Is an African Safari on your bucket list? It most definitely is on mine! Since African Safaris are truly one of the most amazing experiences you can have in life – I have teamed up with Robin Mountain who is the owner of NTABA African Safari – as well the owner of a great coffee house in Louisville! – to offer you the chance to join his group – led by Robin and his wife Stella on safari in September of 2021. And, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Robin once again (we spoke this past March) to get an update on this excursion which will include two countries – South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Below are some of the moving parts of this adventure we discussed during our chat. It is certainly not a complete itinerary – more like an overview of the highlights that are sure to get you as excited as I am about joining this particular African Safari – so read on dear friends!
Getting There: Getting to South Africa is quite easy. There are three non-stop flights daily from the United Sates to Johannesburg – originating out of New York (JFK) or Washington DC (Dulles). And although they are sixteen-hour flights – Robin encourages you to break up the trip in your mind into four sections and to take advantage of the fact that everything is free on the flight – including drinks. Wink, wink.
Now I, myself prefer to travel Business Class so that I get one of those fabulous seats that fully reclines. I know you might be thinking that Business Class is a lot more expensive than coach – and it can be – HOWEVER, thanks to my great relationships within the industry – if we have enough people joining us on the same flight we may be able to qualify for a discounted group rate!
A Peek at the Itinerary: So, as we said above you would fly into Johannesburg (the largest city in South Africa). From here you would start your journey and go to Cape Town (South Africa’s legislative capital), Kruger (a South African National Park and one of the largest game reserves in Africa) and Zimbabwe – home to the infamous Victoria Falls (one of the world’s largest!) – among other destinations. One note about the falls that is interesting – in September there will not be as much water over the falls as say March, April and May (which is due to rains in Angola in January and February) – so you will actually get to see more of the falls!
The game drives – pretty much the highlight of everyone’s trip to Africa – start bright and early. You‘ll get woken up at 5:30am, enjoy some coffee or tea and a lovely continental breakfast and then depart in an open air vehicle to catch views of “the top 5” – lions, leopards, cape buffalo, rhinoceros’ and elephants – as well as cheetahs, giraffes and more.
And even though the vehicles are open air – don’t worry about rain – the rains typically don’t come until November and December. And as Robin shared – going to Africa in September is the best time as September is spring in South Africa. You will see penguins. You will see more of Victoria Falls like we mentioned above. You will see flowers coming to life. Basically, in Spring you’ll see things you won’t see other times of the year. And – you won’t be oppressively hot. He actually referred to it as “champagne weather” (which I love!) – with early morning temperatures in the low 50s and evenings in high 80s. Whereas come January, February and March – the heat is on!
So you will head out in the early morning – with the smell of the morning dew evaporating off of the leaves – no cages or fences (the only fences you will see are in and out of camp – to keep the campsite safe) – just you completely immersed in this natural habitat. And who knows, you may round a corner and see a Wildebeest giving birth to her calf. Basically, you will be a bystander watching animals and nature just being themselves. As Robin says when guests ask him what he can guarantee they will see: “you’ll see a heck of a lot of what I didn’t expect!”
And nighttime on the game lands? Well the sky you will see in South Africa is quite different than the sky we see in the north at night. When the sun goes down on the way back to camp, your driver will stop and turn off the vehicle and the lights. At this point you will lay back and take in all the stars in the vast galaxy above you. A lot of times the guide may take a laser and point out different stars for you to discover. And – for many – it may be the only time in your life that you will see the famous Southern Cross.
Also at night – look for the dung beetles. They will be rolling a piece of dung with the female perched high atop the pile as if telling her mate “work faster!” Where are they going? They are taking the dung to a hole where they will place it and she will lay her eggs. The coolest part of all this? They are actually working off the stars to remember where just where that all-important hole is. Now that is being one with nature.
Culture: Of course travel brings us all so much more together and cultural immersion is made possible on this particular safari in so many ways! First – there is a meal scheduled with Nelson Mandela’s prison warden. Yes – the warden who shackled him up when he arrived at prison and then unshackled him when he was finally release. This warden also dressed Nelson Mandela up as a woman and smuggled him out of prison – three years prior to his release – and drove him around Cape Town! Can you imagine the stories you are going to hear at this meal? Incredible opportunity here!
Also – in Zimbabwe you will have home hosted meal – which means you will enjoy a lunch with a Zimbabwean family in their home. Here you will learn more about their culture and you will have the opportunity to teach them about yours in return.
