“It was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background… After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…” — Sheryl
I flew on Ethiopian Airlines from SFO to Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (JRO). Arrived in JRO about 1pm. I was picked up by our Driver/Guide – Harry Richard. We drove about 30 minutes west to Arusha and 1st night lodging – Rivertrees Country Inn. Had a lovely room on the ‘river’. I kept hearing noises on the roof and when I went outside I saw small Vervet Monkeys climbing in the trees along the river and roofs of the buildings. Took lots of cute pictures.
Wandered around the beautiful grounds to help stay awake. Laura had spent the prior week in Arua, Uganda and arrived at the hotel shortly after 1 am. She felt like she was in heaven compared to her experience in Uganda
26 June – 27 June
We enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast and Harry picked us up to start the trip around 9 am. His boss from African Horizons joined us for an introduction and drive into Arusha. We had to stop at the cellular store to get the ‘hotspot’ for the Land Rover working so we could have WiFi along the way. (Laura was happy!) We dropped him off and headed out to Tarangire National Park. Once arrived at the park we drove only a short distance before we started seeing all kinds of animals – antelopes, giraffe, elephants, deer, zebras, vervet monkeys, … We could not believe our eyes! We had scheduled a ‘hot’ lunch at Tarangire Safari Lodge so we could explore the park on the way to our night’s lodging. We barely made it before lunch closed as we kept seeing more animals and wanted to watch/take pictures. The Lodge looks out over the park and has some beautiful views.
After lunch we headed out and saw lots more animals. The roads, like all the roads we traveled on were very rough and bumpy, but we got used to it. It is called an African Massage, and my back actually never felt better during the entire trip! Our lodge for the next two nights was Kichuguu Camp towards the southern end of the park. It was a long drive but very nice camp. There are about 8 tent cabins and a central dining/gathering tent cabin where we had our meals. We got to experience a bucket shower; we scheduled a time for a shower and the staff brought hot water, filled the bucket outside the tent, hoisted it to the top of the cabin with a pulley systems and then we would control it from within the shower through pull cords. We heard animals nearby in the evening.
We were awakened with tea and biscuits delivered to our tent cabin. (This became a daily tradition that we really enjoyed!) After another great buffet breakfast with fruits, cereal, eggs, etc, we headed out about 8 am going south towards Nguselororobi Swamp. Tarangire is known for its birds and we saw a lot along with some interesting animals. One of the cutest ones is a “Dik-dik” a very small (12” tall) antelope. And more Vervet Monkeys…
We weren’t seeing a lot of animals, so Laura and I were wondering if the best was over (NOT!) Harry headed back north and we continued to see more elephants, zebras, giraffes, etc. Laura was really wanting to see a lion and then all of the sudden 2 female lions started walking towards us on the road. They stopped on the side of the road and we drove up next to them. Shortly after that a couple young lions came down the road and joined. What a thrill to see them so close to us. And there were some giraffes nearby on the other side of the truck.
Shortly after the lions wandered away we had to take a break due to elephants in the road! We just sat, watched and listened until they were ready to move on.
We continued wandering the middle of Tarangire continuously seeing animals, some on their own, some in large groups. We saw an occasional Ostrich and plenty of antelope and gazelle.
We arrived back at camp around 5. Had our bucket showers and joined the campfire / “bush TV” before dinner.
28 June – 29 June
We bid good-bye to the staff at Kichuguu Camp and started our trip to Karatu. On the way we continued to see lots of animals, always stopping for more pictures.
We were glad to be back on paved roads for a little while on the drive to Karatu. Along the way we stopped at a Masai village. While the ‘village’ catered to tourists, we did learn a bit about how the Masai live (small huts) and what they eat (cow’s blood and meat). When we arrived, we were greeted with some singing, dancing and a jumping competition for the men. They demonstrated how they start a fire and we went into one of the huts. They also showed us their “Kindergarten” class that was learning their ABCs.
We arrived about 2pm at Plantation Lodge where we had a late lunch on a beautiful patio before settling into our “upgraded” suite. The room was spacious with 2 sleeping areas and 2 patios. The avocado tree kept dropping avocados on our roof, but the fresh avocado we had with our meals made it all worth it! Plantation Lodge is in the ‘highlands’ at 4000 ft. It was cooler than we expected, but pleasant. They served afternoon tea in the English tradition, even though the Lodge was run by German woman who had been in Tanzania for 40 years or so. The dinners and breakfast were very good. There was also a nice bar and a sitting area with TV, where watched a bit of the World Cup Soccer games.
We got an early start for a trip to Ngorongoro Crater. We had about an hour drive to the edge of the crater and then down into the crater on a very steep road. The crater has a very high concentration of animals due to the geography and environment. We saw many, many animals, including a Rhino (very far away), Hippos, Lions, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Hyenas, Zebras, … No giraffes as there aren’t any trees for them to feed on.
The crater was full of safari vehicles, and they communicated with one another via radio to share sightings.
We left the crater mid-afternoon after a very fulfilling day. It was foggy on our drive into the crater, but we had a great view when we got back to the top.
We enjoyed a late afternoon tea back at the Lodge and relaxed before dinner.
We headed west towards Lake Eyasi to visit two tribes: Hadzabe and Datoga. We met our guide who grew up with the Datoga tribe and also speaks the Hadzabe language. We drove through the bush, across dry river beds to visit the Hadzabe. They are hunter/gatherers who live in the bush and go hunting for their food every day. The young men demonstrated and, through our guide, told us about how they live and hunt, showing us various types of arrows and describing how they hunt for different types of animals. They also demonstrated their bow and arrow ‘practice’, letting us give a try. Several women and children were gathered around as well. Apparently, all the children are offered the opportunity to go to K-7 public school. If they do, they need to leave the tribe and stay at a boarding school. Not many of them do that; and some that do, don’t like it and return to the tribe. After 7th grade, schooling can continue if students score high enough on tests. If not, they return to the tribe. Two unique things about the Hadzabe – they speak with a ‘clicking’ dialect which is one of the first known forms of human communication. Also, they seek shelter during the rainy season in the Baobab trees which are tall and hallow inside.
We drove about 30 minutes from the Hadzabe to see the Datoga tribe. Datoga are ‘pastoral’, living in small communities where they keep their animals. The group that we visited had several wood frame buildings and did metal-working. They gather scrap metal, melt it down and then pound it into shapes. We sat inside one of the buildings with the women from the tribe. They showed us how to (and let us try to) grind corn which they cook for their meals. We did a little Q&A with them. One of the questions they asked me was “where is my husband?” I said that he was at home, didn’t travel with us. Our guide had to do quite a bit of explaining so they could understand that a woman from the US can travel independently from her husband. They asked if Laura was married and (jokingly, I think) offered me 20 cows if she would stay to marry one of the boys in their tribe. That is actually common practice with the tribes and throughout Tanzania – the men have to offer something (traditionally animals; today money or property) to the women’s family if they want to marry.
1 July – 2 July
We drove Northwest from Karatu area to Serengeti National Park. The first part of the drive was the same as the route to Ngorongoro Crater. Then we dropped down towards Olduvai Gorge made famous by Mary and Louis Leakey discoveries showing earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors.
As we entered Serengeti National Park it was noticeably drier and less green vegetation than Tarangire and Ngorongoro. We stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Center and took a tour with a young guide training to be a Safari Guide. He took us on an exhibit/walk showing some of the animals, habitats and skeletons of animals in the park, and explained how the park was formed in 1951.
During our game drive that afternoon, we saw a lot of the same animals, but the vegetation was much more open. It was interesting to happen upon a group of baboons in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.
We stayed at Kiota Camp in central Serengeti for 2 nights. It is owned by the same company as Kichuguu and was very similar in layout, style and operation. As with Kichuguu, we were able to join the ‘bush TV’ before dinner.
We set out as early as we could the next morning for pictures of the sunrise and hot air balloons. Laura got some great shots.
After watching the balloons, we went out looking for animals and happened upon a lion family wandering down a path off the road. We stopped, and they came right by our vehicle and decided to take a break nearby. A very nice morning greeting and lots of nice pictures.
We spent the day driving all around the Central Serengeti and saw many animals, but quite spread out. We were looking for leopards and cheetahs. We did see 2 leopards, at different times, at a distance and hanging in trees.
We also saw several crocodiles as well. We saw an interesting scene with several elephants near a stream and some lions resting nearby. One of the elephants was pregnant. She was walking around slowly and at one point a male elephant walked up to her and reached out with his trunk touching her belly as if to sense the baby. A couple other younger elephants were nearby as well.
