Amboseli, Covid-19, Kenya, Laikipia, Masai Mara, Safari, Trip Reports

What’s it like to go on safari during a pandemic?

John and Mags, two of our most experienced, and intrepid, safari-goers report back.

Our daylight flight with BA was very good, with only 70 passengers onboard.  John had treated us to First Class and we had a wonderful experience.

We were a bit confused who would be meeting us… later the hotel bus turned up and the driver took us to the hotel, leaving all the BA Crew waiting as they were also staying at the hotel too ! So it all turned out fine. We had a lovely spacious, well equipped room and slept very well. (Editor’s note- this was the airport Crowne Plazawe use it a lot for an overnight crash-out).

The next day, following an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we were met by Emmanuel, our Asilia driver/guide…  Emmanuel proved to be an excellent and considerate driver, and we liked him very much for the duration of our first few days.  We had opted to drive from Nairobi down to Amboseli, avoiding the inevitable gridlock of traffic crossing to Wilson Airport, and also to avoid mixing with too many other people which we thought was a great choice.

Tortillis Camp is set in a lovely location, with the main area, deck and dining area and bar set on the ridge, with views out to Mt Kilimanjaro (weather permitting – which it rarely did for us, but that’s down to luck and time of year). The highlight of Amboseli was undoubtedly the prolific game, which we had hoped for but not expected.  The huge herds of elephants, including the huge Matriarchs and Bulls with their enormous tuskers were a sight to behold.

And without exception, all the animals had young at this time of year (Editor’s note- late November), which was a bonus, and a real treat.  We were surprised just how many areas of water there were.  Apart from the actual lake, the rainwater from Kili and the recent rainfall had created large swamp areas, which was a haven for thousands of birds and hundreds of animals.  In particular we were surprised how many thousands of flamingos there were, and apparently all the ones at Lake Nakuru and Naivasha have left that area which is now badly flooded, and they were all down at Amboseli. A wonderful sight : clouds of pink.

We also very much liked the Asilia Touring style safari vehicle, and its layout, which suited us well. It was very comfortable and spacious, yet still provided excellent game viewing from the 360 degree top opening.

Lewa Landscapes (c) Mags Fewkes

Our private transfer from Tortillis up to Lewa  with TropicAir went very smoothly.  We had a Caravan to ourselves, piloted by Ian. We arrived early at the airstrip, and the plane arrived just as we did, so we left soon after and arrived early up in Lewa, a short flight of I hour 10 minutes.

We were met by David, our driver/guide whom we both liked immediately. He wore his red Masai clothing with pride every day.  His English was excellent, as were in fact all of our guides, and all were easy to understand. We LOVED our time in Lewa House and were very glad we had chosen to spent 5 nights there : thank you for the suggestion !  We loved the terrain and the variety of game.  On the way from the airstrip to the House, we passed 5 rhinos wallowing by the road, with others in the near distance too.  Lewa House is a beautifully appointed family home, owned by Calum and Sophie MacFarlane.  Calum came to Kenya 10 years ago, but Sophie comes from Lewa and the original ranching family.  They were the perfect hosts.

Sophie, Calum and the children

We had a GORGEOUS room, Room 1/Waterhole (overlooking the waterhole) which was conveniently very near the house.  We had both an indoor and outdoor bathroom and a lovely private patio.  We ate breakfast on the lawn, usually with the children (11 and 8) and their adorable puppy ; lunch was by the pool ;  aperitifs by the log fire in the spacious lounge and dinner (set menu) usually in the adjoining dining room, at one huge table which seated 10 socially distanced.  And Calum and Sophie ate with us and were excellent company. 

Lewa House

On our Anniversary a table had been laid for us in a separate entertainment area with lights and lit Chiminea in the walls making it warm and cozy with our own waiter John who showed us proudly his “oven” to keep the food warm. We were led by torchlight down a path with lantern lights and it felt like we had gone a long way from the lodge, but the reality was we had not gone very far as we realised after the meal !

2 ponies and Jersey cows also graze contentedly on the lawn and the waterhole attracted Somali Ostrich and other game whilst there were lots of birds helping us to breakfast too ! Perfect !  I should also mention that they have a super gift shop where I bought a LOT of things !  (retail therapy fix).  You can see Mt Kenya from the house and all the rooms will have had wonderful views. Wifi was only available up at the main house, not in the rooms.

