The Masai Mara

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Third on the list of my Top Ten African safari destinations, the Masai Mara is one of the most famous wildlife areas in Africa: famed for it’s variety of species, for its migrating herds crossing the crocodile-infested waters of the Mara River and immortablised by the BBC’s Big Cat Diary which was filned in the Mara.

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Where: Located in southern Kenya,  on the border of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, 4 -5 hours drive or a short flight from Nairobi.

Why: Year-round resident game in lovely open scenery making for easy game viewing.  Good numbers of lion, cheetah and leopard, many of whom are very relaxed around safari vehiciles making for great game viewing.  When the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra are in the Mara the viewing can be truly outstanding!  Elephant, rhino, hippo and crocs complete an impressive list of megafauna!

When: Year round but at its best when the big herds are around normally from July through to the end of September.

Where: The Mara is a relatively small area compared to some of the larger parks, and can get very busy particularly during the holiday season of July to August.   The smaller select camps along the rivers will give a feeling of exclusivity but some of the concession areas just outside the reserve allow more personal game veiwing experiences.

How long: You need at least two nights and preferably three in the Mara, and can combine two differenet camps in different areas for a more complete visit.

What to do: Game drives are the main option in the Mara, but walking and horse riding safaris are possibilities in the areas just outside the reserve.  Masai cultural visits are also possible.

My view:   The Mara is a terrific reserve with great game viewing and easily accessible from Nairobi with numerous flights.  Some people, particularly experienced safari-goers, may find the number of vehicles a bit much and it can be hard to get exclusive game viewing in the main reserve.  If this may worry you, the harder to get to northern Serengeti may be the better option, but for those with limited time, the Mara is a great choice.

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For more information on the Masai Mara and Kenya’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Tarangire National Park!

 

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The Ngorongoro Crater

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This is the second of my Top Ten African safari destinations, and one which seems to divide opinion these days!  Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is frequently cited as the one place you’d go to if you had just one day to spend on safari in Africa; in many ways this is true: the Crater has phenomenal scenery, fascinating geology and you are virtually guaranteed to see perhaps four of the ‘Big Five’ along with great herds of wildebeest and zebra, good jackal and hyena, hippo and great birdlife in a single day at virtually any time of the year.

But this wealth of treasures has brought its drawbacks:  too many vehicles on too restricted a road network and a, necessarily, much higher level of stringent park regulations has made the Crater a less satisfying safari destination than in the past for experienced safari travellers.   I well remember camping on the floor of the Crater in the 1980’s and had some of my most dramatic wildlife experiences in camp there, but now I recommend just one day on the Crater floor and leaving as early as possible to stay ahead of most other visitors.   Even now, the Crater leaves an inspiring impression on virtually all who go there.

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Where: Located in northern Tanzania, between the city of Arusha and the Serengeti National Park.

Why:  Some of the highest concentrations of lion, hyena and jackal in Africa, easily seen during the day, with great herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and gazelle.  The backdrop of the 2000 ft Crater wall make a stunning backdrop to every picture and the scenery is surprisingly varied with lakes, marshes, woods and plains.  The wildlife is very habituated to vehicles which makes this the place for wildlife portraits.

The Crater is also the best place in Tanzania for seeing the endangered black rhino and the Conservation Area as a whole is home to the Masai people; having time to get just off the main road around the Crater rim will lead you to some wonderfully pristine Masai communities and countryside.

When: Most of the wildlife in the Crater does not migrate so game viewing is pretty consistent throughout the year.  Heavy rainfall during the ‘long rains’ of April and early May can make access to certain areas of the Crater more difficult, but you’re less likely to run into more visitors then, a definite advantage!

Where: The Crater is small enough that a full day of perhaps 6 to 8 hours game driving will allow you to see virtually all of the Crater floor.   If you have time for a second day, you can visit one of the less seen regions of the Conservation Area:: the beautiful extinct volcanoes of Olmoti or Embagai and take a hike with an armed ranger.  Further, longer hikes with Masai and donkeys are also possible for the more adventurous.

How long: You need a two night stay with one game drive on the Crater floor, and a third night if you want a longer hike in the surrounding areas.  Good safari accommodation is more of a problem at the Crater and most times I use the rather large and impersonal lodges which have a great view and access to the Crater floor.  My view is that you need to be close enough to the Crater to get down there early – it makes a big difference to the wildife experience, so I avoid the small lodges around the town of Karatu which have become more popular.

What to do: Game drives are the only option on the Crater floor with escorted hikes in the surrounding areas of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and visits to Masai villages and schools.  Just south of the Conservation Area is the Lake Eyasi region where hunting with the Hadza hunter-gatherers is possible.

