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.

 

 

 

VIDEO: The Flight of Angels, Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The massive Zambezi River falls over 108  metres (360 ft), with over 1,050 cubic metres of water per second racing over its lip when its in full flood. When visiting, from either the Zimbabwean or Zambian sites, its often hard to get a grasp on the scale of it. Vast clouds of spray rise up, soaking you in seconds and hiding areas of the Falls in mist.

With a total width of 1,706 metres (5,604 Ft) spread out in a large arc, its also impossible to get a vantage point from where it’s all visible. After the Falls, the river runs off in a deep cut canyon, racing away through a series of fast-moving rapids. From the ground you can only look from certain vantage points, like the iron bridge that links the two countries, completed in 1905, but get no idea of its course, how it twists and turns as it runs away.

A great way to see the Falls is on the Flight of Angels, a 10 minute helicopter. It gives a perspective of the vastness of the African landscape, the size of the Zambezi as it heads to the Falls, the amount of spray produced and a birds-eye perspective of the Zambezi gorges as they channel the water away.

Many of our clients who visit the Falls do the flight and love it. As well as great views its also exhilarating. This video was taken by Lily, one of our Senior African Consultants. We’ve left it unedited, running from lift-off to landing. You will see in the video that the helicopter circles the Falls twice, ensuring that whichever side of the helicopter you are on, you get a great view of the Falls in one direction, and views of the river, gorge, and Victoria Falls town on the other.

Fishing Holidays in Africa

Did you know that fishing not football is the most popular pastime in the UK? No I didn’t either although my brother in law is a keen angler. Fishing holidays are also growing in popularity and Africa is one of the best places to go. You get the chance to catch some really huge and exciting fish and relax in some beautiful scenery. You can also combine it with a safari and get the best of both worlds. Also the safari or beach option might please a non-fishing partner! With so much to choose from we have narrowed it down with some ideas below.

Botswana

One of the best places for a fishing holiday is Botswana and in particular the Okavango Delta. This huge inland river delta covers hundreds of miles and surprisingly doesn’t run into the sea but evaporates and disappears into the land. There are permanent lagoons and rivers but during the rains the area covered by water increases enormously. Fishing is available at most of the lodges on the Delta. We have several lovely luxury safari lodges and camps where all the game viewing is done by motorboat or mokoro (a dug-out canoe) and fishing is also widely available.  A day spent drifting through the reed beds passing big game and stunning birds whilst you fish is pretty unbeatable!

In the crystal clear waters of the Okavango River you can fish for tigerfish, tilapia, bream, nembwe and African pike. The tigerfish is an indigenous with an enormous appetite and they can grow up to 9 kilos in weight! The best time to fish for tiger fish is during the annual catfish or barbel runs. This is usually in our autumn from late August to the beginning of November. Bream fishing is usually best during our summer months, from April until August. We recommend staying at Camp Okavango  for excellent fishing. The lodges and camps can provide all the fishing equipment you need but you can take your own kit if you prefer.

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 offers a massive variety of habitats from the Zambezi River to the shores of Lake Malawi, from national parks filled with the Big Five to lush mangrove swamps and islands dotted off the stunning coastline.  However the main type of fishing done in Mozambique is  sea or sport fishing and the island archipelagos and coral reefs are outstanding here. Marine life includes whales, dolphins, manta rays, turtles and sharks. The Mozambique coastline, particularly the Bazaruto and the Quirimbas Archipelagos, offers some of the most spectacular sport fishing in the world.  This part of the Indian Ocean is a protected marine reserve meaning it is unspoiled and pretty undiscovered which makes it ideal for a luxury fishing holiday.  Combine this with some truly stunning hotel and beach resorts and some of the world’s finest beaches and Mozambique is a dream destination.

The deep Mozambique Channel has a very strong current and it provides a home to some of the world’s most exciting sport fish.  Species such as black, blue and striped marlin, sailfish, shortbill spearfish, wahoo, dorado, various tuna species, king and queen mackerel, kingfish (jack’s), queenfish, barracuda and snappers are all  to be found here. Again there is plenty to do if you are travelling with a partner or friend who isn’t into fishing as there are plenty of fabulous beaches, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, boat trips and luxury lodges to relax in such as Ibo Island Lodge . The boat operators provide all the gear you will need for sport fishing and we can pre-book it for you or you can do it when you are there through the hotel concierge.

Malawi

Lake Malawi is another fabulous fishing destination for the keen angler and it is also popular for those who want to go diving and see the endemic fish species that live in this enormous inland sea.  Again like all our destinations the scenery as well as the wildlife is fantastic and we have some fabulous lodges and beach resorts dotted along the shores of the Lake. The water here is crystal clear, unpolluted and wonderfully warm and there are many sandy beach, islands and rocky coves providing plenty of different habitats.

