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Wildlife and Wilderness in Botswana

Botswana will celebrate 50 years of independence in 2016 and in that 50 years has  grown to be one of the most exclusive safari destinations in Africa.  

Lovely small camps and lodges, often in private concessions where visitor numbers are restricted, result in a high quality safari experience.

17% of Botswana’s land is given over to conservation while the jewel in Botswana’s crown, the Okavango Delta was last year declared the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site.

Botswana – the number one place to visit in 2016

As many will have read, the world’s second largest diamond has just been discovered in Botswana – a whopper – at 1,111 carats, but in our opinion nothing sparkles brighter than Botswana’s beautiful landscape, home to a plethora of wildlife.

It is for these reasons that The Lonely Planet team, who describe Botswana as ‘wild Africa at its best’, have rated the country the number one place to visit in 2016.

We couldn’t agree more! Here’s our guide to one of Africa’s most rewarding safari destinations.

Introducing Botswana

Botswana offers you:

  • small camps
  • a great range of activities to enjoy including 4×4 safaris, bush walking, horse riding, canoeing, fishing and boating
  • a fantastic array of wildlife to enjoy from the big cats of the Linyanti marshes and Chobe’s vast herds of elephants to the shy inhabitants of beautiful islands, channels and remote plains like the Sitatunga, Pel’s Fishing Owl and the rare Klipspringer antelope.
  • the chance to combine the arid salt pans of the Kalahari Desert with the watery scape of the Okavango Delta – you can even throw in a stay at Victoria Falls in nearby Zimbabwe, making for a superb safari holiday.

What’s more, you don’t have to wrestle with time change since Botswana is only 2 hours ahead of GMT and also has a reputation for being the ‘safest country’ in Africa with little poaching or corruption.

Did you know? Pula is the name of the national currency but also the Setswana word for rain.

WEATHER TRENDS

When to visit – in a nutshell

  • The peak season is between June and September, characterised by dry and warm days in the twenties with cold nights. Booking early is imperative as the small camps and lodges fill up quickly at this time of the year.
  • The low or green season is between November and  March, characterised by  hot steamy weather by day and night, and sudden afternoon downpours. This is the time to take advantage of great deals and special offers and is the best time to see the desert salt pans which spring into life as game tracks south from the Delta.
  • The shoulder months of October and April/May are transition months with the weather changeable. October is the hottest month, but you’ll be rewarded with vast herds gathering around the last bodies of water. April is generally quiet in the parks and reserves and can be stormy.

Season by season – in more detail

May to October (Dry winter months)

  •  The Okavango Delta starts to flood in May time,  allowing for mokoro journeys and boat safaris from many of the camps.
  • Temperatures by day in the Delta are moderate throughout May, June, July and August, hovering in the mid twenties but becoming increasingly hot as the months progress with daytime highs of 40 degrees by October, the hottest month
  • Night-time temperatures in May are around 10 degrees, becoming increasingly cold through June and July, before rising gradually again in August and September reaching the high teens by October. Temperatures can fall to freezing in the desert pan areas in July, the driest month
  • As the winter progresses,  there is less vegetation and less water, with September and October often hailed as the big herd months, when animals gather in great numbers around the remaining water sources. Water levels can become perilously low in October in some areas, with boat safari activities sometimes suspended in extreme cases like in 2015. This may impact on your choice of camps and may not be the best time of year to combine Botswana with Victoria Falls which can be reduced to a trickle by November. We try and recommend camps on deep water channels at this time of year subject to availability.
  • There are few mosquitoes during the dry season and you can expects beautiful, clear days.

November to April (Green or wet summer months)

  • The scenery is at its most lush and beautiful – great for photography.
  • This is the best time to see migrant birds and young animals are often born at this time of year.
  • It is the optimum time to visit the pans (the desert area) which springs into life with green shoots on the dunes, courting giraffe displays and zebra and antelope arriving followed by the big predators.
  • January and February tend to be the wettest months and October and November the hottest.
  • There are excellent offers and low season rates available throughout the Green season – look at for Kwando’s Five Rivers offer usually out in January time annually. Find out about Five Rivers here.
  • Daytime temperatures hover around the low twenties in the Delta –  most downpours arrive in the afternoon having little impact on your safari day with the exception of January and February when rain can be more persistent.

LOGISTICS

Getting there

There are currently no direct flights to Botswana – the vast majority of our clients fly direct to Johannesburg in South Africa, from where there are good reliable connections with SA Airlink on to Maun or Kasane.

