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Bon_Vivant Sep 9th, 2008 09:14 PM

What brings you back to Africa?
This is my first post (a Fodors virgin, as it were), so please foregive me if this issue has been done to death previously. If it has, I couldn't find it.
I am making plans for my first trip to Africa next year. I am 63, looking forward to retirement from a professional career in a year or so, and concerned that there are so many places that I would like to visit that time and money may not allow me to do all that I would like to do. For this reason, there will be places that I can plan to visit only once, and I want to try to make sure that I get my planning right. Africa is likely to be one of those once-only visits.
This site is a mine of great information with a wealth of detail available to both experienced travellers and novices alike. One thing in particular that does strike me is the frequency with which people describe their initial visit to Africa as a "life-changing" experience. Now, it does seem to me that "Africa" covers a very big and diverse area, and that, although I have never done either, sitting in a vinyard near Cape Town sipping a glass of wine must be a vastly different experience to trekking after gorillas in Rwanda. It might be pushing it a bit to describe the former as "life-changing" (unless it's a really nice wine!), but I'm sure that the latter could be.
I note that many of you are regular visitors to Africa in it's various parts, some having been there on a number of occasions. What, then, is the thing about Africa that brings you back for repeat visits? If it is game-viewing, is not one lion or elephant in the wild much the same as the next? I don't intend to be flippant in that remark, but I wonder how much the "African experience" revolves around game-viewing and how much is concerned with other interests.
As indicated, my visit next year is likely to be the only shot that I get at it, so I would like to try to distil your collective experiences to make sure that, so far as I can, I end up trying to cover the "essence" of Africa.

divine54 Sep 10th, 2008 01:21 AM

hi bon,

congrats to you for the outlook in view to your retirement in the near future!

as you assume you have got one shot and not knowing what to look for where and when i just try to point out briefly only some ideas.....

i could bet there are many more suggestions flying be patient

africa SMELLS so special and different from any other destination which i have experienced so far, and we have travelled a lot!

south africa; just a brief impression....
- cape town - you already mentioned the nearby winelands! but cape town itself has got a lot to offer. i always compare the atmosphere with sydney.

- kruger national park and its surounding reserves are excellent for big five and also the samll things in the bush!
kruger is a wonderful selfdrive destination. but you should have a guide in order to get the explanations about animal behaviour, the differences between nocturnal and diurnal animals etc. etc.
- the garden route with beautiful landscapes
- the beaches close to durban
- all the other reserves

botswana; much "wilder" than "civilized" south africa!
- of course the okavango delta and moremi game reserve for the big 5
- chobe np for the huge number of elephants plus big cats
- the makgadikgadi pan for its vastness and meerkats and brown hyenas

zambia; even wilder than bot
- the mighty zambezi river and livingstone/victoria falls
- the luangwa valley with its large leopard population besides all the other big game and. wonderful opportunities for walking safaris

east africa
- kenya and tanzania with their wildebeest/zebra migration
- ruanda/uganda with the mountain gorillas
- kenya with its great national parks and diverse landscapes
- tanzania also has got its great national parks and reserves besides the serengeti

you see, it's simply toooooooo much to get into detail.

just stroll around fodors and find out what interests you most - besides sipping a good glass of wine ;-)
come back and post more specific questions so that many fodorites can be able to work out something really special in view to your trip!

budget is the most important thing besides your sense for adventure (or lack of it). and lenghts of travel!

what about postponement until retirement and do low budget and travel for a couple of months?
just an idea.....

happy reading, thinking, questioning, evaluating and then planning!


tripofalifetime Sep 10th, 2008 02:48 AM

I just returned a couple of days ago from my first trip to East Africa. Like you, I couldn't couldn't understand why everyone talked about it being a life changing experience, nor why so many people returned with great frequency - I am now a believer.

As I have told people about my amazing trip, I can't identify anyone one thing that makes it addictive - I know that I felt more alive than I have in years. The sights, sounds, smells, everything about it was amazing. The people were some of the friendliest I've ever encountered and often after just a few minutes with them felt like I'd known them for years. The game viewing was awesome. No two game drives were alike - it was not knowing what was around the next bush that kept them exciting for me. Would it be a lioness on a hunt, or a leopard taking a kill up a tree, or a week old giraffe baby still with umbilical cord, or a bird of a color only seen in a crayon box. Was it being awakened at 3 in the morning to an elephant stripping bark 3 feet from your tent, or the sound of the early morning bird calls? Was it feeling insignificant as you sit in a jeep surrounded by 60+ elephants. I was fortunate enough to be in the Mara close to the peak of migration and seeing what appeared to be countless wildebeest in every direction, or to sit and observe a crossing (I really got lucky and saw two while there) - cheering on the wildebeest and zebra to make it as a croc approaches and takes one.

