What made you fall in love with Africa?

Feb 11th, 2011, 11:48 AM
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What made you fall in love with Africa?

Hi, everyone!

As suspected, my first trip to Africa just a couple of months ago infected me with an overwhelming desire for a return trip. Owing to slightly better than expected financial circumstances, it's looking like that return trip could be a real possibility as early as this year (or sometime next year if this year doesn't pan out). Here's my dilemma: I really loved the parks/conservancies and camps I visited in December (Amboseli, Ol Peteja, Mara; Porini camps at each stop) and would be happy to return to any of them, but I don't want to get tunnel vision and overlook what I have no doubt are breathtaking experiences elsewhere in Africa.

This leads me to the question in the topic heading: what made you fellow travelers fall in love with Africa? I want to know what your favorite experiences were, what surprised you, what you couldn't stop thinking about when you got back. I've read and enjoyed a lot of trip reports, but I thought it would be worthwhile to frame the question here, too. What places would you recommend (among those I've listed and/or anywhere else in Africa) for future travels, primarily with a safari focus? Rave reviews of particular parks, conservancies and/or lodgings are welcome.

A bit more background:

I'm interested in wildlife, particularly leopards, which I didn't see on my last trip. I saw the other four of the Big 5, though, so they don't need to be the focus (i.e. I won't rule anywhere out just because they don't offer all of the Big 5). Also, I was surprised by how impressive the birds were in Kenya, but I'm not a birder. Areas boasting five hundred species aren't necessarily more interesting to me than areas with "only" a hundred.

I loved the privacy/exclusivity of the camps I stayed at and would like similar experiences elsewhere, but I recognize that a lot depends on context (i.e. I wouldn't look for solitude at Ngorongoro, even though I'm sure I'd love it for other reasons). I don't want to do "sleeping bag on the ground" camping, but I don't need a butler in my tent either. I also wouldn't rule out lodges, but Africa's draw for me is its wildlife, so I don't need -- or particularly want -- a resort-type atmosphere.

I'm leaning toward a return trip to East Africa and probably Kenya at this point, primarily because it seems to be less expensive. But I'm asking the question because I'm quite willing to be swayed by experiences that were special to other people. I'd probably travel alone again, so insight into other solo travel experiences would be welcome (but not required). I'm thinking of taking maybe 12-14 days, but that's very tentative. Alternately, I'm giving serious thought to booking something during the migration (Sept. maybe) if there's still availability; it wasn't a priority for me before, but Tanzania's highway lunacy is making me very nervous.

Please tell me what you loved, what you thought overrated, what you'd get back to in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. Asante sana!
WindowlessOffice is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 12:59 PM
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"I'm interested in wildlife, particularly leopards, which I didn't see on my last trip."

The Sabi Sands in South Africa offers probably the best leopard viewing anywhere. Accommodations are more solid-walled than tented here, but the private reserves offer exclusivity. Mala Mala (in Sabi Sands) has had a policy that if you booked early enough, you could avoid a single supplement. That's what I did. I stayed in a very nice rondavel. I stick a link to the report here. There are many great locations in Sabi Sands. I believe Mala Mala no longer employs trackers.


If you want leopards and "privacy/exclusivity of the camps" and the exclusivity of the whole park, consider Zambia. As a solo you can easily join a scheduled departure of a mobile walking safari. Norman Carr, Robin Pope, Coppingers (Remote Africa) and Shenton's all offer these experiences. I've used all successfully except Shenton's and would like to try Shentons. Zambia has some of the best leopard activity anywhere. South Luangwa (where most of the walking safaris take place) is where I've seen the most leopard activity on night drives--lion/leopard interactions, hunting, etc. It's the only place I've seen leopard on foot. Leopard photography is more likely from the vehicles. Mixing walking and vehicles is typical for most Zambia activities.

You mention migration in Sept. Migration in Sept was my plan on this last trip. I got migration and so much more. If privacy and exclusivity--with solid walls rather than canvas--is acceptable, please consider the KWS bandas in Kenya, which are easy on the budget for a solo. I loved them and went on and on and on singing their praises in "Sept Private Drive-Fly: # of Cars/Sighting, Budget KWS Bandas, Birds & More," which I believe you saw. You could even stay again at Porini in the Mara as part of that itinerary, along with the other locations, mixing old and new.

