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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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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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Safaris with soul – it’s not just about seeing the Big Five anymore

Why do people go on safari? To see the wildlife of course.

But things are changing in Africa. The sad reality is, that unless we act together the Big Five may well be a thing of the past.

If any of you watched the Martin Clunes documentary on Friday night, about Mugie the lion, you’ll have heard the shocking statistics about the threat to lions in the wild  – less than 32,000 lions remain in the wild and Africa has lost between 30 and 50% of its lions in the last twenty years alone.

If you follow our Facebook page you’ll know how passionate we are about anti-poaching campaigns, along with our support of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya via the Real Africa Trust.

The bottom line is that our wildlife and habitats need safeguarding for the future and tourism plays a major role in this.

Increasingly now,  as part of the safari experience, you can witness first hand ‘modern conservation’ in action. Modern conservation is the term given to describe the delicate relationship between wildlife, tourism and conservation. This experience can add a whole new and fulfilling dimension to your safari.

The team here at Real Africa have hand-picked some very special fly-in modules which transport guests to largely remote areas of Africa, at the forefront of the modern conservation movement.  Here you can combine the thrill of Big Five safari while staying in luxury at a beautiful lodge or camp,  with visits to uplifting community or conservation projects, research centres or programmes. This adds a fantastic extra dimension and in our opinion a real African experience.

By staying at such lodges who work together with conservation trusts you are  helping directly and giving something back.  The continuing success of these projects undeniably hold the key to the future of safari.

For us, the following camps and lodges really shine when it comes to community and conservation.

To find out more and to see detailed sample itineraries please click here.


Zimbabwe – Singita Pamushana fly-in

  • 3 nights at Singita Pamushana in the remote and exceedingly beautiful far reaches of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Highlights

  • Seeing black and white rhino, many of which have been re-introduced to the park as part of Singita’s comprehensive programme of conservation and community action – you can also track rhino with a ranger
  • Dining under the lantern lit ancient baobab canopy
  • Cruising at sunset on the dam below the lodge
  • Jaw dropping location and stylish private suites with infinity pools including family suites

About Singita Pamushana  

The lodge is the ecotourism arm of the not-for-profit Malilangwe Trust, and its role is to help foster the sustainability of the wildlife and broader ecology, while enabling guests to share the magic of the lodge and the 130,000 acre wildlife reserve. Guests can visit projects, such as the Child Supplementary Feeding Programme, initiated by Singita Pamushana in partnership with the Trust, following the acute drought of 2002.

19.000 children, most under five, benefit daily from the programme. Guests can also learn about the rhino re-introduction programme which has been a great success with black and white rhino thriving in the reserve.

During your stay you are likely to spot a great variety of wildlife including species such as black rhino, white rhino, Lichtenstein hartebeest, sable, nyala, klipspringer, cheetah, wild dog, lion, leopard and an abundance of bird life.

Kenya – Samburu Singing Wells and the Mara Fly-in

  • Combines 2 nights at Sarara Lodge in the dramatic Mathews Range, Northern Kenya  with 3 nights at Kicheche Valley Camp in the Masai Mara. The Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust, which works in partnership with Sarara Camp, is widely recognised as one of the most successful community and conservation projects in Africa.

Highlights

  • Sunrise visit to the Sarara Singing Well where the local Samburu tribespeople come to water their cattle. The Samburu warriors form a human chain to bring water up from the well, chanting as they do so
  • The views and the tranquility
  • Watching wildlife from the hide by the watering hole and looking for leopard on game drives
  • Spending time with the Samburu guides
About Sarara Camp
30,000 elephant and rhino were killed by poachers between 1977 and 1995,  when the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust was at last  formed. Sarara Camp works with the Trust and local Samburu people to change attitudes to wildlife and to secure the area from poachers. Elephant, leopard, reticulated giraffe, wild dog and kudu are present in ever increasing numbers across this remote and dramatic landscape and income from the camp helps to continue this valuable work.
There are just 6 luxury tents at Sarara, all positioned to make the most of the jaw dropping views. The water hole is just below the mess and wonderful rock hewn swimming pool and so much of this wildlife can be seen from camp, but there are also many activities to enjoy from mountain biking and game drives to bush suppers and bird watching.

