Serendipity

On Location in Kenya with Parts Unknown

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.

In the yellow WACO biplane over Lewa

In the yellow WACO biplane over Lewa


 

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.

A legacy

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.

northern rangelands trust lgoAs 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.

Learn more about visiting Lewa

Special thanks to Dawn Shalhoup at www.prpotion.com for helping tell this story.

Kili & The Snoring Rhinoceros

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.

Get in touch to learn more about hands-on conservation safaris


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

 

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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