Southern Africa Trip Reports
Highlights of Southern Africa Safari
Below is a portion of my email I shared with family and friends…
Hello from Zimbabwe or “Zim” as the locals refer to it.
As soon as our tiny six seat Cessna plane touched down on a red dirt airstrip in the middle of the bush, I knew we were in for a real adventure in Zim – and it did not disappoint! Mana Pools National Park is located along the Zambezi River, in northwestern Zimbabwe. The river is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Upon landing we were met by our guide, Blade, who would soon become a part of our family over the next few days. It was the end of “high season” here so it meant we had Blade all to ourselves for the entire time even though we did not pay for a private guide. (We only shared the lodge with one other couple from Germany).
Blade has a wealth of knowledge and a real eagle eye for spotting wildlife. The drive from the remote airstrip to our camp was 2 hours. Within the first 20 mins we saw our first elephant using its trunk to reach high in the tree for leaves. We would later have multiple close encounters with elephants that varied from 5’ – 40’ from them! After gawking for a few minutes, we pressed onward as Blade heard reports of a rare dog pack further down the road and we wanted to see them before it got dark.
Mana is home to two packs of wild dogs, and there are fewer than 500 of these dogs in the wild in all of Africa, so to see them in real life is very special. We were able to locate the dog pack – 13 dogs in total, including 4 pups and 1 alpha male and female. It was fun to watch the pups play and all of them communicate with each other. We definitely saw many of Roscoe’s characteristics in these wild animals, which made us miss our little man!
Mana Pools is one of a few areas that allows for safaris on foot. To best see the dogs, we followed Blade into the bush – allowing us a vantage point of less than 15 feet from these creatures. It was amazing to be so close, but yet feel safe (Blade had a rifle). Through the next few days, we would have the same close encounters with elephants, lions, and baboons.
As darkness settled in, we still had a half hour to reach camp; however, our next close encounter was just ahead – 3 lionesses crossed in front of our jeep and then stopped to check us out. Immediately one lioness climbed a tree just to the left of our jeep as if they were scouting prey – the other two remained on the ground, on either side of our Land Cruiser. We stopped and sat in total silence – in shock of how close we were with such a deadly animal. After a few short minutes, the lioness came down from the tree and another ascended for their view – It felt like we were being sized up. After a few more minutes, the lion dismounted and all three moved up the road. We slowly trailed them until they passed us again – this time they were within an arms’ length of our Land Cruiser (sans doors!). We stopped and they continued until they paused to drink at the puddle in the middle of the road. We were so close we could hear her drinking water!!
By now it was completely dark and we had to get to camp for dinner. All of us, including Blade, could not believe these incredible sightings in our first two hours. This proved to be a precursor for our entire time in Mana Pools. We saw more elephants, hippos, impala, crocodiles, bamboos, wart hogs (cue: Lion King) and monkeys than we could count. Plus a lot of other mammals and reptiles that were new to me (like this cute tiny cat called a “genet” – I claim it as a baby leopard sighting, even though it is not!).
During our time in Mana Pools, we took safaris on land – in jeep and foot – and by boat down the Zambezi. The biggest surprise, other than the amount of wildlife sightings, was that we basically had the entire park to ourself. The first day we saw no other person and on day two and three we saw less than six other Safari vehicles. It was good for my soul to know that in 2023 this type of remote wilderness still exists – and that wildlife are in such abundance in this special place…
After leaving Zimbabwe, we took a quick intermission to our safari adventure by having a two night “pit stop” in Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Despite being the end of dry season there was still plenty of water flowing – it was very impressive! We would later learn what we witnessed was only a third of its peak volume during wet season and at that time the mist generated by the falls are so thick that you can’t see the actual falls. Another benefit of traveling in the dry season.
Our time in Vic Falls also included a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi, which provided another unique encounter with elephants. This time we witnessed a group of 20 elephants swim across the Zambezi! One by one they formed a line emerging from the thick bush and would enter into the river. We couldn’t believe it – at one point we all said “another one?” as they kept emerging from the dense bush. Our boat driver stopped so we could avoid the elephants but also observe this marvel. For some context on the river crossing – the Zambezi is a wide river similar in size to the Hudson or Tennessee Rivers. Who knew elephants could swim? In the deepest part, the elephants formed clusters and at some points only their trunk would be visible, like a submarine scope peaking above the water surface. Truly a marvel.
After Vic Falls, we flew to Botswana’s Okavango Delta (this time in a slightly larger 12-seater plane) for our second Safari and final leg of our trip. This was a very different eco system that what we experienced in Zim, providing a neat juxtaposition of habitats. We stayed at a luxurious safari camp on a private 500,000 acre reserve affording us and the 12 other guests at the camp nearly completely private access to the land that we would explore over the next 4 days with our guide.
