You are honestly not going to believe this, but I have literally just sat down to start typing a message to you when yours came through! We arrived back early yesterday morning, came home, had a shower and went straight to work – brutal but the best way to slot into a normal routine and get over the jet lag.
We cannot thank you enough for all your help with arrangements, and your patience with all our questions. Without a shadow of a doubt this has been the trip of a lifetime! It was short, but felt like we were away for months – yet neither of us wanted to come home and could’ve quite happily have stayed in the Serengeti 🙂 We cannot fault the arrangements – transfers were smooth, accommodation was brilliant and the people very friendly and attentive. Really appreciate your help with the extra night hotel stay after Kili – we could’ve stayed another night at Mweka camp, however the shower and soft bed was most welcome 🙂
This might sound a little bit nonchalant / arrogant, but we didn’t find Kili that challenging – apart from summit night. It was at the end of Day 2 when we spoke with the guides about the upcoming days and they said based on our fitness and pace the walks for the next couple of days would only be about an hour a day. We struggled with the decision overnight and the morning of Day 3 decided to divert and join the Machame route. Absolutely no regrets as Day 4 was both our favourites – climbing the Baranco Wall and the Lava Tower. I think the altitude of the Lava Tower (hike high, sleep low) help with our acclimatisation – thankfully neither of us felt the effects of it. But summit night was still a big challenge, and we were both so relieved to have made it to the top.
The Serengeti was superb! We both fell in love with Grumeti Tented Camp – the setting and layout of the camp is nice and intimate and just beautiful. The hippos add a great touch to it, even though a bit scary when they brush past the tents at night. We were very fortunate to have seen the migration at both camps in the end too! Talk about being lucky!
I will be writing photography based blogs on the different portions of the trips, and will send them over as soon as they are done. Although it may take a while – I downloaded around 4,000 photos last night, and now need to make the selections for editing…
Let us know how and where is best for us to submit a review for you 🙂
Bernard & Nick
We had a cup of coffee last week with Shaun Davy, who even brought some African sunshine to Edinburgh with him! Shaun and his family created the amazing Amanzi and Anabezi Camps in the Lower Zambezi in Zambia so we seized the opportunity to ask him a few questions about setting up the camps and his personal highlights of safari in the Lower Zambezi. Read on for the local’s lowdown…
What’s it like building a camp from scratch and why did you choose the Lower Zambezi?
Difficult and rewarding. We have one of the most remote camps in the park so the planning and logistics were challenging to say the least. The nearest hardware store is a 14-hour round trip from camp, but that is how you create a special place – build something beautiful in a beautiful place. The Lower Zambezi has got to be one of the most under visited parks in the region, and we wanted to find a way to share it with people.
What do you love about the Lower Zambezi?
The pure beauty of the place, the Zambezi is an iconic river that runs through one of the last accessible wildernesses. To be able to experience this place through so many different activities like canoeing, boating and walking makes the Lower Zambezi a must-do safari experience.
With so many choices, what type of safari do you prefer and why?
I love being on a boat floating down the Zambezi, there is something special about letting nature pull you through one of its great spectacles.
What’s been your best wildlife encounter ?
I was on a game drive and we came across a herd of elephants that were all around us. We stopped under a tree to get out of the afternoon sun and observe the herd. Suddenly there were small pieces of bark that started dropping into the vehicle, we looked up and in the tree directly above us was a female leopard who we had not seen but had obviously sought shade in the tree. There was a moment of panic, for all involved, as the leopard decided how it was going to vacate the tree. Fortunately, our guide quickly reversed and the leopard settled back down and allowed me to take one of my most cherished wildlife shots.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re in camp?
Are there any favourite wildlife visitors to camp?
There are six cubs who were born this year to the two daughters of a lone lioness called Guvu (her name means ‘lump’ because she has a growth on the side of her belly). She came to the Anabezi area by herself, fought three males who attacked her, fought them again to protect her two cubs, which she raised to adulthood, and she has now single-handedly established a pride in the area. A real testament to survival and motherhood.
And what about memorable experiences for guests in camp?
About two years ago a leopard killed an impala and dragged the kill under Tent 7. The guests in that tent were woken up to the sound of crunching bones. They were thrilled, but we were forced to move them because the leopard left the carcass under their tent and came back to feed the following night; it was not the sound that bothered the guests but the smell that was a bit much!