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For more information on the Ngorongoro Crater and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Kenya’s Masai Mara!

The Okavango Delta

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This is the first of my Top Ten African safari destinations, in no particular order, but the Delta is just so different to anywhere else!

Where:  Located in northern Botswana, accessed fron the town of Maun.

Why:    Stunning scenery: rivers, lilly covered lagoons, termite mound ‘islands’, fantastic birdlife, good numbers of wildlife including predators and many elephant and giraffe and a great range of activities. Small, high quality camps and particularly concession areas can give a very pristine, exclusive safari experience.

When:  The Delta lets water through its reedbed channels very slowly, so the high water is almost at the height of the dry season.  This anomoly means that the game viewing is at its best in the dry season from July to October so this is peak season and peak prices in Botswana.  Access for mokoros, the local dug-out canoes, is better before the water level starts to drop usually in September.  Birding is particularly good in the northern winter, December to March, when the migrants are present and the air is clear making for great photographic light.  Some rain should be expected at this time of the year but this is offset by some great off-peak deals at some excellent camps.

Where:  Visiting any area around Maun or in some of the more crowded areas of Moremi Game Reserve can be busier particularly during the peak season in July and August, but anywhere more remote and certainly in one of the larger concession areas, you can expect great game viewing and a genuine safari experience.  The larger islands and land areas on the edge of the Delta are home to more large wildlife than the permanent water, and Moremi Game Reserve is one of the top predator and elephant viewing destinations on the continent.

How long:  You need  at least a three night stay to get a feel for the Delta and preferably spend 2 to 3 nights in a water-based camp and 3 nights in a more land-based camp.

What to do:  Game drives, including night drives if in a concession area, guided walking safaris, boat trips from some camps and you should spend at least some time in the local dug-out canoe – the mokoro, to get a real feel of the Delta experience.  Mokoro expeditions with camp outs on islands are possible for the more adventurous.

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For more information on the Okavango and Botswana’s other safari destinations visit:  www.journeyintoafrica.com            Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater!

 

The Top Ten Wildlife Areas of East & Southern Africa!

Actually they’re my ‘Top Ten’ as like all choices it’s all subjective and highly personal, however after nearly 30 years of taking groups on safari in East and Southern Africa I know what works and which areas make for a great safari destination!

Of course, there’s far more to it than simply the destination: you have to be there at the right time of the year, in the right part of the park and doing your safari in the right way, but if you end up visiting a combination of any of my Top Ten, you’ll have a wildlife experience to savour!

Over the next month or so, every few days I’ll be posting a new blog with the next entry on my list, with information on why the area is such a great safari destination, when and where to go, how long you might want to stay and what to do there.

Starting tomorrow with the jewel in Botswana’s crown –  The Okavango Delta!

Talk tomorrow – and to make sure you don’t miss any of the ten, click on the Follow button at the bottom of this Blog which will alert you when a new blog is posted.

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For further details on African photographic safaris or on any of the areas mentioned in this blog visit:

www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact Andrew on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

What to take on safari?

Pack lightly!  That’s the best bit of advice you can get!   Most safari camps and lodges can launder clothes any place you’re staying at least 2 nights, but even if not, East and southern Africa is usually a dry heat and you’ll soon get used to a bit of dust!

Many safaris have a flight by light aircraft where the weight limit is 15 to 20 kgs in total, including hand luggage.  Check beforehand and remember that safaris are very informal – there’s no need to dress for dinner and you really can re-wear clothing  – no one else will mind!  Neutral, khaki-coloured clothing is the norm and whilst not critical unless you’re on a walking safari, it all adds to the feeling of being ‘on safari’.  Those light aircraft flights don’t take hard suitcases so use soft-sided duffle-type luggage and leave your valuables at home.

You’ll want loose fitting light clothing to wear in the evenings and the amount of warm clothes will depend on where you’re going and when: staying at a camp 9000 feet up in the Ngorongoro Highlands is cold at any time of year after dark, and in the winter of southern Africa, from June to August, the temperature can be freezing, literally, when the  sun goes down. Warm hats, gloves and windproof jackets are essential at that time of the year.

Most people on safari bring a camera but for me the most important single item is your binoculars.  Unless you want to fight with your partner you need a pair each and  something like an 8 or 10 x 42 magnification is best.  You need a pair you’re comfortable holding for extended periods of time – they’re your eyes on safari!  So tiny, pocket-sized binos are not good, they have too small a field of view and are too small to hold comfortably, but similarly the huge ship-type binoculars are too big – there’s plenty of choice on the market at reasonable prices.

Hope that helps – enjoy your safari!

