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.

 

Top 10 Wild Gifts for Christmas

There’re  just 10 days to go till Christmas Day. Are you stuck for gift ideas? Here’s our Top 10 Wild Christmas gifts for that ‘hard to buy for’ person in your life.

1.Spend time with the relations – Gorilla trekking permit, from US $600 (Uganda) to US $750 (Rwanda)

  • Find out more about gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda here.
  • See sample gorilla trekking safari holidays here.
  • Read Lily’s account of gorilla trekking here.

2.Mistletoe moment – fall in love with Africa and give a subscription to Travel Africa, the world’s only magazine dedicated to exploring Africa, from £15. Check out their subscription offers here.

3.Cloud Nine Experience – take to the skies at sunrise with a hot air balloon safari, complete with champagne breakfast from £325  (available in the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Tarangire)

  • Read about Robert’s experience in Tarangire here.
  • Find out more about hot air balloon safaris and other unforgettable safari experiences here.

4.Christmas Cracker – traditional cool, colourful cotton Kenyan Kikoys (try saving that after a few sherries) from £25. We love these ones from Blue Summer.

5.Flight of Angels – fly high over Victoria Falls, from £100 – £180 per person. A fabulous way to take in the full drama of this natural spectacle.

  • See a video of the Flight of Angels here.
  • There are many excursions from Victoria Falls – you can get some ideas here.
  • See sample safari itineraries in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

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.

 

 

 

Birdwatching in Africa

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

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.

Botswana

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.

Namibia

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.

Zambia

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.

Malawi

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

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

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.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda

Volcanoes! Just the name is exciting. Where you can you combine towering volcanoes, stunning lake scenery and the rare mountain gorilla? In the Parc National des Volcans  otherwise known as Volcanoes National Park!

The Volcanoes National Park can be found in the north west of the tiny country of Rwanda and it lies along the neighbouring Virunga National Park which in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also borders the neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda making this one of the most important areas in Africa for conservation and preservation of the landscape and wildlife.  It is also the oldest national park in Africa having been set up in the 1920s in order to preserve the gorillas in this region.

A Volcanic Landscape:

As its name suggests this area is volcanic and mountainous and this provides the unique eco-system that is home to some incredible wildlife and some of the most stunning scenery. Volcanoes National Park (VNP) is home to 5 volcanoes which make up part of the chain of Virunga Mountains which in turn make up part of the incredible Rift Valley that runs down the spine of Africa.  These volcanoes are Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo and they are still partly active. Every now and again there is an eruption making for a spectacular display at night-time!

The mountainous slopes are covered in dense vegetation of cloud forest. This makes it a haven for primates of all kinds and also elephants and other wildlife. It is so dense that in some places it is inaccessible which has gone a long way to protecting the wildlife in this region. It also provides food and shelter for these species and continuous high rainfall means the animals never have to move on to look for food elsewhere. The vegetation varies as the altitude increases and some of the highest peaks reach a towering 4000 metres high! In amongst these mountains lie a world of lush greenery and beautiful lakes. Other activities available in the VNP include hiking, mountain biking and boating on the lakes. This region really is one of the most stunningly beautiful in the whole of Africa and will leave you with incredible memories!

Mountain Gorillas and other Primates:

Dian Fossey made this park her home whilst she studied the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees of this region in the 1960s. She set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke and is widely recognised as having saved the mountain gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the outside world. There are other species of rare primates in the forests including the Golden Monkey, the Bonobo and the Chimpanzee all of which can be visited by organised trekking groups.

Trekking to visit the gorillas or other primates is the main source of tourist income in the area and is also strictly controlled with a limited number of permits available each day so as to not overload the area.  There are 8 habituated families in the park and this means there are a limit of 64 permits allowed per day. Treks start early and take several hours of demanding hiking before you reach the group of gorillas you are visiting. You then spend an hour with them before heading back down to the centre where you will be awarded a certificate and have the chance to enjoy a rest and some refreshments.

The Kwita Izina is an unmissable experience if you happen to be in the park during June. It is a Rwandan ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby gorilla. The ceremony’s main goal is to monitor the individual gorilla families in their natural habitat. It was also created as a means of bringing attention both locally and internationally to the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas, their habitats and also to bring in some much needed tourist income to a poor area.

Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda as a whole offer so much to the visitor. The friendly welcome of Rwandans is world famous but the scenery is even more impressive. From the terraced slopes of the numerous farms to the soaring peaks of the highest mountains, from the shimmering blue lakes and sandy beaches to the lushest rainforest, there really is something for everyone here. And then there is the incredible wildlife; rare, colourful, noisy and awe-inspiring, that make this place truly magical!