Huge thanks to Shaun for the interview and we’re all now hoping we can get back to the Lower Zambezi so very soon!
We had a lovely interview with Tony Zephania, one of the walking guides at Namiri Plains. Tony has had an inspiring career, starting off as a waiter for a safari camp before his enthusiasm for all things wildlife shone through and he was entered into the Asilia training programme to become a fully fledged safari guide. He is now one of Asilia Africa’s head guides and, as Tony puts it himself, “a childhood dream has come to life”. Read on to hear more about his love of the smaller wildlife, and some of his experiences on safari.
Can you tell us more about Asilia’s Trainee Guide Programme?
So the duration of the initial walking training was 30 days – this was safe rifle handling, elephant rifle shooting and safe walking how to approach and avoid dangerous animals. Then I did a year as a backup guide with a very experienced walker – totalling to 100 hours of walking – then I was coached and assessed as a lead walking guide for 20 hrs. Fortunately I had learned well as a backup guide and I passed.
What’s the best part of your job?
Birdwatching and exploring the small life on a walking safari.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
When guests come in with high expectations of big game and on walking safaris that is not what we are looking for – we appreciate the smaller life in the bush – who are just as exciting. I also struggle with guests who do not speak English so I take more time with them to ensure they understand.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not with guests?
I like spending my time watching or listening to wildlife programmes. I also like to sit with my guides and discuss work challenges and how to overcome them.
What animals do you enjoy seeing on safari?
Birds mainly, but for large mammals, I enjoy watching elephants.
How many miles do you end up walking every day?
Depends what we come across and what we see and what the guests want out of their walk- but on average 3 miles a day.
What’s the best experience you’ve had on safari?
When I saw for the first time an elephant giving birth in Ruaha and it was almost dark but I could see everything. So very special and a moment I will never forget.
Have you had any amusing experiences with either animals or guests?
Yes! One of my guests jumped out of the car when we were viewing a leopard and the leopard climbed out of the tree. He did this to impress his fellow photographic friends who had been waiting for hours for the leopard to move. He thought it was very funny but it was so dangerous.
Huge thanks to Tony from Namiri Plains Safari Camp for answering all our questions. Namiri Plains is currently undergoing a complete refurb, and we’re super excited to see how the renovated camp looks once it reopens in Autumn 2019.
1. Stay in eco-friendly lodges
We can help you choose lodges with eco-friendly credentials such as Mwaleshi in Zambia’s remote North Luangwa, or Mumbo Island in Malawi for the true Robinson Crusoe getaway. Many of these lodges are powered from solar panels, use compostable loos, and will recycle as much as possible. Even if a lodge doesn’t have particular credentials, you can still do your bit by reducing the number of towel changes in your accommodation, kindly refusing any plastic straws in your sundowners, and trying not to use too many paper napkins.
2. Choose lodges that give back to the local community
Many of the lodges we use make various forms of charitable contributions to the local area to help with sustainable tourism and other benefits to the environment. Serra Cafema is one lodge where nearly all the staff are locals, and the land is leased to the Himba people for their livestock grazing. Make your own contribution by helping with “Pack for a Purpose” which is widely recognised by a lot of the lodges we use. This involves packing items that will be of use to the area you are travelling to and handing them over to your accommodation when you arrive for distribution. Let us know if you’d like to contribute and we can suggest some suitable items depending on your destination.
3. Consider alternative modes of transport
Walking and horse riding safaris are the obvious choices here, but how about looking at a mountain bike safari, or for those who’d like a more relaxed version of a biking safari, there’s the option of hiring e-bikes as well. A few of the lodges, Lewa Wilderness being one, are now adopting electric safari vehicles too, many of which are being charged through solar panels back at the lodge. Another option would be a leisurely canoe down one of the many rivers, in particular the Okavango Delta, Botswana in a mokoro.
4. Use a reusable water bottle
Often these will be supplied by lodges to be used instead of sipping out of plastic cups, and can often be taken home with you afterwards to continue the good work at home! Many bottles will also claim to keep your drinks ice cold for up to 24 hours, perfect for those long days on safari in the midday heat.