Is it the realization that somehow in a country as poor as Tanzania, that people are happy and content with their lives - depending on family and tradition and custom to shape their lives.

I'm still not sure that there was one thing that made me feel the trip was life-changing, but I know that I will view life differently now for a variety of reasons, and yes, I started planning my next trip before I finished this one.

I'm sure that the experiences are diverse around different parts of Africa, I can only speak to my trip to East Africa, but it was all of these things and more that hit me.

rsnyder Sep 10th, 2008 05:05 AM

I thought planning the first trip to East Africa was tought but 'tis nothing like what I am feeling as to a return visit. We are considering a safari in say Oct/Nov of 2009 and had fairly well decided on Tanzania and maybe even parks in both north and south much like we did in 2007 but later in the year. Then, the more reading I do the more expansive the list becomes. Ethiopia and Uganda (not necessarily for primates)really caught my eye. Also, thought I would not want to return to Kenya but now Samburu, Tsavo parks and others had me searching for info. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! So, Bon, I think I know what you are feeling. We are so fortunate not only to have been there more than once but maybe to go again. Now I just have to balance what my eyes/mind are seeing/thinking with the budget (retired with part time work)and get something in order in the next couple of months. Wish you well as you work out the details for a trip and retirement. Dick

sundowner Sep 10th, 2008 05:54 AM

I have to agree with what tripofalifetime said. There's not just one thing and it's really hard to quantify it to someone else. Someone once told me it's like a love affair. <i>That</i> I could identify with. After my first trip I would think about Africa at least once a day. Every. Day. And there was nothing - absolutely nothing - that would stop me from going back again. First trip, 2002. Eighth trip, 2008.

Not everyone gets bitten by the Africa love bug and I'm not even sure it's a good thing if you do. :) Sometimes when I get back from a trip I feel like I'm over it (the bug) and I'm glad it's finally over. But a couple of months go by and IT'S BACK. Good luck with your planning and your trip. B-)


travelingtish Sep 10th, 2008 08:23 AM

Bon-I was about your age when I made my first trip to Africa. I, like you, thought this would be my one and only trip there. Mainly because of my small income, but also because I figured once I went there, that would be that. I have since made another, more upscale (permanent tented camps) trip and I'm now having to force my attention away from Africa so I can see some of the rest of the world (and the U.S.) before I'm too old to do this.
It just grabs you. You think you've had a great trip and then you read about someone else who experienced more on their trip than you did and you want to do THAT, so you book a different kind of trip. It's never enough. And part of it is just the fact that this is AFRICA--a place you never thought you'd be. Going to sleep while listening to elephants trumpeting around a water hole is the best!

Pula Sep 10th, 2008 09:06 AM

I suppose there are people who make one trip to Africa and check it off the list -- you just won't find them here!

Personally I don't find any of the cities in Africa (that I've been to thus far) to be the slightest bit addictive. The experience out in the bush, however, is transcending; it has a very fundamental appeal. I don't think it has anything to do with the cradle of mankind but who knows -- that might be somewhere in the mix. Being out among a vast number of animals, where you the visitor are no longer at the top of the order, is both humbling and powerful. Sleeping in a tent to the sounds of Africa at night is as good as it gets.

That's true about the SMELL of Africa because that earthy fragrance is intoxicating and yes, addictive, but so are the sounds . .. the doves by day and the tree frogs by night and an array of other critters across the spectrum.

At the same time, the experience is pleasantly civilized, even in a tent, or especially in a tent.

BTW, the term &quot;bush&quot; refers to many different habitats in Africa, and it really doesn't matter which one you pick, because each can summon up these reactions, easily!

And it's not as if you go to Africa and sit around contemplating the universe -- you just go to Africa and smile the whole time you're there.

gaynor Sep 10th, 2008 10:08 AM

What an interesting question! It really made me think. Africa is larger than life. It provides an experiences that put life into perspective and make you realise just how insignificant you are in the scheme of things.


KittyKautz Sep 10th, 2008 12:15 PM

Dear Bon_Vivant,

I didn't read all the replies to your post so this may have been mentioned already...

