A Crash of Buffalo on the Serengeti

Sorting through the Serengeti

Lion Cuddles in the Serengeti

Lion Cuddles in the Serengeti

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.

Southern Serengeti

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).

Central Serengeti

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.

Northern 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

Ele eating in the crater

Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Shines

Across the Ngorongoro Crater Floor

Across the Ngorongoro Crater Floor

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!


Arusha

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.

Ngorongoro Crater

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.


Get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, or continue reading Part 2: Sorting through the Serengeti

 

Lions in South Luangwa, Zambia

My Private Zambia – On Safari with Allen Bechky

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.


Busanga Sunrise

Busanga Sunrise

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.

No worries, we had marvelous wildlife experiences daily, especially elephants. The best came when we were on a boat cruise and parked ourselves on the riverbank right next to a mud hole where a big family group of eles were enjoying a spa. 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. After the mud bath came scratching on trees as only elephants can do: straddle a fallen tree trunk and rub the belly, back up to a tree for the bum. Then the inevitable dust bath. Two young males tangled trunks in a perpetual sparring contest. All this was happening at once. Sure, I’ve seen it all before, but it is always fun to watch. A privilege, really.

On the Busanga Plain in Kafue National Park, we were at the higher altitude of Zambia’s central plateau. Nights were chilly here, but nothing that hot water bottles and cozy duvets couldn’t cure. I expected top notch lion watching here, but, alas, the resident Busanga pride– for years a large and reliable group– had fallen on hard times. The old males died or got pushed out by new guys, and a succession of litters were casualties in the war for territory. It’s a rich one at the marshy center of the seasonally flooded plain. There are always abundant lechwe and puku– both large enough antelopes to make a meal for a couple of lions. A buffalo kill is a feast for an entire pride, but the big herds of black bovines are highly mobile. Many mouths to feed necessitates changing pastures. This time the buffalo were away. Busanga is one of those places where lions regularly climb trees, but we missed it this year, and we could not find the resident cheetah. Not to fret, we had incredible up close (like under the boat) hippo experiences on the swampy little river at the center of the plain and got plenty of cats at our last park, South Luangwa, where we spent a week.

 At Shumba Camp, we found two male lions who were resting. There were vultures on a nearby tree… but we didn’t investigate. When we went back to checkup on the lions in the afternoon, we found they had eaten a male puku. We conjectured that a leopard had killed it and had been there when we first arrived (hence the vultures were off the ground) but had left because of the lions. Of course, we could have been wrong, or the leopard may have left before we arrived. Unsolved mysteries… and who does’t like a good bush who-done-it?

Yup, we were short on kitty shots by the time we got to Luangwa Valley, but we made up for that every day. Between Tena Tena and Kaingo, I think we saw 8 different leopards, with multiple sightings of Malaika, a resident female, and her almost grown daughter. Malaika is a relentless hunter. We watched her stalking, then trying to grab low-flying Guinea fowl from the air. She also attacked an adult male bushbuck. We followed the local lion pride as they began an evening hunt. We could have stayed with them, but we opted to return to camp rather than continue into a night safari. We caught up with the lions again the next morning as they were devouring a buffalo bull.

One of the safari highlights was provided by an unfortunate hippo who had died in the Luangwa River. Its swollen carcass was continually gnawed on by a cauldron of crocodiles (my own collective noun). Hundreds of crocodiles fed on that hippo. They were much more polite to each other than the lions, which growl and fight for their place at the table. With crocs it was more simple. The big guys took turns using a spiraling roll to tear off chunks of meat. Then it was time for a sunbath on a convenient sandy beach, allowing the females and smaller crocs to come in. Someone counted 187 crocodiles there at one time. This croc banquet continued the entire length of our stay at Kaingo Camp. Grisly, gruesome…fascinating.

Zambia never lets me down, and I’m looking forward to returning in June and October of 2017.