You can also fly into Maun direct from Harare, Cape Town and Namibia. The national carrier Air Botswana runs scheduled flights. Many people choose to combine a safari in Chobe, Botswana with Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, only a few hour’s drive away – there is a fine tarred road from the Falls to Kasane, and then once over the border it generally takes around half an hour to the riverfront area making a drive of around 3  hours in all,  (depending where you are staying – the Chobe Forest Reserve is a bit further away). The opening of the new Victoria Falls airport in late 2015/early 2016 will no doubt open up many more opportunities for safari combinations in this region.

Getting around

All the major gateways are linked by air, while the private flight charter network is well developed. Because of Botswana’s geography it is usual to fly-in to your lodge/camp by light aircraft. Chobe is the exception. Luggage is restricted on light aircraft to a single piece of soft luggage weighing no more than 20kg. Camps include your laundry in their nightly rate so this is manageable for most but for those away for a long time, excess luggage can be left in Maun or Johannesburg.

ATTRACTIONS
Top Five Must-dos

A trip to Botswana is all about getting into the wilderness. This is a place where experiential travel excels. From canoeing the remote waters of the Selinda Spillway and camping on deserted islands, or paddling a traditional mokoro (dug out canoe) to staying in utter luxury and enjoying safari on foot, by boat and by 4WD (by day and night), Botswana really does have it all.

  • Float in a Mokoro
  • Enjoy a bird’s eye view with a flight over the Delta
  • Walk the wilds with a guide
  • Sip a sundowner
  • Camp – huddle round the camp fire, marvel at the southern sky and sleep under canvas

Where to visit

THE OKAVANGO DELTA (incorporating Moremi Game Reserve and the Zambezi Region)

Main gateway : Maun

The Okavango Delta is an iconic landscape, one of the world’s largest inland deltas, where the waters ebb and flow. Rain falling in the distant mountains of Angola, reach the Delta in May/June time, flooding it and changing the landscape,  only to be absorbed by the greedy salt pans further south. The Delta can be split into three key areas:  private concessions, the Moremi Game Reserve and the Zambezi Region.  This area is so special it was declared the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014.

The Okavango Delta covers more than 15,000 square kilometres. Wonderful private concessions including Chitabe, Kwara, Shinde, Duba Plains and Jao help to protect wildlife and keep down visitor numbers,  while the eastern edge of the Delta is safe guarded by the Moremi Game Reserve (see below). The western side which flows to Namibia is known as the Panhandle, Caprivi Strip or Zambezi Region.

Experiences will be different in each area – we recommend six nights on safari in the Delta area itself,  allowing you to combine two or three  contrasting camps and locations.   While the camps in private concessions within the Okavango Delta offer incredibly high standards and low visitor numbers, their real calling card is that guests can enjoy a variety of activities including off road driving, night drives and walking – activities not offered by camps in the Moremi Game Reserve.  Land-based 4WD safaris will be largely  focussed on seeing the big predators like lions, wild dog, leopard and cheetah, while the water based safaris bring you up close to the magnificent bird life of the Delta and some of the rarer and shyer Delta dwellers.

You’ll find a range of habitats and  a network of channels interspersed with islands. Shallow reed beds, swamps, floodplains and forests are home to a huge variety of sepctacular wildlife, from the endangered red lechwe and wild dogs to elephant, lion and hippo. There are around 122 species of mammals, 71 species of fish, 444 species of birds, 64 species of reptiles and 1300 species of flowering plant in this region.

If you’re really lucky you may see all the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo are all present while  a rhino reintroduction programme in the Okavango now puts the population of White Rhino at approximately 35, and Black Rhino at 4 (and growing thanks to the Great Plains / AndBeyond Rhinos Without Borders relocation).

  • Moremi Game Reserve

Moremi Game Reserve is the protected eastern portion of the Okavango Delta. It has been a national reserve since 1963 and covers approximately one third of the Delta (around 5000 sq km). Moremi’s main landmark is  the 70km long Chief’s Island, historically the hunting ground for the local chief. Today, Chief’s Island is a wildlife haven with much of the Delta’s wildlife retreating here as the water level rises.  It’s prime Big Five territory once more following a successful rhino reintroduction programme. In addition, Moremi harbours the largest population of red lechwe, protects African wild dogs. and is the best place to see Pel’s Fishing Owl. Another place of note within Moremi is the Xakanaxa Lagoon, home to a heronry.