It is a different land; it is still not developed and so has a charm that cannot be found in a modern city. Of course the cities in Africa are somewhat modern, but they still retain that &quot;undeveloped&quot; feeling; you are in an entirely different country where there is wildlife and people that are unique. Imagine how amazing it is while sleeping at night to hear hippos &quot;talking&quot;, or have an elephant walk through the hotel grounds. It reminds us that humans are not alone on this planet, and the animals still &quot;rule&quot; in some places. Art and architecture you will find in many places, seeing a lion and it's cub is not a common experience. I don't think I could ever get tired of the sight of giraffe running across the Serengeti!

Bon_Vivant Sep 10th, 2008 02:08 PM

Thank you for your comments. I have opened the forum today with eager anticipation and it's really quite exciting to see so many replys.

The indefinability of the &quot;African experience&quot; seems to be a fairly common thread, and I would like to come back to this later, if I may, to see whether or not that love affair mentioned by Cindy is felt differently on a regional basis or for South and East Africa as a whole for those who have experienced both.

I would certainly not rule out the prospect of my becoming a repeat visitor to Africa but, although I think that I am an optimist (that glass of wine is definitely half-full!), having seen so many people of my age &quot;pop their clogs&quot; unexpectedly in recent times, I am looking at a five year plan (or thereabouts) of things that I want to do while my wife and are still able to do them, and repeat visits can't be accommodated in that plan at present. I wouldn't want to die in my sleep and find that I had missed out on one of life's great experiences. (? -- Yes, I am thinking about that statement.) For this reason, I am wanting to go to Africa next year while we are still reasonably fit and active. (We are not rock-climbers or white-water kayakers, but we do a fairly mean walk.) We do like a wee bit of comfort and prefer to sleep in a bed at night, not on a camp stretcher. We are not rich, but can afford a reasonable level of &quot;luxury&quot; for short periods at a time.

Div. Your summary of the regional differences was helpful to my more detailed planning because, obviously, we couldn't take in the whole of &quot;Africa&quot; in a single trip of, say, three to four weeks, and an understanding of what style of experience to expect from each region is really useful.

Is Namibia regarded as being part of the quintessential African experience, or is it a bit too different to be compared in the same context?

sundowner Sep 10th, 2008 02:59 PM

Bon_Vivant - maybe you can go ahead and do your five year plan and then dedicate the next five years to Africa :).

Have you been looking at the pictures of everyone's safaris? In many of the trip reports you'll find links to photos and you'll see what we see plus many people take pictures of the camps, etc. I have pictures here I don't have many up from 2007 and only one from 2008. I'm off tomorrow morning for an island in B.C. Canada to take pictures of Spirit Bears. I'll have to catch up on all my pictures when I return.

raelond Sep 10th, 2008 03:58 PM

Great question!
I had wanted to go to Africa since my late teens and some 30 years later my dream came true. It was to be a &quot;once in a lifetime&quot; trip. When we landed in Johannesburg and saw the sign that said &quot;welcome home&quot;, it was the start of an amazing, undescribable feeling. My husband wasn't nearly as keen as me to go on this trip, but he also knew when we left Botswana and Zambia, that we had to go back to Africa. Two years later (this past March), we had a wonderful trip to Tanzania. When we were in Zambia we met a couple from England who were 80 years old. They had been coming to Zambia, on safari for the past 16 years. When I asked them why they keep coming back, their reply was &quot;why would we go anywhere else&quot;. I think that says it all!

wildlifepainter Sep 10th, 2008 04:26 PM

I made my 5 year plan in 2007 and Africa was my first &quot;trip&quot; after the kids left the nest. I went to Tanzania in Feb. 2008 and like tripofalifetime I came home desperately wanting to go back. My 2009 trip was supposed to be Egypt and if was partially planned. My husband and I were sitting around drinking wine about a week after we got home and I said &quot;do we have to go to Egypt before we can go back to Tanzania?&quot; So we put Egypt on the back burner and are reserved for 2009 and 2010. It is a life altering trip and I too found myself grinning from ear to ear every minute. We made a 1 hour DVD with photos, movie clips and music of Africa and we sit down with our wine and watch it at least twice a week.

I want to add that I have traveled extensively in Asia, India &amp; Nepal, Caribbean islands, Mexico and lived in Iran. Egypt, return to Bangkok and Iran, China are also on the list but not for a few years until I get past the Africa bug.

atravelynn Sep 10th, 2008 05:19 PM

Bon Vivant,

Welcome to Fodors! Your debut is impressive with this excellent question.

