Where should I go on safari?

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down! 

In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.

In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore  – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!

Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.

Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).


Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions. 

Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
 A.Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti (depending on time of year).
Take a look at this classic tented safari holiday, put together with the Migration in mind.

Q.We’re on a budget – where do you recommend? 
 A.South Africa and Kenya currently offer the best value in Africa. 
This 19 day trip to South Africa, including a stay in a tented camp in the Greater Kruger is fantastic value.

Q.We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Where do you recommend?
A.It has to be Botswana…ideally combined with Victoria Falls (but the answer will vary depending on who you speak to!)
To be honest, if you go once, and do it right, we know you’ll be smitten and desperate to return to Africa!
Q.We’ve travelled lots in Africa and are after something completely different? 
A.Namibia or Ethiopia will make a big impression.

Q.Where can I see rhino?
 A.Your best chances are in Kenya (Lake Nakuru or Laikipia); South Africa (KwaZulu Natal); Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland)

Q.Where can we have an adventure? 
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)

Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
 A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve.  Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of  Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.

Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!

Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
 A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger  are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and  June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.

By Sara White.

 

The Hunt

The new BBC1 series The Hunt, narrated by Sir David Attenborough looks at predation in the natural world.  Viewers are transported at 9pm on a Sunday evening to a range of wonderful locations around the world to witness real-life dramas unfolding before their eyes.

Credit: BBC/Silverback Films/Huw Cordey. Filming wild dogs in Zambia.

Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill writes on the BBC website, “the kill itself isn’t interesting, because once animals have killed, the story’s over. What is interesting is the build up, the strategies adopted by both the predators and prey. This has never been looked at in detail, and that is the aim of The Hunt”.

At the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair, where we exhibited in November, we were lucky enough to enjoy a talk in the Expert Theatre and meet BBC wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, who worked on Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, also produced by Alastair Fothergill. Doug told us that it takes on average 450 days of filming to get enough footage for a one hour episode. Taking such stats into account the team here at Real Africa has even more reverence for the BBC’s latest sensational wildlife series.

The Hunt

Catch the next episode of The Hunt, Nowhere to Hide, on BBC 1 on Sunday at 9pm. The episode follows cheetahs, bald eagles and lions on their hunt for prey in the exposed plains landscape with much of the 60 minutes filmed in Africa.

So where are the best places in Africa to see some of The Hunt’s leading ladies?

Cheetahs are diurnal, hunting in the morning and afternoon, and can be seen perched on termite mounds, rock kopjes and even on safari vehicles on occasion in order to survey the horizon – they can see prey 5km away and accelerate from 0 to 64kmh in just three strides. The Hunt filmed cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara – we would recommend the Mara or the Serengeti to see these beautiful cats in action.

Real Africa clients get closer than expected!

 

Leopards are more tricky to see being nocturnal and relying on ambush. They need to get within 4m of their prey to be successful. Leopards are most often spotted draped in umbrella acacias in East Africa or on night drives when their eyes shine brightly. Zambia’s South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see leopard as is Sabi Sands in South Africa’s Kruger.

Leopard siblings playing taken by guests Diana & Walt at Nkwali, Zambia.

 

Lionesses …well, put it this way, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t seen a lion/lioness in the Masai Mara. The Marsh Pride were made famous by the BBC Big Cat Diary series and can still be observed hunting in the Mara along with many other prides. The Hunt filmed specific lion behaviour, as they stalked zebra in Namibia, in Etosha, another excellent place to see them, especially during the peak of the dry season in September and October when game congregates around waterholes. When it comes to lions, you have a great choice, from Kenya and Tanzania, or the lions of Duba Plains, Botswana to the prolific Luwi Lions of Zambia’s South Luangwa, or Cecil’s offspring in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  You can even see them in trees in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park and Uganda’s QE National Park.

See Real Africa footage of lions hunting buffalo in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Lion cubs try out stalking – picture taken by our guide Gaudence.

 

Nile Crocs– Get to the Grumeti River in the Northern Serengeti between July and September and you will see plenty of giant Nile Crocodiles feasting on wildebeest as they make the crossing from one side to the other enroute to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Murchison Falls in Uganda is another great place to observe these beasts.

