May is a lovely spring month in North Africa, a perfect time to visit the Sahara Desert before the summer sun heats it up too much during the day. It’s also a wonderful time to explore the medinas of Morocco‘s royal cities like Marrakech and Fez. The weather is perfect and tourist numbers are nice and low. Likewise Egypt‘s ancient tombs and monuments are still pleasant to visit before the summer heat makes it uncomfortable to stroll around during the day.
In East Africa it’s a very wet month traditionally, so keep an eye out on safari camps that will often close this time of year, and a rather wet beach experience if you are headed for the coast. Many mobile camps in Kenya and Tanzania are still on hiatus awaiting the start of the season in mid-May. The great migration begins to spread out across the Serengeti, slowly heading north towards central and western Serengeti.
The dry season begins in Southern Africa as the rains have ended and the nights are cooler. Jackets start to appear for night drives and early morning starts. Green colors begin to fade and the bush loses a little of its brilliance. Predators thrive as their colors blends in with the surroundings. Migratory birds begin to head north to their breeding areas. Buffalo group into large herds around Botswana‘s Okavango Delta region as the flood waters from Angola start to reach the top of the Delta and begin their slow deliberate progress deep into the heart of the Delta. Rates are still lower this month, so it’s a great time to take advantage of awesome wildlife viewing at a great price.
Water temperatures are perfect and warm in the Seychelles in May and visibility is excellent for those of you looking for some spectacular snorkeling and diving, as well as white beaches and plenty of sunshine. The East African coast and islands of Zanzibar are still a little wet this time of year, but further south towards Mozambique and Mauritius, the conditions are very good, with dry and warm weather.
Events and Festivals to keep in mind …
1st May – International Labour Day (or May Day) on the 1st of May is widely celebrated throughout Africa and is a public holiday in most countries. You may see marches and parades commemorating workers.
29 April – 4 May – Harare’s International Festival of Arts, attracts performers from all over the globe. There’s dance, music, plays, spoken word and more. Given the economic climate in Zimbabwe its not easy to pull off a successful festival, but they do it every year. The 2009 festival was a resounding success.
27 April – 3 May – Pink Loerie Mardi Gras – One of South Africa’s premier gay events is this 4 day festival held in Knysna a town in the beautiful Garden Route. Music, art exhibits, cabaret shows, good food and a grand parade mark the exuberant festivities.
21 – 24 May — Good Food and Wine Show in Cape Town – The Good Food and Wine Show comes to Cape Town once a year. Celebrity chefs will be working their magic at the state-of-the-art kitchens in Cape Town’s International Convention Center. You can taste, watch and learn from the gourmet experts at hand.
May (annual) – Rose Festival — In the Dades Valley in Morocco a small oasis town Kelaa-des-Mgouna is home to Morocco’s largest rose water distillery plant. The entire town is fragrant and the spectacular harvest in May is celebrated with song and dance.
29 – 31 May – Bush Fire Festival, Swaziland – Bushfire is Swaziland’s acclaimed international music and arts festival held each year at House on Fire, an inspired and magical venue combining sculpture, mosaic and theatre built in the heart of the Ezulwini valley.
We don’t often talk about the charities we support because we don’t feel it’s necessary to saddle you with our philosophies and dreams for a better Africa. Our goal at African Portfolio is to create an unmatched, personalized travel experience for every client, on every trip. If our safari has been a life-changing event for you, we know how you feel. If your trip with us has moved you to help others change their lives for the better, we can’t be more proud. If we have helped create memories that stay with you for a lifetime because your trip was so much fun, that’s great. No other baggage required.
But as we work to make your safari dreams come to life, we are very cognizant of the impact our business has on the everyday lives of ordinary people who work on the ground, The tourism industry is a major provider of jobs and services throughout Africa, often in areas that would otherwise struggle to find employment opportunities. It has been our privilege to work in this industry and to be motivated by constantly striving to improve our relationships with our friends and colleagues all over Africa. We are very serious in choosing who we work with to make sure they share our support of local communities, the environment and wildlife protection. Diane (owner of African Portfolio) has also gone one step further, and has been supporting community efforts in education in Harare, a city she calls home for 6 months of every year.