If you have high hopes of visiting many places, then you may <u>not</u> want to visit Africa early on in your travels because you may become hooked. But that's not such a bad thing either.

I understand wanting to go while you are active. But, you can do safaris with superb wildlife and a wide range of accommodations that require very little activity besides bouncing around in the vehicle.

If somehow a rule were made that I could travel only to Africa and nowhere else in the world, I would be disappointed. If that rule stated I could travel anywhere in the world, but no longer to Africa I would be crushed.

Two well known safari companies have these respective slogans, “Our journeys change people’s lives” and “Reawaken your soul.” I don’t believe these are exaggerations and those of us who return often experience these sentiments with each trip (though not necessarily with those companies).

To respond to something you alluded to in your question, it is not the glass of wine in Cape Town that changes my life, though food and drink there are top notch. But sitting with a baboon troop and watching Great White Sharks for a week near Cape Town could be considered life changing.

You also wondered how much of the attraction was wildlife related. While for many of us this is a huge draw and we could watch African animals for hours, the culture and people are a big part of the magic and unique appeal of Africa. Check out this link that asks for the most memorable moment <u>without</u> animals;tid=35153638
You’ll notice some people did not read very carefully and did include animals. Oh well.

To describe Africa travel, I like to say there is travel, and then there is Africa, in its own category. The word discovery is an apt description of a trip to Africa because each day you discover something new about the animals, the people, the environment, and maybe most importantly--about yourself.

Words aside, Africa permeates the senses. I copied this from something I contributed to another post about senses in Africa.

Sight—The pictures you see in the various trip reports (as Sundowner mentioned) will be similar to what you really will see and what you will capture in your photos. These are not lucky flukes or locations off limits to the average traveler; these postcard images are accessible to anyone on safari.

You can view Africa on the grand scale with breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and the vast plains with immense herds. But there’s also the micro aspect with fascinating insect activity or tracks that tell a story.

You can hone your own spotting skills as you find camouflaged animals, with help from your guide. Binoculars for each participant are a good idea—hint hint, for you first trip.

Sound—The gnu-ing of the gnus in massive herds, the lion roar that reverberates in your chest, the constant Go-away call of the bird by name, The familiar Kiswahili words you’ll pick up and the delightful accents of the Swahili speakers when they speak English The night sounds that keep you company as you adjust from jetlag--laughing hyenas, whooping jackals, hippos bellowing in the river, and lions calling to each other in the distance (and sometimes not so far in the distance).

Smell—Sometimes the smells are not so pleasant when they result from decaying flesh. Those scents are not agreeable to our noses, but for scavengers, it’s like the aroma that drifts out of grandma’s kitchen.

You may catch an occasional waft from the ubiquitous dung piles and even glimpse the dung beetles at work.

I’ve been conditioned to appreciate the heavy, dank stench of strong body order because shortly after that scent becomes evident in the Virunga Mountains, the gorillas appear!

If while driving around, you suddenly smell baked potatoes that means the potato bush is nearby.

Taste—Don’t fall for this one: You come upon a pile of dung. The guide says, we can tell what kind of dung this is with a simple test. He sticks his finger into it and then puts the finger into his mouth and makes some comment like, “I can really detect the sweetness, which indicates this is from elephants who have been eating elephant grass (or whatever).” Then you are encouraged to do the same—stick your finger in the dung and taste it. But the trick was that the guide stuck his middle finger in the dung, and put his index finger in his mouth! The conclusion based on the taste of the dung was pure BS (pun intended).

Ask about trying some ugali along the way, a traditional African dish made of ground corn with meat and/or vegetables on top.

The best meal I ever had (and my three globe trotting travel companions agreed) was in Tanzania!

Touch—As tempting as it may be, you can’t touch the animals. But Africa will touch your heart. In fact, it will grab onto you and never let go!

Regarding your question on Namibia--I have not been there yet, but if YOUR idea of qunitessential Africa includes snad dunes and/or animals grouped around waterholes that you can observe day and night, then it is a perfect fit. It's easy to add a few days of Namibia to a Southern Africa trip or you could spend a few weeks in Namibia if you include the Skeleton Coast, Damaraland, Fish Canyon, etc.

Hope you use the expertise of so many here on Fodors when you start planning your own African Adventue!

