THE NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE

The last time I visited the Ngorongoro Crater, I stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, and as we were on our way down to the crater floor, we passed a very imposing entrance. When I enquired of my driver as to the lodge contained within, he whispered to me in a reverent hush that it was the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge owned by & Beyond. From this, I got an indication that this was not your ordinary ‘run of the mill’ type of accommodation, and decided that I had to see it for myself one day. After all, they say seeing is believing.

From the time we drove in through the imposing entrance, everything was just perfect. As we drove into the lodge, we were directed to the ‘South Camp”. I could see strange looking buildings shaped like twin huts with a chimney at the end, grouped together. The murram road leading to our camp, the lush vegetation all around us and the swirling mist, all combined to give us a feeling of adventure and excitement.

As soon as the vehicle came to a halt, we were given an extremely warm welcome by our camp manager Ali, and butler, yes our very own butler Nemes. Concerned that we were tired after our drive from Nairobi, they insisted that the check in formalities be done in the comfort of our room.

What a surprise awaited us when we opened the door to our room! Who knew such luxury existed behind the simple door? Chandeliers, raw silk curtains, velveteen bedspreads, fresh roses almost everywhere, exotic smelling lotions and shampoo in elegant glass bottles, a superbly placed bathtub with a view of the crater floor, and not forgetting the loo with its own view of the crater floor.

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A blazing fire was lit for us, and some delicious goodies were placed there to tempt our palates. Some sherry before dinner? ………….no problem! A decanter of sherry and some crystal glasses should you wish to indulge. We were pampered and spoilt rotten.

The butler sends a Maasai guard to escort you to dinner at the time you request, and serves up a delicious 4 course dinner. The dining room was magnificent too…raw silk curtains, elegant period furniture, gold motifs on the ceiling and should you wish to visit the washroom during dinner, you are in for a surprise! Located in a separate building, the washrooms are linked by a cozy lounge area….again, lots of silk, crystal, and lovely smelling soaps and lotions.

While you are enjoying dinner, busy hands are restoring the pristine appearance of your bathroom – replacing bath & hand towels, turning down your bed, and warming your nightclothes in the electric blanket. I can’t tell you what a treat it was to come in from the raw, cold wind outside, to a roaring fire and warm nightwear.

We spent a blissful night, heads resting on fluffy pillows, and encased in warmth. You morning wake up call comes with the yummiest, crunchiest homemade biscuits.

After breakfast, we explored our surroundings. There is a view of the crater from every corner and angle of the room. and the room opens out into a terrace that gives you a magnificent view of the crater floor. Plump cushions are on hand, should you wish to relax on the terrace.

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The day was spent on the crater floor, looking for game. Come lunch time, and I was feeling really sorry for all those people not staying at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. All they had a was a picnic lunch box with a sandwich, boiled egg, fruits etc. Us?….well we had a picnic table with chairs, a veritable feast spread out on the table…potato salad, green vegetable salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, tomato salad, fresh bread, drinks, cheese and crackers and to round it off, hot tea or coffee with cookies. Need I say more?

Returning to the lodge, we visited Tree Camp, a must for honeymooners. All in all, it was a memorable stay and I left the lodge with many a backward glance, and sighs of regret that I could not extend my stay.

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WASINI ISLAND

On all my trips to the Kenyan coast, I have always seen posters advertising Wasini Island and have heard such rave reviews , that I thought, what better way to judge it than to visit it myself? That’s how I found myself sitting on the Wasini Island bus at the ungodly hour of 7.30 am being transported to Shimoni. We arrived Shimoni at around 9 am, and were briefed on the day’s events, over a hot & welcome cup of coffee. All the non-divers, of which I was one, were herded into a majestic dhow and off we set.

The sail was unfurled, but as the day was overcast and the sea quite choppy, it had to be tied down again. Oh well!! It gave our male passengers an opportunity to flex their muscles and feel part of the crew.

On we sailed, being fed fruit juices, water and watermelon (don’t worry the dhow boasts a proper marine toilet), for about an hour during which time the sun, I am happy to report, came out, flooding the sky with a brilliant hue, and we passed the twin islands of Mpunguti wa Juu and Mpunguti wa Chini. Everyone on board was excited, anticipating a beautiful day ahead. We anxiously searched the sea for dolphins, but saw no sign of these elusive creatures.

