Category Archives: Experiences

The Great Migration – everything you need to know about calving in the southern Serengeti, Tanzania

The Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other plains game  in search of fresh grazing between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is the largest overland migration in the world involving over 1.5 million animals.

Migration TZCatching up with the Great Migration is a spectacle on many people’s bucket list. The first image that comes to mind for many may be the river crossings, particularly the dramatic crossing of the Mara River, the last obstacle before reaching the Masai Mara (July-September time). However, being on the Serengeti’s southern plains in the early part of the year for calving is another excellent time to see the migration .

The migration is not one super herd but a collection of herds moving in different directions and at different speeds. The herds move in search of fresh grazing and so their progress is dictated by rainfall. With rainfall becoming increasingly erratic the path and timings of the migration has become a little more unpredictable in recent years but you can expect to see the migration in Tanzania for around 75% of the year and in Kenya for 25%.

The annual cycle is punctuated by a number of key events – calving being one of them.

Calving season on the Serengeti’s southern plainssLIDER DSC_8606

The migration arrives and stays on the Serengeti’s southern plains and on the edges of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between January and March annually.

During these first few months of the year the wildebeest are grazing on the nutrient rich short grass following the short rains in November. This is the perfect arena for giving birth to their young – the grass is still low enabling them to see predators more easily, and the new shoots are soft and full of goodness, thanks to the fertility of the volcanic soil in this region.

Remarkably virtually all the wildebeest calve within a 3 week window which usually falls between late January and late February. Around 8,000 calves are born each day at the peak of the calving season.

WWshutterstock_139534196shutterstock_128317355Compared to the rest of the year, the herds are fairly sedentary while they feast and calve so this is an excellent time to observe them.

Predator density at this time on the southern plains is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. Many predators also raise their young at this time, with  young wildebeest the perfect target for young cubs learning survival skills.

What to expect

-Epic views – short-grassy savannah studded with rocky ‘kopje’ outcrops – sometimes punctuated by the occasional Serengeti leopard or cheetah.

-Noise! Wildebeest have the nickname ‘gnu’ and this is the sound you will hear.

-Fabulous wildlife sightings with the chance to see predators and predator/prey interaction – short grass means good visibility.

When should I book if I want to visit during calving season?

If you have your heart set on a  specific week, particularly in February and around school half term,  then you should try and book a year in advance – camps are small and it is high season offering good weather and excellent wildlife sightings so the earlier you book the more likely you are to secure your dates and preferred camp.

If you are flexible then 6-9 months in advance is ideal.

Where to stay and for how longKusini your-private-serengeti

Ewanjan18We recommend lodges around the Ndutu area in the first three months of the year.

There are a number of excellent mobile camps including the Serian Mobile, Lemala Ndutu and the Asilia mobile camps.  Sanctuary Kusini, Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ndutu Lodge and the new Ndutu Kati Kati tented camp are permanent options in this area. Depending on the position of the herds and the timing of your visit we also recommend the high quality Lemala Ewanjan and the excellent Elewana Pioneer Camp in the south-central area.

2-3 nights at one camp is the minimum amount of time we recommend – you could easily stay longer. It is great to combine a stay in Ndutu with a camp in the south/central or central area of the Serengeti for a contrast (these areas have excellent resident wildlife), or how about combining your Serengeti experience with a visit to other parks on the Northern Circuit? (Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire).

Tented camps are very comfortable offering walk-in tents,  ensuite bathroom and an outdoor seating area. Camps vary in size, luxury and budget.

You can expect a 7 or 8 day safari trip to Tanzania including the Serengeti to cost anything from £2,040 per person plus international flights (Small Group Escorted Tour) to over £4,500 for a luxury private safari. (Please note: during the migration months these prices rise).

What will the safari day look like?13fac_lemala-1

Custom safari 4×4 vehicles are used to view the migration. You rise just before dawn, and have a snack before heading out with your professional guide on your morning safari for 2-3 hours before returning for a hearty breakfast in camp. In private concessions you may head out with a picnic breakfast.

If you fly-in to your camp, camp vehicles are usually shared with other guests (there are a few exceptions). If you are enjoying a drive-in safari with a private vehicle and driver/guide then you have the luxury of your own space.

You have the day to relax at camp, enjoy lunch and view wildlife as it comes and goes. Some camps offer additional activities during the day.

After a light afternoon tea you depart on the afternoon game drive, usually at about 330pm until sundown around 6/630pm. In private concessions your vehicle can stay out beyond sundown and you can night drive. It is also possible to off-road in the private concessions of the Serengeti.

