Kili returned to Rwanda to find a country that has made tremendous progress toward its goal of being one of Africa’s leading countries and most dramatic stories of renewal. Rwanda has successfully positioned itself as a luxury destination with extraordinary wildlife and cultural experiences.
Aside from new luxury lodges near Volcanoes National Park, there are a lot experiences in Kigali and throughout the country that make Rwanda more than a gorilla extension.
Kigali is a unique among African capitals, and it is clear from the moment you leave the airport. The roads are clean and in good condition, and the city center is safe and vibrant enough to have a walk through town. It has become an international hub and a shining example of progress. Here are some interesting experiences we recommend:
The area around Musanze, the nearest town to the gorilla trekking headquarters in Volcanoes National Park, has seen the most development with a number of breath-taking new luxury lodges as well as some old favorites. In addition to being a base for gorilla trekking, there are a lot of other things to do like visiting the Gorilla Doctors facility, the Dian Fossey Center, the spectacular twin lakes, the Iby’wacu Cultural Village or just having a walk around the Musanze town and markets.
Akagera is a national park that is being successfully restored into a great conservation story, and we’re hearing excellent feedback from some of our first clients to visit the far northern corner of the park. Lions were re-introduced in 2015, and there has been excellent recent leopard sightings. This project is in collaboration with the Rwandan government and the surrounding local communities. You can learn more about this project here, and also on the African Parks website. If you’re up for visiting a unique area while also supporting groundbreaking conservation work, Akagera is at the top of our list!
In addition to soon-to-reopen Gorilla’s Nest Lodge in Musanze, One & Only Resorts has introduced Nyungwe House in the south western corner of Rwanda, a spectacular option for including chimpanzee trekking in your Rwanda itinerary. Plus, they’re offering scenic helicopter transfers between Nyungwe and Volcanoes for an unbelievable bird’s eye view of Rwanda’s incredible topography.
Some of Kili’s Gorilla Trekking Photos
While Tanzania is best known for being home to the iconic Serengeti plains, the Serengeti can be known for peak season crowds especially concentrated around river crossings and migratory herds.
However, we see the Serengeti as a 10-month destination with lots of options for shoulder season and off-peak travel which offers great value, expanded access to unique wilderness areas and a wider variety of activities.
Maybe no country has seen the buzz of the travel world like Namibia, and it’s been fascinating to watch it grow from a specialist desert destination to a model for conservation and ecotourism done right.
With new attention comes new opportunities, and there’s a great range of safari options including overland packages with under-canvas camps to convenient flying itineraries that connect Namibia’s vast and far-flung points of interests.
While Botswana has grown to be seen as one of the more luxurious (and expensive) safari destinations, we’re glad to report there are still great options for high-quality mobile camping safaris at a range of budgets.
Some are based completely within exclusive concessions while others utilize private campsites in public wildlife viewing areas, but the goal is the same: to truly immerse yourself into the rhythm of the of the Okavango Delta.
Kruger & Cape Town are a popular combination, but South Africa has much more to offer with an abundance of Big 5 reserves like Madikwe, Marataba and Kwandwe and extraordinary art, food and wine touring.
One area we love to visit is the Cape Whale Coast & Floral Kingdom where you can hike among incredible wildflowers, go sand boarding or fat biking on the dunes, spend the day tide-pooling or whale watching from your bed…
Here are a few spectacular lodges from which you can play, explore and experience more of South Africa’s stunning Cape region…
Lekkerwater Beach Lodge
Morukuru Beach Lodge
Grootbos Forest Lodge
De Hoop Collection
Zimbabwe has a well-earned reputation for some of the best guides and most picturesque wildlife and wilderness areas in Africa.
We’re excited to offer creative walking safari packages that let you explore on foot with expert guides between lightweight fly-camps and spectacular camps & lodges.
I had a fantastic time in Africa. We saw a vast amount of wildlife, virtually everything one could hope for, except for rhinos, which we knew we would not see. We did see elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, wildebeests, buffalo, hippos, warthogs, African wild dogs, baboons, crocodiles, jackals, nine kinds of antelope, and more! The real highlight for me personally was finding, identifying (of course with the benefit of our guides’ expertise), and photographing over one hundred bird species.
Each one was a new thrill. After returning home I uploaded all one hundred or so bird observations to “iNaturalist.org”. Every one of them was seen and commented on (i.e. my identification either confirmed or corrected). Many were picked up by various “projects” within iNaturalist, such as Birds of Botswana, Birds of Southern Africa, and Owls of the World. One photo (Hooded Vulture) was selected as Observation of the Day, and was nominated for Observation of the Month!
Our guides were fantastic in their knowledge of animal behavior, birds, trees, etc. We had KK in Botswana, and Douglas at Davison’s Camp. Douglas was my favorite. He was absolutely delightful, not only in sharing his passion for the wilderness with all its living things, but also in sharing his own personal stories of life in Zimbabwe.
I loved the trip to the village (called ngamo) in Zimbabwe. This may have been my single favorite part of the trip. It was a moving experience to see the enthusiasm and optimism among the 7th graders we met. They sang songs and danced for us. Their joy in doing so was obvious. The principle was very engaging. We met the Head Man of the village and his wife, who shared with us the structure of the village political system, the local diet, the moral code they live by, their views of their government, etc. This was extremely interesting and educational. I also loved the two boat trips, one on the Khwai River and the other on the Chobe River. These provided very nice variety among many game drives in the jeep.
The transitions from one part of the trip to another worked perfectly! In every case, there was someone at the airport or at the border to receive us and guide us along to the next phase. This was amazing.
