Check out these amazing deals, book with us and get an extra discount. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Carpe Diem February departures 50% discount, free nitrox
30 Jan -06 Feb 7 nights Central from $1033
06 -13 Feb 7 nights Central from $1033
13-20 Feb 7 nights Central from $1033
20-02 March 10 nights Central from $1500
Carpe Vita 35% discount in standard cabins, free nitrox
21-28 Feb 7 nights Addu - Foammulah - Huvadhoo $1494 plus domestic flights $425
Carpe Novo 35% discount in standard cabins, free nitrox
30 Jan -06 Feb 7 nights Addu - Foammulah - Huvadhoo $1651 plus $425 domestic flights
06 -13 Feb 7 nights Huvadhoo - Foammulah - Gan $1651 plus $425 domestic flights
02 -13 March 11 nights North Male - Lhaviyani - Noonu - Shaviyani - Haa Dhaalu - Shaviyani - Raa - Baa - Rasdhoo - Ari - Vaa - North Male $2599
MY Conte Max
$1600 per person sharing, free Nitrox
January 17 - January 24, 2021 Central atolls
January 24 - January 31, 2021 Central atolls
January 31 - February 7, 2021 Central atolls
February 7 - February 14, 2021 Central atolls
Check out these great deals from the Caribbean, Maldives, and the Galapagos. Book with us by January 31st and bag another $75 discount per person from us.
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** Terms and conditions: 2021 Year of Savings Specials are valid only for new reservations booked and deposited after January 8, 2021. The specials cannot be combined with other discounts, credits, or group policy. Not applicable on existing bookings made before January 8, 2021.
Explorer Fleet Covid Booking Guarantees
We’d like to assure all of our guests that, if any of the following conditions apply within 2 weeks of departure and you are not able to join your scheduled trip, we will provide you with a 100% credit of the amount paid in order to reschedule your trip aboard another departure on the same vessel/itinerary within the next 24 months:
Check out these fleet savings. Take another 5% off when booking through Indigo Safaris.
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Roatan Aggressor 50% off save up to $1648 on a master cabin
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Other trips at $999
Red Sea Aggressorr III
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Red Sea Aggressor II
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April 24 - May 2 Socorro Aggressor
May 1 - 8 Roatan Aggressor
May 2 - 9 Maldives Aggressor II
May 20 - 27 Galapagos Aggressor III
June 17 - 25 Socorro Aggressor
July 15 - 22 Indo Aggressor
July 17 - 24 Kona Aggressor
July 23 - 30 Indo Aggressor
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Aug 14 - 21 Belize Aggressor IV
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Sept 4 - 11 Philippines Aggressor
Sept 12 - 19 Rock Islands Aggressor
Sept 18 - 25 Belize Aggressor III
Oct 16 - 23 Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
Dec 4 - 11 Kona Aggressor II
Dec 9 - 16 Galapagos Aggressor III
Dec 18 - 25 Belize Aggressor IV
Dec 18 - 28 Okeanos Aggressor I
Dec 25 - Jan 1 Turks & Caicos Aggressor
Since the writing of our last blog post about single-country itineraries, many actors within the tourism industry have pulled together and made plans to ensure that multi-country itineraries are possible in Africa once again.
What has emerged as standard in Africa is that almost all countries, with the exception of Tanzania, require a negative PCR test before you are allowed to travel to them. This means that if you are visiting multiple countries, you generally have to get a new PCR test every time you depart one country and head to the next, though Zambia's 14-day old test requirement makes it possible to use your test done at home to enter Botswana, spend a week there, head to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side for a couple of nights, and then fly out.
For other popular countries and destinations, we will tell you how it easy to get tested inside each country, but first, we have made a table to show what the requirements are for you to enter the various countries in the first place.
A useful tool we have found for telling you the latest requirements to enter a country is this one:https://klm.traveldoc.aero/?WT.mc_id=L_DE_Email_ExactTarget_Newsletter_UPDATEJANUARY2021_null_SmartFun&WT.tsrc=Email&WT.i_vid=61577889
But the latest requirements should always be checked on each country's government website.
South Africa is the biggest country in Southern Africa and the economic hub of the region. It is also the transit hub for Southern Africa as many flights to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique transit through Johannesburg. This means that these other countries are often dependent on South Africa for getting travellers through to them and back out again, which made it important for South Africa to be able to offer speedy and easily accessible PCR tests.
Travellers departing from OR Tambo Intl airport in Johannesburg may now get tested and collect their PCR certificate at the airport prior to departure. The National Health Laboratory Service (www.nhls.ac.za/) is operating three mobile COVID-19 test units in clearly identifiable vans located opposite the InterContinental Hotel, just outside the terminal building. The service is available 24/7, at a cost of ZARR600 per person – cash, cheque cards and credit cards are accepted, except American Express. Children under five years do not require a test.
Results are available in four to six hours and you will be advised by SMS that the test result and certificate are ready for collection. After testing, you can wait for the SMS at the airport or nearby, collect the certificate, and proceed to fly, or the test may be done a day or two prior to departure if preferred, and the certificate collected on the day of departure. Please refer to this article for further information: https://www.tourismupdate.co.za/article/247-covid-19-testing-or-tambo
UPDATE: Due to local residents making use of the OR Tambo testing facilities, PCR test results now take 12 - 24 hours and we recommend booking a night of accommodation in Johannesburg after your safari in order to wait for results.
One of our preferred guesthouses in Johannesburg, Safari Club SA, is now offering day rooms to all travellers waiting for their PCR test results. Guests will be allocated a room for the time they are at the hotel and will have access to all the hotel amenities including bar services, swimming pool, use of the garden and ordering of meals. Transfers are included in the day room rate.
For guests heading to Cape Town, the situation is a bit different. Of course, you can book your flight home via Johannesburg in order to get tested at OR Tambo Airport, but it is also possible to take a few hours out of one of your days in Cape Town to head to the nearest clinic and get tested. Rates differ depending on the clinic, but prices of between ZAR600 – 1000 can be expected. We will be happy to show you where the nearest clinic is to your hotel.
In the Greater Kruger Park, South Africa’s wildlife gem and one of its most popular destinations, PCR testing is also possible now. A PCR clinic has been set up in the town of Hoedspruit, which is the nearest town to many lodges within the Greater Kruger Park. Lodges are able to transfer guests in between safari activities to the town of Hoedspruit to get a PCR test done. The cost of the test is ZAR850 per person, while the cost of the transfer will differ depending on the lodge you are staying at. Some lodges have gone a step further and are able to offer PCR tests in your room. Please ask us for an updated list of which lodges can do this.
Botswana is one of the most popular destinations for a wildlife safari due to the exquisite unspoilt nature of its wilderness. However this vast wilderness and lack of infrastructure which many people fall in love with also originally meant that getting a PCR test done would be difficult.
Several luxury bush camp and lodge operators have come together and are now able to fly clinicians into camps to take samples for testing. The samples will then be sent to the nearest major town for testing, with results to be expected back the following day. The results will then be e-mailed to the camp and can be printed out for you to take with you. The cost of this service ranges from +-USD275 - USD330 depending on the camp you are staying at.