  • Okavango Panhandle or Zambezi Region

The Zambezi Region, once known as the Caprivi Strip, is a narrow strip of swamp that extends to the Namibian border. You’ll find permanent waterways, vast reed beds and calm lagoons perfect for fishing and bird watching. Big game is harder to see.

CHOBE NATIONAL PARK

Main gateway: Kasane

Chobe has been a National Park since 1968 covering 11,700 sq km. It can be split into three key areas: Savuti, Linyanti and the Chobe riverfront. 

Chobe comes into its own during the dry season when vast numbers of game congregate around the water sources – the Chobe River and the Linyanti River. Concentrations are truly spectacular as the dry season marches on. Wildlife to be encountered includes waterbuck, lechwe, puku (this is the only part of Botswana where they can be seen), giraffe, kudu, roan and sable, impala, warthog, bushbuck, monkeys and baboons, along with the accompanying predators of course from lion and leopard to hyena and jackal. Chobe also has the densest concentration of elephant in the world – some 120,000. A river cruise is a great way to appreciate the spectacle. In addition, over 460 bird species have been recorded in the park, making it one of Africa’s premier birding destinations. Seeing Pel’s Fishing Owl is a highlight, while most members of the kingfisher family, carmine bee eaters, rollers and raptors can all be admired.

  • Savuti/Savute

Savute is a region of Chobe. The Savuti channel is one of Africa’s great mysteries, a truly remote and wild place. The channel has a long history of drying up for many years and then miraculously flowing again – possibly due to tectonic activity in the region but largely unexplained! The word Savute means ‘unpredictable’ and refers to the region, while Savuti refers to the channel itself but it is common to see both spellings.

The channel itself stretches for 100km, leading from the Linyanti River to the Savute Marsh. Following a a period of heightened rains in 2008, the Savuti channel started to flow, deep and blue, once again, eventually flooding the Savute Marsh in 2010. Before that, the channel had not flowed since 1982!  In the past, the main features of the area were the ghostly dead camelthorn trees rising above th edry plains but now areas of  flat marsh and woodland habitat are home to herds of buffalo and elephant moving in from the south-west of Chobe, with wildlife concentrations improving year on year while the channel is flooded.  There are no rhino here yet but plenty of birdlife, plains game and the annual migration of zebra ensures a trail of lion, leopard and cheetah.

Zebra migrate  in December and  February time, depending on the rains. They move from the rivers in the north to the lush new grass in the south. The rare Klipspringer antelope can also be seen in this region, along with San Bushmen rock art in the 980 million year old Gubatsa Hills which rise 90m above the plains.

  • Linyanti

Linyanti is the region in the northwest of Chobe, home to the private Kwando/Linyanti and Selinda concessions. The area is game rich,  bordered by the Okavango Delta to the south.  The permanent waterway, the Kwando River, ensures that game is excellent throughout the dry season. Being private, activities sych as walking, night drives and off roading are possible.

Kwando Linyanti is home to five camps – Lagoon and Lebala camp in the Kwando portion and Duma Tau, Kings Pool and Savuti Camp in the Linyanti concession while the Selinda concession, which protects the famous Selinda Spillway is home to Zarafa, Selinda Camp and Motswiri Camp.

The area is a mix of lagoons and marshes along the Kwando-Linyanti Riverfront with drier mopane forest beyond. Lions are abundant and wild dogs den in the area.  For seeing the big predators this area is simply fabulous.

  • Chobe Riverfront

Easily accessible from Kasane by road, everybody wants to be on the northern boundary where the Chobe River flows and as such it attracts a high density of traffic from day trippers and self drivers to lodge vehicles.  The Chobe Game Lodge is just a half hour drive from Kasane, and with a plum location right on the river, is hard to beat for those wishing to stay in the heart of the action. The density of game during the dry season here, peaking September/October time, is impressive.  Small safari motor boats ply the river dodging hippos, while huge herds of elephant and buffalo gather on the banks. You also have a good chance of seeing lion and even leopard. Heading further west to the Forest Reserve, away from the bustle of Kasane, is a good alternative. Here, lodges like Muchenje, enjoy commanding views from an escarpment looking over the Chobe River beyond. Game densities may be lower beyond the riverfront but rarer species are evident such as Roan and Sable and there is considerably less bustle.

DESERT

Main gateway: Maun

The desert region is made up of Kgalagadi, for the Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi for the famous salt pans.

  • Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 52 800 sq kms.

