Category Archives: World

Our Top Ten Island Getaways in Africa and the Indian Ocean (Part 1)

Are you sitting at work dreaming of escaping to a tropical island in the sun? Forget the Caribbean, Africa has some truly gorgeous island getaways just right for escaping the cold winter or a wet summer. Some are tiny with just a handful of rustic hideaways whilst others are much larger and more established with lots of luxury hotels, fantastic water-sports and world class restaurants.  All of them have sublime scenery; some have dramatic rocky coves whilst others have dreamy beaches with white sand and turquoise waters. Here are the first 5 in our top 10 as voted by the Real Africa team.

Mfangano Island, Lake Victoria, Tanzania

Mfangano Island is found at the eastern end of Lake Victoria and it is one of the team’s favourite islands. The island is a great combination of beautiful scenery, laid back African atmosphere and great wildlife. You can while away many hours just relaxing on the island watching the incredible birdlife or going fishing for your supper. It is also home to one of our favourite camps run by the team behind Governors Camps.  Mfangano Island Camp is a luxury, island hideaway lodge lapped by the waters of Lake Victoria, shaded by giant fig trees, and a secluded atmosphere. There are beautiful lush gardens set on a private bay with enormous boulders which sit at the water’s edge providing a perch for cormorants or giant monitor lizards to sun themselves. You will feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life on Mfangano.

Ibo Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique

Our intrepid explorer Lily nominated Ibo Island as one of her favourites having travelled to Mozambique last year. Ibo Island is part of the famous Quirimbas Archipelago which nestles in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of northern Mozambique. Once Mozambique’s mighty trading centre, Ibo Island has remained all but forgotten to the outside world for almost a century. Wander around this colonial little island town and hear tales of pirates and prisoners, turtle shells and silver. Explore old forts and ancient romantic buildings where you can almost feel the history come to life. Ibo is home to some wonderfully majestic historical architecture, some beautifully restored and some left as atmospheric ruins. Add to this almost dazzlingly white sandy beaches and warm turquoise waters, mangrove swamps and quaint fishing villages, giant sand dunes and lush greenery and you have a real paradise. Mozambique and the waters off Ibo Island are also famous for their pristine coral reefs and incredible marine wildlife including manta rays, rare dugongs, a variety of dolphins and all sorts of species of whales. We offer holidays to Ibo Island Lodge which is an award winning beach hotel with a fantastic location and stylish luxury accommodation.

Pemba, Tanzania

Pemba is a small island off the coast of its larger and more famous neighbour Zanzibar. Its remote location and small size has meant that it remained an untouched and pristine island of great beauty and history. The lush mosaic of forests, swamps, mangroves, and gently undulating hills combined with stunning hidden beaches and quiet lagoons makes for a serene and beautiful island getaway. The history of the island is told in the scattered ruins of mosques and tombs hidden away in the forest, some of which date back to Arab colonisation in the 17th century.

Likoma Island, Lake Malawi, Malawi

Likoma Island is another very popular destination amongst the team.  It is unusual in that it actually sits in Mozambican waters but is still part of Malawi. Likoma has a gentle, pretty landscape made up of rolling grassland dotted with trees, secluded coves and beaches and stunning views over to the mainland. There are a handful of hotels on the island but very little traffic as there are no paved roads and people travel by boat.  The waters here are crystal clear and warm making it perfect for snorkelling, diving, kayaking, fishing and sailing. The waters of the lake are also home to wonderful birdlife and the whole atmosphere is very peaceful indeed. We offer stays at the wonderful Kaya Mawa which is a 5 star luxury lodge with incredible views, secluded beaches and gorgeous rooms. It was voted by Conde Nast as one of the top ten most romantic places in the world.

