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Twenty of the BEST safaris for 2020

Zambezi Expeditions

In 2020 Real Africa is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

In that time we’ve amassed a vast amount of knowledge and first-hand experience. We’ve also built up an extensive and reliable network of contacts to ensure our clients are looked after every step of the way.

Here we look at twenty different ways to explore the magnificent continent of Africa from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Cape of Good Hope.

Safari First-Timers

A classic East Africa safari to Kenya or Tanzania, or a malaria-free safari in South Africa would be our top picks for a first safari experience. With both options you can enjoy a taste of safari within a longer holiday.

South Africa Cape self-drive and malaria-free safari

This trip has a lot going for it – you can fly direct to Cape Town and the exchange rate with the Rand ensures your Pounds go a long way. Start your journey in one of the world’s most beautiful cities: Cape Town before exploring the nearby winelands and glorious Garden Route – a coastal self-drive of 200km linking the Western and Eastern Cape. Stop along the way depending on how much time you have and end your holiday with a superb safari stay in one of the Eastern Cape Game Reserves – 3 nights on safari would be ideal. Fly home, via Johannesburg, from nearby Port Elizabeth.

Now we know what you may be thinking: we can book this ourselves online.

Think again. By booking the whole thing with a specialist you can tap into knowledge and advice, take advantage of special tour operator rates and you’ll have a support network and financial protection through our ATOL bonding should anything go wrong. Holidays are meant to be relaxing – let us do the hard work for you.

Family Caper

Cape Town, Garden Route Self Drive with Safari Extension

Classic Northern Circuit in Tanzania, plus beaches of Zanzibar

This is the perfect combination – first a safari full of excitement and adventure and then time to rest on the white sand beaches of Zanzibar. The Northern Circuit in Tanzania combines iconic destinations: Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. The best way to explore the wider region and to get a feel for the country is to travel in a private 4×4 vehicle with a driver/guide. This means you can explore at a pace which suits you. If you would prefer to spend less time in the vehicle getting from A to B then it is also possible to enjoy a fly-in safari or to substitute some of the longer journeys with a flight – just ask for details.

Tanzania Wildlife Week with Zanzibar

Zanzibar

Safari on a Shoestring

If you’re keen to experience a safari holiday but are scared off by the price then you might be interested in some of these tips! It’s worth remembering before you look at any quotes that the nightly cost includes your guided activities, your accommodation and very often all meals and drinks too. Sometimes it even includes your laundry. It is usual to pay a conservation fee per person per night which goes to maintain the land and wildlife.

Travelling out of peak season is a great way to maximise your budget and still enjoy a fabulous safari. The off-peak or Green Season in East Africa is March – May and in Southern Africa it is November – March (apart from the Eastern Cape of South Africa which is May-August). This is when the camps/lodges are quieter and tend to offer excellent stay/pay special offers (when you get one free night) or reduced rates. You may not get the optimum conditions but wildlife will still be good with many young animals about and migratory birds.

We’d also recommend joining small group tours – these are really competitively priced – we run these in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia and South Africa and they stay at some very characterful small properties. Alternatively in South Africa and Namibia you can combine self-drive and self-catering to reduce and control your overall spend. Distances can be vast in Africa and transfer costs add up quickly so staying in one place – for example 5 nights in the Masai Mara, Kenya or in South Luangwa , Zambia will also help you to reduce the overall cost of the trip – in our experience people often try to cram too much in to their holiday, asking to combine lots of diverse regions and not appreciating he cost of getting between them all. Sometimes it is better to stay in one place and really get to know it and enjoy it – you’ll also give yourself the best opportunity of seeing a wide variety of wildlife.

Self-drive

Classic Uganda Small Group Tour with gorilla trek

Tanzania Trails – small group Northern Circuit safari

Zambia Express

Family Holidays and Multi-Generational Journeys

Simple is usually the best way forward if you are travelling as a large/family group. We would recommend safari (and beach) houses in East Africa or Zambia as the ideal fix. South Africa also works well with a great choice of self catering apartments, hotels and lodges. Most safari vehicles can accommodate 6, up to a maximum of 7 people so this is worth bearing in mind. Some camps offer exclusive use vehicles for smaller family groups. If you have a young or elderly generation to consider in your plans then a malaria free safari reserve such as Madikwe, the Eastern Cape, or the Waterberg/Pilanesberg would be ideal in South Africa.

