ROAD VERSUS AIR TRAVEL

There are 2 basic ways to travel within East Africa – by road in either a minivan, or a 4WD vehicle, and by air – aircrafts normally used are Caravans, Twin Otters or Dash.

So why should you choose one over the other? Let’s find out the advantages and disadvantages.

Road Safari

Advantages

  • Allows you to observe the culture of the country as you can see how the the local people live, trade and work.
  • You are able to appreciate the scenery unfolding around you.
  • Allows you to interact with the local people, when you stop along the way.
  • It is pocket friendly if you are travelling in a group of more than 4 persons.
  • It brings to mind, the adventure and romance of safari.
  • Allows more time for bonding, especially if travelling with family or a group of friends.
  • You can carry more baggage than on the flight

Disadvantages

  • Strict speed limits are observed so the journey can get long and tedious.
  • The condition of the roads is not the best, so the ride is bumpy.
  • Travelling with your children can get difficult due to the length of time spent in the restriction of the vehicle.
  • The costs of travelling by vehicle in East Africa can be quite high, if you are less than 4 persons.
  • As it takes longer to reach your destination, you may be tired on arrival and not in the mood for further activity.
  • Travel is difficult in extreme rain, and/or stormy weather

Air Travel

Advantages

  • A quick and efficient way of getting around the country – most places are within an hour’s flight away or 90 minutes away
  • Not tiring so you arrive at your destination fresh and ready for adventure
  • Game drives are done in Camp vehicles which are open vehicles, with driver/guides who are based in the area so are very familiar with the fauna in the area
  • Quite affordable, especially if travelling solo or in a group of less than 4 persons
  • The aircrafts are very comfortable with complete access to the pilots
  • You can fly through floods and storms
  • Allows you to visit more places in a shorter span of time
  • As check in time is an hour prior to departure, there is more flexibility in travelling to and from the airport

Disadvantages

  • Many people feel nervous about flying in smaller planes
  • Baggage is restricted to 15 kgs per person, in soft, squashy bags
  • You cannot see much of the scenery nor can you interact with the local people.

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.

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

TOP PICKS

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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

TOP PICKS

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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

TOP PICKS

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

TOP PICKS

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

TOP PICKS

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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

TOP PICKS

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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

TOP PICKS

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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

TOP PICKS

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

TOP PICKS

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

CHAMPAGNE AND CRISP MOUNTAIN AIR

Linda, tighten the reins, Clipper, keep up…….the clear voice of the head syce floated on the crisp morning air. We were on our way up the slopes of Mt Kenya on horseback….this was part of a weekend away for 4 girls and we wanted to take advantage of every possible moment.

When planning this trip, the extra activity of “Breakfast on the slopes of Mt Kenya’ caught everyone’s eye and it was a unanimous decision to book this trip as soon as we arrived at the Mt Kenya Safari Club  in Nanyuki.

We started off from the Club at 8 am this morning…the 2 syces brought out the horses and they looked impossibly high for us amateurs to mount. Luckily, the staff had foreseen this and we made use of a metal bench on the grounds to mount the horses, with lots of help from the Club staff. After some brief instructions on how to handle our horses, we were off, suitably attired in long pants, sturdy boots and helmets.

It was a gorgeous day and we walked down by the river and into the Mt Kenya National Park….a line of 6 beautiful horses, walking sedately in a line. The forest looked dark and mysterious in the morning light and we could hear lots of rustling in the trees and bushes. Don’t worry…we were told..the horses are used to the wildlife. That may be, but what about us? We surely were not used to the wildlife!!

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We rode along the trail, in single file as the horses did not like being overtaken….traits of human competitiveness? On the 30 minute ride up the mountain slopes, we saw monkeys and bushbuck, while the trail winded up and down. Being total amateurs on a horse, we were advised to lean forward while going up and lean back with heels down on the downward trails. It took a little getting used to, but after a while we got the hang of it and began to enjoy the morning ride through the forest.

The mountain remained out of sight for the entire trip up, until we came to the clearing and saw the breathtaking view of the mountain. Luckily there was no cloud cover on the mountain top and there she was, revealed in all her glory…we were indeed fortunate to have seen this beautiful sight.

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Another beautiful sight that greeted us, was a breakfast table laid for 4, complete with crystal glasses and champagne. What a lovely start to the day. On dismounting, which proved to be easier than mounting, we settled down for our delicious champagne breakfast.

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Starting us off with a fruit & muesli parfait, we then moved to eggs served with salmon. It was a perfect cloudless day, and the setting was also perfect. The staff serving us breakfast were so discreet that we felt we were alone in this forest

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setting. After we felt we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought us platters of fresh fruit with honey….sooo delicious!

