TraveLuxe

Archive for March, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle!

Well, maybe not the jungle in all cases, but the wild! From open plains to dense rain forests to rushing rivers and long-stretching deserts, Africa’s landscapes and animals have caught on in a big way. Not only are travelers planning safaris, but many are looking for more than the traditional game drive options and less-explored regions. When it comes to choosing a safari, the styles and destinations are numerous. It’s because of this that we chose to create an entire TraveLuxe edition surrounding safaris. Sit back, enjoy and then start planning your trip to Africa!

Safari Styles – Types of Safaris

Just as with other types of vacations, safaris come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. The most popular, or at least most readily depicted, is the driving safari. This usually involves heading out in a 4×4 vehicle with an expert guide, and is possibly the most general type of safari – it’s a great way to see a wide variety of (land) animals and can be done in a national park or game reserve. It’s often a small group (afterall, you have to fit in the vehicle) and can be done as a private safari as well.

In addition to the driving safari, though, there are numerous ways to see the animals, some of which are necessary for viewing specific types of wildlife.

• Walking safaris – these can be done with a group or a private guide, and allow guests to travel on foot to see the animals. Without the vehicle between you and the wildlife, it can feel a bit more interesting, albeit perhaps a bit more scary and thrilling the closer the animals get. The guides are experts in the regions and the wildlife, though, and know how to read the animals movements to ensure that safari-goers are not in any danger. These can range from a few hours to multiple nights, with the overnight safaris having both basic and luxury sleeping options.

• River/boat Safaris – this is an excellent way to see water-dwelling wildlife, such as hippopotamus, alligators, and many species of bird, as well as animals who come to the water to drink or bath, such as elephants (who you’ll often see actually in the water or cooling off in the mud by the banks) and multiple types of antelope such as impala, bushbuck, waterbuck and kudu.

• Fly-in safaris – these allow you to see a greater number of area in a shorter period of time. In addition, they also offer an areal view of the landscape and wildlife – a completely unique experience from anything offered on the ground.

• Hot air balloon safaris – These are almost always day trip options, as opposed to multiple-day safaris. It’s tough to beat the spectacular view of sunrise over the African plains as the hot air balloon takes off.

• Canoe safaris – Like boat safaris, a canoe safari focuses on the animals in and around the rives. Unlike the boat safaris, though, canoes are smaller and quieter (no motor) allowing you to get even closer to the animals. These are led by a guide, just as with other safaris, and can range in length from a day trip to multiple days.

• Mobile safaris – These safaris move from place to place, setting up camp each night. They can require longer drives, sometimes up to six hours between locations. Just because they are tented, they don’t necessarily require “roughing it”. Some offer very luxurious, even en suite tents.

• Elephant-back safari – For elephant-lovers, this might be the ultimate safari experience. While they’re often just a half-day or full-day excursion, these safaris let you see the landscape from atop an elephant. Elephants are typically very gentle creatures, though, and the particular elephants used have gone through training to participate in the safaris. Still, it’s important to know how to ride the elephant and be respectful of the animal and it’s environment. They can still get spooked or excited, and you have to be prepared to hold on if their speed changes or they move suddenly.

• Primate Safaris – Because of their nature, primate safaris are limited to just a few countries in the world. The most sought after include: lemurs in Madagascar, the chimpanzees in Uganda; lowland gorillas in the Congo, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic and Gabon; and perhaps the most incredible, the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. With under 700 mountain gorillas left in the world, permits for viewing the mountain gorillas are quite limited and are rather costly, though all of the proceeds from these goes directly back to conservation efforts for the gorillas.

Often, people choose to combine several types of safaris and in multiple destinations. Often, game lodges will provide a package with a variety of safari options – for instance 4×4 safaris, boat safaris and perhaps a walking safari. Before choosing your destination, consider which types of safaris you are interested in, which animals you’d most like to see, and which landscapes you’d most like to experience.

Destination Decisions – Where to Safari

Safaris are becoming increasingly popular vacations, and Africa tourism is steadily growing – particularly that of southern and eastern Africa, the continent’s primary safari destinations. Despite their common bond of safaris, the countries in these regions each have their own distinct personality, landscape and wildlife, and type of safari, and vacation in general, that you get certainly varies depending on the destination(s) you choose. While the possibilities are vast, here are some of the most popular destinations, and their top features.

South Africa: This southernmost country in Africa is popular because of the numerous vacation opportunities it offers. The city of Cape Town with it’s harbor and history, is a worldwide favorite for city lovers. With Table Mountain as its backdrop and access to the wine region, visitors often combine a visit to Cape Town with a safari experience. South Africa has numerous national parks and game reserves, the most well-known of which is Kruger National Park. Kruger is home to the Big 5 – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros – along with giraffe, hippos, cheetah and more. Accommodations range from basic camps to upscale chalets with everything in between. For more details about safari opportunities in South Africa, visit the South Africa Tourism website.

Botswana: Botswana sets itself apart in that they do not fence in their animals. The animals are allowed to roam freely, and if needed, lodges have fences around them to keep larger animals off of the property. It’s thrilling to know that you are truly seeing the wildlife in its most absolute natural setting. Botswana’s major game viewing areas are the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. The Delta is fed by the Cubango River, and it’s size is dependent on the season (growing in the rainy season, shrinking in the dry season). As rains dry up and water sources deplete in surrounding areas, animals head to the Okavango for water (generally May through October), making this the best time to visit the area. Chobe National Park in northern Botswana has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa, and is especially known for its elephant population.