If you do not wish to be tested in camp, it is possible to be tested at the airports of Maun and Kasane at a cost of BWP850 - 1100 (+-USD110.) The test results will be ready in 24 - 48 hours, so it is recommended to spend a night in Maun or Kasane while waiting for results.
For Maun, bookings and payment for the tests can be made online here: -http://www.pharma.co.bw/# - be sure to pick “Testing office – Maun International Airport"
For Kasane, booking and payment for tests can be made here: http://diagnofirm.co.bw/
Please note that you need to have a negative PCR test in order to depart Botswana, irrespective of where you are travelling to. It is not officially in the regulations, but the overly efficient border guards are asking all travellers for them and it is not wise to start an argument with a border guard.
The testing will be offered between 07h30 - 16h45 every day and Sundays from 10h00 – 12h45
Due to limited testing on weekends, the timing of your journey is important.
The primary destination of choice for any traveller to Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls, so this is where the government has focussed most of its efforts. PCR testing is now possible upon arrival or departure at Victoria Falls Airport, with a waiting time of 3-6 hours for the results. Alternatively, several luxury lodges offer in-house testing now. The cost of the test is US$60 per person, but this can change without notice.
Zimbabwe has re-entered hard lockdown on 08 January 2021 and travel is therefore banned at the moment.
The majority of itineraries to Namibia only include one or two nights at each destination, which makes getting finding the time to have tests done difficult. In addition, Namibia is a vast, sparsely populated country. We therefore recommend adding a night in the capital city of Windhoek at the end of your tour to get a test done at one of the private laboratories there. Windhoek is situated right in the centre of Namibia, so it is the starting and ending point for almost all safaris in Namibia and therefore you do not have to go out of your way to get a test done.
Zambia updated their entry requirements in March 2021 due to increasing infections in Europe. To enter Zambia, you must have a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours prior to arrival. To leave Zambia, you will need to get a another PCR test done. All travellers departing Zambia must be in possession of a negative PCR test certificate. Even if the country you are travelling to doesn't require a PCR test (such as Tanzania) you still need one in order to depart Zambia.
Many people visit Zambia to see the mighty Victoria Falls. There are testing facilities in the town of Livingstone, but is very difficult to arrange the testing on an individual basis, especially since you cannot pay for the tests with cash or credit card. Only EFT bank transfers are accepted. For this reason, hotels have stepped up to help guests arrange tests. You can pay the hotel for your PCR test and they will then transfer the payment to the Zambian health authorities. Private testing can be conducted at the hotel and the hotel will help to arrange this. The test costs between USD100 - USD150.
If you are going on a wild and remote safari in Zambia, to places such as Kafue, South Lungwa and Lower Zambezi, lodges are in the process of setting up testing facilities. The lodge will take a swab in camp and then fly it to the lab in Lusaka for processing. The cost for this is US$300pp. Alternatively, you can spend a night in Lusaka at the end of your safari. There is a private testing facility in Lusaka and you can prebook and pay for your test here: https://cidrz.timetap.com/#/
All test results take 24 - 48 hours to be delivered. Therefore, if you are only visiting Victoria Falls for 2 nights, it would be a good idea to get tested on the day you arrive.
Tanzania does not have any entry requirements for travellers. It is currently the easiest country in the safari industry to travel to. You will have to fill out a health questionnaire when you arrive and have your temperature checked, but you don't need a negative PCR test to arrive. You may need a negative PCR test to depart, depeding on the country you are departing to, or the airline you are travelling with. It is possible to get a negative PCR test in Dar Es Salaam, Arusha and Zanzibar. Tests cost between USD100 - 120 and resutls can take up to 96 hours. Please note that the current government advice is for travellers to undergo Covid19 testing a minimum of 5 days prior to departure to allow enough time for results to be delivered.
Kenya has perhaps done the best job of handling the pandemic out of all major African countries. Their testing facilities appear to be world class.
All arriving passengers on international flights must show a PCR COVID-19 negative certificate carried out within 96 hours before travel to Kenya (before departure) that has been digitally verified through the Trusted Travel (TT) Initiative or Global Haven. This will produce a QR code which travellers will be required to display to port health officials for them to be allowed to proceed to arrival immigration. From 01 January 2021, all travellers requiring a visa will need to apply for an e-visa in advance. No visas shall be issued on arrival in Kenya. For more information visit www.evisa.go.ke
When departing Kenya, it is possible to be tested in your hotel in Nairobi at a cost of US$120 per person. Results will be ready within 24 hours. It is also possible to be tested in some safari destinations, including the Maasai Mara. The collection point for testing in the Maasai Mara is in Mararienta, close to Musiara Gate and it costs US$110. Alternatively, the test can come to your camp, for US$140 per person (*min 2 guests.) Testing in the Mara his is subject to availability and results will take 48 hours. You only need to get a PCR test done on departure if the country you are travelling to requires it.
There are not widely available direct flights from many European countries or America to Uganda, which means some people are worried about their validity of their tests. Happily, to travel to Uganda, your negative PCR test must not be older than 120 hours, which means that even if you have to catch 2 or 3 flights to get to Uganda, you don't have to worry about your test certificate expiring before you arrive.
When departing Uganda, you also need a negative PCR test not older than 120 hours, but please bear in mind the entry requirements of the country you are travelling to from Uganda. PCR tests can be obtained in either Kampala or Entebbe. There is a 24 hours test which currently costs between US$65 - US$85, or you can pay more to have an express test done. The express test costs US$150 per person and results will be ready in 6 - 8 hours. It is probably safer to book a night in Entebbe and wait for your results.
Rwanda has a complicated set of testing standards. There is one testing standard for entering Rwanda and another one for entering Rwanda's national parks. Rwanda is implementing double testing standards. This means that you need a negative PCR test not older than 120 hours, but that once you arrive, you will be given a second test to confirm the results of the first test. The cost of this test is USD 60. In addition, you will need to upload your first test certificate to the passenger locator form link, here: www.rbc.gov.rw;
While waiting for the result of your second test, which will take 24 hours, you will need to quarantine in a hotel at your own expense.
To enter Rwanda's national parks, you need a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours. Happily however, you can use the test results from the second test you did upon arriving in Rwanda.
To depart Rwanda, you need to undergo another PCR test, which you are encouraged to book and pay for online at least 2 days prior to departure, here: www.rbc.gov.rw;
Seychelles is open to the world again from 31 March (except for visitors who have recently travelled to South Africa.) All you need to visit this tropical island paradise is a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours prior to departure. Visitors are strongly advised to get vaccinated before travelling, although it is not required. You may only stay in certified tourism establishments, although this shouldn't be a problem as anyone who travels to the Seychelles wants to stay in a hotel on the beach which offers a plethora of water activities.
You only need to get a negative PCR test to depart Seychelles if it is a requirement of the country you will be travelling to.
We have been working hard updating our website during lockdown and have added new pages specially dedicated to multi-country itineraries. If you are looking to explore as much of Africa as possible in one go, or tick off the biggest highlights, check out our pages for Southern Africa Combo Itineraries and East African Combo Itineraries.
Please remember that you will have to adhere to the lockdown rules of any country you are travelling to, such as curfews and mandatory mask wearing.