House in the Wild – Wild Villa Kenya

Alfajiri Beach Houses, Kenyan Coast

Robin’s House, Zambia and Chongwe River Camp & River House, Zambia

Chongwe River House

Luxury Safaris

If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just prefer the finer things in life then Africa has no shortage of superb luxury camps, lodges and experiences. Choosing a stay in a private conservancy would be our recommendation as you have access to far more activities, including walking and bush dining, and you can off-road allowing you to get closer to the action. These things can really elevate your experience to a whole new level. Botswana in particular excels at offering high quality exclusive safaris with an incredible choice of iconic lodges including Mombo and Zarafa among others. In Kenya, hospitality is excellent and there are many unusual activities to make your trip unique – you can go black rhino tracking on foot from Saruni Rhino, breakfast with giraffes at Giraffe Manor, or go horse riding across the savannah with a view of Mount Kilimanjaro from Ol Donyo. In Mana Pools in Zimbabwe you can get off the beaten track while still enjoying top notch service in a virtually pristine wilderness for instance Nyamatusi Camp, Chikwenya or the new Sapi Explorers Camp are three new properties catering for top-end clients. On our bucket list is a stay at Tswalu in South Africa which perfectly combines luxury with a top level conservation experience and the chance to see some truly rare species. For beach lovers, we have private island stays – our favourites are in the Seychelles, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Ultimate Botswana

Black Rhino Tracking and Conservation Safari Fly-In Kenya

Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Tswalu, South Africa

Tswalu

Off-the-beaten track

You’ve safaried in the Serengeti, or seen the migration in the Mara and now you’re looking for a new adventure – well the good news is there are plenty of options to visit some really exciting wilderness areas from Akagera in Rwanda and Zakouma in Chad to more familiar destinations such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia where new conservancies or camps offer different experiences , such as Chuylu Hills in Kenya, Mahale and Katavi in Tanzania, Kidepo in Uganda, Majete in Malawi or Kafue in Zambia. Each of these is incredibly rewarding. Our experience of off the beaten track destinations is that you should allow more time to explore them. Many of these areas have regenerated in recent years thanks to conservation efforts so although wildlife density may not be as great as in other regions there will be other attractions from the landscape, the local culture and learning about the conservation process to the activities you can do – these aren’t generally places where just a night or two will cut it.

Victoria Falls and Kafue, Zambia

Northern Explorer – Kidepo & Murchison Falls – Uganda

Bush & Beach

It doesn’t get much better than this – a week on safari followed by a week relaxing on a white sand beach. For us this is the ultimate combo. East Africa works well with the Kenyan Coast or Tanzania’s Spice Islands easily accessible for a post safari break. You’ll find best value on Zanzibar or around Mombasa down to Diani in Kenya. We love Mafia Island and Pemba for rustic simplicity. Mnemba Island costs a pretty penny but has wow-factor in return. In South Africa, a safari in Kruger combines well with Mozambique or Mauritius. We also love Africa’s glorious lake shores and river retreats. Try Lake Malawi for an idyllic break, Tongabezi on the Zambezi River, or Wild Waters on the Nile. For the ultimate beach retreat it has to be the Seychelles – pure bliss for beach lovers. Swap your land safari for marine safari and head to one of the private islands for the best marine life – take your pick depending on your budget – Denis, Bird, Fregate, Felicite, North and Desroche are among your choices.

Madikwe Safari and Mauritius

Lemala Tented Safari with Zanzibar, Tanzania

Safari and Lake, Malawi

Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi

Active Holidays

Climb Kilimanjaro, trek mountain gorillas or chimps in the forest, paddle your way down the Zambezi, camp on deserted beaches and navigate by kayak and dhow around Mozambique’s islands, walk the dry river beds of South Luangwa tracking big cats as you go, canter across the savannah, raft the rapids – for lovers of adventure and activity from walking to mountain biking, there are plenty of opportunities. Victoria Falls offers a good variety and is often a big hit with teenagers/families with ziplines and rafting among the attractions. Whatever you’re interested in, please do ask us and we can recommend the best places.