3 July – 4 July
After our usual, full breakfast, we left the Central Serengeti and headed over to the Western Serengeti near the Grumeti and Mbalageti Rivers. We didn’t see a lot of animals on our way to the west until we were about half-way there and we ran across the ‘Great Migration’. All of the sudden there were hundreds of Wildebeest and Zebras in every direction, crossing the road in front of us and slowly heading toward the North on their clock-wise migration around the park.
We stopped to watch them for quite a while. At one point, some baboons came down by the water on the side of the road to join the fun.
The Wildebeest make a lot of bellowing noises, so it sounded like we were in middle of a barnyard as they were crossing all around us. We continued heading west and came to a marshy area where we saw some Storks along with the Wildebeest and Zebras.
We spent out last two nights at Kirawira Tented Camp in the “Tembo” tent. The camp is located above the plains at 4100 feet at 20 Latitude and offered beautiful views from our ‘tent’.
And gorgeous sunsets.
On our final full-day we drove all around the Western Serengeti, mainly by the 2 nearby rivers. We saw some Hippos ‘sun-bathing’ and spent quite a bit of time watching some Wildebeest and Zebras trying to approach some water. There were a male and female lion nearby ‘waiting’ for them. The zebras apparently let the Wildebeest go to the water first and then they follow if it’s safe. They seemed to sense trouble ahead and took quite a while to head down to the river. The lions didn’t seem too hungry or aggressive. They laid back but as the wildebeest got to the water they made their move towards the wildebeest who quickly climbed back up the banks away from the water and into the open again. Everyone was still safe and sound when we left.
We did see a Cheetah at quite a distance working on its prey, but no close-ups. Back at camp we enjoyed our last sunset over the Serengeti.
Our last day… We had a nice breakfast at Kirawira. We were sitting at a corner table which was open to the outside in the usual style of the tented camps. The Vervet monkeys had been wandering into the dining area a bit. Much to our surprise one of them jumped down from a post, onto the table and grabbed a piece of fruit off a plate that Laura had set aside! On our way to airport we had to stop for a small Tortoise in the road. We said good-bye to our faithful guide Harry Richard at the Grumeti airstrip and headed to Arusha for our trip home. We touched down to drop-off and pick-up others at the Central Serengeti Seronara airstrip. Along the way to Arusha we flew over Lengai Crater.
Back in Arusha, we met with Godfrey from African Horizons our guide for the afternoon. We had a leisurely lunch at the “Coffee Lodge” and then a city tour. We drove by many open air markets where people buy their clothes, household items, etc. They are set-up each day as people bring the items into the market. Our guide pointed out one market that was less expensive as it sells all the things that get shipped/donated from the US. (It was quite large and full of clothing, etc!) We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport in mid-afternoon. We flew to Dubai, arriving about 6 am. Dubai is an incredibly modern place and the airport terminal was a very abrupt change from the environment we had been in. It was nice to have a direct flight to SFO on Emirates.
Overall, it was an incredible, once in a lifetime trip for me. I’ve been interested in doing a Safari since I read Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night” in 1987, but I never really expected I would. I’m so glad Laura convinced me to explore the idea and to learn that it really is very doable. Laura was a great travel companion; the accommodations and food were superb. Most of all, it was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background… After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…
Follow Laura’s travels on her Instagram account @laura_morgannn
More of Laura’s Photo’s
The big takeaway for me was that South Luangwa should be on more peoples’ lists, and travelers should consider really exploring the park with a 6-8 night stay visiting a few different areas. For me, I think a wonderful trip would start off in Livingstone/Vic Falls, then continue on to the Luangwa Valley for big game wildlife viewing followed by canoeing and river safaris on the Lower Zambezi, and maybe a nice city finish in Cape Town.
The good news is that connections into and around Zambia are getting better every year. I flew directly into Lusaka from Dubai, and there are now direct flights from Nairobi to Livingstone to Cape Town, so Zambia can be easily combined with other destinations in East and Southern Africa.
Photos & Report by Jeremy Townsend
Early-November was an exciting time to visit Luangwa, right at the end of the dry season when all the guides and the animals are eagerly awaiting the first rains. I was lucky to visit some of the remote bush camps as most were getting ready to close in preparation for the coming rains, and it was fascinating to see the variety of landscapes and ecosystems at this dynamic time of year.
You can see the evidence of the park’s dramatic seasonal changes everywhere. It seems impossible that the vast sandy river banks, some half a kilometer across and 10 feet high, could fill and overflow during what is known as the Emerald Season in January and February. When the rainwater from the Muchinga Escarpment at the southern end of the Great East African Rift funnels into the Luangwa River and its tributaries, the area becomes a waterworld with boating safaris over what was parched open plains during the dry season of June-October.
With these seasonal fluctuations, the backcountry dries up, and an amazing diversity of wildlife congregates along the river and the oxbow lagoons scattered throughout the park. Over the course of 9 nights, I saw lion and leopard on almost every drive. I saw impressive numbers of zebra, Thornicroft Giraffe, Cookson’s Wildebeest, huge herds of buffalo and families of elephant making their way from the forests to the dry riverbeds and across the plains in search of water or mangos.
I saw 4 packs of wild dogs which was unbelievable, and a very rare sighting of wild pigs, a wide variety of antelope including eland, kudu, reed buck, bush buck, waterbuck and the first of the tiny baby impala and warthogs that arrive with the first rains. The night drives were especially exciting with genets, civets, hyena, lots of different mongoose and porcupines, twice!!!
There’s such an amazing contrast between the cracked dry earth and the busy waterholes. In one area, we watched a lonely hippo and a baby crocodile sharing a shrinking puddle with yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, a hammerkop, kingfishers, egrets, spoonbills and a fisheagle awaiting its turn on the bank.
Out near the hot springs in the Nsefu sector, I watched a five-minute boxing match between two Egyptian geese that will go down as one of my most interesting and exciting wildlife sightings as they locked their beaks and traded punches while the rest of the flock cheered them on!
And perhaps the best part was that we weren’t crowded or jostled by multiple vehicles; it seemed like we had the park all to ourselves… The guides are excellent, and they take special care to spread out into the park and give guests a great experience.
There are so many things that make Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park a special destination, but perhaps it’s best feature is that it is relatively unknown to the masses. In terms of wildlife viewing and the quality of camps and guiding, the park offers incredible value while avoiding the crowds that we find in more popular destinations.
I was struck by the intimate size of most of the camps and lodges in the park. Mfuwe Lodge, famous for the elephants who stroll through its lobby during the mango fruiting season, is perceived as being a big lodge, but, with only 18 chalets, it’s still pretty cozy compared to the safari resorts found in some other destinations.
Once travelers get out to the more remote parts of the park, most camps have only 4-6 units which makes for a truly special and personalized experience. The small camp size has roots in the park being the home of the walking safari, and a lot of the camps still offer morning or even multi-day hikes so you can really immerse yourself in this wild environment. With a wide range of options from top-of-the-line luxury like Chinzombo and the new Puku Ridge Camp to comfy classic lodges like Kapamba and Nsefu to true backcountry adventure camps like Nsolo, there’s something for everyone at every budget.
We’re so grateful to see Zambia staying true to its wild African character as a leader in conservation and ecotourism with exceptional guides, spectacular wildlife and so many possibilities!!!
“We sat quietly as they ate around us, we were no more than a few feet from the majestic beasts – it was the most incredible experience of my life” — Jessica
It really was unreal – we saw amazing animals on every drive, but the top 2 scenes were a pride of lions chasing a leopard up a tree, robbing its dinner, proceeding to finish off the impala, then a pack of hyenas sniffing for scraps once the lions moved on, and finally the leopard making its way out of the tree and running off.
The other, absolutely moving experience was our first night at Lions Sands – there were a herd of elephants just outside our room, so we skipped the evening safari – the herd eventually made their way right up to our plunge pool and deck (pictured on the right) – we sat quietly as they ate around us, we were no more than a few feet from the majestic beasts – it was the most incredible experience of my life.
More of Jessica’s & Gearóid’s Photos
“We had the most amazing time on our trip! It was truly life changing. We have probably overshared our adventures with anybody that will listen!”– Penny & David
We really enjoyed having the same guide Mibuko at both Chem Chems and the same guide and tracker Hussein and Puis at both Alex Walker camps. We formed a real bond experiencing all those extraordinary adventures with them. They were the best of the best! We also did two walking safaris and loved every minute!
