Category Archives: Wonderful

The 2019 wish-list (continued): walk on the wild side in Zambia

Zambia is an incredibly exciting destination offering the perfect blend of prime wilderness, outstanding wildlife and wonderful camps.

Luangwa Safari House
Luangwa Safari House

An exciting network of large and remote national parks provide plenty of opportunity for an immersive safari experience, from the oldest, Kafue, to the newest, Lower Zambezi.

This is a gem of a country where hospitality is warm, wildlife is awesome and scenery spectacular – we urge you to go.

When to go?

Dry Season
Dry Season

The long dry winter months April to October is the optimum time for a safari to Zambia. Days are warm and sunny and nights are cold. As the season progresses temperatures soar with October usually the hottest month. This is also when wildlife densities peak, as animals gather around the remaining water sources.  Riverside camps offer  a refreshing  breeze and superb sightings. Camps/lodges with pools are a good choice if travelling in the heat of October/November.

Mfuwe Lodge - the Emerald Season
Mfuwe Lodge – the Emerald Season

The long rains tend to arrive late November into December time and stay until March  – this can make unsealed roads impassable. However permanent camps are open year-round – the Emerald Season can be a very rewarding time to travel. I speak from first-hand experience having spent a week in the Luangwa one November just as the rains arrived – it was astounding to see the overnight transformation of the park. Wildlife was exceptional. Some camps depending on water levels offer safari by boat giving you a unique perspective.

Five reasons to add Zambia to your safari wish list

Walking in July
Walking in July
Nkwali
Nkwali
  • Walking safaris

South Luangwa has been the home of the walking safari. since the 1960s. Guiding is consistently high quality and quality bush camps ensure a top notch experience. You can easily spend a week here. walking between bush camps, or combining a few days walking with a lodge and 4×4 safari. Walking can be tailored to your needs but 8-10km per day between camps is what you can expect. Although South Luangwa offers the largest variety of walking safaris, you can also enjoy walking in Kafue and the Lower Zambezi.

This 8 day safari combines contrasting camps and includes a walking element along with a 4×4 safari in the South Luangwa.

Luangwa Bush Camp
Luangwa Bush Camp

Luangwa Bush Camp max1100x600

Busanga, Kafue
Busanga, Kafue
  • Nights under Canvas

Zambia offers incredible rustic bush camps. These vary in style.

During the peak dry season months of July to September you can spend a night or two of your safari in a mobile ‘fly camp’.

These fully serviced mobile camps are extremely comfortable and well-equipped with walk-in tents and full bedding. The ‘safari’ bucket shower is under a tree and the long-drop ‘bush loo’ has a wooden throne. Meals of a high standard are served under the open sky with just the glow of the camp fire and paraffin lamps.

Overlooking the Luwi River
Overlooking the Luwi River

Mobile camps allow visitors to access really remote areas where the wildlife is unused to people.

Zambia is also famous for its tented seasonal camps which open in April-May and are taken down at the end of the dry season in November.These camps, some with canvas and some with thatched roofs offer more facilities than the simpler mobile  ‘fly camps’ but are still incredibly rustic and positioned in low vehicle/prime wildlife areas. Robin Pope’s Tena Tena for instance is a cluster of six tents on the Luangwa River. Ensuite bathrooms are open-air. Power is provided by solar panels and fresh drinking water comes from a bore-hole. Time & Tide’s wonderful Luwi  is nestled in a grove of ancient mahogany trees, the tented suites designed to fully immerse guests into the bush experience. Set along the riverbed and overlooking the floodplains below, guests can watch the abundant wildlife right from the privacy of their own suite. Feathertop beds, an open air, ensuite bathroom and a peaceful seating area create a comfortable guest experience in this seasonal camp.

 

If you are not a fan of spending nights under canvas, you can opt for a permanent lodge or safari house. These have more facilities and creature comforts. Zambia has superb ‘safari houses’ perfect for groups of friends or family groups. These houses are fully staffed with driver/guide and cook – choose from large, luxurious riverside Chongwe River House with its amazing pool, to small Robin’s House complete with its own hide .

Canoeing the Chanel
Canoeing the Chanel
Boating from Chongwe River House
Boating from Chongwe River House
  • Canoeing the Zambezi

The Lower Zambezi is Zambia’s newest national park and sits bang opposite Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. If you like variety then this is the place to go – you can boat, walk, drive and fish, all with a beautiful mountain view and sublime wildlife. Canoe trips are exceptional allowing for very close encounters with large species like elephants who come to the river to refresh.  You can glide along silently without disturbing the wildlife.