As soon as we arrived, it was clear that wildlife was abundant – Ryan and I saw two male lions from the swimming pool at our lodge and Greg would later have an elephant peek through his window, plus countless baboons inhabited trees above our camp. There were no fence boundaries around the camp – we were one with the bush, meaning we could only go to our rooms via escort of our guide.
Like in Zim, it was the end of dry season, so much of the normally wet delta area was really dry – only a few areas retain water year-round and much of the normally wet terrain was now dried grass. For me this looked much more like the savannah grasslands that come to mind when thinking of safari landscapes. This helped our wildlife viewing chances but also meant the ecosystem we saw will be drastically different in a few more weeks once the rains begin and more of the areas return to swamp lands.
We all knew that visiting the Southern Hemisphere meant seasons were opposite from home – their November is spring (equivalent to our April). We packed accordingly; however, we didn’t think about other aspects of spring in nature – mainly babies! We had the great fortune of seeing baby lion cubs, zebras, wart hogs, elephants, wild dog pups, and hyenas! Soooo cute!…
I’m not sure if it’s the time of year we visited or just beginners-luck with a safari, but we saw every mammal on our list, including 3 sighting of leopards and 2 sightings of cheetahs which are very elusive cats. We also saw multiple lions, including a pride of 4 female lionesses raising three lion cubs. We also found another wild dog pack – this one had six puppies! Other days we saw gangs of water buffalo, towers of giraffes, zeals of zebras, herds of antelopes, bloats of hippos, and lots of random encounters with wart hogs, hyenas, jackals, and many more smaller mammals. The only thing we didn’t witness was a live killing by cats hunting prey – but we certainly heard this happening in the early morning hours from our tents (it was terrifying).
Both of our safari camps ended each evening with “sun downers” (think happy hour with gin + tonic) out in the bush followed by a group meal with the other guests (8-12 others) back at camp. This became my favorite tradition – a chance to meet other travelers, exchange close encounter stories, and find commonalities. Other guests at the camps were mostly Europeans and an occasional other American couple. The revelry felt like summer camp meal in the dining hall, international style, and I loved it! Ryan & I made friends with two other young couples from London, whom we hope to maintain contact.
As I write this reflection, we now have 90 mins remaining in our 16-hour ultra-long haul flight back to Atlanta and my heart is full of gratitude:
* Grateful to share this epic adventure with my father-in-law, Greg, and Ryan. I’m thankful that Greg asked us to plan a safari for him!
* Grateful to know that true wilderness still exists in 2023 despite climate change and human pressures on the natural world but more acutely aware of what is at stake.
* Grateful to explore the globe again – this was my first international trip since Covid and I didn’t know how much I missed reconnecting with the world and other cultures in this way.
“Safari” is a Swahili word meaning journey – I’m grateful to have made this journey and hope I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it again someday.
Thanks for reading along these past two weeks.
We began our trip in Cape Town (which is a stunningly beautiful, world class city) and we had a guide there that told us “the only bug you will get in Africa is the Safari bug!” I can now say that he is correct, and, there is no vaccine!
Until soon and with love,
Thad Copeland, Ryan Bagley, and Greg Bagley, Nov 2023
Cape Getaway with Premier Safari to Mashatu Game Reserve
The trip was great. Every aspect of the itinerary, especially those designed by AAC, went flawlessly. All the transfers, guides, trackers, lodging, game drives – all excellent.
The lodging in Cape Town was well chosen – clean, comfortable, convenient to the convention center.
Of particular note, we loved both the Rock Fig lodge and the Mashatu Euphorbia Villas. Thanks again for the complimentary upgrades. I don’t know how our original stay would have been in the other Mashatu accommodation, but Euphorbia was beautiful and the quality of the accommodation, service, food and particularly game drives was superb.
Howie Owen was our guide for the Cape Peninsula tour; he was excellent and fun.
Our guide at the Rock Fig Lodge was Shaun Atkinson; he was great, as were the trackers.
Our guide at the Mashatu Euphorbia was Emang (Lethare?); great guide with great sense of humor.
One of the things I am always a little concerned about when traveling, particularly to the less developed parts of the world, is our vegetarian diet. But I needed not worry. The chefs in both places were superb – imaginative and resourceful.
…Thanks again for your help with the organization of this trip and for your patience with my litany of questions.
All the best,
Randy Blank, Nov-Dec 2023
Adventure Safari to Zambia and Madagascar
Hi Elena – I am working my way through my photos and getting them organized and have the photos from Johannesburg, flights, and Zambia ready so figured I would send that report first!