If she is not in Mala Mala, you can correspond with Kaye (maybe she is KayeN now) about "tunnel vision." She found her paradise and just keeps going back.

Finally if you want privacy, exclusivity, and have a Sept timeframe, consider Southern Tanzania (chimps in Mahale and savannas in Katavi--under 1000 visitors last year, & Ruaha) with Flycatchers. The single supplement on this Flycatcher trip is modest by comparison. Flycatchers is in my plans.

You're hooked! Or else you just want someplace to wear your British tan.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 01:13 PM
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I just realized I did not follow your directions but it is because I could not. All the places you tagged in your post (and even those you did not) all had memorable and magical moments for me without any clear winners. So I focused on the leopard (which you had not seen) and ran with it.

Over rated? I'd say a stop or two at one of those tourist roadside shops ("Madame, this way, this way please! You are from where? Please have a look.") But on the other hand I was very enthused about using their facilities, some of which were so elaborate they merited a photo.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 02:38 PM
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Thanks, atravelynn! I figured some of the true Africa "veterans" like you would have a hard time picking just a highlight or two, but I like that there are so many amazing things to experience in Africa.

I'll definitely look into Mala Mala, Zambia and Southern Tanzania; all sound like they have a lot to offer. I'm not wedded to the Sept. timeframe; it's what I'd probably shoot for if I were hoping to catch the migration, but I know I'd have to act on that pretty quickly if I wanted to have a hope of it this year. I would just as soon wait until Nov. or even early Dec. based on how my yearly work schedules tend to go, but things are still pretty wide open for me at this point. And I'm not dead set on tents; I just don't necessarily want to spend all my funds on plush hotels/lodges when it's the environment and animals that are the real draw for me.

In truth, I would have added more countries to the tags if they'd been allowed (I'm not sure why Tanzania dropped off the list either, as I could have sworn it was there when I previewed my post), so I'm glad you already branched out into Zambia with your recollections.

And anyhow, I wanted to start this topic partly for ideas, but equally because I'm genuinely interested in hearing what captivated other people on their travels. Thanks for your input, for starters!

P.S. It's not just about wanting to wear the British tan again. There's also the suspicion that I haven't yet gotten my money's worth out of having been turned into a pincushion for all those travel shots.
WindowlessOffice is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 03:09 PM
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"I'm interested in wildlife, particularly leopards, which I didn't see on my last trip."
Leopards = Sabi Sand Reserve South Africa. At MalaMala they see leopard 360 or more days a year. Not unusual at all to see two or more leopards each game drive. Been there, done that. Check their web site for such details on all of the big 5. Timbavati Reserve near Sabi Sand also very good for leopard.

About leopards and Zambia, went there for two safaris South Luangwa Robin Pope camps, five nights each time. Saw one fleeting glance of one leopard one time. I know I was probably unlucky, but if you want to be lucky with leopards, Sabi Sand is a sure bet.

As for why I love safari, must be inbreed . As far back as I can remember I was fascinated by wildlife TV programs on Africa. I know I've seen every one multiple times going back to 1955. So when I went on my first safari in 2005 the hook was set deep into me. Will be there again in three days, Feb14th, Tanzania, Serengeti here I come

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 03:51 PM
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Besides the fact that it was there, that big "dark" continent with all the mystery, danger and even romance.

But once on the ground, I was taken in by the smiles!

The people are so warm and welcoming, and though service is still somewhat rough on the edges in some places when it comes to service (unless you pay dearly and still not always guaranteed)... as they came to volume tourism rather late, unlike Asia to name one. They'll make it yet.

Besides the smiles, there's the diverse landscapes, the smell of rain, the billions of stars in the sky, the game in their natural habitats... feeling as I would at home always even if not with all the comforts. It's just "being" in Africa that touches my soul and I like that feeling.

... and still after all these years, always enjoy all that Afree-kah has to offer.
sandi is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 04:35 PM
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You lucky dog, tom! If only I were headed back to Africa so soon (she says to herself as she contemplates stepping back out into the cold for her evening commute ...).

