Kenya and Botswana are two of the most amazing wildlife destinations in Africa, but they do come at a price. If you’ve always wanted to travel to these countries, you can save a lot of money by going in the green season.
Today I can announce a great saving on my Kenyan safari from 20-27 February next year. I’m taking a small, intimate group of adventurers with me to the world famous Maasai Mara in Kenya, following a visit to the wonderful elephant orphanage run by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in Nairobi, staying in the best areas in communal conservancies that directly benefit local Maasai communities. I still have a few spots left and I’m offering them at a reduced rate if you get in quick!
Price now reduced to US$5000/per person sharing!! Contact me now for the full itinerary. This saving is only valid for the next two weeks til 6th November, so get in quick for this special last minute rate!
Check out my photos from the Maasai Mara in July here – it’s spectacular! Our trip in February is during the green season which is just beautiful and full of baby animals….
And there are some great deals going in the Okavango Delta if you can travel between January and April next year. Consider going on a 6 night safari at prime Wilderness Safaris explorations camps in this world heritage area for just US$3,499/person sharing (valid for travel between Jan-April, set dates). This is a great saving in one of the most wildlife-rich parts of Africa, and much less expensive than going in peak season. But availability won’t last so get in touch quickly if you’re interested.
For information on special deals in Botswana or to sign up for my Kenyan safari in February at the reduced rate, get in touch with me now!
There is a reason why Kenya’s Maasai Mara is so famous. Not only is this World Heritage Site Kenya’s most visited reserve, famous for its high density of herbivores and predators, it also protects one of the planet’s last great migrations of mammals, including about 2 million wildebeests, and a thousands of gazelles and zebras, which visit between July and October.
Now large herds of tourists aren’t my cup of tea, so while I just had to tick the Mara off my bucket list of must-see wildlife places, I didn’t want to share it with dozens of other homo sapiens in their open-top land cruisers. That’s one reason why I chose to use Asilia as my ground operator for my first group safari in the Mara, because their intimate, small camps make for an experience that is private and exclusive, and being in the private conservancies bordering the reserve itself you’re not lining up at cheetah kills with 17 other cars full of tourists. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this makes to your safari.
The other reason I chose Asilia is for their positive community and conservation impacts, which my group contributed to simply by going on the safari. We stayed at Naibosho Camp and the Mara Bush Houses, both part of unique conservancy partnerships that directly benefit local Maasai land owners, not only through paying rent in hard cash from the money people like us pay for the privilege of being there, but also through a whole lot of other benefits, like guide training, scholarships for primary school students and future conservation leaders. This is exactly the kind of tourism I like, because not only are the camps themselves low environmental impact (Naibosho is almost entirely run on solar and they use bucket showers to minimise water use), but they are sustainable in the long term because they’re directly linked to and benefiting communities.
So, all in all, a truly ethical safari with an absolutely brilliant bunch of Aussies. And the wildlife…. Holy moly! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sheer volume of animals that we saw in the Mara anywhere else in Africa. The wildebeests were in their tens of thousands, far too many to count, and the sense of space you get on the vast plains of East Africa can’t be compared with anywhere else. And of course the huge numbers of herbivores draws big prides of lions. One group we saw had 9 cubs and at least 4 adults in the group. Lions mating. Lions stalking. Lions lying around, which of course is what they do best. I’ve never seen so many lions in one place.
A talk by resident Danish lion expert, Niels Mogensen, from the Mara Naibosho Lion Project, on the first day, really put things in perspective. The thing is, when you go on safari in a national park to see the animals, you could easily overlook the fact that there are local indigenous communities that live on the periphery and who are living with the wildlife and without their buy in the wildlife wouldn’t stand a chance. Maasai culture is centred on their cattle, which represent wealth and status, and over-grazing by cattle could be a serious threat to the Mara ecosystem, but community-based tourism gives them an alternative income source. Maasai herders are compensated if a lion kills one of their cattle. It’s not perfect, and it’s an ongoing process to try and find a harmony between people’s needs, their culture and the conservation of wildlife. But I think all of my group walked away with a deeper understanding of the reality of conserving this region’s wildlife, and the challenges local community and conservation workers face in finding a balance that works for everyone.
