Ah, the sights and sounds of an African safari: the majesty of nature, the pink light of dawn, the stillness of the watering hole as a lone antelope bends to drink. And the cacophony of clicks, whistles and bleeps as dozens of tourists fire off their digital cameras. In this new age of exploration, when a trek to the savanna is well within the reach of every would-be Allan Quatermain, it's easy to feel that even some of the wildest places on earth are getting a little crowded.
But there is an alternative for those who refuse to follow in the wake of another's 4x4. Pendjari National Park, 1,000 sq. mi. (2,755 sq km) in the far northwestern corner of Benin, remains in its isolation one of the most compelling spots in western Africa. The hills and cliffs of the Atakora mountain range make a lush backdrop for the elephants, monkeys, hippos and other assorted fauna that roam the terrain. More than 300 species of wonderful, and often rare, birds soar overhead, including the African fish eagle, the Togo paradise whydah and the African openbill stork.
Venturing off the beaten track means forgoing the silk sheets and ethno-chic accommodation of upscale safari tours, but Pendjari still offers picturesque campsites and a lovely lodge, Campement de la Pendjari (air-conditioned doubles go for $49), which is short on frills but big on scenery. All accommodation must be booked through Hotel Tata Somba in the nearby town of Natitingou, (229-23) 82 20 99/(229-23) 82 11 24; firstname.lastname@example.org.
You also need to have your own transport to visit Pendjari, and a four-wheel drive, which you can rent in coastal tourist centers to the south, is highly recommended as much for navigating the weird and wild 10-hour drive north as for the park itself. A visit during the dry season (February to May) is best, since the animals are drawn out of the bush in search of water. The park is closed from May to December, when it is largely flooded. Entrance fees are $12 per person, plus $4 for a vehicle. A guide will cost an extra $10 per day plus tip.