Mafia Island, Tanzania

Another small island off the East African coast and part of the Zanzibar archipelago, Mafia Island is a proper Robinson Crusoe desert island. It is a place to get away and soak up nature in all its finest. Mafia Island’s coral reefs are renowned as an excellent, world-class diving destination. Scientists have confirmed that Mafia has some of the richest reefs in the world, with an unparalleled variety of hard and soft corals and diversity of tropical fish. If you are not one for diving you can explore the island’s nature trails and discover the hidden ruins of lost buildings reclaimed by the jungle. However it is really the gloriously pristine white sandy beaches lapped by gentle warm waters which you tend to have all to yourself that attract most people to Mafia Island. It is wonderfully peaceful and calming and a perfect place to relaxing. We offer a fantastic little rustic retreat called Chole Mjini if Mafia Island sounds the place for you.

If you fancy turning your daydreams into reality then give us a call and we can fix you up!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

 

 

World Environment Day

Did you know that many islands such as the Maldives are likely to disappear below rising sea levels during our children’s lifetime? This Thursday, 5th June 2014, join thousands of people across the planet doing their bit for the planet and to protect it for future generations.

What is WED?

World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations Environmental Programme’s main push to encourage worldwide awareness of the problems facing our beautiful and precious planet and a call to action. Over the past few years the movement has grown in size, popularity and power and it now reaches across the globe, mainly though social and traditional media. It also serves as a ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, hopefully leading to lots of individuals, businesses and organisations doing something for good and becoming a collective power that creates a strong and positive impact on the planet.

Small Islands and Developing Nations Under Threat:

“Planet Earth is our shared island, let us join forces to protect it” declared UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the launch of the 2014 International Year of Small Islands and Developing States. Small islands and developing nations are those places most at threat from environmental disaster, mainly due to climate change and rising sea levels. There will be the Third International Conference on SIDS in September and WED is being used to encourage a greater understanding of the urgent need to help protect these islands in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising and the oceans are becoming more acidic killing off vital marine life. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes and tropical cyclones are more frequent and severe. This winter’s floods in the UK were appalling but we can survive them and eventually rebuild our lives. On small islands and in poor developing nations the chances of surviving let alone rebuilding are much slimmer.

Call to Action:

This Thursday is the day to make your voice heard by governments and organisations around the world.  The challenge this year is to recognize that we all face the same challenges and are connected and united by our common goal of a sustainable and prosperous life for all on this planet. The call is to raise our voices in solidarity with one another, particularly with the citizens of the small island states who lack the economic and political clout that we are lucky to have here in the UK. Many ideas being shared include clean up campaigns, food waste reduction initiatives, walk-to-work days, plastic bans, art exhibits, tree-planting drives, concerts, dance recitals, recycling drives, social media campaigns and different contests to name but a few. Remember that every action counts no matter how small. The effects of our actions can ripple out either as awareness, education or action itself and when multiplied on a global scale the result can be huge in its impact.

So what will you be doing?

You can spread the word through social media. Last year, World Environment Day was one of the top 10 most tweeted topics on Twitter. This year, make your voice heard together with the millions who will show their solidarity for the islands, climate change and the environment.  Raise your voice not the sea level!

You can make a public pledge to reduce energy consumption, shop locally, eat seasonally, reduce plastic bags and packaging when shopping, shop second-hand, recycle and reduce landfill, conserve water(share a bath!), become a paperless office, grow your own, make your own, walk to work/school, and much, much more, although maybe not all at once! There are all sorts of interesting events going on around the world from school recycling days to trash fashion shows, 10k races to concerts. In Kenya the Kiribati forest was the location of tree planting activities done together by NGOs, UN employees and local government representatives and other tree planting is going on across Africa.

If you want to show solidarity with the UN’s environmental campaign to save our planet and to support our fellow man under threat from climate change then you can organise an event, make a personal pledge or spread awareness around through social media. It all helps. Register your participation on the website at http://www.unep.org/wed/. You can join a celebrity on their challenge or make up your own challenge, it’s up to you!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

Scare Yourself Silly!

Are you an adrenalin junkie? Do you like challenging yourself in new situations? Do you like trying out new sports and exploring new places? Africa is full of amazing places for the thrill-seekers amongst you!