Gorilla trekking and wildlife safari fly-in Uganda

Luangwa Bush Camping Walking Safari, Zambia

Robin Pope Safaris – Sundowners in Luangwa

Call us on 01603 964 730 to plan your safari or email enquiries@realafrica.co.uk

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There’s more to safari holidays than the Big 5

Everybody who goes on a safari holiday wants to see the Big 5: Lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and Rhino. They are the glamorous animals, the exciting ones. They are actually based on the five animals that big game hunters wanted to shoot in order to have the most spectacular trophies to return home with and the animals that were the most dangerous to stalk. (The hippo would probably qualified for this claim, but was probably too big to stuff…)

Now that the only shooting done is with a camera, there are plenty of other animals that are just as exciting and interesting to watch as the Big 5. For a start, there are over 70 types of antelope in Africa, ranging from the tiny Dik Dik to the Giant Eland. Each lives in a different way, evolved for the landscape and conditions in which it lives.

The Dik Dik for example has its own small territory it jealously protects from rivals. Once it finds its mate it is for life – once one of them dies it is very unusual for then to breed again. They are also perfectly adapted to their conditions.You never see a Dik Dik drink as it gains all the moisture it needs from the vegetation it eats – it would be too dangerous for such a small animals to visit waterholes during the dry season.

Other antelopes live in herds. Impala live in various ways. There are large herds of 5-100 females and young who are protected and guarded by one dominant male. The other males all live in a bachelor herd, the strongest occasionally trying to drive off the dominant male from the herd and get the females for himself. You also solitary individuals who often tag onto groups of other animals. These are often ex-dominant males who have been driven off and often don’t live much longer. The task of guarding and mating with a large herd of females wears them out after a few months and they never really recover, safe in the knowledge that their job is done and their DNA is successfully passed on.

One of the greatest spectacles in African wildlife also has nothing to do with the Big 5. The Great Migration is a constant search by over

1 million wildebeests for new grazing. It happens all year, moving through the Ngorongoro Highlands and Serengeti plains in Tanzania before arriving in the Masai Mara area of Kenya in

July to September. This is the most famous time, as these huge herds of animals try to cross the Mara river still swollen by the long rains of April to June. The fast flowing water is not the only danger. Crocodiles lie in wait in the muddy waters, looking for a young, injured or stray animals to attack and drag down to its death.

There are plenty of iconic animals also to see. What could be more African that a zebra? See them in a herd and work out which ones are the most closely related, according to their stripe patterns. (They are never identical but close relatives have similar, just as you get a family resemblance in humans.)

Watch giraffes grazing and try to catch them when they have to stoop for a drink, front legs splayed to get low enough. It turns one of Africa’s most graceful creatures into a clumsy looking creation. Look out for warthogs, one of the more amusing animals. When alarmed their small tails go bolt upright like radio antennae as they run off. They always stop after a short distance, reputably because they are not the brightest and have already forgotten what they are running from.

Listen to hyenas crunch their way through huge bones, look out for jackals sneaking quietly around scavenging food and the vast array of eagles, vultures and buzzards always circling and looking for a prospective meal. When you come to a river, look for hippos keeping cool in the waters, their young often grouped together to one side playing games of dare as they stalk geese and other small birds. Watch cheetahs lounge on old, eroded termite mounds, looking out over the grasslands for any game that gets too close. Watch in wonder as this sleek animal stalks its game, eyes fixed on its potential target.

As well as all these and many other animals, there are the birds, the  reptiles, the flora and the amazing landscapes that make Africa what it is.  So when you head out on safari, of course look for the large animals but don’t forget the little ones too.

Up close and personal on Safari

Robert Ferguson, a Director of Real Africa, remembers the occasions on safari he’s got more than he bargained for.

When presenting slideshows or giving talks, I’m often asked what’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me on safari. It’s a tricky question. I’ve never been frightened when out game-driving, not in the “O my god, I’m going to die” sort of way. Having been lucky enough to have done a fair amount of game-viewing ( a definite perk of the job) while running Real Africa, I have however been in several situations that have got the adrenalin pumping.