ITINERARY IN BRIEF

11 June Arrive in Johannesburg, AtholPlace Hotel (2 nts)

12 June At leisure in Johannesburg, AtholPlace

13 June Scheduled flight to Lusaka, meet Allen Bechky, Latitude 15 Hotel (1 nt)

14 June Scheduled flight to Lower Zambezi, transfer to Chiawa Camp (3 nts)

15-16 June Activities in Lower Zambezi, overnights at Chiawa Camp

17 June Charter/scheduled light air transfer to Kafue via Lusaka, transfer to Shumba Camp (3 nts)

18-19 June Activities in Busanga Plains, Kafue; overnights at Shumba Camp

20 June Light air & scheduled flights to Mfuwe (via Lusaka), transfer to Tena Tena Camp (3 nts)

21-22 June Activities in South Luangwa, overnights at Tena Tena Camp

23 June Game drive transfer to Kaingo Camp (4 nts)

24-26 June Activities in South Luangwa, overnights at Kaingo Camp

27 June Scheduled flight to Lusaka, transfer to Latitude 15 Hotel (1 nt)

28 June Departure from Lusaka


Get in touch to learn more about specialist private guides, safaris in Zambia, or traveling with Allen Bechky.

Kudu in the Grass, Linyanti

A Spin Through Bots & Zim

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.

Get in touch to plan your perfect safari

Barasingha (Swamp Deer) in Kanha NP

Charismatic India – March 2016 Trip Report

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!

Let Zim be your guide

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 for 2016 or 2017 and experience this guiding for yourself!

Beyond Primates

Delving into Uganda’s Wildlife Havens

Uganda is renowned for tracking and viewing both the rare Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzees. These experiences are epic and important to Uganda’s tourism economy. However, beyond the thick forests of Southwest Uganda and its famous primate excursions, there are parks equally worthy of exploration, both for bird and wildlife viewing and for spectacular natural beauty.

I was fortunate to join clients recently on a safari to Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks and to continue afterwards on my own to check out the remote Kidepo National Park in northeastern Uganda.

Murchison Falls
Our small group left Entebbe after a refreshing night at the Protea Entebbe Hotel. Our overland journey (about 5-6 hours, flights are also available) took us north to Murchison Falls National Park. Created in 1926 to protect the grasslands surrounding the Nile River and most known for the Falls themselves, Murchison offers guests a wide variety of activities and game viewing options.

Of course, the highlight is witnessing the Nile River blast through a narrow gorge and cascade into a placid river below. Guests can marvel and take photos from the top or the bottom of the falls. The boat cruise to the base of the Falls guarantees you’ll get wet from spray, but it offers a spectacular perspective on the thundering waterfall.

The area is a birder’s paradise, with Bee Eaters nesting in cliffs along the waterway and opportunities to see the rare Shoebill Stork. Nearby game viewing includes huge numbers of hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, herds of antelope and much more! We all very much enjoyed the Delta Point where where the Victoria Nile passes through the northern tip of Lake Albert to become the Albert Nile. The cruise ends at the Lake Albert community where guests glimpse local lifestyles and hard working fishing villages.

Murchison Falls offers the best of traditional game viewing in Uganda. Visitors to the park are likely to encounter lion, giraffe, large elephant herds, and plentiful plains game when on game drives by vehicle.

In the evenings, you can relax overlooking the river—from the luxury lodges like Paraa Safari Lodge or the more intimate luxury tented camp, Baker’s Lodge, which features 8 exquisite tents. Three nights in Murchison allows you time to appreciate this amazing park.

Kibale
Heading to Kibale Forest National Park in the Rift Valley (about 8 hours by road), we passed many small villages and towns on our scenic drive. Our destination was the splendid Ndali Lodge, perched on a ridge of an extinct volcano overlooking kettle lakes that dot the landscape. This small lodge of 8 cottages offers fine dining, genuine hospitality and exquisite views of the Rwenzori Mountains. From here, we went for a morning trek to locate wild chimpanzees in their forest habitat. Walking along cleared trails with a local guide, it is virtually guaranteed to find a troop of chimpanzees either in the trees or (more rarely) moving on the ground.