Credit: BBC / Silverback Films / Huw Cordey. Nile Crocodile taking wildebeest on the Grumeti River.

 

Ethiopian Wolves– With only around 500 of these long-legged fox-like creatures remaining in the highlands of Ethiopia, you have to be lucky to get a glimpse. Give yourself every chance by staying in the Bale Mountains at the wonderful Bale Mountain Lodge.

Elusive Ethiopian Wolf in the Bale Mountains.

 

Wild Dogs-The formidable wild dog or painted dog thrives in packs of around 6 to 20 dogs, roaming open plains and woodland. Wild dogs are also endangered but the Linyanti region is Botswana has very  reliable sightings with several packs denning in the area. Another good place to try and see Wild Dogs is in Zambia’s South Luangwa – but, as I well know, the dogs move very quickly, with incredible stamina, and can be elusive so it doesn’t always work out. I spent a week trying to see them in Zambia – saw their prints, heard them, glimpsed them but never quite managed to catch up with them! The positive news is that in the last ten years the wild dog numbers in the valley have increased. By the way…I saw everything else when I was there, from lions chasing impala into jeeps and leopards sheltering from the rain in thorn bushes…

Wild Dog Pups taken from Kwando Lebala.

 

Watching wildlife is of course, unpredictable so although we can’t guarantee you’ll witness a sequence like the cheetah taking a wildebeest calf during your safari holiday,  we can ensure we use our expert knowledge, experience and wonderful guides to get you to the best places at the best times for what you want to experience.

Here are our Top Five recommendations for places to catch some serious safari action.

1.TANZANIA – THE SERENGETI

The Serengeti promises a special safari whenever you go, with the wildebeest migration making its circular journey year-round . However, the southern plains of the Serengeti play host to calving season during January and February and is said to be the best place in the world to observe cheetah hunting.

During a dramatic 3 week window, starting in late January depending on the arrival of the rains, the wildebeest have their calves with thousands being born daily, long legged and unsteady as they take their first steps on the short grassy plains of the Serengeti, their nursery.

During these key few months, this area of the southern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to Africa’s densest concentration of predators. The big cats patrol the  grassland waiting for an opportunity to strike. Cheetah sightings are especially good along with large prides of lion while other predators like hyena and caracal can also be seen.

If you are keen to witness stalking behaviours then heading to the area around Ndutu in February would be our number one recommendation – many would say that this is the absolute best time to be in the Serengeti.

Mobile camps come into their own, moving to be within reach of the migration and offering an authentic ‘Out of Africa’ safari experience. Our favourites include Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti South, Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp and &Beyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas. Mobile camps are seasonal tented camps which move depending on the location of the herds.

If you prefer a permanent camp then we would recommend Ndutu Safari Lodge,  Lake Masek Camp and Sanctuary’s Kusini Camp but there are several lodges and camps in this area so do ask!

INSPIRATION

Lemala Migration Safari 

Wildlife Extra

Serengeti Under Canvas

Alex Walker’s Serian Camps

Lemala Ndutu

2.KENYA – THE MASAI MARA

The Masai Mara is synonymous with big cats. The Marsh Pride came to life on our screens during the BBC Big Cat Diaries – you can even stay, like the BBC film crew did, at Governors Camps in the Mara, well placed for visiting the Marsh Pride.  Several big cat projects are based in the Mara including the Mara Predator Project, the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project as well as a Spotted Hyena research centre so this is a indication that the area is rich with wildlife.

Research in the 1990s by Joseph Oguto showed that there were roughly 3 lions per 10 square kilometres in the Mara, the largest pride of 48 being the Talek Pride. It is true that lion numbers have dropped by around a third  in the last twenty years, as they have all over Africa but the Masai Mara is still one of the very best places to see these beautiful big cats.

Visit the Mara between July and October when the Great Wildebeest Migration is in the vicinity and chances are you may see something very special. We recommend staying in one of the private concessions as opposed to within the National Reserve itself. The main reserve has many lodges, often quite large ones, and as such can see high vehicle densities at peak times. In the private conessions which work in partnership with the local Maasai communities, visitor numbers are restricted to 1 guest to around 350 acres allowing for a more exclusive experience.

You’ll find lovely small lodges, classy mobile tented camps like Saruni Wild and Alex Walker’s Serian as well as affordable riverside camps like Karen Blixen Tented Camp on the Mara River, one of our favourite ‘good value’ tented camps in the Mara North concession, which bridges the gap between the tiny, top end  lodges/camps and the larger 3 star lodges/camps in the national park.

For  observing predators and their prey the Masai Mara is a fabulous place to safari.

See Real Africa footage of cheetah hunting.

INSPIRATION

Karen Blixen Fly-in Safari

Masai Mara Fly-in & Lake Malawi

Saruni Wild

Little Governors

Kicheche Mara

3.NAMIBIA – ETOSHA

The best time to be in Etosha for wildlife is in the peak of the dry season when vast numbers migrate to waterholes (August – October). As the dry season progresses the landscape becomes increasingly arid and by October, the hottest month, can be quite dusty. It is at this time that the BBC film crew captured the incredible footage of lions hunting – with the swirling dust storm confusing their prey and masking their scent.

Many of our clients choose to explore Namibia on a self-drive itinerary over 16 or so days with a 4×4. You can also explore with a flying safari.

You may be interested in our blog, Namibia – In the Driving Seat.

INSPIRATION

Self Drive of Namibia

Namibia Fly-in Safari

Ongava Lodge, Etosha

Onguma Tented Camp, Etosha

4.BOTSWANA – DUBA PLAINS

Duba Plains in Botswana is famous for its clashes between lions and buffalo in particular. The special thing about the Duba lions is that they hunt during the day allowing visitors to witness them at work rather than simply lazing in the shade. Many will remember the film made by the Jouberts about the lions of Duba and it is a stay at the Joubert’s camp, Duba Plains, with just six ensuite tents that will get you close to the lions here.

When the film was made there was one big pride, the Tsaro pride but in the last few years this pride has split into two so interactions in the area are transforming all the time and are rather unpredictable. However Duba Plains is still rated one of the best places to see lions hunting.

Safari elsewhere in Botswana and I don’t think you will be disappointed. Linyanti is a good choice for seeing predators with the guiding teams focused on finding lion, leopard and cheetah – night drives are possible from Lebala Camp which sits in a private concession and wild dogs den in the area. Lebala is on the plains/marsh and combines well with sister camp, Lagoon, which sits on the banks of the Kwando river.

If Botswana is of interest to you, you may enjoy our country guide called Botswana – Wilderness & Wildlife. 

INSPIRATION

Duba Plains Camp

Ultimate Botswana

Kwando Lebala Camp, Linyanti

Botswana Explorer

5.ZAMBIA – SOUTH LUANGWA

South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see predators. The Luwi Sand River, close to Nsolo Bush Camp  is where several lion pride territories overlap, while leopard use the dry river bed a bit like a super highway. South Luangwa is one of the few National Park’s allowing night drives with trackers and spot lights which gives you a good chance to see leopards actively hunting.

This area is very unspoilt with few vehicle tracks in the area and much of the exploration done on foot with guided walking safaris. Accommodation is in seasonal bush camps which are erected for the duration of the dry season between May and October time. This means minimal disturbance to the environment and as a result wildlife is prolific. For lion, leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog (if you are lucky!) this area is truly fabulous.

DID YOU KNOW? BBC wildlife cameraman, Simon King, and crew stayed at Robin Pope’s Nsefu Camp in the Luangwa’s Nsefu sector when filming lion hunting buffalo.

INSPIRATION

Zambia Walking Safari

Nsolo Camp

Classic Zambia

Luwi Camp

 

Tailor-made Safaris with Real Africa

Tell us what you are keen to try and see and we will be able to give you independent advice on the best time of year, the best guides and the best lodges/camps to visit in order to realise your specific ambition. You can call us on 01603 283 517.

 

 

 

 

Ancient Africa And Where To Find It

Most people go to Southern and Eastern Africa for the wildlife and scenery but actually it is a fantastic destination for those looking for a bit of history. After all Africa is the cradle of civilisation and the place were mankind was first discovered. There are many fantastic sites where you can see evidence of ancient times; from rock art to ruined cities, from fossilised remains to ancient living tribes there is something for everyone even remotely interested in Africa’s epic and important history.

Ethiopia – Axum, Lalibela and Gondar

Ethiopia is one of the most historically and religiously significant places in the world with an exciting past that is still very much evident today. Those who visit Ethiopia are stunned by the vast number of holy sites which have amazingly survived pretty much intact. If you wish to visit the most important historic sites of Ethiopia then you should definitely include Lalibela, perhaps the most famous of them all. This site is home to 12 monolithic or rock-hewn churches including the Church of St George. How they managed to carve these churches from underground and the rock face itself back in the 13th century is just mind boggling.

In Axum (Aksum), an ancient capital of Ethiopia and home to the Kings, you can find the basilic Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. This is believed to be the home of the Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried with him during the Great Exodus. No one is allowed access to it for fear of the dire biblical warnings associated with the Ark so many religious scholars doubt that the Ark is really there. There is plenty more to explore in Axum as there are many stelae or obelisks dating back 1700 years and historic royal palaces; a relic of the time when Axum was the capital of Ethiopia (from 400BC – 1000AD).

Also worth a visit is Gondar which was once the ancient capital city of both the Ethiopian Empire and the later Begemder Province. Gondar is home to many important remains including several royal castles, including Fasilides’ castle, Iyasu’s palace, Dawit’s Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Empress Mentewab’s castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasilides’ Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul’s Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

There is so much history to explore in Ethiopia that you need a good couple of weeks to get the most from your tour. We have several different tours in Ethiopia that include the most important sites.

South Africa – Rock Art in the Drakensburg

South Africa is an incredibly rich source of cave paintings and one of the best areas to see many of them in in Kwazulu Natal in the stunningly beautiful Drakensberg Mountains. The area is now protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The San people (also known as Bushman) created beautiful rock paintings and engravings which you can see all around this area. There are over 40,000 of them in this area alone so they were pretty prolific! There are various walking tours that take you to sites that are close together and these trails usually have an information centre where you can learn more about them or hire a guide to show you around. We have a great range of beautiful accommodation in the Drakensberg Mountains including Cathedral  Peak and Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse and some great South Africa self drive tours that pass through the Drakensberg.

The Kamberg San Rock Art Trail is incredible and includes such sites as the Game Pass Shelter.  The San paintings are now national monuments protected by law but were first discovered back in the early 1900s.  At first they were thought to be simple depictions of daily life such as hunting but nowadays experts believe that the artwork is actually made up of mystical images that were seen by shamans whilst in a trance.  Among the most accessible of the many Drakensberg rock art sites is the open-air Bushman Cave Museum in the Giant’s Castle Reserve, established in 1903 and run by KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation. A short walk takes you to the cave, which features 500 rock paintings, some of which are estimated to be around 800 years old. However if you are a fit and adventurous hiker you can take yourself off to more remote trails where you will be able to discover caves on your own!

Tanzania – Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge

Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania is actually one of the most important paleo-anthropological sites in the whole world and you can visit it on one of our Tanzania safari holidays.  You can visit en route to the Ngorongoro Crater. This site was part of a scientific discovery that rocked the scientific world.  It allowed scientists to date early mankind for the first time as it was here that remains were found from millions of years ago. Olduvai turned out to have been occupied by Homo Habilis 1.9 million years ago,  Paranthropus Boisei 1.8 million years ago, and Homo Erectus 1.2 million years ago.  Modern mankind known as Homo Sapiens is dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.

Louis and Mary Leakey were the paleo-archaeologists responsible for most of the excavations and discoveries of fossils in Olduvai Gorge and their family have since continued their work and even today scientists are still continuing to discover important finds in the area. The Leakeys were firm believers in Darwin’s theory of evolution and were sure that early man had lived in the area. They followed other scientists finds but it was their discovery of a homonid skull that meant Tanzania was truly the origin of mankind. In 1959, Mary found remains of the robust australopithecine Zinjanthropus boisei (now known as Paranthropus boisei) which has been one of the major scientific discoveries of all time. This is because the age of the skeleton was put at  1.75 million years and this dramatically changed what had been the previously estimated time scale of human evolution.

Zimbabwe – Great Zimbabwe

The Great Zimbabwe ruins are the largest collection of ruins in Africa south of the Sahara such as Libya, Egypt and Morocco. Located in Zimbabwe between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, the ruins are remains of an ancient culture of great wealth and impressive architectural skills. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, Great Zimbabwe was home to a cattle-herding people who also became adept at metal-working. The ruins are the largest of their kind on the Zimbabwe Plateau, but they are by no means unique. There are lots of much smaller sites across Zimbabwe and as far as Mozambique. Great Zimbabwe is impressive as it was once home to up to 20, 000 people in its heyday. The remains are made up of granite walls – embellished with turrets, towers, platforms and elegantly sculpted stairways which show a huge amount of skill and expertise in architecture and engineering for such an early civilisation. Although the site was ransacked by European explorers and treasure hunters it is still an incredible place to visit and well worth a visit. It can be combined with a tour of Southern Africa or a safari in Zimbabwe. So important are the ruins to the nation that the country actually took its name from the Shona word for ruins, ” Zimbabwe”.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

Beach Retreats With A Difference? Africa’s Great Lakes.

Fancy a beach holiday but not by the sea? Some of Africa’s enormous inland lakes provide fabulously unique beach retreats on soft sandy beaches with warm turquoise waters to swim in, whilst others provide breath-taking mountain and forest scenery on its lakeshores.  Like the American Great Lakes these are Africa’s hidden gems. With all that these have to offer who needs the sea?!

Lake Malawi

Most people will have heard of Lake Malawi, also called Africa’s Lake of Stars by the explorer David Livingstone. It has long been an exciting holiday destination famous for its clear blue waters, beautiful mountain scenery, excellent diving opportunities and stunning sandy beaches. Lake Malawi is part of the Great Lakes region in the East African Rift system and can be found between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. It is third largest lake in Africa and the second deepest at an unbelievable 700m  or 2300ft deep! It also ranks as the ninth largest in the world at 580 kms long and 75 kms wide. In fact it is much more like an inland sea than a lake.

The lake and its environs are protected by national park status and are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hundreds of species of fish are endemic to the lake and as such mean the lake is not only a great holiday destination but also vitally important environmentally. There are lots of fishing villages along the lake and also beach hotels but at the same time there are long stretches of totally uninhabited beaches and lakeshore, lapped by crystal clear waters and surrounded by lush greenery. Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving and water skiing are just some of the lake activities available to visitors.  Accommodation ranges from campsites to luxury hotels and everything in between. We offer a variety of places to stay including Pumulani with its stunning views, Chintheche Inn which is in an area famous for its beaches and Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island.

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika was discovered by Burton and Speke in the mid-1800s during their search for the source of the Nile. Its central location mean that Lake Tanganyika’s waters meet the borders of Tanzania, Burundi, Congo and Zambia. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world at 677 kms long (but only 50kms wide) and the second deepest after Lake Baikal in Russia. The immense depth is because it lies in the Great Rift Valley, which also has created its steep shoreline and which makes it very scenic. In fact the depth of the lake reaches an incredible 1433 metres (4,700 feet) in places which is an astounding 642m below sea level! This beautiful lake is also a fabulous place to visit for a beach holiday and is a place for a truly romantic getaway.

Greystoke Mahale is on the Tanzanian side of the lake and is in a perfect location. The camp is right on the white sandy beach with the most scenic background imaginable of unspoilt forest and the 8,000ft high Mahale mountains. The camp was built to blend into the background so the little private wooden chalets known as bandas have been built from reclaimed wood from wrecked or retired dhows from the villages along the lakeshore.  Old fisherman’s canoes as used as ladders and thatch is made from palm trees. Its remote location and its small size (just 6 bandas) means that the beach is incredibly peaceful and unspoilt and the whole atmosphere of the place is enchanting.

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is another one of the African Great Lakes. It lies on the border Rwanda and Congo DR, and is in the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. It is 89 kms long and 48 kms wide and is the sixth largest lake in Africa. A stay on the lakeshore makes for a fantastic stopover between the national parks of Rwanda and a relaxing to contrast to the demanding exercise of gorilla trekking.

The scenery here is stunning with the lush verdant fields and terraces leading up the high peaks of the surrounding mountains and cloud forests. This lake not only has beaches but it also has historic colonial towns and stunning views everywhere you look. You can stay at the Lake Kivu Serena, part of the upmarket Serena chain of hotels, or if you are looking for somewhere smaller and more intimate then the Cormoran Lodge is the place for you. Lake Kivu really is the definition of a hidden gem!

Lake Tana

Finally for something a little different this beautiful lake in Ethiopia may not be somewhere you have heard of but for those of you who fancy visiting the incredible historic sites of Ethiopia, this place makes a fantastic finale. Lake Tana,  the source of the Blue Nile, gives you the chance to relax on the shores of the lake for some much needed time out.  The lake is 96kms long and 50 kms wide and is in the northern part of the East African Rift System. It is home to a variety of different islands some of which have historic monasteries and churches hidden away. We offer a great place to stay where you can soak up the delights of the lake in comfort and style.  Kuriftu Resort enjoys cool off-shore breezes all year round, breath-taking lake views and a clever blend of native Ethiopian architecture and décor. The resort comprises of 28 suites, a gigantic swimming pool with sunbathing terrace and a gourmet restaurant so you can relax in total comfort.

Likoma Island, Lake Malawi

Whether you are looking for a beach holiday with a twist or for a relaxing finale at the end of your safari then you really should consider a stay on the shores of one of Africa’s Great Lakes!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

Easter in Ethiopia

In the run up to Easter I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the role that Christianity has played in Ethiopia. It is one of the most historically and religiously significant places in the world but not many people know about its past. Those that do visit Ethiopia are stunned by the vast number of holy sites which have amazingly survived pretty much intact. Modern Ethiopia is still a deeply religious country and unlike most other African nations, Ethiopia is a devoutly Christian country with around 60% of the population belonging to a Christian Church (including Catholics and Protestants). The Ethiopian Church has strong links with the Coptic Church of Egypt and is thought to have been formed in 1 AD before becoming the state religion under King Ezana the Great of Aksum in the 4th century. This means that the majority of Ethiopians practise a truly ancient form of Christianity. It is the largest and oldest Oriental Orthodox Church in the world with almost 50 million members.

Aksum’s geographic location was vital to establishing Christianity in Ethiopia. It was close to major international trade routes through the Red Sea between India and the Roman Empire.  It was actually Frumentius, a shipwrecked young man who was converted by Roman merchants and who became an elevated member of the Royal Court that lead to the adoption of Christianity by the King. Christianity afforded the possibility of unifying the many diverse ethnic and linguistic peoples of the Aksumite kingdom. Aksum was one of the earliest states to develop a coin system in order to service its sophisticated and prosperous economy and the first to put a cross on its coinage.

If you wish to visit the religious sites of Ethiopia then you should definitely include Lalibela, perhaps the most famous of them all. This site is home to 12 monolithic or rock-hewn churches including the Church of St George. How they managed to carve these churches from underground and the rock face itself  back in the 13th century is just mind boggling. The Churches can be visited today where you can admire the intricate carving and the incredible work they put into these buildings. The layout of Lalibela is supposed to mirror image Jerusalem as a symbol of their religious devotion.

In Axum (Aksum), an ancient capital of Ethiopia and home to the Kings, you can find the basilic Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. This is believed to be the home of the Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried with him during the Great Exodus. No one is allowed access to it for fear of the dire biblical warnings associated with the Ark so many religious scholars doubt that the Ark is really there. Interestingly such is the significance of the Ark to their religion that an Ethiopian church must have a replica known as a tabot to be kept on the altar and only handled by the priest. There is plenty more to explore in Axum as there are many stelae or obelisks dating back 1700 years and historic royal palaces; a relic of the time when Axum was the capital of Ethiopia (from 400BC – 1000AD).

Easter (known as Fasika) in Ethiopia is usually later than western Churches celebrate as it follows the Eastern Calendar. It is taken much more seriously than Christmas and starts at the beginning of Lent when fasting is performed and no animal products are consumed throughout Lent. Everyone attends Church on Good Friday when they stand and then prostate themselves until the point of exhaustion. The main service at Church is on the Saturday night which is held at midnight and is a serious occasion with music and prayer. At 3am the service finishes and people eat a celebratory meal before heading home for a rest. Easter Sunday is then a major celebration with lots of feasting and meeting with friends and family.

If you want to know more about Ethiopia or see these places for yourself please give our expert Lily a call!

Posted by Ruth