Once again, you planned an absolutely fantastic trip that was beyond our expectations. We made our way through customs in Johannesburg seamlessly and had a smooth and relaxing drive on Sunday morning in style to the Saxon, learning a lot about Johannesburg along the way from our friendly driver. We absolutely loved the Saxon – not only were the grounds spectacular, but there was so much history and art throughout the hotel that we loved. I could have spent hours wandering around looking at all of the photos of Nelson Mandela and admiring the art. And the food was so amazing. Sunday brunch on the patio was the perfect way to recover from jet lag … followed by an afternoon at their incredible spa and then room service!
Our transport back to Johannesburg and flight to Zambia was smooth and easy. We were so happy to have a cool and comfortable transit lounge to rest at the Lusaka airport before our flight to Mfuwe. We enjoyed a beautiful rainbow from the plane before landing and then one of the epic Zambian sunsets. Time + Tide met us at the airport and we had a thrilling drive out to South Luangwa as twilight turned to night. We enjoyed driving through the villages at night and watching all of the people bustling about at the night markets. It was so lively after dark, we could not believe it! The trip across the river in pitch dark upon arrival at Chinzombo is something we will never forget!
Chinzombo was exquisite – the lounge area and bar were sophisticated and scenic and the staff were so friendly and fun. We made many great memories watching the monkeys try to steal our delicious tea cakes and breakfast muffins. The food was all superb – hard to decide which meal we loved best but lunch and tea time were particular stand-outs.
Our room was huge and we enjoyed ourselves on the deck in between game drives. At 100+ degrees on some days, that pool was very welcome! And what fun we had watching our deck get invaded by curious baboons and vervet monkeys while we relaxed in the pool with a cocktail.
Zambia did not disappoint with its sunrises and sunsets – which were all unique and all spectacular. Our guide Adam was lots of fun and we had some really special moments with different herds of elephants as they crossed the rivers, played under sausage trees, took dust baths, and wallowed in mud to cool off. We also enjoyed all of the birding – I meticulously “ticked off” each bird we saw in my book and succeeded in seeing 50 different species of birds on the trip before I turned 50! We also had some great leopard and lion sightings … as well as some really cool moments with the wild dogs, as we were lucky enough to come across them playing both at dawn and dusk on different days.
And of course, we cannot leave out the “mascot” of the trip – the genet! We had never seen one up close before this trip and could not believe how many genets we saw on night drives. And then on the last night, we couldn’t believe how many elephant shrews we saw at night!
Of course, the perfect end to our stay in Zambia was being surprised with cake at breakfast! What a special memory that will be for us forever…
The trip back to Johannesburg went smoothly and we were happy to arrive at Fairlawns before dark. And what a WOW moment that was … the entire hotel is divine but then on top of that our room was absolute perfection, with a surprise birthday cake, champagne, and a gorgeous bouquet of lilies! Our only regret of the trip was that we did not have more nights in Johannesburg as we wished we could have had more time at both the Saxon and Fairlawns. But, as an added bonus (it was a small hiccup that turned into a bonus) … we had a minor hot water issue in our original room and so were whisked off to a different suite after dinner. We actually loved this since all of the suites have a different theme and so this allowed us to see two very different ones in one night (the first one was like a French fine art museum … the second one was the Africa themed suite … both were incredible). The service at Fairlawns was impeccable.
THANK YOU again for making the trip so incredible and special – below is a link to some of our photos.
Linda Ephraim, Nov 2023
Best of Southern Africa Safari
Miles and Staff
Thank You! We arrived home safe and sound Friday after the Best trip internationally of our lives. Incredible and amazing! We weren’t disappointed in the least!
Everything went according to your schedule like clockwork. We were met on time for all transportation schedules with professional and friendly people and as you know there were quite a few on our schedule.
Sarah and I can’t speak highly enough of the food and accommodations we received, 5 star some of the best we have experienced.
But at the top of the list were the guides and the ranger you linked us up with at Cape Town, MalaMala and Ngoma! Andrew, Erin, Cynthia and Moreri. Especially Andrew and Erin! All were professional, knowledgeable and friendly. We were treated with the utmost respect and their historical knowledge of the countries was invaluable.
We also want to Thank You Miles, for all the extra attention we were shown by MalaMala and Ngoma Staff in recognition of our 50th Anniversary! Quite a nice treat!
Sarah and I want to Thank You and your organization for a job well done and we are totally glad we booked this trip with Africa Adventure Company. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else. We will gladly share our fantastic trip experience with everyone we know in Denver!