If you are unsure about anything, send us an e-mail or give us a call and we’ll do our best to make your ideal trip happen.
At long last, international travel is finally open again to most of the world. It has seemingly become standard that every country you visit now requires a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours, (except for Tanzania, which does not require any test.) For some people, they even need to get another PCR test before they can return to their home country.
It might seem like a pain, but in reality, the test itself can be done quickly and near your home. A good way to think of it is that it is the same amount of effort as getting anti-malaria pills before your trip to Africa, or even a yellow fever vaccine, which used to be mandatory. It seems to be the timing requirement that scares people more than the actual test itself, but as with all international travel, one just has to be prepared. I’m sure my fellow Africans will relate when I say getting a PCR test actually seems like less of a hassle than needing to get a visa to travel to Europe or America.
The unfortunate reality of needing to get a negative PCR test is that it has made multi-country itineraries difficult and it seems like that for the foreseeable future, single-country holidays will probably be the way to go. Fortunately, this is not much of a problem in Africa, where the countries are massive and the scenery varied. It is easily possible to spend 1 – 2 weeks in any Southern or East African country. We have however figured out that it is possible to combine South Africa or Tanzania with one other country.
South Africa has the best infrastructure in Africa and while it might be annoying, it is easily possible to take an hour out of your day to get a PCR test done in Cape Town or Johannesburg before moving on to your next country. South Africa is also the major transit hub for travellers visiting Botswana and Victoria Falls. As long as you have your negative PCR test, you will be allowed to transit through South Africa to other countries. Tanzania does not require a negative PCR test, so it can be combined with any other destination. That is enough about Covid19 now; in this blog post, we want to show you just how much is possible to see and do in one African country. As always, for more details and itinerary suggestions, you can find everything you need on our website by clicking on any of the hyperlinks below.
Most famous for the great wildebeest migration, but now famous for being the easiest country to travel to in Africa because no PCR test is required to enter Tanzania. When speaking about Tanzania, it is very difficult not to just name drop its most famous destinations: the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Mount Kilimanjaro, Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve.
Tanzania has some of the biggest and most densely populated game reserves on the continent. If you want to see lots of animals, then the northern reserves are for you. If you want to escape the crowds and infrastructure and have a truly wild experience, then the southern reserves will be your ticket. And all of these safaris are easily combinable with a week long beach getaway on several neighbouring islands. Zanzibar is the most famous island, but there is also Pemba and Mafia Islands for something more rustic. Due to the fact that Tanzania does not require a negative PCR test, it can be easily combined with Kenya.
The birthplace of the safari, and home to the other half of the great migration, in the Maasai Mara. Kenya has other awesome game reserves, such as Amboseli, which is a photograhers delight, Lake Nakuru for rhinos and Laikipia, where you can have a safari with a difference. Laikipia offers a variety of safari activities you won’t find anywhere else in Africa, like cycling safaris, lion tracking, dog tracking, horse riding safaris, and a visit to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee sanctuary. Kenya is slightly more lenient with its Covid19 rules, the negative PCR test only needs to be not older than 96 hours.
Everyone has heard of the Greater Kruger Park for some of the best wildlife safaris on the continent, as well as the beautiful city of Cape Town, home to Table Mountain, Cape Point, Robben Island and penguins. It is easy to spend 7-10 days exploring the Greater Kruger Park and Cape Town, but South Africa really does have so much more to offer. In a previous blog post, we spoke about all the fun you can have along the Garden Route, from waterfall hikes, to wine tasting to whale watching and boat cruises.
For beach bums, there is the province of KwaZulu Natal, where the Indian Ocean is warm and tropical. Near isiMangaliso Wetland Park, you will find kilometres of unspoilt beaches. KwaZulu Natal is also home to some excellent game reserves, such as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Phinda and Nambiti, meaning it is possible to have an amazing Big 5 Bush & Beach combo just in this one province. As mentioned earlier, due to the testing facilities available, it is possible to combine South Africa with any of the countries coming up below, you just need to ask us how.
Namibia is home to the oldest desert in the world, from which the country gets its name – the Namib desert. It is also the second-most sparsely populated country in the world (after Mongolia.) A country the size of France and Germany combined, but with only 1.5 million inhabitants means that there is space and wilderness everywhere you go. Windhoek is the capital city and is located right in the middle of the country. This is where all Namibian safaris start and it is easily accessible with direct flights from Europe.
Namibia best game reserve is Etosha National Park, where you will find the largest concentration of black rhinos on the planet. There is also Fish River Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the world. But perhaps its most famous site is Sossusvlei, where you can find some of the biggest sand dunes in the world, in a spectacular ochre colour. Sossusvlei really does look like an alien landscape and is unlike one you can see anywhere else in the world. Due to the vast distances between all these fabulous destinations, many Namibian stand-alone safaris take between 7-10 days. All safaris end in Windhoek, where PCR testing facilities are available. You can see all of our favourite Namibian safaris, both driven and fly-in, on our Namibian page, here.
Famously one of the best places to go on a truly unspoilt African safari. We offer a number of 7 -10 day safari packages in Botswana which take in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Savuti, Chobe National Park and the Kalahari. When you are in Botswana, you truly are in the wilderness. Cellphone signal and wifi is limited and the dirt roads seem to go on forever without any direction to them.
The appeal of Botswana is the lack of infrastructure, but this also makes it tricky to get a PCR test done. The challenges are currently being addressed however, with Covid19 testing facilities being set up in Maun and Kasane. A number of 5-star luxury camps also offer testing in camp. They will fly a doctor to you. Currently, clinics are not open on weekends, so timing is important. The ideal would be to arrive in Maun, get tested, have 2 nights on safari and then return to Maun to collect your results before proceeding to your next destination
The most visited destination in Zimbabwe is without a doubt Victoria Falls. Most travellers will tag on two nights in Victoria Falls to a much bigger itinerary in South Africa or Botswana. It is easily possible to tag Victoria Falls on to the end of any South African itinerary, by getting a PCR test done in Cape Town or Johannesburg, or even at Victoria Falls Airport. Please remember that these tests cost money, usually between US$50 – US$70.
But there is so much more going on in Zimbabwe than just Victoria Falls and we highly recommend looking at our Zimbabwe combinations page for inspiration. Zimbabwe has some excellent game reserves, such as Hwange and Mana Pools, with world class lodges in them, catering for everyone, from 3-star to 5-star guests.
Zambia is currently the second easiest country to travel to in terms of Covid19 requirements (Tanzania, below, is the easiest.) Zambia only requires a negative PCR test not older than 14 days, which often means that you can visit another country before coming to Zambia and your PCR test will still be valid. For that reason, it is now easiest to visit the Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. Even though this is the country’s most famous attraction, there are some spectacular game reserves and national parks, with very few tourists around, which guarantees a tranquil and peaceful safari.
Although they are not as well known as other reserves in Africa, Kafue, Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa all have an abundance of space and animals. South Luangwa has a reputation for having the densest leopard population in Africa and many of the reserves offer supreme walking safaris for the truly fit and adventurous.
