Just back from… Uganda

Just back from… Uganda

At the end of last year Alex zoomed off to Uganda. She claims it was absolutely critical for business, and definitely not just to escape the British winter. In fairness though, since Rwanda’s gorilla permits have shot up to $1,500 per person (ouch!) we’ve seen a huge surge in people travelling to Uganda, so being tip-top up to date has helped us to give our travellers the inside edge.

Alex gives us the lowdown on her “definitely-all-work, not-at-all-fun” trip:

What makes a trip to Uganda special? Definitely the people- what’s so cool about Uganda is that unlike visiting reserves in many other African countries, you don’t just jet in and out of remote wildernesses, you get to meet local people. The vast majority of the lodges and camps are in little villages around the edges of the national parks, and you get much more of a sense of the country than you would in many other places.

The Bwindi Bar in Buhoma Village, Courtesy of Bwindi Lodge

Favourite bits? Oh gorilla trekking, obviously. I’ve done an awful lot of safari, but gorilla trekking is still one of the best wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. I should also mention that if you’re a birding geek, Uganda is stellar- obviously the star of the show is spotting a shoebill stork, but there are incredible birds everywhere.

Gorilla (c) Katie Fewkes

“Less favourite” (ahem!) bits? It rains in Uganda.  A LOT. Even in the dry season. If you’re a woman from wet Scotland, desperately hoping for some African sun, this is not ideal. Investing in decent waterproofs is key.

What’re the lodges like? Fab. Generally charming and deliberately pretty rustic, so I think you’d have to like the more atmospheric/authentic style of lodge.  If you want electricity that runs 24hrs and in-room wifi, you might find South Africa’s luxury safari lodges a safer bet.

Nkuringo Lodge

How would you plan a trip to Uganda? Uganda is so varied, I think there is plenty to do there in a 2-week standalone trip. For now, I’d say the safari probably doesn’t (yet) stand up against safari in Kenya or Tanzania, so if you want a serious big game safari, you may want to combine Uganda with one of its neighbours. However, I think the best way to see Uganda is to focus on what’s so special there- the birds, the primates, and the range of brilliant activities you can do outside a vehicle: hiking, mountain bike safaris, horse riding and boat safaris.

Mihingo Lodge Mountain Bike Safari

Top tips? Pack some binos- I’ve never used mine more than I did in Uganda. Also- make sure you understand your camera properly before you go- the bright light of the forest and the darkness of gorilla (or chimp) faces makes photography difficult, so this is not the time to start learning how to use your camera!

Insider tip: where to start your honeymoon when you’re tired from the wedding

It always seems such a shame that so many honeymooners jump right into an adrenaline-pumping safari when they’re still tired from the wedding and, more often than not, an exhausting overnight flight or two. So, wherever we can, we try to tempt our guests on a safari honeymoon to spend a day or two relaxing before they head off on their adventure. Here’s our pick of places to really relax…

Ras Kutani Honeymoon Relaxation

Lie back and relax at Ras Kutani

Ras Kutani– This ultra laid-back beach lodge is just a 20 minute light aircraft hop south of Dar es Salaam, so if your priority is to get your feet in the sand as quickly as possible it should be top of your list. There isn’t masses to do here except eat, sleep, snooze with your book and take a dip in the Indian Ocean. Ideal preparation for a safari in the Ruaha or Selous Game Reserve.

Wildwaters Lodge

Tub for two overlooking the Nile? Could be worse

Wildwaters– most people come to this luxury lodge beside the Nile for the excellent white water rafting that Jinja has to offer, however, the truth is that this tiny private island seems much better suited to doing nothing at all. The bathtubs out on the deck of your room are seriously romantic, and a dip in the pool just inches from the rapids would certainly be a great start to making life-long memories together. Follow this on with more magic with gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park.

Tongabezi Honeymoon

Sundowners on the Zambezi? Yes please.