We particularly loved just sitting and watching all the amazing wildlife! We happened upon Omo the white giraffe (pictured on the right) which was a nice surprise. We witnessed two wildebeest crossings and we watched one build all day so it was a big one. Hundreds of the wildebeest died because they couldn’t get up the steep enbankment in some areas.
We watched a younger looking hippo actually save a number of exhausted wildebeest from drowning by escorting them to the edge of the river. One large wildebeest he had been popping up around did drown. The hippo was pushing his body to the edge when a crocodile came toward them. The hippo went into attack mode and the croc disappeared. It was fascinating!
Camps & Lodges
We liked the luxurious accommodations at Chem Chem but then was nice to have a more authentic mobile tent experience with Alex Walker. There’s nothing like a hyena whooping in the middle of the night directly on the other side of your canvas. The White Sands Villas and especially our beachfront property were a real treat! The accommodations, food and service exceeded our expectations immensely.
We would definitely like Next Adventure to plan our next African safari trip. In a couple years we are interested in seeing the gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. We are also interested in experiencing the calving season in South Tanzania. In five or six years we would like to take our family and stay at Giraffe Manor and family friendly camps like Chem Chems.
MORE OF PENNY’S PHOTOS
“This was my best vacation EVER. I’d gladly try another safari.” — Eric
I’d like to start by saying that this was my best vacation ever! We had great accommodations, great guides, great food and good weather. I’m glad we went to three different places. Of the three I liked Lewa best because it had a little bit of everything and had more activities.
HERE ARE SOME OF ERIC’S PHOTOS FROM LEWA
Eric’s HIGH-POINTS OF THE TRIP
- The cats in the Masai Mara
- The Walking Safari in Lewa
- The trip to the waterfall in Lewa (pictured below)
- All the elephants
- The sundowners (Michelle & Eric enjoying one here to the left)
- All the meals (FANTASTIC!)
The local team in Nairobi was above and beyond GREAT. They held our extra bag and helped with everything. The hotel staff at all three lodges was very sociable. They were always there mingling with the guests. Our guides worked much harder than the other guides that we came upon to be sure we saw everything. They kept hunting for game, often for 6 hours. Let me reiterate, this was my best vacation EVER. I’d gladly try another safari.
MORE OF ERIC’S PHOTOS
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
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 Next Adventure 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
“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
Not until you’ve followed in the footsteps of the great explorers and experienced the compelling mix of excitement, respect and awe that a walking safari delivers, can you really understand the true nature of the African wilderness. Zambia’s South Luangwa is the home of the walking safari where it was first pioneered by Norman Carr back in the 1960s.
Today, there are a number of excellent walking safaris with the finest local guides and prime camp locations in the South Luangwa including Bushcamp Company‘s extraordinary camp-to-camp circuits in the remote southern sector of the park.
Learn the secrets of the bush, track a leopard by identifying spoor and listening for tell-tale alarm calls, soothe insect bites with the juice of a sausage tree. With every step there is something new to learn, a new bird or animal to spot and a new unforgettable experience.
Safety is, of course, paramount. Walking safari guides are highly trained and they will instruct you on how to behave when approaching some of the larger animals. Alongside your guide, an armed national park escort scout, provided by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), is required to accompany you on walks.
The final member of your walking safari group is the all-important tea-porter. As well as being another valuable set of eyes and ears, he will carry refreshments for your walk. At a suitably scenic point, his bag will open to produce tea and biscuits in the morning, or cold beers and G&Ts in the evening.
It is a rare privilege to be able to walk in an African national park. With so many different habitats to explore, from open plains to sandy river banks, eerie mopane forests to swampy lagoons, no two outings will ever be the same, but we guarantee that you will remember every one.
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.
When I was a kid I read things about Daniel Boone and the Native American explorers and scouts. They had lore like “they could tell from a broken twig that an animal had passed this way…” I didn’t make much of it at the time. It was an abstract idea, filtered through the experience of a city kid, but what we experienced in Africa was amazing. — Alan S., Berkeley, CA
When travelers return home from an African wildlife safari, they often describe the experience as being “beyond words.” Luckily, our recent clients Jane & Alan found the words to describe what it was like to be out on a game drives while visiting Khwai Tented Camp & Linyanti Bush Camp. Enjoy their photos below along with their excellent description of a classic african game drive!
First, the guides knew their miles-wide terrain as well as I know my back yard. There aren’t very many roads – what passes for roads are basically dirt or sand paths, with non-stop bone-jarring ups and downs. Anything else looked like a track that had been run over by a jeep (more likely, a Land Cruiser) a few times – top speed 20 MPH, with curves and ruts all over the place. We also learned what “all-terrain vehicle” meant – deep sand, thigh-high water, marsh (in search of buffalo), etc. (The cars were modified so that their air intake valves were at shoulder height, allowing the vehicle to go through deep water without compromising engine intake.)
Just stunning…there is a constant parade of animals coming down the hill and you can see the vastness of the flat, open landscape. — Courtney, SF
Honeymooners Christian and Courtney wanted a special kind of adventure, a honeymoon safari, to celebrate their wedding. They connected on their own with a non-profit organization to volunteer in a rural area of Zimbabwe, and Next Adventure linked a custom safari with our partners at African Bush Camps including a visit to spectacular Victoria Falls. They raved about the seamless operations, the quality of the camps and guiding, and the perfect order of diverse experiences in the safari designed by Kili.
After a week of volunteer work and rugged accommodations, the happy couple flew out to Mana Pools National Park to start their honeymoon safari at Zambezi Expeditions on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Upon landing in Mana Pools, they were greeted by a herd of ostrich and Lovejoy, their guide. Lovejoy, like all the guides and staff Christian & Courtney encountered, was excited to show off his country and was friendly, knowledgable, attentive, and far exceeded any expectations of hospitality. Lovejoy even went out during the midday siesta to search for a pack of wild dogs that Christian & Courtney hadn’t yet spotted. Of course, he found the pack of wild dog and brought all of the guests out to see them. From canoeing and walking safaris to driving in the park, each day was full of wildlife sightings at a nice pace.
In the quiet pre-dawn, our small group huddled together around the tea and coffee that the camp staff had so beautifully laid out. There was a ripple of excitement among my colleagues and fellow members of Safari Professionals–we were seeing a rhino receive a veterinary field check-up and be fitted with an electronic tracking device today! For some of us, this was a first time close encounter with the ‘nitty gritty’ of conservation work. We were thrilled to see conservation efforts we’re so passionate about in action! All of us support the incredible work being done by Map Ives and Rhino Conservation Botswana, and we couldn’t have been more grateful to the entire team from Wilderness Safaris for facilitating this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When the time came, like the quiet creatures we were setting out to see, our group slowly moved toward our waiting helicopters. As the helis zipped us along to the rendezvous point, I marveled at how anyone could find a rhino in the vast landscape that is the Okavango Delta. Waves of hope and undercurrents of despair washed over me–hope that conservation efforts like these were having a positive impact for rhinos and despair that the situation is so dire that these operations are essential to the survival of this extraordinary species.
We touched down, and our small group met with the team of veterinarians who had identified a large adult male White Rhino for darting. It was an individual who had been relocated to Botswana some 20 years ago. The vet expertly tranquilized the rhino so that he could be fitted for his electronic monitoring devices. The veterinary team would also measure and check his overall health to document his condition. As we approached by vehicle and then on foot, I had to gasp at the sheer size of the rhinoceros. He was massive and lying peacefully as the vets quickly got their samples and measurements.
In the awed silence while watching them work, I could hear the rhino’s slow rhythmic breathing and watch his chest expand with each inhale. We could examine his enormous horn closely–even seeing the tiny fibers which make up this valuable commodity. We were able to touch the soft skin of his underbelly and his coarse mud-covered back.
I was filled with hope and my eyes teared up as the vets efficiently set the tracking devices in place and revived the rhino. Within a minute, our rhino stood and carefully scanned the area before sauntering into the nearby bush.
We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.
In the last week of April, I traveled to the Northern Tuli Block in far eastern Botswana, which contains southern Africa’s largest private game area, the Mashatu Game Reserve. I had never been to this region of Botswana before and I was awed by the natural beauty and incredible wildlife that I discovered while staying at both Mashatu Tent Camp and Mashatu Main Lodge.
I flew into Johannesburg, South Africa and stayed overnight at the clean, comfortable, well-priced and conveniently located Citi Lodge business hotel, a short walk from the customs and baggage area at OR Tambo International airport.