As with all primate viewing regulated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, we were allowed to observe the chimpanzees for one hour before moving on to other activities in and around Kibale. Our afternoon included a wonderful community walk around the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, spying some of the smaller creatures and bird life in the area.

Queen Elizabeth
A short drive the following day took us to the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP)—there again we took to the water to maximize our game viewing experience. Along the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake Edward with Lake George, wildlife congregates and birds literally flock together. Elephants frolicked, buffalo grazed and hippos spy hopped during our languid exploration.

Guests here can enjoy another trek for chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge or explore the woodlands of the southern sector of the park, called Ishasha. We chose to stay one night at the delightful classic tented camp, Ishasha Wilderness Camp, which was tucked into a thicket of trees along the cool riverbanks of the Ntungwe River.

The Ishasha sector is famed for tree-climbing lions which we were lucky to see before heading down to Bwindi for our gorilla trekking experience. Although the game concentration was light compared to Murchison Falls, we still enjoyed the natural beauty of the park and recommend visiting QENP.

Bwindi
Winding upward through tea plantations and beautiful mountain forests, we arrived at the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Each day, small groups of intrepid travelers join expert park rangers and trackers to search out families of gorillas living on the steep cool slopes.

Visitors should be in good health (gorillas can catch our colds and coughs!) and also reasonably fit. Treks can be arduous and may last many hours covering rugged bushwhacking terrain. Your Bwindi team will do their best to clear the trail for you, but vines and foliage will reach out for your clothes and seek to slow your pace even more than the incline!

That said, the effort—whether one hour of trekking or five—is so worth it when you turn a corner and find a gorilla family observing you as much as you observe them. Juveniles may tumble and play in a tree, a mother may cradle her infant as she munches on leaves, all while a somber silverback watches you intensely with deep brown eyes. He acknowledges your presence while sitting sentry and keeping his family safe.

Gazing on these magnificent animals as they peacefully make their way through their mountainous home is one of the most profound and emotional wildlife encounters I’ve experienced. It is humbling, breath-taking, and powerful…and it’s over in the blink of an eye. The hour flies by and suddenly you are euphorically hiking back toward the park headquarters—full of adrenaline and excitement over all you have just been part of.

Kidepo
You’d think gorilla tracking and chimpanzee tracking would be enough in Uganda. However, more wonder was revealed to me when I bid farewell to the group and ventured to Kidepo Valley National Park in the Northern reaches of Uganda. Just a two-hour flight from Entebbe, this stunning hidden gem of a park awaits.

Kidepo is an enormous park dominated by mountains and valleys with stretches of semi-arid plains tucked between them. I’ve seen natural beauty throughout the continent of Africa but Kidepo—by far—is the prettiest park I have seen. The remoteness and true wilderness feel of the park is enhanced by wonderful game viewing, outstanding accommodation, and genuine community interactions.

For those who have been to Kenya, imagine the marriage of the rugged dryness of the Samburu area with the abundant wildlife on the plains of Masai Mara—that is essentially Kidepo. Massive herds of buffalo and elephants wander the savannas, and predators like cheetah and lion intently follow those herds. Gorgeous Ugandan Kob and towering giraffe were some of the highlights. From our perch at the luxurious Apoka Lodge we could see zebra and other plains game on the expanses below.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected delights of my Kidepo visit was spending time in the local village with the Karamajong people of the region. They share some of the qualities and beliefs of the neighboring Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, but they have their own fascinating traditions and unique culture to share with visitors. In a most authentic and unobtrusive way, guests to Kidepo can mingle with the Karamajong community to learn about their way of life.

Uganda has such a reputation as a destination for those interested in primates but I found it to be so much more than that. Gorgeous uncrowded natural areas, diverse bird and wildlife viewing, and respectful community initiatives set this destination apart from any other in Africa. I hope that more travelers make time to include the unique areas of Murchison Falls and Kidepo in addition to the primate rich circuit of Kibale, Queen Elizabeth, and Bwindi National Parks. The discoveries you will find in all of these places will make for an unparalleled safari experience.

Call to begin planning your exploration of Uganda’s wildlife havens!

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Shoebill Stork, Murchison Falls

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