Tongabezi– this charming, rustic lodge on the banks of the Zambezi is one of our dream spots to start a safari honeymoon. It just seems made for the sort of magic you don’t find elsewhere- lunar moonbows over Victoria Falls, swimming in the Devil’s Pool, and gentle early evening cruises to watch the sun set. From here, it’s an easy hop on to safari in the South Luangwa National Park.

Giraffe Manor Honeymoon

Making memories of a lifetime at Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor– OK- so this one technically does involve a little wildlife- aside from the giraffes that you’ll meet at breakfast there are also a few friendly warthogs scampering around the lawns. However, with a couple of nights here you can truly relax before the early starts and long drives of a safari in the Masai Mara.

Winelands

Wandering in the Winelands

The Winelands– South Africa’s Cape Winelands are a truly blissful spot to spend a few days, whether it’s snuggling up beside the fire on a chilly winter’s day or riding through the vineyards on a hot sunny afternoon. Staying in central Franschhoek is the place to be for buzzing restaurants and the (occasionally raucous) wine tram, but if your wedding was party enough, there are some peaceful boutique hotels tucked away in the vineyards. Afterwards use the direct flights from nearby Cape Town to get up to safari in the Okavango Delta or Kruger National Park.

Luck by name, and a pretty lucky safari: A trip report from Kenya, September 2017

Well, what can I say ! Another amazing trip Alex. Wonderful people and hospitality and the most fabulous wildlife I feel privileged to be able to see in real life.

Our guide, Clement, in Amboseli, lovely, charming man, very knowledgeable and went out of his way to try and get us a good position for the perfect photos.

Serena Lodge didn’t allocate us a view of the plains but it only needed a request to make that happen and it was done, no problems at all.  We think the staff may have been fascinated by our name, ‘Luck’ !  As they just kept saying ‘Luck’ to us, haha!

Governors Camp (NOTE: this is in the Masai Mara) gave us the river view, as we requested but on arrival I decided a tent overlooking the savannah would probably be better.  I asked if this was possible and they were very accommodating and said, ‘of course’ but would have to be on the second night.  They seemed a bit concerned that they only had tent 37 available, right up the end, kind of on it’s own, but I swear this is the best tent in the camp !  Not a sound from the other guests, no one walking past and was able to sit outside watching the giraffe and zebra during the day.  We were on our hands and knees at 3am peering though a gap in the tent door at this hippo munching the grass only 8 feet away!  Fabulous memories.  Lions bellowing all night, hippos and hyena making a racket too……love it 🙂

So, the balloon flight.  it was a amazing and thank god we did it as we wouldn’t have seen the Big 5 if we hadn’t.  It was Little Governors side of the river where the rhinos were.  I managed to snap a quick shot from the balloon of two but they were very far away.  I made it quite known to the guides how desperate Gary and I were to see at least one, they asked to see my photo, they knew exactly where it was and took us there on the way back and there they were.  How lucky were we to see this magnificent, endangered animal in the wild. 

As for the leopard…… Dickson searched tirelessly for the leopard for us, made constant phone calls to the other guides, spoke to the Masai en-route trying to find out exactly where they had been seen then low and behold, one leopard and her cub appeared from nowhere as we flew over the canopy the other side of the river in the balloon!   I was a very happy bunny 🙂  the captains of the balloons asked to see my photos as they were shocked she had a cub.

The food at Governors was really good and the staff were so lovely to us.  Again, seemed fascinated with our name! 

All in all, another amazing trip Alex, thank you.

Was going to attach a photo of The Big 5 for you but will only let me do two.  We were so lucky to see so many other amazing animals too, even a Genet, a Serval, a Wild Cat, a Bateleur eagle, a cheetah hunt, lions matting, ostriches matting and a HUGE hippo yawn !  I took 1700 photos!

Won’t be Africa for the next few years but will certainly be in touch next time it is.