The majority of the 400+ species in Lake Malawi are small tropical aquarium fish, mbuna. However you can also find sungwa (perch), ngumbo (lake yellow-fish), mpasa (lake salmon), sanjika (smaller relative of lake salmon), ncheni (lake tiger), kampango (catfish) and vundu (catfish). Fishing is year round but probably the best time to go is between September and April.  One of the best places to stay on the lake is Pumulani Lodge.  although there are more rustic options available too.

Although Lake Malawi is the main draw you can also do plenty of fantastic river fishing. The Bua River, running through the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, is excellent for salmon with the Luweya, Lufira and North Rukuru not far behind. In the Lower Shire River, below the Kapichira Falls on the southern boundary of the Majete Wildlife Reserve, tigerfish are abundant, joined further down by vundu and barbel as the river broadens. Heavier tackle and a boat are needed here. Dry season fishing between May and November is possible in the Lower Shire river and requires no licence. The streams and dams of Zomba Plateau, Mount Mulanje and Nyika Plateau are well stocked with rainbow trout. You are only allowed to do fly fishing in this area with flies tied on single hooks. The season runs from September to April. Please note you will have to take your own kit with you in most places although some lodges do provide good tackle. Please check with us first before travel.

Zimbabwe and Zambia

Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River are the main highlights for a fisherman. The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and is home to one of the continent’s most sought-after fresh water game fish such as the tiger fish. The tigerfish is an aggressive predator and  one of the fastest freshwater game fish in Africa which makes it a challenging species to catch and a great challenge for fly fisherman. Trying to lure the fierce tiger fish can be a real batlle as it usually puts on a dramatic display of fight when captured. Both the Upper Zambezi – the section of river above the Victoria Falls – and the Lower Zambezi – the section below the Kariba Dam wall – offer excellent opportunities to fish for tigerfish.

There are a number of excellent fishing lodges on the banks of both the upper and lower sections of the Zambezi and also there is a  huge range of wonderful safari lodges that offer fishing as well as game drives looking for the Big Five. Many of these lodges provide a range of fishing activities, all the way from a novice angler to the professional fly fisherman.  As fishing can be combined with game activities  and wonderful safaris this is a great holiday if you have a partner or friend who does not wish to fish as there is plenty to do and the lodge are all great places for relax with swimming pools and sundecks. For the visiting angler most can provide a full range of equipment is provided but you can take your own tackle if you prefer (please check before you travel!). We can recommend staying at various different lodges such as Mana Pools Camp many of which offer fishing along with safari activities and canoeing.

Some itineraries which feature our favourite fishing destinations include:

Desert and Delta Safari in Botswana

Tailormade Mozambique

Malawi – Valley and Lake Holiday

Best of Zimbabwe

But please note that we tailor-make all our holidays to suit you so if you want a purely fishing holiday then please give us a call and we can create one specially for you!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

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

 

 

Zimbabwe’s National Parks

Zimbabwe is one of Southern Africa’s undiscovered gems. It has an array of stunning scenery, pristine wilderness and incredible wildlife as well as warm, welcoming people. It is home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls, as well as mighty rivers, mountains, forests and thousands of miles of untouched grasslands. The 10 national parks of Zimbabwe were established in order to protect these unique areas all of which are of major significance. Zimbabwe was at the forefront of developing the national park system and conservation in general and other African nations soon followed their model. The various parks all have their own character depending on their location, accessability, climate and wildlife populations.  It is worth visiting more than one to get a true idea of the range and diversity of the wonderful wildlife and scenery to be found in Zimbabwe.

Hwange National Park – this is the largest and most popular national park in Zimbabwe. It is easy to self-drive in the park and its location close to Vic Falls makes it popular with tourists. Despite its popularity it is large enough to lose the crowds and it offers excellent wildlife viewing including most of the big safari animals and the Big Five.  Hwange is famous for the large numbers of elephants that congregate round the park’s waterholes during the dry season.  Between 20,000 and 80,000 elephants congregate around the waterholes during this time.  All three of the big cats are regularly spotted and Hwange is also home to a large variety of antelopes. It is also a vital part of the preservation of one of Africa’s most endangered animals the African wild dog who have breeding colonies at Hwange. The park is situated on the eastern edge of the vast Kalahari desert so is mainly made up of sand and scrubland but you can also find teak forest and mopane woodland. We have lots of places to stay at Hwange including Camp Hwange.

Matusadona National Park – this beautiful park is found on the shores of Lake Kariba. It offers excellent wildlife viewing including all of the Big Five. Especially important are the groups of both white and black rhino and this is also where you will find the largest concentration of lions in Zimbabwe. Elephant and buffalo are also abundant in this area and Lake Kariba is home to many hippos and crocodiles. It is a great place for canoeing, birding and walking safaris and it is a great place for those wishing to get off the beaten track to a remote location. If you want to watch the sun setting over the lake with the Matusadona Mountains as the backdrop then this is the place for you! We have a choice of fantastic places to stay on the shores of Lake Kariba including Musango Safari Camp.

