Let’s have a look at some of the ways clients can enjoy “safari-ing” through these “Big Five” destinations, with its game viewing, scenic beauty, multi-cultural experiences and adventures galore.
Often referred to as “The Real Africa,” Zambia protects more than 30 percent of its land in nature reserves, and none is more heralded than South Luangwa National Park, considered one of the greatest parks in Africa for the variety and density of its game and for the beauty of its landscape. Zambia also gains recognition for its special niche, tracking big game on foot on walking safaris, pioneered by Norman Carr in the 1950s and founder of Norman Carr Safaris.
“Norman was famous for his belief that ‘from a vehicle you can see Africa; but when on foot, you experience and feel Africa, you become part of the landscape, no longer just a spectator,’” reported Christine Carr, marketing director for the safari company. She was recently in New York to explain to the U.S. travel industry: “Why Zambia?” Among her convincing pointers was that Zambia, home to the mighty Victoria Falls and the renowned national parks of the Luangwa and Zambezi Valleys, is not on the main tourist trail. “Visitor numbers are small,” said Carr, “and when exploring our truly pristine wilderness on foot or game drive, you don’t have to share the experience with too many others—a privilege hard to find these days.”
Norman Carr Safaris operates six camps in South Luangwa, all in prime riverside locations and near huge concentrations of game: elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, giraffe, hippo, and more than 400 species of birds. The largest is Kapani Lodge, where elephants wander about and 18 guests are accommodated in eight luxury suites, each with its own lounge and en-suite bathroom.
According to Carr, the elegant lagoon house is ideal for families, who along with other guests, thrill to game watching and join in Normal Carr Safaris’ local community and conservation projects. More remote, and connected by walking safari itineraries, are two luxury bush safari camps, Luwi and Nsolo bordering the Luwe River with four spacious chalets, and two tented camps, Kukuli and the more deluxe Mchenja. Booking the Classic Luangwa Safari, you can link five different camps; distances between each camp can be covered in three to five hours, depending on the wildlife along the way, and, of course, walking can alternate with game driving. Either way, the luggage is in the room on arrival at each camp. This 10-night package operates May 15 to Nov. 7; the all-inclusive cost starts at $4,500 pp sharing.
Opening in June, Norman Carr Safaris’ sixth camp is going to be something completely new for Luangwa Valley: Chinzombo Camp, a creation of architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, whose signature eco-design style is elegant, subtle and low-impact (among their other projects are the North Island Resort in the Seychelles and Vumbura Plains Camp in Botswana).
Chinzombo will have six villas, one configured for families or a group of friends; all will have private plunge pools on shady decks overlooking the river, cooled sleeping areas, Internet connection, and grand bathrooms with spa amenities. Villas connect by pathways to a lounge/dining area, as well as facilities for spa, yoga and excercise. The camp is set on 60 acres of private land, with Luangwa River frontage, and guests have private access by boat into the South Luangwa National Park. Villas per night are $575 to $875, all-inclusive and depending on the season.
Certainly Victoria Falls is on everyone’s bucket list of places to see in Africa, for indeed what the local folk call Mosi-os-Tunya or “the smoke that thunders” is one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. In addition to gaping at the falls (or taking a flight-seeing ride above), visitors enjoy white-water rafting, canoeing, kayaking or bungee jumping.
“Victoria Falls is not only an icon of Africa travel,” says Bill Fleming, managing partner of Zambezi Safari & Travel Company, “but a perfect departure point for combining a safari and touring in Zimbabwe with wildlife attractions in neighboring Botswana and Zambia.” But right in Zimbabwe, “not only are the price points more approachable than in Botswana,” he says, “but the wildlife is abundant. You’ll see all the big game species you’d expect to find on a high-quality safari, including wild dog, elephant, lion, leopard, black rhino, buffalo and giraffe.”
Zambezi Safari’s 11-night Discover the Spirit of Zimbabwe embraces three of the country’s prime game viewing areas in the northern sector of the country plus two World Heritage sites. The safari includes visiting Victoria Falls, with luxury accommodations at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, bordering the Zambezi National Park and enjoying uninterrupted sunset views and year-round game at its onsite waterhole. The journey continues to Hwange National Park, one of the largest parks (roughly the size of Belgium) in Southern Africa and a world-class safari area. Home-base here for walking safaris and game drives is Davidson’s Camp, sporting nine en-suite tents with perfect game-spotting verandahs. Fly on to Lake Kariba and stay in Musango, a unique safari camp on its very own private island, just off the shoreline of Matusadona National Park—here’s the place to track black rhino. The safari’s last few nights are spent in Mana Pools National Park on the lower Zambezi River, where game viewing by canoe is a popular adventure. Also riverside is Ruckomachi Camp, accommodating guests in 10 spacious tented units (one a honeymoon suite) with indoor/outdoor showers; follow connecting walkways to a separate deck with infinity pool and a cushion-strewn, stargazing deck. During the prime game viewing season, June to mid-November, Discover the Spirit of Zimbabwe is all-inclusively priced at $6,561.45 pp sharing.
up in the air over botswana & namibia
Botswana and Namibia—two of Southern Africa’s most beautiful, dramatic, and pristine destinations—are hot tickets in Africa nowadays, and each is well-suited to the fly-in safaris, linking private air strips and lodgings by light aircraft. These journeys not only allow for flexibility to experience different destinations over a short period of time, but from the get-go, those experiences literally begin on take-off when flightseeing becomes simply gorgeous sightseeing.