Tanzania – Singita Serengeti fly-in

3 nights in a private luxury cottage at Singita Sasakwa, in the Grumeti region of the Serengeti, protected by the  Grumeti Community and Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Highlights

  • Serengeti wildlife
  • Meeting students from the Environmental Educational Centre, dedicated to educating local young people about the Serengeti Ecosystem and the importance of conservation
  • Wonderful private cottages with infinity pools which ooze classic 1920s style
About Singita Sasakwa
Singita Grumeti is located next to the Serengeti National Park. 350,000 acres are protected by the Singita Grumeti Find, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to safeguard this important migration corridor. Prior to 2002 poaching in the area was having an adverse effect on wildlife, community and tourism. The Anti Poaching Unit is comprised of 120 game scouts who working alongside the Wildlife Division  have made a massive impact, virtually eradicating illegal activity within the concession. Black rhino have been reintroduced and there is also an invasive plant project which aims to control the spread of invasive species in the Serengeti Mara ecosystem.
There are only nine cottages and one villa at Sasakwa – all are private with pools. Activities include Landrover safaris, bush walks and mountain biking.

South Africa – Cape Town Tswalu Kalahari fly-in

  • Combines 4 nights at the stunning Cape Grace on Cape Town’s colourful V&A Waterfront with 4 nights at Tswalu Kalahari, where you have the chance to see the desert black rhino, black maned lion and San Bushmen carvings and to see the wonderful work of the Tswalu Foundation.

Highlights

  • Tswalu’s new Malori sleep-out deck experience where guests, including families, are invited to sleep out under the stars surrounded by the majesty of the Kalahari. The Malori deck is a raised platform with thatched overhang, complete with luxurious king sized bed (and camp beds for children) and lantern-lit outdoor bathroom
  • Meeting the meerkats
  • Seeing the Kalahari’s famously powerful  black maned lions
About Tswalu Kalahari
South Africa’s largest private game reserve is owned by the Oppenheimer family and conservation is their number one priority. The Kalahari has been inhabited by Bushmen for 20,000 years but because of the inhospitable environment the area has remained undeveloped by modern man and so remains a great true wilderness. The southern Kalahari is known as the ‘green’ Kalahari, recieving more rain than the central Kalahari and therfore supporting a greater diversity of wildlife – this is where Tswalu is located.
The Tswalu Foundation assists in developing  research programmes to better understand this vast, unique and very beautiful area. Guests are enocuraged to get involved and interact with researchers – a fantastic opportunity.
In addition there are a number of incredible activities to enjoy such as a sunrise visit to the meerkat colonies, enjoying sundowners on the dunes or even spending a morning tracking Desert Black Rhino.

South Africa – Camp Jabulani fly-in

  •  3 nights at Camp Jabulani, situated within a Big 5 reserve near to Kruger National Park and the only camp to offer elephant back safaris other than Camp Abu Botswana.  Staff aim to ‘indulge, spoil, pamper and entertain guests, but most importantly, to share with them the story and the experience of the elephants.’

Highlights

  • Interacting with the camp’s herd of elephant and learning about how they came to be there; you can watch them swim and take a night time elephant back safari
  • Visiting the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC)
  • Being pampered!

About Camp Jabulani

Camp Jabulani was born after the rescue of a single elephant. Now there is a herd, all rescued and rehabilitated and living a good life. Guests are able to interact with the herd at much closer proximity than would be usual on safari, personally bonding with this incredible animals. In turn guests then spread the word about wildlife conservation. It’s a formula that is really working here.

Not only can guests try out an elephant back safari, by night, but also enjoy game viewing in 4x4s within the Kapama Game Reserve which lies in close proximity to Kruger and has a great density and variety of wildlife. There are only six suites – all very luxurious and also a Therapy Lapa for spa treatments.