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Later, we arrived at the designated snorkeling site. Those who were trying the fun dive remained on board, whereas those going for a snorkel hopped into the smaller boat and were rowed across to the sandbar.

The captain of the dhow accompanied us, much to my relief, and was going around making sure everyone was okay. I put on my mask to see if it was ok, and all of a sudden, claustrophobia set in. There was no way I was going into deep water with that! However, according to the captain…that was not on! With the help of a tube around my waist, he guided me and a few others, into much deeper waters. All I can say is that I am truly grateful to him as I would have missed out on a whole other world down there. Plants of every color, tropical fish of brilliant hues- all waving gently in the current. It was magnificent and I could have spent hours looking in on this wonderful world.

Alas, we only spent a little over an hour there, during which time I got to spend a little time sunbathing on the sandbar. The pristine sand, the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, and the call of the birds, not forgetting the heat of the sun, all served to soothe my spirits. Truly a beautiful place to relax. En route to Wasini Island, we spotted 2 dolphins. Just our luck, they belonged to a species which is extremely shy. The pair kept appearing but were too quick to capture on film. Well, I’ll just have to go back.

Lunch was served at Wasini Island. Getting off the dhow into the smaller boat was ok, but then you had to get off the boat and wade through the sea to get to the shore. Lunch – having heard so much about this, I was eagerly awaiting this and was not disappointed. I was ravenous after the day’s activities and began wolfing down the fried coconut strips and fish bites. Big mistake as this was followed by a whole pile of crab. The waiter, very kindly, showed us how to crack the crab and dip it in the ginger sauce. This was heaven for crab lovers, witnessed by the loud sounds of cracking coming from all the tables. This heavenly dish was followed by barbecued fish (a whole fish to yourself) in a coconut sauce with chapatis and rice. Then came some fruit, and finally to round off the meal, some delicious kahawa (spiced coffee) and sesame seed balls.

Who could move after such a meal? So, I took the easiest option after lunch..snoozing on day beds laid out overlooking the ocean. As soon as my head hit the fat, plump cushion, I was off in dreamland, lulled by the fresh breeze coming in from the sea, while others engaged in various activities like walks and a visit to the village.

Reluctantly I dragged myself away from my secluded spot at 5 pm, and made my way to shore, to board the boat. This was a little tricky as the tide was in, but I was soon safely aboard the dhow. A run to Shimoni and then we boarded the bus for the trip back to the hotel. For those interested in the Shimoni caves, a visit was made on our return to Shimoni. This is where the slaves were held during the days of the slave trade, and you can see the iron chains and other paraphernalia related to this. As I get claustrophobic in small, dark places I decided to give it a miss.

As we drove back to our hotel in Diani, I looked around at the different nationalities present on the bus. Everyone had made friends and were busy discussing the wonderful things they saw and did that day. With a contented sigh, I settled back in my seat. I had finally done Wasini!!

More Fun at Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservancy

The Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservancy is only a 3 hour drive from Nairobi and has a number of excitingly different activities you can partake of, making this a fun conservancy to visit & enjoy. Most of the activities listed below are available at a cost.

Game drives

The traditional way to view game works very well here in the Conservancy as they have 90,000 acres of land filled with wildlife like elephant, lion, hyena, wild dog, buffalo, cheetah, rhino and tons of plains game. The best time for this activity is in the early morning before breakfast, and evenings after sundowners, though game drives are available throughout the day, and at nights too, after an early dinner.DSC_0572

Visiting the Endangered Species Boma

Three of the world’s last 7 remaining northern white rhinos live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in this boma, and you can have the opportunity to meet 2 of these rhinos up close and personal (visits to the famous rhino Sudan have been restricted due to health reasons). Listen to their amazing story from the keepers who attend to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The timing for this activity is 0830 hours and 1600 hours.

Bush Walk

Walking in the African bush is a magical experience which awakens all 5 senses. Explore the conservancy with an experienced armed ranger who will share with you his expertise on the flora and fauna of the Conservancy. Learn to identify different animal tracks and spoors as you follow in the footsteps of the animals living in the African bush. The activity is available between 0630 – 0830 hours and 1530 – 1730 hours.