We thought it would be interesting to share the story of Kasipiti with you, so you can feel good about being a large part of its success!
Kasipiti is the name of the organization Diane founded in 2011. Kasipiti roughly translated means “renewal” or “spring growth” in Shona (one of Zimbabwe’s main languages). African Portfolio has always made it a practice to donate to our colleagues’ non-profit efforts in Africa, through organizations such as Children in the Wilderness, the Africa Foundation, Sekolo Projects and Empowers Africa. In addition we have made a significant contribution in our own neighborhood through donations to the Audubon Society, Greenwich Land Trust, Autism Speaks, Greenwich Point Conservancy and Kids in Crisis. But over time, it became more apparent to Diane as she watched the Zimbabwe economy falter and the education system fail ordinary Zimbabweans, that there was an immediate and direct need right on her doorstep. Diane knew she could make a big impact by directly sponsoring and supporting children in her local community of Borrowdale.
Not long ago, Zimbabwe was the envy of the continent with one of the highest literacy rates in Africa and over 90% of young children enrolled in schools. With the economic collapse in 2008, many schools shut down as teachers were not paid, and schools that were functioning became increasingly more expensive. Diane knew that targeted sponsorship of children whom she could follow up with personally, would be an extremely efficient and effective way to really make a difference. Helping families meet the ever increasing costs of tuition, school fees and books, Kasipiti now sponsors the education of dozens of young children and teens.
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to effective community development. While the focus of Kisipiti is to help Zimbabwe’s young generation flourish academically, being responsive to families health needs, and the occasional grocery bill is also part and parcel of being a good member of the community. Kisipiti has grown organically from the start, and that’s what has made it effective. Every individual has different needs. One of the first girls to benefit from sponsorship is Hazel who suffers from muscular dystrophy and she continues to thrive at St Giles, a school for special needs children. In 2015 Kasipiti was proud to see 3 of our sponsored teenagers graduate from secondary school and with our help will now undertake the next step in their lives, learning employable skills, at trade school.
We hope all of you as clients and friends of African Portfolio will continue to support our efforts and take joy in knowing that your trip has helped us help others. If anyone would be interested in learning more, or wish to visit with the children we sponsor, just let us know!
As is often the case, I chose to take my trip to Tanzania in November. At the very end of the dry season, foliage is sparse, visibility is as good as it gets, and roads are dry and easy to navigate. Better still, perhaps because the short rains may arrive at any moment, there are generally not many other travelers to compete with. If and when these rains do come, it is in the shape of afternoon thunderstorms that have very little impact on daily activity, other than to brighten up the skies and clear out the air leaving the smell of fresh earth hanging above the ground. (By the way, did you know that there is a word “Petrichor” for this wonderful smell, and a reason for this particular scent?) I also love to watch how quickly the earth responds to moisture, and a green sheen appears across the land. I am a hopeless but relentless photographer, so I need all the help I can get. The mostly tan, brown and grey animals invariably display better against shades of green, than other shades of tan, brown and grey dirt!
To begin with, I undoubtedly recommend a two-night stay in Arusha if at all possible. Not only for collapsing and recovering after long flights and avoiding a jet-lagged start to a safari, but also to take in a glimpse of daily life in 21st century Tanzania, as well as the vast art collection in the gallery at the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center. Personally, I needed time to visit the offices of our colleagues in Arusha and took a tour of their premises, (The workshop where the huge fleet of safari vehicles is kept in ship shape, was most impressive). The discovery of the day though, was the African Tulip Hotel: so much more personable and intimate than other options in the same price range, and many of my clients have been reaping the benefits of that visit ever since.