The HESC is a leading light in private research and breeding facilities for endangered species in the country. There is a cheetah breeding programme and animal hospital and guests can visit the facility during their stay giving a valuable insight into conservation.

By Sara White

Lily’s Kenyan Safari – the Masai Mara

This week we join Lily as she heads to one of the most famous game reserves in the world – the Masai Mara.

The Journey

After an early breakfast which was scrumptious (as expected) we then headed off on the next stage of our Kenyan safari adventure. We faced a journey of 240 kilometres travelling south down the A104, passing Gilgil. One of the many, many interesting sights we passed en route was the long line of wagons queuing up for fuel from the pipeline which starts in Mombasa and ends in Nakuru. The fuel is then taken by tanker lorry onwards to other parts of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and beyond.   The journey may have been long but it really does give you a great insight into every day Kenya and the lives of the people who live here. You also get to see some great scenery such as the picturesque Mount Longonot and its National Park. When we finally turned off the A104 we head to Narok which is the major administrative centre for northern Masailand.  It was truly fascinating to drive through this busy town full of strolling Masai moran in their red checked shukas. It felt very different and we were very aware we were in the Masai lands. After heading to the Sekenani Gate on the eastern side of the Masai Mara National Reserve we travelled on a hard and dusty gravel road for about an hour between the Naboisho and Siana Conservancies. About this time we also noticed the rise in temperature as we headed south. At last it could be time to take off our big boots and replace with them sandals??

The Mara Simba Lodge

Arriving at Sekenani Town, set below the distinctive Ngama Hills, we then arrived at the Barrier Gate, a rather makeshift ranger post which is a shortcut  into the Masai Mara. Then it was on to our eventual destination, the Mara Simba Lodge – a lovely lodge set on a bend in the Talek River, a tributary of the mighty Mara River. We drove up the attractive entrance where I finally met Sammy, one of our most popular Real Africa driver – guides, and whom I had been dying to meet.  We were very warmly welcomed and shown to our spacious room for the night.  The guest rooms are arranged in clusters of six double story natural wood and stone bandas. Each room has a private verandah which looks out on to the Talek River. Stretching almost a kilometer along the river, the lodge’s grounds on the riverbank are left in their natural state, whilst the landscaped gardens are filled with indigenous trees which draw a great variety of birds and butterflies.  The lodge was designed to complement its surroundings and is decorated in Maasai traditional style. There are wide, well-lit pathways connect the public areas and the seperate bedrooms. This is a big lodge and was built for the high demand in this south east corner of the Mara.  It has a traditional, slightly dated feel decor-wise but the lodge is warm, welcoming and relaxed with excellent staff and delicious food. It is also located in a fantastic part of the Mara with many game driving loops abound in the area.    We had afternoon tea and chatted to the other guests before heading off on a game drive with Sammy. On the game drive we were alerted to the sound of tinkling bells  in the distance which was a very large herd of Masai cattle with attendant herd boys.  Although it is illegal to graze cattle in the reserve itself, it is a fairly common sight around the border areas of the reserve.

The Masai

The Masai are semi-nomadic pastoralists (they rear cattle on wild grassland and as a result sometimes have to travel searching for new grazing pastures). The cattle are fundamental to the tribe’s survival and there is an almost mystical relationship with their herds. The Masai believe that their (Rain) God Enkai granted all cattle to them for safe-keeping when the earth and sky split, allowing them to raid cattle from other tribes in their beliefs. The cattle serve many purposes: their milk and blood is used for food; the cowhide is used for mattresses, shoes and other accessories; their dung is used for plastering hut walls; their (sterile) urine has some medicinal and cleansing qualities; their meat is rarely taken for food (but may be used during ceremonies and in times of famine). Blood is obtained by shooting an arrow at close range through the cattle’s jugular vein, then capturing the spilled blood into a gourd (where it can be mixed with milk); the wound is not fatal and is patched afterwards. Cattle are a major sign of wealth and exchanged during marriage (to pay for brides). The quantity of cattle is more important than the quality and the Masai have well over a hundred words to describe their animals. However raising cattle is not without problems and the Masai have to continually seek out good grazing for their cattle, sometimes travelling for days during the dry season. Such freedom of movement is becoming far more difficult in modern times. Other animals including goats, sheep and some domestic animals are also kept. Although the Masai are still mainly cattle-rearing and previously despised farmers who plough the soil  Masai are more frequently turning towards some types of cultivation, usually maize and some vegetables, in order to trade with other tribes.