After a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel the next morning, I walked over to check-in for my Angel Gabriel charter flight to the Limpopo airstrip. The Angel Gabriel representative met me at an upright banner near gates 60-65, checked me in and a host escorted me, along with a few others on the flight, through to the boarding area. It was a quick and easy 1-hour flight to Limpopo and the plane buzzed with excitement of a group of women from the UK and France who were arriving to do an overland horseback riding safari.
Upon landing at Limpopo, clearing customs into Botswana was about as easy as it gets – I simply walked up to the customs window for a stamp. My Mashatu driver, Spike, was waiting for me and within 10 minutes of landing, we were headed on a 45-minute drive towards my home for the night, Mashatu Tent Camp. It started to rain on the drive to camp, so I layered up in my gore-tex and Spike gave me a Mashatu poncho, which I layered on top. My turnaround time at camp was very fast, as afternoon tea was already under way when I arrived. I grabbed my camera gear, had a quick bite to eat and some tea before departing on my first game drive at Mashatu. It was quite wet out there, which is unusual for this area. We stopped to admire giraffe before driving on to a site where an python had been spotted earlier that day. The python had moved on already, so we drove on, taking in the stunning scenery while Marty, PJ and I started getting to know each other. By lucky coincidence, we happened to be staying at Mashatu at the same time, so I got to spend a bit of time in the bush with Next Adventure travelers! We found a huge male leopard just before sunset and got to spend time with him and enjoy a very close sighting before he started moving on. It was a beautiful sight to watch this leopard move through the bush, elegantly hidden by his mesmerizing spotted coat. A hot shower was very welcome before dinner – the canvas tents on raised platforms at Mashatu Tent Camp are cozy and comfortable and have a classic safari vibe, with an outdoor shower and separate bathroom attached to the back of each tent. This is an intimate camp with a welcoming atmosphere, as all guests gather for dinner around a common table for dinner and share stories from the day.
The next morning was cool and crisp – we huddled comfortably under wool blankets in the vehicle as we left camp before sunrise. Our morning was filled with incredible wildlife sightings, beginning with a young injured elephant whose trunk had been caught in a snare, most likely in Zimbabwe, and was now only about 3/4 of the length of a typical elephant trunk. The elephants in Mashatu often times drink water by placing their trunks down through the deep gravel sandbanks in order to filter river water through the earth to ensure greater purity. This poor injured elephant had to kneel down on her knees in order to access water. She was surviving, but clearly her life is far more difficult following this injury and one can only imagine would be shorter than it would have been without this devastating interference of man.
We left our highly adaptable elephant friend and rolled onward, encountering herds of wildebeest and marveling at the giant Mashatu trees, which are the namesake to the area. Mashatu is known as “The Land of the Giants,” which comes from this massive Nyala berry tree and also the many giants of the wildlife kingdom that call Mashatu home. We passed the gorgeous lilac breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird) and stopped to admire this colorful little beauty before driving on to an elusive sighting that our incredible tracker, Goms, was able to spot from a long distance away at the clearing or the edge of the forest – a bush pig! I’ve included a picture below… this was the first time I had ever seen one. Before long, we were treated to some time with a massive black-maned male lion, who is honestly one of the most gorgeous specimens I’ve ever seen. He is eight years old and does not have any notable scars on his body or his face, which is quite rare, as males must fight to defend their territory, sometimes to the death. This male shows such prowess that he has maintained this territory for many years. A hush fell over the safari vehicle while we all sat gazing upon this magnificent creature. He showed such a gentle command of the land, while at the same time exuding extraordinary power and grace.
Mashatu Tent Camp
Very shortly afterwards, we encountered a beautiful, young female leopard. Our guide, Justice, drove expertly through challenging terrain so that we could follow her and watch her move through the wilderness. She walked immediately next to the vehicle and I found myself transfixed, marveling at her intricate coat. We drove through the stunning countryside spotted with acacia trees herds of zebra and black-backed jackals, running alongside their lifelong mate through the grasslands. We came upon a herd of elephant and were able to watch them feed and got to observe the adorable, tiny youngsters following their mothers. I have a soft spot in my heart for all wildlife but eles are one of my favorites. I always take time to study the texture of their skin and to gaze into those soft, gentle, intelligent eyes. Within the herd, there was a massive bull elephant in pursuit of a female – he wanted nothing to do with us and displayed his dominance with loud trumpeting and head swinging. We knowingly quietly drove away, out of respect for this massive and beautiful creature. Our morning drive came to a close and we headed back to Mashatu Tent Camp, where I quickly packed my things and met Justice for the 45-minute trip over to Mashatu Lodge.
I arrived at Mashatu Lodge in time for brunch and was well-fed before settling into my new, quite luxurious room for the afternoon. Mashatu Lodge has a different feel from the tented camp and is a good match for guests seeking more creature comforts and a larger private space to enjoy while at the lodge. The rooms are spacious and very well-appointed, with a sitting area, spa bathroom with double sinks, a soaking tub and a generous shower with waterfall showerhead, along with a full walk-in closet and dressing area. The lodge has a main covered patio overlooking a very active waterhole where breakfast and brunch are served. The food is fresh and delicious with an impressive amount of variety and many healthy choices. The lodge grounds feature a swimming pool, an internet lounge, a curio shop and my favorite – the Gin Trap – a festive gathering place where safari stories are shared over drinks prior to dinner, which is served under the stars, in the glow of torch light in the outdoor boma.
While at Mashatu Lodge, for the majority of the time, I was very lucky to have a private vehicle with Kaiser as my exceptional naturalist guide and Goms as our keenly aware tracker. We had an incredible time together and definitely became friends over the course of those three days…it’s hard not to bond while sharing in such magnificence. Our first sighting that evening was of the same giant male lion that I had seen earlier in the day. We encountered him walking down dirt tracks where safari vehicles had passed, so he was fully visible – it was a special sighting indeed, as he walked directly towards, adjacent to and beyond our vehicle. Our evening ended with a sighting that was particularly special to me – just before dark we got to spend time with a mother cheetah with three female cubs. I had not seen cheetah since my first safari in Kenya, 17 years earlier, so I was thrilled at the chance to spend time with these elegant cats once more. The four of them were lying flat in a clearing on the grasslands. We stayed with them until dark and then drove to enjoy sundowners and getting to know each other a bit more. On the drive home, due to the expertise of our spotter, I got to see a family of African Wildcat, which is quite a rare sighting. The kittens were tiny and peering out of the bush with innocent and curious eyes.
Checkout this 24/7 live feed video from Pete’s Pond on Mashatu
The following morning started with a long-distance sighting of a leopard crossing the massive, dry riverbed that we were driving through. As the sun continued to rise, we followed her on a seemingly impossible driving route up the very steep riverbank and into the heavily wooded terrain above. Kaiser thought that there was a possibility she might be moving her young cub, which would’ve been really exciting to see, but it turns out that she had apparently already moved the cub earlier in the day. We stayed with her for a while and drove a carefully executed route that our tracker recommended, in order to follow her through the bush. Our sighting culminated with the leopard starting to hunt an impala that was just off her track and out of sight. The leopard determined that the impala was too far away to be worth expending so much effort, but we did get to watch her position into a crouch and begin the process of what would have been a hunt, had the conditions been more favorable. Thrilling!
After this very exciting start to our morning, we continued through the beautiful landscape and came upon a mother cheetah with three sons. The young males were playing with each other and exploring the area for a bit before the mother got up and prompted them to follow her, at which point they all walked off through the bush. Almost as soon as we left this family of cheetah, we came upon another family. The Mashatu terrain of open grassland, dotted with acacia trees, which provide shade and excellent cover, is perfect hunting terrain for cheetah so they thrive in this area. We watched this family under a tree and I was just mesmerized by their markings and their affectionate behavior with each other. After a full morning of cats, we stopped in yet another beautiful spot for coffee and fresh baked goodies, surrounded by ostrich walking in the distance, paired off with their mates.
During my stay, I had a unique treat in store – I got to mountain bike with my guide Mario, riding on the ancient elephant trails that cross the reserve! This was such an exciting adventure and a beautiful way to experience the area. In some ways, it was even more intimate being on a bike, as we peddled across the landscape with herds of impala running through the bush, crossing in front of us and running alongside as we peddled. On our ride, we encountered a herd of elephant almost immediately, so Mario and I stopped and admired them from afar (with my heart pounding), making sure that we weren’t causing them any distress before turning to ride the other direction. One of the unique qualities of staying at Mashatu and being on the private reserve, is that you do have the option to ride mountain bikes and also to choose walking safaris, providing a huge amount of flexibility and variety to your experience. Mashatu is an excellent option for travelers who are interested in being more active while being on safari. At the end of my mountain bike adventure, Mario and I met up with Kaiser and Goms and the vehicle. I said goodbye to Mario and my bike and drove off to end the evening enjoying sundowners and listening to the call to the calling lions. We followed the calls of three females and spent sunset and the transition to complete darkness next to the pride listening to this beautiful, resonant and utterly primal sound.