Tarangire National Park
My safari took me westward from Arusha to the Serengeti, beginning with the beautiful new stretch of paved road, and a scenic drive along the Selali swamp through the Tarangire National Park. True to form, it was teeming with elephants, antelopes, birds, and one “calendar- worthy” shot after another. My first major highlight however, was seeing an exciting new development just beyond the park. The corridor along which animals used to move freely from the Tarangire River to the shores of Lake Manyara has long been dismantled by human settlement and activity, but two brave souls are working on creating a passage for them once again. Fabia Bausch and Nicolas Negre aim to restore this ancient migratory route by reclaiming the land (even if it means paying annually for hunting permits that they never plan on using), and by operating what they term “slow safaris” from their beautiful Chem Chem Lodge and Little Chem Chem Camp. The focus is not so much on big game here, but the refreshing variety of walks, spa treatments, sundowners on the shores of the lake and most of all the superb hosting, while throughout both properties, Nicolas’ photographs and creative touches combine beautifully with Fabia’s style and practical approach.
In spite of the sometimes arduous journey from the rim of the Crater to the floor, no safari in northern Tanzania feels complete without a drive through the Ngorongoro crater. Barely 100 square miles, (roughly the size of Nantucket) it doesn’t require multiple days to explore, but it still feels a little like stepping through the looking glass into a snow globe with zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, lions, warthogs, buffalo, the odd rhino, a few hippo and even flamingoes on the Magadi lake. Understandably, the crater becomes quite a bottle neck in high seasons, but because of the confined space, and rather easily spotted wildlife, many travelers are lulled into sleeping in and setting off after breakfast only. To avoid becoming trapped in a convoy of minivans inching down the inner wall of the caldera, or the crush of land cruisers around the scenic Ngoitokitok Spring by lunchtime, we chose to set off at daybreak anyway, and almost like making first tracks on ski slopes, enjoyed uninterrupted views and undisturbed game viewing before returning to our lodge for a proper lunch, a nap and an invigorating hike through the forested slopes of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area – a strategy that paid off well, and which I would recommend to anyone.
The drive to Serengeti can be brutally bumpy, and what many consider a “highlight” along the way, the Olduvai Gorge, is probably mostly of interest to fervent archeologists and paleontologists. That said, I think the drive along the gorge itself to the fabled Shifting Sands is a worthwhile diversion. We’ve written about these before, but for the most part, our guests prefer to fly to whichever part of the Serengeti they visit next. Over the course of the week we explored all of the major areas inside the 5,700 mi² Serengeti National Park (yes – slightly larger than the state of Connecticut). From the grass plains of the Ndutu area in the south, to the Moru Kopjes, through central plains, and from the western corridor and the Grumeti reserves in the west, to the Loliondo Game Controlled Area in the northeast, circling back to my favourite part – the Lamai triangle.
We all know that Serengeti means “endless plains” so I love perching on top of a Kopje for a breathtaking wide angle view of the infinite grasslands below. This is only a part of what made Lamai Camp another high point of this trip. The view from every glassless window, from the lip of the infinity pool and the many boulders around the camp was soothing, invigorating and mesmerizing, all at the same time. The general lay-out, the “shabby-chic-done-right” interior design, a few funky details and the brilliant hosting in a relaxed atmosphere all aligned to put this camp right back on my list of places to return to.
To my great surprise, we encountered a very late-season crossing of wildebeest at the Mara River, but this part of the Serengeti delivered the most spellbinding experience: a couple of hours spent watching four young cubs cavorting under the watchful eye of a patient lioness, who would tolerate their roughhousing, snarl when they crossed the line and roll over to feed them at regular intervals.
As always, my guide was the most memorable element of my experience, and the most valuable player in the game. Not only did he keep us informed and alert, he took a keen interest in my side of the business, put up with my endless questions and often joined me to look around new properties. He generously shared his views and experiences of lodges and camps, mulled over possible itineraries along the way and deliberated with me on the pros and cons of various logistical options. In all he left me with new appreciations and insights, many fond memories and most of all a new phrase in my limited Swahili repertoire. To counter my favourite expression,”moja kwa moja”, (“one by one, non-stop and straight ahead”) he insisted that I learn to “ngoja kidogo” – to wait a little bit now and then. I’m glad he did… and I’ll thank him next time.