Want to know what to expect on a gorilla trek? This is what: A full, detailed and honest report (with the writer’s own fuzzy photos)

You start with the sunrise, driving at dawn to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters. Here you’ll see guides, climbers, drivers and porters, getting ready for the adventures of the day- gorilla trekking and the various other treks that happen within the park. Tea and coffee is served in a small rondavel, and there are clean but simple loos. Your guide will head off with your passport and permit to negotiate your gorilla family allocation. Please just let him know how athletic you’re feeling- serious mountaineers and ultra-marathon lovers will be well rewarded by the challenging climb to the Susa group towards the top of the mountain, while those who prefer a gentler hike can request a gorilla family a little lower on the mountain. If you have an interest in a particular gorilla family- now’s your time to speak up!

As the guides negotiate, local Intore dancers normally perform for the visitors. It’s worth keeping a little cash handy if you feel you want to tip for this- we certainly did, not least for such an impressive feat of athleticism so early in the morning. Once negotiations are made and deals are done, you’ll be assigned your gorilla family and head into the gardens for a briefing. Our guide introduced us to our gorilla family- the Giraneza group- until recently a research family and only just opened up to visits from the public. We were told to expect one big silverback- in fact, one of the biggest- and two young babies as well as their mothers and some teenage black-backs.

Gorilla Trekking Rwanda breifing

Pre-gorilla trek briefing

 

We also introduced ourselves to fellow trekkers- this is usually a group of eight. Gorilla trekking, like much in Rwanda, is egalitarian- all permits are equal, so no matter if you’re staying in the $2,000 a night lodge or backpacking, you’re all united by an interest in the gorillas. Your group are also a great support- a gang whose intriguing conversation makes you forget the steepness of the mountains and who will (hopefully) cheerfully rest alongside you if you are in desperate need of a gulp of water or a breather.When you leave park HQ most trekkers drive for 20-40 mins to a designated starting point on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. We rumbled up a bumpy road into a village, where numerous blue uniformed porters were waiting for us in the car park.

If you trek during the rains, or aren’t an enthusiastic hiker we’d strongly recommend taking a porter- they’ll add hugely to your comfort and your enjoyment of the gorilla trek. In our group porters were helping to carry day bags, lending a steadying hand on slippery paths, and providing firm shoves when the path became too steep. And while it’d be easy to see having a porter as a luxury, anything you pay your porter is providing much needed income not just to the porter, but their dependents (who could easily number as many as 10) too. There’s a rotation to make sure that different porters benefit from the income from each group of visitors, so this does a huge amount of good in the community.

As we left our car park, we took our sticks and marched up through fields where the villagers were growing potatoes (locally referred to as “Irish Potatoes”, presumably to distinguish them from “sweet potatoes”) and pyrethrum flowers for insecticide.  This took around 20 minutes. Next, we clambered over the stone wall that separates Volcanoes National Park from the farmland, and from here on in it was steep and sometimes slippery terrain up to the gorillas. Our guide was in constant radio contact with trackers who’d followed the gorillas since they woke up that morning. The Giraneza group was considered to be a “medium” level of difficulty to reach and it took us around two hours to reach them. Our guides and porters found the trek pretty easy, but while we trekkers enjoyed friendly conversation, some of the less fit members struggled and we stopped several times for everyone to catch their breath. The path was a couple of feet wide between shoulder-high plants and nettles (and my goodness- the nettles!!!). These nettles are something else. They’re shoulder height and a brush past, or a sit down, even wearing jeans, resulted in some fairly ferocious prickles. I would definitely recommend wearing lightweight, water/thornproof long-sleeved shirts and trousers.

Gorilla Trekking Volcanoes National Park

Walking from the car park to the start of the trek

Just before you see the gorillas you will meet up with the trackers who have been following them since they left their nest at dawn. Here, you take out your essential valuables and leave your day bag behind with the porters- this is to stop the gorillas from being tempted to investigate the contents of your bag too closely!  You’ll also leave your sticks behind at this point- we were told this was because many gorillas had bad memories of poachers with sticks. Now we knew we were close, we were all tremendously excited. Following our ranger, we headed straight into the thick bushes, using a sharp panga to clear a path through the last 200m till we reached the gorillas.