One of my most memorable sightings at Mashatu was following a coalition of three mail cheetahs who have been together since their birth and are now 15 years old. They look very healthy and are obviously so bonded to each other, it was really heartwarming to see. I’m sure this brotherly bond is one of the reasons for their success as a coalition of hunters and for their long, successful life together. We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.
Mashatu Main Lodge
My final wildlife sighting at Mashatu was extremely special, especially for me, because it was the first time I have seen a pack of wild dogs. I am a self-professed “dog freak,” and it was such a joy to see this newly introduced pack of seven wild dogs, who appeared to be thriving after just two months on the reserve. Mother nature seemed to be celebrating with me, Kaiser and Goms when she delivered an absolutely stunning sunset to close our days together on safari at Mashatu. A magical time, indeed!
As an old saying goes: The only way to have great ideas is to have a lot of ideas. We think the same applies to safaris and wildlife photography. The more time you spend in the bush, and the more photos you take, the better chance you’ll have of getting great shots.
Bee wanted to make sure she had the perfect camera for her safari, and she couldn’t have been happier with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Olympus customer service went out of their way to make sure she had the newest technology without it being too heavy or unwieldy. We hesitate to guess how many photos Bee & Chaz took to narrow it down to these wonderful photos, but we can tell you where they were and a bit about their two most recent safaris.
Our guide Duncan at Mara Plains saw the White Browed Coucal attacking this chameleon. We watched in wonder as he systematically tried to pull the chameleon off the bush by trying to unwrap its tail then pulling on the chameleon’s limbs. After some time in the epic struggle for life vs lunch, the coucal gave up and the chameleon survived…for the moment. — Bee & Chaz
With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise the Northern Circuit and Tanzania’s Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:
- What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
- Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
- What order of destinations makes the most sense?
- What is the most efficient way of getting around?
- Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.
In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Serengeti plains!
Serengeti – A Swahili word for Endless Plains or Extended Place
Just the sheer number of safari camps and lodges in the Serengeti is daunting, but, when you add that fact that many of them move locations with respect to the seasonal migration, the options can be dizzying. In mid-November, most camps that are not in permanent locations move toward the Ndutu area so they are in position for the expected wildebeest migration, one of Earth’s truly remarkable wildlife wonders.
Typically, the ‘mobile camps’ open in December on the Southern plains. It is quite difficult to predict when the herds will arrive as their movements are very dependent on the rains and other environmental conditions. If one is planning travel during the shoulder season, we highly recommend combining two different regions in Serengeti to maximize your chance of spectacular sightings of the migration.
I visited several properties in the Ndutu / Lake Masek area, most notably the new permanent property Lake Masek Tented Camp, which offers large spacious tents at a mid-range price point. Of course, peak season is December through March when the wildebeest migration and all of the accompanying wildlife drama are at its best, but Lake Masek offers guests year-round big 5 off-road game viewing in the shadow of Mount O’ldeani. Even though I was a bit early for the herds to have arrived, I was treated to an incredible sighting of three bull elephants hanging out in their ‘bachelor herds’ while dwarfing the rest of the animals around them.
Besides the seasonal herds, the Ndutu and Kakessio areas (further southeast from Ndutu, near Lake Eyasi) are well known for decent sightings of wild dogs. Two of our favorite mobile camps in the area are Alex Walker’s Serian Camps, Serengeti South and Serengeti Mobile Kusini. Each camp dedicates a private vehicle to every distinct booking, and they employ some of the best highly trained guides. Guests can hope to catch a glimpse of cheetah on the plains as well as other predators like lion, hyena and wild dog, especially when the herds are in residence (Dec-Mar).
Following my stay down south, my guide and I made our way to the Central Serengeti’s Moru Kopjes area. This region is strategic for catching the migration this time of year as it is between Seronera and Ndutu. My home for two nights was Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp, a fantastic mobile camp nestled in the kopjes (large rocky hills lying on the flat plains). This part of the Serengeti is just beautiful, and we were very lucky with our lion sightings here. It seemed like we kept finding different prides on every drive, and we even saw a wild black rhino–a rare sighting indeed! The camp itself, like Entamanu Ngorongoro, has a relaxed atmosphere, lovely public areas, and six well-appointed ensuite tents.
For a slightly larger and more permanent option, guests might enjoy the ten-roomed Serengeti Pioneer Camp. Also situated in the game-rich Moru Kopjes area, this lodge has a pool, individual dining, and an unbeatable view from its perch on top of a kopje. Another noteworthy camp in the Moru region is Dunia Camp, which has the unique distinction of an all female staff. The warm manager, highly trained guides, and each team member make a supreme effort to provide the best guest experience possible…and they succeed! Overall, visitors to the Serengeti will find the central area near Seronera/Moru excellent for high density game viewing year round, but they will have to compete with a lot more vehicles from other lodges as well.
Far from the crowds of the Central Serengeti lies the remote Namiri Plains Camp. A stay at this Eastern Serengeti gem makes guests feel like they have the Serengeti to themselves, as no other camp is within one hour’s drive of Namiri Plains. The flat open grasslands are prime habitat for cheetah and other big cats along with plenty of resident game. There is a coalition of six male lions nearby that make for exciting viewing and splendid photographic opportunities. Namiri is a year-round destination ideal for honeymooners and those seeking the hidden side of Serengeti.
Moving North toward the Lobo area of the park, I had the chance to spend time at Elewana’s Serengeti Migration Camp. Don’t let the name fool you! This is a permanent ‘hybrid’ lodge that feels a little like a hotel and camp combined. The accessibility to Lobo airstrip, the delicious food, the swimming pool, amazing river views and plentiful wildlife activity make for an incredible Serengeti stay. This camp might be one of the best choices for families looking to spend time in the park.
Further north along the Kenyan border lies the Lamai wedge, a visually stunning landscape blessed with resident wildlife in the path of the migration. This area, along with Kogatende, typically sees the migration pass through in late June through August and then again when the herds come back from Kenya in late September-October. For travelers who are looking for good value in the Lamai region at a mid-range price point, the modern and fresh Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge is an excellent option. One of my favorite lodges in this area is a luxury camp, Lamai Serengeti, which discreetly blends twelve rooms into the nooks of a kopje. There are long walks between the rooms and the lodge, so this place is not ideal for people with mobility issues. The lodge itself offers simple hearty fare and feels like you are spending time in your friend’s living room…it’s that comfortable and relaxed. There is a resident lion pride right at camp and leopard sightings are common on game drives.
Adjacent to the Lamai Serengeti property is the private villa, Mkombe’s House. This is an ideal family property with two ensuite bedrooms juxtaposed with children’s rooms. Four adults and six children can comfortably occupy the house. Exclusive use of a guide and vehicle, a private chef, and pool are just a few of the amenities of this space. Flexibility is paramount, and there is no age limit for children. Mkombe’s House even provides car seats and high chairs for little ones!
As I flew away from the Serengeti on the long journey home, I had to marvel at the high quality service that Tanzania as a whole delivers to safari travelers. The people I met were very proud of their heritage and language, and they were warm, hospitable and eager to learn about the bigger world. The Highlands at Ngorongoro provided one of the most genuine culture interactions I have ever been part of, and the Serengeti offers a dizzying repository of wildlife diversity as it faces developmental challenges with new properties coming onto the scene each year. The robust lion populations and other cat sightings were highlights as well as the black rhino at Moru Kopjes. After this visit, I feel more invigorated and confident than ever to help Next Adventure travelers find the rare gems within the mainstream bustle of tourism in Tanzania.
With all these choices, which camps and lodges would I recommend for you? Call me to start planning your safari or to hear more about mine!
Read Part 1: Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Shines
With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise Tanzania’s Northern Circuit and vast Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:
- What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
- Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
- What order of destinations makes the most sense?
- What is the most efficient way of getting around?
- Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.
In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit!
Touching down at Kilimanjaro Airport, I was full of excitement for the epic safari that lay before me. First, I needed to rest, and the nearby Rivertrees Country Inn provided just the right blend of understated luxury and comfort for my first night in Tanzania. The staff was attentive and full of Tanzanian hospitality. The restaurant welcomes a refreshing mix of Arusha residents and international guests, and the feel of the lodge is very local. I had a restful stay and believe that this is the perfect beginning or end to a safari in Tanzania – a mix of refreshment and convenience enhanced by plentiful birdlife and monkey antics in the gardens. Some of our other favorite places to land in Arusha are the Arusha Coffee Lodge or Lake Duluti Lodge.