Uganda is most famous for gorilla trekking and for many people, Uganda is only a three night add on to a much larger safari so that they can see these magnificent creatures. However, Uganda has many more reserves than just Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (where the gorillas are found.) If you have a look at our Uganda page, you might be surprised at how much is on offer. Queen Elizabeth National Park is seen as the premier National Park and is where you can famously see tree climbing lions. There are over 100 species of mammals in the park, including Ugandan Kob, an antelope you won't find anywhere else in the world.
After your gorilla trekking, you can also head to Kibale and go chimpanzee trekking too. Some might argue that Uganda is the best place to see primates. See how many you can tick off as you go along.
And thanks to the fact that Tanzania does not require a PCR test, it is still eminently possible to start your safari with 3 nights of gorilla trekking before heading to the Serengeti. You will need a negative PCR test before entering Uganda.
Africa is open for travel again and as you can see, there is so much to do in each country that it is possible to build a 7 – 14 day single-country-itinerary that will leave you feeling enriched by the experience. In addition, Africa is probably one of the safest places to travel to right now, what with it being summer here for the next 6 months and due to the fact that on safari, you are in the middle of nowhere, away from the crowds, with the only other people around being travellers who all had to test negative before they could come on safari. Contact us and let’s start planning your journey.
South Africa is often called a world-in-one-country and nowhere is this more evident than along the fabled Garden Route. The Garden Route is so named because of the beautiful and diverse landscapes found along the way. But this is not all you can find, there are also wildlife safaris to be had, as well as a variety of activities, from game drives to hikes to boat cruises to wine tasting.
At the risk of hyperbole, it is where you can have a complete African holiday experience. What is so great about a Garden Route holiday is the flexibility it offers. The area known as the Garden Route begins in Cape Town and ends in the city of Port Elizabeth, 750km away, with many charming and different towns to stop at along the way. You can simply ask your travel consultant about which towns sound the best for you and incorporate those into your holiday, for as long a stay as you wish.
Let’s start in Cape Town shall we, because it is very easy to get to these days, with direct flights from Europe, North America and Dubai. Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, being sandwiched between the imposing Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. There is so much on offer here that it is possible to having a week long holiday just in Cape Town, but for those doing the Garden Route, we recommend 3 nights in the city. The must see items in Cape Town are Cape Point, the penguins at Boulders Beach, Chapman’s Peak, the V&A Waterfront, Robben Island and of course – catching the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. For the more intrepid of you, it is also possible to hike to the top of the mountain. I could go on, but if you want to learn and see more about what there is to do in Cape Town, then please visit our Cape Town itinerary page, here.
From Cape Town, the next stop is often the Cape Winelands, especially for the wine and food lovers. The two best towns to choose between are Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. This is where you will find South Africa’s oldest and grandest wine farms, most of which offer wine tasting and wine tours. Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of South Africa and is also home to the Wine Tram, which must be just about the best way to go wine tasting. Depending on how much you like wine, you can spend one or two nights in the winelands.
From the winelands, the next stop has to be Hermanus. The drive from the winelands to Hermanus along the R44 is one of the most beautiful roads in South Africa, hugging the edge of the Hottentots-Holland Mountains as it meanders through the small towns of Rooi-Els, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond. Betty’s Bay is home to another penguin colony if you want to get another look at the clumsy guys. Hermanus is famous for being one of the best whale watching spots in the world when the Southern Wright Whales come to calve between June – December. It is also a beautiful town in its own right, and with the R44 being as scenic as it is, it is worth a visit any time of the year. There are plenty of photo stops along the way.
After Hermanus, you have a few choices for your next stop. This will be the longest drive of the route, at about 6 hours, with the next popular towns to stop at being Knysna, Oudtshoorn or Plettenberg Bay. All these towns are situated in close proximity to one another, so you can stop at just one, or you can stop at all 3 if you want. Both Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are situated on the coast, within the coastal forest belt. Plettenberg Bay is the bigger of the two towns and has the best beaches, with the sea being much warmer than it is in Cape Town. Knysna is the most beautiful town, being situated in rolling hills surrounding a lagoon. It is possible to do a cruise on the lagoon and a drive to the Heads viewpoint is worth it. Attempts were made to turn the Knysna lagoon into a harbour, but the entrance to the lagoon is so rocky and dangerous that it was not viable and today, sailing your boat through the dangerous waters of the Heads is uninsurable. On the other side of the Heads is Featherbed Nature Reserve, where you can go for a scenic hike.
Oudtshoorn is inland, in the Karoo semi-desert. You will notice how the landscape changes dramatically as you drive over the Outeniqua Mountains. That is one of the things I enjoy about the Garden Route, there are mountains and mountain passes everywhere. Oudtshoorn is famous for being the ostrich farming capital of South Africa and it is possible to stay on an ostrich farm while you are here. Oudtshoorn’s other claim to fame is the Cango Caves.
About an hour outside of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay is an area called Tsitsikamma, which is known as the gem of the Garden Route. When you visit Tsitsikamma, you will see where the Garden Route gets its name from. This is where the forest is at its densest and where the flowers are at their most colourful. Tsitsikamma has beautiful flowers and hikes. My favourite is the waterfall hike, which leads you through the forest and along the edge of the coast until you get to a dramatic waterfall. The other good, but much shorter hike is to the wobbly suspension bridge that spans the mouth of the Storms River. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can do a zipline canopy tour in the Tsitsikamma forest, or bungee jump off the Bloukrans bridge, which at 216m high, used to be the highest in the world, but is now the third or fourth highest, depending who you ask.
After you have thrown yourself off the Bloukrans bridge, or simply had lunch at the café and watched other crazy people do it, it is finally time for a wildlife safari! In the Eastern Cape province, just an hour outside the city of Port Elizabeth, are a number of private game reserves all offering fully inclusive Big 5 safaris. What does fully inclusive mean? It means that you don’t have to lift a finger because breakfast, lunch and dinner are included, as well as local drinks. You will get to go on two guided game drives per day to look for animals. Please remember to tell the guides what animals you want to see, as many of them are expert trackers and can then do their best to find your favourite animals, including elephants, lions, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes and more. There are many game reserves and lodges to choose from in the Eastern Cape, so check out our Eastern Cape Safaris page to figure out which one is the best for you.
After your 2 or 3 nights on safari, you can drop off your rental car at Port Elizabeth and fly home, or you can drive all the way back to Cape Town, along the inland Route 62, stopping at different towns along the way, such as MacGregor and Robertson.
If you have made it to the end of this blog post, I’m sure you can see how the Garden Route brings together the best bits of South Africa to provide you with a beautiful and complete itinerary, from a Big 5 safari to hiking up Table Mountain, to whale watching and sampling some of South Africa’s finest wines on her oldest wine farms, there is something for everyone along the Garden Route. Don’t forget your cameras and your sense of adventure.
You can view a few sample itineraries we have for the Garden Route here; or you can contact us if you want to plan your own tailor-made journey.
A British & Irish Rugby Tour is one of the greatest and most anticipated events in the sporting calendar. It only happens once every four years, the same as a World Cup, but due to the Lions dividing their tours between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, it is 12 long years before the Lions play the same opposition again. This means that bragging rights for a series win for or against the the British & Irish Rugby Tour last 12 years. It is a long time to wait to get revenge. Some international players go their entire careers without playing a game against the British & Irish Rugby Team.