Canoeing:

There are lots of different places to canoe in Africa but some of the best canoeing can be found on Africa’s Great Lakes including Lake Malawi. It is a fantastic way to explore the unspoilt beaches and stunning warm water and soak up the total peace and quiet of the place. If you want a bit more excitement then you can have fun in a dug-out canoe called a mokoro on safari in Botswana exploring the waterways of the Okavango Delta. Or if that’s not enough of a thrill you can spend your time dodging hippos on the mighty Zambezi! See our Selinda Canoe Trip for a fantastic camping and canoeing safari trip.

White-water rafting and kayaking:

Some of the best Grade 5 rapids in Africa are on the Zambezi river as it pours out of the awesome Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The huge river come pounding over the wide waterfalls but then squeezes into a narrow rocky gorge giving the water immense energy and creating some world class rapids. There are plenty of companies offering rafting trips of various lengths and level of skill around Victoria Falls.  Further afield you could also tackle the infamous Horrible Horace, the Whiplash and the Four-Man-Hole – legendary rapids and cascades for white water rafting and kayaking on the Tugela in the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. The Orange River also in South Africa offers some fantastic rafting and kayaking hotspots too.

Bungee Jumping:

And of course we couldn’t talk about adrenalin sports in Africa without adding in bungee jumping. Also at the world famous Victoria Falls you can do one of the world’s greatest bungees over the edge of Vic Falls itself. This was one of the earliest sites for bungee jumping after New Zealand and has been a long established attraction at the Falls. You can combine a trip here with a safari or with some white water rafting as there is plenty to see and do in the vicinity. Vic Falls bungee jump is definitely classed as one of the world’s best jumps and features on many a bucket list!

Diving with Rays:

Scuba Diving is exciting at the best of times but in the protected coastal waters of Mozambique you can go diving and swimming with some extraordinary animals. Whale sharks and manta rays are one of the huge attractions of the area along with the miles of unspoilt beaches and crystal clear warm waters of Mozambique. There are many dive centres and resorts  scattered along the coast of Mozambique but the main place for diving with manta rays and whale sharks is Tofo. This is the best place in the world for seeing these amazing creatures up close but the marine life in these waters is unbelievable. With some of the best preserved coral reefs and unpolluted waters Mozambique really is a diver’s paradise. 

Surfing:

The beautiful Garden Route along South Africa’s southern coast offers incredible scenery, quaint towns, a huge variety of marine life including whales and dolphins and on top of all that some world beating surf. There are several bays along the Cape’s south coast, east of Cape Agulhas, that produce consistent surfing conditions including Stil Bay, Mossel Bay, St Francis Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay and Algoa-Port Elizabeth. It depends on the weather conditions as to which has the best surf on the day but with the right wind direction and a good swell these are world beaters. Jeffrey’s Bay is famous for its almost perfect tube and the area is home to a strong surfing community and also hosts several different international competitions.

Diving with sharks:

If surfing seems a bit tame then how about cage diving and coming face to face with a Great White  off the coast of sunny Cape Town? This is becoming more popular year by year and there are now several different operators to choose from if you are brave enough! You can also take boat rides out to see the whales and dolphins from Cape Town. We have some fantastic accommodation on offer including top of the range luxury hotels, small boutique guest houses and self-catering apartments.

Mountain Biking and Mountain Climbing:

The Drakensburg Mountains are a stunning range set in the north east of South Africa. The area is famous for its stunning scenery and it offers all sorts of mountain based adrenalin activities including mountain climbing, horse-riding, mountain-biking, quad biking, white water rafting, hiking and abseiling. Many adrenalin enthusiasts regard the Drakensberg’s rivers, mountains and tracks as the ultimate adventure destination in the world. The mountains themselves are stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit just for the landscape alone. You can see even more during a hot air balloon flight or a trip in helicopter both of which are also available here. You can hire bikes in several different locations in the area and most hotels will also arrange this for you and you can choose from following the trails yourself or taking a tour with a guide who can really take you off-trail!