The CKGR was off limits to tourists for around three decades as the reserve was to be a place for the San Bushmen to live their traditional life. The government is now allowing restricted development for a few lodges in the hope of developing tourism in this fascinating area where you can see some of the world’s oldest rock art, witness the ancient migration path of thousands of wildebeest and zebra  and experience the true meaning of isolation.

Deception Valley is one of the highlights, coming to life after the rains with lush sweet grass shooting and grazers coming from miles around. There are only two permanent camps actually within the reserve – Kalahari Plains and Tau Pan.

  • Nxai Pan
Makgadikgadi covers an area of around 12 000 sq kms, and is part of the Kalahari Basin. It is one of the largest salt pans in the world. Actually the area comprises a whole series of salt pans – from Sowa, the largest, to Nxai Pan, the most accessible. The area has a stark beauty, which David Livingstone experienced during his explorations of the 19th century, guided by one special landmark: Chapman’s Baobab . The baobab tree is possibly 4000 years old and one of the only things to punctuate the endless blue horizon. The salt pans shimmer in this arid landscape, with clouds of dust blurring the horizon, before the landscape is entirely  transformed; the salt pans become  shallow powdery blue lakes during the summer rains, flamingos arrive, and  grass and other vegetation shoots,  attracting animals from miles around to feast on the lush new shoots.

Nxai Pan itself is a 2578 sq km national park with, as you may expect,  two distinct seasons – wet and dry. During the green summer season, large herds of animals track from the south followed by predators and flowers bloom on the dunes making this an exciting time to be in the area. If you visit is timed to perfection you may observe giraffes as they start courting. The males engage in a ferocious battle for dominance called ‘necking’ . During the summer, there are also good cheetah numbers.

Baines Baobabs are in the south . The scene is largely unchanged since the baobabs were painted by Thomas Baines in 1862.

  • Tsodilo Hills

The UNESCO World Heritage Tsodilo Hills are nicknamed the ‘Louvre of the Desert’ for good reason. Four hills, the highest at 1400m, have huge spiritual significance for the San Bushmen in north west Kalahari with stunning displays of ancient rock art.

DISCOVER MORE

Explore some sample itineraries with guide pricing here.

LODGE LIBRARY

Check out some of our favourite lodges in Botswana.

REQUEST A BROCHURE

We have a dedicated Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia brochure now out – request yours here. 

INSPIRATION

Classic Botswana – a safari holiday that gives you time to enjoy the iconic Victoria Falls as well as game drives in Chobe National Park, Botswana, famous for its elephants.

Into the Okavango – a private safari to 3 diverse habitats in the world-famous Okavango Delta. Staying at Ker & Downey Camps – Camp Okuti, Kanana Camp and Shinde.

Desert & Delta – a fabulous fly-in safari combining camps in three areas, including the famous Savute region.

Ultimate Botswana – the ultimate safari to Botswana; exploring the Okavango Delta and the Selinda Spillway and staying in some of the finest luxury camps in Africa.

 

By Sara White

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildly romantic honeymoons and romantic escapes

As we gallop towards Valentine’s Day we thought it a fitting time to focus on some romantic holiday ideas. Whether it’s a honeymoon you are deliberating or simply a romantic escape to celebrate a special milestone, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here at Real Africa.

Undeniably romantic, Africa offers starry skies, wonderful candle-lit camps and incredible barefoot beach retreats. Add to that a bounty of wildlife and culture and you have the perfect romantic escape.

Ultimate off -the-beaten-track romance – it has to be Botswana

The Okavango from the air

Many of the lodges and camps we use in Botswana are small varying from 4 tents (Zarafa) to a dozen or so in the Delta and even in Chobe National Park, our preferred lodge, Muchenje, is hidden away in the quiet Forest Reserve in the west, on an escarpment overlooking the Chobe River and far from the crowds associated with Kasane. There are only 11 chalets, all with private decks and wonderful views over Chobe.

Chobe is an excellent option if you want to experience the natural wonders of Botswana but are on a tighter budget. You can combine Victoria Falls with a side-trip to Botswana’s Chobe National Park for a safari, which can easily be accessed on tarred roads from The Falls. This makes a great week long itinerary, and a stay at The Falls is romantic in itself. Chobe is impressive – it has the densest concentration of wildlife in Africa and is famous for its huge herds of elephants. To see a sample itinerary click here.

Another way to experience Botswana on a budget is to travel out of the peak season which runs from April to October. There is a safari special called Five Rivers which we get every winter and is offered on our newsletter and website for travel Nov to March – it always fills up within a week or so. There are also a number of lodges owned and managed by the same company which can be combined to make a cost effective itineraries  – these include Ker & Downey, Kwando, Footsteps Across the Delta and Desert & Delta among others.