It's definitely sounding like Sabi Sand deserves further inquiry on the leopard front; thanks for the suggestion. I'd like to see some this next time around, of course, but honestly, it's almost a good thing I didn't see any this last time since that's acted like an added spur to urge me to return.

sandi, I love your response. I was just enchanted by the skies in Kenya; the sunsets, the stars, the expansiveness of it all. And the smiles -- everywhere, the smiles! My spotter at Porini Lion (Nick) had a particularly mischievous one that he'd throw over his shoulder whenever we were about to drive through some questionable-looking terrain. I want to get back to see more landscapes and animals, but you're right that it's so much more than that.
WindowlessOffice is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 05:41 PM
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The above are much more poetic than I could ever be. My comment when asked on return - "I went for the animals, but the people are forever in my heart". Maybe it's because Africa is the cradle of humankind. But I am hooked, too. We're going back for the third time in 5 years - and they get progressively less expensive as we learn the level of comfort we want.

I'm a Sabi Sand fan too! We stayed at Arathusa, but if finances permit, Mala Mala is a great choice. We combined Sabi Sand with Mashatu in SE Botswana (same owner as Mala Mala) and it was a good choice!

Did you see wild dog? We've seen them, but only in very low light and sleeping. The animal at the top of my must see list is the pangolin. It guarantees I'll get to keep going back - very rare sighting.

Hooked we are!!
christabir is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 06:40 PM
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I love the Sabi Sands for leopard sightings. Might I also suggest you check out both Londolozi and Lion Sands which are next to Mala Mala.

I feared I was not going to go back this year, however as luck would have it, I am able to go back in July to both of those lodges!

You are likely to see leopards at about any lodge you stay in within Sabi Sands. I believe Londolozi waives the single supplement on 4 night stays and Lion Sands might also. 4 nights is ideal for any lodge you choose!

mytmoss is offline  
Feb 12th, 2011, 11:06 AM
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Windowless Office - you're in DC. South African Airways flies direct from IAD to JNB. (not too far from Sabi Sands).
KensingtonGirl is offline  
Feb 12th, 2011, 06:47 PM
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I am often asked this question and I struggle to articulate the attraction of an African safari, indeed I continue to distil a cogent response from previous experiences. This year I am returning for a 4th and final safari (for a while ) and am a little closer to working out for now, why I have kept returning.

First and foremost, safari restores my soul by taking me to scenic and stimulating environments with the potential to surprise and delight every minute of every day. Being free of work routines and home and house related niggles in a wild environment with an experienced guide to deliver the best safari experience is a tonic like no other.

I will always enjoy the wildlife wherever I am in the world and especially in Africa. The spectacular landscapes and coasts of South Africa and Namibia, together with the open space of the Central Kalahari make for a heady mix when remembered with the lions, oryx, honey badgers and other animals which contribute to this unique environment.

The style of travel is also intoxicating and I have a fondness for mobile safaris utilising private campsites where human presence is minimal and it is possible to develop a true sense of sharing the land, the sky and the stars with others whose home it is. I enjoy the thrill of discovery that safari brings, as a guide once said - "we will go and see what nature has sent". Appreciating the small creatures as well as large predators and herbivores brings its own rewards.

I arrived at this conclusion based on 12 weeks safari experience with most time spent in the bush rather than cities and airports.

Initially, the first trip (2004) was a lucky choice as it included a mobile safari in Botswana from which I gained an appreciation of camping in the parks and living simply in rich wildlife areas that afforded good sightings of animals previously experienced only through books or television.

This whetted my appetite to see more wildlife so the 2005 trip was to Kruger, Kenya and Tanzania, Swaziland and Kwazulu Natal mostly on lodge-based safaris followed by camping in Namibia. This trip delivered some iconic sights, a leopard in Samburu, the flamingoes at Nakuru, the migration in the southern Masai Mara and the spectacular deserts and wildlife of Namibia. Coastal South Africa and desert Namibia and the rich Etosha Park blended great game viewing with impressive landscapes.