Due to the infrequency of the tours as well as the high stakes, the ferocity of the contests between the British rugby team and their opposition leads to legends being born. Every rugby fan can remember in minute detail what happened on a previous tour, 12 years ago. Who will emerge from the 2021 tour as a new legend?
The Springboks were the last team to beat the British in 2009. Who will ever forget the epic second test match at Loftus Versfeld, where the Springboks won the series after the hooter had sounded, thanks to Morne Steyn’s 50-metre penalty goal. Many players still rate that test match as the most physical game they ever played in. It is no wonder, considering eight players were hospitalised afterwards
12 years before that, The British & Irish Rugby Team upset the 1995 World Cup winning Springboks in equally dramatic fashion when Jeremy Guscott slotted a late drop goal in the second test match to clinch the series after a magical Matt Dawson dummy and an Alan Tait try had set up a win in the first test. In fact, the two previous times the Springboks have played against the British Isles Rugby Team, they were world champions, and it is the same this time around. That should certainly give the series a little more of an edge, given how the Springboks beat Wales and England on their way to claiming the crown in Tokyo. Will a combined British Isles side be able to beat the world champions on their own soil?
The best part about the tour to South Africa is that it is happening in the home of wild animals, beautiful cities, good wine and friendly people. The tour provides the ultimate excuse to take a holiday to South Africa and experience all that the country has to offer, from a safari in the world-famous Kruger National Park to days exploring Cape Town (regularly voted one of the most beautiful cities in the world.) Spend your time watching rugby, making new friends and taking in beautiful landscapes. I daresay there is very little more that a rugby fan could want.
With this in mind, we have scoured all of our favourite lodges to see which of them have space around match days and also which of them are offering specials. Many lodges offer winter specials in South Africa, including free nights. You can rest assured of their quality because we have visited them and wouldn’t recommend them if we didn’t rate them highly. And given the weak state of the local Rand currency compared to the British Pound, you will be pleased to see how affordable safaris in South Africa are. Many safari lodges are all inclusive, which means that all your meals are included, as well as two game drives per day to look for wildlife. Elsewhere in the country, such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, we are able to arrange day tours and activities to help you get the most of your time here, whether it is hiking up Table Mountain, visiting the penguins, or learning about culture in Soweto.
Every booking will generate a donation to the excellent Restart charity that does vital work in helping rugby players with career-ending injuries recover and adapt to life after rugby. You can find the main tour page here. South Africa is a rugby mad country and you will be able to feel the excitement everywhere you go. Check out our packages on our British & Irish Rugby Tour pages and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are rugby fans ourselves, even if one of us happens to be a Springbok supporter. But we tolerate him because he lives in Cape Town and will take next year's defeats without blubbing on about the refs or alleged food poisoning.
Western Tanzania's three parks are the hardest, and in Katavi's and Mahale's cases, the most expensive, to get to. Yet for the intrepid and dedicated few that make it there, they are well worth the effort and the expense.
The main draw of Mahale National Park and Gombe Streams National Park are the chimpanzee sightings, whilst Katavi National Park, the country's third largest National Park, is a remote, untouched wildlife haven visited by less than 1,000 people a year. Often there are fewer than two dozen people in the national park, that covers 4,471 square kilometres.
katavi national park
Located along the rift escarpment in Western Tanzania, the 4,471 square kilometre Katavi National Park is the third largest in the country. However, its remoteness and inaccessibility leaves it comparably untouched, with just a few hundred visitors per year. A land of great diversity, this untamed and wild area is in the heart of one of the largest and richest wildlife areas in Tanzania.
Home to the largest herds of buffalo on the planet, Katavi National Park is a wilderness paradise, situated in the western area of Tanzania. The park boasts a wonderful array of habitats, which range from flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways that teem with hippo and crocodile to woodlands, open grasslands, forests and pristine seasonal lakes.
Katavi is a classic dry season reserve. From June to October buffalo herds of up to 3,000 graze on the plains. Game drives offer superb photographic opportunities, whilst walks beside sluggish rivers are exciting. Large crocodiles lie in mudholes, marabou storks pick over hippo carcasses and spotted hyena lope off into the distance. Elephants drink from tiny water holes in mud-cracked pans, roan and sable antelope hide in dense thickets, while vultures clean and dry their wings in small streams. As the sun falls low in the sky, a visit to the hippo pool, where 600 hippo live in dense formation and engage in fierce territorial battles, provides a perfect place for a sundowner.
In contrast to many other Tanzanian parks, night drives are permitted, and after, as the smoke curls up from the fire and the sound of cicadas becomes deafening. If you sit quietly you might see a pennant-winged nightjar flit across the purple sky or hear an eery owl.
With only three small upmarket camps, and only two expensive flights on 12-seater planes each week, this is no place for the masses, but for the dedicated safari enthusiast.
mahale national park
Mahale is both one of the most remote and most beautiful national parks in Tanzania. Mahale National Park encompasses a large mountainous forest rising from the white sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, where you will find the only two lodges in the park. It is most famous for its chimp tracking and is arguably the best place in the world to see man's closest relative. The park was originally established to protect the large population of over 1000 chimpanzees and other primates. Over the decades since its establishment, researchers have managed to habituate a group of over 50 chimpanzees, allowing visitors to get very close to the chimps for unforgettable encounters.
The hike to reach the Mahale chimpanzees can vary from a short stroll of 20 minutes to a more strenuous hike lasting up to three hours. The easiest time to see the chimps is during the dry season (August to October) as the paths are less slippery and the chimps tend to stay closer to the shores of Lake Tanganyika. During this time they occasionally venture very close to camp.
Getting to Mahale National Park is expensive, due to the distance from Tanzania's main airports and the fact that only very few people travel on this route. The flights take 4-5 hours from Arusha or Dar es Salaam and only go twice a week. On the positive side, this is the reason why Mahale has remained so untouched, which makes it a real off the beaten track adventure experience.
GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK
Gombe Stream National Park is a thin strip of ancient montane forest also bordering, Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world. This park was made world-famous for the primate studies conducted by pioneering British researcher Jane Goodall. With just one lodge in the national park, prepare yourself for a truly remarkable experience of chimpanzees and nature in one of the most untouched parks of Tanzania
You can see a selection of our Western Tanzania itineraries here.
Southern Tanzania is home to the very accessible Selous Game Reserve, the largest wildlife reserve in Africa, the beautiful and little-visited gem of Ruaha, the country’s largest National Park, Mikumi National Park, the Udzungwa Mountains, and the ancient trading port of Kilwa.
SELOUS GAME RESERVE
Selous Game Reserve is on the coastal plains, with the Rufiji River running through it, supplying a system of lakes with water year-round, allowing for boat-based game and bird viewing too. Both reserves are linked by daily flights in light aircraft operating from bush strips within each reserve/park. Ruaha can also be linked to the superb and even more seldom-visited Katavi National Park in the west, three times a week.
