A day on safari can go a lot of different directions. You might set out on walkabout tours at dawn, followed by misty treks through verdant jungles and dusty game drives in the afternoon. There are villages to visit and people to meet, animals to see and unforgettable sights to take in—and, of course, some pampering back at camp with a refreshing alcoholic safari sundowner.
Whatever the day’s contents, as daylight edges towards dusk, safari tradition calls for a celebratory break from it all: the sundowner.
Not that we need an excuse to have ourselves a hoot of a happy hour out in the picturesque wilds. While the setting sun spills watercolors across the sky, we’ll find a place to gather with our friends, enjoy some revitalizing libations, and retell the stories we stirred up that day. No bars to be found out here—but a rocky bluff overlooking the Ngorongoro, the branchy umbrella of an acacia at the edge of the Serengeti, a tablecloth-bedecked jeep parked beside an elephant watering hole… yeah, that’ll do just fine.
But where are our manners? What can we get you to drink? A gin and tonic would be the time-honored cocktail to kick things off with, but we know a few refreshing alternatives to help you see the sun off in style. Here are a few of the best sundowner recipes to share with whomever is tending your pop-up bar in the bush.
The Dawa Safari Sundowner
The all-but-official cocktail of Kenya, the Dawa (Swahili for “medicine”) is now prescribed to bon vivants all across East Africa. This cool drink’s deceptive simplicity belies part of its charm: every bartender boasts their version, however nuanced, to be the best. Happily, that’s up to you to determine. Cheers!
2 oz vodka
1/2 oz sugar syrup
1/2 oz honey
Cut the lime into quarters and muddle in a rocks glass. Add honey, sugar syrup, and vodka. Fill with ice (crushed if possible). Stir until combined. Maisha marefu!
The African Mzizima Mule
If you’re anywhere near Tanzania, there’s bound to be a bottle of Konyagi laying about. Not quite a gin and not quite a vodka but a suitable substitute for either, Konyagi is infamous among backpackers for its punch, price, and the often woeful next-day combination of those two advantages taken at liberty. But fear not—with the electric zip of the local ginger beer and a touch of lime, it makes for an outstanding Mule.
2 oz Konyagi
5 oz Stoney (or your favorite) ginger beer
half of a lime
Squeeze the juice of half a lime into a glass and drop the spent half in.
Add Konyagi and ice. Top off with ginger beer. Stir and enjoy.
El Presidente Safari Sundowner
A rum-based variant of a martini, this cocktail presents itself like a bush-jacket-and-khakis counterpart to a martini’s full suit. Boozy and balanced with a touch of smooth sweetness, the playfully and elegant Presidente stays classy and drinks fun.
2 1/2 oz white rum
1 oz dry vermouth
1/8 oz grenadine
Combine ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry or orange twist.
(If it’s available, a half ounce of Cointreau is an excellent addition to this cocktail.)
The Stay Up Late Sundowner
The oft-forgotten gin cocktail that begs for the night to go on comes in three variations that might help you determine the evening’s plans. Try it stylish and sippable, fizzy and refreshing, or seductive and bubbly.
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz brandy
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup
Add ingredients to a shaker tin. Shake with ice. Then…
Sippable: Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
Fizzy: Strain into a rocks glass. Top with ice and soda, garnish with lemon and cherry.
Seductive: Strain into champagne flute. Add a dash of orange bitters and top with champagne. No garnish.
Fair warning! If you do find yourself following this cocktail’s eponymous advice, someone’s likely to sneak out that bottle of Konyagi again.
Try some safari sundowners of your own!
We selected these recipes for their profiles as well as their simplicity—for the sake of the limits of a modest and mobile safari bar setup. Try them at home and let us know what you think!