Some of the highlights/striking things from the Botswana trip were the abundance and variety of animals. And of course our guides knew every single bird. We saw many lions, their cubs, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests , warthogs, hyenas, wild dogs, hippos and crocs and of course too many elephants to count. One striking event happened near the Chobe River after our boat ride. A herd of of elephants just finished drinking and were lingering near by. It was early evening and a male lion was scouting them out, appearing nonchalant. Suddenly, the herd coalesced and charged the lion who ran right past our vehicle. We broke the quiet rule and burst into applause for the elephants.
The amenities/food that stood out in Camp Davidson were the care the staff took to accommodate my gluten intolerance. The meals were all excellent. In Botswana, the mobile camp staff couldn’t do enough for us. The primitive conditions hardly mattered. The safari vehicles in Camp Davidson were far superior to those used by Wilderness Dawning. We hope they will upgrade them soon.
Planning our safari with Next Adventure was fabulous. We couldn’t imagine more knowledgeable, accommodating and eager professionals. I have recommended you to several people and will continue to do so. I don’t think there was anything Jeremy could have done differently to prepare us. There were no surprises and the whole trip went off without a hitch.
Describing to a friend what it’s like to be on safari, well, you are awakened at 5:30, breakfast at 6 and in the vehicle by 6:30. The guides take out out for game drives with a cup of tea at 10 and continue on until lunch. Each day is quite different in that you never know what you will see and the guides always seem to know where to find the animals. You think it can’t get any more exciting and then it does. Seeing these animals in the wild is really breathtaking. Usually there is an afternoon siesta then back to the vehicles for more animal encounters. The guides always seem just as excited as we are at each discovery.
Some of Lance’s wildlife photos
A wise colleague of ours says, “Rwanda has ambitions to be the best in the world, and it’s making quick progress. Uganda, on the other hand, is content with being The Pearl of Africa.“
While these two countries have certain similarities, what they offer travelers is very different.
The Kazuri Story
Lady Susan Wood
Kazuri Founder – Lady Susan Wood had humble beginnings. Born (1918) in a mud hut in an African village, her parents were missionaries from England in the Ituri Forest. Lady Wood was sent to England in order to be educated and ended up marrying Michael Wood, a surgeon. They came to Kenya in 1947 and became dedicated to making a difference. Lady Wood started a coffee plantation on the Karen Blixen estate, famous from the award winning movie “Out of Africa” , which is at the foot of the Ngon’g Hills (about 30 minutes from the bustling Nairobi city center in Kenya). Lady Wood was a visionary and unsung hero of her time. She assisted her husband in founding the East African Flying Doctor Service, which expanded into the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) of which Michael Wood was Director General for 29 years. Michael Wood was knighted in 1985.
Kazuri Beads Origins
In 1975, Lady Wood set up a fledging business making beads in a small shed in her back garden. She started by hiring two disadvantaged women, and quickly realized that there were many more women who were in need of jobs. Henceforth, Kazuri Beads was created and began its long and successful journey as a help center for the needy women, especially single mothers who had no other source of income. In 1988, Kazuri became a factory and expanded hugely to include over 120 women and men. Here, women are trained and apply their skills to produce unique and beautiful beads and jewelry. The beads are made with clay from the Mt Kenya area, thus giving authenticity to the craft. The factory acts as a social gathering with the hum of voices continuing vibrating throughout the day. With unemployment so high, one jobholder often ends up providing for an “extended family” of 20 or more. Kazuri is a member of the Fair Trade Act.
Kazuri Beads Present Day
Today, Kazuri (the Swahili word for ‘small and beautiful’) produces a wide range of hand made and painted ceramic jewelry that shines with a kaleidoscope of African colors. Kazuri’s beautifully finished products are made to an international standard and are sold worldwide. These standards are maintained through high training regimens and a highly motivated management team.
In 2001, Mark and Regina Newman bought the company. Their goal is to further increase the size and maintain the central guiding philosophy … to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan Society.
“I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.” — Gayle
I’m a writer, but I would have to be a poet to be able to describe what it’s like for me. This was my fifth trip to Africa, and it still takes my breath away to see my first elephant. But it’s more than the animals, and it’s more than the remarkable Zambians, Botswanans, and South Africans I’ve met.
It’s the sensuality of the place – the way it looks, smells, sounds, and feels. It’s the light and the sense of pre-history I feel when I first set foot in the bush; a sense of having returned home to where we all began. I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.
Gayle’s Wish is Granted
Three lions attempted to separate a buffalo from a small herd. The lions took turns going in for a buffalo, only to be chased out by the large bulls. It was a game of cat and mouse, and mouse and cat, for several minutes.
The dust was flying, the buffalo were freaking out, and I was hoping to NOT see a kill. I ended up getting my wish when the buffalo made their escape across the river.
I had a skilled tracker and expert in animal behavior. He read the warning behaviors of different animals such as baboons, impala, and birds in order to successfully locate this leopard (pictured to the left).
“On the first day, we went out looking for lions, and we certainly found them. In fact, not only did we find them, but we found 4…two males and two females. Both sets were mating to the left and right of the vehicle. We learned that they actually mate every 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. Wow. I felt like I was intruding on some private time…I needed to have a cigarette.” — Mari & Alex
To really be there, going to Africa for the first time, the true surprise is simply being there. You think to yourself, ‘Am I really seeing zebra, giraffe and kudu?’ To be able to see all of these creatures up close – as close as you want to be (and we definitely pushed our boundaries) – is something you really don’t expect.