Celia Sep 11th, 2008 07:12 AM

Bon Vivant, thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking question.

I like Cindy's comparison of a trip to Africa with a love affair. My first trip there was in fact a love affair; my fiance was working on a short-term contract in Johannesburg. When his contract ended he was asked to stay on, but said he couldn't do it without me, and so the company very generously found a job for me and I joined him there.

So our Africa is always colored with the joys of the first stages of being in love, and we never go there without feeling something of our early romance. But it isn't only a fond return to that time in our lives, it's much more. Each time we go our appreciation and love for the place deepens, and I'm sure it will continue to do so. Here is a quote that explains my love for Africa much better than my own words can. It was written by John Heminway (yes, with no &quot;g&quot;) in his book &quot;African Journeys&quot;.

&quot;I believe there is no sickness of the heart too great it cannot be cured by a dose of Africa. Families must go there to learn why they belong together on this earth, adolescents to discover humility, lovers to plumb old but untried wells of passion, honeymooners to seal marriages with a shared sense of bafflement, those shopworn with life to find a tonic for futility, the aged to recognize a symmetry to twilight.

I know this all sounds a bit much, but if I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa&quot;.

And for me, whether it's in talking to the gas station attendant in a small African town, or watching lions on a kill, or bargaining in the market in Maseru, I've seen and felt magic every time I've been in Africa.


divine54 Sep 11th, 2008 10:35 AM

&quot;Is Namibia regarded as being part of the quintessential African experience, or is it a bit too different to be compared in the same context?&quot;

namibia is a wonderful destination for landscape lovers.
there you find the huge sossusvlei dunes, you have the skeleton coats, up north the kunene river (border river to angola), you have damara land and of course the ETOSHA pan.

let's say you are KEEN on wildlife i would not decided on namibia. we visited etosha e.g. after torrential rain and didn't see much wilflife as they could find water all over the placed and didn't have to show up at the waterholes.

also namibia allows cheetah (cheetah is at the edge of extinction!) hunting and therefore it's an absolute NO NO for us.
so we did it once, learnt about the cheetah hunt and ticked it.

but for unique landscapes: it's a must!

namibia is a perfect selfdrive destination. most parts of the country can be reached by 2x4. but some tracks request solid 4x4 knowledge. here iT#s very common for tourists to rent a 2x4 or 4x4 with roof tent and camp.

it's also good to do a extended selfdrive trip which could start in windhoek (namibia's capital), drive via etosha and further north via caprivi strip in to botswana and down to maun where you can leave the car and do a fly in safari into the okavango delta.

as africa is a vast continent the choices are simply unlimited. all depending on time and budget respectively preferences!

south africa would be also great for selfdrive! here you can combine nature, culture and wildlife!

i think for long winter evenings you now have got a wonderful past time occupation: work on your trip of a lifetime to africa...........

beware: there is no vaccination which prevents to get that african bug which makes you longing for africa ;-)


Bon_Vivant Sep 11th, 2008 03:48 PM

Thanks for the warning, div. It may have come too late, however. As I have been reading all of the wonderful comments above, I have come to the conclusion that there is probably little point in trying to avoid this bug and that I might just have to smile, submit to the seduction, and enjoy the process!

As a whimsical aside, do any of the animals wear lipstick?

Bon_Vivant Sep 11th, 2008 03:54 PM

On instant reflection, that aside was unworthy of the helpful comments that you have all offered.
Sorry about that.

Back2Sabi Sep 11th, 2008 06:12 PM

I recently returned from my second trip to Africa and just like the first time, I'm left with a hole in my heart and I yearn to go back. Not to get all meta (I'm not even from California) but it's kinda like going home. Africa is the cradle of civilization, after all, and even though my ancestors left it 1,000s of years ago, I think my body knows that this is the place it came from, instinctually.

Too corny?

divine54 Sep 12th, 2008 09:50 AM

no they don't wear lipstick: their great lashes make up for the lack :-)

one more thing: namibia has very nice &quot;game farms/lodges&quot;. very good value for money. but many of them DO HUNTING .
if you are keen on a particular one just ask whether they allow hunting. then you can decided for yourself!
mayn tourists get in that trap not knowing about the hunting business and are disappointed when they learn about it after their stay.
just be aware.....

as i see you are already getting addicted........good to know :-)

just keep us informed on the proceedings and please don't hesitate to post any tiny bit which comes to your mind.
there are always freaks around happy to help out and support!

have a great WE!


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