And of course – your drivers, rangers an any of those you come into contact with during your visit are more than happy to share stories with you – so be sure to ask them about their cultural stories. Even sitting around the campfire at night listening to your guides talking about their personal experiences provide you with amazing interactions.
Gastronomy: As you know, South Africa sits between two oceans – the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean and because of this their seafood is to die for! In addition to phenomenal seafood you can also get fabulous steaks in South Africa. In fact – Robin recounted a tale where a Texan once told him that the best steak he had was in South Africa. Yes, you read that right – a Texan (like me)! That is due to the fact that the livestock roam free there so there are no GMO’s. Thus, their steaks are all completely clean and hormone free and you can truly taste the difference. Another delicacy in South Africa? Calamari. That’s because it is not frozen before you eat it – it arrives from the Falkland Islands on ice and once it is grilled or fried you will not be needing a knife! You can literally break it with your tongue. And of course, there is no shortage of game meat here – buffalo stew, springbok – just to name a few.
Safety: Many tourists to Africa have fears of catching malaria but Africa is very well prepared so that guests on safari are not in danger of falling ill. They take many precautions due to the nature of the industry. For instance, they attack the mosquitos where they roost – under the eaves of the building – which they spray thoroughly both in the morning and evening. In fact – in the fifteen years Robin has been hosting safaris he has never had anyone get malaria. So, there is no need to get a malaria shot before arriving – just bring bug spray and sunscreen. And as per Robin – the only shot you need is a whiskey shot with him when you arrive!
Being around all those animals in their natural habitat sometimes makes people nervous. However – the safari lands and game rangers Robin and his team use are NOT going to ever put their guests in harm’s way. They never feed animals from the vehicle and they never enter herds. Instead they will search for them, see them coming through the bush, drive ahead, park the vehicle and there you will watch them come at you – so they remain very calm.
And of course, as far as COVID – the game lands of Africa naturally lend themselves to social distancing. And in reality – the countries visited on this trip are far more adapted to the situation we face now than a lot of other destinations based on its past history.
Type of Traveler: Adventurous of course! But seriously – it is a huge destination for multi-generational travel – a lot of families come on safari. And what a great thing to share with your children or grandchildren – experiences and memories that will last a lifetime! It is also a popular destination for honeymooners. In fact – Robin mentioned that Malawi in Eastern Africa is a popular option for honeymooners because it’s very affordable. Here you can stay for $250 – $350 per person per day with everything included – except for air of course.
Paying for Your Trip: This is absolutely a trip you can afford a year out – especially with Moi – your Travel Guru – working with you to find a suitable payment plan. As of right now there are no deposits required as we are still about a year out and prices are not set – nor are we sure what the exchange rate will be. But don’t worry – the price won’t go up – and it could possibly go down! And as with most trips final payment will be due somewhere between 60 and 90 days prior to departure. In either case you definitely want to book now because this group is filling up fast! And as for cost … hint: an African Safari is typically a once in a lifetime trip due to its cost – however Robin’s group trip is priced to be as affordable as possible.
Miscellaneous: For those of you that are interested – there are definitely variations we can work on – such as adding a few days at the beginning. Or you can always do a Botswana extension. During that particular time of year, its unfortunately very dry but that means you may be able see the herds of elephants that come to the Chobe River – and if you are lucky you may even see the herd swimming across it which is quite an amazing sight! As for duration for this once in a lifetime trip – we recommend two weeks plus two travel days a as a good amount of time to see it all!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing all arrivals to South Africa will be required to present a valid certificate of a negative COVID-19 test, obtained not more than 72 hours (three days) before the date of travel. Failure to present proof of a negative test will require the traveler to quarantine at their own cost. All travelers will be screened on arrival and anyone presenting symptoms will be required to remain in quarantine until a repeat COVID-19 test is conducted.
This is just one of many options for a safari experience. If the date of Robin’s group does not work for you, I can certainly work with you to find another group experience that may work – or even a private experience. It’s all very flexible here!
Or if you prefer a different itinerary Robin also has safaris in East Africa. He tends to keep out of Kenya – because it is very difficult to get around the main city – Nairobi. Whereas Tanzania is a beautiful East African destination as are Rwanda (where you can see gorillas and chimpanzees) and Uganda. And completely forgotten about – yet absolutely beautiful is Malawi. It is the poorest country in Africa but picturesque and home to over 800 species of fish! But you definitely want to consider Tanzania – featuring the popular plains of Serengeti National Park for your absolute out of Africa experience!
For more in-depth detail on this fabulous adventure and other options available to you for safaris – contact your Travel Guru!