ourselves. And although it was just the two of us on this expedition, the tour can accommodate a maximum of 12 people.
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We began by taking a quick trek through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail past the exotic birds and hippo viewing area until we veered off the path and onto the special hiking area which would lead us deeper into the dense wilderness and served as the gateway to our African adventure.
Without a doubt, the trek certainly starts off on a high point. After climbing onto a special ledge we found ourselves looking down onto a hushed, shady pond and a magnificent hippo while a member of the hippo animal care staff delved further into the behavior, anatomy and characteristics of these massive mammals and their history at the park. It was feeding time and we watched as the hippo gracefully glided through the water to devour lettuce heads. And then right on cue, as the guide spoke of the hippo’s numerous teeth and how they use them not for chewing as much as intimidation, the hippo opened his jaw to reveal some enormously impressive molars.
After hiking through the twisting wooded paths (make sure you wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes with support, suitable for hiking) and over roots and branches, all the while on the lookout for more animals nearby, we came to our first suspension bridge. The guides harnessed us, and as we walked the bridge we saw a herd of hippos on our left and a collection of crocs on our right. What a view! Many feet below us, the familiar open-air safari vehicles passed, and the guests seemed amazed to see us walking across the sky. Take your time walking across (unless you are not keen on heights) and savor the stunning scenery enveloping you. It is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the tour ended here, it would have been well worth the price already.
After coming to a landing and taking some photos (the guides take professional photos during your tour so that you will have some spectacular shots of the wildlife as well as yourself), you set off on a second suspension bridge over the crocodile area. Seeing them up-close and swimming directly below you is exhilarating, to say the least.
Next we were given an even more personal encounter with these huge reptiles. Again we were harnessed and walked out onto a type of rocky cliff (about 10 feet or so above the animals with their crooked smiles) and were able to get an incredibly thrilling look. Another guide, Amanda, who specializes in these animals, answered questions and explained in greater detail about the reptiles and their behavior in the wild. She even introduced us to a croc named Lethargic who is less than active, even at meal time!
After re-filling water bottles, we climbed into a private safari vehicle and were given cooling cloths to help us feel refreshed and also a pair of binoculars as we were about to embark on our ride through the savannah. Mike, our driver, gave us many much-appreciated opportunities to stop and get some fabulous views of the animals which were plentiful that day: gentle giraffes, playful elephants, grazing gazelle, regal lions and even some zebra (which that day had been re-introduced into the safari). From the rocky wetlands to the shaded forest to the tranquil pools, the savannah seemed like paradise this day.
Just when you may think the spectacle ends, you are brought to the edge of heaven for sure. At a little Boma (“cooking place” – not to be confused with the Boma restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge), we were served some traditional African cuisine amidst the most striking backdrop one could imagine. This may be the most perfectly gorgeous spot in all of Disney. I have to say that the view alone here was worth the price of the tour. You must see it! At the open-air hut we were served a lovely presentation of African fare in a two-tiered circular container along with a jug of the famed Jungle Juice (a refreshing combination of orange, passion fruit and guava). As always, the juice was fruity and delicious with a lovely citrusy fragrance. And especially welcome after a rather humid morning.
The first tier consisted of a trio of smaller circular containers, all brimming with bright colors which seemed to mimic the lush landscape surrounding us. Bright yellow curried chicken salad, a splendid fruit salad laced with a ginger and mint marinade and a duo of dried meats (beef and prosciutto). The chicken salad was delicious. The curry was used sparingly which was lovely as it didn’t hijack the flavor of this dish. The fruit salad may have looked a bit better than it was. The fruit was a bit watery and not very sweet, but when you have a view like this and giraffes a few feet away, who really cares? The dried meats were salted nicely and had a delightful smoky flavor.
Tier tour offered more tempting delicacies. We indulged on a lovely tomato hummus and pita rounds. The hummus was probably the best of the African-inspired snacks. It had a great roasted flavor. The smoked salmon roulade with dill was flavorful with a pleasant texture. The two tandoori shrimp were zesty with a nice infusion of spice.
Feeling relaxed and refreshed (but hating to leave this idyllic spot), we boarded our safari vehicle again for the last leg of our tour albeit a very important one. Aaron and Jenny stressed the importance of conservation and some of the projects Disney is involved in to help the plight of the African elephant and other regional species. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is actively seeking ways to protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs. In fact, a portion of the cost of your tour goes directly to this fund.
At the end of the tour, you are given a chance to cast a vote for which projects/animals you want the conservation fund to sponsor. It is a special and hopefully eye-opening way to take a more active part in helping preserve the beauty of the world’s wildlife.
As a parting gift, the trekkers receive a special commemorative Wild Africa Trek pin. And a reminder that within 3-4 weeks, you will receive the photo CD of all the lovely mementos taken on your tour.
My heart almost felt heavy as I had to leave. The morning had not only been fun and entertaining but inspiring and moving. I can honestly say that in probably all my hundreds of trips to Disney over the course of a couple of decades, the Wild Africa Trek is one of the greatest things I have experienced.
As we bid “Kwaheri Ya Kuonana” (until next time) to our guides, we felt one with nature and, although already avid animal lovers and active proponents of animal conservation and protection, we felt a renewed spirit of dedication and admiration of Disney for taking such an important stand and also for creating such an incredibly special experience. The Wild Africa Trek is not to be missed.
FOOD: Traditional African-inspired fare in a picturesque setting. And although the food was bursting with color and exotic flavors, in all fairness, wood chips would taste good at this locale. The view alone at the Boma is awe-inspiring. The delicious food is the bonus. (Little ones may not be too fond of the cuisine)
ATMOSPHERE: How do you rate the sheer majesty of being this close to the African wilderness? I haven’t found much to compare to the scenery that is part of this tour.
SERVICE: Our guides were amusing, friendly, informative and highly enthusiastic. They also served as photographers and were quick to take dozens of shots. And while they seemed to be having a ball along with us, they also were able to change tone and stress the very unfortunate situations which exist today which make the conservation fund a very real necessity. A huge “Asanti Sana” (thank you very much) to them.
TIPS: Although the reservation line will stress the amount of hiking you do, there is honestly not that much walking/hiking involved. While you should be in good health and not suffer any major physical limitations, you should not be deterred by hearing it is a three-hour tour. Much of that time is spent riding in the safari vehicle, snacking and just taking in the beauty of the close-up views of the wildlife. Wear comfortable clothes and keep hydrated, especially when taking tours during the summer months. Participants must be at least 8 years old and 48 inches in height and must weigh between 45 and 300 lbs. The cost of the tour ranges seasonally and can be between $189 and $249 per person. Remember, though, you also need to pay for park admission. Nevertheless, the trek is still well worth the price.