Tarangire & Manyara
On my first morning, my private guide and I bumped along to Tarangire for about two hours, taking in the undulating hills and plains that welcome you to Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. Given that we know the Tarangire area quite well and our favorite lodges, Sanctuary Swala Camp and Oliver’s Camp are operating at the highest standards, on this trip I decided to investigate a private concession just outside Tarangire. I arrived at Little Chem Chem set amidst the Baobabs and overlooking the shore of Lake Burunge later that day. This intimate vintage safari camp is the perfect setting for big game walks, tracking animals across the plains, or visiting the village school where you can interact with students.
I enjoyed my chance to stretch my legs after being on the long haul flight and in the vehicle. This area between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park is home to elephant, buffalo, lion, cheetah, and plentiful plains game species. Seasonally (Dec-Mar), you can view flamingos and hopefully catch zebra and wildebeest calving. Game drives into Tarangire are possible from Little Chem Chem in addition to walking safaris on the private concession.
Sharing the concession to the West is Chem Chem Lodge, an elegant safari lodge known for exquisite culinary experiences and outstanding sundowners on the edge of Lake Manyara. While game drives can be arranged, Chem Chem is best for those who want to set out on foot with their Maasai guides and naturalists. Giraffe, zebra, and many bird species are often your companions on wilderness walks. Meaningful visits to community projects are often considered highlights by many guests. Both of the Chem Chem accommodations embrace the ‘slow safari’ concept where the sensual discovery of the wilderness is paramount. This location is an ideal reprieve from the busier mainstream wildlife viewing destinations and a chance to unwind in the natural beauty of the area while delving into the culture of the Maasai.
Climbing the Great Rift escarpment into the higher altitudes of the Ngorongoro highlands, my next destination was Lemala Ngorongoro Camp, located on the crater rim in an Acacia forest on the Eastern side of the crater. This homey mobile camp has spacious tents with heavy duvets, hot water bottles, and gas heaters to combat the chilly evening temperatures. Along with fantastic service and escorted walks in the forest and along the rim, Lemala Ngorongoro offers quick access into the crater at Lemala gate. We were the first car through at 6am to explore the wonders on the crater floor while most other groups did not arrive until an hour later, allowing for excellent photographic conditions and a bit of uncrowded wildlife viewing! Although it can get congested with visitors, Ngorongoro Crater always delivers incredible wildlife sightings of elephant, hyena, eland, zebra and sometimes rhino. This little microcosm of the Tanzanian plains set against that dramatic crater wall is definitely a sight to behold!
Following a full day of exploring the crater, we headed deeper into the foothills and other craters of the region. Approximately 45-minutes north of the Ngorongoro Crater lies a new camp focusing on the culture and natural history of the area, Asilia Africa’s The Highlands at Ngorongoro. Exclusive and remote, The Highlands is an architectural wonder that maintains coziness and luxurious comfort for active travelers in a truly unique setting. The location of the camp, nestled along the Ol Moti Crater, has steep walks between the guest tents and the main lodge. Wood burning stoves keep the domed tents toasty warm and comfortable. Exemplary hosting at family-style meals makes everyone feel welcome and involved in whatever conversation is being held. This camp feels removed from the bustle of Ngorongoro Crater and offers many options for curious travelers looking for something a little different.
Whether trekking around the Ol Moti Crater or descending into the scenic Empakai Crater with it’s tiny lake dotted with flamingos, the naturalist guides at The Highlands are experts on the local flora and fauna. Perhaps the biggest strength of The Highlands is the unobtrusive and genuine village visits. These manyattas are not your typical commercial cultural experiences but authentic opportunities to learn about the Masai lifestyle from the villagers themselves. A guest might participate in bringing the herds into the boma or hearing a local legend from an elder. No matter what your experience, it will be unique as visits are spread among many surrounding backcountry villages.
Another new experience in the Ngorongoro Crater area lies on the Western rim near the Serena access road at Entamanu Ngorongoro, operated by Nomad Tanzania. Although it feels more ‘traditional’ than The Highlands with its proximity to the Crater itself, Entamanu delivers in every way. Without question, the camp has the best view of any crater property–gazing out over the expansive plains of the Serengeti. With no surrounding forest to obscure views, guests are treated to a 180 degree panorama of one of the most famous landscapes on earth…and did I mention the sunsets? Just stunning…on a continent where marking the end of the day with a cocktail and exquisite bites has become a truly important daily ritual, Entamanu shines.
The cushy barefoot luxury of the camp is evident in throughout all 6 tents as well as the huge main area that feels like a big cozy living room. The camp maintains the highest standards of environmental care–and it is completely removable. The design considered ‘leave no trace’ to be a very important theme of the camp while not sparing any creature comforts for guests. Again, the Nomad management and guides provide outstanding hosting, and they make the family-style meals and excursions truly memorable as guests are welcomed as members of the ‘tribe’. The activity focus of Entamanu is bush walking with armed Ngorongoro Conservation Area Rangers and the Nomad guide team along the rim which can be just as exciting as drives on the crater floor. Relationships with the nearby villages are blossoming and soon will be integrated into the guest experience.
An advantage to the Entamanu location is the nearby access to the famous Oldupai Gorge, where paleo-anthropologists Mary & Louis Leakey’s ground-breaking archaeological discoveries changed the way we think of our earliest ancestors. Following a quick breakfast at camp, we were able to be at Oldupai by 8 A.M., well before any other visitors arrived at the museum. Plans are in place for new facilities to open at Oldupai in the coming year. Once we toured the museum, there was ample time for a visit to Shifting Sands, the fascinating crescent shaped dunes of volcanic ash are a rare scientific phenomenon. From there, we continued down the escarpment and onto the vast plains of the Southern Serengeti National Park near Ndutu.
- Good guiding makes all the difference.
- A camping safari is a 24-hour experience.
- Tracking gorillas shouldn’t be intimidating
For their first safari back in 2011, we focused Mike & Sheila’s itinerary on a mobile camping safari in Botswana. It was a great fit. For this year’s trip we turned to East Africa, splitting their time between northern Tanzania, with camping and walking in the Serengeti, and tracking gorillas in Rwanda.
So much of what we do here at Next Adventure is getting to know each client and pairing them with just the right selection of destinations and experiences. The Johnson Family, a group of 7 travelers, was looking for something unique and adventurous, an active safari for the whole family. After considering a lot of options, we crafted a customized tour of Zimbabwe that featured extensive time in Hwange National Park including a 3-day walking safari with specialist guides and platform sleepouts and 2 nights at the luxurious Linkwasha Camp followed by 3 nights on the Zambezi at the spectacular Ruckomechi Camp near Mana Pools.
Elephants of all sizes were splashing in the mud, rolling in the goop, lying in it from side to side, splashing with their trunks. A less than one year-old calf was the only one who didn’t go in. She just ran about, ears flapping, trunk lolling, without a clue how to use it. — Allen Bechky
In June Allen Bechky led a couple on an extensive, privately guided safari to Zambia’s finest wildlife viewing destinations. Read Allen’s trip report below to see why he keeps returning to Zambia! All photos by Kili McGowan.
Another fantastic trip in Zambia. June is the start of winter down there, so the weather was Goldilocks-good. Not too hot, not too cold. Travel was easy as we flew from park to park. Guides, vehicles, accommodation and food were all exemplary.
After a night at Latitude 15 in Lusaka, we started at lovely Chiawa Camp on the Zambezi River. This year is drier than normal, so we were constantly dodging elephants in camp– something that is an every-day occurrence from September through October. My clients, Missy and Clint, are very serious photographers so we focused on game drives, with a few boat cruises on the river. We did not avail ourselves of the opportunity to walk or canoe, or to go fishing.
It was clear to us as our safari unfolded, that Kili listened carefully to us and, through a couple of phone conversations, teased out nuanced information that ultimately translated into specific experiences designed to delight us. Next Adventure nailed it. –Mike R., Fresno, CA
Mike & Trina wanted to celebrate their 30th Wedding Anniversary with a memorable trip to Africa, and Kili connected with them to craft just the right combination of experiences to suit their interests and style. Read their trip report below to see just how Mike & Trina felt about their Next Adventure anniversary safari! All photos are courtesy of Mike and Trina.