Now time for just a few of my favourite pictures showing a few of the highlights of our safari…. And if you’d like to experience the Maasai Mara with me, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I will be taking a group there for the wildebeest baby boom from 20-27 February next year so please contact me if you’d like to join. This is no ordinary safari. You’ll be with me and a small group of like-minded individuals on the experience of a lifetime, hand picked and organised by me all the way through. Here’s what a couple of my group members from this trip had to say about it!
“It was such a wonderful time the group was great thoroughly enjoyed our meals with each other as it was still intimate with the 13 of us! Such fun we had! With you as our leader you were just perfect! I am so glad I have met you (finally) and travelled with you, you are an inspiration! Keep up all your fantastic work!” Leonie Bayley
“Tammie, it was such an amazing time- it all seems like a dream!! It certainly was the experience of a lifetime. You did an amazing job coordinating it all and creating such a wonderful experience for all of us. Hopefully one to be repeated!” Sheelin Coates
We’ve seen some promising signs from China in the last week in relation to the ivory trade driving elephant poaching in Africa, with the Chinese government conducting their third ivory destruction in the last eighteen months and committing to phase out its legal, domestic ivory industry. No time line has yet been given, but it is encouraging to see the Chinese taking stronger measures and the steps have been lauded by conservation organisations.
So are attitudes changing? A survey by WildAid showed that 95% of Chinese supported a total ban on ivory sales. Another one by WildAid, the African Wildlife Foundation and Save The Elephants showed that three quarters of Hong Kong residents supported a ban on ivory sales there too. Hong Kong is a major transit point for ivory to Chinese market places.
The Let Elephants Be Elephants team participated in an awareness and fund raiser for elephants in Hong Kong in November last year, run by the Hong Kong Elephant Society. Our campaign has always been focused on South East Asia, but we are now starting to form some good working partnerships with organisations in Hong Kong as well.
There were some great heroes of conservation in the room that night. In one of the most special moments of my career, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Goodall (photo above), whose book “In The Shadow of Man” I read when I was dreaming of becoming a wildlife researcher back in the early 1990s. Richard Bonham, COO of Big Life, went on from our event in Hong Kong to London to accept Prince William’s Life Time Achievement Award for conservation, so we were in fine company! Also there in support of elephants were the pro-environment Hong Kong politician, Elizabeth Quat and Hong Kong For Elephants‘ campaigner Alex Hofford. The night raised significant funds for three organisations, including a donation to LEBE’s Thailand demand reduction campaign.
Following successful launches in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia, the Let Elephants Be Elephants campaign is planning to focus on Thailand’s ivory market in the next phase of the campaign, and this year so far we’ve been working on bringing in funds and developing the partnerships to roll out the campaign.
We’re heartened by the fact that the Thai government has taken some strong measures towards controlling their ivory markets in the last year, including strengthening laws around ivory trade and clamping down on registration of ivory across the country. We don’t entirely know what this means yet for ivory markets and elephants. LEBE co-founder Nadya Hutagalung found fewer stalls selling ivory in Bangkok during her visit there earlier this year than last year during the filming of the LEBE documentary, which was encouraging, but may also suggest the sellers are uncertain of what the future holds. What we don’t know is whether ivory sales have simply gone underground, and how long existing measures will be enforced. The need for education to reduce demand for ivory remains as strong as ever.
So what’s happening in Africa? Well, the bad news this week has been the WCS report showing the devastating loss of half of Mozambique’s elephants in the last five years. In neighbouring Tanzania, new census figures have shown a decline of 60% of the nation’s elephants in the last five years. This is happening right now! In addition, in western and central Africa, the ivory war is as bloody as ever.