Kenya: Along with Tanzania, Kenya is perhaps Africa’s most popular safari destination. Masai Mara National Reserve is its prized destination. You’ll almost certainly see the Big 5 here, along with giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest, cheetah, multiple types of antelope and numerous other animals. Most anticipated, though is the migration of millions of Zebra and wildebeest from Tanzania’s Serengeti through Masai Mara that happens between July and October each year.

Tanzania: The Serengeti is Tanzania’s most well-known national park. Visitors can view lions, elephants, giraffe, and plenty of other animals roaming plains which stretch to the protected area bordering Masai Mara in Kenya. Each year in July, wildebeest and Zebra leave the Serengeti and migrate through Masai Mara. The Serengeti has become one of the top places for the relatively new opportunity of hot-air-balloon safaris. A trip to Tanzania would also not be complete without a visit to the Ngorogoro Crater, an incredible natural wonder that’s banks are home to lion, zebra, wildebeest and the endangered black rhino.

Uganda: Bordering Tanzania and Kenya, Uganda boasts the “Big 5 + 2”. It offers all of the traditional safari animals, including the big 5, giraffe, hippos, alligators, and more, plus the very rare opportunity for trekking with the endangered mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. There are only three countries in the world where the mountain gorillas are found, with less than 700 of them left in the world. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest contains more than half of the remaining gorillas, and daily permits to go trekking and sit with the gorillas are limited. Chimpanzees can be found in Kibale National Forest and while permits for chimpanzee trekking are required, they are much less expensive and easier to get. Uganda is the only country in which visitors can see the Big 5 plus mountain gorillas and chimps.

Namibia: Though distinctive for it’s vast deserts, particularly Kalahari and the Namib, rainforests, woodland savannahs rivers and mountains are also part of Namibia’s terrain. Etosha National Park, Namibia’s primary game viewing location, covers close to 23,000 square kilometers. Because it’s centered around a dry calcrete depression, it has man-made water points that attract animals during the dry season of June through November. Over 150 mammal species can be found in Etosha, including several endangered species such as the black rhino and the rhino-faced impala.

Zimbabwe: Most tourists who head to Zimbabwe are there to see Victoria Falls (which can be seen from both Zimbabwe and Zambia). Though not a safari, this amazing natural wonder is absolutely worth a visit if you’re headed to either country. In the Victoria Falls area, there are numerous activities available, including elephant back safaris, walk with the lions, horse riding safari, canoe and boat safari,s plus day and night game drives through the Nakavango Private Game Reserve. Hwange National Park, on the edge of the Kalahari, is Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve that offers the Big 5, in particular a large number of elephants, plus 400 species of birds.

Zambia: As with Zimbabwe, Zambia attracts visitors looking to see Victoria Falls. Also like Zimbabwe, it has plenty to offer in addition to the falls. Kafue, one of Africa’s largest National Parks, offers some of the continent’s best lion and cheetah viewing. South Kuangwa Park is one of the few parks that allows night drives, which increases the chances of spotting the elusive leopard. It’s also known for it’s large groups of hippos and endemic types of giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. Lower Zambezi National Park boasts spectacular natural scenery and is an excellent spot for canoe safaris.

Packing with a Purpose

Packing for a vacation is always one of the trickier parts. Do you really need to bring your umbrella or rain coat? How often can you wear the same jeans before you officially feel gross? How many pairs of shoes can you shove in your suitcase? Ok, that last one might just be me, but packing truly can be one of the most challenging parts of preparing for a trip, especially when traveling to multiple destinations that may have varying weather. With city travel, you can pretty much manage to get by your traditional everyday outfits unless you completely misjudge the weather. On a safari, however, what you pack actually can affect your activities and therefore takes a little extra planning.

While some of what you pack will certainly depend on the type of safari you’re taking, the time of year, and the destination, here are some general tips that can apply to most safaris.

1. If you’re planning a walking safari (or think you may partake in one) pack some neutral items of clothing to blend in as much as you can. Bright colors will draw attention to you, which could be unsafe – think of the red flag that the matadors wave to entice bulls.

2. Pack lotions, shower gels and other bath/body products that have light or no scent. Again, anything too strong could draw the attention of the animals. While it’s not particularly likely unless you’re wearing something especially pungent, it’s better to be safe (literally) than sorry.

3. Bring clothes that layer well. If you’re staying at a game park, game drives are often scheduled for early in the morning and around sunset. Temperatures in Africa can change dramatically throughout the day, and morning drives in particular get can start out chillier and end up quite warm.

4. The rainy seasons in Africa vary from country to country, and sometimes even in different regions within a country. If you’re planning a multi-destination safari, it’s possible that you may hit the rainy season, or at least the cusp of it, at least once. Rain jackets are relatively easy to pack and don’t take up too much space. Some countries, such as Botswana, can get quite severe thunder storms and with much of your time spent in wide open spaces (even at the lodges), this is a case in which a rain jacket is most certainly preferable to an umbrella.

5. Some countries require vaccination records, particularly for yellow fever. If the countries you’re visiting require this, make sure to pack this in a secure but handy spot for when you enter the country. You can learn more about required and recommended vaccinations on the CDC website.

Check out the Chimera Travel Blog for more packing ideas!