Our anniversary safari began after a restful night in Johannesburg and a morning flight to Livingstone, Zambia. Toka Leya Camp, on the shore of the Zambezi River, is a perfect starting point for a safari. We had the chance to walk with Zambian Rangers to locate and observe a rare White Rhino in Mosi Oa Tunya National Park and stand in the soaking spray of the stunningly beautiful and powerful flood-stage Victoria Falls.
In May, I had an opportunity to travel with African Bush Camps to experience their intimate safari camps in Botswana and Zimbabwe, and I also had a chance to visit a few other camps and lodges nearby. It was a great experience and a wonderful introduction to a safari company that is leading the industry in environmental design and sustainable community-supported conservation.
Explore a full interactive map of my itinerary below, and get in touch to learn more about safari options in Southern Africa.
Linyanti Bush Camp – Chobe – Botswana
My first stop was Linyanti Bush Camp on the Linyanti channel just outside of Chobe National Park. As we approached the camp after a game drive from the airstrip, we spotted our first cat, an adult female leopard coming out for the evening’s hunt. The camp is simple, classy and comfortable with a nice dining tent and a sitting area looking out over the marshes. The lack of water in the channel was the talk of the camp as the rains were late. News of the coming floods was traveling faster than the water itself. The staff was genuinely warm, they were wonderful storytellers, and they seemed to make an immediate connection with each guest.
In the evening, we had one of the most beautiful sundowner experiences I can remember on the edge of a perfectly still pond mirroring a huge sunset. A family of curious elephants cautiously approached for a drink while we clinked our glasses and snapped hundreds of photos.
Khwai Tented Camp – Moremi – Botswana
We were welcomed to Khwai Tented Camp with traditional songs and a personal introduction by the whole team. The camp sits on a seasonal lagoon, the main area is comfy and rustic, and the staff really makes you feel at home. The guest tents can feel a little close together, but they are classic and well-appointed with bucket showers and a nice, spacious deck overlooking the lagoon.
The camp is on a community-run concession on the eastern border of the Moremi Game Reserve where we had a good sighting of an adolescent leopard posing and changing positions and soaking up the last of the day’s sunshine. After a fun sundowner with lots of elephants and hippo interactions, the night drive back to camp was very busy. We had a serval sighting, and we watched a baby hyena climbing all over it’s mother. With lots of time for photographs, and our guide was very good helping us with nighttime photo settings. Our group arrived just outside of camp for a lively bush dinner with singing and dancing amongst hundreds of lanterns and millions of stars.
The Khwai village visit was particularly meaningful. We met with an elderly San woman who talked about the relationship between her culture, the government of Botswana, the national park service and the wild game that regularly pass through the village of 200 people.
Victoria Falls Hotel – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Stately, classic and a little aged around the edges is part of the charm of The Victoria Falls Hotel. The beautiful grounds are meticulously trimmed by resident warthogs, and mongoose families scurry about. A grand patio overlooks the Gorge with a huge column of mist rising over the falls.
The hotel is in a constant process of updates and reconfigurations to stay current. Some rooms have newer bigger bathrooms that are completely modern and chic, while other rooms are being combined to make for very large and luxurious suites. The common areas can feel a bit formal, and the dining room seems unchanged from the historic photos that line the halls.
The best aspect of the Vic Falls Hotel is its on-going commitment to providing a comprehensive array of services to hotel guests and visitors. The full-service salon and barbershop make for a nice stop in the middle of a long safari, and the famous high tea on the veranda is a great way to pause and relax in style during a busy day of activities.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has a wide range of accommodations from the newer, more exclusive Club, to the private stand-alone Suites to the Main Lodge. The Bar at the Main Lodge is busy and fun with a great view over a frequently visited waterhole below. The rooms have wonderful views with new bathrooms and all the amenities, and I found the staff to be particularly friendly and helpful. While the lodge is a little outside of town, the famous Boma restaurant is very close by. With nightly drummers, singing, dancing, fortune-tellers, The Boma serves an amazing buffet of traditional Zimbabwean dishes, a huge variety of grilled game meats and the must-try mopane worms (salty and crunchy). Sure, the dining experience is a little touristy, but it’s also great fun. There’s more than enough really good food, and you can’t help but enjoy the energy of the show.
Ilala Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Ilala Lodge is another nice option right in town and one of the closest lodges to the Falls. The main dining and bar area is huge, opening up to a wide veranda with beautiful grounds right under the spray. It feels classy and relaxed, and the in-house restaurant, The Palm, is one of the best in town. The lodge is just around the corner from ATMs and shopping at the nearby Elephant Walk, famous for its persistent souvenir-selling entrepreneurs.
Gorges Lodge – Vic Falls – Zimbabwe
Imvelo’s Gorges Lodge has what no other lodge can offer: an absolutely breathtaking setting right on the edge of the sheer cliffs of the Batoka Gorge with an almost-nightly fly-by of black eagles and lanner falcons. Gorges is located a few miles outside of Vic Falls, and it’s nice to get out of the touristy center of town. The lodge is charming with a cozy little bar and open-air dining room. The staff is hired directly from the nearby village: warm, friendly and homespun. The chalets are comfy with recently refurbished bathrooms and showers and sliding glass doors that open up right over the gorge. Little Gorges is a small tented camp next door, and the brand new tents are really well-designed to take full advantage of the awesome cliffside views.
Activities in Vic Falls
Vic Falls has become a destination for a wide variety of wildlife and adrenaline activities. Within an hour of crossing the border, I was leaping off the Vic Falls Bridge for an exhilarating Gorge Swing. I found it to be much more pleasant than the traditional bunjee jump which leaves you yo-yoing upside down for a few minutes after the jump. The gorge swing attaches at the torso which means that after the jump, while they reel you in, you can comfortably look around at the mossy, rain-forested walls of the Batoka Gorge from a completely unique perspective.
I also had an opportunity to experience the Falls from above on a short helicopter flip. It’s amazing to see the mighty Zambezi River spill over the shelf of the Falls with the gorge cutting it’s way East to the horizon. While the helicopter was fun, the microlight flight I did in 2014 is my favorite. With just you and a pilot puttering 1000 feet over the Falls on a moped with wings, you can feel the cool air from the Falls as it updrafts and jostles the tiny aircraft.
Somalisa Camp – Hwange – Zimbabwe
Somalisa Camp was the talk of the safari industry. It had just won a design award at We Are Africa as well as the first Gold certification in Zimbabwe from Green Tourism. While my expectations were high, Somalisa delivered. It is an oasis of a camp. As we approached, a small family of elephants was stopping by for a drink from the plunge pool right in front of the camp. On our orientation, a half-dozen elephants wandered between the tents and welcomed us by shaking the camelthron trees for a tasty little snack. The guest tents are incredibly well-designed with lots of character and thoughtful features: perfectly positioned charging points and light switches, a cozy wood burning stove, luxurious cowhide carpets and a spacious bathroom with a giant copper and porcelain tub and indoor/outdoor showers.
We had a lively dinner with other guests from all over the world, and the staff was exceptional. The host, the servers, the manager, the chefs and the guide all made an impression with their enthusiasm, warmth and professionalism. On our game drives, we spent time with a small pride of lions, relatives of Cecil, a cheetah posed for us on a fallen tree, and giraffes wandered through the Ngweshla Pan under one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Bumi Hills – Lake Kariba – Zimbabwe
Bumi Hills Safari Lodge has been a staple on the shores of Lake Kariba since the 80s, and it was a pleasure to experience it for myself. Bumi is perched high on a hill with a spectacular view of the lake, and the game drives around the lodge offered lots of elephants, zebras and two lionesses on the prowl. On our sundowner cruise, the lake was perfectly flat, while the shore was crowded with thirsty elephants. While in some ways Bumi is showing it’s age, the recent renovation and relaxing resort feel offer a much-needed pit stop during a safari.
Kanga Camp – Mana Pools – Zimbabwe
Kanga Camp is easily one of the more unique and interesting camps in the Mana Pools area. It is set a little more than an hour from the Zambezi River around a very productive waterhole which is frequently visited by bathing elephants and thirsty leopard. It feels like a rustic, remote outpost, but the guests tents and main areas are homey and comfortable. Like all of the African Bush Camps properties, they seem to have thought of everything from the guest’s perspective while keeping a truly classic safari feel with big roomy tents, thoughtful amenities, a big outdoor shower area, and a secluded deck right on the edge of the waterhole. From Kanga, the game drives can include a visit to Mana’s Long Pool or a trip out to the Zambezi Expeditions camp for a paddle down the river. However, the more popular activity is to choose a comfortable armchair and watch the parade of game come visit the only reliable waterhole for miles.
