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Image: Shompole Lodge, Kenya
Courtesy of The Safari and Conservation Company
A private conservancy in Shompole, Kenya, offers sweeping views of the Great Rift Valley’s volcanic hills. The Shompole Lodge stands near Lake Natron, which is one of the few remaining flamingo-breeding habitats in Africa.
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updated 10/1/2011 9:05:45 AM ET 2011-10-01T13:05:45

These days, going on safari doesn’t mean having to rough it. From Kenya to Zambia, five-star safari camps in Africa are plentiful. Think thatched suites with wooden terraces, in-room plunge pools and even private helipads.

Slideshow: 10 luxurious African safari camps

Believe it or not, these safari camp amenities aren’t uncommon. At the Royal Malewane, in South Africa, for example, six stand-alone gazebos have four-poster beds and window-side Victorian baths. The Little Shompole house at the Shampole camp, in Kenya, has its own staff, guide and butler. Meanwhile, the Safari Lodge at Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, in South Africa, has swing bridges that link the tree house suites.

The real reason to go on a safari though is not for the accommodations — it’s for the wildlife-spotting. But as safari travel has become more abundant, so has access to game, and many trackers find themselves in line with a mob of other ranger trucks filled with visitors all after the same experience: an intimate view of the world’s most illusory animals. This can be avoided, however, if you stay at the right camp. That’s why Departures chose 10 exceptional properties based on their fancy lodging, exclusivity of game drives (many of which last three to eight hours), and unique access in the bush (truffle hunts anyone?).

These safaris come with some strings attached, though — namely good behavior. Being so close to lions, rhinos and zebras (oh my!) might be exhilarating, but make sure that excitement doesn’t get the best of you. Observe the animals silently and with a minimum of disturbance to their natural activities. “Loud talking on game drives may frighten the animals away,” says experienced ranger and Masai Mara native Timothy Kinyamal Kiok of &Beyond’s Bateleur Camp.

Never attempt to approach a wild animal on foot, especially near your lodge or campsite where the animals have become accustomed to humans. Do not try to attract the animals’ attention by imitating their sounds, clapping, throwing objects or making any other disruptive noises. This could cause the animals to be unpredictable. “They can become skittish in this situation,” says Kiok.

Whatever you do, protect the habitat. “Off-road driving causes erosion and encourages the unwanted plant species,” adds Kiok, adding that off-road driving is not allowed in most parts of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and many other reserves around Africa. Don’t smoke — the dry African bush ignites easily. And remove litter and waste. (“If you bring it in, carry it out” is Kiok’s simple rule.) With that: happy tracking.

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Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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