One time, we were especially close to the female lions – from 1-20 feet, and what was surprising to me was that I never felt like our family was threatened. There was a certain respect that the guides held for the land and the animals. They just knew the environment, and we could tell they weren’t going to put us at risk. Honestly, the fact that we could camp out in the Savannah in the middle of the night, allowing our own children to stay watch – you have to have a lot of faith to make a big leap like that. Not once did we ever feel scared because ever-present was the mutual respect between humans and animals; a certain understanding. It was very cool.
It happens from the very beginning, too. We left Johannesburg and took a long drive to Botswana where the adventure literally began at our border crossing – from South Africa to Botswana. We went out in an open Land Rover with one of the more experienced guides…sort of like a Grand Uncle kind of guy who was very hospitable. As soon as we were loaded up, we drove across – or actually, through – the river, which was the boundary between South Africa and Botswana. Everything was dirt road from that point onwards, and we’d only made it 100 yards when our driver pulled over so we could watch some zebras. He told us to look back – he’d seen movement – and sure enough, out of the bush came an elephant, and then another, and then a whole herd of elephants. Our jaws dropped in amazement – we’d only just crossed over, and here we were having animal experiences.
Just the presence of these animals…to be greeted by the most beautiful of beasts…is incredibly moving. It’s the entire reason we went, and there it was, unfolding before us in only 100 yards. Zebras, giraffe, Impalas… I’m even forgetting the names of all the creatures we saw. It was a wild kingdom.
A Sensual Adventure
At our second stop, or concession, we were having our orientation and they said that they wanted to pitch an idea to us. This was when they asked us if we wanted to sleep out in the Savannah, hiking out about 3 miles…along with two guides and their guns. Doing this meant that each of us would have to stay awake for 2 hours per night to keep watch. My first reaction was YES! I mean, what other time in your life would you be able to camp out in the Savannah with wild animals? It was the most amazing experience.
It’s difficult to portray what we witnessed…through all of our senses. Infinite stars…stars beyond what you could imagine. We’ve been to Yosemite. We’ve been to Yellowstone. There is just no comparison. You’re serenaded by a cacophony of the sounds, too. The laughing hyenas, the hippos, and what’s called bush babies, which are little monkeys that live in the trees…and they literally sound like babies.
Over one outdoor dinner, we could hear lions roaring in the distance while we were eating. There was nothing between us and the lions, which could seem unsettling, but part of what gave us comfort was the fact that the guides called each lion by their name – simply by knowing the sound of their roar. Oh, and the smells! The smells were things we’d never smelled before. The basil and African sage, which had a sweet lemony smell to it, was sweet and very pungent.
Late Night Surprise
One night, we were on safari driving around. It was much later than we usually stayed out, but it was probably only two hours after sunset. Our drivers seemed a little disoriented – like they were lost – but they kept driving. One of the guides was holding a big spotlight, and we were looking for elephants. He was shining the light on either side, and suddenly we saw a campfire in the distance. They told us they thought it was an anti-poaching crew; that they go out there and sometimes catch poachers and keep them in camp until authorities pick them up. There were a couple other trucks parked when we pulled up, and it was clear we were going to talk to these guys. Admittedly, we were a little concerned. As we approached the camp, we could see a fairly large group, shadowed by the firelight, and as we got closer, we realized that it was a group of student guides. Whew! Turned out it was planned all along, and they’d made a great dinner for us, and one of them was showing us how to take night shots.
They had tables, chairs, and table coverings. They had amazing food there – Mealie Pap, kind of like a porridge, or polenta, that’s served with a meat, or a stew. You use your fingers and you scoop it up and just eat it. My family also enjoyed the Mashatu chili, which was a flavorful and spicy chili prepared by two amazing women, Nomo and Rosena. The night before we left, my son’s girlfriend wanted to bring some home, and they gave her a jar of it along with the recipe. Can you believe that? At the next stop, we had to put our food in the storage container, and accidentally forgot it there. That was probably the biggest disappointment of our whole trip.
We’d go back. In a heartbeat. It would be great to go back to the same places for the nostalgia, but on the other hand, we’d probably want to see something different. It’d be great to go to Kenya to see the mass migrations…where they have herds of millions of animals. Now that we’ve gotten a flavor of Africa, we understand there is so much more to see. It was such a wonderful experience, and Jeremy and Kili had so much to do with that. From one conversation where we shared our vision, they took exactly what we described and made it happen. We didn’t want to travel like privileged Americans where we were driven around, etc. We wanted to go where they had good labor practices. We wanted the opportunity to touch the land with the dirt going through our fingers, touch the trees, and smell the environment. We didn’t need champagne and chocolate fountains (well maybe a little), but from the very beginning…the languages, the sounds and the sights, the people, the environment. It was just such a whole medley of sensations.
Here’s Some of Mari & Alex’s Photos
“We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat.” — Rick S.
This was our very first trip to Africa, and the first thing we noticed was the vastness of the continent. Even though we conceptually understood the size, and Kili had certainly prepped us, we truly had no idea how big Africa was. I mean, as we were flying over Morocco, we still had 9 more hours before landing in Cape Town. We just didn’t really get it.
What was impressive was that immediately upon landing, we were in a jeep and transferring to the lodge while incredible wildlife was running all around us. We were instantly ‘in the experience,’ and we were giddy like two kids on Christmas Eve. There are so many stories from our trip that it’s impossible to identify a single favorite story. It’s interesting – we used to say that about the countries we’d traveled to (that we couldn’t identify a favorite), but now we say that about Africa…that there really isn’t one story that stands out. The entire trip stands out.
