Best African Safaris of 2014
David Tett's Top Six Safari Ideas
Ideas from The Presentation Given at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA
On February 4, 2014, Bushtracks President David Tett offered his best African Safari Trips with top six safari ideas for 2014 and 2015 to an audience of over 100 interested travelers at the Morrison Planetarium in the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Here is a summary of his recommendations based on 23 years of operating African safaris for individual travelers and institutions like National Geographic Expeditions, Smithsonian Journeys, Lindblad Expeditions and the African Wildlife Foundation.
We recommend a Tanzania safari that includes Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, and 2 stops in the Serengeti – one in the South and one in the North to showcase two different habitats and the experience of big migration herds and excellent predator viewing in a single safari. To create a private experience, in spite of the large number of visitors to the Serengeti, we use a seasonal tented camp that follows the migration, is very private compared to the large lodges at Ndutu and Seronera, and gives the feeling of being in the wild. We also build in a charter flight over the Serengeti to get you from the South to the North, and save you a day of travel. For two or more guests, we arrange a private guide and driver from the local tribes like the Masaai or the Chagga, so you can learn from people who grew up in the bushveld, and have a natural knowledge of the wildlife and ecosystems that has been enhanced by formal training.
From January through April, this safari combines the Central Kalahari Game reserve in the south at its prime, with the Okavango Delta in the north.The Kalahari is at its peak for optimal game viewing, with migrating herds of zebra and wildebeest and springbok calving, and lots of predator interaction from lions and cheetahs. We link these two with a strategic charter, so you will get some superb aerial views as you fly from the desert into the Okavango. It might surprise you to learn that the way the waters flow from the Okavango River through the Kalahari causes the Delta’s water to recede during the African summer, or green season. The islands in the delta actually get bigger, which means more territory for predators to hunt, and more area to go game driving in a wild, beautiful part of Africa which is inaccessible for most of the year.
Uganda is amazingly different from the Okavango Delta or the Serengeti. The volcanic scenery is stunning, and the montane forests are excellent primate habitat. There is no better place in Africa to see Mountain Gorillas and chimps and monkeys than in Uganda. The Kibale Forest has the highest diversity and density of primates in Africa. With a population of over 1,400 chimps, you have more than a 90% chance of seeing them. And in Bwindi National Park you have the gorillas and golden monkeys which live in gorilla habitat and feed on bamboo. We use high-end safari lodges created through efforts of the African Wildlife Foundation to solve human-gorilla conflict, and which benefit 30,000 people across 23 villages. Between Kibale forest and the chimps, and Bwindi and the gorillas, you get Queen Elizabeth National Park where you can do some big game viewing in a savannah environment, plus game viewing on the Kazinga channel that links Lake George with Lake Edward with lots of hippo pods, and all the big game like buffalo, elephant, and lion.
Over 23 years we have planned out hundreds of family safaris, from small families of 2 or 3, to multi-generational families of 17 or 20 members. It sounds easy planning a safari for families in Africa, but when you get down to the finer details, there is a lot that goes into planning a really good safari that includes age appropriate activities, a balance between action and relaxation, and logistics that minimize the wear and tear of travel. For example, something we have done for many years and for lots of families is set up pen pal programs with a local school we know well. This takes time, and you need to have a good relationship with a school in Africa to get reliable responses, and to make sure the visit is done in a meaningful way. We use lodges like MalaMala where you have a very high chance of seeing the Big Five up close, is one of the few places in Africa where you may see rhino, and employs rangers who are required to have a BSc. These rangers engage with the kids and get them out of the vehicles tracking spoor and getting muddy. We also make sure that there is down-time built in for parents or grandparents to relax while kids take a dip in the pool.
Kenya is the birthplace of modern safaris, so as a result, it is quite well-trodden, hosting over a million visitors a year – and for good reason. The scenery is out of this world, and the wildlife viewing is some of the best in Africa. To enjoy all of this, without the crowds, we choose safari camps that are on private reserves that adjoin the public parks. This safari takes in the 3 main parks of Kenya: the Mara, Sambura, and Amboseli . In the Masai Mara Park, for example, our camp is in a private community conservancy called Olare right on the border of the national park, so you can easily access the public areas, as well as the private conservancy. Further south, we use Sateo Elerai Safari Camp, located in a quiet, unspoilt, unique setting on a 5,000 acre private conservation area six miles southeast of Amboseli National Park on the foot of Africa’s largest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. Like the project I mentioned in Uganda, the land is leased from the local Elerai Maasai community and together they – with the help of responsible tourism -- help protect this land from poachers, charcoal burners and encroachment from agriculture and development. So you get the benefit of visiting these magnificent settings, and the satisfaction that your stay has helped keep them wild and wonderful.
Two of my family’s favorite places are Mashatu Private Reserve in Botswana, and the Lower Zambezi National Park. Mashatu is very much Big Five country, and, being near the Kalahari, we get the big black maned Kalahari lions there, and some of the best leopard sighting in Africa. But what makes Mashatu so special are all the other activities you can do, like mountain biking on elephant trails and game viewing on horseback. My favorite place of all time in Africa where you can again be active and not just game drive is the Lower Zambezi National Park. Here we have the Rift Valley scenery, with the Zambezi escarpment in the back ground and the middle Zambezi River running along the Great Rift. Before they built Kariba Dam, the Zambezi would flood these areas, so you get this absolutely unique floodplain with huge acacia albida trees which makes for the best walking safaris in Africa. The camp here is my all-time favorite spot, Old Mondoro, which is located right inside the park and has a great feeling of being wild and remote. The bedrooms are nice and open, and you often have elephant and buffalo munching along this side channel of the Zambezi.
For more information on David’s safari ideas,
and many others, or to discover more about
David's planetarium presentation, please
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