Can I combine a migration trip with the beach?Breezes beach NCP7775

Yes – December to March offers lovely weather for the beach, and good water visibility for diving/snorkelling. Zanzibar is the most easily accessible destination from the Serengeti and offers a wide range of lodges.

Here’s an example luxury bush and beach combination.

Sample trips

See our Tanzania page for inspiration.

For Migration safari inspiration specifically please click here>>

WWKusini SR001411By March the plains have usually started to dry out and food is depleted so the herds start to move north and west on their epic journey to Kenya, pausing only as they reach the rivers that block their path.

This is the next phase of the migration…

If you are thinking of a wildlife holiday to Africa please contact us on 01603 964 730 or email enquiries@realafrica.co.uk

You can find further information about the sub-Saharan destinations we visit on our website. 

The 2019 wish-list (continued): mad about Malawi

Malawi is a rising star on the safari scene. Known as the ‘warm heart’ of Africa, visitors can enjoy idyllic lake shore stays along with exciting safari options,  ranging from ‘Big Five’ breaks in Majete to wild weekends in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.

Malawi also offers adventure – climb Mt Mulanje, Malawi’s answer to Kilimanjaro. This huge slab of mountain south of Blantyre is surrounded by tea plantations and is incredibly scenic. Best explored on foot, there are trails suitable for all abilities, including 21 peaks to walk (or climb). Venture to Viphya for mountain biking and walks on the stunning plateau or Zomba, an 1800m high mountain range with forest, lakes, waterfalls and abundant wildlife.

Why go now? Malawi has transformed in recent years with concerted conservation efforts. Wildlife is thriving.  Black rhino have returned to Majete and cheetah to Liwonde (after an absence of 20 years). Lion were re-introduced in 2018,  while an ambitious elephant re-location was completed in a mission to see herds once more in Nkhotakota.

In Majete. tourism has increased 14 percent from last year, with over 9,000 visitors bringing valuable money to the reserve and communities. African Parks has maintained a 15 year track record of zero poaching of elephant and rhino. In Liwonde, numbers are up 25%.*

Quick Fire Malawi

shutterstock_554639089 national parks/wildlife reserves: Malawi has 5 national parks (Lake Malawi, Nyika, Liwonde, Kasungu, Lengwe) and 4 wildlife reserves (Nkhotakota, Majete, Vwasa, Mwabvi).

Here is a short guide to help you get to grips with Malawi:

Nyika National Park in the North is Malawi’s largest park with over 400 species of birds including Denham’s Bustard and the wattled crane and the highest density of leopard in central Africa. The park is especially good in the rainy season when wildflowers and orchids cover the plains. Varied scenery includes a waterfall and lake as well as a neolithic rock shelter. Chelinda Lodge  provides classic accommodation.

Liwonde11eLiwonde National Park in Malawi’s south is dominated by the Shire River and has an excellent population of  elephant as well as hippo, buffalo, zebra, crocodile and antelope. It is also now a sanctuary for more than a dozen black rhino. It was founded in 1973 and is one of Malawi’s most beautiful and most popular parks. Boat and 4×4 safaris are both excellent ways to explore. The river draws good numbers of elephant.  Mvuu Lodge and Camp on the River Shire’s bank offers four large ensuite tents and one stone and thatch honeymoon suite with views over the lagoon and there is also a natural rock hewn swimming pool. The camp has 12 units – a mix of stone and thatch chalets and family tents. Lovely Kuthengo Camp is a new addition to the park – a small seasonal tented camp, also on the river.

Robin Pope Safaris, Malawi
Robin Pope Safaris, Malawi

Majete, also located in the south has a fascinating back-story. It was once a prolific game refuge but by the 90s much of the big game had been eradicated due to poaching, logging and agriculture. But in 2003 African Parks  took over management of the reserve and it is now an inspiring model of sustainable development and biodiversity. Many different species have been reintroduced including lion, black rhino, elephant, antelope, zebra and leopard making this a Big Five destination once more.  Today there are more than 12,000 animals in Majete. We love Robin Pope Safaris new Mkulumadzi as a fantastic base for exploring the reserve.