Andrew

Birding in the tea plantations of Rwanda

Birding in the tea plantations of Rwanda

For more information on safaris, including a recommended luggage list for safaris, see http://www.journeyintoafrica.com  or contact us on info@journeyintoafrica.com

Uganda’s chimps & gorillas.

Uganda has many attractions as a safari destination: it’s the source of the Nile, has fantastic birding, great scenery and wonderfully friendly people, as well as some good wildlife viewing in parks such as Queen Elizabeth, but what sets it apart from it’s East African neighbours is its primates, and in particular its mountain gorillas and chimps.

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I’m told that while Uganda and Rwanda have less than 15% of the chimp and gorilla populations in the whole of Africa, those two countries are responsible for over 90% of research on those two great apes.

What this means for visitors is that you get the chance to be extraordinarily close to wild but habituated primates, sometimes within just a few feet, and those same animals will ignore you almost completely.  Theyare not tame, but have been habituated to people over a period of years, and this gives us a great opportunity to watch them.

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Gorilla trekking in particular is expensive, the permit alone in Uganda is $500 per person per day, and a good level of fitness is required to walk through the forests in search of the gorillas, but not only can you have a unique experience, but you also know that money from your permit is going towards the conservation of great apes.  It’s no coincidence that out of all the populations of wild gorillas in the world, only one population is increasing: the mountain gorillas of Uganda and Rwanda, who are the most viewed and whose governements now have a great financial incentive to protect them.

There are other primates to be seen; Kibale Forest in Uganda and Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest boast 13 species of primate each, and recently in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we saw four speces of monkey walking between lodges: black and white colobus, L’Hoest, red-tailed and grey-cheeked mangabey, not to mention the Goliath Beetle, about six inches long and making the sound of a small aircraft!  Impressive stuff!

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Visits to Uganda or Rwanda can be arranged as stand-alone safaris or as extensions to a safari in Tanzania or Kenya – contact us for further details on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

For more information on Uganda and Rwanda and sample itineraries see:  www.journeyintoafrica.com

 

 

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The Big Five ( and the Little Five!)

The ‘ Big Five’ is an oft-used expression in safari circles, and has become the five animals most visitors most want to see.  Apart from the reality that a safari is not a zoo and there are far more important aspects to a real safari than simply ticking off species, the origin of the ‘Big Five’ has become somewhat obscured.

The Big Five were actually the five animsls considered the most dangerous to hunt:  lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.   If you see reserves claiming to have the big 5 including hippo or even cheetah, it’s simply because they’re missing one of the true species!

Further collections of 5’s seem to keep coming: the ‘quickest 5’, the most ‘colourful 5’ but these are all figments of a marketeer’s imagination.    The only other fairly long-standing and truly interesting 5 collection is possibly the ‘Little Five’.

The little 5 has it’s origins in it’s larger brother as the names of the occupants tell you:  antlion larvae, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, buffalo weaver and rhinoceros beetle.    In fact, there’s no doubt that seeing the ‘Little Five’ on safari is a much harder task than seeing the ‘Big Five’, so if you come back from safari having seen all 5, that really is something to boast about!

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Elephant shrew and his slightly larger ‘brother’!

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For more help on planning your personal, perfect safari, get in touch at:

andrew@journeyintoafrica.com

For more information on the major wildlife areas in East and Southern Africa see: www.journeyintoafrica.com

 

A Tanzanian Safari in verse!

Following is a verse written by Steve Kessinger after his safari in Tanzania in September 2013.  It’s a fun read and tells you far better than I can what a great safari destination Tanzania is and particularly, how great the local guides really are!

Out of Africa

 A journey into Africa, with lifelong friends we love so dear.

I must admit that now I’ve been, there is nothing much to fear.

A trip of a lifetime yes it was, it far exceeded what I wished.

I urge you all to make the trek, add it to your bucket list.

 

To Tanzania we flew, a far off land unpaved to traffic.

A safari trip just like you read about, in National Geographic.

Tented camps may not sound like much, but we really did enjoy it.

With comfy beds, a talking shower, and they even had a toilet.

 

Our guide Firoz an extraordinary man, he knew all the flora and the fauna.

Where is our camp I asked this man, “Why it’s just around the corner.”

There are no signs to tell you where you are or where you should be going.

“Trust your guide” he says, it’s all mapped in his head, it takes a lot of years of knowing.

 

We toured national parks of Tarangire, Arusha and the Serengeti.

The food was great – three squares a day, they even had spaghetti.

We journeyed down a volcano rim known as Ngorongoro Crater.

Creatures here and there and everywhere, lots of pics to share much later.

 

The jokes and laughs flowed just like the wine, the trip it was quite cheery.

Firoz knew where to spot the wild and would radio his friend Jab-Shiri.

We took so many photos with which we’ll make a very nice collage.