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Great company, good food and the mountain in front of us…..we sat there chatting for ages, catching up on events. It felt so good to just be there, so relaxing after the difficult & stressful week we had been through. They even rigged up an outdoor toilet for emergencies, complete with sweet smelling handwash and lotion.

Finally, it was time to head back and reluctantly we made our way to the horses. Here again, I wondered how we were going to mount the horses but I had underestimated the syces….we used the base of a fallen tree and this time it was easier…..maybe we will make good horsewomen one day!

Coming back to the Club seemed shorter, as is normally the case. One of the horses got spooked by a bushbaby and began cantering wildly. Luckily the rider had the presence of mind to remember the instructions given to us at the beginning, and managed to calm her horse…..didn’t I say we were on our way to becoming good horsewomen?

Riding into Club at the end of a perfect morning was a bit anticlimactic, but I reassured myself that the mountain would always be there and  promised myself I would be back soon…..

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‘World Wildlife Cup’ in the Mara Reserve

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During the months of July, August and September, all eyes turn to the world renowned Maasai Mara Game Reserve, situated in south-western Kenya, for the incredible wildebeest migration from the Serengeti to the Mara. Known as the ‘World Cup of Wildlife’, this is an incredible experience to witness and if there is ever a safari to go on, this would be it.

This is a massive movement of over 2 million animals , not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Not only do the animals have to cross the Mara River where the crocodiles are waiting to prey on them, but once they arrive in the Mara, they will be hunted down by the larger predators, lion being the most common as the Maasai Mara has one of the largest populations of lion in the world.

So how did it all start? How old is the migration? It started in the early 1970s, after a widespread immunization campaign against rinderpest in cattle led to the disappearance of rinderpest in wildebeest and buffalo. This, together with an increase in dry season rainfall, led to an increase of the wildebeest population, and the migration began spilling over to the Mara.

The migration starts in June….the red oat grass in the Reserve is so long by this time that the only animals visible are the larger animals like the elephant or giraffe, or a lone topi atop a termite mound. Although there is a stillness in the air, the lions are waiting, resting in the shade of the acacias. Then by the Sand River, can be seen small specks rising to become clouds of dust – the wildebeest have arrived! Within a few days, thousands of wildebeest are snaking through the long grass towards the Mara River.

Image courtesy of Kicheche Camps
Image courtesy of Kicheche Camps

The river crossings are spectacular and exciting, earning the attention of the media and tourists alike. The wildebeest gather on the banks of the Mara river, in greater and greater numbers. The river is filled with huge crocodiles, anticipating this bi annual feast. wildebeest migrationThe wildebeest are nervous, moving around, not wishing to be the first to plunge into the river which is filled with the sharp jaws of the waiting crocodiles.

Suddenly one wildebeest is pushed into the river, and is followed by hundreds more, swimming desperately to make the opposite shore. But many will not make it. Some will die at the hands of the crocodiles, while others will drown and still others will be trampled to death in the excitement.

There are 3 popular crossing points on the Mara River – two are in the Mara Reserve, at Little Governor’s crossing point and at Serena crossing point, and one in the Mara North Conservancy at the Kichwa Crossing point.

Once they reach the plains, it is the actual spectacle of so many animals filling the landscape in shifting columns that is awe inspiring and is a spectacle that cannot be seen anywhere else on earth.

Then the wildebeest move out to the private conservancy areas to graze the plentiful green plains and to mate. The mating ritual lasts a few days only, ensuring that all calves are born at the same time, for greater protection.

The wildebeest begin their return trek to the Serengeti in mid October, giving birth to their calves on the plains of the Ngorongoro Crater. As the area dries out and water & grass begin to get scarce, the wildebeest keep moving, again & again, and so begins another migration – trekking the vast distance from the Serengeti to the Mara. The wildebeest cover an estimated 3000 km in their annual migratory cycle, with newborns in tow.

Photo courtesy of Speke Camp
Photo courtesy of Speke Camp

Will you be one of the lucky ones to catch the migration this year?

NABOISHO CONSERVANCY, MAASAI MARA RESERVE

Safarilink Aviation has a spanking new terminal at Wilson Airport, which is located adjacent to the departure area, with a lovely seating area and coffee shop run by Monikos Restaurant. Flights to the Mara take off at 10 am and 3 pm every day, and on a cold, grey Friday in June, we flew out to the Mara on a morning flight at 10 am. Our flying time was about 45 minutes, in a twin Otter with 2 pilots, very smooth, touching down at the airstrip in Naboisho Conservancy, Mara at around 11 am, right on schedule.