After weeks of drought our colleagues in Kenya are rejoicing with some lovely rainfall and the bush is turning nice and green. In Tanzania the migrating herds of zebra and wildebeest are moving north in the Serengeti, the youngsters are all steady on their legs and enjoying an abundance of fresh grass with the first of the long rains.
Botswana cools down this month, making for some lovely ethereal mornings with mists over the Okavango Delta. Impalas actually become quite exciting to watch, as it’s rutting season for the males, so lots of snorting and clashing of horns day and night. Fruit trees are in bloom throughout the continent, making for some very happy baboons, vervet monkeys, birds, elephants and other fruit loving species. It’s even breeding season for the crocodiles, as they too make the most of this time of plenty.
The dry season begins to set in throughout southern Africa and you can benefit from some excellent “shoulder season” pricing with lovely warm, dry weather. In many cases you can save more than 30% off your safari price without sacrificing the quality of your game viewing. The wildlife is at its most photogenic this time of year, with plenty to eat and many little ones by their side! More tips on how to make your safari more affordable …
In Morocco, temperatures are climbing up the scale, and the climate turns drier — the perfect time of year to head to the Sahara Desert. If you enjoy suffering, you may want to check into one of the most grueling extreme marathons on earth, the “Sand Marathon” . Or better yet, just support those who are participating and then enjoy touring the lovely medinas in Marrakech and Fez instead! Spring is also in the air in Egypt, the perfect time to explore the ancient tombs before the real summer heat makes them a touch stifling.
April is the best month to visit The Seychelles, the ocean is warm, and the trade-winds are quiet making snorkeling and diving conditions absolutely perfect. So if you’re looking for a beach holiday, aim a little further out from Africa’s mainland in April, as the coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania are likely to be a little wet this time of year.
2015 April Festivals and Events to Keep in Mind …
- 3 – 13 April — Marathon Des Sables, a gruelling 6 day extreme marathon through Morocco’s Sahara Desert which believe it or not sells out years in advance. Over 600 competitors slog it out over 150 miles of desert, many of whom run to raise money for charity. This year runners include a team from Kenya raising money for “Save The Rhino Foundation” and wildlife rangers who risk their lives saving wildlife..
- 13 April — Sham el Nessim (“Sniffing the Breeze”), a Spring festival celebrated throughout Egypt. Egyptians celebrate Sham el Nessim by taking their families on picnics, and enjoying public parks and other green spaces. Salted fish, colored boiled eggs and green onions are the traditional foods eaten on this day. It is commonly believed that Egyptians have been celebrating this holiday for over 4000 years.
- 18 – 25 April — Sufi Cultural Festival held annually in Fez. The Sufi Festival brings together religious leaders in Sufism and artists from around the world. Visitors come to enjoy ritual performances complemented by morning poetry readings, films and oriental art
- 22 April — Earth Day, Yvette’s favorite day of the year! A day filled with events worldwide that are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. What will you do?
- 27 April – 3 May — AfrikaBurn – South Africa’s Burning Man Festival held in the Karoo. Join your fellow creative participants who gather once a year in the Tankwa Karoo to build a temporary city of art, theme camps, costume, music and performance!
- 28 April – 3 May — Harare International Festival of the Arts, attracts performers from all over the globe. There’s dance, music, plays, spoken word and more. Given the economic climate in Zimbabwe its not easy to pull off a successful festival, but they do it every year.
- 29 April – 3, May — Pink Loerie Mardi Gras in Knysna, one of South Africa’s premier gay events is this 4 day festival held in Knysna a coastal town along the beautiful Garden Route. Music, art exhibits, cabaret shows, good food and a grand parade mark the exuberant festivities.