But if you really crave isolation,  then it has to be Duba Plains (pictured above) on the western side of the Okavango Delta,  reputed to be the very best place to observe lion, and said to be Botswana’s most remote camp amidst a 77,000 acre reserve. Before last year there was a very large pride and you could often see lion and buffalo going head to head.
The camp advise us that the lion pride has now splintered so although you have a good chance of seeing big cats the real joy at Duba Plains is being at a traditional rustic tented camp in a remote and very beautiful part of the Delta with guides that really know their stuff. That’s what you pay for.

Mombo Camp, and Little Mombo (possibly Botswana’s most expensive camp) sit on Mombo Island on the northern tip of Chiefs Island in the Delta. This offers the best all year round game viewing. There are only 9 tents at Mombo (plus another 3 at Little Mombo). You’ll see big herds of game as well as an excellent chance of observing big cats – there are 7 prides of lion in the area.

Honeymoon idea: embrace adventure and join the Selinda Canoe Trail, exploring remote waterways and fly-camping on deserted islands beneath the stars. Combines brilliantly with a couple of nights in a luxurious lodge in the Delta.

New horizons – Zimbabwe

Yes, Zimbabwe is back on the holiday map and feedback from our senior consultant Lily who was there last year is that it promises a sensational trip for those with the time and budget. The infrastructure and distances involved means that most areas are best accessed by light aircraft, and the camps are certainly pricey due to their remote nature, but having said that, some have already established a reputation for superb guiding and warm hospitality.  Mana Pools is considered a real gem in southern Africa. You can explore by 4×4, by boat on the Zambezi and also walking. Please do ask to speak to Lily if Zimbabwe is of interest. You can see some sample itineraries and lodges here.

Honeymoon idea: Looking for a once in a lifetime experience? Consider Singita Pamushana, part of our Ultimate Collection.

Zambia – camping – but not as you know it!

For those who want a pristine environment then staying at a mobile camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa is as close as you can get. The camps are taken down at the end of the dry season in October leaving very little impact on the environment and put up again in April/May time. Sightings of wildlife in and around camp are excellent and these mobile camps naturally have a different feel to them.

Camps can be combined in a safari circuit – each one is different in its outlook and construction so they combine really well. You can even enjoy bush walks between them.

We all have our favourites camps but tend to use Robin Pope and Norman Carr properties for most of our clients. You can find out more here.

Honeymoon idea: enjoy the thrill of a big game safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa and then crash out on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi for lazy days in the sun. See our Valley & Lake itinerary here.

Other suggestions for getting off the beaten track in Africa…

Have you considered Mozambique? Ibo Island Dhow and Lodge Safari

Being partial to boats, being barefoot, water and islands the Ibo Island Dhow Safari is right up there on my wish list. If you like your holiday to have a balance of activity and downtime then this combination of dhow and lodge safari could be perfect for you.

Ibo Island lies in the incredibly beautiful Quirimbas Archipelago in Mozambique. The crystal clear waters lap sun-drenched white sand beaches.  Beautiful coral reefs teem with life from turtles and rays to spectacular reef fish such as parrotfish, groupers and batfish. Common, bottlenose and spinner dolphins can also be seen while humpback whale sightings are good between June and December. Turtle nesting generally occurs on beaches between October and February.

This 7 night module ex Pemba includes 4 nights island hopping and 3 nights at Ibo Island lodge itself. You island hop on a traditional Arab 12 metre dhow looked after by a Mozambican skipper, crew and chef. The dhow has been modernised and has an engine as well as sails giving lots of flexibility. You don’t sleep on board but camp ashore in some wonderful deserted spots.

Days are spent barefoot, exploring by kayak, swimming, snorkelling and sailing and by night you star gaze and cosy up by the camp fire to feast on freshly caught seafood prepared by the chef. The crayfish comes highly recommended! Ibo is one of 32 islands in the archipelago so there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and sand banks to explore.Camping ashore involves comfortable 2 person 3x3m walk-in dome tents with safari style stretcher bed with 2 in memory foam mattress and  insect screen. Mobile eco camp bathrooms are set up for you, with  traditional bucket showers and bush loo.

