How to plan your first trip to Africa....

....at least in my opinion and many of my clients, this is a great introduction to this magnificent country.  For anyone reading this that has the desire to visit Africa, I have three words for you, "DON'T WAIT - GO!"  I have been fortunate to travel many places in this amazing world, and I have trouble finding words that even come close to describing the impact of my last visit to Africa.  I feel if you have traveled to Africa multiple times, each time it feel new and the anticipation is always delivered like a marvelous childhood memory of the perfect Christmas morning.  I could spend hours looking at my photos and feel the impact of the emotions I experienced.   It is a magnificent, magical, life changing journey that is so surreal it leaves you breathless.

I planned this educational trip to increase my knowledge when planning trips for my clients.  There are so many tour providers with pre-planned packages available that allow you to see the highlights. Many of these packages keep you in the same regions for the entire time. I highly advise you not to limit yourself in that way.  I agree you will leave wanting to return, but I feel it is extremely important for each trip to be customized in a way that allows you to maximize your stay and create a flow that diversifies and enhances your overall experience of this magnificent continent.

I was very fortunate to be joined by daughter on this trip.  Africa was number one on her bucket list and a great way for me to experience the trip not just through my eyes, but also hers as a Millennial.















Our journey began in Botswana at the famed Chobe National Park.  Within ten minutes of being picked up at the airport we came upon a small family of elephants near the road and the excitement began!


 October being near the end of dry season is one of my favorite times to travel to this part of Africa.  I find most people prefer to see more wildlife than greenery.  For Chobe this provides a fantastic time to see the herds.  Hundreds of zebra, water buffalo, elephants, all appearing to live in peaceful coexistence.  


We settled into our thatched safari bungalow at Muchenje Safari Lodge with a magnificent view of the Chobe River, Namibia's Caprivi Strip an seasonal flood plain.  The sunset was spectacular and as we headed to dinner found that a mature elephant had chose our foot path to chomp on some branches.  The staff quickly came to our rescue and we had the pleasure of sharing dinner with the elephants nearby.

As with most safari lodges game drives are the focus morning, noon and night.  We didn't miss one! The sun can be hot, the dust can be heavy, the roads can be rough and as your crawling into bed you wouldn't have given up a minute of it!  In Chobe the water is a natural the hub of animal activity. Every drive delivered unexpected surprises.


We came across a pack of wild dogs scoping out a herd of zebra.  It was amazing to watch as the zebras formed a circle to protect their young and used their feet very well to protect their own. They showed only signs of strength, no fear.



        Lions teaching their young to hunt
      Hundreds of baboons

  Abundant bird life surrounds you.
It was so interesting that the birds of the bush are filled with colors while the animals are all the colors of the land.


We came across a mother elephant within minutes of her baby being born.  It was amazing to watch as she used her trunk and legs to stabilize it's shaky legs.  The movie Lion King introduced us all to the Circle of Life.  In this one day we experienced a kill by lions to feed their young and the beauty of a newborn elephant.  That circle while a bit difficult for me to accept couldn't have been any clearer.














One of the highlights of this area of Botswana is a full day safari on the Chobe River.



Cruising quietly down the river in a small boat provides an even closer personal view of the animals. They are everywhere you look.  Elephants swimming and playing in the river, herds of water buffalo grazing peacefully, families of elephants, crocodiles, hippos in the water, literally everywhere you looked for hours the wildlife was sharing their day with us.

Three days here is perfect.  Chobe doesn't deliver the opportunity to see the White or Black Rhino, but this itinerary provides an opportunity for that later in the trip.

From Botswana it is an easy scenic drive to the Zimbabwe border.  At the border a quick switch of drivers is made and the necessity of a Zimbabwe visitors visa is tackled.
Time of day and having a transport company that knows someone in the visa office is critical for this transition. An average three hour wait in line for your visa, or your driver in and out and your own your way in thirty minutes.  We were on our way quite quickly thanks to our driver and headed to Victoria Falls.

It seems almost sacrilegious to be this close and not visit the falls, but at the most one full day is all that is needed here.  In dry season they are only at about 50% of their normal water level.  However the locals will be the first to tell you that if you come during rainy season you can't see anything because of the mist that is always present from the falling water.
We enjoyed the helicopter tour and the hiking tour of the falls along with some local craft shopping in the village and we were good to go. The vantage points to view the falls and the thunderous sound of the millions of gallons of water pouring over even in dry season was really spectacular.  A really important note if seeing Victoria Falls is important to you.  The falls can be viewed from both Zambia and Zimbabwe, however you loose a minimum of 30% of the view from Zambia.  A family we met at another destination was very upset that they really didn't get to see the falls at all, because their package had them stay in Zambia and their agent had not explained the difference or they would have made other choices.