There’s a mind-boggling array of things to do in Victoria Falls, so we at African Portfolio have curated a perfect “first day” itinerary to take some of the stress out of deciding what to do! That leaves you a second or third day to jump, swim, fly, zip, hike, raft, kayak, and swing over the Falls at your leisure!
Enjoy a sunset cruise on the Ra-Ikane, our favorite little luxury boat on the Zambezi. Named after one of David Livingstone’s guides when he first set eyes on the Victoria Falls, the Ra-Ikane is a lovingly restored wooden vessel filled with historic memorabilia and furnished with period pieces. With room for just 14 guests, everyone enjoys a “window seat”, as well as fine cuisine and refreshments. As you gently chug past the bigger party boats, you’ll truly appreciate this is the right choice to enjoy the magnificent views of the sun setting over the river, with hippos grunting contentedly along the way. You can reach little inlets and get closer to elephants and other animals on the river banks than any other vessel out on the river. Transfers will be arranged to and from your hotel, expect to be away for 3 hours in total.
Morning Tour of the Falls – Guided or On Your Own
Victoria Falls is the largest and perhaps the most beautiful Falls in the world. Here the Zambezi River is over a mile wide and plunges into a vertical abyss across its entire width. The force of the falling water sends spray clouds high into the air, giving rise to the African name of the Falls, “Mosi oa Tunya,” meaning the smoke that thunders. It is said that when David Livingstone discovered the Falls, they inspired him to have written in his diary that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in flight.” A rainforest along the first gorge provides a magnificent natural observation gallery and this is where you will enjoy a “tour of the Falls”. You can easily spend two hours at the various observation posts along a meandering path. On this Zimbabwe side you will be marveling at the Falls from the top and face-on. Enjoy the incredible sight of the Falls from across the gorge, offering panoramic views of the entire “curtain of falling water”. The entrance fee is $30 per person, and it’s advised to bring a raincoat or rent one during your visit. Permanent rainbows adorn the Falls, and if you’re lucky enough to visit during full moon, it’s worth returning at night to try and spot a lunar rainbow.
Lunch (or High-Tea) – Victoria Falls Hotel
Victoria Falls Hotel has earned international acclaim for its Edwardian elegance and charm. The hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Zimbabwe, established around the turn of the last century and has recently been refurbished. Stanley’s Terrace serves a very good a la Carte lunch, and their crocodile caesar salad is perfectly washed down with crisp South African chardonnay. The grounds are just gorgeous, the lawn is immaculate and you can see the spray of the Falls. Check out some of the communal rooms on the ground floor, it’s a veritable museum of colonial extravagance, a little slice of history.
Afternoon – At leisure to stroll around Victoria Falls Town, or enjoy an afternoon activity
Victoria Falls Town is a fairly typical small African town, with a post office, some supermarkets and a fair number of hawkers offering up (the old) billion dollar Zimbabwe notes, and carvings of elephants. There’s a curio market as well, where haggling is the order of the day. For those who enjoy a little African culture and don’t mind being social, it’s really a fun place to explore. But if you prefer to try something different, you can easily fit in an elephant-back safari, a 15 minute helicopter ride over the Falls, a fascinating bridge tour, or even a bungi jump (but not too soon after lunch!)… Read more
Evening – Dinner at the Boma
The Boma Restaurant is a classic tourist venue set in the lovely grounds of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Dinner at the Boma is a legendary affair, with what looks like literally hundreds of local dishes served in buffet style, including impala terrine and sadza. A witchdoctor is available to tell your fortune by throwing his bones; dancers entertain with Shona and Ndebele acts; and then … there’s the vat of Mopane worms which are a hoot to try. Yes it’s touristy, but it’s very well done and a lot of fun.