We were received at the airstrip by Manfred, our driver/guide from Basecamp Eagle View, who cut a fine figure in his Maasai shukas and jewellery. We set off on our first game drive, en route to the Camp which is about an hour’s drive away.

Basecamp Eagle View 132

Driving along in the Naboisho Conservancy is a refreshing change from the main Mara Reserve as you don’t see the congregation of vehicles and large cattle herds  that you would probably see in the main Mara Reserve. Instead we saw huge numbers of wildebeest, left behind from the migration as they had ‘no passports’ to return. Basecamp Eagle View 146The amount of wildlife we saw on this first short game drive was staggering…..wildebeest, topi, eland, Grant gazelle, dikdik, impala, zebra…..it was amazing.  Arriving at the Camp, we were greeted by magnificent views over the Conservancy as the Camp sits on a hilltop, facing a salt lick below which is frequented by wildlife throughout the day, providing hours of entertainment for the guests.

Our tent was beautifully appointed, with a lovely spacious bathroom, also featuring an outside shower which sadly we could not use, due to the rainy weather.

Lunch was set up in the open air dining room, and we were kept entertained by the beautiful birds flitting in and out of the mess area. Jonathan and his able assistant Alfred, served us very well throughout the meal, ensuring that we were well fed.

Our evening adventure began with a game drive at 5 pm….we drove through the savanna, past the trees uprooted by the elephants, through the large herds of the resident wildebeest. The grass was short due to the large wildebeest numbers and this was very useful  in spotting wildlife.

Suddenly Manfred spotted a young male lion under a tree, so well hidden that a few vehicles had just driven past him. Basecamp Eagle View 187Although the lion kept looking towards a herd of gazelles, he didn’t make any move towards them,  so after spending some time there, we reluctantly moved on.

As the sun was beginning to set, we stopped on the savanna plains for sundowners….crisp, refreshing gin and tonics served with mini pizzas to take the edge of our appetites. It is amazing how quickly one feels hungry out in the bush….didn’t think I could eat a thing after lunch but here I was, ravenous again. We  were enjoying the sunset and the drinks so much that we didn’t realize that a group of buffalos was drawing nearer to us, and in fact there were 3 buffalos quite close to us.  Our able guides Manfred and Kiok had already spotted them and ushered us back into the vehicle…… time now for a night game drive, which can only be done in Conservancies.

This time, we saw a hyena, and three lionesses on the hunt…though we had to leave them to hunt in peace, returning to Camp just in time for dinner.

Being escorted to our tent after dinner by the night askaris (guards) was very reassuring, as all around us could be heard noises of animals and the rustling of leaves. I was very glad to get into the warm, welcoming tent and settle down for the night.

And what a busy night it was…we had a herd of elephants come through the Camp, there were  lions, hippos and hyenas in near proximity to the Camp during the night and we could hear their distinctive noises throughout the early morning hours.

The next morning, there was drama at the waterhole as a cheetah was chased away by a group of baboons, spotted by us  from the Camp. Our next game drive was in the afternoon of the 2nd day and we saw tons of wildlife including a herd of elephants, and pride of lions with cubs. The Naboisho Conservancy is famed for its lion population, similar to  that of the Ngorongoro Crater.

Basecamp Eagle View 394The lion cubs were in a playful mood and we loved watching their antics and rough play. One of the larger male cubs made an attempt to hunt down a wildebeest, but after a thrilling chase, admitted defeat as the the wildebeest was too fast for him.

The next morning we set out for a walk in the Conservancy in the early morning. This is a special activity you can only enjoy in the Conservancy and it brings with it a sense of adventure and fun. We were accompanied by 4 Maasai guides, complete with arrows, and Maasai singing and jumping. One of the object of the walk is to educate guests on little known facts about animal footprints, droppings, and useful plants. Fortunately the only animals we came across were the wildebeest, zebra, hyena and hippos in the distance. …no predators though this has happened in the past. The Maasai walk at a pretty fast pace so one has to be able to keep up with them. A guided walk typically lasts for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, so you are back at Camp in time for a yummy breakfast.Basecamp Eagle View 481

Sadly we had to leave for Nairobi that day, so we departed with heavy hearts after breakfast, making our way to the Naboisho airstrip. The airlines flying these routes can make upto 4 landings in the Mara, dropping and picking passengers from different airstrips, so they require that all passengers be at the airstrip at least 30 minutes before the flight departure time, in case of the aircraft arriving earlier than scheduled. Basecamp Eagle View 611The typical scene at these airstrips will be of vehicles waiting for their passengers either to depart or arrive. Fortunately for us, our flight was on time and this time it was a 35 minute, direct flight to Nairobi…smooth sailing all the way. Landing to the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, the peaceful, natural world of Naboisho seemed eons away.