Ibo Island Lodge won the Best Marine Safari Property Award in the 2014 Safari Awards. The lodge itself, where you spend the final 3 nights, comprises three historic 150 year old mansions which have all been lovingly restored to their former glory. The luxury lodge sits in lush gardens with a pool. Each of the ensuite air-conditioned 14 rooms have been individually designed and enjoy wide airy verandahs to soak up the ocean views. The roof top restaurant is a wonderful place to enjoy a sundowner and watch the sun set. The island, which was an important trading post and which our senior consultant Lily has been lucky enough to explore is a real fairytale destination with a 200 year old historic town, 16th century fort,  crumbling ruins, wonderful architecture and small communities. The island’s interesting history as a result of being split between Portuguese and Omani-Arab rule for several centuries means there are many interesting forts and buildings amidst the fig trees and bourgainvillea to explore.

You can join scheduled departures with a maximum of 7-10 guests. There are also private departures (please ask) so as well as appealing to groups of friends and families, this is a great option for a honeymoon or romantic break. You can choose to lose yourself amidst a group or set sail exclusively.

You can see a day to day itinerary and find out more here.

Honeymoon idea: this 7 night dhow and lodge safari works brilliantly well when paired with South Africa since flights to Pemba naturally route via Johannesburg – depending on how much time you have, you could add  a 4×4 safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, staying in a beautiful tented camp like Honeyguide Mantobeni. The best time to safari in Kruger is during the dry winter months between May and November – and this is also the optimum time to be island hopping in Mozambique. There are many wonderful properties in Mozambique, some can be accessed more readily than others, for example Machangulo and White Pearl. Please do ask us for details.See a sample South Africa and Mozambique itinerary here.

Kenya – the quest to get off the beaten track!

Alex Walker’s Serian sits in the private Mara North Conservancy, bordering the famous Masai Mara National Park. For a stylish safari which embraces authentic Africa then Serian is a superb choice. Many of our clients combine Serian with either Borana on the Laikipia Plateau and/or Saruni Samburu further north – both fabulous and very much off the beaten track.  Our In Style sample itinerary combines Tortilis Camp in Amboseli with Borana in Lewa Downs and Serian in the Mara and can of course be adapted to suit you.

We also offer a week in the Mara for those who don’t want to move around too much and for whom the primary focus is wildlife.  You can combine Alex Walker’s  Ngare Serian camp with the Nkorombo mobile camp and a night in the ‘Nest’ – a treehouse overlooking the river – a fabulous safari combination. Serian also employs local Masai guides which enhances your experience with a cultural element. See a sample itinerary here.

Ngare Serian is a permanent camp set up on the Mara River with just six specious marquee  guest tents on hardwood decks. You access the lodge by a rope bridge.  The Nest suspended in an Elephant Pepper tree, is a treehouse over a salt lick on the Mara River, which you can walk to, guided by a Masai guide. The Masai keep watch from a distance while you enjoy fairytale privacy, game viewing, supper and a night under the stars. The treehouse is equipped with night vision camera, safari bathroom and a very comfortable nest for two. The Nkorombo mobile camp offers a different experience again, with just 5 traditional Meru style tents with ensuite facilities consisting of a bucket safari shower and flush loo. The salt lick harbours a variety of wildlife including black rhino, leopard and lion and gets you really close to the action.

Honeymoon idea: ask us about pre-booking a dawn hot air balloon flight over the Masai Mara, settling back down on the plains after an hour’s flight to a champagne bush breakfast.

There are more economical options in the private concessions bordering the Masai Mara. Karen Blixen Tented Camp sits on the banks of the river with 26 ensuite tents for example. You get all the benefits of being in a private concession but can keep costs down by staying at a slightly larger camp.

Very few visitors to Kenya get to explore the north – both Samburu and the Mathews Range  offer a fantastic experience and wonderful options for you. These areas offer a different more arid landscape, the Samburu people and their culture and a stay here combines perfectly with the big game of the Mara. Sarara Camp is our most northerly camp and really embodies off the beaten track.

Tanzania – Southern Parks and Islands

For a first time in Africa then Tanzania’s Northern Circuit is hard to beat, giving you that dense concentration of animals, diverse landscapes and a superb choice of camps and lodges.

But if you long to get off the beaten track and to see a quieter Africa then the Southern Parks of Selous and Ruaha can reap real rewards. We recommend you spend longer in each destination, 4 nights is a good amount of time in each park,  as the wildlife is certainly more challenging and unpredictable being spread out over a vast area. The best wildlife viewing is usually during the dry months of May to November time when wildlife concentrates around the water sources.