I still vividly remember the first night, falling asleep while listening to lion roars and hippo grunts. One day we woke up from our siesta to an elephant staring into our tent…maybe 15 feet away. We had another, similar experience where we woke up, and we heard rhythmic crunching. It turned out there was a hippo eating in the daytime, which was rare, right outside our tent. He was essentially mowing the grasses.
We watched a cheetah eating an Impala – it sounds gruesome, but it wasn’t. They kill quickly and methodically. We were so close that we could hear the crunching of the bones. We watched the Cheetah lick the blood off its face. We were that close! It really sounds gruesome, but it honestly isn’t. It’s also odd because we cheered for the predators. It isn’t like the TV programs you see where you hope the prey gets away. You simply understand the order, and see that there are millions of Impalas, and only a handful of lions. They have to eat, and they work incredibly hard for a meal.
Deepening Our Ecological Awareness
The other impression, too, is what a closed ecosystem it is. Every animal has a little niche to play. It’s why you can get behind the predators. We thought there would be smells and bones everywhere, but there isn’t. It was an ecological lesson; it really was. We try to do our bit in terms of reducing, reusing and recycling and our footprint – but this really helped us realize what a puzzle of a world we live in, and how each thing plays its part. You just kind of see how it all works. It was a very sensory experience – very visual. There were smells, but they weren’t bad. The kills didn’t last long, so there was no rotting meat. There is a sort of pecking order of everything and it all just goes away.
The main predators kill, say, an Impala, and eat the main parts of the animal. Then, the Jackals and Hyenas take what they need, and then the vultures come…and nothing is left. I mean absolutely nothing. We did find some hippo skulls, which was fascinating…with the jaw…because we got a real sense of just how powerful they are. But, that was about it.
The guides were fantastic – every day was like one long school day in the best possible way. We watched a pack of wild dogs hunt, and try to spook a herd of Cape buffalo. There is a strategy to the hunt. The dogs were on the track, and we were following. Their strategy was that they worked as a group, and they tried to spook the group so they’d run, and in the panic, the dogs could single out their prey.
At one point, we also found some lionesses that had climbed into trees, which is rare. There were only a couple prides where this was happening. Our guide said that it was only the second generation of lionesses that were doing that – climbing into the trees. One was calling to her cubs, but they couldn’t find her because it didn’t occur to them to look up. It felt like we were watching an ecological shift in real time.
Emerging with a Thirst for More
In our planning phase, we gave Kili our wish list of animals to see – which didn’t include birds (we aren’t birders), so she designed our trip around our wish list. And unbelievably, we saw them all.
The food was excellent. We didn’t really have expectations. We did a lot of research once we decided on places, but we weren’t there for the food, if that makes sense. The camps were really luxe. We were really pleased with that. I mean one of the places was off the charts; just the presentation of their food alone was impressive. This was a surprise because it’s so remote. They don’t have access to a lot of stuff, food and otherwise, and they don’t even have a cell signal, so they have to fly everything in. We were confused as to how would they begin to understand the levels of luxury that they did. It really was excellent.
We are very well traveled – we started out hesitant to take a trip that was all planned, and we don’t do group tours. We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat. Kili had designed the itinerary for us to see a wide variety of species and surroundings. We usually saw elephants, but each time, it felt different. We never got bored. We were always a little sad to leave, but eager to see the next place. Kili had the camps build upon each other – the first one was nice, but unbeknownst to us, it was the least special. She was very thoughtful.
We are definitely going to go back to Africa, but we are going to go to different countries. We’ll go back and to Kenya and Tanzania, and we might go to Namibia, and certainly Rwanda. Some places you travel to see the terrain, and others you go to see the buildings and the history. I see now that traveling to see history and architecture means having a more static experience. When we go back to Africa, it will probably be completely different. It’s dynamic; always changing. You can never go and have the same experience twice.
“There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9.” — Linda & John
From the moment we landed, East Africa made an impact. We’d been to Africa before, on what we called our ‘beginners’ trip which included Botswana, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, but this one was what we considered a ‘quintessential African experience.’ Every place we went; every day was filled with animal interactions, up close and personal. You name it – we saw it all!
The very first vision our bleary eyes saw after we stepped off the plane was Mt. Kilimanjaro. Seeing that mountain was the most impressive thing… so distant and seemingly so close, enshrouded with snow and clouds. It’s massive and interesting because being a volcano, it raises up from a low-level plane rather than from a graduation of foothills, which makes it unusual. I would conservatively guess it’s maybe 19,000 feet high, straight up from its base. It’s an impressive site, and a most memorable way to arrive.
It’s virtually impossible to pinpoint which particular memories to share from this trip because the experiences we had were so plentiful. For example, can you imagine this…at one point, we saw 7 or 8 lion cubs playing with each other while their moms were hunting. We stopped the car about 30 yards from them. I would never have anticipated that kind of proximity to an abundance of lion cubs without their mothers. We had lions literally walking by the safari car we were in..and could have reached out to touch them. The same with the elephants. We were blown away with the photo opps there.
Another day, we pulled right up to a leopard that was eating a small zebra it had killed, and then a lion came walking up. We thought certainly there’d be a conflict, but the leopard just calmly left. We also saw a pack of hyenas chasing two baby warthogs one night, so we were literally driving across the plains chasing them, keeping them in our headlights.
The biggest surprise was when we went to our camp in the Serengeti. We thought that because of the time of year we were visiting, we would have missed the migration, but we quickly learned that the animals are constantly migrating. So depending on the time of the year, the strategy is to just go to the part of the Serengeti where they’re still migrating, and we saw it…thousands of animals moving slowly across the landscape.