We chose to stay at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
 as it is one of the most popular. It is set on a plateau overlooking the Zambezi National Park.  The rooms have balconies that provide a view of the park and a central watering hole.  They have a lovely open air fine dining restaurant that also provides wildlife viewing.

Another unique experience of this property is the Vulture Culture which occurs daily.  This is a conservation exercise in an attempt to maintain the local vulture population.
Meat and bones are put out to feed about 12-16 vultures and they come by the hundreds.  It was a little like being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie watching them gather the thiry minutes before the feeding.  Local cattle farmers put out poison for the lions to try and stop them from killing their cattle.  The lions die of the poison, the vultures eat the contaminated lion and it continues down the chain.


I enjoyed sitting on my balcony in the early am having coffee and watching all the activity, but I'm all about the animals.  My daughter on the other hand the Millennial, would have preferred the Victoria Falls Hotel in this case.


We did stop in to the Victoria Falls Hotel for afternoon tea, well ok really it was white wine, but it was tea time!  This property is regal, beautiful and within walking distance to the falls. It truly lives up to it's five stars complete with warthogs grazing on the lawn.  Priceless!





At this point in the trip I find it is time for to have a taste of true civilization, so on to Cape Town!  I have had clients return with Cape Town now their favorite city in the world.  It is one of the most vibrant beautiful cities you will ever visit.  The architecture, the restaurants, beautiful blue ocean and beaches, Tabletop Mountain, and the people were all amazing. It was almost like being close to home in Newport Beach, CA.

I chose a luxury boutique hotel in the garden area of Cape Town.  It is a farmhouse that was "Victorianized" in 1912 and declared a national monument in 1984.
It was centrally located and I'm very excited to have found it for my clients!


While in Cape Town you must take the tour to Cape Peninsula along the legendary Chapman's Peak Drive to the Cape of Good Hope.  The scenery is breathtaking and a 360 degree different feel than where you have just visited on your itinerary.

Plus the surprise of curious Ostrich and adorable penguins at the beach shouldn't be missed!

The temperature is twenty degrees cooler than Botswana and Zimbabwe, the air is fresh and crisp.
Many of my clients also enjoy a day in the wine lands of Cape Town.  Its very easy to see why!  We visited the picturesque village of Franschhoek and the charming Stellenbosch along with several wine tastings. Pinotage is a local favorite you will find in all the local restaurants, and yes we shipped a case home!

While in Cape Town if you ask anyone where to go to see the sunset, they will send you to The Twelve Apostles Hotel.  This five star Red Carnation property sits on a small bluff with endless ocean views. I was able to do a tour of the property and this was one of my favorite photos.  I'm a sucker for a bathtub with a view.  At first glance you almost feel like the decor of the property is a bit dated, but within moments you understand its all part of the ambiance that can only be achieved by it being exactly as it is.

The Leopard Bar does not disappoint.  The views are endless and the sunset breathtaking.  Get there early if you want one of the best outdoor tables but don't forget your sunblock!
After sunset head just up the highway to the infamous CodFather in Camps Bay.  If you don't ask where it is, you'll miss it.  A very small weathered sign identifies the restaurant is upstairs.  If you hadn't been told by everyone this place was outstanding, you might second guess walking up the stairs!  You select your seafood from their case paying by weight based on how hungry you are.  I enjoyed butter fish like I have never experienced and the Sushi was outstanding.  If you are staying in Cape Town, the Twelve Apostles and CodFather are about a 30 minute drive.  Uber is the choice of transportation in Cape Town.  I have to admit I had never used it, so trying my first time in Africa could have been a good or bad experience.  It was seamless, inexpensive, and so quick and easy.  I was very impressed.




Now while I am one for adventure and I like to experience as much as I can to share with my clients, I will tell you that the Great White Cage Dive wouldn't have made my personal hit list.  I've had clients do it and say it was the best thing ever, and I have my daughter, the Millennial, determined she is going to have the experience herself.  So we are picked up at the hotel in the early am and driven out to Kleinbaai harbor be taken out to "Shark Alley"  Within minutes of anchoring the boat there are sharks swimming around the boat.


I would be lying if I did not say I was scared to death to climb into that cage after watching the sharks come out of the water surrounding the boat.  I blamed my uncontrollable trembling on the 62 degree water temperature even though we were in 70ML wet suits.  I was hanging on to the bars of the cage with white knuckles, when  a shark swam by.  I realized my fingers were out of the cage and panicked a  little because it meant I had to let go which scared me even more.



 I surprised my daughter and myself by overcoming my fear and I can now share my personal feelings about it with my clients. I will be honest, it was scary, but what a memory. There were a few people on the boat that never intended to get in the water, they just paid to go watch, so know that is an option.  It is labeled as a half day tour, and that is not really accurate.  It is a complete full day and as the Adrenalin wears off you are exhausted, but feeling accomplished.