Ruaha is actually Tanzania’s largest national park. The mighty Ruaha River snakes along the southern border, with baobabs and floodplains fanning out from the river. You also have rolling hills. You fly into Ruaha from Dar es Salaam, a 3 hour flights, and then enjoy game drives from the camp/lodge you are staying at which can normally be accessed within an hour of the airstrip. This gives you an idea of the remote nature of the camps.

In Ruaha, if you really want to embrace the wild and remote nature of Ruaha, we recommend the small mobile tented camp, Kwihala by the Mwagusi Sand River. With just 6 tents Kwihala combines understated luxury in a very wild and beautiful environment. You have lots of comfort and a high level of service but its not flash or over the top. Tents have ensuite bathrooms with safari bucket showers (hot water!) and flush loo. Part of Asilia Camps, Kwihala gets incredible feedback with guiding at an exceptional level. You are unlikely to come across other safari vehicles and the area feels truly untamed. You can explore on foot, and enjoy game drives by day and night. This sort of rare environment does come at a price but you really do have a special experience.

If you prefer something more permanent and slightly less wild feeling, then the long established and more affordable Ruaha River Camp, run by the Fox family, would be our recommendation. It was the first camp in the park and gives you a very personal service even though perhaps looking slightly dated these days. There are 20+ individual stone and thatch riverside Bandas set over a hillside looking out over the Great Ruaha River and linked by two central mess areas. The bedroom and bathroom are really spacious. The Foxes’ children were raised here and so they are geared up for family stays. The location is really good with wildlife attracted to the river and it is not uncommon to find elephants strolling amidst the camp. Ruaha River Camp tends to be a more realistic option for many of our clients seeking the remote reaches of the southern parks but not wishing to completely blow the budget.

You can fly from Ruaha to the Selous, Tanzania’s other southern star. Selous Game Reserve is twice the size of the Serengeti with the Rufiji River at its heart and creating a network of swamps and channels. Virtually all of the lodges are in the northern tip of the reserve. We tend to use Rufiji River Camp, just inside the gate and again the original camp built by the Fox family, because of its superb location right on the river. You can explore by 4×4 here and by boat, a wonderful option. The camp is smaller than the one in Ruaha with just a dozen or so tents strung along the river bank with great views.

We also offer one of the newer lodges in the Selous, Azura Selous, formerly known as Amara Selous when it opened in 2010. There are only 8 tented rooms and the feel is smart and sophisticated. The location on the river is good although the camp is situated further west than the Rufiji Camp which is in the plum position for the densest wildlife. We know that Azura are keen to make Azura Selous a real beacon for expert guiding and hospitality and we look forward to seeing how they develop the camp. The manager is a keen photographer and knows where to go when!

See a sample southern Tanzania itinerary here.

Just as the Southern parks are less explored than the Northern parks, so is the southern coast and islands. Zanzibar attracts the vast majority of visitors attracted by the Spice Islands lush interior, atmospheric Stone Town with its magical architecture and markets. Very few people seem to make it to the quieter island of Pemba and Chumbe, both reached via Zanzibar but a very different prospec, or to the wondrous beaches and islands further south and accessible from Dar es Salaam.

Lazy Lagoon is a beach resort set on Bagamoyo island in the Zanzibar Channel around 80 km north from Dar . You reach the island by boat. It hit the headlines when Boris Johnson holidayed here and subsequently floated out into the Indian Ocean on his lilo! There are only 12 private beach bungalows or bandas with thatched roofs right on the beach with super ocean views – a great place to unwind.

While the alternative Mafia Island is accessed by a flight from Dar and is the Africa of old with sandy streets, overgrown ruins, few visitors and surrounded by a sensational marine reserve. We are fans of the laid back and rustic tree houses at Chole Mjini, or for more traditional comforts,  Pole Pole. Many people forget that you can enjoy white sand beaches lapped by the Indian Ocean at exceptionally good value by heading to the beaches south of Dar. This maximises holiday time by cutting out long journeys and makes great use of your budget. We love Protea Amani Beach and Ras Kutani.

Honeymoon idea: explore Pemba and enjoy the best of barefoot luxury with a stay at Fundu Lagoon. The small and laid back island of Pemba is Zanzibar’s sleepy and very beautiful neighbour.

South Africa Desert Dreaming – Tswalu Kalahari

South Africa offers a myriad romantic choices suitable for all levels of budget – from small guesthouses with individually styled rooms and lush gardens in the heart of the Cape winelands (we like Wedgeview and Akademie Street) to cool tented camps in Kruger, like Honeyguide Mantobeni.