A Cut Above
Everywhere we went on our trip was amazing. The food was delicious – the game meat was fantastically good, served like a filet mignon. There were abundant animal sightings, and the accommodations were definitely nice. But if I’m being honest, to us, everything else seemed to pale in comparison to our camp in the Masai Mara.
Three things set this place apart. One was the absolute luxury of the accommodations. We had a gigantic copper bath with an adjacent indoor and outdoor shower. The place we stayed in was about 12-1400 square feet with a deck overlooking a stream where every day, hippos and crocs were floating and wading by for our viewing pleasure.
Two, their commitment and ultra knowledge about all things photo…our driver was a Masai and extremely articulate and knowledgeable about photography, so we were able to capture everything we witnessed as if we worked for National Geographic. One afternoon at sunset, he even maneuvered our car simply to allow us to frame 5 giraffes against the setting sun. They will even lend you a top-end camera, or Swarovsky binoculars if you don’t have your own.
And three, aside from the lodge, they also have 6, 7 or maybe 8 of the suites where people can stay in luxurious proximity to the natural surroundings. If we go back, we might just go straight there and stay for 10 days.
Travel…and we’re not the most widely traveled individuals…but it does invariably change you. The people you meet in Africa give you perspective on your personal background. You see the fragility of the environment, and are moved by cultural experiences… It all expands your experiential universe. It makes you a better person for it. It definitely has had an impact.
There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9. Italy has an impact, various places in Europe certainly have an impact, but in terms of depth…Africa’s impact is more visceral than anything else. It’s a visceral, moving impact. Our friends want to go to Italy every year, and visiting the wine country, but they aren’t as interested in the natural world as we are, which is totally fine…and man made wonders are spectacular, but not as moving…to us…as seeing the beauty of nature.
Some of Linda & John’s Photos
- Travel with one of Namibia’s most reputable and well-known naturalist guides.
- Visit the world renowned AfriCat Foundation and learn more about conservation initiatives involving Africa’s large cats.
- Sleep under canvas in the tree tops overlooking one of the most productive waterholes on the Onguma Private Game Reserve.
- Memorable and exciting guided game drives within the renowned Etosha National Park, from the vantage point of a specially modified, air conditioned 4×4 with pop tops.
- Explore the Damaraland region whilst staying at the exclusive-use //Huab Under Canvas.
- Search for desert adapted elephant in ephemeral river systems.
- Track for the endangered black rhino in conjunction with Save the Rhino Trust.
- Visit and explore Namibia’s central coastal region with canyons, dunes and lagoons.
- Explore the private Namib Tsaris Conservancy on exploratory nature drives and guided walks whilst staying in the exclusive-use Sossus Under Canvas.
- Climb some of the world’s highest free-standing sand dunes at Sossusvlei and enjoy a magic box picnic in the Namib Naukluft Park afterwards.
- Enjoy spectacular star gazing of the Milky Way on the Namib Tsaris Conservancy.
- Enjoy refreshing moments in desert pools on the Namib Tsaris Conservancy.
When Lifescan executive Kirsten Kempe and her husband, Bob Carlin, a longtime Oracle manager, decided to travel in 2018 with two fellow elite triathletes and their spouses, they turned to custom safari specialist Next Adventure (nextadventure.com). The Berkeley company hosts gatherings in clients’ homes and offices by which travelers glean the latest information on conservation issues, along with practical safari advice.
Next Adventure Managing Director Kili McGowan helped organize an evening at Kempe’s Mountain View home “that was almost like a dinner party, where we got together to talk about what they wanted to do,” she says. The result: a three-week trip that included South Africa’s Cape Town and Johannesburg, and 13 days on safari in luxury camps in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.
Borana has always been a special place; a truly family-oriented conservancy, adjacent to the world-renowned Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, that offers outstanding wildlife experiences as well as opportunities to explore a breathtaking landscape through a variety of activities. Borana also offers a range of exclusive-use safari homes and villas, and the newest is Lengishu House.
One common question we hear is “How far in advance should I start booking my safari?”, so we put together our recommendations for when different types of travelers should book different destinations and experiences.
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are great safaris to be had all year round, but there are certainly areas and activities that are more seasonal than others. Most camps and lodges work on a tiered basis with Peak or High season rates, Green or Low season rates and Shoulder season rates in between.
Peak/High season generally indicates the “best” time of year to visit a certain area due to migratory patterns, the height of grass and density of bush, and the availability of water, but it also coincides with the highest rates, the biggest crowds and the most competition for space at camps and lodges in the best locations.
Green, Low and Shoulder season refers to times of year when less people are traveling, maybe there’s the possibility of short afternoon showers, or the wildlife is more dispersed, but the rates tend to be 20-30% lower, there’s less crowds, better availability and the wildlife and scenery are still spectacular.
Some of our favorite off-peak season destinations are:
Kenya in February and March
The Serengeti,Tanzania in November
Hwange, Zimbabwe from November-April
Botswana and Namibia in May
The other thing to keep in mind is the size of your group. With couples, we usually have a bit more flexibility, but, with small groups, more lead time is always helpful especially if family units are important.
For Peak or High Season at Premier in-demand camps, availability is extremely limited, and we recommend booking 12-18 months in advance to have the most flexibility, the widest selection and the best luck lining up space. Destinations in Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia are either very popular or have a very low density of camps, so space fills up fast.
For Small Groups of Friends and Families, 9-12 months gives us a good window to line up a diverse range of activities, accommodations and landscapes. Safaris in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe tend to offer great value for families and groups, but the camps are small, and family units are few and far between.