The enormous, 50,000 square-kilometre reserve (almost twice the size of Belgium and two and a half times larger than the famous Serengeti in the north) also prvides the most varied game viewing experiences in the country, with boat-based game viewing, mornign walking safaris, and standard game drives all an option. Some lodges also offer an excellent fly-camping experience. The landscape here has remained almost as it was before tourism began and the massive park has only a few accommodation options inside the reserve and low visitor numbers, which creates a more authentic experience than safaris in the northern circuit.
For the more budget conscious traveller, there are some good-value options just outside the main gate that we have excellent relationships with.
Flora and Fauna
The reserve contains a great diversity of vegetation types, including rocky acacia-clad hills, gallery and ground water forests, swamps and lowland rain forest. The dominant vegetation of the reserve is deciduous Miombo woodlands and constitutes a globally important example of this vegetation type. Because of this fire-climax vegetation, soils are subject to erosion when there are heavy rains. The result is a network of normally dry rivers of sand that become raging torrents during the rains; these sand rivers are one of the most unique features of the Selous landscape. Large parts of the wooded grasslands of the northern Selous are seasonally flooded by the rising water of the Rufiji River, creating a very dynamic ecosystem. The reserve has a higher density and diversity of species than any other Miombo woodland area: more than 2,100 plants have been recorded and more are thought to exist in the remote forests in the south.
Selous protects an impressive amount of game; it contains globally significant populations of African elephant, black rhinoceros, and an estimated 1,300 of the worlds’ roughly 5,000 remaining rare wild dogs, giving guests an opportunity to glimpse all of these exotic animals in true unspoilt wilderness. It also includes one of the world's largest known populations of hippopotamus (18,200) and buffalo (204,015). There are also large populations of ungulates including sable antelope (7000), Lichtenstein's hartebeest (52,150), greater kudu, eland and Nyassa wildebeest (80,815). In addition, there is a large number of Nile crocodile and 350 species of birds, including the endemic Udzungwa forest partridge and the Rufous winged sunbird.
How to get there
The best way to access Selous is by flying in from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar in a light aircraft, landing on a bush strip, and being collected by the lodge. Flights are from US$170 per person each way. It is also possible to arrange drive-in safaris from Dar-es-Salaam, but we do recommend to fly, as the drive can take anything between 5 and 8 hours to Selous, depending on the road conditions.
A safari to the Selous can also be combined with a trip to Ruaha National Park, another little-visited gem. To visit the Selous there are two types of camp. Those inside the reserve itself, and those just outside.
RUAHA NATIONAL PARK
The hidden jewel of Africa...
The rolling wilderness of Ruaha National Park, studded with the great baobab trees, and intersected by the Ruaha river, is known for its elephant population, large herds of buffalo, big lion prides, rarer antelope species, and its bird life. Park fees are lower here than in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, and visitor numbers incomparable. With only a dozen lodges and camps inside the park, which covers 24,000 sq. km, peace and tranquillity are assured. It’s not uncommon to not encounter another vehicle on a game drive.
Of all the reserves and national parks in Africa, Ruaha is in our top three favourites. Nothing can beat its variety of stunning landscapes and dry season wildlife action. Combined with only having a handful of lodges and being bigger than the Serengeti, if you really want to feel in the heart of Africa, Ruaha is the place for the ultimate safari.
As well as hosting 450 bird species in its abundant trees, Ruaha is also home to the elusive and rare, stinky but beautiful, African hunting dog. With a varied landscape there is also a good chance of spotting a cheetah stalking on the open savannah, encountering the majestic Sable antelope and its dry grassy areas make it a great habitat for cheetahs. Ruaha has unusually large prides of lions, and encountering a pride of 20 or more is not uncommon. As the river slows to a trickle in the drier months, the game concentrates on the dwindling stream, and the game viewing is superb. In the wetter months after the rains in March and April, the game viewing is still very good and the birding excellent.
Ruaha has the widest range of antelopes in the region, being a crossover/meeting point of southern African and eastern African species. Roan antelope, Sable antelope, Common waterbuck, Defassa waterbuck, Greater kudu, Hartebeest and Tsessebe can all be seen there. Ruaha is a sublime step into safari wilderness.
A vehicle safari can cover the ground and will deliver you concentrations of animals – you can count yourself unlucky if you don’t see a large pride of lions here - but walking safaris take you closer, both physically and spiritually, to the soil. Walking with a park ranger alongside the river the next morning, hearing nothing but the wind rustling the vegetation and your own footsteps makes the bush an even more intimate place. With so few tourists around and covering such a vast area, you are no longer visiting the bush, you are the bush.
Sightings of distant crocodiles and, by keeping downwind, nearby giraffes, zebras, and antelope are the norm, but you can also look at the bizarre, sprawling nest of the hammerkop, a large stork-like bird that buries its eggs in a three-roomed nest decorated with old bones; inspect spoor (field guide talk for prints and poop) of some of the bush’s unseen nocturnal inhabitants like the aardvark and the genet, the choggy footprint of a hippopotamus and an impressively large lion paw; and prod biscuit barrel sized elephant pats. And all this before brunch and heading on to your next destination for dinner.
How to get there
The best way to get to Ruaha is to hop in a light aircraft. Ruaha can also be accessed by light aircraft from Selous Game Reserve, offering splendid views of the savannah and the Udzungwas. Despite being larger than the Serengeti, there are only a dozen lodges and camps inside the park. It’s a 10-hour drive from Dar, so is best broken up with a stop over in Mikumu and/or the Udzungwas.
Mikumi National Park
West of the bustling town of Morogoro, Mikumi National Park is small reserve with some lovely scenery and offers a gentle game experience – ideal for a two-night stop and a good base for daytrips to the Udzungwa Mountains. Mikumi shares a border and its game populations with the Selous, so you'll find plenty here, including elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, impala and buffalo. The vast Mkata plain is often a good place to search for lion, whilst the lucky will spot leopard or even wild dog.
The park is bisected by a major road, which detracts from its feeling of wilderness, but does make it easy to reach by vehicle; it's just four hours south-west of Dar es Salaam.
There are a few fairly simple camps here; all suitable for stopping at with your own vehicle and guide. The best in the area is Foxes Safari Camp with twelve en-suite tents. And the recently renovated Mikumi Wildlife Camp is also good with 12 simple, clean cottages made of stone and thatch. There is also Vuma Hills which is only 15 minutes from the park entrance and has 16 spacious en-suite tents. It's a convenient location for a stop-over and short safari en-route to Ruaha, but we wouldn't recommend more than two nights here.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Part of the 'The Eastern Arc', an ancient group of mountain ranges stretching across Tanzania and Kenya, the Udzungwas are the most extensive mountain range in Tanzania. They were formed at least 100 million years ago and many endemic species have evolved here, making them something of 'an African Galapagos'. Local taboos have helped to preserve the wildlife, and now this national park protects almost 20% of the Udzungwa Mountains.
Amongst the larger attractions are 10 species of primate, three of which are endemic: the Uhehe (aka Iringa) red colobus, the Matunda galago and the Sanje crested mangabey. The last of these is amongst the world's 25 most threatened primates. With a day to explore slowly, you'll usually see the red colobus, along with the black and white Angola colobus. Blue and vervet monkeys and yellow baboons are also common.