The first was when I was visiting a private reserve in the south of Swaziland. It specialised in the protection of rhino, specifically the rarer and more aggressive black rhino. I was out with the reserve founder and owner, a grizzled old Africa hand who’d worked in conservation for many years. We were doing the early morning patrol of the electric perimeter fence checking for any damage from poachers during the night. Cresting a small ridge we spotted a rhino standing beside the track we were following. We stopped. The rhino got up on his toes and stood staring at us. We sat for 30 seconds or so looking at each other. We started our engine, my companion confidently telling me that after this show of bluff the rhino would turn on his heels and retreat into the thick bush. We edged closer and it didn’t look to me as if it had much thought of retreat.

Its horn came straight through the panel of my door

We were about 15 metres away when it charged. How such a large and prehistoric creature went from stationary to fast so quickly was unbelievable, and before I could catch my breath it hit the well loved and well used Landover we were in. Just my luck, it was my side. Its horn came straight through the panel of my door, sticking into the foot well in front of my legs. It lifted its head and us with it, both wheels on my side off the ground as it tried to push us sideways. When we didn’t move, it retreated backwards, pulling its horn clear as it prepared another thrust but before it had a chance we were slammed into reverse and careering backwards up the track at a filling-shaking speed. It chased us for 50 metres or so until it and we lost sight of each other in the dust.

I returned to the reserve a couple of years later and was pleased to see my passenger door mounted over the fireplace, the puncture hole and rip in the metal looking very dramatic. Frightening? No. It happened so quickly and was over before I could think.

If you see a Rhino, climb a tree..

I thought of this incident a few years later when I was doing a walk in The Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. With a population of Asian Rhino we were informed my our guide that should we be spotted by one we should keep completely still as their eye sight is poor and they detect movement as much as form. Should they charged we were advised to climb a tree. I looked around at the tall scrub all around, spotting only a single solitary tree that stood a chance of taking my 13 stones without snapping like a twig. I looked around the group, most of whom were eyeing the same tree with a determined stare. If push came to shove, I decided, I’d take my chances with the rhino.

The snakes were standing taller than me, and I’m 6’3..

On another occasion I was checking out camps and lodges in Botswana. I’d arrived at a camp deep in the marshes around the Okavango Delta and was heading out for a game walk with two local guides. It was a great walk, elephant waded in the waters eating the lush grasses that grew there, antelope and other grazers watch unperturbed as we walked quietly by. They one of the guides spotted something in front of us that looked very strange. It was about my height, 6 feet or so, black and seemed to gently sway from side to side. We cautiously moved a little closer, to perhaps 50 metres or so, until one of the guides realised what it was. It was a Black Mamba snake. Or rather it was two Black Mambas engaged it a very beautiful mating ritual.

Standing on their tails they were facing each other and gently undulating from side to side, mirroring each other as they entwined their necks. Amazing though it was the thought in my mind was that if they were standing 6 feet into the air and yet still had enough of their bodies on the ground to keep them stable during such a dance, how big were they? My guides obviously had the same thought as we quietly and gently beat a retreat away from them.

The warthog loved crisps and tried his best to get as many as he could.

The closest encounter I’ve ever had with an animal on foot was a warthog. Doesn’t sound scary, despite their incredibly ugly faces including some mean looking tusks. It was at a lodge in South Africa that had a tame warthog living under the raised floor of their restaurant and bar. It was a big boar and very partial to crisps and other bar snacks which it tried to make you drop by startling you when it thought you were not expecting it and were poised to put a bar snack in your mouth.

Meeting a hippo at night

More dangerous was a face to face encounter with a hippo one evening while walking from my tent to the dining room in a mobile camp in the Masai Mara. Hippos, as most people know, are the biggest killers of humans in Africa, due to their nocturnal wanderings in search of grazing bringing them in contact with people going about their lives. Luckily for me he was 20 metres away and heading across the path not along it. I did however beat a hasty retreat to my room and wait, as I’d been instructed, for my Masai Guide to come and fetch me. tI wasn’t a marketing stunt after all, the Masai guides were actually there to assist and protect, not to make it seem more real and look good in the photos. Lesson learnt. I now always wait for my guide at night.

The elephant sniffed her face, no more than 5 cm away from her nose..

