I recently received the opportunity to attend a Signature Educational…
Our journey started on Emirates Airlines, one of the best Business class products around. After a “short” 16-hour flight we arrived in Dubai at 1am. We took the 10pm out of LAX so we could have a full day at work and not lose a day in Dubai. The Meet & Greet service in Dubai is very reasonably priced and it is a great treat when you arrive after 16 hours to have your name on a sign when you exit the aircraft. We spent 3 nights at the Palace hotel right at Dubai fountain. I’ve always had to take a car transfer to this area and it was really nice to just wake up and be near the Dubai fountain, the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall.
After trying to get some sleep we had 2 fun filled days lined up. First it was off to Abu Dhabi to tour the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, a little city tour of Abu Dhabi and then back to Dubai (about 1 ½ hours), a quick picture stop outside the 6-star hotel, Burj al Arab then back to the Place hotel for dinner and another attempt catch up on our sleep.
The next day started with a private Penguin Encounter at the Mall of the Emirates. The 4 of us spent 1 ½ hours with a trainer, and over 14 penguins. We saw their feeding area, got to feed them, saw a few nesting, one molting and watched them swim around. The cost for the private Penguin Encounter is very reasonable and a much better time than the regular tour (I’ve done that one before). A quick trip to the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa then back to the hotel to head off to the Desert for our Desert Safari.
About an hour outside Dubai you head off into the sand dunes and race around, up and down and over the dunes in the middle of the desert. You end the evening watching the sun go down and enjoying a tradition Arabian meal. It’s always worth a trip to enjoy the desert setting, belly-dancers, henna tattoos, and traditional Arabian dress. An hour back to Dubai and now adjusted to the new time zone, just in time to fly to Johannesburg in the morning to start our African safari adventure.
Another treat to continue our journey to Africa on Emirates Airlinesnon-stop to Johannesburg. Thinking our 16-hour flight was getting us really close, it was another 8+ hours to Africa. Another Emirates flightincluded limo transfer to our hotel in Johannesburg where we stayed 1 night at the Saxon hotel. The Saxon isn’t a typical hotel, as it’s made up of a number of large Villas, each with a set of beautiful rooms, and a common dining/seating area. The dining area in each villa area has a limited menu or you can dine at the main hotel. We chose to walk down the “jungle” type path to the main hotel and enjoy both dinner and breakfast. The pool area is fantastic, the dining area is great and the food is amazing. A great stop before heading out into the African bush.
8am and off to the airport for our flight to Maun, Botswana. After clearing immigration and customs we got into our “bush” plane (15 passenger plane) for our flight to Wilderness Safari’s Kwetsani Camp. The bush planes stop along the way depending on who’s going where, so we had 2 stops on our way to Kwetsani. Each flight was between 10-20 minutes, so even though we stopped along the way it only took about 1 hour for all the stops. Landing on the dirt airstrip our safari vehicle was waiting for us, and we headed to camp (about 45 minutes). After a much appreciated cold towel and warm greeting we got the camp tour. There’s one large common table for dining with guests from the other tents (there’s only a maximum of 12 guests at any one time) along with the camp staff and guides. All the meals were buffet; for breakfast there’s someone to cook eggs, and at dinner they pour red and white wine. But you do always get a choice of any beverage (including “adult” beverages) you like. The rooms (tents) overlook the plains of the Okavango Delta, have an outdoor shower and 2 fans to keep things cool. This camp allows you to completely disconnect since they have no Wi-Fi, and there’s no cell service. The water is filtered from the delta and is good to drink. You get an environmentally friendly water bottle that you fill up at the drinking water spout in the bar area and a bottle you carry with you between camps. Our guide, Moio, was not only a great guy and wonderful tracker (he found great animals for us), but also a great photographer. Moio found us a lion family with a male lion, mommy lion, aunt lion and mother lion. And all of them were taking care of the baby lion, probably about one-month old. We saw so many animals while on our daily safaris.
Our schedule was pretty similar at each camp. 5am-ish wake up call, breakfast at 5:30 and out on safari just after 6am. We always had a “potty” break when needed and a morning tea break with snacks packed up from camp. Back to the camp around 11 or 12 for a great brunch, nap time, then out again about 4pm, with a “sundowner” in the bush, then back to camp for dinner, then off to bed by 10pm so we can do it all again tomorrow! It’s amazing how disconnected you can feel, and how much you can enjoy watching animals in their natural habitat with the guidance of a great engaged guide.
Our next camp was Vumbura Plains camp, another camp to help keep you relaxed by having an internet free camp. The schedule was similar, the view was amazing as expected and the food was even better than Kwetsani. This camp offered the large common table on our second night there, and the group was so good we all asked to dine together again the next night. Staying within the Wilderness Safaris brand we would enjoy the company of other guests as they moved within similar camps as we did. Our guide, Willie, really “looked” for animals, at times making sure we got as close as we could.
One day we had a “teenage boy” elephant “mock” charge us and Willie turned off the engine……my first thought, “oh no!,” but Willie knows that when the engine goes off the elephant sees there’s no threat and he backed off…whew! Another time he actually drove over trees through thick bush to find a herd of Cape buffalo hiding between bushes!