Tongole
Tongole

Nkhotakota is Malawi’s oldest reserve and also under the management of African Parks. The beautiful Bua river flows at its heart. Dense rainforest gives way to miombo woodland rich with flora and fauna. The best way to see the reserve is by kayaking down the river or walking with a guide.  Birdlife is fantastic with over 280 species recorded,  and you may even be lucky enough to spot elephants coming to drink at the river or antelope in the woodland. Leopard and lion are more tricky to see.  Tongole Wilderness Lodge is a fantastic lodge, recently opened and nestled in the dense foilage. Open-fronted suites with panoramic views and raised decks allow you to soak up the majesty of the reserve.The park sits in the east of Malawi near the lake. Nkhotakota used to have more than 1,500 elephants but, after years of poaching, less than 100 of them remained. African Parks has successfully translocated 500 elephants from  Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota in recent years .

Kaya Mawa
Kaya Mawa

Lake Malawi: Malawi’s lake shore stretches some 500km. It is a paradise of small communities, sandy shores and small islands. Lake Malawi National Park was the very first freshwater national park declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.  Cape Maclear, located on the southern shore of Lake Malawi, is the busiest resort on Lake Malawi with a wide range of accommodation to suit most tastes.. We like the simplicity of Mumbo Island, just a few kilometres off the coast, a good value, eco-friendly, rustic and laid back little lodge perfect for downtime. If you enjoy a few more luxuries then Pumulani Lodge is also in this area on the western side of Cape Maclear,  conveniently accessible via Lilongwe. Right on the north eastern shore of the lake is idyllic Likoma Island with its stunning beaches and luxurious accommodation in the form of Kaya Mawa. The lodge is beautifully designed. This is a special spot for relaxing, indulging and soaking up the dreamy views of the Mozambique coast just 40km away.

Practical points: British citizens require a visa to visit Malawi. (USD $75). Malaria is present  throughout Malawi so anti-malarials are recommended. The unit of currency is the Kwacha. The rainy season runs from November/December to March. Between April and October Malawi’s weather is perfect for holidaying offering cool nights, and warm clear days. There are currently no direct flights to Malawi. The main gateways of Lilongwe and Blantyre can be reached via Johannesburg (using South African Airways or BA to J’Burg) although depending on season and offers other routes are also available.

Malawi offers good value. One of the reasons for this is the relatively compact nature of the country and good network of tarmac roads ensuring guests can combine key areas easily. To give some idea of driving times in the south, please see below:

Lilongwe to Liwonde – approximately 4 hours

Lilongwe to the lake – approximately  3 hours.

The lake to Majete  – approximately 5 hours.

Majete to Blantyre – approximately 2 1/2 hours.

(Flights are also available with Ulendo Airlink,  for example Lilongwe to Likoma Island…)

Summary

Malawi is a fantastic and very rewarding holiday destination – you can enjoy a safari as well as time on the lake in one holiday. Malawi offers lovely weather from Easter right through to Halloween making it a good choice for families looking at getting away during the main holidays.  The people are incredibly warm and friendly and there is increasing choice when it comes to accommodation.

Malawi is an inspiration when it comes to conservation – wildlife continues to thrive; visitor numbers are on the increase and through eco-tourism,  more and more jobs are created for people in the community.

Because predator numbers in Malawi’s parks and reserves are not as high yet as in other safari destinations, we think Malawi is a hugely rewarding choice for repeat visitors to the continent, or to visit in combination with its wild neighbour, Zambia.

 

Find out more about holidays to Malawi, see sample itineraries,  or speak to us about travelling to Malawi on 01603 964 730.

*Source: African Parks

 

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.

 

 

 

Activity Holidays in Africa

Did you know that Sport Relief (www.sportrelief.com) is coming up soon on the 18th March 2016? We are big supporters of this charity for the vitally important work they do in Africa. Have you made a donation yet? Or are you taking part in a sporting event at the weekend?

On the theme of sports and getting fit we thought we would take a look at some sports that you can do whilst on holiday in Africa. Africa is not just about safaris you know – it is actually a fantastic place for a sporting holiday.

In fact many top athletes head off to Africa to do their training. Marathon runners in particular head into the high hills of the Western Great Rift Valley in Kenya to make the most of training at altitude and hope to become as fit as the world beating athletes that grew up there such as Wilson Kipsang . Other athletes head to Africa to make the most of the wonderful climate and the training facilities that can be found across the continent.

For the truly energetic you could base yourself in the gorgeous Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. These mountains provide a stunning backdrop to all kinds of sporting activities including hiking, rock climbing, mountain-biking, white-water rafting, horse-riding and kayaking. A stay at Cathedral Peak would put you in the heart of the action and the hotel can organise most of these activities for you.