More than 400 species of birds live here, including many regional endemics like the Udzungwa forest partridge, which was new to science in 1991. With more scientific research, further new species are bound to be discovered. A quarter of the plants here are endemic, including some Saitpaulia species, closely related to African violets. There are also endemic amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies.
Setting off in walking shoes, with water and snacks, you'll explore the park's walking trails with a guide. These trails vary in length from a few hours to three days, and do have steep sections, but are always taken at your own pace. Expect to pass streams and waterfalls amidst the thick forest vegetation. We recommend Udzungwa as an excellent day trip from Mikumi - or perhaps a short stay at the new Udzungwa Forest Mountain camp to break up the journey between Dar and Ruaha.
Kilwa – meaning ‘Place of Fish’ – is the collective name given to three different areas on the Tanzanian coast: Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko. Exploring UNESCO-listed ruins that tell the story of close to a millenium of coastal history is the main draw.
Kilwa isn’t located on the usual tourist route, so the quality of accommodation isn’t as high, however, travellers who want to learn a little more about the colourful history of this area will find it an adventurous addition to an off-beat itinerary, with comfortable and well-hosted, if relatively basic, accommodation.
The most modern of the three ‘Kilwas’, Kilwa Masoko is where most people base themselves to visit the ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani. There is little of historical interest here, but Jimbizi Beach – where Kimbilio Lodge is situated – is pleasant enough for a day or two relaxing.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities and their prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India and China, particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland was traded for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience and Chinese porcelain. From the 9th century all the way up until the 19th century, Kilwa Kisiwani was a wealthy and powerful port. At its height, the empire stretched from Kenya to Mozambique, and Kilwa Kisiwani’s prosperity was crucial to the development of Swahili civilisation. Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own currency in the 11th to 14th centuries. When the Portuguese took over the coastline in 1505 they assumed control of Kilwa Kisiwani. They murdered the majority of the residents and replaced the Arab palaces with forts. Today, a small number of local fishermen live on the island, but for the most part it is deserted.
Kilwa Kisiwani is now an abandoned city covering much of the island, filled with crumbling mosques, remnants of once glorious palaces, and ancient tombs. Considered one of the most important surviving examples of the Islamic-influenced Swahili maritime trade, it’s quite rightly the main attraction for visitors to the area. The runs of the Sultan's 100-room palace are the largest palatial ruins on the continent, and the Great Mosque the oldest standing in East Africa. Constructed in the 11th century and considerably enlarged in the 13th century, and roofed entirely with domes and vaults, some decorated with embedded Chinese porcelain; the palace Husuni Kubwa built between 1310 and 1333 with its large octagonal bathing pool; Husuni Ndogo, numerous mosques, the prison constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fort and an entire urban complex with houses, public squares, and burial grounds. In 1331-1332, the great traveller, Ibn Battouta made a stop here and described Kilwa Kisiwani as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The ruins of Songo Mnara, at the northern end of the island, consist of the remains of five mosques, a palace complex, and some thirty-three domestic dwellings constructed of coral stones and wood within enclosing walls.
Kilwa Kivinje – a small town on the mainland – was once the wealthy southern centre of the slave trade with up to 20,000 slaves passing through. Banned in 1873, the slave trade is still thought to have continued in Kilwa Kivinje until 1880. Afterwards, the Germans took over the town and used it as an administrative centre, but following the end of World War II the town gradually lost importance and today it is a small port. Travellers can visit the big fort with a cannon leftover from World War I, an old German market hall, as well as an attractive beach where you can watch the local fishermen. Very few people visit the area, so it provides an authentic insight into Tanzanian life.
How to get there
There are light aircraft flights to Kilwa, or it can be reached in an six-hour road transfer from Dar, or four hours from Selous. The island can be reached by a short boat ride, and explored with a private guide for around US$50, including the entrance fee (which the guide will buy on your behalf from the Department of Antiquities). The trip takes at least half a day, or a full day if you want to combine it with Songo Mnara.
I first went to Namibia in 1998 and have been back many times since. In that time I have met, tried, and tested many different service providers, car hire companies, lodges, campsites and routes. I’ve done it in everything from a four-door saloon car to specially built 12-seater four-wheel-drives, one modified to take a wheelchair-bound client.
Namibia has a surprising variety of landscapes, the oldest tribes in Africa, and some rare and stunning fauna and flora, from desert-dwelling elephants and rhinos to 2000-year-old plants. There is a similar variety in itineraries, campsites, and lodges.
Namibia is easily explored on a self-drive basis, which gives maximum flexibility and even though the roads are 70% gravel roads, with a suitable vehicle the driving is easy; I’d always recommend a raised SUV or pick-up truck over a normal road car. There are also a number of set-date group guided trips to experience the main highlights of the country on a budget. And if you want to see more in less time and have a very exclusive experience, then a flying safari is the way to go.
The sand dunes of the southern Namib Desert five hours from the capital, Windhoek.
Desert-dwelling elephants, black rhinos, and lions in the other-worldly wildernesses of northern Damaraland and Koakoland.
Abundant game in Etosha NP.
Leopard and cheetah tracking at Okonjima, three hours north of Windhoek.
In the far south, the supremely photogenic deserted mining settlement of Kolmanskop and the fantastic Fish River Canyon.
Amazing scenery throughout the country.
If it rains, it rains between November and March, the rest of the year is very dry. In the winter months of June, July and August, night time temperatures in the desert can drop to freezing. Daytime temperatures are 25-31°C.
Namibia is a country we know extremely well; I have been there nine times, spending a total of 27 weeks in the country, coming it from north to south and east to west. Matthew O’Brien, one of our Senior Safari Consultants, used to guide overland tours there, and Ines Moosmann, our Sales and Product supremo, has spent over two months here too.
To paint a bit more of a picture of the many wonders of this beautiful and diverse country, we have put together a selection of our individual highlights.
Kicking off is Matthew.
It is hard to conjure up the adjectives to describe your feelings when you first set your eyes on Dead Vlei. I can remember the first time I saw pictures of Dead Vlei in postcards and thought that such a place couldn’t be real. The colours were too vivid and too contrasting. Those postcards had to have been manipulated. There was the whiteness of the salt pan, the sharp ochre colour of the towering sand dunes and the deep blue of the sky that you find in parts of the world that haven’t been touched by air pollution.
The journey to Dead Vlei is an exciting one. It is located 66km inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park on a stretch of road that winds through the oldest desert in the world, past some of the highest sand dunes in the world, all of which are bright orange, with the occasional Oryx and Springbok running on them.
About 5km before you get to Dead Vlei, the tar road ends and turns into a 4x4 sand road. If you have your own 4x4 and know what you are doing, you can proceed along the sand road yourself, keeping your revs up so that you don’t get stuck. Digging your car out of sand is not anyone’s idea of fun. If you don’t have a 4x4, you can either walk the last 5km, or catch the shuttle that will take you there. The shuttle is quite an experience as the drivers load you into the back of an open game viewer and roar through the sand like rally drivers while you cling to the roll bars.