The game was outstanding.  We were literally tripping over rhinos (both white and black) at every turn, often close and often in small groups.  Grevy zebra were plentiful too and this is one of their last strongholds. David was also an excellent driver.  About the only thing we did not like particularly was the vehicle we used, which was a more traditional (and less comfortable) old Toyota Landcruiser with open top and sides, but no opening doors.  Which meant you had to haul yourself up and over the sides to get in (which we managed, but as we get older, will find increasingly tricky ). It also means you cannot stand to see game.

I did go for a ride at nearby Lewa Wilderness Camp (about 20 mins away) for an hour with Miranda, a super English girl.  They have 45 horses.  Bizarrely though, they only cater for guests 12 stone or under (Editor’s note- apparently it’s down to the horses they have and the weight they are able to bear).  But I had a wonderful hack, riding right close to eland, waterbuck and zebra. I would highly recommend this.

We were very sad to leave Lewa, and said we would love to return. With your help we chartered an Air Kenya Caravan (2 pilots) to take us to the Masai Mara to Rekero Camp, which took 1 hour 10 mins, and we saw some wonderful scenery along the way – once again just the two of us!

At the Mara, we were met by Francis, who we also liked immediately.  He was a very experienced driver (which was essential when we encountered rivers he had to ford, and deeply rutted muddy roads).  He was great fun too and we got on very well indeed.  It was only a short 20 minute transfer to the camp, which is set on the banks of the Talek River, and has stunning views from the main deck.  The staff were extremely welcoming and friendly at all times. 

In the evenings, there was a campfire and they also had a small private dining area, which was delightful.  We did notice some mozzies and tetsies here. The food at Rekero was excellent, thanks to Clapperton  the chef and his assistant Wilson.  The waitstaff were very attentive and friendly too . 

We had visited the Masai Mara many many times over the past 40 years and never have I seen it so deserted, with so few tourists.  Which was excellent from our point of view, as sightings were undisturbed by dozens of vehicles all crowding around a single animal, which we hate (Editor’s note: us too!).  Many, if not most, of the wildlife had young which is a big draw for us travelling in November, and although we did have rain it usually came at night and only stopped us going out one afternoon.  And we were astonished at the profusion of game and birdlife too and put this down partly to the location of the camp but also the lack of disturbance by other vehicles.  We were extremely lucky to see cheetah with very young cubs, leopard, a lion pride also with playful cubs, to name but a few.

We took the 1615 scheduled Safarilink from the Mara back to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, (which was very late and had 10 of the seats occupied Which of course we thought of as strange !) where we were promptly met by Asilia guide Rufus, who then took 1 hr 45 mins to get across the city to  the International Airport. Even he thought this was not great, but there was nothing much he could do as the traffic was completely gridlocked.  We had a good supper at the Crowne Plaza hotel before our flight back to London at Midnight.

Mara Sunset (c) Mags Fewkes

I took 7600 photos over the 14 days, which says it all.  We both feel it was without doubt one of the best safari’s we have ever been on.  The combination and order of the camps we stayed at worked perfectly, with differing terrain and vegetation and a huge variety of game and birdlife.

We have come home feeling wonderfully refreshed and bringing back many very special memories.

Mags & John

Adventure, Cape Town, Culture, Eastern Cape, Extraordinary Picks, Food, Interviews, Sabi Sands, Safari, South Africa, Top tips, Trip Reports, Wildlife

Just back from…South Africa

After a few weeks of jet-setting in the southern hemisphere we finally pinned down Clare, our South Africa guru, to get her insider recommendations on her favourite country in Africa.

Clare in Cape Town

Why do you love South Africa? Or do you? We can’t just assume….

There’s so much to do here from the city buzz to rolling valleys, rugged coastline and safari, and they’re all spectacular.  Being a true foodie, wine lover, and outdoor enthusiast (with admittedly, a distinct love of the odd bit of R&R) South Africa truly ticks all of the boxes, and much, much more.

What’s your favourite part of visiting SA?

I’d really have to say the people.  Everyone was so incredibly warm and welcoming wherever I went.  Some of my friends and family were sceptical about my travel to this part of the world having read some less than glowing news articles, but I couldn’t have been more swayed by the charm of South Africans.  Absolutely nothing is too much for them to organise, and they really will go out their way to make visitors feel completely at home – utter bliss when you’re travelling solo and ready for a good natter!

Cape Grace and Table Mountain, Cape Town

We’re yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love Cape Town, but where’s your favourite place to stay?