There are places just perfect for romance, for that special occasion, like Grootbos on Walker Bay, or Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse in the Drakensberg Mountains with its sumptuous food. Very much off the beaten track in the midst of the Kalahari is Tswalu Kalahari, a very special safari lodge. Tswalu has it all – it has the dramatic landscape, it has the wildlife. Service is impeccable, food delicious and the 8 suites at The Motse are beautifully appointed with open fires, indoor and outdoor shower and private sundeck overlooking a watering hole.  It is so off the beaten track that many would struggle to pinpoint its positon on a map…

Honeymoon idea: combine the Kalahari with the Cape for a week of pure luxury. See sample itinerary here.

We want to be alone…

Africa’s most exclusive destinations

The number one question at travel shows from prospective clients looking at honeymoon options is: will it be busy? In answer, it depends very much on your budget and the season you wish to travel. Africa has plenty of places where you can escape the crowds; the most exclusive destinations being Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here you can really relish space. Camps are small, with only half a dozen or so tents,  and are located in remote and vast wild areas which need to be accessed by a light aircraft more often than not.  The emphasis is on the quality of experience with guiding exceptional.

Avoid the crowds and travel in the Green Season

If you are happy to travel out of peak season you can look forward to a real treat. The rains in Africa are often referred to as the Green or Emerald Season and although you can expect thundery showers every afternoon (perfect siesta time…) you can also expect to see wonderful dramatic skies, nursery herds, with many of the animals having calves and pups at this time of year , and a lush landscape with flowers on the plains and trees in fruit. To get a flavour of the Green Season check out this new’s post on Zambia.

Seek out quiet corners

Even in the world-famous Masai Mara in Kenya, it is possible to find hidden gems – there are private concessions surrounding the main national park where visitor numbers are strictly monitored.  These concessions, which you fly-in to, have a handful of small secluded camps tucked away along a river’s edge or in a quiet grove, like Alex Walker’s Serian. In the Mara North Conservancy for example,  there is a ratio of just 1 guest to 350 acres allowing the camps here to offer a premium safari experience and a chance to escape the crowds associated with certain times of year in the main national park where larger lodges operate at maximum capacity.

We would urge you to be realistic in your expectations and to discuss your requirements fully with us so we can advise accordingly – if you are heading to East Africa to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration then do not expect to be alone!

Please note: all of the suggestions made here can be tailored to suit you and to make a complete itinerary including flights from the UK.

To find out more about any of the properties or holiday ideas here please call us on 01603 283 517.

Because many of the camps and lodges detailed are very small, the most important thing is to contact us as early as you can in order to avoid disappointment!

By Sara White

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on the Okavango Delta in Botswana

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is a huge and unique inland river delta. The Okavango River flows into a low-lying and very flat area which has gradually silted up with sand from the Kalahari Desert.  The Okavango River originates in Angola but it never reaches the sea. Due to the large, flat and shallow area it drains into it ends up being held far away from the ocean. Some of the water drains into the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans creating a home for thousands of flamingos but most of it evaporates. There are larger river deltas in Africa on the Nile and the Niger but they feed into the sea unlike the Okavango. This makes the Delta a totally unique place with awe-inspiring scenery unlike anywhere else on earth.

The place is also very distinctive in that it changes dramatically from season to season, from one extreme to another. Every year in the spring the delta fills up with over 11cubic kms of water which spreads across an area of approx 10 square kms. The water comes from the rainfall over the Angolan highlands and peaks from June through to August during Botswana‘s dry months when the rainfall has dispersed across the delta into lakes, rivers and marshlands.

This huge amount water over a huge area creates a unique environment for both flora and fauna in this southern African nation. As the waters recede the landscape changes dramatically as it dries out and the animals and plants have to adapt to fit the changing environment. When the water levels are at their peak, the grazing is lush and the Delta provides one of the biggest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.

The Moremi National Game Reserve was set up to protect the area and its wildlife and it provides a fantastic wildlife experience for visiting tourists. Most visitors stay in the small, privately owned game lodges spread throughout the area. These tend to be small and exclusive with low environmental impact and only a handful of guests at a time.

One of the best ways of seeing the Okavango is from the air in a small airplane. The views are spectacular and this unique geographical attraction is mind-blowing in its scale. The delta itself is an anomaly as the surrounding landscape of Botswana is dry and arid.

The other great way of exploring the Delta is by mokoro the traditional dug-out canoe used by local for getting around. This way you are right down in on the surface of the water and you get up close and personal to the animals at this level.