A recount of 2.5 weeks in South Africa, Botswana and Victoria Falls
By Ashley Gamble, Travel Designer for
Each time I return to Africa, I have the same level of excitement as I did when entering my first safari vehicle at 23 years old; watching a cunning leopard stalk its prey, smiling at the ‘brave’ growls of weeks old lion cubs, staring in awe at giant but gentle elephants walking past your much smaller safari vehicle, turning a corner and seeing five endangered white rhinos and feeling so grateful to be in the presence of such magnificent and threatened tank-like animals. These are experiences that you can’t truly understand the magic of until you witness them in person.
But, it’s more than just about the Big 5
With each subsequent game drive, I find something new to excite myself. Each country brings a new culture and history to learn about. Each African season provides a completely different experience to what I’ve had before. The opportunity to learn about and appreciate those smaller things in life, the lesser-known wildlife, and the subtleties of the environment. Many of our clients approach a trip to Africa as their one and only trip to this magnificent continent, but I warn them well before they depart: you will return home with the urge to revisit again and again! This is why I encourage our travelers to take a second, third or fourth trip to Africa. There is always more to see, and Africa forever remains in your heart.
Even after just a few days on safari, you can tell that people are viewing things differently. Each morning the guide generally asks what you want to see that day, and the list usually involves the Big 5. But after a few days, you get excited about the less-known animals and the small things. After crossing off the big 5 you can start working on the little 5, the ugly 5 or even the shy 5!
We pick lodges and camps based on quality of accommodations and service, but our very fussy choices are based strongly on the standard of guides in conjunction with wildlife-rich game reserves, often in private conservancies. On each game drive, you have a professional guide and depending on the location, a tracker as well. Rest assured, expert knowledge is at your fingertips. It’s like being in a National Geographic documentary with Sir David Attenborough. Things that your eyes had passed over and never noticed before suddenly come to life, you begin to understand animal behavior and how all of the pieces of the ecosystem work together – from the termites to the giraffe. Suddenly you understand what that Lion King song was talking about and why the circle of life is so important!
While at Mala Mala Lodge in South Africa, we observed a buzzing beehive alive with hundreds, if not thousands of bees. As we stared at the frenetic activity of the bees, my guide told me about a clever little bird called a honeyguide. The bird will find a beehive, and, since they are unable to crack into it to retrieve the honey, they are known for leading humans and honeybadgers to the hive who then crack open the hive and often, by chance, leave honey around for the bird to also dine on. Now that’s teamwork!
Throughout The Seasons: A Diverse Assortment
In South Africa alone you have a wealth of geographies at your fingertips; from the vast savannas and plains of the Kruger region to the dramatic coastlines, to the orange desert of the Kalahari, with the massive Drakensburg Mountains keeping watch over it all. When you expand your view to the whole continent of Africa, the options are nearly limitless! Thankfully, our experts are here to guide you on the best destination for your next safari.
I arrived in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa in October at the end of winter, the dry season. This happens to be the easiest time of year for game viewing; hardly any leaves on the trees mean little for wildlife to hide behind, allowing you to see long distances and easily spot wildlife as it congregates around the last waterholes. If you are lucky, it may even come to you, as a parched elephant spots the water in your swimming pool! You feel like a master tracker as you spot animals left and right. However, the land can look quite lifeless after the dry season, and you begin to wonder if those branches are even capable of growing leaves again. Thankfully, the rains will come.
From here I traveled to Botswana. Just a week before my arrival, the landscapes had looked parched and exhausted after a long dry season. The rains that everyone had been praying for had arrived and I was blown away at the change, suddenly I was driving through a lush, thriving garden of Eden. Although it made spotting animals more challenging, to witness life renewing all around you in this verdant paradise is truly a sight to see. Migratory birds were returning from the north and impala were due to birth the season’s babies any day. The contrast of the green season to the dry season was like night and day.
At Mombo Camp in the Okavango Region of Botswana, I didn’t even have to change lodges to see the contrast in environments. While nearby our camp the land was still cracked and weathered from a long, dry winter and the resident wild dog pack was basking in the sun, it was just a short game drive away to reach the lush foliage directly around the river where baby elephants were chasing egrets through the marsh.
Even if you don’t have the opportunity to experience the different seasons, simply visiting the different ecosystems on offer is remarkable and allows for constant new experiences.
Cultural Exchange And Vibrant Country Contrasts
On this particular trip to Africa, I was able to experience four countries and a variety of environments and seasons. Flights and inter-lodge transfers connect many popular areas, and traveling between countries in Africa can be quite easy if logistics are carefully planned out (we are experts in this field), allowing you to fly from one lodge to the next, in time for a game drive that same afternoon.
With each new country comes remarkably different histories, politics, economies and cultures to learn about. More than just ticking off the tourist sights or your list of animals, Africa is about the people too. I find that most travelers are eager to infuse a cultural experience in their journey, and many lodges offer the opportunity to learn more about local cultures along with exciting conservation and development projects they support in their local communities.
During my visit to Royal Chundu Lodge, Zambia, a short boat ride downstream took me to a lovely village where I learned about local herbs, bark, nuts, and their traditional uses. The village grows all of the lodge’s vegetables for guest meals sustainably and organically, and the money earned feeds their families and provides a water well to save the locals from the need to fetch water from the Zambezi River where crocodiles can be lurking.
You don’t have to leave the confines of your lodge to have a cultural exchange, as the staff members around you – your guide, your drivers, your servers, your butler offer perhaps the best cultural exchange you can ask for. You’re surrounded by warm, smiling locals that come from all corners of their respective countries, excited to share their world with you and so proud you chose their country to visit.
Just by asking questions and talking, I learned about anti-poaching efforts from a guide whose family raises and trains dogs to track poachers. I was told about the main exports of Zambia from my transfer driver as we passed trucks of copper on the Victoria Falls Bridge. I discussed the problems of droughts and the effect on electricity output with the captain of my sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. I talked about the staple foods of Botswana and how they have changed over the last few generations with my waiter. With every interaction you have on safari, there is always something new to add to that ever-expanding book of memories in your head.
Everyone knows that their first time on safari will be an absolutely incredible experience. Every day our travelers tell me Africa has been on their bucket list since they were kids (thank you, Lion King). After reading about lions and elephants in children’s books, watching leopards and rhinos in documentaries, and looking at giraffes and zebra in zoos while dreaming of seeing them in the wild, going on a safari holds a special, magical allure. But I can tell you from experience that the wider you open your eyes and the more times you return, the more Africa ingrains its place in your heart. Every time is bigger and better!
Ashley is ready to assist with designing your next African adventure, with expert advice and guidance (and a story or two!). Book a call with Ashley or get in touch below to discuss what you are dreaming of.