Just Add Land
Stay longer on safari before or after your cruise from Africa.
WHETHER YOUR AFRICA CRUISE STARTS from Cape Town on a northbound itinerary or ends there on a southbound one — as most Africa cruises do — high on your list should be a safari add-on.
Going on safari doesn’t mean roughing it, unless you want to. A pleasant surprise is the high level of comfort, communication, and services available in the bush. Lodges serve sophisticated European cuisine and local specialties as well as famous South African wines. Sometimes dining is set under the stars or amid the wilderness, adding that extra touch of romance.
The main season for Africa cruises is southern Africa’s summer ( December to March), when accommodations and airfare are most in demand, so securing fl ights is as important as locking in accommodations. Wherever you stay, game spotting is the order of the day with at least two runs — early morning and late afternoon — when animals are most likely to be visible. They, too, like to avoid the mid-day sun.
First- timers are wise to make arrangements through one of the many Africa travel companies. One place to start is www.go2Africa.com; another, www.immersionjourneys.com. For starters, here are four very different, but exciting, safari suggestions.
1Vintage Train to Victoria Falls Step back in time and relax in what Rovos Rail calls “The Most Luxurious Train in the World.” The unusual 3-night rail excursion runs from Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, through Botswana to spectacular Victoria Falls on the mighty Zambezi River at the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. Travel in grand style (think Agatha Christie) as you view the beautiful countryside and enjoy fine dining and cocktails in the turn- of- the- century lounge as well as elegant accommodations.
On the Botswana/Zimbabwe border, the adventure offers a game drive in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest reserve, rich in wildlife. Animals can also be spotted from the train. At Victoria Falls, river cruises, whitewater rafting, and superb game viewing in nearby Chobe National Park, Botswana’s second-largest reserve, are available. Kasane, gateway to the park, is a 45-minute van drive. Kasane hotels organize safaris by Land Rover in the park and by boat on the Chobe River. Kasane’s airport has service to Johannesburg.
The rail excursion can be taken in reverse, but timing is essential. The train makes only four trips per month — two northbound from Pretoria and two southbound from Victoria Falls. A similar train trip runs from Durban, a turnaround port for some cruise ships. Visit rovos.com for details.
2On to Kruger Kruger National Park is one of the largest and best-known game reserves in Africa (220 miles, north-south; 40 miles, east-west). Here, you are almost guaranteed to see the Big Five — lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant — plus other wild and wonderful creatures such as cheetah, zebra, impala, giraffe, and much more. Birdlife counts 517 species.
Within the park, choices range from budget chalets to tented camps and luxurious lodges, as do privately owned options at the edge of the park. Most lodges operate their own game runs with wildlife expert drivers and guides. Major towns in South Africa have direct flights to airports serving Kruger; some fly via Johannesburg.
3Kenya/Tanzania Stopover Rather than fly home directly from South Africa or Botswana, break up the long flight with a stop in Nairobi where touring Kenya and Tanzania is the very definition of a safari.
A typical excursion departs Nairobi for the famous Masai Mara Game Reserve with stops along the way for animal spotting. After lunch at your lodge, you’ll have your first game drive and after dinner, you might have a lecture on Africa or wildlife and a briefing on what’s to come.
After morning and afternoon game runs the next day, you might overnight at the same lodge or carry on through the Masai Mara, perhaps meeting up with some colorful Masai Mara tribe people en route to the Serengeti Plains. The Serengeti, part
of the Great Rift Valley and famous for the annual wildebeest migration, is a vast flat, green savannah straddling Kenya and Tanzania and hosting some of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
The next Serengeti stop is the wondrous Ngorongoro, the largest crater in the world at 10 miles in diameter with walls almost 2,000 feet high and a crater floor of salt lakes, lush marshes, forests, and dry savannah. This remarkable wildlife hotspot boasts the complete array of East Africa’s animal and bird life. Most likely your lodge will sit on the ridge high above the crater floor from where you will be awestruck by magnificent views.
The next day’s drive winds down to the crater floor where hundreds of flamingos stroll the salt pans munching on crustaceans, and lions, cheetahs, hippos, buffalo, leopards, ostriches, elephants, and other animals roam.
Continuing south, Lake Manyara National Park, one of the most beautiful settings in Tanzania, is known for amazing treeclimbing lions and abundant birdlife. Further along, the route turns north to Amboseli National Park, 150 miles southeast of Nairobi and one of Kenya’s most popular safari parks with snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance — a fabulous setting to remember on your flight home.
4Botswana Option Even if you spend a few days on safari in South Africa, combining one in neighboring Botswana for a very different experience is easy to arrange. In fact, safaris are the heart of Botswana’s tourism.
Roughly the size of Texas, landlocked Botswana offers such contrast as the Kalahari Desert at its center and the lush Okavango Delta, a vast freshwater wetland in the north. A World Heritage site, the magnificent delta has great numbers of wildlife and is famous for leopard and rare birds. A large area within the delta is protected by the Moremi Game Reserve, the first such reserve in southern Africa created by an African community on its own tribal lands.
Safari specialists provide game runs, boat trips, and Kalahari bush walks. There are back-to-nature options to some of Africa’s most luxurious (and expensive) choices, including remote fly-in lodges. You can find in-depth descriptions of lodges at expertafrica.com/botswana.
Air travel is the easiest way to get around. Air Botswana flies daily from Johannesburg to Gaborone, the modern capital. Small charter airlines cover all corners of the country.
Going on safari doesn’t mean roughing it, unless you want to.
THE BIG FIVE
Look for lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos, and elephants.