5. Take a reusable shopping bag
Foldaway shopping bags take up very little space in your luggage and will eliminate the need for plastic bags during your trip. These would be especially useful if you’re planning a trip to the shops in places like Cape Town, Zanzibar and Nairobi. Tanzania have also now banned plastic bags completely, so all the more reason to go prepared!
6. Meet the local community
Take a trip into the local villages to meet the locals and browse the local shops. These shops will provide you with much more authentic gifts and souvenirs than the larger hotel gift shops, and it will help to inject some money back into the local area. If you’re off gorilla trekking in Uganda, be sure to visit the Bwindi Bar in Buhoma for a refreshing drink or a quick bite to eat.
1. Running with a Maasai Warrior
If you’re looking to keep active whilst on safari, how about buddying up for a run with a local Maasai? Cottar’s 1920s Camp will organise one of their Maasai staff to keep you company while you make your way through the bush. The question is, can you run as fast as them?!
Do you enjoy the odd dabble with a paint brush? The lovely Saruni Mara has themed cottages, of which one, The Artist’s Studio, has a collection of drawing materials and an easel for you to let your imagination go wild, and the scenery out the window will keep you enthralled for hours.
3. Star Gazing
What could be better than being surrounded by silence, miles from the nearest town, in the middle of the Namib Desert and watching the stars above in the inky black sky through your skylight whilst lying in the comfort of your bed? Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in Namibia has just this. If you’re really serious about your star gazing, they also have their own state of the art observatory where, each evening, you can join resident astronomers who will guide you around Namibia’s skies. The reserve here is Africa’s only International Dark Sky Reserve.
4. E-Bike Safari
Plenty of camps offer mountain biking safaris but how about taking the pressure off the legs a bit and trying out an e-bike. Similar to a conventional mountain bike, but with a battery added to it, these bikes will give you an extra helping hand to haul you up the hills, giving you more energy to enjoy the views.
Cottar’s 1920s camp have six e-bikes available (four guests and two guides).
5. White water Rafting
If you’re after a way to cool off while getting the adrenaline pumping, then how about a trip to the Zambezi River for some white water rafting? Along from the Victoria Falls are 70km of warm and fairly turbulent water offering some of the most exhilarating grade 5 rapids in Africa as it surges along the Batoka Gorge. A perfect base for a little post-rafting luxury would be the Royal Livingstone, a 15 minute walk from the Victoria Falls.
Lovely feedback from our guests who visited South Africa.
As you know we got home on Friday and because we launched straight into a busy weekend I haven’t written sooner to say an enormous thank you to you for arranging what was a truly wonderful holiday. We really did have the most amazing time – everything worked like clockwork ( apart from the elephant on the runway at Shukuza!!!!!!) and we said so many times while we were there how clever you had been to send us to all the different places which we loved in all their different ways.
It was lovely when we first arrived to have three days at Montusi to switch off and revel in those views – we thought we couldn’t go better!
Three Tree Hill lodge was perfect, Fugitives Drift even better and then the joy of seeing all the animals at the next two places (Notten’s and Makakatana [ed]). We felt incredibly lucky seeing so many animals although I think the highlight had to be seeing a female leopard one day sleeping and then the following day up a tree with her kill! We also saw a fabulous male leopard who strolled by the jeep so close we could have just reached out and stroked him!
There is a danger I could get far too carried away with superlatives but we did just want to say a really big thank you. We saw so much…….. scenery, culture, animals, not to mention being thoroughly pampered everywhere we went with fabulous food and drink as well as meeting so many lovely people in the lodges. The staff couldn’t have looked after us better giving us such welcomes either on arrival or when we got back from our various expeditions.
We can understand how you love it!
If we can ever recommend anyone to come your way we will…..
With love Jenny
Sob! If you were (like us) gripped by Sunday’s episode of Dynasties, the latest David Attenborough documentary, you’ll be saddened to hear that David (alpha male chimp, not the presenter) has been killed, beaten to death by the younger males in the group. Watching the documentary, it was hard not to cheer this strong, brave, chimp. Desperately wounded in an attack under the cover of darkness, he battled his way back to leadership of the troop. Sadly, this was not to last. He was killed 7 months after filming finished as the males in the group battled it out for dominance and the chance to mate with the female chimps.
Watching Dynasties, it is all too easy to recognise the politics at play. Chimpanzees are our second closest relatives (the closest are bonobos, found only in the DRC) and perpetually push the boundaries of what it means to be human.
