Our top tips on making your trip to Africa more eco-friendly

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.

Mwaleshi Camp, Zambia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Local Himba People, Serra Cafema

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.

Safari at Lewa Wilderness

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.

Nomad Tanzania Water Bottle

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.

Bwindi Bar, Buhoma

 

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Five: Some of the more unusual activities you might encounter on safari.

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?!

Maasai Moranis at Cottar’s 1920s Camp

2. Painting

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.

The Artist’s Studio, Saruni Mara

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.

Star Gazing at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

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).

Cottar’s 1920s Camp E-Bikes

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.

White Water Rafting at The Royal Livingstone

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

Post Christmas Getaways for Grinches: No phone Reception, no contact with family and friends…

When the last cork’s popped, the turkey sandwiches are all eaten, and the door’s finally closed on the last member of your family, it’s time to get away. Away from demanding teenagers with endless Christmas wishlists, away from awkward conversations with cousins you only see once a year, and away from other people’s children who are charming but so very, very noisy.  And if you travel far away enough, you get to the sort of places where they can’t call you, even if they try.

If you need to switch off and tune out, this is where to go in Africa:

Chimp trekking at Greystoke Mahale

Greystoke from Lake Tanganyika

Greystoke Mahale (Western Tanzania). There’s a reason that tycoons’ wives whisk them off here when they really, really, need a break from their Blackberries. Greystoke isn’t a place for the intrusions of the outside world even if there were phone reception. When you’re sitting around the campfire late at night, the only dim glow (or blazing fireball) you need is from the shooting stars up above. In fact, from the minute you step onto the dhow – and look down at the hippos swimming in the water below you- you’ll be ready to hurl your phone overboard and stay forever.

Sundowners at Serra Cafema

Sundowners at Serra Cafema

Serra Cafema– Namibia- This oasis on the shores of the Kunene River is a remote safari camp, even by Namibian standards. Most guests come here for the chance to meet the Himba community (though not all that long ago, two nomadic Himba ladies walked for a couple of days to come have a look at the tourists), and chances are, they’re far more fascinating than whoever you might be talking to from home…

Relaxing in the Mwaleshi River

Relaxing in the Mwaleshi River

Mwaleshi, North Luangwa, Zambia- At Mwaleshi it’s challenge enough to even charge your phone, let alone getting enough reception to take a call on it. Far better to immerse yourself in the timeless world of North Luangwa, rising with the morning sun, wandering by elephants in the woods and cooling your feet in the river at the end of the day.

Elephant at Old Mondoro

Visitors at Old Mondoro

Old Mondoro Lower Zambezi, Zambia- The sort of place where a ringing phone would sound frankly aggressive, if not downright rude to the poor old  hippos singing in the river outside. So if, let’s say, your phone sadly “fell overboard” on the way to the lodge, you’d have the perfect excuse for not chatting to your family

Now- we wouldn’t guarantee that if you climbed a tree and held your phone at precisely the right angle, you wouldn’t get a flash of reception at some of these lodges, but you’d have to work pretty hard indeed. And a holiday’s not really about work is it?

Namibia: Phwoar.

Sorting through some old photos I found a series from my road trip around Namibia. In a fit of extreme modesty, I thought “Wow- I am a great photographer”. And then I remembered that it’s probably not my astonishing photographic skills, it’s just Namibia.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Namibia’s the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. (Honourable mention for Mauritania though, which has the same amazing clear light, and a rugged coastline where the Atlantic meets the desert).

Though I’m not yet giving David Bailey a run for his money, I thought I’d share a few shots to show just how spectacular Namibia is, from the endless roads of Namibia’s Central Highlands via the sand dunes and petrified trees at Sossusvlei, to the parched Etosha pan.  I think it might actually be impossible to take a bad photo there. Of the landscape at least…

Where to spot… Leopards

There’s something about spotting a leopard on safari that sets people’s pulses racing.  It’s often men that fall passionately for this slinky cat (sorry boys!)- it’s the ultimate predator, perfectly designed for the silent stalk, the stealthy hunt and the efficient kill.