As regards the big cat – lions, leopards and cheetah, I’ve never had any real incidents. A cheetah once sat on my vehicles bonnet but that was an amazing experience, not a scary one. I once got sprayed in lion urine by a lion marking his territory on the front wheel and being a bad shot. Again, not scary only rather smelly. When game viewing with my family in the Cape provinces of South Africa an elephant came right up to our open vehicle and stopped, raised its trunk and sniffing my eight year old daughter, its trunk a few centimetres from her face. But it was a young female and she was interested in her rather than aggressive. My daughter loved it and still talks about it five years later.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in the amount of time I’ve got to spend in the wild with the animals of Africa, and I still get the buzz of excitement when I see lion or leopard or even a dikdik or zebra. Adrenalin yes. Excitement, of course. Fear? Never. Honest.

By Robert Ferguson

VIDEO: Lions attacking a buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater

This video was taken by one of our Tanzanian Guides Hashim on a recent visit to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It was early morning, near to where the road from the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge emerges onto the floor of the crater. In it, a large pride of lions have caught a male buffalo. Look at how the male lion has its mouth clamped over the buffalo’s mouth, trying to suffocate it, while the lionesses hang onto it from behind to prevent it from escaping or from attacking the exposed lion.

It took 20 minutes for the buffalo to finally collapse and die, leaving a large meal for this large and obviously hungry pride of lions.

Autumn Weather Report from around Africa

If you are already dreaming about escaping autumn and winter for sunnier climes then this might just be of assistance to you. Temperatures in Africa vary quite a bit as does the rainfall so it is important to know when is the best time of year to travel before you book.

Right now in Cape Town it’s spring and the flowers are blooming on the fynbos.  The temperature today is a wonderfully hot 28 degrees and it is the perfect time for whale watching as both mating and birthing are happening just off the shores. You may get the chance to see a mother and calf whale and you are highly likely to see dolphin pods playing in the surf.  Cape Town is a coastal city so the temperature does vary quite a bit but most of the year it is pretty pleasant with hot summers and warm spring and autumns. The winters can be cool and damp but not bitterly cold. Johannesburg and the area to the north such as the Kruger National Park are nearer to the Equator and therefore are warmer and have less seasonal variety in temperature. At the moment the temperature is a pleasant 25 degrees centigrade.

In Botswana it is is the tail end of the cool, dry season. Temperatures and humidity are starting to build up over the autumn and winter is the hot, wet season in Bots. Right now temperatures are around 30c during the day and 20c at night and it is dry. The rainfall over the winter months will flood the Okavango Delta by next spring and create the unique natural environment that Botswana is for famous for.

In Malawi it is 27c average daytime temp and 12c at nighttime.  Again temperatures will rise as will the rainfall as Malawi heads into the warmer, wetter winter months.

In Namibia it is currently a hot 33c max during the day time. The dry summer is coming to an end and the rainfall levels will start to rise for the wet season over the winter months. The Namib Desert will still be sporting its famous sand dunes at Sossusvlei no matter what the weather!

In Kenya and Tanzania it is currently 25c in Nairobi and sunny with mild overnight temps.  During our summer months it is dry but cold on safari and you must dress warmly for those early morning game drives. However the summer and early autumn are the best time to view the annual migration as the animals are on the move in search of better grazing.  In Zanzibar it is a hot 30c as it should be for those enjoying some time on the spectacular beaches of this exotic Spice Island.

In Mozambique it is around 30c during the day and 20c at nighttime. The temperatures tend to remain the same throughout the year but sometimes reaching highs of  35c. Our summer months are the dry months and our winter (Nov – March) is the wetter season. Exploring the stunning archipelago is best done in the drier months – not least because travel is done by light aircraft and small speedboat.

In Uganda this week it is 27 C during the day and 20 c at night time making it nice and hot. This near to the Equator the temperature rarely changes unless you are up in the Highlands gorilla trekking where it can be cold at night and cooler during the day. It also tends to have quite high rainfall which is great for the rainforest and its inhabitants – but visitors should be prepared and properly kitted out.

In Zambia it is a hot 35 degrees during the day and around 20 at night time. Again it is the start of the hot, wet, winter season (Nov – Mar) and the rainfall and temps are starting to build. The water levels at Victoria Falls will be very low now and will need sometime to build back up. Going over the winter months is the best time to see the Falls. If you go in late spring/early summer the Falls can be in full spate and surrounded by a spray mist so dense you can’t always see it!