We get to know Shaun Stanley
The founder of Stanley Safaris
We’ve interviewed a lot of incredible people doing some amazing things, but this month, we decided to look a little closer to home. Next to be featured in our “Introducing Series” is someone most of us know well, Stanley Safaris’ founder, Shaun Stanley.
Shaun grudgingly agreed to be interviewed. He’s not one to talk too much about himself, despite the many stories he has to share from a lifetime of exploring the African continent and far beyond.
I ask him about his upbringing.
Shaun grew up in the South African city of Durban, born into a family with a love of the African wilderness. He did many safari trips growing up, everyone piling into the family’s 4×4 and driving to their destination. This included Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia over the years, trips that could easily be a 36 hour drive!
Shaun inherited his love of nature and specifically Africa from his parents, and knew that he wanted to work in the African bush, but it wasn’t until his last family trip as a kid, the year he was finishing school, that he made the decision to follow a career as a safari guide. He liked the idea of being able to be on safari (something he loved) while still meeting many different people from all over the world.
Shaun goes on to speak of how he guided for 2 years, before moving to the UK and continuing to travel from there, venturing to Asia, North and South America as well as exploring Europe. He did a huge Africa trip in 2002, driving over 22,000 km through some of Africa’s most pristine wildlife areas.
After working in the tourism industry for a number of years, Shaun began his own venture, Stanley Safaris. I ask him why he’s the best in the business.
He thinks for a moment.
“I think Stanley Safaris is the best because I was lucky enough to travel with my parents as a child. I got to know these wild destinations before there were any luxury camps and lodges, and so where I send my clients is based primarily on what I know to be the best places to truly experience Africa, rather than just seeing where the nicest lodges are.”
“At Stanley Safaris, we also only partner with a small number of lodges in each area that have been carefully selected because of their guiding experience, their location, and their community and conservation involvement. 95% of these camps are small, privately owned companies where we have a close personal relationship with either the owner or senior management, so we have direct access to the people who make decisions and we also know our guests will be in the best possible hands.”
“Our safaris are all about the experience. It isn’t about the thread-count or whether or not you have a private butler. We want our guests to have the best accommodation, the best foods, the best wines, but the luxury element of our trips is more focused on being in the wilderness and having the best access to it possible.”
“And because we design our safaris with this focus, we’re able to create trips that are unique to our clients. I’ll never send a client an itinerary before I’ve spoken to them, and we don’t have any packages we just send out, because there’s so many options. Each couple and family is different, and so I get to know them on an individual basis before recommending something than I think will be best for them.”
You can see Shaun really loves this part of the process.
“That’s my favourite part of the job,” he says. “I love the variety of the work that I do, that no day is the same, but the very best part is dealing with the clients. Being able to guide them through the safari experience – from planning the trip, to getting excited as its about to start; getting loads of photos and WhatsApp messages while they’re on safari, and finally hearing their feedback at the end. It’s great to see people fall in love with Africa like I did all those years ago.”
Stanley Safaris has been in existence since November of 2020, long enough for Shaun to have quite the list of trips under his belt, while still being able to recall them all. I ask him which has been his favourite to plan.
“I don’t have a favourite because I put a bit of myself into all the itineraries I create. Every trip I design for a client is something I’d like to do. I’d never send a client somewhere I wouldn’t want to go. I get more excited about certain trips like Zambia, because it’s a tougher sell. The Zambia board of tourism doesn’t do a lot of international marketing so it doesn’t get a lot of international exposure like Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa do. I also get excited about off-the-beaten-track destinations like Madagascar or Congo. These aren’t your normal itineraries so those are great to plan too.”
I ask about Shaun about his dream safari destination.
“It’s a difficult question to answer because every destination is very different, and that’s why you can come back to Africa time and time again. Even between countries very close together, the culture is different, the landscape is different and the experiences are different,” he says carefully.
“I’ve got a very soft spot for Botswana because of the low impact tourism model that they’ve built. It’s an incredible place to visit because you have these vast tracks of wilderness where you only have 12 beds. You’re getting a very exclusive safari experience, not queueing to see animals or having 50 vehicles around a lion. The landscape of the Okavango Delta is incredible. The waterways and islands are really beautiful. Then there’s the isolation of the Makgadikgadi Pans where you can quadbike and sleep out in this vast nothingness of sky. That mix of experiences and adventure is really special.”
“The people and guiding experience you find in Zimbabwe makes it incredible too. A guide there trains for at least 7 years before becoming qualified, so guiding is a profession, not just a gap year that seems like a fun thing to do. No matter how many times I go on safari in Zimbabwe, I’m always learning new things from the guides.”
“Zambia is incredible for its walking safaris. I love walking safaris and Zambia is the home of that experience. The guides take every opportunity they can to go out on foot, and for me that’s a very cool way of exploring the landscape.”
“I love Madagascar because it is completely unique to everything else in Africa and in the world. Tanzania and Kenya are amazing because of the migration. Being surrounded by millions of wildebeest is incredible. And Kenya also has a lot of small, privately owned camps, which ties in well with what we are doing. And of course, seeing the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda is special. Spending time with them, being able to look into a gorilla’s eyes and see them looking back at you – being able to have that connection, is unlike anything else on earth.”
From the moment you engage Shaun in conversation, you can see how much he loves his work. He has a love for Africa that transcends borders and stereotypes. It’s important to him that his clients enjoy real luxury on their safari, but far more valuable is the chance to see this raw, wild, often ruthless continent without the boundaries we so often set for ourselves. He wants all his clients to experience the Africa of his youth, the continent he loves so much, that he shaped his life around sharing.
He can’t wait to take his two children on safari to experience the beauty of Africa alongside him. Ally, his four year old daughter has already spent time on safari in South Africa, but he wants to take her to Kenya next. Mario, who’s two, is still too young to really enjoy it, but as soon as he’s old enough, Shaun wants to start doing South African trips as a family. He wants his children to grow up appreciating the wild, developing into individuals with a love and respect for the incredible planet we call home.
With Shaun heading up Stanley Safaris, you can expect an itinerary of only the best locations in Africa, designed specifically for you and your family. If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime safari experience that will have you dreaming about coming back to Africa, he’s the man to help you plan. Once you’re bitten by the Africa bug, you won’t ever get it out of your system. Ask Shaun – he knows.