Arriving in Cape Town after an 18 hour flight, I couldn’t have been more excited to sink into my large and seriously inviting bed at the Cape Grace.  It’s on the bustling Waterfront (albeit tucked away enough to still be peaceful) and is the ideal spot to head out for an evening stroll and dinner at one of the nearby seafood restaurants.  The day beds in the spa are the perfect place to read a good book and take in the glorious views up to Table Mountain. For something a bit livelier I’d probably head down to the hotel’s Bascule Bar for a cocktail, or try to choose from one of their 400 whiskies.

Top tip: every evening the Cape Grace offers complimentary wine tasting hosted by one of the hugely informative sommeliers – it’s a great way to meet other guests and to swot up on your wine facts.

If you had to give a personal recommendation for family trips to South Africa, where would you suggest?

If you’re headed to the Winelands then Boschendal caters for even the fussiest family member.  There’s a wonderful farm school where children are looked after by qualified childminders and taught all about foraging, outdoor cooking and upcycling – maybe even enough to teach the parents a trick or two!  Each child receives their pair of wellies and hat, ready to explore the greater countryside.  For the more active, there are mountain bike and hiking trails galore as well as horse riding and plenty of farm tours.  If you’re craving some adult time, ask for a babysitter and sample some of the seriously good food in their fine-dining restaurant, the Werf.

Top Tip: If you’re there on a Friday during the summer, be sure to check out the evening market.

Tree House School at Boschendal

Where’s your secret hotspot that no-one really knows about?

Morukuru Beach Lodge is one of those gems that you don’t want to shout too much about for fear of it being fully booked for evermore.  The drive there isn’t for the faint hearted but boy is it worth it!  Spend the day doing nature drives (in a safari vehicle with heated seats no less!) and ocean walks along the beach, before arriving back to warming hot chocolates laced with Amarula. Afterwards enjoy drinks and delicious food with your fellow guests, all whilst lapping up the most incredible sea views.  I was too busy watching the whales out the window to eat my breakfast – I think I counted 8 at one time, incredible!

Top Tip: Take an early morning stroll over the sand dunes and you will more than likely find the place to yourself to really appreciate the stunning views.

Dunes at Morukuru Beach Lodge

This is a hotly debated topic at Extraordinary Africa HQ, but where would you choose to go for safari?

Tanda Tula. Set in the Timbavati Nature Reserve on the edge of Kruger, it epitomises the rustic safari camp vibe.  All rooms here are tented but seriously well kitted out.  There’s something rather romantic (with possibly some nervousness mixed in) about lying in bed, looking straight out of your tent and knowing that any form of wildlife could quite happily wander up to within a few feet of where you’re lying.  Rest assured though, the wonderful staff here will ensure that your nerves are kept well under control!

Top tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive white lion, known to be seen from time to time in the Timbavati

White lion in the Timbavati

As an outdoors lover, where would you go for an active adventure?

Set just outside Plettenberg Bay, Hog Hollow is the perfect place for lovers of the outdoors.  The huge rooms here are perched amongst the trees with large decks offering sweeping views over the valley.   There are a wealth of activities to choose from whilst staying at Hog Hollow; hikes for even the most serious of walkers, adventure playgrounds for the younger members of the family, various animal sanctuaries to visit, horse riding (which Hog Hollow are well known for), or for those wanting to put their feet up, a quiet day on the beach. And the best bit after a busy day of exploring is to curl up by the warming fire pit for a sundowner with your fellow guests.

Top tip: There’s a great walk down the valley and up the other side (not for the faint hearted!) to Birds of Eden or the Monkey Sanctuary and once you’re finished, you can ask for a complimentary lift back to save those weary feet.

Knysna Turaco at Birds of Eden

If you were sending a friend on honeymoon to South Africa, where would you recommend for romance?

For a serious dose of romance, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Dulini River Lodge.  Sleeping just twelve guests in six suites, this is the perfect place to escape the rat race and indulge in some well-earned R&R.  Each suite is vast, with the sort of bed you could easily get lost in.  The shower and bath make the most of the wonderful views out to the river bed, and on warm days there’s a hugely inviting (heated) plunge pool out on deck where I happily spent a few minutes lapping up the peaceful surroundings while watching a herd of elephants slowly walking past. There was so much love in the air that one of the other guests assumed the manager, who had kindly offered to eat with me, must have been my newlywed husband…

Top tip: Do try their ChocaMocharula (hot chocolate, coffee, amarula) mix as a sundowner on a chilly game drive, it certainly warms those cockles.

Private dining in suite at Dulini River Lodge

You’re known in the EA office for your love of good food: where would you recommend to fellow foodies?