It’s hard to find a safari-goer who is not in love with Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a unique environment of rivers and seasonal flood plains, woodlands and islands of vegetation. At 5,791 sq. miles, it’s the world’s largest inland delta, one you can visit any time of year, especially when the water is highest and the temperatures are lowest (May to November).
Wildland Adventures offers six different itineraries in Botswana, and the Wildland Adventure’s Africa program director, Nick Bay, points out that “because of all the waterways of Okavango and surrounding rivers, plus the great distances between concessions and parks, flying from one air strip to another allows for the most time and access to wildlife. While we can customize all vacations, our Wings Over Northern Botswana is an example of a classic flying itinerary, featuring luxuriously intimate and comfortable safari base camps and lodges, perfectly in tune with their environment.”
Wings Over Northern Botswana combines the varied landscapes of the Okavango Delta, where hippos wallow and crocodiles lie in wait for zebra and lechwe, with the drier Linyanti Wildlife Reserve, known for its high concentration of elephants. Arrangements kick-off with a 2-night stay in Victoria Falls at Toya Leya Camp, choosing among activities including falls visit, a Zambezi River cruise or a game drive in Mosi oa Tunya National Park. Crossing from here into Botswana, travelers take a light aircraft flight to the Liyanti Wildlife Reserve, a superb wildlife area, starring large numbers of elephants, as well as zebra, wildebeest, lions and giraffe. They cluster around waterholes such as the drinking spot at the luxury 7-tent Savuti Camp, located on the hippo-filled Savuti Channel.
Tour participants then fly out to the Okavango Delta, staying for the first two nights at the water-oriented Jacana Camp, situated in a private concession outside the Moremi Game Reserve, where the game viewing is fantastic. Next they fly over the delta for three nights at the luxury 8-tent Chitabe Camp, built on an island, still surrounded by Moremi. Explorer-guests gaze at elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos and cheetahs when on day and night game drives or traditional mokoro canoe and walking safaris. Based on a minimum of two people sharing and depending on season, Wings Over Northern Botswana is priced between $7,795 and $10,750.
Namibia is another Southern Africa destination that lends itself to fly-in safaris. Wildland Adventures’ Nick Bay is also a huge fan of Namibia; however, he points out, “it is important that every prospective traveler know that this particular destination is more about the breathtaking empty landscapes, the Skeleton Coast and rolling desert dunes of Sossusviel. With the exception of Etsosha National Park, wildlife is somewhat rare and quite dispersed, so you have to have just the right guides who know where the wild things are.”
African Safari Specialists invites adventurers to take off on its 8-day Wings Over Namibia safari, flying point-to-point on scheduled small aircraft. They’ll spend the first night in Windhoek, before flying off to Sossusvlei over the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert, pocked with shipwrecks, abandoned diamond mines and vast salt pans. Its huge dunes and flat valley floors make up the iconic view of the Namib that is world-famous. There are guided drives and walks, as well as night drives to the dunes and into the 80,000-acre Kulala Wilderness Reserve, where desert-adapted wildlife such as ostrich, springbok and gemsbok eke out an existence. Home for two nights is the luxe Little Kulala Lodge, with 11 climate-controlled thatched kulalas (“to sleep” in Oshiwambo), each with a plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, and rooftop “star bed” for stargazing.
Next, travelers take a short, marvelously scenic flight up the Skeleton Coast, where dunes and desert meet the Atlantic Ocean, then head eastward for a 2-night stay at Damaraland Camp, facing the Huab River Valley and the imposing Brandberg Mountains. Accommodations are in eight comfortable tented rooms with en-suite facilities, and a favorite camp feature is the unique rock pool, as well as drives in search of the rare desert elephant, gemsbok, springbok and ostrich. From here, clients head east to Etosha National Park (7,600 sq. miles) and the Ongava Lodge, whose 10 air-conditioned rock and thatch chalets are in the privately owned Ongava Game Reserve. The dining area overlooks the watering hole, and activities include game drives in open 4x4s into Etosa, habitat for lion, elephant, cheetah, gemsbok, springbok and hartebeest. On additional night drives in the private Ongava reserve is the time to see resident white and black rhino. The final flight circles back to Windheok. All-inclusive flying safari costs are seasonal, ranging from $5,750 to $7,150 pp sharing.
Nowadays, it seems, more and more visitors are going wild in South Africa over food and wine, just two of South Africa’s leading attractions that draw visitors to explore beyond safaris. “Actually” says Terri Jankelow, sales manager of Lion World Tours, “99 percent of our travelers to South Africa don’t book just a safari. We find that the safari-only people choose Tanganyika or Botswana, while those who choose South Africa want not only game viewing, but also to enjoy scenery, learn about culture and history, and sample the food and wine as part of a total experience.