First we saw Giraneza himself- the huge, placid silverback who was far too busy chewing leaves to let us disturb him. He was perched a little further up the hill than the rest of his family, keeping an eye on them all.  It was roughly at this point I wished I’d spent a bit more time setting up my camera in advance- my first gorilla photos were dark, or blurry, or out of focus (or more probably, all three).  We could quite easily have spent our allocated hour with the gorillas watching Giraneza alone, but our guides gently tore us away to where the two mothers and babies of the group were playing and feeding- seeming so human it almost felt intrusive to watch. The babies tried to climbed trees and fell off, scrambled over Mamma like she was just another rock, and treated big, strong, (and frankly rather impressive) Dad like a large and boring climbing frame.  Although we’d been briefed that that the Giraneza group also has some young black-backs, in typical teenage style they were far too busy having fun in the forest to pay attention whatsoever to their visitors, so we barely saw them.

Our hour passed in a flash, we reluctantly headed back to collect our day bags, saying goodbye to our trackers and tipping them. Afterwards it was around an hour’s downhill hike back to the car, and then our porters said their goodbyes and returned to the village, while we returned to our lodge for a hearty lunch.

 

A few recommendations from our gorilla trek:

  • If your budget stretches two gorilla treks are absolutely worthwhile, and that doing one is a bit like doing one game drive. Great, but definitely room for a lot more.
  • Stinging nettles sting hard. Even through jeans, so look out!
  • During the rainy season it can be very, very wet, with deep mud up to knee height- waterproof trousers would be essential at this time.
  • Learning how to use your camera and setting it up for shooting in the rainforest before you arrive will save you valuable time during your precious hour with the gorillas. It’s also worth turning the sound off so that you don’t disturb them.
  • Seriously consider taking a porter!

Trip Report: South Luangwa, Zambia, October 2016

Hi Alex,

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner; as you suspected we’ve been busy at work!
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

The Zambia trip you arranged for us was better than we ever could have expected it to be. I’ve completely run out of superlatives when trying to describe it to everyone who has asked! We were both amazed and extremely grateful for how brilliantly you interpreted what we wanted despite the vagueness of our initial phone call to you! The choices of camps was perfect too, enabling us to get a varied experience of different areas of the park. Thank you so much.
Other than your exemplary planning and choices there were a few particular highlights that made the whole trip even more wonderful which we would like to bring to your attention. Foremost amongst these was Nkonzi Camp in general. In the itinerary this seemed to be the (relatively) “unknown” component, having opened so recently and a relatively small online presence. It was, however, one of the best places we’ve ever been. We were particularly lucky I suppose in that we were the only guests for our time there (goodness knows why!), but I’m sure it would have been just as marvellous if it were full. Gavin Opie, the owner/guide, was astonishingly good, both as a host and guide, imparting Attenborough-esque information about the wildlife and wider ecosystem whilst ensuring a brilliantly relaxing yet unintrusive level of hospitality. Nkonzi truly made us feel like guests rather than customers (if that makes sense). Another aspect of Gavin’s camp which was very important to us was his ethics of guiding and construction of his camp. In contrast to some of the other lodges he rigidly enforced the policy of not driving off-road, instead parking and, if safe, walking off-road to get a better view.
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Flatdogs was a brilliant introduction to safari, providing a huge choice of food and all mod cons whilst maintaining a sense of authenticity. The views from the tents are particularly impressive. Just in the first few hours we spent at our tent we saw more wildlife than we had expected to see for the entire trip!
Finishing at Kakuli was the perfect way to round off the trip in luxury. Again, the views from the tent were incredible – over the maintained waterhole on to the confluence of the Luwi and Luangwa rivers. As we had almost become used to, elephants were regular (and close!) visitors, meaning even our time in camp between drives was spent with camera and binoculars in hand!
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Other than this we obviously saw some amazing sights. I took over 2,500 photos and am still sorting through many of them! Once I’ve selected the best and uploaded them somewhere I’ll send you a link! I’ve copied a couple of them below for now (although compressed and unprocessed!). Some of our highlights though were: sitting in the middle of a lion hunt at night, tracking and finding a leopard on foot, watching a mating pair of lions, walking closely around a large herd of buffalo at sunset, seeing a leopard about 15 metres away in broad daylight and seeing two fresh leopard kills (both impala) in trees.
(c) Chris Tuckley