The winelands (and Cape Town for that matter) are renowned for seriously good food, and drink.  So picking one is an arduous task, however, Babylonstoren is just one of those places that oozes foodie charm in the bucket loads.  There’s a serious ethos here encompassing ‘from nature to plate’, and nearly everything found on the menu in the various restaurants, and for sale in the farm shop, comes direct from the farm.  Not only is the main restaurant here (Babel) award winning and with utterly scrummy food, their harvest tables at breakfast are also a true work of art. If you’re lucky enough to be staying here in one of their charming cottages, we’d highly recommend scouting out some goodies in the farm shop to take back to your private state of the art kitchen via the chefs in the main restaurant who will more than happily provide you with some top notch cooking tips.  If you’re after a bit of an Italian twist, do be sure to head to the bakery on a Monday or Friday for their Italian inspired homemade pasta and wood-fired pizzas.  After all that eating, walk it off with an informative tour of the farm grounds to see exactly where all their delicious food originates from, followed by a warming glass of red in the tasting room…

Top tip: If you’re looking for somewhere to propose, there’s an island in the middle of the lake which is called the “yes spot”, and staff will do everything to make it magical.

The breakfast spread at Babylonstoren

Adventure, Africa, Beaches, Honeymoons, Lions, Safari, Tanzania, Trip Reports, Zanzibar

The wildebeest migration and other incredible animal sightings…a trip report from Tanzania

Hi Alex

So sorry for not getting back to you sooner – we have had a hectic time since returning from honeymoon – we have a new member of our family who we picked up the day after returning from Tanzania, Barney the puppy! He is an adorable bundle of energy who is keeping us busy!

Lions in Tanzania

Our trip was amazing!!! We had the best time ever and saw all the big 5 (the rhinos were in the distance but our guide assured us it was a rhino and not a water buffalo!). On our first afternoon in Tarangire we saw a lion stalk and kill an adult zebra which was exciting (although a little moving when she didn’t have a tight enough grip on the zebra to kill it!). We were also lucky enough to see two river crossings in the northern Serengeti after spending 3-4 hours on our first afternoon there watching the wildebeest walk to the river bank and peer over the side, but not daring to make the jump. We took some amazing photos and our guide even showed us a trick of taking photos with our phones through the binoculars! 

Tented rooms at Kati Kati

All the staff at the camps were lovely and friendly and we loved Kati Kati camp. We heard lions and leopards near our tents at night and we woke up to zebras eating their breakfast as the sun was rising. Eddie our guide was fantastic, so knowledgeable and it felt like we spent a week with David Attenborough teaching us about all the animals. 

Ellies in Tarangire National Park

Zanzibar was a stark contrast to the safari and it took us a while to get used to relaxing and doing nothing. Breezes was a lovely hotel and we went snorkeling nearby which was fantastic – the best snorkeling and range of fish we have ever seen!

The beachfront at Breezes, Zanzibar

We are glad that we now have Barney to keep us busy as it has reduced our post-honeymoon blues.Thank you so much for all your help making it a trip of a lifetime and we can’t wait to go back and do it all again!

Best wishes

Melissa and Tom!

Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, Safari, Tanzania, Trip Reports

Our first EVER clients to summit Kili a day early! Trip Report from Tanzania

Hi Alex,

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.

Hippos at Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp


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!

Grumeti Serengeti Tented Safari Camp

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…

Serengeti Under Canvas Camp

We will be definitely doing more Africa trips in the (hopefully very) near future and will 100% be in touch about it – the Serengeti is on our radar again, as well as Namibia and Botswana

Let us know how and where is best for us to submit a review for you 🙂

Warm wishes,

Bernard & Nick

Elephants, Leopards, Safari, South Africa, Trip Reports

Elephants on the Runway…Jenny’s Trip Report

Lovely feedback from our guests who visited South Africa.

Dear Alexandra

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.

Montusi Mountain Lodge

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!

Leopard

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!

Notten’s Bush Camp

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.

Makakatana Bay Lodge

We can understand how you love it!

If we can ever recommend anyone to come your way we will…..

With love Jenny

Romance, Tanzania, Trip Reports

What’s fly camping really like? (Read to the very last for the best…)

First off you should know this is written by a grade one wimp. I’m not a natural fly camper, and my preferred method of getting a good night’s sleep on safari is a large glass of Rioja before bed. For those of us with an over-active imagination, the thought of sleeping out with only a mozzie net between bed and the bush comes with a side-order of sheer terror. Unfortunately, it’s a core part of the Extraordinary Africa ethos that we’ve been there and done that, so we can give you the best possible advice, even when terrified. And it turns out that for each Extraordinary Africa traveller who’s tried it, fly-camping seems to be one of the best bits of their safari.