Thankfully there was some good news in amongst the bad this week in the elephant world. This week I was heartened to see a report by WCS from Uganda showing that their elephant population is on the rise, with more than 5000 across the country (still quite low numbers in the big scheme of things however). And don’t forget that in countries like Botswana, the country with the world’s largest elephant population, they are doing just fine. I saw a commentary just today suggesting that South Africa has ‘too many’ elephants, a term I used to hear a lot when I lived in southern Africa in the early 2000s, but not so much these days. Does South Africa have too many elephants or just too little land?
With some countries at threat of losing most or even all of their elephants in the next decade, and others with good, strong populations, we need to look at Africa’s elephant population as just that – Africa’s – rather than one or another country’s elephants, because the species roams across human-defined border as if they don’t exist. The good thing about this is that elephants can expand into new areas when they know they are safe, repopulating former ranges across borders, and that’s where the idea of Africa as a series of interconnected parks and communal conservancies gets interesting. This is already happening in several countries, with great results.
I guess my point this week is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the stories out there about the ivory wars, but bear in mind that both Africa and Asia are big places and the situation is different everywhere. While we might be losing the ivory war in some countries, and we may well see localised extinctions of elephants in some parks and/or countries in the next decade, we’re starting to see improvements in others. So don’t lose hope.
Remember that if you love Africa and you love elephants, make your next safari an ethical one that ‘gives back’ to the local communities who live with elephants and ensure their survival. Drop me a line for more info on joining one of my conservation focused safaris that make a difference.
One of the most common questions I get asked about Africa is “When is the best time to go?” The answer to this isn’t as simple as you might think, and anyone who’s experienced the complexity of Africa’s seasons will tell you exactly that.
Of course, there is a typical ‘safari season’ between June and October, which is when most people go, during the cooler dry months when there is limited rainfall, moderate temperatures, grasses are low, many shrubs (like the mopanes in southern Africa) drop their leaves, and consequently visibility for wildlife sightings is better. In East Africa, the safari season is when you’ve got the best chance of seeing the famous Great Wildebeest Migration. The disadvantage of going in the ‘prime time’ for safaris, between about June and October, is that you pay a premium for the experience, in some places almost twice the price of other times of year.
So when do the locals go on safari? Well, here’s the big secret. It’s often not peak season, but in the ‘green’ season, between about November and May. Personally it’s my favourite time of year and here’s why I reckon it’s worth considering.
1) Baby animal fiesta
When the rains finally come in Africa, nature responds with fresh green grass and this triggers a baby boom that will melt the heart of even the most hardened game ranger. Baby impalas, baby cheetahs, baby springboks, baby wildebeests, baby zebras…. It’s a very special time of year around Feb/Mar when many of the babies drop and I just love being there then to witness it.
2) Epic thunder storms
To me Africa’s always been a place where I feel truly alive. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been there. But during a thunderstorm the energy of the place is even more amazing. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh rain on earth that hasn’t seen water in six months or so. The photography opportunities afforded by the striking cloud formations as a big storm comes in are a dream for photographers. Sure, you might get bogged in the mud the next day, but hey that’s part of the fun!
3) Won’t hurt your wallet as much
Another major advantage of travelling in the green season is that prices are much lower because it’s not peak season. Sometimes you can pay more than half the price of peak season in the most popular safari countries like Kenya and Botswana. So your money stretches further, which means you can stay in Africa longer!
I am leading two ethical safaris in 2016, the first to Kenya’s Maasai Mara in Feb/Mar and the second to Botswana’s Okavango Delta & Makgadigadi Pan in Oct/Nov, both limited to 10/12 people plus me (yep, you have your own personal zoologist all the way through and I will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the mating behaviour of dung beetles and the like!). If you’d like to join one of these groups, let me know or contact me for more information.
Days 2-4: 3 nights at Naibosho Camp, Maasai Mara, a unique community partnership in an astounding area for wildlife
Days 5-7: 3 nights at the Mara Houses, Maasai Mara, like living in your very own bush house in the wilderness
US$5250/person sharing – limited to 12 people (if we get more than 8 people I can reduce the price of this one further).