Dune buggies:

Where else could you get amazing dune buggy rides than in the stunning sand dunes and deserts of Namibia? Swakopmund is home to all kinds of adrenalin sports and you can find amongst other things on offer the chance to go dune bashing in some of the most unique scenery on earth.  Some of the sand dunes are quite rightly protected as sites of special importance but there are plenty of sand dunes available for exploring on dune buggies. You can also go sky diving, hot air ballooning, boat trips to the seal colonies, sandboarding, quad biking, sport fishing and night desert walks to name but a few!

Horse Riding:

Galloping through the waterways and wide open spaces of true wilderness, Botswana offers riders an incredible experience you just cannot get in the UK. Hundreds of miles of unspoilt wildlife and scenery and not another person to be seen in any of it. No traffic, no roads, nothing to hinder you from riding free as a bird. In Botswana you can ride through the stunning Okavango Delta and enjoy a horse-back safari which is a great way to get off the beaten track and see the wildlife up close. You can also do horse-riding in many other places including across South Africa and Namibia. RAW Botswana offer terrific horseback safaris – find out more here.

So instead of moaning about the rain the next time we have a wet bank holiday why don’t you book yourself a white-knuckle ride and scare yourself silly somewhere in Africa?!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Spotlight: Zanzibar, the Spice Island

Introduction

Zanzibar is a truly fascinating island just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Its location has been extremely important to Zanzibar and has made it a rich island at times and always a popular one. It is really a kind of crossroads in the Indian Ocean as its location means it has been an important stopping off point for trade routes between Africa, the Middle East, India and the Far East.

History

It has been inhabited by so many different races and peoples that it is a cultural melting pot even to this day. In ancient times it was the Sumerians, Assyrians and Egyptians who came toZanzibarand used it as a port and trading post Then later came the Indians, Chinese and Persians who all traded and lived on the island. Then over the past couple of centuries and in more recent times the Arabians and British vied for control. During the colonial era the British establishedZanzibaras an important stopping off point for trips to the furthest outposts of theBritish Empire. It was onZanzibarthat they could stock up with food and fuel to make the long journey eastwards. It was also a starting point for many British explorers including David Livingstone and Richard Burton.

Stone Town

HistoricStoneTownis protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so as it encapsulates the fascinating and diverse history of the island. The architecture in some parts is particularly grand with huge ornate wooden doors studded with metal bolts in decorate patterns. The architecture is a legacy from the days when rich Arab traders lived here and made their money from slave and spice trading. Much of Stone Town feels very Arabic rather than African with winding tiny alleyways more reminiscent of Morocco than Cape Town and there are bazaars dotted around as well still selling the famous spices that the are grown on the island. You can stay in some beautiful hotels inStoneTownmany of which have fantastic roof terraces where you can watch the sunset over the sea and soak up the evening atmosphere. There are also some great tours of the city whose past will come to life as the guide talks you through its colourful and characterful history.

Beaches

Most people come to visitZanzibar to relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches and to swim in the warm, turquoise waters of theIndian Ocean. The coastline ofZanzibar can compete with some of the better known islands such asMauritius and theSeychelles for truly spectacular beaches.Zanzibar has different coastal regions which have different types of coastal habitat and beaches. The beaches here are just as you would imagine a perfect tropical paradise. Tall coconut palms shade the edges of soft white sandy beaches that slope gently down into crystal clear warm waters abundant with colourful marine life. Most ofZanzibar is surrounded by coral reefs which protect the island from rough waters and create calm waters for bathing. The reef is also home to all sorts of colourful fish and dolphins, rays and even whales can be seen in the area. It is a perfect place for scuba diving and there are many resorts which offer PADI courses.

If you are looking for a remote and quiet beach then Mangapwani is the place for you or you can head to the remote and rugged beaches on the southern tip of the island including the Menai Bay Conservation Area which is an excellent place to see dolphins. If you are looking for coral lagoons and more options then the Nungwi Peninsular to the north is the place for you although this is more popular.