Luxury Safari in the Sabi Sands

Leopard at Singita Sabi Sand

It’s possible to spot leopards on safari all over Africa, but they’re notoriously elusive. Stories abound about leopards successfully disguising themselves, even amongst large human populations. Legend holds that when a lone leopard was spotted on Nairobi railway station, the storyteller was rubbished. 3 years later, the bones of a recently deceased leopardess was spotted under a rarely used platform… Well, so the story goes.

For those who want more reliable leopard sightings there are a number of places to visit in Africa where a safari of two or three days should give you a very reliable chance of seeing a leopard. We’ve put some effort into personally checking these out, so do ask us if you have any questions.

Okonjima Safari

Okonjima Leopard

3. Okonjima, Central Highlands, Namibia

The AfriCat Foundation at Okonjima is utterly absorbing for anyone who’s ever been fascinated by the big cats. It’s important to stress- these cats aren’t wild. They’ve been collared and are closely monitored by the research team. This makes it possible to get up close to leopard (also cheetah and wild dog) in a way that’s just not possible elsewhere, and learn more about hands on research and conservation than you would in 10 safaris.

2. South Luangwa, Zambia

I’ve had phenomenal sightings in the South Luangwa and a colleague who (though good at rather tall tales) claims to have spotted 7 leopard in one night drive. The leopard here are often spotted on night game drives with spotlights- this is the time of day when leopard are most active, as they’re on the hunt for fresh food. By day, look for the flicker of a tail up in the sausage trees, where leopards like to lounge on long flat branches.

Luxury Safari in the South Luangwa

Leopard spotted with Bushcamps on safari in the South Luangwa

1. Sabi Sands, South Africa

Without a shadow of a doubt, of all the places I’ve done safari in Africa (and there have been a few) the Sabi Sands has been by far and away the best place to spot leopards.  I’ve tracked adults through the grasses at Lion Sands, watched leopards lounging in trees from Nottens, and most satisfyingly of all, clocked a spotted face stalking me through the reeds over breakfast at Singita Ebony. If you’re a leopard lover, go tomorrow, take my camera, and never look back.

Green season safari- is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Think of African landscapes and the chances are you’ll be imagining an endless golden savannah, broken only with twisted and parched acacia trees. The wildebeest are cantering frantically in search of water and fresh grass (this is the main driver of the Great Migration) and vultures float on the thermals hoping to spot a lion kill.

There’s another Africa however, the Africa that blossoms with life in and around the rains. The green season (sometimes rather optimistically known as the “emerald season”) transforms the landscape.  Rivers burst with life and grasses and trees seem to glow in almost implausibly bright hues. Under thunderous storm clouds young animals learn to stand on shaking legs within minutes of their births, and predators look sleek and happy with a bellyful of food. This is the time when you’ll take the most spectacular photographs and see the bush at its very best (and sometimes at half the price of the peak periods).

Beyond that, the parks are largely deserted, and if you’ve done several safaris it’s utterly fascinating seeing the game reserves in a new light. Birding in particular is utterly glorious- if you’ve never seen a fish eagle swoop for its kill or a finfoot skiddle-skaddle across the water’s surface- this is your moment.

Green season safaris are at their best in Kenya and Tanzania in March and June (catch the savannah with its spring colours) or in Zambia between January and April. The ultimate experience is a boat safari in the South Luangwa– thanks to our friends at Norman Carr for the amazing selection of photos above. Elsewhere, watch the desert spring to life in Namibia, the mighty flood at the Victoria Falls or catch the mini Migration in the Kalahari.

Where would you go if you were flying to Africa tonight? Or, holidays worth going to work for.

A few years ago I used to work in a large office of safari experts, all passionate Africa lovers. Our favourite game on a quiet Friday afternoon was to plan our fantasy African adventure. We discussed the safaris that we’d sell our souls to get to, the remote beaches that our bones ached for, and the game reserves we lost afternoons dreaming of. We talked about lodges, camps, and game reserves that made coming to work worthwhile, if only because it meant each paycheque brought us closer to another African adventure.

Time and again, the same names came up, the places that were so magical we all adored them.  And here they are, our ultimate African experiences.