Frankly, I knew it was high time I toughened up and headed out into the wilds.

Dining at the Sands River Fly Camp
Peaceful table for two

Most fly camps operate as part of a stay in a permanent camp, walking out to into the wilderness for a night or two under the stars. We’d made our base at Sand Rivers in the Selous Game Reserve, and if I was going to trust anyone with my nerves, the Sand Rivers guides seemed like a decent bet. So, nobly, your condemned reviewer ate a hearty tea. And afterwards tramped off into the bush, full of Victoria sponge, water bottle slung over her shoulder.  And although it did not escape my notice that a steel bottle full of water might make an efficient weapon, it was not needed. Instead, we wandered gently through the Selous between the grasses and the trees in a strict line behind our guide, Ernest. We followed snake trails through the sand, photographed white hyena poo for my six-year-old godson, (obviously), and stepped carefully over armies of angry siafu. Please note- that unless you choose to fully explore the meaning of ants in the pants, this final tip is essential.

A few hours later we arrived in camp to what every traveller needs- a damp flannel for dusty faces, and a cold drink for dry throats. Lusekelo had slung a bucket shower over the branches of the nearest tree, and he’d dug a fresh short-drop loo (complete with a very smart seat) nearby. We were extremely grateful that our crew had built a canvas screen around both to stop the hippos being too startled by bottoms that hadn’t seen the sun in a very long time.

Shower
The bucket shower ready to go

Showers smelt of warm water hitting dry dust, and our bedrooms were mozzie net cubes. It’d be fair to say these are spacious for one, cosy for two. They all had bedrolls to sleep on, but anything larger than a medium-sized elephant would have struggled to fit. Fortunately, when there’s a shooting star every 7 minutes, this didn’t cause too much of a problem. Behind each room was a dressing table with a mirror, bug spray and a safari sink and, further back, a dome tent in case it rained. Or you could sleep in it if you were nervous. But I wasn’t nervous. Obviously.

Fly Camp Bedroom
Bed for the night under the stars

Instead, caught up in the magic, I rushed my shower to make drinks around the campfire. Dinner was equally splendid. From a small safari  kitchen Sallum produced a magnificent feast. And if you have, as I did, a serious foodie as a travelling companion, a tour of a bush kitchen is quite something. No blender, no microwave, no sous vide- just a hot metal box and a bucket of coals.

The cooking facilities
The simple yet effective cooking facilities

Afterwards, as  (perhaps) not the bravest of souls, it’s fair to say I was tired. My day of dicing with imagined deaths had been fairly exhausting. No longer fearful, but still cautious (what kind of naïve fool do you take me for?), I retired to an early bed planning exactly how I would bop each invading hippo or intrusive lion on the nose. (Public Service Announcement: for those of you who are as nervous as I was, I was delighted to note our tent was at the far end of a peninsula guarded by two Landrovers, the guide and our magnificent crew. An invasion was possible, but on balance, unlikely). So, I looked my fears in the eye, looked up at billion stars, and wondered if there was anywhere in the world I’d rather be. I think you know the answer to that.

Breakfast
The breakfast spread with a view

 

We gave our experience at fly camp 9/10 (minus one point for the self-induced terror factor). Your reviewer was accompanied by Mr Extraordinary Africa. He would like it to be noted that he was especially impressed by Max’s splendid fly-camp bar, not to mention its white tablecloth, and the excellent dinner which seemed to come from nowhere.  So impressed in fact, that when he returned to the fly net that night, under a sky of Scorpio and a million other stars, he found a Tanzanite ring in the bottom of his rucksack and proposed. And what Africa-lover could say no?

 

Breakfast
Still alive the morning after…

Africa, Safari, Seychelles, Tortoises, Trip Reports, Winter Sun

Just back from… The Seychelles

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.

(c) Denis Island
Dreamy beach view on Denis Island

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.

Le Domaine De L'Orangeraie Spa
Massage Tables at Le Domaine De L’Orangeraie

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.

Tortoise on Denis Island
One of the tortoises on Denis Island

“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.

(c) Constance Lemuria Seychelles
Beach at Constance Lemuria on Praslin

 

Gorilla Trekking, Trip Reports, Uganda

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!

Africa, Amboseli, Kenya, Masai Mara, Safari, Trip Reports

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.

Safari, South Luangwa, Trip Reports, Zambia

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