Accommodation

Most of the best beaches can be found on the east coast of the island which is around an hours drive or so fromStoneTown. It is here you will find the more established beach resorts with lots of facilities including watersports, fishing, spas and all-inclusive packages. If you head away from the better known areas you can find places that are truly tranquil with quiet beaches and small, boutique style hotels. These tend to be small with only a handful of rooms and minimal activities. However they are also often very stylish, with friendly hosts and the remote location means you almost have the place to yourself. These are a great option if you are choosing to honeymoon onZanzibar. However for families and sporty types then the bigger resorts are a better option.

Zanzibar is a great option for a beach package on its own or as an extension to a safari holiday in nearby Kenya or Tanzania.

The best places to see marine wildlife in Africa

Africa is one of the best places in the world to see a variety of marine wildlife. Several areas are designated marine conservation zones such is the importance of the area to the local marine wildlife. It is usually a combination of factors such as good coral reefs, lack of pollution and human interference and good sources of food which lead to these areas becoming to home to some of the rarer species of marine wildlife such as whales, sharks, sailfish, swordfish, rays and dolphins.

Mozambique has the largest marine conservation area and its coastline is made up of a  number of different archipelagoes. Most of the islands are small and uninhabited which provide great shelter for all sorts of marine creatures. The area has crystal clear warm water and is one of the best places in the world for scuba diving.  In fact the vast majority of beach hotels and lodges offer diving instructors and dive trips such is its popularity.

The marine wildlife you will spot include manta rays,sting rays and electric rays, various sharks including the enormous whale shark, all sorts of brightly coloured reef fish including clownfish, parrotfish and angel fish,  giant moray eels, and even tiny sea horses. If you are really lucky you might spot a rare dugong hiding in a bed of sea grass. There are also lots of green turtles who lay their eggs on the stunning Mozambiquan beaches and several types of dolphin inhabit this coastline and can be seen all year round. You can even see humpback whales in the second half of the year as they come to the warm waters to calve close to the shore.

SouthAfrica is another place justly famous for its copious marine wildlife and for being one of the best places for whale watching, shark diving and dolphin spotting. Its geographical location has much to do with it as the Cape is where the warm Indian Ocean meets the cold Atlantic. This makes it an important route for whales on their way to their breeding grounds and the currents provide excellent sources of foods. You can even see whales from the shore as they come in so close especially in the months of September and October. In the town of Hermanus there is even a whale -crier who is a town-crier who announces whale sightings! One of the most fascinating sights is the run of sardines off the Alguhas coast where thousands of sardines pass close to the shore and become a feeding frenzy for larger fish, sharks and cetaceans.

During the summer months from June through to October the southern right whale comes up from Antarctica to breed and spawn around the sheltered bays of the Cape. This makes for great whale watching as they play and feed in large numbers close to the shore. You can see whales from  CapeTown all the way along South Africa’s southern coastline up as far as Durban. Although Hermanus is the best known other towns such as Plettenburg Bay and Alguhas also provide great opportunities for whale watching both from the shore and on boat  trips. Humpback whales can be seen in early summer and over the winter as they migrate past and Bryde’s whales and orcas can also be seen .  The Eastern Cape and the coastline of Kwazulu-Natal is often rugged and unspoilt and also provides excellent views of humpbacks, Bryde’s whales and souther right whales. Giant pods of porpoises and dolphins are common all along the South African southern coastline throughout the year. Along the Garden Route you can watch them playing in the surf whilst you stand on the beach in front of them.

The other growing popular pastime is shark diving or cage diving. There are trips operated out of Cape Town and towns along the Garden Route where if you are brave enough you can go down into the water protected by a cage and watch sharks being fed just a few inches away from you.

East Africa including the coastlines around Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar also provide good opportunities for diving and exploring the marine life of the coral reefs in the area. The waters are crystal clear, warm and full of beautiful tropical fish as well as rarer species such as rays of all kinds.  It is also a great place for the larger types of sport or game fish such as sailfish, tuna and swordfish.