If you have a narrow travel window or if you’re interested in specific areas or hands-on conservation activities, 9-12+ months gives us time lock in priority space and secure any necessary permits.
Booking 6-9 months in advance is usually enough lead time to find good combinations without having to make too many compromises. Often times, connectivity is key: direct flights are limited, the routing dictates the order of camps, and with 6-9 months out there’s room to navigate the availability and find top notch options.
For travel within 3-6 months, there’s lots of possibilities as long as you keep an open mind. We’re probably not going to find space at the most popular camps in the most popular areas during the most popular season with a short lead time, but we can always find high-quality experiences. We also find that planning a last minute safari around limited availability can result in unique itineraries with a bit of surprise.
With less than 3 months in advance of travel, we’d call that a spontaneous safari, and we’d take advantage of last minute specials or focus on off-season destinations. This might not be the best fit for a first-time or once-in-a-lifetime safari, but, if a window opens up and Africa is calling, there’s always somewhere spectacular to visit and people on the ground who’ll be glad to see you!
Whether you’re ready to start planning now or if there’s a safari out there on the horizon, get in touch to start exploring the options and charting a path to the perfect safari for you.
A big part of planning a perfect safari is thinking through the logistics of international and regional flight connections. We’re excited to see a number of international carriers introducing non-stop flights from the US to hubs in Africa: South African, Ethiopian, Delta and Kenya Airways all now have direct flights, and there are more routes on the horizon.
We’re also seeing lower fares and improved connections for regional flights within Africa, so it’s getting easier to pair destinations in East and Southern Africa. This overall improvement in efficiency means it’s less expensive and more straightforward to get into our favorite safari destinations and move between them in comfort.
For instance, you can now fly from the Masai Mara to Entebbe and connect directly into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and there are daily flights between the Serengeti and Kigali which means travelers no longer have to pass through Nairobi or Arusha for their gorilla trekking extensions.
In Southern Africa, there are now nonstop flights between Vic Falls and Cape Town and the Kruger area, and there’s better connecting bush flights throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. We’re also excited to see more options for private charters and helicopter excursions which can be a great experience for families and small groups of friends.
Overall, the logistics of moving around Africa’s great parks and conservancies are always changing, and we’re looking forward to finding the best fit for your safari. Get in touch.
For this edition of our “Personal Picks”, we’re thinking outside-the-box to share four breathtaking lodges in unique, lesser-known parks and reserves that offer an excellent overall guest experience.
These areas don’t make it on many bucket lists, but they offer a superb safari with an uncrowded, exclusive feel at a great value.
Each of these lodges promises personal service, a wide variety of activities and a solid 4-night stay so you can really settle in and appreciate their distinctive settings. They pair nicely with more well-known safari destinations, and all four would make a great extension or centerpiece for a longer itinerary.
Magashi is the newest camp in the Wilderness Safaris family located in the northeastern corner of Akagera National Park in Rwanda. This camp is opening on the 1st of December, and it is the result of many years of public/private partnership and local collaboration.
We see it as an excellent example of what’s on the horizon for new destinations where governments, communities, conservation and tourism work together to rehabilitate a wilderness area. Pair this with gorilla trekking experiences from the stunning Bisate Lodge.
Amalinda is a stunning lodge built into the granite wilderness outside of Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills National Park. It is a wild and historic place full of rocks and rhinos. Through decades of hardship and instability, this family owned and operated lodge has sustained a commitment to this unique place.
There is a huge variety of activities, from hiking and biking to tracking rhinos on foot and exploring pre-historic rock art, and the area is known for its sense of tranquility, rejuvenation and spirituality. This pairs with other destinations in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and there’s a great combo with Mashatu!
Mashatu is also a family owned and operated lodge located in a truly singular landscape where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet, and it is unlike any of them with grand baobabs, spectacular vistas and a host of rare and unusual wildlife.
It’s perfect for multi-generational families with a variety of accommodation options from lightweight fly-camping to tented camps and a luxury lodge, and there’s a huge variety of activities including horseback riding, walking, biking and elephant toe-nail photography from a waterhole hide! Mashatu works well with other destinations in Botswana and South Africa, and there’s a great combo with Amalinda.
Shipwreck is one of the most remote and far-flung luxury destinations in the world, and it’s an example of a bold statement in architectural design and conservation impact. This dramatic lodge was designed to match the stark, intense beauty of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, with its extreme environment and fascinating history.
The experience at Shipwreck is all about sand dunes, whale bones and wildflowers, discovering shocks of improbable life, and visiting a place very few people have ever been. Shipwreck is on the edge of the world, and it pairs well with other destinations on a dedicated Namibia itinerary.
There’s plenty more places we love that few people have heard of. Get in touch to learn more about these lodges and how to build your perfect safari itinerary.