Dog tracking

Ol Pejeta Conservancy has a highly trained anti-poaching canine unit which is open to visitors at 0830 hours daily. Interact with the dog keepers and test the dog’s ability to sniff you out by hiding in the nearby bush, while the bloodhounds are let loose on your trail.DSC_0409

Riding with rhinos

In addition to visiting the northern white rhino in the Endangered Species Boma, you can also ride within this area on Ol Pejeta safari horses. The enclosure is predator free and you will encounter herds of Grevy’s zebra, Jackson’s hartebeest and many other species including southern white rhino and a variety of plains game. Finish off the ride with tea and cake at Morani’s restaurant. This activity is available at 1000 hours and 1500 hours, but is only open to experienced riders.

Behind the scenes chimps

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The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place to see chimps in Kenya, and here, you will get to visit them during their feeding time. Watch the discipline which they exercise during feeding, and also the interactions with each other within their enclosures. This activity is available between 1200 – 1300 hours and 1630 – 1800 hours.

Morani Information Centre

Visit this centre which is named after Morani the rhino who used to live near the centre. Learn about the different wildlife species on the Conservancy, from anatomy to behaviour to habitat. Finally explore the converted rhino transport crate to understand what a rhino may feel like when it is being moved. The Centre is open daily from 0900 to 1700 hours and is free to visit.

 

5 TIPS FOR PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY

Taking a long holiday requires some planning and forethought as you will be away from the comforts of your home for a while, and any mistakes made in the planning and execution of the trip are likely to be magnified. Proper planning will allow you to obtain the maximum benefit from your trip. To help with your planning, I have identified 3 articles that offer sage advice on travel planning.

The first article is from Tripwolf – Common travel planning mistakes, where some common planning mistakes are highlighted.

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The 2nd report comes from US News – Travel where the writer offers 6 Simple Tips for planning your first international trip. .

 

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The 3rd article can be found on Traveller – 11 Mistakes every first time traveller makes. Here the writer advises on how to avoid making these mistakes.

 

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From my experience in planning holidays for my clients, I would suggest keeping in mind these 5 tips when planning a long trip.

  • Trying to do too many things in one trip – leave yourself some flexibility to be able to do things on the spur of the moment. Also give yourself some time to discover the authenticity of the destination by spending time with locals and not rushing around.
  • Research the best season to visit your chosen destination – also don’t forget to check out any holidays, festivals or special events that may impact your stay.
  • Ensure you have the right vaccinations well in advance – some vaccinations have a long incubation period so taking them early ensures you don’t have to delay your trip.
  • Packing too much– you will probably end up wearing only half of what you take so pack conservatively. Also don’t purchase clothes and accessories specially for the trip as this would be an unecessary expense. Leave space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  • Venture beyond the guidebook – guidebooks are meant to be used a guide and not a bible on the attractions of the destination. Strike out on your own to discover the hidden gems on your trip.

Follow these 5 simple tips for a great stress free holiday.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination,  https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/  and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .

 

Cooking up a storm at Angama Mara

 

Persian Pilau, Puris & Indian Omelettes, Parathas, Chicken Curry, Kulfi, Nankhatais,

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Potato Curry, Kuku Paka….these were the order of the day at the luxurious Angama Mara Camp, at the beginning of the last week in April. The Camp’s sparkling, sterile kitchens were a hive of activity – chopping, baking, whisking, basting, frying and best of all, tasting.

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My sister and I were at Angama Mara, to teach their chefs the proper way to cook Indian food, courtesy of our gracious host, Nicky Fitzgerald. So , do we own a restaurant in Nairobi, or entertain a lot, cooking for maybe 50 to 60 people at a go? Neither is true….we are actually tour operators who love food. So how did this invitation to teach Angama’s chefs come about? Fate played a very big hand here, and it really is true that you need to be in the right place at the right time for things to happen.

Late last month in March, my sister was on the flight back from Serian Camp in the Mara, and Nicky happened to be on the same flight . Nicky heard my sister saying she was a tour operator, and as my sister was talking about the different camps and lodges, Nicky was all ears. As they flew over Angama Mara, they began to talk about the Camp, introductions were made  and my sister found out that Nicky was the owner of the Camp. That  short  45 minute flight was literally the start of it all …..

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Enter Kate (Nicky’s daughter) and myself…we were both at Wilson airport to meet our people and after the introductions were done, Kate began to talk to her mum about a recipe book they were compiling, using dishes they had introduced at the Camp. My curiosity was piqued and on hearing about the project, I offered to help them with Indian dishes, if required.