(c) Chris Tuckley

Again, thank you so much for arranging such a wonderful holiday. If there are any ways in which we could endorse you somehow online just let us know where is best and we’ll get onto it! We’ll of course be back in touch soon to arrange our next safari and future ones after that.
Best regards,
Chris & Charlotte

Kenya Family Safari: A trip Report

Dawn and Leo took their honeymoon in Kenya, and returned this August with their two sons. This is their report:

Hi Alex,

So sorry that I haven’t been in touch sooner. We really got caught up in our trip, and I stayed away from email and any connection with the outside world. It was lovely.

We had an absolutely wonderful trip! Every single thing went off without a hitch, and I could not be more grateful to you for making it happen. Every transfer was smooth, and every pick up and drop off was as scheduled. After such a long journey, it was so reassuring to have someone waiting for us with our name on a sign.

We loved our choice of destinations and are glad that we spent so much time in the Mara. As you predicted, Amboseli was very dusty, but it did not ruin our time there. We saw tons of elephants as I had hoped, and Kilimanjaro was cooperative for almost an entire day.

 

Sundowners overlooking Mt Kilimanjaro from the Amboseli Serena

The Amboseli Serena was perfectly situated for our activities, and the rooms and food were great. Food is a very big deal for my teenaged boys, and all of our meals everywhere were very plentiful and terrific.

Food at Karen Blixen Camp- you’ll never go hungry on a safari!

The Mara Serena was just as we remembered, and the views from that lodge are unmatched by any place I’ve ever stayed in the world. Despite its size, the lodge remained quiet and serene, except for the dining room which was just fine for a family. The game viewing in the (Ed: Mara) Reserve was tremendous, and the scenery was spectacular! Being there for the migration was so much better than when we were there last (January). We saw so much more wildlife and all those wildebeest….simply amazing! We were lucky to see two river crossings (one with a croc trying unsuccessfully to eat), and we will never forget the feeling of excitement and anticipation….there are truly no words to adequately describe it.

The view Dawn describes from the Mara Serena

The Mara North Conservancy did not disappoint either, and we were very impressed by how close we were able to get to the wildlife compared to the Reserve. After leaving the somewhat shiny and semi-luxurious surroundings at the Serena, I was very concerned that the Karen Blixen Camp would not measure up. I am happy to say I was mistaken. Karen Blixen was extremely comfortable, had fantastic food and is perfectly situated for game viewing on the river. The staff was exceptional, and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable. We were very well attended to, and the staff made sure to check on us frequently. We felt so much more important than we usually do on vacation! We loved the eco-aspect of the Camp and how well the employees are treated. The employees raved about the camp owner and how well they are treated compared to other camps. After spending some time in Africa, one feels like an overindulged Westerner, so it was great see a camp that tries to spread the wealth and treat people properly.

Karen Blixen Camp Staff

One of my biggest concerns about this trip was worrying that it was not long enough. However, ten days in Kenya seemed like a month. We were/are exhausted and would not have wanted to do another thing more. I loved spending the bulk of time in the Mara and am so glad that we didn’t have to trek from place to place every two days. As you know, travel there is so hard and tiring, and we enjoyed just soaking in the surroundings for days on end.

Game viewing from Karen Blixen Camp

All in all, it was a spectacular trip, and I don’t think we will ever be able to top it! I can go on and on for days about it but I will spare you for now! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have or if you would like me to post a review somewhere. I cannot thank you enough for all of your help, advice, tips and recommendations. You were spot on and provided honest and extremely thorough guidance. Nothing was left to chance, and I felt so much more knowledgable than I did going into other trips. Thank you for helping us to have this most special trip.

I am very late this morning and must run out the door, but will be happy to tell you more later! I’ll also send a photo when I muddle  through the 1200 I took!

Thank you for EVERYTHING, Alex!

Very best and warm regards,
Dawn

 

It’s not very often that emails from our clients make us cry, but this one succeeded.