A long drive on the bumpy roads, they call the African massage.

 

We were on the go from dawn to dusk, no time to do your flossing.

Hurry up and wolf down your lunch, we’re gonna miss the crossing!

The wildebeest they ain’t so smart, up and down the banks along the river.

But when they decide to stampede across in massive herds, it surely makes you quiver.

 

The zebra with pajamas on as if sentenced to life in prison.

The cheetah scanning the plains for lunch, like he had on x-ray vision.

The hippo and the elephant, massive beasts and quite big lunks.

The elephant’s manhood, hanging down.  I swore he had two trunks!

 

The giraffes so close I could wring their necks, if I wasn’t quite so short.

The warthogs shy they turn and run, and leave you with a snort.

The leopards climbed acacia trees and trite to say they went out on a limb.

Big cats you just can’t hide your lion eyes. But they’ll prey for you when light gets dim.

 

Cocktail hour around the campfire, when the day is just complete.

Bush TV is what they call it, and if you wish to change your viewing..you just get up and move your seat.

After a few drinks and snacks around the fire., we were feeling a lot more chipper.

What was that strange sound that we just heard, not a beast… the call of a tent zipper.

 

The experiences and views we had,  they made us feel euphoric.

The Nile crocodiles and rhinoceros, appear so pre-historic.

The only thing I will not miss, I cannot tell a lie.

They bite you hard right through your pants, that nasty Tse-Tse fly.

 

All journeys as you know, must somehow have an end.

There is man I won’t forget, our Tanza-nian friend.

You went above and beyond everyday of our trip and I’ll speak my mind quite freely.

With many thanks to you Firoz I tip my hat, or as you say…. “asante sana” in Swahili.

 

 Steve Kessinger, Tanzania, September 2013.

Steve and friends visited Tanzania with Journey Into Africa in September 2013, in a privately arranged safari to Arusha, Tarangire and the Serengeti National Park and to the Ngorongoro Crater; staying in small lodges and camps.

To enjoy the same sights and experiences and with a terrific guide on your own personalised safari, get in touch at info@journeyintoafrica.com

Wildlife on safari

I’ve just returned from a great two week safari in Botswana, finishing on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls.  As always, it was a fantastic trip with different highlights for different people.

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Everyone has their favourites: cats are always near the top of any ‘wish list’ and often elephant and giraffe are right up there; African wild dogs, the ‘Painted Wolves’ of Africa, are regularly one of my highlights, even if not all my guests appreciate them quite as much!  Botswana also gives great opportunities for watching those magnificent antelopes: the greater kudu, the roan and the sable.

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On this safari we saw all the great wildlife sights on offer: lion mating, cheetah full-bellied after a hunt, a huge tom leopard treed by lion, wild dogs hunting at dusk, hippos fighting, elephants swimming…  The list went on, but for many the highlight?  Not the cats. or the ‘megafauna’ but two male sable antelope as they enacted a choreographed dance routine in front of us, circling each other, showing off their magnificent horns in perfect harmony as they tried to establish dominance.  Ten minutes of circling was followed by one minute of action as they locked horns.

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It was a fantastic sight – you just never know what you’re going to see on safari and that is undoubtedly one of its attractions!

Get in touch at andrew@journeyintoafrica.com to see these sights for yourself – a safari is truly a trip of a lifetime but beware, once you’ve been once, you’ll be coming back for more!

Call on ++44 1743 850043 or see www.journeyintoafrica.com

Safari Camps!

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There is an old (probably English-derived) expression that says:  ‘any fool can be uncomfortable’ and it seems that the safari industry has certainly taken this on board with most safari acommodation as far from uncomfortable as it’s possible to be whilst still living in a tent!

Many tents are huge, some would be classified as a suite in a city hotel, and virtually all now have ensuite bathroom facilities, with the permanent camps having hot and cold running water and flush toilets.   In fact, I call it an ‘arms race’ with different safari companies competing with each other to offer the biggest tents, the most luxurious furnishings or the latest in camp staff uniforms.  Would you believe, it’s now possible to get an air-conditioned tent!!?

Safari Tent

If the thought of this leaves you cold, and not just literally, (or indeed boiling at the thought of the environmental impact), it does me too!  The truth is, the important aspects of a great safari camp are still the same: great game, great location, exclusivity and great guides.  Yes, I want to be comfortable, I want to eat good food, but I also want to feel I have experienced a genuine safari camp, not some luxury hotel room plonked in the African bush!

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I still want to feel the African sand between my toes, sit around a camp fire at night, and watch wild animals during my afternoon siesta from my tent verandah – it’s unbeatable!

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For advice and information on my favourite, genuine African safari camps, do get in touch at andrew@journeyintoafrica.com