Lion World Tours has one recipe—combining an elegant culinary and gourmet cooking experience with a thrilling wildlife safari into a 10-night Culinary Safari. Highlights are a 3-night stay at the award-winning The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, with activities that include a bread-baking experience at the Bread & Wine Restaurant at Moreson Wine Farm; a private tour of Ernie Els Winelands; and a 3-course dinner at the hotel’s Azure Restaurant. Next comes a gourmet weekend in Scarborough, the last settlement before the Cape of Good Hope and surrounded by a nature reserve.
Here, accommodations are at The Boat House, a Cape Cod-style beach house with 180-degree views of the ocean. While here, clients have lunch with talented chef Bruce Robertson; a 5-course seafood lunch paired with a tasting of South African wines, and a “Mystery Basket” dinner prepared with chef Robertson. The Culinary Safari’s final three nights are spent at the Lion Sands River Lodge in a private reserve in the southern sector of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. Arrangements include all meals, two game drives daily and a lesson from the chef in how to prepare potjiekos, a stew prepared outdoors. Priced from $6,199 pp dbl, the tour includes international flights from New York or Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg, all domestic flights, luxury lodgings, most meals, and activities on the Cape and on safari.
Darren Humphreys, founder/CEO of Travel Sommelier, agrees that vacations in South Africa cater to all kinds of travel tastes, noting at the same time that wine and culinary travel is the destination’s biggest niche growth market.
“Honestly, we find that clients really want to spend less time on safari than they thought—five or so, perhaps a few more for avid animal lovers and birders. And it’s increasingly common to add on a significant number of days visiting Cape Town and the Winelands. So, on a typical 10-day itinerary, safaris usually make up two-thirds of the trip, and Cape Town and the surrounding wine country the remainder.” And all Travel Sommelier trips (South Africa and beyond) are customized, with wine-focused add-ons including VIP tastings, meet and greets with vintners and chefs, and food/wine pairings.
Humpreys also points out that South Africa has come of age as a gastronomic nation, and in three years’ time, he predicts it will be a stand-alone destination for culinary and wine touring. “Not only are there exceptional chefs in the kitchens of top-quality restaurants, but there are equally fine cooking schools teaching Cape Malay cuisine and the wonders of preparing (and eating) great game dishes.” Further, he says, the 55-and-up market is large for wine and culinary tourism, and South Africa’s wine region is one of the most visually spectacular wine regions in the world, and it produces great wines.
Giving just one tour sampling, he points to the Elim Wine Region, producing stellar Pinot Noir, Savignon Blanc and Syrah in vineyards that share this very tip of the African continent with the “finest land-based whale watching in the world”; horseback riding along the beach; dining out in local communities; and staying in the luxury villas overlooking the Indian Ocean at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. “We find this an ideal first stop on the itinerary that we plan along South Africa’s Garden Route.”
safari + cultural highs
SITA World Tours (sitatours.com) presents Zimbabwe on an escorted tour basis, with twice-monthly departures of its 10-night Great Zimbabwe. Included are visits to two cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites: the 13th century ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, the most significant ancient monument south of the Sahara, and the fabulous rock landscapes of the Matobo Hills, with a visit to Cecil Rhodes grave, a cave painting tour and glimpses of black rhino. Three nights at Victoria Falls and game drives day and night in Hwange National Park are other tour features. The all-inclusive cost is $5,125 pp dbl.
what’s cooking in the karoo?
Farside Africa (farsideafrica.com) invites you to consider the following for food-loving clients: American Relish is a new and exciting holiday featuring a week-long cookery break in Prince Albert, a historic and beautiful town in the Western Cape. Drawing on a rich heritage of indigenous food, blended with various colonial influences, the 6-night program includes interactive cooking classes with celebrity chefs from around South Africa and various epicurean activities such as visits to vineyards and brandy distilleries, fruit picking and drying, and cheese-making. Each culinary week accommodates between 10 and 14 guests, which can include non-cooking companions. Guests stay in charming Victorian- or Karoo-style houses, on either self- or fully catered basis. Cooking sessions are held in a new state-of-the-art culinary hall, where participants contribute to the dishes of the day; the emphasis is on being both informative and fun. The program also includes cultural and leisure activities in and around Prince Albert, steeped in history and of significant archaeological and paleontological importance. Prices pp (based on two sharing) start at $2,512, including 6-night accommodations, all meals with selected wines, scheduled activities and transport.
African Safari Specialists: (800) 456-8950; safari.com
Lion World Tours: (800) 387-2706; (800) 668-0068 (in Canada); lionworldtours.com or lionworldtours.com/agents
Norman Carr Safaris: normancarrsafaris.com
Travel Sommelier: (800) 387-2706; travelsommelier.com
Wildland Adventures: (800) 345-0453; wildland.com
Zambezi Safari & Travel Company: (800) 285-6141; zambezi.com