Once dropped off in the parking lot, in the shade of the only tree there, it’s just 400 more metres to go and after one short climb up a tiny dune, you can lay your eyes on Dead Vlei and confirm to yourself that those postcards were not lying. Most people stop and stare for a few minutes to take it all in before finally heading into the Dead Vlei to marvel at it all and take their own post card pictures.
It might seem weird to be writing about a seaside town as one my favourite places in a land of contrasts such as Namibia, but you have to remember what you will have been through to get to the town and the sights you will have seen along your journey. Most people who arrive in Swakopmund do so after bouncing along a corrugated dirt road for hundreds of kilometres. To those travellers from more developed parts of the world where everyone has a nice smooth tar road running past their gates, finding what actually amounts to a dirt highway snaking its way through the driest landscape in Southern Africa must be quite an experience. Then the corrugations end, the dirt turns to tar and you have arrived in Swakopmund, Namibia’s seaside playground. It is perhaps a weird place to have a seaside resort, as the Atlantic Ocean is freezing and the town is usually blanketed in sea fog every morning.
But just outside the town is 35km belt of sand dunes where you can go quad biking, sand boarding or camel riding. Out in the freezing cold sea, there is also much to see. There are daily sightseeing cruises that will get you up close to dolphins, Cape fur seals and pelicans. There is also the Swakopmund Sky Diving Club. This is arguably the best place in the world to go sky diving because of the consistency of the desert weather. They claim to have more clear sky diving days than any other sky diving club in the world. This is where I did my first sky dive and if it was more affordable, where I would have done many more sky dives.
After an eventful day of activities and fun in the, well, cold, we finally come to my favourite part of Swakopmund; watching the sun set at the Tiger Reef Beach Bar. Now, you probably won’t find the Tiger Reef Beach Bar in any main tourist guides and it isn’t where tour guides take their guests for dinners, but it is one of my favourite restaurants in Southern Africa, for the setting. The bar is literally the last building in Swakopmund and is built on the beach. You need a 4x4 to park there. The floor of the bar is beach sand and you can take your shoes off when you enter and walk around in the sand. This is where I like to come, order a plate of chips, a local Tafel Lager and watch the sun set over that frigid Atlantic Ocean. I can’t think of a better way to end the day. Don’t forget your jacket.
Ines heart beats to these Namibian tunes.
Namibia Rand Reserve/Wolwedans
The Namib Rand Reserve offers the most beautiful desert scenery, where mountains meet the desert that looks like a soft, orange and light green carpet and all that with no crowds of people. Activities are all private, guided by fantastic guides who not only find the bigger game like all the common desert adapted antelopes, zebras, giraffe and baboons, but also the invisible inhabitants of this harsh environment like hares, moulds, mice, moles, beetles, spiders, lizards, chameleons and other reptiles. A highlight is an excursion on horseback, which really makes you feel one with nature and brings you to the most special spots.
Etosha is the only national park in Africa with an semi-arid environment and its main characteristic, the Etosha Salt Pan is so large that it can be seen from space. Despite this dry environment you can find an abundance of wildlife here, congregating around the many waterholes. Nowhere else can you find as many species sharing a waterhole as in Etosha, it’s usually a lively gathering of giraffe, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, rhinos, jackals, warthogs, lions, and numerous antelope species and all with the background of white earth and blues skies; beautiful and fantastic for photographers.
Fish River Canyon
The second biggest canyon in the world might not be as spectacular as some of the other well-known canyons in the world, but it is still spectacular to see how the river has snaked its way through the rocks all the way from Seeheim to AiAis, on the border to South Africa. My favourite spot here is Fish River Lodge, where you will also be the only one around and your room will look straight down into the canyon, with incredible sunsets, which is pretty special. The hikes from there also take you down into the canyon, rather than just along the rim and you can even camp overnight in the canyon and make it a multi-day hiking excursion.
I’ve got to say, these are pretty cool spots, mainly. Swakopmund doesn’t do much for me these days, though the size of steaks at Kuki’s are always impressive. Etosha has superb wildlife, Okaukuejo waterhole is a rhino magnet at night, and the elsewhere elusive blavk rhino is easy to see. Big cat sightings are common too, and it is the only place where I have seen Aardwolf in daylight, mating nonetheless. Wolwedans is s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g, both the reserve and the accommodation, I love it there, such a special place. And enjoying a sundowner round the fire (it gets cold at night) at Fish River Lodge having spent the day descending into the canyon and then bounding back up, is a delight.
But my favourites involve desert-adapted wildlife in Damaraland and Koakoland, where not only elephants, rhinos, and lions roam, but where the game is truly wild, not hemmed in by any boundaries. Giraffe, zebra, oryx and springbok can be encountered as you cruise along the gravel roads through the ever-changing and ever-stunning landscapes.
Damaraland is a huge, untamed, ruggedly diverse and beautiful region with prehistoric water courses, open plains, grassland, massive granite kopjes and deep gorges. Along the coastal belt, the geography has vast sand areas that are able to sustain small, but wide-ranging, populations of desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich and springbok. Elephant and rhino move through euphorbia bush country. It's also home to the highest peak in the country, Brandberg, and its ancient "White Lady" rock art.
Damaraland extends 600km south of Kaokoland down to the main road to Swakopmund at Uis, and extends 200km inland from the Skeleton Coast. Named after the Damara people in the area, the name is still commonly used, although the entire region has now been renamed; the southern section is in the Erongo region and the north forms part of the Kunene region.
The remote northwest corner of Namibia, the remotest part of the country, is one of my favourite places on the planet. Now part of the Kunene Region, it's rugged yet sublimely beautiful, with incredible craggy mountains, coastal desert, huge areas of sand in dried-up river beds full of trees and bushes, and the country’s only flowing waterfalls at Epupa and Ruacana. Stretching north from the Hoanib River up to the Kunene River and the Angolan border, the region is home to desert-adapted wildlife; elephants, black rhino, lions, giraffe, springbok, Hartmann's zebra and around 5,000 Himba pastoralists. The game is relatively sparse, but so rewarding to see it, and the backdrops make excellent photographs in the early morning and late afternoon light, when the pastel shades glow. From ragged mountain ridges, to sandy plains dotted with bushes or tufts of grass, the landscapes are postcard porn. Boating or canoeing on the Kunene, and putting a cheeky foot or two on Angolan soil is a bonus. Kaokoland is also the place from where the Skeleton Coast can be experienced in the most depth, if staying at one of the up-market lodges , like Shipwreck and Hoanib Valley Lodge.
Self-driving in the far north is for the intrepid, experienced, and prepared only. There is no cell phone coverage in most parts, and very few to no passing vehicles, depending where you are. Some of the routes involved driving through thick sand, navigating with a mix of GPS and dead-reckoning. It is possible to drive part of way, and then make use of a lodge transfer service or light aircraft for the final leg.
My final favourite place is also the last on a classic circuit, Okonjima Game Reserve, halfway between Windhoek and the Etosha National Park; only a two-and-a-half-hour drive or a brief flight into the reserve’s private airstrip. At the end of a trip, it’s a great last stop to give yourself the best chance of having a good encounter or two with leopard and cheetah, and potentially brown hyaena and pangolin, as well as the in-house patients of the AfriCat Foundation.
Photographer, conservationist, dive and field guide, teller of bad jokes.