March can be a rainy month in southern Africa, and it’s been a somewhat torrential year for rain so far, causing flooding problems in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mozambique. If you are heading to the Victoria Falls be prepared to get extremely wet, they will be earning their name “Mosi-oa-Tunya ” (smoke that thunders) this year. March is a good time of year to check out the lunar rainbow, a truly spectacular event at the Victoria Falls, requiring a clear sky, high water levels and a full moon. The Park stays open late to celebrate, click here for the full moon dates.
The end of March marks the start of the long rainy season in East Africa and many mobile camps begin to shut up shop in Tanzania and Kenya. Staff get to take a break and renovations begin in earnest for the next season. If you want to enjoy a tented experience, make sure to book before the end of the month. Lodges and larger permanent camps do stay open, so if you are planning an Easter break, we’ll still be able to offer you a wonderful experience!
Have the winter blues set in? March is the perfect month to visit The Seychelles, the trade-winds are quiet so the seas are calm, and the dry season starts to set in. It’s also a great time to enjoy the beaches of Mozambique especially if you are a diver, as the whale-sharks begin their annual visit to the region.
March is the last month for the twitchers among us venturing to Southern Africa, as the birds will begin their migration back north by April. There are still hundreds of resident species to enjoy, but if birding is your passion, book your trip by the end of March for Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Interested in checking out the myth that elephants can get drunk from eating too many fruits from the Marula tree, which then ferment in their large stomachs? March is your month to find out if there’s any truth to this rumor. If you don’t manage to catch half the animals in the bush enjoying this sweet fruit, then you can always savor a taste of Amarula liqueur yourself, all self-respecting camps will have a bottle on hand in the bar!
If you plan on visiting Botswana this time of year, make sure to include the Makgadikgadi National Park (especially camps close to the Boteti River) in your plans. If you’re lucky you’ll witness thousands of zebra and wildebeest congregating in huge numbers around the few pans that still contain water from the summer rains.
2015 March Events and Festivals to Keep in Mind …
Various Dates in March – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (Cape Town) – Free summer concert series. Ask us about arranging a gourmet picnic dinner while you enjoy listening to some world-class music, to end another fabulous day in Cape Town.
28 February – 2 March – Cape Town Art Fair, a fantastic 3-day event showcasing South Africa’s most exciting artists in venues throughout the city.
28 February – 7 March – The Panafrican Film and TV Festival of Ouagadougou FESPACO, one of Africa’s most important film festivals takes place bi-annually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
4-6 March – Full Moon, time to check out the lunar rainbows at the Victoria Falls.
6 March – Holi, a Hindu festival of color celebrated in great style in Mauritius. Basically you have license to spray any passer-by with colorful dyes from head to toe. It’s a wonderful way to welcome the spring.
27 – 28 March – Cape Town Jazz Festival is Southern Africa’s biggest jazz festival and is held annually in Cape Town, South Africa. Jazz legends from all over the world will perform for just two days at the convention center. More than 30,000 people attend, so advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary.
February marks a massive baby boom in the Southern Serengeti as this is the time of year when the million strong herd of wildebeest give birth, all within a 2-3 week period. The mass calving is a survival tactic to overwhelm the predators that lurk behind the bushes waiting for easy baby prey. It’s a season of bounty and excitement for lion, hyena, leopard, jackal, and cheetah. A truly spectacular scene for those lucky enough to be on safari in Tanzania during this time.
For much of the rest of the continent below the Sahara, February is a lovely mid-summer month with lots of sunshine. It’s the perfect time to enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the dry weather on the East coast (Tanzania and Kenya) offers good snorkeling and diving conditions. It’s also a great time to enjoy outdoor music and art fairs. Zanzibar’s lively streets welcome musicians from all over Africa during the annual Sauti za Busara festival. Cape Town’s artists strut their stuff at the annual Cape Town Art Fair.
Many lodges and camps in and around Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park and Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park are closed for the month of February as the summer rains make getting around very difficult. Botswana also enjoys a hot but wet climate, but the flowering water lilies will certainly brighten up your Okavango Delta safari this time of year, and the excellent “summer” safari bargains are sure to put a smile on your face. This is high season for butterflies, birds, and frogs, who add a dash of color and delightful soundtrack to your safari.