Dear Alex
We have just arrived home from our fantastic trip to Namibia and I felt I had to get in touch before our feet touch the ground and it is all still fresh in my mind.
(c) Vicki Walton

(c) Vicki Walton

From beginning to end the trip was amazing – I’m sorry if I am going to use too many superlatives here! The organization was spot on with no glitches at all.  We were met at all the necessary points and transferred to the camps with ease and efficiency and the accommodation was superb, so comfortable and the staff everywhere very welcoming with their cold towels and drinks! We have been wined and dined in style!
Namibia itself really is truly wonderful – such space and the silence was golden!  We loved the flights in the light aircraft and felt we saw so much from the air, far more than if we had been driving. One of the most memorable flights was over the red sand dunes, and up the Skeleton Coast with flamingos flying beneath us! The lunch on the beach was also unforgettable!

We had fun sliding down the sand dunes to make them roar – (we’d never heard of that happening before) and the visit to the Himba village was an eye opener and also quite humbling to see how other people live and survive.

We were also fortunate enough to see the desert near Serra Cafema in flower following recent rain and were told that is a once every 7 or 8 year event. The elephants and giraffe were enjoying the feast!
The sundowners will always be remembered – popping over the border into Angola for a G&T with the crocs and another occasion we were nearly joined by an inquisitive elephant!
There are so many more things to tell you about and when I have edited the photos I’ll send some to you. We have passed you name on to another couple whose experiences were not quite so good as ours
Thank you so much for organising  a really fantastic trip in Extraordinary Africa.
Kindest regards
Vicki & Peter

“Seeing animals isn’t the point of mokoro, it’s bringing your heart closer to the water.”

Listening to our briefing in the baking sun of a late November afternoon safari in the Okavango Delta, it was hard to get excited about anything at all. We’d spent an exciting, but long and very hot morning on a game drive. After lazy lunch, adding another hour to my afternoon siesta seemed far more appealing than abandoning my bed at Little Vumbura for a wobbly dugout canoe. We were warned not to move around too much- “I have seen these capsize often,” said our poler, and not to trail our hands in the water for too long. Not because of hungry crocs apparently- it just made steering the mokoro more difficult.

Mokoro trip

Once we climbed aboard our mokoros and lowered ourselves gently into the seats, peace descended. I picked the back seat so I could snooze discreetly behind my sunglasses and bush hat if the heat overwhelmed me (and while sleeping would’ve been an utterly disgraceful waste of precious hours in the bush, it really was very hot). However, though the mokoro ride was the embodiment of tranquillity- this is Botswana’s equivalent to punting- and despite my tiredness, sleeping suddenly seemed a lot like missing out.

Travelling up front on hippo duty, our guide made sure the waterways were clear of unexpected four-legged surprises. Behind, our mokoro poler engaged us with tales of growing up in Botswana, and issued us with a challenge to spot the tiny Angolan reed frogs clinging to the top of swaying stems. We learnt the difference between night-time and day-time water lillies, how the jelly of the water shield plant could be used as sunscreen, and glided up on a pair of ducks so quietly that they shot away from us with startled squawks.

Reed Frog

Our mokoro ride ended as all good days in Africa should: watching the sun set with a cold G&T on a sand island as a family of elephants padded silently past. Afterwards we floated serenely home, listening to the calling frogs and watching the poler in front silhouetted against the light of the setting sun.

(Please excuse any fuzziness- all pictures the author’s own)

A typical day on safari (AKA how to fall in love with Africa)

Quite often, when I meet people at dinner parties, they’re rather cynical about my passion for African safaris, so rather than giving the standard spiel about the night I got stalked by a lion, the way I try to explain to them (convert them to the safari cause) is by telling them about a typical day on safari.

06:00- Wake up. Normally 6am is unacceptably early. I’m generally pulling the duvet covers back over my head and ignoring whoever is attempting to talk to me. On safari I’m lured up by the waft of fresh African coffee and the beaming smile with which it is delivered to my tent.