Sincerely and Best Regards
Bill and Sarah Timmons, Nov 2023
East Africa Trip Reports
Galloping Gnus Safari to Kenya and Tanzania
We had a wonderful Safari for the last two weeks. It was exceptional. All of the “connecting parts” worked as well. Particularly going from Kenya to Tanzania, and going back. We missed only 2-3 hours of animal sighting due to the weather. On the flip side the roads were worse than I remembered, and that didn’t cause us any particular problems. The roads were rough and shook us up but getting stuck would have been worse. We came close but we never got stuck…
That said, Hillary is an exceptional guide and a wonderful travelling companion. Little Governor’s Camp is truly exceptional except for some peculiarities with the liquor charges…Lions Paw was also wonderful, as was the camp in Amboseli. We saw Kilimanjaro and we got the classic elephant/tree/Kilimanjaro photos.
Most of all we enjoyed the trip as a journey with unpredictable bonuses littered along the way. The delightful zebras and elephant in Lions Paw Camp. The 7 lion cubs in Amboseli. The leopard, who after 45 minutes of watching him sleep, rewarded us with a wonderful profile. Hippos watching us with interest in the Mara River. The huge migrating wildebeest/zebra herd we saw while we were traveling from Ngorongoro to Serengeti. The buffalo taking a mud bath who amused us for 15 minutes. And too many other things to name. It was also fun to meet Mark and Alison Nolting in Amboseli while wearing our Africa Adventure jackets.
Richard and Karen Adler, Dec 2023
Tanzania Safari and Spice Coast
You did an amazing job at planning this trip. Thank you for sending the detailed plan by email. It was very useful to have it printed out in advance. Also, thank you for suggesting, organizing our tips in advance. That was very helpful as well.
There was not a detailed that didn’t wasn’t taken care of. We love the accommodations. We loved the staff you obviously know what you’re doing.
Our safari guide was a total professional Thoughtful, organized, knowledgeable. I realize now how reassuring it was that he was right there as soon as we stepped foot in Tanzania. That’s such a critical time being so unfamiliar with everything he didn’t miss a beat. We saw a lot of animals – many up close, some from a distance. I couldn’t believe how well they can spot them from such a long distance. I think it was a little different being there during this season we did get a little rain, but nothing problematic at all. It was nice that there weren’t tons of other tourists. I don’t know how it would’ve been different in terms of the animal viewing if we had been there at a busier time.
Kahawa House – this was a very nice place to stay comfortable clean. The staff was professional and kind. The food was good.
Plantation Lodge – really love this place. It was absolutely gorgeous well-appointed comfortable again the staff was so accommodating and kind, can’t think of a nicer place to stay.
Lemala Ewanjan Tented Camp – we absolutely loved the tented campsite. We didn’t think the staff could be have been any better than the previous places we stayed, and yet these guys had so much kindness and concern, we felt very personally cared, for. They answered all our questions, kindly made sure we felt safe. It was great to have a hot shower and have coffee brought to our room. The food was really great especially the dinners. The picnics were good. I would say that hospitality is definitely their strength but everything was fabulous…
Boutique Hotel Matlai was gorgeous, really beautiful grounds and room. Took our breath away when we arrived. The staff doted on us the whole time. We were so comfortable there, set up a tour or for us that went well. We were very pleased.
Even all of our airline connections were on time which I know nobody has control over that but it was nice. We never would’ve thought to book a day room in Dar es Salaam the day before we left that was brilliant, so thank you very much
Susan Harnden, Dec 2023
Best of Tanzania Premier Safari
Thanks so much for arranging the trip. All of the logistics went without an issue. The best part of the trip other than the animal viewing which was unbelievable, was our guide Daniel Nyamoga. Daniel was a 12 out of 10. He was knowledgeable, personable, friendly, helpful and a pleasure to be around for 8 days. I would highly recommend him to anyone seeking a first-class experience.
The Lemala camps were all good. The food at Ndutu Lemala was great. The hospitality, accommodating our daughters Celiac (gluten free) was fantastic. Lemala Nanyukie permanent camp had great accommodations and the food was decent but not as good as the Ndutu. The vehicle Daniel used was perfectly suited to our needs. We saw many open sided vehicles which sound neat until it’s cold or rains…
All in all, we had an amazing trip and will happily recommend your firm to others. We are cleaning up our photos and will submit something when we are complete.
All the best,
Scott Morrison, Dec 2023
Kenya Exclusive Locations with Great Plains
Two things. First and most important, I know I speak for Helene to give a giant thank you to you and your team for an awesome trip. Your recommendations for the hotel in Nairobi and the two game parks were perfect, and the arrangements were great. it all made traveling with a group of 8 a total pleasure. My kids and grandkids could not stop talking about how this was the best trip of their lives. This is Helene and my third trip with you and Africa Adventures and every one of them has been a gem. I could go on and am happy to do so if you want and also to make sure you know that you have my permission to give anyone my name and contact info if you are asked for a reference by a potential new client. You all are amazing.
Steve Sacks, Dec 2023