Nicky took us up on our offer, and we flew down to Angama Mara for a fantastic stay of 2 nights in late April. I have never worked in a Camp kitchen before (always being on the other end, as a guest) and it was so much fun. Collins, the head chef, has a superbly talented team, and I soon had them chopping & peeling away – they always rushed to do my bidding.

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Nicky was there, recording every step of the process, and finally, everyone got to taste the finished product. The management staff would pop in every now & again – I think the smells coming from the kitchen were so tantalizing that they couldn’t resist coming in.

We were treated like one of the family, and we all sat down together for meals, and sampled the Indian dishes made that day. Even some lucky guests were treated to some of the delicacies and now Angama Mara has a genuine Indian breakfast  special on its menu.

Of course, Nicky & Collins made sure we took some time out to enjoy game drives and a game walk  –  the driver Moses, and guide Fred, who looked after us were great and we had a memorable time.

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Angama Mara is truly special in that they have anticipated any need you may have, and taken care of it, and I have never felt so pampered at any other place in the Mara. Behind all of this, is the magnanimous spirit of Nicky Fitzgerald who truly wants her guests to be comfortable  – even going as far as to get her chefs to learn Indian cooking for the benefit of her Indian guests.

I will miss the cooks at Angama Mara, right from Joseph who handled all my preparations in advance, to Corry who picked up the techniques of naan, parathas and puris so quickly, to Irene who fries the best onions, Katana who used to finish all the food, not forgetting John who made a fantastic Indian omelette for breakfast on the last day.

Collins, Shannon, Tyler and Nicky are like family now, and I for one, can’t wait to go back to Angama Mara, hopefully with new recipes in tow.

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10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN AFRICAN SAFARI

  1. Accommodation

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Although you may be booked to stay in a luxury Camp or Lodge, the accommodation will not be like staying in a city hotel. This does not mean that you have to ‘rough it’, but do take note that most Camps do not have airconditioning. A lot of the Camps don’t have proper shower facilities but use ‘safari showers’ – a contraption where water is filled in a canvas bag which is then hoisted up and fitted with a shower nozzle. Also a lot of Camps do not have running water in the individual tents, or even 24 hours electricity. However, all this serves to bring you closer to nature and you will enjoy your safari even more.

  1. Driving there

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If taking a road safari, the ride is likely to be bumpy and not very comfortable, as you will be travelling in a 4WD safari vehicle, more suited to savanna grasslands than tarmac roads.

  1. Flying there

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Flying to the various game parks and reserves is an awesome experience, but do know that if travelling in East Africa, these small planes can make upto 3 stops before landing at your airstrip. This is to drop off and pick up passengers from other Camps & Lodges, and is true for the return journey as well. If you are nervous about flying in smaller aircraft, you need to check on this to take this into consideration.

  1. Mobile reception

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Most places in the bush have poor cell phone reception, so more often than not, you will not be able to upload pictures and other digital data. In extreme cases, even calling out is difficult and you may need to stand in a certain spot to capture the elusive signal, just to make a phone call. Once you are out on a game drive, the reception seems to get better.

  1. Bugs, bugs and more bugs

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There will be bugs in your room, your bathroom and your vehicle, as well as the dining and reception areas of the Camp/Lodge. If going on a walk, you will be accosted by flies, mosquitoes and all sorts of flying insects. Well, this is Africa ….so get used to them.

  1. Food, glorious food

You will never go hungry on safari – there is an abundance of food, starting from the early morning cookie with your wake up tea/coffee, to the breakfast buffet, salad lunches, decadent afternoon teas, sundowner nibbles, and delicious dinner menus. Your day is filled with fresh, tasty and yummy cuisine.

  1. Early starts

Being on safari means waking up before dawn and leaving your tent as the sun starts to show in the sky. However, don’t worry….you won’t be sent out without sustenance as early morning tea/coffee is served in your tent before you leave for your early morning game drive, or balloon safari.

  1. Rest room stops

There are no toilets on game drives which could last upto 4 hours, and the only alternative is to use the bush. Don’t forget to carry spare tissues and practice your squats beforehand. If you are squeamish about going in the bush, try to restrict your fluid intake until you are back at the Camp/Lodge.