2015 February Events and Festivals to Keep in Mind ….
Various Dates in February – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (Cape Town) – Free summer concert series. Last Sunday clients Mary Kay and Bob enjoyed a gourmet picnic on the lawn while listening to Cape Town’s Philharmonic Orchestra
30 January – 1 February – Stellenbosch Food and Wine Festival, an annual event highlighting this rich wine-making area‘s history, come to celebrate the quaint town’s food and vino culture. Over 140 wineries are represented as well as all the top notch restaurants of the area, a true feast for all.
12 – 15 February – Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar Music Festival, Stone Town. This five-day festival showcases regional music, theatre and dance. It brings together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebration of the wealth and variety of African music and culture.
20 – 28 February – Cape Town Pride, One of South Africa’s biggest gay events; a week long extravaganza celebrating gay pride and diversity. A giant parade on the second Saturday is the focal point amidst many parties, art shows and fashion shows.
28 February – 2 March – Cape Town Art Fair, a fantastic 3-day event showcasing South Africa’s most exciting artists in venues throughout the city.
28 February – 7 March – FESPACO – one of Africa’s most important film festivals takes place bi-annually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
January starts off quietly in Africa, as New Year’s Day is a public holiday throughout the continent. In Cape Town the year starts with a real bang and toot with the Cape Minstrel Carnival. On the other side of Africa, the Berber people in in Morocco wait an extra few days, to celebrate their new year on 12 January.
January is a great time to enjoy warm summer weather, outdoor concerts in Kirtsenbosch (Cape Town), or picnic on the beach. The Cape Winelands are also wonderful to visit in January as the grapes get harvested this time of year, festivals are held to celebrate the event, and touring the cellars at the wineries is even more interesting than usual. If you’re visiting the Victoria Falls, it’s your last chance to leap into Devil’s Pool.
The Loggerhead and leatherback turtles are in action off the Indian Ocean coast. It’s a wonderful month for a safari in northern Tanzania, especially the southern Serengeti as the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra start to gather in huge numbers. The bushes are green, flowers are out in full bloom and the grasslands lush, it’s a brief time of bounty for many animals.
For birders, January is a peak month to enjoy the mind-boggling numbers of migrating and local birds attracted to Botswana’s Chobe and Okavango regions, it’s a twitchers paradise!
January Events and Festivals to Keep in Mind …
1 January – Public holiday throughout Africa (banks, many shops and post offices closed)
1 January – Cape Minstrel Carnival – Parades are huge flamboyant affairs with grand costumes, wonderful marching bands, singing, dancing and more.
12 January – Amazigh – traditional Berber New Year (Morocco). Families come together to enjoy steaming plates of chicken and couscous and welcome the New Year. For some Amazigh, it is essential not to eat spicy or bitter food so those will not be the flavours for the year ahead.
17 January – 8 February – Africa Cup of Nations (2015) the continent’s biggest soccer championship, held every two years. If you’re traveling in Africa during the Cup, you’ll know when the important matches are being played because countries literally come to a standstill to watch or listen to the games.
27 January – Cavaddee (Mauritius), a colorful religious festival celebrated by the Tamil Hindu population in Mauritius. Devotees fast for ten days before the festival and then carry large replicas of temples and deities to the rivers to be cleansed and blessed by priests. An eye catching feature of the celebration is the piercings that many devotees undergo to show their devotion to the son of Shiva.
30 January – 1 February – Stellenbosch Wine Festival, an annual event highlighting this rich wine-making area‘s history, come to celebrate the quaint town’s food and vino culture. Over 140 wineries are represented as well as all the top notch restaurants of the area, a true feast for all.
If you want to attend these festivals and events, just contact us and we will customize your itinerary to include them!