We’re excited to share a selection of new Travel with Purpose Itineraries from Wilderness Safaris. These special scheduled departures offer a glimpse into the conservation and community engagement work across a range of regions and eco-systems. Each of these itineraries includes:
- Adventurous and impactful journeys
- Truly spectacular and exciting destinations
- Accompanied by Wilderness Safaris directors and independent experts
- Absolutely unique, behind-the-scenes access to Wilderness Safaris and our partners
Travel With Purpose - Introduction (Monthly Journeys From May 2018 To April 2019) - January 2018
Zimbabwe – Hwange Elephant CollaringTravel With Purpose - Zimbabwe - Hwange Elephant Collaring (14 - 19 September 2019)
Zimbabwe – Children In The Wilderness Annual Eco ClubTravel With Purpose - Zimbabwe - Children In The Wilderness Annual Eco Club (02 - 05 December 2019)
Zimbabwe – Hwange Journey With A PurposeHwange Journey With A Purpose (10 - 14 January 2020 & 07 - 11 February 2020) - Without Rates
Zambia – Kafue Predator CollaringTravel With Purpose - Zambia - Kafue Predator Collaring (23 - 28 October 2019)
Namibia – Desert Lion ConservationTravel With Purpose - Namibia - Desert Lion Conservation (15 - 20 November 2019) With Rack Rates
Botswana – Kalahari & Linyanti Concession – A Light Camp FootprintTravel With Purpose Light - Purpose Itinerary - Botswana Central Kalahari Game Reserve & Linyanti Concession - A Light Camp Footprint (10 - 14 February 2019)
Become A Wilderness Eco ExpertBecome A Wilderness Eco Expert (08 - 14 December 2019 With Ona Basimane)
Rwanda – Great Apes & RainforestsTravel With Purpose - Rwanda - Great Apes & Rainforests (01 - 09 May 2019) With Rack Rates
Next Adventure, a safari company based in Berkeley and run by Kili McGowan and her husband Jeremy Townsend, was tasked with setting up the trip for Bell, Bourdain, and the Parts Unknownproduction crew.
“Tony [Bourdain] inspired people to be travelers, not just tourists,” McGowan said. “Being a chef, he had this appreciation for people and their cultures.”
McGowan ended up traveling with the crew to Kenya’s Lewa Wilderness. As fans would expect, McGowan said Bourdain was mindful of the conservation efforts in the African countries he visited. “He was so enthusiastic about it, and it’s extremely rewarding,” McGowan recalled.
She also remarked on Bourdain and the production crew’s passion and positive working dynamics. The rapport between the late Bourdain and Bell was obvious as well. “Their chemistry is really palpable,” she said.
When the show was in the planning stages, Bell pointed the Parts Unknown production company, Zero Point Zero, to Berkeley company Next Adventure whose expertise is curating personalized, conservation-minded safari and wildlife trips to Africa. Bell is friends with Kili McGowan, the company’s managing director, and was sure its thoughtful approach to travel would marry well with Bourdain’s show.
“It was such a great shared opportunity,” said McGowan. Both Bell and Bourdain, whether through the lens of diversity in America, or international food culture, go into experiences with open hearts and minds, she said. “They both have a vulnerability and empathy that draws people into conversations.”
Next Adventure recommended the visit to the Lewa Conservancy. “The transition from the vibrancy and intensity of Nairobi to the tranquility of the conservancy is one of my favorite parts,” said McGowan who accompanied the crew on the shoot.
In March 2018, Kili McGowan, Next Adventure’s Managing Director, accompanied the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown crew during their time on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. This is her story and photos from that experience.
It was a rainy day.
Surprisingly, the day I met Anthony Bourdain – on safari – was fraught with an unseasonal rain storm that lasted for three months after a 5-year drought. The flooding was so bad in Nairobi it made headlines briefly in the US. We were sitting inside by a fire in the cozy main living room of Lewa Wilderness, a family-owned safari lodge on Lewa Conservancy.
You might say it was when I really met him, because in truth, I’d been introduced to Anthony the day before, just prior to the rain starting. It was arrival day for the shoot and while chatting with my dear friend Kamau Bell who had just arrived from the noise of Nairobi, Anthony walked right up and said hello as if it was just any other day for him. Easy, comfortable and casual…humble, and unlike any other celebrity encounter I’d had before.
Anthony and Kamau were at Lewa to shoot what we now know to be one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown, the famous travel series that invites people to see the world through the lens of Anthony and his exceptional crew. Of course, Anthony had been to Africa countless times, but now the seasoned traveler “was dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world”.
They started in Nairobi looking for examples of community empowerment and uplifting aspects of Kenya’s pride, politics and creativity. Naturally, they wanted a safari to match this perspective, and they were looking for a story at the intersection of tourism, conservation and local Kenyan engagement.
This perspective – one of hope, creativity and resilience – was a perfect match with one of our beloved destinations, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. Established in 1995 by the Craig family, Lewa was originally a cattle ranch that has since grown to be one of the most successful rhino conservation projects in the world while also providing medical services to nearly 50,000 people.
As a conservation model, this patchwork of ranches has inspired the Northern Rangelands Trust which includes 35 community conservancies and 18 ethnic groups spread over 42,000 sq. kms. of Kenya’s wild northern frontier. Lewa is an epicenter of conversations about land and wildlife management, anti-poaching strategies, and secure, sustainable development. Lewa embodies a radical innovation of Kenya’s most foundational structures, and the lesson from Lewa is clear: to protect wildlife, you have to build clinics, support schools and empower local communities.
Uncovering the Story
We knew Anthony and his crew would find what they needed at Lewa. It just so happened that at the time of their visit, presidential politics were extremely precarious, and tensions were also growing in Kenya because of a 5-year drought the country had been experiencing. Managing and monitoring the needs of the communities as well as those of the animals and the sometimes constricting laws that surround land and water usage created desperate situations that were complex and palpable. Although a complex and sensitive issue, we knew that Parts Unknown was interested in capturing some of this story, and certainly how it was impacting the nation overall.
Travel – and the unforgettable gems that result from it – can be tricky. The ‘magical’ moments that travelers seek can be elusive in spite of the best laid plans. Our first sundowner shot with Anthony and Kamau, for example, was enshrouded in streaky grey clouds, but, rather than hang onto that disappointment, we proceeded with our schedule…capturing intimate audio from Anthony that perhaps today carries a bit of comfort that he knew his life was well-lived.