Once it was thought that only human beings used tools, and then chimps were found to use twigs for fishing termite mounds and rocks as weapons. For a while it was thought that only humans could smile, but now we know that chimps also smile. Equally, it was once thought true that only humans were self-aware, but chimps (and also magpies) have been shown to recognise themselves in a mirror. Chimps share 95-98% of our DNA, can catch our diseases, and have, in captivity, learned simple sign language.
The best places to track chimpanzees
Chimps are found only in Africa, living in the patches of forest which once made up the equatorial rainforest belt. Seeing them in real life can be as moving, fascinating, and at times, as terrifying as Dynasties showed.
The Mahale Mountains in Tanzania is one of our all-time dream destinations for chimp trekking- not only does it have chimpanzees, but the setting is glorious- mist covered mountains tumbling down to the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika. The downside of Mahale is that it’s remote and can be costly to get to, so many more people go to see the chimpanzees in either Rwanda or Uganda.
Rwanda’s chimps are found near to Nyungwe Forest, a mecca for birding and hiking and a nice add-on to a few days of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. In Uganda you are spoilt for choice- probably the best-known place for chimp trekking is Kibale Forest, where sightings of the chimps are usually very reliable. Here, you can also take part in chimpanzee habituation, heading out for the full day with the park rangers to try to acclimate chimps to human presence. Further north, just outside Murchison Falls National Park, you can track chimps in Budongo Forest- many of the excellent guides here were trained by Disney, so they’re excellent at really capturing the magic of the chimpanzees. For those visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can also track chimps at Kyambura Gorge, making chimps in the morning and elephants in the afternoon an entirely reasonable possibility.
If you’re not sure which option would suit you best, we’ve tried them all, so just ask us to point you in the right direction!
While the UK was having a second winter, Alex somehow found an urgent reason to jet off to the Seychelles. I think we call it “research”. Well, that’s what she’ll tell you, anyway.
Alex gives us the lowdown on her island-hopping trip to the Seychelles
What makes the Seychelles so special? The beaches are ridiculously lovely, especially on some of the outer islands, and they have a wonderfully safe, relaxed and peaceful feel.
Favourite bits? I was totally charmed by La Digue where there aren’t really any cars, so guests cruise sedately around on bicycles and golf carts. It was incredibly tranquil and the hotel I was staying at (Le Domaine De L’Orangeraie) had an amazing spa right up on the hill, so you could have a massage looking out at the island and the ocean- bliss.
Seeing the giant tortoises on Denis Island was pretty special too- the oldest, Toby is 120 years old. Though his age didn’t stop him chasing after Clara, a mere whippersnapper in her 60s.
“Less favourite” (ahem!) bits? There were a couple of fairly bland resorts I wasn’t too excited about – names hidden to protect the innocent (ish)… The laid-back island-style of the Seychelles generally works best with the smaller hotels, though there are some excellent exceptions to this. There are some seriously lovely resorts, especially at the top end, but some of the more mass-market places were pretty unexciting. Given the cost of getting to the Seychelles I think you’d want to feel like you were somewhere really special, so I’ve put those onto my “steer clear” list.
What’re the hotels like? Utterly charming and not as glitzy as you might expect. The Seychelles has quite a glamorous reputation, but the hotels, even the really high-end ones, in fact- especially the really high-end ones, have a very laid-back feel to them. If you turned up wearing heels and dripping in diamonds you might feel quite out of place.
How would you plan a trip to the Seychelles? Well, BA’s direct flights to the Seychelles started at the end of May, making this a really easy combo with a safari in Kenya or South Africa. Or, if you have more time to spare, island hopping in the Seychelles would make a really fun longer trip.
Top tips? Unless you’re staying on La Digue, I’d recommend booking pretty much everywhere on at least half board. Though there are quite a few great restaurants we can recommend for lunch, in the evenings you’re fairly unlikely to eat out. As the Seychelles are right in the middle of the Indian Ocean much of the scrumptious food and drink you’ll get is imported, and is consequently more expensive than on mainland Africa. Knowing that you’ve paid for the bulk of the trip up front takes the hassle out of things on the ground and mean you can concentrate on enjoying yourselves instead.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!