Perhaps the best experience of my trip was the Kanga Under the Stars sleepout. We dined in a dry river bed, with our barefeet buried in a foot of sand, and we sat up late around the bonfire listening to hyenas calling all around us. With a bright full moon, we barely needed a flashlight to climb up onto the rustic lofted sleeping platforms draped only in mosquito netting. It was the best sleep of the trip!
Ruckomechi Camp – Mana Pools – Zimbabwe
Since I was in the neighborhood, I also had an opportunity to visit Wilderness Safaris’ Ruckomechi Camp which was just recently refurbished. The result is truly breathtaking. The centerpiece is an expansive deck that stretches along the Zambezi with stunning views of the hills just across the river in Zambia. The two main common areas, a bar tent and dining tent, are light and airy and luxurious, and the guest tents are simple and chic. As striking as the accommodations are, the best part of Ruckomechi is the friendly staff, the excellent guiding and the variety of ecosystems you can explore.
Close your eyes. Think of India. What images come to mind? Maybe the romantic Taj Mahal? How about your favorite curry dish? Most likely, a crowded city full of vibrant colors and majestic monuments? Chances are, you didn’t picture a tiger, or a rhino, a wild dog, or an elephant—those ‘charismatic megafauna’ instantly come to mind when thinking of Africa. After our successful India Wildlife Safari, we know that India can be a destination for both cultural aficionados and wildlife enthusiasts.
We had an excellent start to our safari on our game drives with Shree and Tarun. Our first drives focused on the general game and birdlife of Madhya Pradesh, which was much appreciated as the group got settled into their Indian safari rhythm. I was surprised to have our first tiger sighting on the first full day there…a male who had been lying in a waterhole got up and walked away, offering an excellent first view.
Kili led a group of savvy travelers to the varied ecosystems of Pench National Park, Kanha National Park, and Bandhavgarh National Park, in search of Bengal Tigers. Not only did our intrepid group find tigers, they also encountered a wide range of other mammals and birdlife that shares the jungle home of the tiger. Careful searches in the various parks yielded some outstanding sightings of tigers, including a tigress sharing a kill with her four cubs. Another top experience for the group was tracking and observing a group of wild dog for over an hour in the forests of Pench.
In Bandhavgarh, we had an excellent sighting on the second morning finding a tigress with 4 cubs of about 9 months. One vehicle spent over an hour watching them including hearing the cubs and mother kill a chital faun. The last morning was probably a favorite sighting by the whole group. We spent nearly an hour with four wild dogs, watching them move through the forest, scent-mark and play.
Travelers combined extensions with the group India Wildlife Safari. Kaziranga National Park and Satpura National Park offered more incredible wildlife—sloth bears, Indian rhinos, gibbons, and wild elephants to name a few species. Agra and Kolkata showed guests a side of India fueled by two kinds of love—romantic love at the Taj Mahal and selfless love of Mother Teresa’s work in Kolkata. As always, Next Adventure immerses travelers in the culture —with walking tours of Old Delhi, explorations of important historical monuments and glimpses of scenes of everyday life. The experiences with culture and wildlife were matched by legendary Indian hospitality and attentive service from our partners. Accommodation was chosen with care and meals surpassed expectations in quality, taste, and creativity.
We thought the local staff was superb throughout the trip. They were very reliable, and always professional and friendly. We have to say that, as promised, the food on the whole trip was spectacular. Such variety and fresh, wonderful spices. The food will absolutely be one of our finest memories.
India is a gorgeous mosaic of life pulsing out of every corner, so prepare to be embraced by it’s people and delve into the history both ancient and modern. Revel in the absolute chaos of its cities and marvel at the serenity of the wilderness areas. Seek out the elusive wildlife that call India home and be rewarded with a safari that is like no other.
We’ve simply never gone wrong with Next Adventure. Traveling with Kili and the group was fun. We enjoyed the company; there were some very experienced travelers in the group and we got a lot out of the conversations and experiences.
Here’s the full detailed itinerary and extensions. Get in touch to learn more about wildlife safaris throughout India!
Zimbabwe has long been a favorite destination for us at Next Adventure. I was first there as a two year old in 1981 less than a year after the country became independent. In the mid to late 90’s almost 90% of our safaris included Zimbabwe since we received so many requests for it. In the early 2000s, Zimbabwe went through a tumultuous transition politically, but continued to draw loyal safari-goers who cherished the country’s unique offerings.
I was honored to be asked to be one of the first travel professionals to take part in Wilderness Safari’s new Hwange Walking Safari, which is now offered in June, July, and August as an expertly guided small group departure on set dates. Having both traveled and lived there, my love for Zimbabwe was only rekindled during my latest exploration in November 2015 when I took a small group of select clients on an exploratory walking safari through Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.
Our scouting safari was in November and it was much hotter than expected — nearly 50 degrees Celsius (that’s about 122 Fahrenheit). Due to the extreme heat, Wilderness Safaris suggested we modify our itinerary for the best experience while keeping the integrity of the walking safari.
The group trip differs slightly from my exploratory and will have no more than 7 guests (sorry no children allowed unless you book a private departure) staying at Davison’s Camp, Linkwasha Camp, and a fly camp (dome tents, mattresses, and separate shared toilet & shower facilities) in Hwange National Park’s Linkwasha concession. This is an ideal choice for those who want to feel the land under the soles of their shoes and have time to observe the daily struggle for survival of the region’s unique flora and fauna.
We flew into Harare and connected by light aircraft transfer (about 1.5 hours) to Mana Pools National Park in the Northeast of Zimbabwe. Famed for canoeing safaris and excellent walking, Mana Pools is right on the Zambezi River. We were based at Wilderness Safaris’ Ruckomechi Camp, open during the dry season (April 1-Nov 15). We loved the camp as it was but with a complete relocation and renovation for the 2016 season, it’ll be even better!
Everything at Mana Pools is focused on the Zambezi. You can paddle a canoe, ride a pontoon boat, zip along in a speed boat, cast a line for fishing, set out on foot on the shore, or explore adjacent areas by 4×4 vehicle. It was refreshing to be on the water in that heat. Our canoes held 2 or 3 people, one of whom was a guide. There were intense moments with hippos as the waters were so shallow; our skilled and confident guides handled mock charges so well that we felt safe enough to be exhilarated. There was amazing elephant and buffalo viewing along the riverbanks and dense concentrations of game on all of our activities.
On our morning walk, we rounded a corner to find an entire herd of elephant fast asleep in the shade! It was a gentle reminder that extreme heat is brutal on the wildlife, and they have to seek relief too. Sundowners were spectacular along the river, and one evening we had a very exciting encounter with a leopard. Mana Pools is everything you could want in a wilderness and so a great place to begin our safari.
We next flew to Hwange National Park. Upon arrival at Little Makalolo Camp, we immediately were impressed with our guide’s knowledge of the area. He asked us to meet him at hide in front of the camp—which is a famous spot for wildlife viewing. It was mid-afternoon and we were all wilting from the heat, but, moments after we settled into the hide, a huge breeding herd of elephant showed up. Our guide knew exactly when they would appear and how long they would stay! We gazed in awe at the babies frolicking in the water. We were so close to the elephants that we were sprayed by elephant snot—it was awesome (and a little gross)! Our game drives through the woodlands of the area were prolific, and the diversity of wildlife near the pans was remarkable. After a few days of luxury camp life, we were ready to walk!
The following morning, we set out on foot across the Linkwasha concession—with sprawling pans and wildlife great and small sharing our journey. Walking is at a moderate pace, and the day’s routing is tailored to the guests’ abilities and interests. Our expert guide, Lewis, read the landscape and interpreted local wildlife stories while we ambled. Packed lunches and siestas beneath shady trees were welcomed breaks before we arrived at our modest fly camp. The attentive staff of steward, chef and waiter catered to every need while we settled in for the evening of dinner, campfire stories and stargazing.
We finished our walk at Linkwasha Camp set amid the Ngamo Plains. The contemporary tents were a perfect end to our meander through Hwange. Despite the heat, we were able to enjoy the natural splendor of the park and see spectacular game including the rare sable antelope along the way. What clearly makes a walking safari in Zimbabwe superior to those offered in other countries is the guiding. Still collectively the finest guides on the continent in my opinion, all of our Zimbabwean guides showed a caliber of knowledge and training that are superb.
Book your walking safari to Zimbabwe and experience this guiding for yourself!