Seventeen f—ing years. As soon as the cameras turn off and the crew will be sitting around, we’ll be having a cocktail, I f— pinch myself. I cannot f— believe that I get to do this.
As luck would have it, magic did manage to find us the next day. In an almost prophetic way, there was a sighting of a male and female lion together on a hilltop where they’ve been spotted before…except this time, they almost immediately sauntered down the hill and walked directly toward our vehicle with Tony and Kamau following behind. After that fortuitous sighting, we continued on to Il Ngwesi Community Ranch for a celebratory lunch that was simple and profound. And then, it happened.
An Unexpected Gift
Coming from a direction that even the Maasai elders didn’t expect was an unlikely storm in an atypical month. Kenyans generally experience the ‘short rains’ in December, and the ‘long rains’ in April and May which is when the bulk of the precipitation happens, but this was March 2nd. The direction, the timing and the dramatic ending of Kenya’s drought was electrifying the country…in that very moment. And, it was captured by and with Anthony Bourdain. The entire community, the crew, even Kamau…everyone…was dancing in celebration of the unexpected gift.
This is how I ended up in front of a fire with the sound of raindrops on the roof, chatting with Anthony. Not surprisingly, we talked about travel. I was curious if there was a destination he found most surprising, and he told me about Iran…he said the people were kind, welcoming and embracing. We talked about respecting cultures and how when someone you just met offers you something to eat, you absolutely eat it. For Anthony, the first and final frontier was a culture’s food, and, to have an authentic adventure, one must be completely immersed in it.
That visit, now documented in one of his final episodes, will certainly be held as one of my most treasured memories. The rain we had was certainly symbolic of how his visit brought so many gifts to this hopeful place; from his company around that fire to the light that this episode will bring to Lewa and the surrounding communities and certainly to the ongoing story of Kenya’s beauty and resilience.
Special thanks to Dawn Shalhoup at www.prpotion.com for helping tell this story.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to take this moment to tell him what he really means to me,’ ” Bell says.
He told Bourdain that he watched his show on his couch 10 years ago, thought it was a perfect job, and wondered how a struggling comic could get there. Bourdain responded that he was a simple cook, “dunking fries” at age 44, and never thought he’d see Rome much less Kenya.
It was a special moment, Bell recalls, that now feels like a goodbye.
In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was booming. It was a sought-after destination, and Next Adventure was one of the few photographic safari experts to specialize in travel to Zimbabwe.
Over the past couple of decades, Zimbabwe tourism has struggled, but there is optimism in the air. Three of the most influential safari operators are opening new camps in the Zambezi valley. Vic Falls town is humming again with lots of new lodges and development, and more travelers are opting for a full Zimbabwe Safari Circuit.
Zimbabwe is a country of remarkable diversity with a variety of excellent wildlife viewing regions. There’s boating and walking safaris, archeological touring, ground-breaking conservation work, one of the seven woders of the world and some of the best naturalist guides on the continent.
We’re excited to be working on a wonderful itinerary for a family of four that includes Zimbabwe’s iconic destinations as well as stops in the lesser known areas in the south.
We love how this itinerary unfolds. We start off with the stunning beauty and adventure of the Zambezi Valley and the predator rich pans of Hwange National Park, then there’s a mid-point stop to explore Vic Falls before continuing to the granite wilderness of Matopos and a fascinating World Heritage site, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
The circuit ends in the Gonarezhou area which ties together all the themes that make for a great safari: community-based conservation, cultural experiences, and a wide range of activities in a truly breathtaking wilderness setting.
1 night in Johannesburg on arrival at The Intercontinental
3 nights in Mana Pools at Zambezi Expeditions or Little Ruckomechi Camp
3 nights in Hwange National Park at Somalisa Camp or Davison’s Camp
2 nights in Victoria Falls at Victoria Falls Hotel or Old Drift Lodge
3 nights in Matopos at Amalinda Lodge
1 nights in Masvingo to tour the Great Zimbabwe Monutment
3 nights in Gonarezhou National Park at Chilo Gorge or Singita Pamushana
Here’s a google map to see how their trip is coming together:
As the sun drifted down on the rolling hills of South Africa’s Free State province, Manie Van Niekerk wore a mournful look. The 52-year-old farmer and rancher, whose short hair is dark on top and gray on the sides, has a sturdy, solid frame formed by decades of physical work. He looks like a man who is hard to shake. And yet, talking about his 32 rhinoceroses, which at that moment he was preparing to give away, he was visibly moved. “You fall in love with the rhino,” he told me. “You get a lot of joy looking at them. They are dinosaurs. You can look at them and imagine the world before. People think they’re clumsy, but they’re actually very graceful. Like ballerinas.”
Simon Penfold, my Scenic Air Safaris host, was right. Through the window of our 10-seater plane, I watched a herd of elephants saunter across the Masai Mara plains with slack-jawed astonishment as we made our way to the landing strip.
I had not heard the call. No one near me had—not the South African behind me, nor the Swedish woman to his left. Not even the Vancouverites, who’d finally silenced the shutters on the shiny new Canons they’d traveled 9,875 miles to test out in Botswana, and who had proven to be the couple in our mud-smacked 4WD who maybe, maybe, could spot something before OB, our guide, had a chance (they got high praise for spying a rare red-billed quelea 30 minutes earlier which sent those shutters aflutter). With two days of game drives already behind us, the five of us now understood when OB sensed something.