  1. Extremes of weather

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You may be exposed to extreme weather conditions, ranging from chilly early mornings on morning game drives and balloon safaris where you will need a light jacket or sweater, or gloriously hot, sunny late mornings and early afternoons, where even a t-shirt is an intrusion. Temperatures will drop at sunset, so if heading out for a night game, don’t forget the blankets, Maasai or otherwise. The key to comfort here, is layering.

  1. Hydration

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It is very easy to slip into a routine where drinking water does not play a role, especially in Camps & Lodges where soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits are included in the cost. But do remember to keep hydrated as this will prevent illnesses that come about due to dehydration.

 

Take these 10 things into consideration for your African safari, and get ready for an epic safari!

 

 

5 TIPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING

A gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda is an unforgettable experience, and to ensure success on your trek, we have crossed all the Ts and dotted the Is for you…here is a list of great tips for a successful gorilla trek.

Dress for success

Be prepared for muddy trails and changeable weather so dress in layers, ensuring that the outermost layer is rain proof as rainstorms can happen at any time.  Opt for long pants rather than shorts, and tuck pants in socks to avoid ants (it is common to find red ants along the trail).

Your footwear needs to cover your ankles as you may have to wade through ankle deep mud, so get a pair of high hiking boots with good traction. Wear gloves to protect you from insects and the nettles and also to help grip the vegetation. Carry some insect repellant.

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Carry some food & water

Once you enter the park, there is no place to buy food or water so make sure you carry some snacks (i.e energy bars) and water in a small backpack. Some treks last well into the afternoon so you will need some snacks to keep you going.

 

Communicate your fitness level to your guide

Rwanda is situated on a high altitude (1500 m above sea level), and the hike can take you to over 3000m. The treks are anything from an hour to over 8 hours so communicate your level of fitness to the guide to ensure you are placed in the right group. This will avoid you slowing down the group and struggling to keep up. Having said that, expect a long hike so be in the best physical shape you can be before the trip. Most people ask to trek to the Susa group as this is the group that Dian Fossey studied, but it is the most difficult one to trek to.

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Hire a porter

Porters can be found at the trek starting point and you can hire one for about US$ 10. Not only will they carry your bag, but they will help you navigate the steep & slippery slopes.

 

Ensure your camera is ready

Flash photography is not permitted as it disturbs the gorillas to make sure you know how to turn this off. Understand your camera well so as to give you the best pictures possible – photos of gorillas in the forest tend to turn out dark due to underexposure, so you need to shoot with a high ISO. Carry your camera equipment in a waterproof bag to avoid it getting wet.

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Now that you have everything in place, you can comfortably book your gorilla safari.

 

5 TIPS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR AFRICAN SAFARI

A safari in Africa is an incredible experience, and for the safari newbie it can be a little overwhelming. The right safari etiquette will allow you to take maximum advantage of the wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as ensure your fellow travelers enjoy the trip. As a tour operator, I have witnessed literally hundreds of people on safari, and I know the importance of the right safari etiquette. If you are travelling to Africa for the first time, there are 3 articles I have identified that will help you with the right etiquette.

The first article is from GoAfrica – What NOT to do on Safari in Africa, where the writer gives some tips on things to refrain from doing on safari, based on her personal experiences as an Africa Travel Expert.

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The second article is from Sabi Sands Reserve in Kruger National Park – 5 Things not to do on a Safari, and this highlights some relevant safety tips while on safari.

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The third article is from Landlopers – 5 Things you should know before going on Safari. This article touches on some misconceptions people may have about African Safaris.

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Drawing on my experience as a tour operator, I would recommend these 5 tips for correct safari etiquette on safari.

  • Don’t expect to see the Big Five on your first game drive – wildlife are unpredictable and there are no guarantees that you will see it all.
  • Keep your distance from the wildlife – remember these are wild animals, and will charge if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware of the people around you – refrain from shouting or talking too loudly and using your cell phone on a game drive as loud noises can scare away the animals. Muting your camera is a good practice.
  • Leave no trace – ensure you don’t throw away plastic and other rubbish in the bush, as the animals might eat and choke on it.
  • Always listen to your guide – he is responsible for your safety, while also looking out for the wildlife and the environment.

Follow these 5 simple tips to get the best out of your African safari.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination, https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/ and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .

 

AFRICA’S BEST DESTINATIONS, BY MONTH

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So your dream is to travel to Africa….but Africa is a huge continent with a vast array of landscapes, wildlife and culture, so where do you go? How do you choose? How do you make sure you are not missing out on iconic experiences? Just for you, we have, the perfect calendar for making the most of Africa, month by month, to enable you to plan your African safari.

JANUARY

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The Southern Serengeti & the Western Ngorongoro Conservation Area – January heralds the start of the wildebeest calving season where thousands of wildebeest are born every day, all dropping at the same time. The predator action is intense, with huge lion prides, & great concentrations of cheetah patrolling the plains, and spectacular kills can be witnessed over the following weeks.

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia – one of the coldest months on the mountain, this is a great time to visit as the skies are very clear and there is little chance of rain.

 

FEBRUARY

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Diani Beach, Kenya – Gorgeous weather with long, hot days and balmy nights, temperatures never dropping below 30 degrees C. Perfect water clarity  and visibility in the ocean. Whale sharks visit the coastline in huge numbers during this time so this is best time to see the sharks here, when out on a snorkeling excursion.

The Seychelles – after the turtle nesting season, this is the time the baby turtles hatch and scuttle back to the sea. Your chance to see this in action.

MARCH

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Botswana pans

Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana – a series of pans interspersed with sandy desert , these are large salt flats, believed to be one of the largest in the world. When the rains come, they transform the dry, salty clay into a water wonderland that attracts flamingoes in their thousands as well as huge numbers of zebra.

Mt Kenya region, Kenya – warm, toasty accommodation in which to take refuge from the rains. Venture up the mountain on horseback for a lovely breakfast on the slopes of Mt Kenya.

APRIL

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CHYULU

Chyulu Hills, Kenya – as this is the low season in Kenya, it is the perfect time to take a flying safari to the Chyulu Hills, which is otherwise quite costly. Enjoy the pristine wilderness, with its views of Mt Kilimanjaro and the Chyulu Hills, and interact with the Maasai people while helping them retain their heritage.

Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe – the Falls are in peak flow due to the summer rains, and the tower of spray is visible from as far away as 30 miles. The spray is so thick that it rains upwards, and through the mist, you can catch glimpses of a wall of water thundering down with a roar – truly an exhilarating experience.

MAY

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Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya – After the rains, the reserve is lush and green & the elephants are feeling  fat and frisky, the females anticipating the arrival of the dominant musth bulls.

Botswana – the weather is perfect, with warm, sunny days and mild nights, though with a touch of chill as we head into winter. Large herds of elephants start appearing in the Chobe River, and the Okavango Delta start filling up with water. Most animals head for the Delta as the rest of the plains dry up.

JUNE

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Lewa Conservancy, Kenya – the Lewa marathon takes place in the Conservancy on the last weekend in June. This marathon is unique in that it is run in the Conservancy, home to rhino, elephant and a large assortment of plains game, with breathtaking views of Mt Kenya in the south, and Samburu and Mt Ololokwe in the north. It draws competitors and spectators from all over the world.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda Travelling through the rainforest in the wet season, you are subjected to constant downpours and permanent damp. Travelling in June, which is one of the drier months in the region, is more comfortable for trekking and with more sunlight coming in, you will have the opportunity to take some marvelous pictures of the gorillas.

Grumeti River, Western Serengeti, Tanzania – the wildebeest herds start arriving from the Seronera into the Western corridor, and begin to bunch up at the Grumeti River. As they start crossing the river, they provide an annual feast for the crocodiles of the Grumeti River.

JULY

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The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya – the Great Migration of wildebeest begins with the first herds of wildebeest rolling in, a precursor to the hundreds of thousands to follow. As the migration season is just beginning, the Mara is not as crowded as it will get in August and you will be able to enjoy the migration, with all its dramatic river crossings, in a less crowded setting.

Okavango Delta, Botswana – the Delta is now flush with water and draws to it a huge array of game, pursued by the predators like lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. The cold and clear winter air is also great for photography.

AUGUST

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Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda – habitat to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, this is a good time to visit as the cool weather makes it quite comfortable for trekking.