As well as exploring by canoe, motorised boat trips provide the chance to explore larger tracts of the riverside.

Combined with walking and 4×4 safaris this is a wonderful way to experience the richness and diversity of Zambia’s national park network.

Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season
Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season
  • Victoria Falls/Livingstone

No trip to Zambia would be complete without a visit to the Falls. Livingstone is the town on the Zambian side of the Falls where many activities such as rafting can be organised. A number of stunning river lodges stretch along the river bank upstream from the Falls. Lodges provide complimentary transfers for guests to the Falls with some also offering activities such as river cruises. These lodges are a wonderful choice for pre or post safari R&R. An increasing network of domestic light aircraft flights connects several of Zambia’s key attractions with the main gateways of Lusaka and Livingstone meaning you can combine parks such as the Lower Zambezi and Mfuwe in the South Luangwa more easily than ever before.

Wild Dogs
Wild Dogs
  • Endangered species – wild dogs rule

Visitors to Zambia can enjoy spectacular wildlife including the chance to see many rare and iconic species. The Zambian Carnivore Programme recently announced that the South Luangwa National Park is now officially home to Zambia’s largest African wild dog population. Despite being one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, wild dogs in and around the South Luangwa National Park have enjoyed several years of increasing numbers, and there are now estimated to be approximately 350 adults and yearlings living in the Luangwa Valley.

 

To find out more about Zambia’s national parks, you may be interested to read our country guide here.

You’ll also find sample safaris, with price guides.

 

 

 

The joy of Private Conservancy Safaris

 

DSC_6229Mara DSC_6236

There are so many safari options, it can be tricky working out what’s best for you. Here we look at the joy of private conservancies and how they differ from a national park/reserve experience.

Mara DSC_6446Private 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.
  • WWDSC_5360Community 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.

Serian Lion Cubs DSC_6888The 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 will be benefiting the local community and contributing to wildlife conservation.

Mara DSC_6556Focus 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.

Explore Kenya safaris

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Hitting the heights on an African balloon safari

Ever wondered what its like to do a balloon safari in Africa? Robert was in Tanzania recently and went flying over Tarangire National Park.

I was woken at 5.30am by one of the Masai guards knocking gently on my tent. Fifteen minutes later, having been escorted by the same guard to the restaurant, I was standing on its terrace drinking fresh brewed coffee and taking to our pilot. Called Nihat, he had over 3,000 flight hours under his belt and spoke perfect English.

“I’ve been flying in Tarangire for over 2 years,” he informed me as he swigged syrupy coffee from a mug. “During that whole time I’ve never had to cancel a flight. The weather here is always excellent.”

Our land cruiser pulled up and we climbed in, leaving the camp as the first hint of dawn touched the eastern sky. It was a short drive, initially on a rough track before cutting off through the savannah to the launch site. The crew had arrived before us. The basket was in place, lying on its side with the burners and fuel all stowed and secured. The balloon was laid out flat on the grass and as we got out of our vehicle a large fan started blowing the first hot air into it. It rolled around, making it ripple like water in a bowl. Two crew pulled on a rope tied to the top of the balloon, keeping it taut.

Once the balloon was semi-inflated the burners started blasting into it and within minutes it was trying to lift itself into the sky, the two men on the rope now joined by a third as they fought to keep it down. On a signal from Nihat they released the rope and the balloon swung into the air, gently pulling the basket upright as it fought to get away. It was not yet inflated enough to lift from the ground, even if the basket hadn’t been anchored to a land cruiser.

We climbed into the basket. In a central section stood Nihat, surrounded in gas bottles and with the controlling ropes hanging in front of him. Either side the basket was dived into two sections, each with a low bench. Nihat gave a long burn, the heat strong on my head through the hat I was wearing. Slowly we rose off the ground and hung for a few moments on the anchor rope as final checks were done. When he was happy, Nihat released the rope and we rose into the African sky.

It was surprising how quickly we left the ground behind. It was so gentle it felt as if nothing was moving and yet the World shrank in size and dropped away below us. When we got to 500 metres we levelled off, the whole of Africa seemingly stretching away in all directions. Lake Manyara was to the west, its white bed catching the gentle light of dawn. To its south was Lake Eyasi while to the north was Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro.

Tarangire was spread beneath us like an enormous pop-up map, the river that gives the Park its name meandering through its heart.