If you would like to know more about Rwanda and Uganda then please give Lily a call;  she has been gorilla trekking and even came face to face with a silverback!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Modern and Stylish Places to Stay in Africa

It’s not all thatched cottages and safari tents in Africa you know. There are plenty of uber-cool modern and stylish hotels for those of you looking for something a little less colonial and a little more 21st century.

Namibia:

Namibia is home to some of the most unique landscapes in the world. With plunging gorges, towering sand dunes, vast salt pans and a truly dramatic coastline this is the country for unusual scenery. It is also home to some unusual and unique accommodation. The modernist architecture really fits in with the sometime harsh and dramatic landscape around it where as something quaint and cosy would stick out like a sore thumb. A great place to stay if you like modern architecture is the Fish River Lodge. Set right on the edge of the famous Fish River Gorge (the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon) the hotel is made up of 20 individual square shaped single level lodges offering both privacy and fantastic views to the guests. The rooms are furnished in a modern style with beds angled to view the gorge and its incredible sunsets. The main building is also modern in style with a large viewing deck and swimming pool all making the most of the breath-taking view.

Rwanda:

In the forests and mountains of Rwanda you can find the wonderful Shamwari Nyungwe Forest Lodge. This stunning luxury lodge, built to blend in with the surrounding environment, is situated in a tea plantation on the edge of the Nyungwe closed canopy rain forest. The decor is stylish and modern with all the comforts of an international hotel. The views from its elevated position are to die for including from the plentiful terraces and the fabulous infinity pool. This hotel makes an excellent base for hiking into the mountains to see the monkeys, chimps and mountain gorillas that live in this lush, green wilderness.

Mozambique:

Another place where you would not expect modern style accommodation is on an island in Mozambique.The White Pearl Resort Ponta Mamoli is a stylish, luxury, modern hotel. Nestled in a sheltered bay on Mozambique’s Lagoon Coast, poised amongst the dunes on timber stilts, their luxurious suites have been sensitively designed to take advantage of their beautiful natural setting. Cool, clean lines, contemporary furniture and a palette inspired by the surrounding coastal landscape, make for a stylish but relaxing beach retreat. This hotel really is for those looking for incredible contempory design in a stunning beach location.

South Africa – Cape Town:

And of course in the upbeat, exciting city of Cape Town there are plenty of modern options and even across South Africa you find wonderful modern places to stay. Hand-picked by our South Africa Manager we have several stylish and modern places to stay. In Cape Town you can stay in the Sugar Hotel and Spa which is centrally located in the heart of this vibrant city. A sophisticated mix of raw brick, woods, stainless steel, porcelain tiles and glass creates a modernist vibe at the hotel.

If you are looking for somewhere self-catering in Cape Town then are plenty of options including the sleek Lawhill Apartments. These are located right on the V&A Waterfront and every luxury apartment is designed for comfort offering the freedom of self-catering with the service of a hotel including a reception desk. All the apartments have their own balcony with luxurious outdoor furniture from which to enjoy the views of the marina, the canal and the One & Only Hotel. The communal pool and gymnasium are also made available for the enjoyment of all guests.

South Africa – Garden Route:

Further along the beautiful Garden Route you can find the stylish Quarters Hermanus (see photo at bottom)right on the historic harbour of the whale watching town of Hermanus. The hotel is white and clean lined with a lovely restaurant overlooking the waterfront and the guest rooms all have mountain or sea views. The hotel is located right in the centre of Hermanus which itself is the centre of the whale watching tourism industry and is a very pleasant and lively resort.

And further along the Garden Route is the stunning Robberg in Plettenburg Bay (see the top photo). The Robberg offers a variety of different accommodation including self-catering apartments and villas all built in a white clean lined modern style. Ideally located just five minutes from the bustling restaurants, galleries, coffee shops and bars of Plett’s Main Street, the Robberg is a tranquil beachside haven. This understated, private retreat boasts 5-star luxury accommodation, and is ideally situated, right on the Robberg’s beautiful Blue Flag Beach.

These are just a handful of some of the modern and stylish accommodation that can be found across Africa; from the big cities to sleepy towns, from the deepest bush to the highest peaks, from the verdant jungles to the beautiful beaches you can find somewhere modern and stylish to stay.

Posted by Ruth Bolton