All inclusive price (all accommodation, meals, drinks etc), but excludes international flights.
This is exactly the same as my sold-out safari to Kenya this July (peak season), but with an extra night and for a lower price!
Days 1-3: Arrive in Maun and fly to Pelo Camp, an eco-friendly oasis on a wildlife-rich island in the heart of the world heritage listed Okavango Delta. Activities include wildlife viewing by both mokoro (wooden dugout canoe) and open vehicle.
Days 4-7: Return flight to Maun & drive to Meno A Kwena Camp, home to the San Bushmen & overlooking the Boteti River. Includes cultural activities with the San Bushmen, the chance to see wild meerkats & a full day excursion & sleep-out at the Makgadigadi Pans National Park.
US$5,500/person sharing. Limited to 10 people plus me.
All inclusive price (all accommodation, meals, drinks etc), but excludes international flights.
Dates will be confirmed as numbers firm up, but I need to book these camps now before they sell out so drop me a line now if you’re interested!
This is THE year to go to Kenya, with prices being so much lower than usual due to the masses being scared off due to ebola in west Africa (a long, long way from Kenya – you’re closer to the ebola countries in London than you are in Nairobi, just to put it in perspective). I only have 3-4 spots left on this amazing journey that makes a difference in the world famous Maasai Mara during the time of the Great Wildebeest Migration, led personally by me. Not to mention a private viewing at Daphne Sheldick’s elephant and rhino orphanage in Nairobi on the first day – utterly unforgettable!
If you’re ever going to do it, this is a great way to go, travelling with a small group of 10, plus you’ve got me there for everything you every wanted to know from a zoologist’s perspective, making friends for life with like-minded folks. Ask anyone who went on my last safari in Botswana – there’s a special kind of magic on a Matson & Ridley Safari because of the kind of people who join me…. Grab your spot now!
There’s never been a better time to go to Kenya, as while tourist numbers are down you’ll get better deals to travel there than ever before. Kenya is EBOLA FREE (the ebola zone in west Africa is closer to London than it is to Nairobi) and the terrorist attacks that have been highlighted in the news, including the one at Westgate shopping centre last year, are nowhere near the safari areas. Those in the know are making the most of the great deals while they last!
I’ve managed to secure an amazing deal for a group to join me in the world famous Maasai Mara ecosystem from 15-21 July 2015, so if you’ve ever wanted to see this incredible country at its finest and in style, with your own personal zoologist on hand to ask about everything from the antelopes to the dung beetles, now’s your chance! If it’s half as good as my last group safari to Botswana then those who join me on this safari are in for a real treat.
As always on the tours I lead, I’ve picked the camps to ensure complete comfort in the bush, but the real advantage of these camps is the exclusivity. I always try and pick camps that operate in partnership with local indigenous communities, and this safari is no different. Plus, because the camps are in private game reserves, you get the huge numbers of wildlife without the huge numbers of people – and that makes a big difference when you’re on your safari of a lifetime – trust me!
So this safari kicks off in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, with a night at the Ol Sereni Hotel, a hotel in a game park in the city (yes really!). We have a private viewing with the adorable orphaned baby elephants and their wonderful keepers at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that afternoon, organised just for us, an experience you’ll never forget.
Then the next morning, it’s off to the Maasai Mara for the wildlife experience of a lifetime! I’ve intentionally picked July to go as that’s the start of the Great Wildebeest Migration. With nature of course there’s no guarantees, but July-October is generally the time of year when your chances are best of seeing the wildebeest migration in this part of Africa. The area is also famous for its big cats and has an abundance of plains species, including giraffes and zebras.
Our first camp for two nights is Naibosho Camp, a community partnership with the local Maasai community. It’s part of the 50,000 acre Mara Naibosho Conservancy and adjoins the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, which we will visit during our time there. Naibosho literally means ‘harmony’ and every aspect combines comfort with considerations for the environment, providing a luxury tented camp that touches the earth lightly and benefits the locals. Here you can expect to see everything you’d see in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve itself, but without the crowds.