The Masai Mara Game Drive

The views of this vast undulating grassland and hills are stunning.  We were lucky to come across a big maned male lion who was guarding his kill (a zebra) in a clump of bushes followed by a cheetah about 15 minutes later.  We saw small groups of elephants here and there but for me the highlight of the drive was on the way back to the lodge as the sun was going down.  We came upon a long line of gnu marching east to their calving ground in the Loita Hills (not south to the Serengeti).  The mooing of the big herd was distinctive  as if talking to each and discussing the journey!  I could have sat there watching them for hours but daylight was running out and we had to be back at the lodge for curfew time of 1800. Not everyone observes the curfew and I suspect those Masai cattle stay in the Reserve overnight with their two legged guardians watching out for lion attacks, armed with spears!

Fig Tree Camp

The following day we headed on to our next stop with a great game drive westards through the Masai Mara. We were lucky enough to have excellent sightings of cheetah, gnu, topi, elephant and buffalo all en route to Fig Tree Camp. The camp is situated on an ox-bow bend in the Talek River near the Talek Gate. Fig Tree camp is one of the original Mara Camps and it is actually located just outside the national reserve boundaries but it still subject to park fees.  On arrival at this camp vehicles are left in a parking area and guests walk over a small bridge into the camp. I was shown around the camp by the manager, who had been at the camp for 28 years and obviously knew it ‘like the back of his hand’.  It’s north-central location makes it very well sited for excellent game drives in the reserve.  There are 38 standard plus 10 Ngamboli tents overlooking the river and 22 chalets overlooking the gardens.  All the rooms are quite closely spaced together but it doesn’t detract from the experience. I enjoyed this lovely camp and although it is big, it still manages to feel pretty intimate.  Fig Tree Camp is also conveniently located only three miles from a hot air balloon site.  There are 3 balloon sites in the Mara area – the others are near the Mara Serena Lodge and Little Governors Camp.

The Mara River

On leaving Fig Tree Camp, we took the only permanent route across the Mara, whatever the weather.  This route goes east from Fig Tree and then south from the Talek Gate to near Keekorok Lodge then bears west to Mara South River Gate and the border with Tanzania.  Sammy took us to the unofficial border which was a very simple post in the ground with a plank of wood across the top and arrow ‘T’ pointing south and on the other end of the plank an arrow ‘K’ pointing north! The Mara River is the biggest single obstacle that the big herds (of wildebeest, zebra and plains game) come up against on their journey from the southern Serengeti on their annual migration and therefore it is an excellent place for game viewing throughout the year. As we crossed the Mara River, Sammy stopped the vehicle half way over the bridge so we could enjoy the full spectacle and take some photos.  It is here at one of the big crossing points that we saw evidence of the animals that hadn’t made it. There were carcases bobbing about in the water with vultures and marabou storks squatting or hopping about from one body to another.  No shortage of food here for the crocs and other predators whether feathered or not.

The Mara Serena Lodge

We continued our journey north westerly into the Mara Triangle which is the least developed part of the Masai Mara Reserve. It has as a spectacular location, hemmed in by the Oloololo Escarpment to the east and the Mara River to the west. Only one lodge lies in this area and that is the large but very stylish, Mara Serena. This lovely lodge is set high on a saddle overlooking rolling grasslands and is close to one of the busiest crossing points on the Mara River at migration time. The Mara Triangle is the best part of the Masai Mara reserve to spot elephant and also black rhino. They are both rarely sighted in other parts of the Masai Mara but can be found in the swampy areas by the Oloololo. Cheetah and lion are also common in this area.

Posted by Lily