“We’ve come up to find the breezes,” Nihat explained. “Different altitudes have winds that blow in different directions, its useful to know if I wan to move the balloon.” He nodded to the right. “Here there is a breeze from the East. I can use it if we need to get closer to some animals.”

We slowly descended as we approached the river, almost skimming the treetops as we dropped into its bed so that the steep-sided banks stood higher than we floated. Birds flew around us, their dawn chorus clearly audible  and a herd of impala stood together watching as we passed, their tails twitching nervously. Nihat gave a long burn, the heat hot on my skin in the cool of morning, and after a few seconds the balloon responded and carried us over the approaching Baobabs and above an acacia forest.

A family of elephants turned to face us, their trunks lifted as they tried to smell what was approaching. With one shrill trumpet, the matriarch told them to follow and she head off at a brisk pace into the undergrowth, her companions following in a line with the youngest in the middle. A couple of outlying members trumpeted in alarm, receiving an answering call to guide them in the right direction as we drifted overhead and away. My last sight of them was of them turning to face us once more, shaking their heads and returning to their grazing.

A herd of buffalo, maybe 150 strong, didn’t flinch as we passed overhead, oblivious to their silent watchers. A silver-backed jackal, jogged past and a family of hyenas sat warming themselves in the early-morning sun. Giraffes stood watching with idle curiosity while different types of antelope grazed unperturbed.

In a blink of the eye an hour had passed. Nihal had been looking for a landing spot, his spotters on the balloon radioing the back-up crew when a suitable place was spotted. We rose up, making use of that easterly breeze we’ed discovered earlier, before slowly drifting down to land in a spot I’d have thought it impossible to land in. When we were a few metres above the ground we all sat on the small benches in our sections of the balloon, holding rope ties oppositeand heads lowered. There was a gentle bump and the basket settled. We were down.

“You can sit up now,” Nihat instructed us and we stood as the crew rushed around with small blankets, throwing them over any prickly bushes that might snag the balloon as it deflated. The support vehicle arrived and we clambered out, about to be whisked away to a champagne breakfast. After the exhilaration of the flight, even that was going to be a bit flat.

Robert stayed at Tarangire Balloon Camp, where the balloon safaris are based and operated by Adventures Aloft.

By Robert Ferguson.

The 10 best safari videos

Most people who go on safari bring a camera to photograph the animals. Many also bring video camera or use their mobile phones to record some of the amazing things they witness. Its a great way of  letting others back home share the excitement. Real Africa has its own popular You Tube channel – Real Africa’s Video Channel , with nearly half a million views.

Here are some of our favourite clips.

1. The Battle of Kruger.

Perhaps the most famous clip of them all, viewed over 75 million times. In it, a baby buffalo is caught by lions who then have to fight a crocodile off before the buffalo herd regroups and returns. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending for the buffalo…

2. Impala finds novel way to escape a cheetah.

When a cheetah gets this close, its normally bad news for the impala. Not this time as the impala finds a clever place to hide. Watch out for the bit at the end when they let it out.

3. Baboon gets into a car.

I love this one. The people are so confident, banging on the windows and trying to get the baboons attention. Shame they hadn’t locked the doors.

4. Meerkats climb on cameraman.

I know, hardly cutting edge photography but admit it, those meerkats are cute.

5. Leopard drops in on a kill.

On safari everybody wants to see a kill. This is the only one I’ve ever seen where the chase is vertical. The gazelle didn’t know what hit it.

6. The Predators don’t always win.

This leopard thought it would have a baby warthog for breakfast but the warthog dad had different ideas.

7. Catching it doesn’t mean you’ve won.

This leopard has caught an impala but is chased away by baboons. (Baboons and leopards really don’t like each other). Amazingly, the seemingly dead impala recovers and escapes.

8. Elephant pedicure.

Animal behaviour can be strange. This elephant has just finished grazing in the marshes of Amboseli in Kenya, wading up to its knees in muddy water. It then wanted to get the silt out from between its toes and used a clever way to do so.

9. Learn new things.

Do you know what noise a cheetah makes? You’ll be surprised..

10. Any camera, anybody.

You don’t need to be a BBC Wildlife cameraman armed with a state-of-the-art camera to film something amazing. This clip was filmed by an 8 year old on her mobile phone. What a sight.

Keep an eye on our channel for more amazing videos, as well as guides to safari, the countries, National Parks and animals of Africa.