Then we have 3 nights in two private houses, the Mara Bush Houses, in a different part of the Maasai Mara ecosystem. Each room has its own private ensuite and of course, the whole experience is tailored for you, with private vehicle and guides of the highest standard. This area is run in partnership with a local Maasai family, the Looseyia family.
If you’d like to join me on this exclusive Maasai Mara safari for an unforgettable week, plus our own private viewing at Daphne Sheldrick’s famous elephant orphanage, let me know by clicking here. Kids over the age of 12 are more than welcome as long as they are accompanied by a guardian/parent. Once you get in touch I’ll send you an itinerary and costing by email. Numbers are strictly limited (10-12) and places won’t last, so grab your spot now!
I’ve got great news! Thanks to the kind folks at Asilia Africa, my Kenyan safari in July next year (2015) is now going for about 10% less than previously advertised. That’s a huge saving! You won’t get a luxury safari like this in these exceptional wildlife areas at this price anywhere else, so why not join me?
Africa’s a big place. Actually, really big. You can fit all of China, India and much of Europe into it’s vast landscape. So when you’re planning to go on safari, where do you start? And once you’ve been once, and you’ve got the Africa bug, where do you go next?
So what’s your favourite safari destination? It’s a tough question, because they all have their merits. In this blog I’m going to have a crack at sharing my current top 5 safari destinations and let you make up your mind where’s best for you to live out your dream.
1. Okavango Delta, Botswana
It’s not just that the Okavango is literally teeming with wildlife in the most beautiful palm tree lined wetlands you can imagine, it’s that Botswana itself is such a wonderful conservation success story. With strong and stable political leadership, a healthy economy and 45% of the population being employed in tourism, it’s no wonder this land-locked country at the centre of southern Africa is doing so well at conserving its wildlife.
The human population is only about 2 million and most of the country is classified as desert, so you don’t get the human pressures that you get in other more highly populated African nations (violent crime being one of them). You’ll see all sorts of interesting critters in Botswana, including all the big cats, African wild dogs, the sitatunga, a wetland dwelling antelope I have yet to feast my eyes on, and the largest elephant population in the world. Besides that, who wouldn’t want to explore nature in a mokoro?
This choice might surprise you. Zimbabwe is where I started my African journey back in 1993 on a safari with my Dad at the age of 15 in the Save Valley Conservancy, and it’s still a special place to me. The Save Valley Conservancy remains one of the best places in Africa to see rare African wild dogs. If you go during June, July, August, you’ve got a very good chance of seeing pups at dens, and that is just the cutest thing ever. If you arrange to visit through me, you can also meet the team running the rhino anti-poaching operation, Bryce and Lara, and the Turgwe Hippo Trust‘s Karen Paolillo, who has been studying the area’s hippos for decades.
I also love Hwange National Park. It feels like old Africa to me, and the wildlife there, especially in the dry season (June-Oct), is spectacular. I’ve had lions walk right beside the open vehicle in Hwange, and elephants in their hundreds lining up at waterholes. The thing about Zimbabwe is that many people aren’t traveling there because of the political instability brought about by the current regime. But I’ve been traveling there with my family in the last five years without any troubles, and the people are as friendly and welcoming as ever. And of course, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia is the famous Victoria Falls, which you have to see at least once in your life to have your breath literally taken out of you.
I only recently ventured into East Africa, having spent the last couple of decades exploring what southern Africa has to offer, and man, was I blown away by Kenya! They’ve been doing safaris in style there for a long time, and it shows in the quality of the experiences they can offer. One very good reason to go to Kenya is that it has the famous great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara. You have to time this carefully to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. I am taking a group of up to 12 to Kenya in July next year (safari details here) and there are still spots available for now, but please don’t wait to register your interest as my other two trips to Namibia and Botswana sold out in record time!).