The third safari in 2008 was with a great friend and my aunt and uncle - all newbies. By this time I had figured out that a good safari for me blended great wildlife viewing with breathtaking landscape, returning to previously enjoyed camps/parks combined with discovering new places and lots of open spaces. Mixing this with the needs of newbies (possibly on a first and only safari) I made an itinerary with good wildlife in the Northern Circuit which we all enjoyed on a private lodge-based safari. My friend and I then headed south to Ruaha and Selous in search of a 'wilder' and more remote safari experience. We sought a different environment and open spaces in Makadagadi and later in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve on a 5 day mobile sasfari. I flew on to Mashatu and then returned to Namibia.

I'm doing my 4th African safari trip this year which is for myself and 2 friends one of whom is a newbie. I planned a safari that I expect to deliver good game sightings, spectacular scenery and some time in remote and open spaces.

The 2011 safari reflects my preference for small camps, great wildlife areas and open spaces. It includes Shindzela and Umkumbe (both small camps) in the Timbavati and Sabi Sands area (thanks to Pixelpower for his experience and advice here.) Mashatu for its laid back camp style, followed by a mobile in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for its spectacular red dune Kalahari scenery and the rich predator population for which the park is known. We will be staying mostly in the wilderness camps for a private and remote experience. Returning to Maun, we have 10 nights mobile safari around the delta, Savute and Moremi.


Treepol is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 10:54 AM
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Hi Windowless: This is a great thread. I have spent many an hour trying to explain to my friends what the "endless desire to visit Africa" is all about. I think Treepol comes very close to my feelings in his description (thanks, Treepol). It touches my soul. I love all animals, and like Tom, I have seen all the documentaries over and over and cannot get enough.
It was my 5th trip to Africa before I saw leopards, and I must admit that I picked places on that last trip to enhance the chance of seeing those spotted beauties. We went to Mala Mala (my daughter's first camp as she was a newbie, not tented) and we saw a leopard on our first drive! The other leopard sightings were at Mombo. This camp is ridiculously expensive.....and I loved every minute of it. Legadema is the star of her own Nat Geo movie done by the Joubert's, and she is beautiful. I would return there every trip if I could justify the $$ (or win the lotto). I have never had a "bad" safari and would go back every year if I possibly could, and because of work, I usually only travel between November and March. We did a mobile tented safari and saw the migragtion in the Ndutu area of the Serengeti in late Feb. and it was beyond description. As I always have traveled during "the wet", I don't know any different, but it has always been spectacular. We also went to the Makgadikgadi to see the meerkats, which was great fun. I must admit that the seemingly endless pan also affected me when I wasn't expecting it. I went there to see the meerkats and left there with an appreciation of the stark beauty and desolation of the place...it was kind of spooky.
I cannot wait to return to Africa!!!!
p.s. The Joubert's have a new Nat Geo movie, The Last Lions, about a lioness in Botswana, that is due to release next week-end, and I am sure that I will be one of the first in line!!
scruffypuma is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 05:19 PM
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You all have great experiences; thanks so much for sharing!

I am definitely going to take a closer look at safaris in South Africa for my return trip (although it's hard to turn away from the beauty that I know I found in Kenya already), and I think I was right to assume that it's too early for me to commit to returning to the same places until I've seen more. I can't say I'll be thrilled to be on a plane that long, but I do like that there's the option of a direct flight. All your descriptions of the animals, the wonderful open spaces, and the reminders of the incredibly warm people I met are making me want to be back there RIGHT NOW. I hope I can convince some of my friends to accompany me this time, as I know they'd love it.

scruffypuma, I'm glad you've always been gratified by your travels in "the wet", as that's probably what my work schedule will dictate (for a while, anyway). And I know it didn't keep me from being overwhelmed by what I saw and felt during my trip. I loved your trip report, too, and have kept it in mind.

Treepol, I'm amazed by your response. What a wonderful set of memories! I don't have the budget to do a trip like that at this point in my life -- maybe I could put it together if I waited and I didn't feel like I had to get back right away this year or next -- but I can imagine how thrilling and good for the soul it must have been.

Thanks for the tips on the single supplements, atravelynn and mytmoss; advice on how to deal with those budget killers is always going to be good.

christabir, I haven't seen wild dog or pangolin yet, but I know how nice it is to have goals. Thanks to you, too, for chiming in, and good luck with your pangolin sighting!

