Families, Kenya, Masai Mara, Safari, Trip Reports

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

 

Adventure, Namibia, Trip Reports

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
Beaches, Honeymoons, Mauritius, Romance, Trip Reports, Winter Sun

A report from a Mauritian Honeymoon

Thank you!
Thank you!

From the outset, we were looking for a company with that personal touch to help us to organise our honeymoon. We wanted someone we could trust and we certainly found it with Alex and Extraordinary Africa. The booking process was extremely straightforward, after discussing the official things like country, budget and dates Alex helped to develop a better understanding of our requirements and preferences before providing us with suggestions. The documentation that she sent through to us was more than you’d get from a normal company, it came with personal tips and advice about the best rooms, or best seats on the plane something I’ve not had before and a wonderful touch that reassured us that Alex really did know the place personally. Once we had decided on the location and hotel Alex took care of the rest with her in country contacts which made the trip itself very straightforward.

P1100093 (1280x637)

A week or two before the leave date we had our seats confirmed and a handy travel size pack was delivered to our door, we found this extremely useful as it had all our holiday details in one place as well as country details and emergency contacts. From the airport everything had been organised to ensure a smooth trip for us, the airline knew it was our honeymoon (I assume Alex had told them) and offered us extra legroom seats as we checked in. When we landed in Mauritius our name was on the board and our driver waiting. It’s worth noting that I have tried to organise in country transfers in a similar fashion on a number of trips abroad myself and something has always gone wrong, not with Alex’s in country partners though. We had a  smooth, swift transport to the hotel and when we arrived at 20 Degrees Sud we couldn’t wait to walk to the paradise beyond the huge wooden gate. Our bags taken and we were seen inside, offered a complimentary welcome cocktail and their guest relations manager met us to show us around and to our room. What a place, Alex was right, beautiful, right on the beach but with the added extra of being a small boutique hotel with the personal service that comes with being so.

20 Degrees Sud

Alex had advised us on the ‘charm’ room, and it was lovely, the bed decorated with petals, a welcome basket of fresh fruit and two gifts on the bed, a lovely touch to a beautiful room. With its own patio area, a deep bath, shower room as well as an additional outdoor shower it was right next to the pool, which ensured we always got the best sun beds.

The hotel staff were very attentive without being intrusive, it was lovely to be at a hotel that just said ‘yes’ to sorting any issue we had. Our own travel adapter broke on the first day, within minutes a new one was delivered to our room. We wanted to hire a car for a couple of days sightseeing, it was delivered the next day with no fuss or issues. The food every night was excellent, we were on half board, but never found we needed lunch as breakfast was more than enough and besides  at 4pm they had tea and cakes that changed daily. A couple of nights they had live music during dinner and on the Sunday offered a change to the usual waitered service with a ‘Traditional Mauritian Dinner’, although initially concerned as we aren’t that keen on shellfish it ended up being our best meal. Fresh breads, vegetable and chicken currys, dahl-type dips, stir fry, and plenty of it, my Husband had three helpings!

20 Degrees Sud
20 Degrees Sud

So when it came to leave the hotel and island it was with a heavy heart, but again the organisation of Extraordinary Africa helped smooth the process, we got a message two days before we were due to leave to confirm our pick up time. They arrived prompt (although we almost wished they would have forgotten so we would have to have stayed!) and we were delivered to the terminal building and our bags taken inside for us.

From start to finish Alex was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. We would certainly recommend the personal service provided by Extraordinary Africa, and indeed already have. From initial discussion through to booking and even while away we were reassured to know that Alex was there if we needed her. I didn’t think that a bespoke style holiday would be something we could afford, but with Extraordinary Africa we certainly could without the need to skimp on detail or quality. Thank you Alex!

Kirstie & Ed, Wales, travelled on honeymoon to Mauritius May 2016

Boat safari, Botswana, Trip Reports

“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)

African titbits, Beaches, Campfire tales, Mozambique, Trip Reports

Did I tell you about the time I slept in 007’s bed?

When you’re flying to the Quirimbas for a long weekend, you expect something pretty special. A decent beach, world-class deep sea-fishing, and an ocean glittering with phosphorescence were vaguely on my wishlist, but when the manager of Vamizi Island asked “Did you know you’re sleeping in James Bond’s bed?” my trip was propelled into a whole different league.

Vamizi Island Dhow
Vamizi Island Dhow

Her statement threw me into disarray- my best Bond girl bikini was lost, forever looping the baggage carousels of Nairobi airport, and my experience in Aston Martin driving was limited. As I wondered if I could finish learning to fly a plane before dinner so I’d have something to discuss with the world’s most famous secret agent, I was kidnapped and whisked off to the far end of Vamizi Island for a remote beach picnic. After a lengthy lunch-and-champagne-fuelled snooze, we were hailed aboard Vamizi’s fishing boat for an afternoon of deep sea fishing. And while I still hadn’t met Bond, the sun and the sea and the speedboat were doing a pretty good job of setting a suitably glamorous scene.

A few hours later I waded ashore for cocktails, triumphantly bearing the 50lb tuna I’d reeled in that afternoon. Moments later, it appeared alongside my sundowner as sashimi. If this didn’t impress 007, nothing would. But where was the great man?

“Oh,” said the manager “Daniel Craig stayed here a few days ago, but he’s gone now. You’re sleeping in his room- you didn’t think…?”