When I got off the plane at Ol Donyo in the Chyulu Hills, nestled between Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks, I looked across the vast grass plains and up to the gobsmacking sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, and I was speechless. The key with traveling in Kenya is to avoid the crowds of minibuses and go with a good operator that offers you exclusivity with the wildlife. And as always, I suggest staying at lodges that operate in partnerships with local communities and conservation organisations, so you know your tourism dollars are helping make a difference on the ground. Kenya is also the home of Daphne Sheldrick’s famous elephant orphanage, a truly special experience that has brought many tears to the eyes of those who visit.
Suggested lodges: Naibosho (Masai Mara – a luxury, community partnership lodge), Ol Donyo (near Amboseli National Park, operating in partnership with the Big Life Foundation and local Masai community)
Having lived in Namibia for six years, studying black-faced impalas and later working on human-elephant conflict, I’ve still got a soft spot for this vast desert land. You won’t get a sense of space like this anywhere else in the world. The silence in the Namib desert can be overwhelming when you live in a noisy city, and can actually take a bit of adjusting to! Spotting unique desert creatures like oryxes, springboks and ostriches on the desert plains is one of the best things about being in Namibia, as is seeing the vast congregations of animals at waterholes during the dry season (July-October).
Etosha National Park is famous for its white elephants (coated in white dust from the Etosha salt pan) and is one of the best places in Africa to see black rhinos. I also love the north west of Namibia, the Skeleton Coast and Damaraland, where you get desert adapted lions and elephants eking out an existence alongside traditional ethnic groups like the ovaHimbas. My absolute favourite camp in Namibia? Serra Cafema, for sure. Up on the border with Angola, right at the top of Namibia, on the Kunene River, it’s the most remote camp in Africa and going there is like going to the moon (in a very good way!).
Suggested camps: Ongava (for Etosha & rhinos), Serra Cafema (for having your mind blown by desert solitude), Desert Rhino Camp (Damaraland, for tracking desert rhinos & supporting Save The Rhino Trust)
5. Okay so now I’m up to number five, and of course, this is not easy, as there are lots of other great options for safaris that I’d like to include here, like South Luangwa National Park in Zambia (real wild Africa with tonnes of elephants) and even some I haven’t been to that I really want to see, like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique, but I think the final choice for this blog, based on what I’ve seen to date, has to be Kruger National Park, South Africa.
There’s really no other national park like Kruger for an awesome ‘big five’ experience. But it’s the private reserves on the edge of the park that you want to stay in. South Africa offers so many luxurious and mid range options for families, couples or groups, that it’s hard to know where to start. You’ll get a lot for less price in South Africa because there’s a lot of competition and very high standards of accommodation. It’s a great starting point for a first safari, especially for families as they specialise in this. At Tinstwalo last year with then 3 year old Solo, we saw the entire big five, including an incredible leopard sighting and mating lions, in 36 hours!
There are excellent malaria-free reserves in South Africa too, guides that specialise in giving kids an amazing learning experience, and you can always add on a few days exploring Capetown and the magnificent mountains and wineries of the region.
I’m delighted to have had huge interest in my guided safaris as part of my new ethical safari business, Matson & Ridley Safaris. My Okavango Delta safari for this year sold out in a month, the Namibian one planned for September 2015 has only 3 places left (so get in quick if you want to be on this one!) and I reckon it’s time to let you know about another one I’ll be guiding next year in July… to one of the most famous parts of Africa – Kenya!
Happy new year Africa-philes, elephant lovers and friends of the planet!
I’m kicking off the new year with some exciting news. It’s been in the works for a little while, and won’t be a surprise to many of you. This year I’m finally turning my love of Africa into a business. Many of you have been on safaris based on my advice on where to go and what to do in the past and some of you have even joined me on safari. Now you can actually book your African safari through my new company, Matson and Ridley Pte Ltd, a fully licensed travel agency, and join me in the land we all love for a very different kind of African experience.