Those of you who fancy something more sedate might think about golf. South Africa is home to some of the best golf courses and championship venues in the world. There are just too many to mention but I have highlighted a few of the best. On the Garden Route you can play golf at Mossel Bay with stunning views over the sea and Fancourt is another well-known golf resort in the area that can be combined with a holiday in this area. If the Cape Winelands appeal more then you can play at Stellenbosch making the most of the excellent dining and wine in this area. Cape Town is also home to many great courses so you could combine a city break in this wonderful and vibrant city with your favourite pastime. Up in Sun City near Johannesburg you have the option of playing on the fabulous Gary player course or the famous Palace of the Lost City course. This would work really well with a safari in the Kruger National Park or Pilanesburg as both are close by.

If water-sports are more your thing then how about scuba diving in Mozambique or swimming in the warm waters of Zanzibar. Deep sea fishing or sport fishing is also widely available in both these places. Windsurfing, sailing and sea-kayaking are available at some of the larger hotels and resorts along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts.  And South Africa is one of the best places in the world for surfing. Try the resorts on the Garden Route.

If gentle exercise is more your cup of tea then how about a walking safari in Zambia? Or a stay in a nature reserve in South Africa such as De Hoop where you can get out walking with a guide every day or swim in the pool or play tennis? These are a fantastic way to see the wonderful wildlife but also to keep you mobile and fit and healthy at the same time.

Posted by Ruth

St Valentine’s Day Ideas

It’s Valentine’s Day this week and we have some great ideas for those of you who are stumped for a good gift or looking for a truly romantic gesture.

Kenya is home to a truly Out of Africa experience and as this year sees the 30th anniversary of that wonderful film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford we think it’s perfect for a Valentine’s Day celebration. If you haven’t got time to get there this year then maybe you could book it now for a trip later in the year – after all who doesn’t like to receive a pair of tickets to a romantic destination as a surprise?

We recommend staying at many different romantic lodges and tented camps in Kenya.  One of the most romantic is the recently opened Angama Mara in a private conservancy on the edge of the world famous Masai Mara National Park.

Angama Mara

This is an incredibly romantic place because of the absolutely breath-taking views. These are so spectacular it’s almost impossible to drag yourself away from the camp to go on safari!  Each tented suite enjoys a 180° view over the beautiful Masai Mara stretching out far below. The Masai Mara is the best-known game reserve in the world, home to the Big Five and the world famous Migration which runs from July to October of each year and also the home to some truly stunning African scenery. The Out of Africa back-story adds romance and the tented suites are decorated in traditional romantic safari style with extra touches of luxury making it feel even more special. The staff at Angama Mara also go out of their way to make sure your stay is special and you will have some incredible memories to take home with you.

Other than Kenya two of our other favourite places for romance are the intimate and luxurious tented safari camps of Botswana and the luxury hotels on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Lake Malawi. In both these places we can off the exceptionally romantic experience of sleeping under the African night sky in a star bed. You can’t get more romantic than that!

Kanana Camp, Botwana

This little camp is a hidden jewel on the Xudum River in the Okavango Delta. The area is home to a long line of little islands dotted with lush greenery and trees interspersed amongst the rivers and lagoons. As you would expect the Okavango is filled with wonderful wildlife and you can take the camp’s glass bottomed mokoro canoe to make the most of it. The camp is tiny with only seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents each with an en-suite bathroom.  The tents are well spaced apart which means they all feel very private without being too far from the main camp area. New for 2016 are the amazing Star Beds which allow you to sleep out under the Botswana stars. With no light pollution the star gazing here will blow you away and the star beds means you can do it in style!

Nkwichi, Lake Malawi

Nkwichi, is a really wonderful secret that we are not sure we want to share – but we will! It really is a wonderful paradise tucked away on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi.  There are 8 secluded beaches set along a stretch of the beautiful Rift Valley coastline which are all around Nkwichi. Not only do you have easy access to stunning beaches and crystal clear warm waters along the lake but also to some untouched wildlife and inland scenery. The accommodation at Nkwichi is also very romantic as you stay in lovely chalets and house set around the resort. Tucked away in the treeline, each chalet is unique.  All individually are individually designed and built using local materials to blend in to their surroundings, they deliver absolute luxury in a natural setting. This means they are really private and romantic with 4 poster beds and rock-pool baths carved out of local boulders and all of them have mesmerizing vistas of the lake. Nkwichi is also home to a fabulous star bed which means you can also sleep out under the stars. If you don’t fancy that then you can still enjoy a private dinner on the beach. Lake Malawi is often called the Lake of Stars so it really doesn’t come more romantic than that!

 

Posted by Ruth Bolton