P.S. Thanks for the reminder about The Last Lions, scruffypuma. I knew it had to be coming out soon, but I didn't realize that it was this next weekend already. Yay!
WindowlessOffice is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 06:11 PM
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Hi Windowless,

I agree with the others about why I fell in love. The wide open sky, the sound of birds, many optimistic and hopeful people--optimistic and hopeful often against all odds, I might add--rich red dirt, the big cats, the little cats, the eles...yadda yadda. There's a lot to despair over and much to love.

I will say I've been on three rather brief East African safaris and seen leopards every time. So I'll throw in a recommendation for another EA traditional safari combined with gorilla trekking.
Leely2 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 11:56 PM
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It's not what made me fall in love with Africa. It's what every other continent does to disgust me.


pixelpower is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 07:07 AM
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I agree with all the accolades and eloquent descriptions and admit to sharing some of Pixelpower's disgust. But that disgust even extends to some things going on in Africa. It's all wrapped up in resiliance, fragility, and a delicate balance we've been priviliged to witness and yearn to maintain.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 07:13 AM
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This is such a catchy title, especially on Valentines Day (with the love part) and likely to attract attention.

So I am taking advantage of this thread and sticking a plea for Africa's lions in here. Certainly Leo Panthera has contributed in some way to our love for Africa.

For everybody who watches this video, National Geographic will contribute a dime to lion and big cat conservation in Botswana.


You can watch as often as you want.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 09:39 AM
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Great add, atravelynn! I'm more than happy to watch the video for that cause (it doesn't hurt that they have Jeremy Irons narrating, either).

Leely2, believe me, I haven't ruled E. Africa out for my next trip, either. I'm really strongly considering making an attempt at a visit during the migration (I'm hoping to have my mind made up/plans underway within the next couple of weeks), and if I do that, I'll be looking closely at spending extra time in the Mara and probably supplementing with a stay in the KWS bandas, as atravelynn described from her recent visit. I know leopards are in Kenya and I'd love to see them, but if I go there during the migration and miss them again ... well, I'll just have to keep returning.

pixelpower, I'm not quite as disgusted with the rest of the world as you sound like you are, but I definitely agree that people seem to be going out of their way to screw things up. Here's hoping that Africa continues/improves its efforts to preserve what it has going for it (and drops terrible ideas like that Serengeti highway).
WindowlessOffice is offline  
Feb 19th, 2011, 08:11 PM
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What made me fall in love with Africa? We traveled for the first time to East Africa in June/July 2010 with assistance from many fodorites willing to give their expertise. I was a little nervous traveling to Africa, no maybe a lot probably due to my mother's constant nagging, "Oh, please be careful, it is very dangerous in Africa!" And it didn't help arriving in Nairobi without our travel representative being present when the plane landed. All turned out well--our plane was very late in arriving.

The animals are breathtaking!!! When I think of Africa, I picture the morning our guide (he did not follow the other vehicles) took us to an open plain in the Mara. A slight breeze was blowing, the pinkish, orange sun was rising, balloons floating in the sky and a enourmous herd of gnus and zebras were all around so close one could have touched them. We also saw a male lion sauntering through the tall grass carrying it's kill. He very close to the gnu herd. Another favorite moment was in the Kirawira area of the Serengeti, two lion cubs, a male and a female were cuddling together--just amazing. I have an awesome picture of them.

We saw a leopard right after the flight from the Kilimanjaro near the Serengeti Serena. We also saw a leopard in Lake Nakuru. We played hide-and seek with a leopard in the Mara, but never did see it. It was having too much fun sneaking around in the tall grasses.

I am a novice compared to most, but my appreciation of Africa runs deep. I don't know if it was the people so willing to please for so little or the shear vastness of the areas we visited. I feel very priviledged to have visited. When people ask about our trip to Africa, I get this dreamy look on my face and simply say you have to experience it.

Happy travels!!
Live2Travel1000 is offline  
Feb 20th, 2011, 07:30 AM
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What made me fall in love with Africa? I will never be able to explain. It's a feeling that I had when I first set foot on African soil. We have, in the meantime, visited northern, eastern, southern and western Africa and I hope there is still a lot to come.
MyriamC is offline  

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