Mana Pools National Park – as its name suggests this is a watery wildlife area consisting of 4 main pools and several smaller pools on the floodplains of the Zambezi River. The landscape here includes lots of small islands and sandbanks bordered by lush forest, and also the sharp cliffs of the Zambezi escarpment. This unique riverine habitat and wildlife have been protected as a pristine wilderness and are now also recognised and further protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This park is best explored by canoe or on foot as there are few roads and it really is a true wilderness. This is for those who are looking for a safari with a difference and those who like really getting out of the car and into the African bush themselves.  If you are a keen fisherman, canoer or birder then this is the place for you. There are no rhino to be found here but the other four of Big Five are all here. You should see the Big Cats as well as large herds of elephants and of course large numbers of hippos and crocodiles. There are also colonies of rare African wild dog to be found here. If you want to stay here you can choose from a variety of camps including Mana Pools Tented Camp.

Victoria Falls /Zambezi National Park – this is one of the smallest but one of the most scenic national parks. Close to the spectacular Victoria Falls it can be visited as a day trip for those based at Victoria Falls so it is good for those with families, those not wishing to go on a full safari or those not wishing to go too far off the beaten track. The mighty Zambezi runs through the heart of the park providing lots of great scenery and picnic opportunities.  This park cannot be compared to some of the larger National Parks as it is much smaller and has far fewer species. You are only likely to spot elephant and buffalo who are prevalent in the park as are crocodiles and hippos. The park is home to rarer species like lion and wild dog but you are very unlikely to spot any. We have a range of hotels in and around Victoria Falls but if you are looking for a safari camp then Elephant Camp is the place for you.

  Matobo – this national park is famous for its incredible scenery which offers the unique sight of enormous granite rocks piled high on top of each other towering high above the plains. Like other sites in Zimbabwe (Greater Zimbabwe etc.) this park is also home to their ancient civilisation and there are several well-preserved bushman rock-art sites that you can visit here. There is a good amount of wildlife in the park although no lion or elephant but white rhino is spotted quite regularly. This park is also the best place to see leopard as it is home Africa’s largest density of this elusive big cat. They are really at home in this rocky landscape with plenty of place to hunt, climb and hide.  It is good for self-drive safaris as small and has roads.

Chizarira – this national park is very remote and fairly inaccessible which means there are only a few visitors at any one time. The camps here are remote, the environment is untouched and you will ge to experience the true African wilderness. You should be able to see the Big Five apart from rhino. There are plenty of elephant, buffalo, antelope and a variety of predators including lion, leopard and spotted hyenas. Walking safaris are a big part of the experience here and the scenery is stunning as it is dominated by the rugged and dramatic Zambezi escarpment. The park actually covers 7 different ecological zones from low veld valley savannah to high veld broadleaf woodland.

Gonarezhou– this a huge park (5000 kms2) which is actually part of greater a trans-national wildlife preservation area called the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park.  This Trans-frontier Park is also made up of Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Altogether they make up a vast wilderness area which allows the wildlife to cross national boundaries whilst still being protected. It is a vast area so the density of animals is not strong but there is a huge range of wildlife to be found here including the Big Five. You will also rarely see anyone else out on your game drives. Walking safaris are fantastic here and it is really the chance to experience the untamed bush in all its glory that make this park worth visiting.

Nyanga– this is not a major park for wildlife and safaris in general. The main attraction instead lies in the beautiful scenery, hiking and some interesting rock art and archaeological sites. Nyanga is also one of Zimbabwe’s top birding hotspots. There are over 300 species and there are several near-endemic species to be found here. The park is also part of the globally important Eastern Zimbabwe Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA).

Chimanimani– this scenic park is one of Zimbabwe’s finest mountain wilderness areas and a very popular hiking destination. The mountain range lies on the Zim/Mozambique border and the tallest peak is almost 2,500m.  Close to the town are the famous waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls.  The wildlife is not so important here but it is the landscape and scenery that is protected here.  The park includes the Chirinda Forest, Africa’s southernmost tropical rainforest and home to rare species of plants and trees including the 1,000-year-old Big Tree at nearly 70m tall and 16m in diameter.

Kazuma– this park lies on the border with Botswana and is home to savannah grasslands. There are also a series of seasonally flooded pans in the south-west of the park that provide food and water for lots of birdlife and other wildlife.

Our team at Real Africa have visited many of the main national parks in Zimbabwe and have checked out all the accommodation options in each area so if you would like to find out more then give us a call.

Posted by Ruth Bolton