We did take a scenic helicopter flight over the plains of Botswana which allowed us a different view of the area and animals. It was only a 30 minute flight but so much fun, and you get to fly around without the doors. FYI – You can also arrange to transfer between camps via helicopter instead of the plane flight and ½ hour to 1 hour drive, but the luggage limit is less so you have to pack even lighter.
After 2 nights at Kwetsani and 3 nights at Vumbura Plains itwas time for another flight. This time there were only 4 of us heading to the next camp (and another country, Zambia) so no more 15 passenger plane for us, this time it was a 7 passenger plane. At 9,000 feet for 1 ½ hours it was a bit long and not as much of a joy as the other flights, but it is what it is. We stopped at Kasane Airport to clear customs and immigration in Botswana then got back on the same small plane with the same 30 year old pilot for the ½ hour flight to Livingstone Airport. He did make a few loops around Victoria Falls before landing which was a great treat to welcome us to the area.
We ended our Wilderness Safari’s experience at Toka Leya camp in Livingstone, Zambia. This camp allowed a little more sleep time, and also allowed us to connect a bit. With both cell service in the area and Wi-Fi we were back on the grid.
I have to say we really enjoyed the staff at every camp, but there’s just something extra special about the staff at Toka Leya. Maybe it’s the fact that they are from the local villages, or from Zambia, but they were great. This camp had 12 tents, and no long common dining table, but during our stay there were only about 6 other guests there. This meant we had lots of great attention, service and conversations. To prepare for lunch and dinner we always ordered our meal at the meal before (for example ~we ordered lunch while enjoying breakfast).
While not an animal safari every day, at Toka Leya we enjoyed so many great experiences. The first place we visited was Victoria Falls. At this time of year the Falls are pretty full, so the “Devils” pool isn’t open, but you can use all the vistas to look at the falls. Later in the season the water is too high that some of the views are not accessible, and in the dry months the falls almost go dry. So I was really happy to be here in February. Here’s a hint ~ bring something that you don’t mind getting soaked. It’s like being in a huge thunderstorm during some parts of the walk. Waterproof cases for your phone will help you get great pictures, and a large plastic bag will keep anything else dry. Bring flip-flops and rent the rain jackets, it’s a great experience. After an hour in the Victoria Falls park area, we then headed to the Helicopter to see the Falls from above, and closer than the plane ride that got us here.
We also had the opportunity to visit a local village. Our guide for the village was a young women who lives there. The village, Mukuni, was one of the highlights of our trip. We have so much in the United States and there’s so many places around the world that don’t have a fraction of what we have! The people at Mukuni were wonderful. The day before we were at the bridge (where I zip-lined over the mighty Zambezi river starting in Zambia and ending in Zimbabwe) where you can bungee jump, zip-line or swing (that’s a bungee jump where you jump off in a seated position instead of head-first). There were so many people selling local, hand-made Zambia items but here they engage with you while watching the bungee jumpers, zip-liners, etc. I decided to buy a copper bracelet from one guy, and since I did realize he used the money for food I overpaid (rather I didn’t bargain) a bit. The next day while touring the village I saw the same guy, we both recognized each other, and he was in a group of about 8 others all making the local items they were selling. It was great to see that the items they were selling (and I bought) were actually going right into the community. Back to the camp for our last dinner and then off to Cape Town in the morning. The entire staff came out to say good-bye, some of the nicest people around.
3 hour flight from Livingstone to Cape Town for the last 3 nights of our adventure. We’ve left the bush and nature of Botswana and Zambia and now some time in the big city, well not too big, only about 3 million people, but so full of life, art, food and experiences. We stayed at the Cape Grace hotel right on the Waterfront. It’s a beautiful hotel, great location, great service and carries with it some great African influences. While there are a few places to stay in the area the Cape Grace does have one of the best locations. We spent time walking around the Waterfront, shopping in both local craft stores and mainstream mall stores, enjoyed some of the local food and snacks and enjoyed the great Mediterranean climate.
During our time in Cape Town we explored a lot. We visited the Botanical Gardens, had a great lunch at a local restaurant (The Stack), went to the topof Table Mountain and then ended our day at the extremely popular and amazing “Test Kitchen.” Test Kitchen is one of those “experience” restaurants with 10+ wine pared courses of eclectic food. You start out in the “dark room” for drinks and appetizers. After a bit you then move to the “light room” and enjoy more great food. After 4 hours we were stuffed, but it was great! I can’t do meals like this that often, but if you have the chance it’s a great experience.
The next day we drove around the peninsula to enjoy to coastline of Cape Town, and the many small towns and villages. We made it to the most western and southern point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. On the way back we stopped at Boulders Beach to see a few thousand African Penguins. Back to the hotel to enjoy a bit more shopping and local cuisine on our last full day in Africa.
Our last day started with a ferry ride and tour of Robben Island, most famous for being a political prison and one of its most famous inmates, Nelson Mandela. We toured the high security cells with a tour guide who was actually one of the prisoners. There is still tension in the city from Apartheid, but the locals are hopeful that the upcoming generations will be able to enjoy a better life in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Back to the hotel for our transfer to Cape Town International airport for our 9 hour flight to Dubai, 3 hour layover then a 16 hour flight back home!
We all tend to take vacations between 5 and 8 days, but to be able to enjoy 16 days away really allows you to get involved and disconnected at the same time! Travel is a wonderful thing…..it opens minds, teaches humility and brings the world closer together!
Please enjoy below more pictures from my trip!