Now its back to safari before heading home.  Having the few days in between makes a huge difference in your excitement.  I heard people say they didn't want to go out on safari again because they already had 100 giraffe photos, and all the animals started looking alike.
Well those are the people that didn't break up the trip and may not have experienced multiple areas as we are.  I couldn't wait to get to Kruger National Park home of the "Big Five"  We needed the Rhino and the leopard to finish it out.
 


We arrived at Lion Sands Tinga Lodge and it's like arriving in a paradise in the bush!  I'll also note this is the first lodge that we encountered other Americans.
Kruger is known for its extraordinary safari experiences.  Lion Sands is 5000 hectres of wild bush in a private concession within the renowned Kruger National Park.  Our bungalow was perfection.  It is the first place I have visited where I had an audience of giraffes watching as I took a shower!
At Lion Sands its not about the herds that we experienced in Botswana, its about tracking the individual animals.  You are paired with a qualified tracker and guide for your stay.  There wealth of knowledge is unbelievable.  Unlike Chobe where the jeeps must remain on the dirt paths, you can go off road here at anytime to follow the tracks.  Here you head into the bush twice a day, each time just an amazing experience.













Not only did we fulfill our Big Five list, we were able to view the Black and the White Rhino.
 
The black is not common to be seen and we were so fortunate that he allowed us to watch for some time.  It was one of those surreal moments I mentioned.  These creatures are so magnificent you can't even believe they exist.
Lions

Here at Kruger, we saw two male lions, brothers.  The older brother was the dominant of the two was injured in a kill a few months ago.  It pulled out one of his teeth but is is still attached.  You'll see it on the right side of his mouth if you look at the photo.  After that he was unable to hunt. The guides have been watching the story unfold but of course are not able to intervene unless an animal has been injured by a human, otherwise nature takes its course.
Lions

The younger brother took over as the dominant hunter and actually was seen chewing up the food and spitting it out for his brother to be able to eat.
The paws on the older brother were each as large as a small dinner plate.  It is amazing to sit within a few feet of them and watch them sleep.  
It was explained to us that they see the jeep as an animal.  I must admit the elephants going through the underbrush do sound similar.  Its only when human feet get out of the jeep and hit the ground they feel in danger.

The behavior of the animals itself is something to behold.

The motherly instincts shown by the giraffes, the elephants, the zebras, the baboons, can not be questioned. It is obvious they are protecting, loving and nurturing their babies and looking out for each other.


Mom and baby giraffe




The stories of their lives and survivals told by the guides give you such insight into what you are seeing.





Even the hyenas can be cute!

One afternoon we were invited to visit a local village about an hour from our lodge.  It was the hometown village to several of the staff at Lion Sands.

We spent some time at an amazing  preschool this village has built over the years.They are proud of what they have accomplished and love to share with others.  They are working hard to make a better life for their children.
    

 

 

The children were warm and welcoming.  We sang songs together, they shared some of the studies with us, and it truly warms the heart to see how they appreciate so little compared to what most of us would consider normal.

It came down to our last morning safari before heading to the airport and we still had not seen a leopard.  Our guide and tracker were determined to find one for us.  About an hour in to our tracking they spotted fresh tracks.  The tracker got off on foot to try and find him.  He called on the radio to say he had spotted the leopard.  Our guide felt the need to provide backup as they don't often get out on foot and there is an element of danger. The guide took out his rifle and went on foot to assist.
My daughter and I were the only ones out that morning and I must say at that very moment in the quiet of the bush, alone in the open air jeep, it was a little unnerving for just a moment.  It was one of those times it became very "real" that we were sitting alone among all the predators we had been viewing the past few days.  Suddenly our tracker came running out of the bush, jumped in the jeep and started driving backwards, like Mr. Toads Wild Ride.  We stopped long enough to pick up the guide, and took off through the bush.  He had found my leopard and didn't want him to move before I got there.



As luck would have it, he waited for us.  He was the most beautiful creature of them all.  Strong, majestic, muscular, and his big gold eyes looked directly into mine.  Not threatening, but powerful.  I get goose bumps writing about it.

 He slowly got up from under the tree and walked into the bush as we sat quietly and watched. It couldn't have been a more perfect way to end the spectacular journey.


I will be traveling next to Tanzania and Rwanda for Gorilla Tracking.  Trip #3 will be Kenya.
Work to Travel - Travel to Live  Life is short, don't miss a moment!

I would love to help you plan your next adventure.  Contact me at mellanie.ingle@cruiseplanners.com and let's get started!

#africa #southafrica #africansafari #kruger #chobenationalpark #capetown #sharkdiving #africaexpert #africantravel #lionsands #botswana #victoriafalls





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