Alex stayed at Vamizi Island Lodge and was very impressed, in spite of her deep and abiding disappointment in failing to meet 007. Vamizi has 6 exclusive private villas available to hire which Extraordinary Africa can book for you, please contact us for more information.

Green Season, Honeymoons, Trip Reports, Zanzibar

What it’s like visiting Zanzibar in the short rains. Trip report- November 2014

A lovely email from Faye and Alan, who’ve just got back from  a beach honeymoon in Zanzibar, where it was (allegedly) the short rainy season! Lovely reading on a chilly morning at Extraordinary Africa HQ- thanks guys!

Hi Alex 
It certainly does feel like another world over there now we’re back! We had just the best time – really interesting place and so beautiful. We found everyone really friendly and lovely too. 
Stone Town was great and a real eye opener. We had a good look around by ourselves and a big night out actually on our first night! Emerson Spice was wonderful – what a location! Thank you for the recommendation, it was the perfect start. We then want onto the bar on the seafront and had a lot of drinks with the owner of the bar, very random! Serena was amazing and so nice to arrive at after a long journey. 
Stone Town on Zanzibar
Stone Town
Shooting Star wonderful, the pool incredible and we really enjoyed the beach here. Had it to ourselves and swam in the sea for hours each day, which we loved. Only 5 cottages were in use, which was good as it meant there was plenty of space around the pool etc. 
Anna was just incredible. Our favourite place… So attentive but relaxed at the same time. And the management were great too, really helpful. Nikki said to say hi!
Zanzibar Beaches
Relaxing at Anna of Zanzibar
We went to a spice farm from Shooting Star and added in a stop at Jozani on our transfer to Anna, which worked well. The monkeys were amazing! Then we did a morning of snorkeling at Anna. Apart from the first couple of days the weather was perfect and so hot. We loved every minute and didn’t want to leave at all. 
So nice to remember it all again!! Thank you for everything, definitely somewhere we’d like to go back to and would recommend to others. Maybe with a safari first next time! 
Thanks
Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Trip Reports

The reason we do this job (a trip report from Tanzania & Kenya)

The reason I absolutely love my job, is for emails like this, which kept a smile on my face  for most of my working day:

We are safely back home in Tallahassee, Florida after the most wonderful trip ever!  Really!  My husband and I agree, that of all the places we have traveled, Africa trumps them all.  
We loved each place we visited for different reasons…
Selous Sands River for the hippos and the Rufiji river and croc infested lakes teaming with bird life.  
Sand Rivers Selous
Looking out over the Rufiji from Sand Rivers
The Safari Tent Camp (ed: this was Serengeti Safari Camp) for the simplicity of our accommodations while not sacrificing a bit of comfort.  The Safari drives on the vast plains of the Serengeti were breathtaking.  The wildebeest crossing was a highlight and we were fortunate enough to witness a Cheetah kill! Can’t say enough good about our Nomad guides.  They were tops! The staff and managers at both Nomad properties were very, very good.  
Game drive from Serengeti Safari Camp
Game drive from Serengeti Safari Camp
Gibbs Farm was a delightful stop.  The staff was amazing, the accommodations lovely and the food was delicious!  
Gibbs Farm
Gibb’s Farm
Last but not least …Ol Malo.  Oh My!  I cried when I walked into the lodge!  What a unique structure framing the most incredible views!  The Francombe family couldn’t have been nicer and more gracious.  Visiting a  Samburu village and a Saturday market was so humbling and moving.    What great things they are doing in support of their Samburu neighbors.  We watched the tribal women make their beautiful beaded necklaces and visited the local school.  Our Camel ride was pretty awesome too!
Ol MaloLaikipiaKenya
Camel Safari at Ol Malo
We cant wait to go back!  Maybe in about 2 years.  I will be in touch.  We are thinking Namibia and Botswana with a stop at our new favorite place in the world, Ol Malo!

Thank you Calynne for this lovely report- it made our morning!

Adventure, Boat safari, Trip Reports

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.

Namibia, Self drive, Trip Reports

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…

Extraordinary Picks, KZN, South Africa, Trip Reports

My latest crush: Montusi Mountain Lodge

If you have a temper tantrum because you have to leave your lodge, it’s got to be pretty good right? To be fair, my sulks on leaving Montusi were between me, the grasses and the birds,  but I couldn’t help resenting the long drive and the perfectly blameless hire car that were to break me and Montusi apart. Why couldn’t the irritatingly efficient machine break down and leave me stranded, just for a day or two?

Night time at Montusi Mountain Lodge
Starlight at Montusi Mountain Lodge

My most recent trip to South Africa had got off to something of a rocky start, with unseasonal storms in almost every place I visited.  After a long drive through rural KwaZulu Natal  Montusi welcomed me with a cosy fire and vast windows that framed the lightening crackling along the top of the Drakensberg.

Opening my eyes the next morning to glorious sunshine and the sort of view you have to photograph (just so you can show off about it later) I headed for the peak of Mount Montusi. Hiking through meadows that smelled of wild mint and listening to the clanking cowbells only cemented my love for Montusi. Sadly, it seemed as if I had just a few brief stolen moments to admire the view and the bushman rock art (in the UK it’d be behind glass and a velvet rope, here it’s on an open cave wall), and then I had to leave.

Au Revoir Montusi, I’ll be back!