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Hermanus, South Africa – in South Africa’s whale watching capital this is the best time to see the Southern Right whales. As these whales are extremely susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer, they shy away from the sun, and only make their way to South Africa during the winter months when the sun is weak and the waters cooler. Hermanus is best for land based whale watching as the whales come right up to the shoreline, and the cliffs offer a superb viewing point. You can also pick up whale watching cruises here.

SEPTEMBER

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Tarangire National Park, Tanzania Due to the dry weather, large groups of wildlife congregate near the Tarangire River (some of the highest concentrations in Tanzania) and the park receives many elephant visitors at this time.

Namibia – waterholes and rivers are crowded with game at this time, and elephant sightings at Etosha National Park and Chobe River are high.

Namaqualand, South Africa – wild flowers start to bloom in this semi arid Northern Cape area, which is then transformed into an outstanding floral display in the desert. Every year, the flowers are different, depending on the weather, and you may want to stop at the local tourist bureau to find out where the best flower displays are. Remember flowers follow the sun, so drive backwards or with the sun.

OCTOBER

TOP PICKS

ruaha

Ruaha & Katavi National Parks, Tanzania the long, dry season is coming to an end, and the rivers are the only source of water for miles, causing wildlife to flock to the rivers. This high concentration of wildlife at the rivers make them easier to spot. While Katavi boasts of a high numbers of lions, Ruaha lays claim to the largest herds of elephants.

Mahale Mountains, Tanzania – considered the best time for chimpanzee viewing here as towards the end of the dry season, the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery, and the chimps are closest to the shore.

NOVEMBER 

TOP PICKS

LamuD

Lamu, Kenya – the home of the Lamu Cultural Festival  – a celebration of the past and the future which include fun events such as donkey races, dhow races,  traditional poetry, henna painting and bao competitions. It attracts visitors from all over the world who fall in love with its peaceful and relaxing lifestyle.

Seronera Valley, Serengeti Park, Tanzania – the migration to Mara is over and the herds are returning in search of fresh food and water. Patiently awaiting the herds, on the plains of the Serengeti are the biggest lion prides and great concentrations of cheetah.

Zanzibar, Tanzania – great diving as underwater visibility is at its best. As it is whale shark season, you may have the opportunity to swim with these gentle beasts.

Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks, Botswana – With the onset of the rains comes the migration of upto 25,000 zebra through these parks from the Boteti River in the north. Following on the heels of the zebra, are the large predators. Also with the rains, comes the birth of young animals, particularly the zebra.

DECEMBER 

TOP PICKS

The Kalahari Desert, Botswana – covered in greenery after the rains, this area is now brimming with birds and wildlife. Thousands of zebras, wildebeest, and even some buffalo arrive here, and into the mix, throw Springbok herds giving birth en masse, and predators like leopard, lion, cheetah, wild dogs and hyenas.

manta

Tofo & Barra, Mozambiquethese villages are located along the Mozambican coastline where you can see 2 species of Manta ray when diving – the Reef Manta and the Giant Manta. The number of mantas increases during the summer months and diving with the Mantas is an absolute thrill, but note you need to be a qualified diver to be able to do this as you will encounter them at depths of 20 – 30 m.

3 TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT SAFARI OPERATOR

Choosing the right operator for your African safari can be quite confusing as there are literally thousands of them to choose from. As a participant in the Coursera and North Western University Social Marketing Program , as well as having over 20 years experience in the safari industry as a tour operator, there are 2 articles I suggest you read before making your choice.

The first article is on Wiki How  – How to Choose the Best Safari Operator for your Safari  and it gives you 5 clear and concise tips tips on the criteria you need to use to narrow down your choice of tour operator, including asking the right questions of your operator, and checking their authenticity and reputation.

lion-in-tree

The 2nd article is by Nomadic Matt  – Choosing the Right Tour Company, and although not specific to African tour operators, he shares some very relevant tips on choosing the right tour operator. He addresses the issue of responsible tourism and environmental impact, both of which are a global responsibility today.

In my experience as a tour operator, and drawing on these 2 articles, I have listed 3 critical points to consider when choosing your safari tour operator.

  • Ensure the company you sign up with is actually the company you will be travelling with – this will prevent you from falling for scams
  • Cheapest is not always best – check for hidden costs and costs not included.
  • Check the credentials of the company – most reputable companies are members of their country’s tourism association.

Follow these 3 simple tips to experience a trouble free and great African vacation.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination, https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/ and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .