It can be confusing trying to work out where you should go on safari and how you should travel – there are so many fantastic options. Here we look at the joy of private conservancies and how they differ from national parks and reserves.
Private Conservancies vs National Park
Private conservancies are privately owned and run conservancies or reserves which tend to be located just outside the main national park or reserve. To maintain migration corridors national parks like Kruger in South Africa or the Masai Mara in Kenya, are unfenced wilderness areas allowing for the free movement of wildlife.
National parks are managed by local councils and government bodies who are responsible for monitoring wildlife, anti-poaching, security and maintaining roads and facilities. Lodges are usually quite large to accommodate demand and visitor numbers are not usually limited. In peak seasons there can be a high density of vehicles. There are strict rules in the national parks – drivers must keep to designated trails and safaris can only be enjoyed between sunrise and sunset.
Private conservancies in contrast, work in partnership with the local community landowners. Because they are owned and managed privately, visitor numbers are strictly controlled. In Mara North in the Masai Mara for instance there is one guest on average to every 350 acres. Camps and lodges tend to be small so guests see very few other vehicles compared to the national park.
There are significant benefits of the private conservancy model for both the visitor and the local community:
Environment Private conservancies protect important ecosystems, for example the Greater Mara Eco-System in Kenya and the Okavango in Botswana. They help to stop the degradation of these eco-systems, conserving wildlife and bio-diversity and allowing the habitat to recover.
Community Local people are able to earn an income from eco tourism and wildlife conservation. In Kenya, Maasai landowners are able to benefit directly from working in partnership with camps and lodges, being paid a ‘bed night’ fee for every guest staying. In South Africa’s Greater Kruger the conservancies operate in the same way – collaborating with the local communities.
Eco-tourism Private conservancies champion low density responsible travel. In a nutshell this is the best way to safari without the crowds.
The exclusive private conservancy safari experience
Private conservancies are often accessed by light aircraft flight, served by their own airstrip. Flying-in helps to maximise your holiday time and gives you a wonderful bird’s eye view in the process.
Guests can enjoy a wide range of activities. These include 4×4 safari, night drives, walking, bush dining and sundowners on the plains. You don’t have to be back in camp by sundown so you can enjoy the conservancy to the full – stopping for a gin and tonic at sunset or heading out on a night drive with flashlights after supper.
Private conservancies offer a quality, low density experience. Instead of large lodges you can stay in small tented camps/lodges. You’ll see fewer vehicles and enjoy better quality game viewing.
You can get closer to the action. It’s good safari etiquette for guides to stick to trails to prevent grass erosion, however in private conservancies should you come across something exciting, like these gorgeous lion cubs, you can go off road to observe more closely – something you are prohibited to do in a national park.
You can safari in the knowledge that your stay know that your stay will be benefiting the local community and contributing to wildlife conservation.
Focus on Mara North, Kenya
The Mara North Conservancy offers 64,000 acres of prime wilderness situated immediately to the north-east of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and works in partnership with local Maasai landowners. In MNC, there are eleven member camps. Each is represented by a land management committee. The committee meets monthly with the Maasai Landowners Committee representing over 800 Maasai landowners, who have opted to lease their land for conservation. The MNC is one of the largest community and private sector owned conservancies in the world and this is the first time many Maasai have been able to receive a direct income from wildlife.
Crucially, all the camps in the private conservancies promote low density tourism. This ensures an exclusive safari experience and minimal impact to the environment and its wildlife. This is the same across Eastern and Southern Africa.
Take your pick from Olare Motorogi and Mara North to name just two of many fantastic conservancies in the Masai Mara, Chyulu Hills on the edge of Tsavo and Amboseli or undiscovered Kalama or Sera north of Samburu. Kenya has many wonderful conservancies to choose from.
Tanzania also offers wonderful private conservancies including five star Singita. Further south you can enjoy legendary Selinda or Linyanti in Botswana’s Okavango among many other excellent choices, Linkwasha in Zimbabwe’s Hwange, Ongava in Namibia, or Sabi Sands and Timbavati in South Africa’s Kruger. Private conservancies offer guests the chance to get off the beaten track, for example Tswalu Kalahari also in South Africa, or Namunyak in the Mathews Range of northern Kenya.
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.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.
6.Trumpet Fanfare – adopt an elephant, from US $50 per year. Enjoy monthly emails updating you on your elephant with pictures and videos.
Find out more about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fostering programme here.
Read about Kithaka and Arruba, the elephants fostered by the Real Africa Trust here.
7.Give a Great White Christmas – adventurous cage diving in South Africa from £120 per person. It might not be the most obvious thing to give your loved one, but cage diving with a Great White in South Africa’s glorious Cape is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Cage diving can be easily added to any tailormade safari in the Cape. Find out more about our safaris and holidays in South Africa here. 8.A Night with the Stars – sleep out under the great African night sky from US $625 per person per night. Romantic, wonderful, unforgettable – this is a real Christmas cracker. There are many lodges offering a star bed experience including Loisaba and Serian in Kenya, Little Kulala in Namibia, Tswalu in South Africa, Baines and Jao Camp in Botswana. We love Nkwichi on Lake Malawi and the Dove’s Nest at The Hide in Hwange.
Read our blog about the best star beds in Africa here.
9.Jumbo Bells – Real Africa silver elephant pendant, from £140 each. These beautiful hand-finished eles, as worn by Saba Douglas-Hamilton, are made by jeweller, Penny Price and were specially commissioned by Real Africa for our 15th anniversary. 30% from each and every one (all the profit) is donated to conservation charity Save the Elephants.
To find out more or to order online please click here. Please note: due to overwhelming demand we are now looking at New Year deliveries!
10. Gold, Frankincence, Myrrh …and travel show tickets of course – let Brian Jackman, Monty Halls and other travel experts inspire you in the travel theatres and spend your day consulting the specialists about your future travels plans. Compliments of Real Africa.
Request your complimentary tickets to the new Telegraph Travel Show or Destinations Manchester or London here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most people visiting Africa think of safaris and the big game such as elephants, rhinos, lion and leopard. However the birdlife in Africa is absolutely stunning and there is a huge range of wonderful birdlife to be found in every country. The green or rainy seasons are usually the best time for birdwatching and also tend to be the quietest and cheapest times to visit. Africa makes for a wonderful birding holiday and we can tailor-make some fantastic itineraries based around birdwatching in particular.
The continent is vast with a massive array of different habitats; from montane and rain forests, marshes and wetlands, deserts and salt pans, lush grasslands and soaring mountains and a very diverse coastline. You also have endemic birds specific to that country or those just passing through on their annual migrations. With so much to choose from we have narrowed it down with some ideas below.
South Africa is home to the highest number of endemic bird species in the whole of mainland Africa due to its excellent climate and wide range of habitats. The Cape area is an excellent area for birdwatching with plenty of interesting and rare species attracted to the unique fynbos vegetation. In fact the Cape is an extremely important area as its unique habitat and vegetation is home to endemic bird species not found anywhere else. We offer stays at the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Grootbos Private Reserve which are both excellent birdwatching spots in the Cape. In fact most places along the Cape and the beautiful Garden Route offer great birdwatching opportunities to see species such as Salvin’s albatross, cormorants and large colonies of gannets. And we mustn’t forget the colony of African penguins at Boulder Bay.
In the Cape and all over South Africa you can see some fantastic birds of prey or raptors in places such as the Drakensberg Mountains, and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. These include various vultures, eagles and falcons including the pygmy falcon and the African fish eagle. And of course the world famous Kruger National Park is home to a vast array of wildlife including wonderful birdlife such as the intriguing Honeyguide Bird.
To the north lies the enormous country of Botswana. Much of northern Botswana is a true wilderness with no signs of mankind for hundreds of miles and is home to huge amounts of wildlife including fabulous birds. In Botswana you have a complete contrast in habitat from the arid salt pans and the Kalahari Desert to the opposite extreme of the Okavango Delta and its vast tracts of wetlands, rivers, marshes and islands. Another great spot for birdwatching is the Chobe National Park which is a huge area of wilderness. Most people head for the Okavango Delta and after the summer rains the birdlife really comes into its own in October and November when you will see lots of water loving species such as a variety of egrets, herons, cranes and storks. There are also plenty of smaller breeds including various babblers, finches and lark as well. If you are lucky you might even see the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl.
Neighbouring Namibia is also home to some extreme opposites with arid deserts and the famous sand dunes of Sossussvlei to the wild and remote coastline which is home to large numbers of sea birds including cape cormorants, white pelicans and terns. The best time for bird watching in Namibia is actually during the rainy season, between November and April. One of the best places to visit is the Etosha National Park which is home to vast salt pans that fill with rain during the winter and become home to large flocks of both pink flamingos and blue cranes.
The deserts of Namibia are also home to many species including plenty of birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and the only endemic bird species of Namibia, the dune lark. You can stay at our lodges and camps in Namibia which are all in excellent locations for birdwatching including the stunning Fish River Lodge overlooking one of the world’s biggest canyon and home to soaring raptors riding the thermals.
The central location of Zambia means that it is home to a real mix of birds from all over Africa including birds from southern, eastern and central Africa. It is also home to the unique shoebill which is highly sought after by birders. Again the rainy or green season over our winter months is the best time to go birdwatching and you can often see visiting species over-wintering here before heading north. Zambia is home to the best walking safaris and this means that keen birdwatchers can really make the most of getting up close to the local birdlife.
Neighbouring Malawi is also home to some rare species mainly based around the shores of Lake Malawi and in its dense forests. This huge lake is more like an inland sea in terms of size and its shores are lined with all sorts of varied habitats including marshes, savannah and forests, which support a wide range of species. The Shire River and the Liwonde National Park are excellent birdwatching places with some fantastic birds including Pel’s fishing owl.
Rwanda is not somewhere that people think of as a birdwatching destination as most people come here to see the endangered mountain gorillas. However, birdwatching in Rwanda is superb and it really is a must-see destination for birders. Despite its diminutive size Rwanda is home to over 600 species including the Albertine Rift endemic bird species. The best place to stay is the Nyungwe National Park which is set amongst the montane forest and home to 13 species of primates alone.
Kenya and Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania are excellent destinations for a birdwatching holiday and Kenya is home to the second highest number of species in Africa. Kenya holds the world-record ‘bird watch’ – with 342 species seen in 24 hours! You can see everything from the famous flamingos of Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru to the vultures and maribou storks picking over the predators’ leftovers. The famous national parks are not just home to the Big Five but also many birds including migrants such as swallows and various waders. The Masai Mara is home to the rosy-throated longclaw and magpie shrike and the Samburu is home to the shining sunbird and pink breasted lark. In Tanzania the southern parks of Selous and Ruaha are excellent birding spots as they are vast and unspoilt and teeming with a variety of species. Over a thousand species have been recorded here including a good amount of endemic species such as Mrs Moreau’s warbler, Loveridge’s sunbird and the Usambara eagle-owl.
Mozambique is a huge country stretching along the east coast of Africa from Tanzania to the north down to South Africa in the south. It reaches inland to Lake Malawi and Zimbabwe and as such offers a huge range of landscapes and habitats. For the most part it is lush and green with some great national parks such as Gorongosa filled with big game and wonderful birdlife. The coastline, which stretches for more than 2,000 kms, provides a home for a vast array of birdlife from waders in the sandbanks and marshlands to the fishing species of the mangrove swamps and islands dotted off the coast and around the archipelagos. The Zambezi Delta is home to many rare and important species such as the mangrove kingfisher and the elusive but colourful African pitta.
You can find out more information on some of Africa’s finest birds on our website under our safari animal section.