06:15- On back of open four wheel drive for game drive. Bit chillier than my bed. Air smells of damp dust. Oddly excited.

ame drive in the Masai Mara from Offbeat Mara

Game drive from Offbeat Mara, Kenya

11:00– Back at camp. Can you believe it? We saw a leopard and a family of elephants and had a proper cooked breakfast in the bush.  And an eagle stole my bacon, and we passed a lion cub but it didn’t care, and did you know giraffes don’t make a sound? And, and, and….

13:30- Gosh this lunch is fun. The pasta’s scrumptious, the wine is good, and I really shouldn’t have laughed at that story I just heard but I couldn’t help it and now my sides hurt.

14:45- On bed. Nap is nothing short of utterly languorous.  Half way through I woke up up blissfully warm, utterly relaxed, and listened to the crunch of an ellie eating branches outside my room. Not 100% sure if this is real or a slightly sleepy dream.

16:30- Tea done, cake eaten, off on game drive. Anticipation in the air. Fingers crossed we see a rhino.

Safari sundowners

Sundowner with RPS in Zambia

18:30- Not the remotest sign of a rhino all afternoon. I wanted to see a rhino. Fortunately we saw baby ellies. And while I’m not the sort to repost pictures of adorable animals on Facebook, baby ellies really are implausibly cute. Did you know when they get tired they suck their trunks like a human sucks their thumb? And they rest their trunks on their tusks when they get sleepy? Anyway, right now the sun’s going down, and we’ve stopped to perch on the bonnet of our landrover. Cold beers and cashew nuts, looking out over golden grasses and setting sun. The world is OK.

20:00- Back in camp. Showered under the stars. Sharing dinner with my guide, and some fascinating guests. Roughly this is the best dinner party I’ve ever been to.

23:00 – To bed- night!

23:15- Noises outside. Is that definitely a hippo? Or a lion who might want to eat me…?

Tempted? View our Extraordinary picks.

What is a boat safari like? A personal experience.

The first thing I should admit is that I wasn’t exactly canoeing down the Zambezi. Rather, as the lone wildebeest of the group, I’d been put in the guide’s boat and was admiring his broad shoulders and efficient paddling. And pretending to be paddling hard myself every time he turned around to ask how I was getting along. Obviously.

Canoe Safari on the Zambezi

Canoe Safari on the Zambezi

If you’re considering a boat safari  the main thing to know is that it usually isn’t terribly hard work, even when you’re actually paddling yourself. You’re usually headed downstream, following the current with stops to inspect interesting birds, take a walking safari to stretch your legs or take a snooze on a sandbank. A snooze on a sandbank?  On the ground? Was this safe, I enquired? What about thehipposandthecrocsandthesnakesand….?  Well, nothing on safari is guaranteed safe (though crossing a road in London or New York isn’t 100% safe either), but I can confirm that once I got over my terrors I spent a blissful hour under the trees, listening to the lullaby of a fish eagle’s call and desperately hoping that I hadn’t snored in public.

When we first embarked on our canoe safari we were briefed about how to behave if we fell into the water (“Don’t do it”), but the closest we came to hippo was admiring the mighty tusks of a distant yawn. At night we were advised to keep close to the tents (hippos hop out to graze the riverbanks after dark), counted shooting stars, and chatted to our guides about life in the bush.

Boat safari

Camp on our canoe safari

By day, life adapted a gentle rhythm. A somewhat early start, grumbling offset by a gloriously early sunrise, followed by a morning’s paddling on our canoe safari. Lunch (“Oh- I shouldn’t have a glass of wine. OK, I will then”) and then snooze. Later, a walking safari watching eagles and ellies and eland. (If the latter doesn’t sound too exciting, imagine an animal that can weigh nearly a tonne jumping a pile of logs taller than a man). Later, sundowners, dinner, and bed, being sung to sleep by crickets and chomping hippos.

Zambezi canoe safari

Early evening arrival in camp on our canoe safari

In all- a boat safari is probably something I’d combine with a big-game fix to make sure you get enough cat sightings in, but absolutely magical in its own right and not to be missed.