Multi-generational travel is the fastest growing segment in the luxury safari industry and many camps in Botswana are endeavoring to become more family friendly. So armed with my enthusiastic son Finley (aged 11), complete with a clipboard and lots of questions, 5 rubiks cubes and some Setswana phrases under his belt, we set off for a 2 week adventure (sight-inspection tour) of Botswana’s northern region.
Our first stop was Machaba a wonderful 1950’s style safari camp that has been completely re-furbished along with a new set of owners in 2012. The camp is set in the Khwai river area of the Delta, an incredible area for wildlife sightings,. We saw packs of wild dogs, elephant, leopard, lion, giraffe and a huge variety of antelope. Machaba was one of our favorite camps on the trip, it was extremely comfortable without being too fussy, and genuinely relaxed with excellent staff and service, we felt at home immediately. The swimming pool was fun until an elephant joined us and we had to make a quick exit! This is a land camp, so expect excellent game drives and walks during your stay.
With almost all the major wildlife ticked off our list at Machaba, we felt very relaxed arriving at our next camp Xakanaxa, and were ready for some boating adventures. The camp’s location on the water is wonderful and we took full advantage of the two swimming pools during the heat of the day. We sped off in a boat to explore the waterways and lagoons, enjoying a spectacular sunset and drinks while listening to the hippos snort and grunt. The staff here were stellar on every level and were totally genuine. The game drives brought us to the most beautiful lagoons, pools and huge Mopane forests unique to this part of the Moremi Game Reserve. Off-roading and night-drives are not possible here, but that did little to hinder our game viewing success on land. Finn’s favorite guide of the whole trip was Harrison, and they hit it off from the start. By the end of our too-short two night stay they were real buddies. Harrison may still be trying to solve the rubiks cube if you are lucky enough to stay at Xakanaxa in the future.
Continuing our exploration of the Moremi Game Reserve we endured a rather bumpy flight to the Sanctuary camps, Stanley’s and Baines, located on a private concession. Here we were fortunate to enough to take part in the “living with elephants” experience. It’s an incredible opportunity to enjoy the company of Jabu, Thembi and Morula — 3 orphaned elephants that were adopted by Doug and Sandi Groves. We got to spend 4 hours with this amazing couple and their elephants. We walked with the elephants through the bush, we got to touch their trunks, their tails, their ears. We hugged them, heard their sounds, were slobbered on, breathed on, and fell in love with them of course. Our walk was cut a little short because Thembi decided to follow a bull elephant that happened to be in the area and had come to say hello! I won’t give away how this magical half day ends, but the experience just gets better and better all the way through the end of lunch (with the elephants too!). To top it all, we still had time to enjoy our first mokoro ride that afternoon, followed by a “star bath” at Sanctuary Baines. We did indeed thank our lucky stars to have been given (yet another) magical day in Botswana.
After a lovely scenic flight over the Okavango Delta, we got to see yet more elephants up close and personal at Savute Safari Lodge. With the Savuti channel right by the lodge, we discovered it wasn’t easy trying to conduct polite dinner conversation with fellow guests while the elephants were arguing about the best position at the waterhole a few feet away from us. The zebra migration was also just getting started and it looked like the Serengeti out on the wide open grass plains, just marvelous. The zebra were being eyed by the famous savute lions who feature in all the best nature documentaries, as they are famous for their buffalo hunting skills. The staff and guides were superb at the lodge, and made us feel very welcome. We were sad to leave, but excited to head to the Linyanti region and the newly refurbished Duma Tau camp, on the other end of the Savute channel.
The location and the rooms at Duma Tau were wonderful, and the food was really fantastic. At this point we were getting quite used to six gourmet meals per day, served with a smile. Luckily the rooms here are located a fair distance apart, and we had about half a mile to walk to get to the pool, which was very welcome as a weight-loss program was sorely needed! Falling asleep to the hippos grunting and hearing the myriad of frogs was a perfect way to end each adventure filled day. The pontoon ride was a lovely option, and we got to fish and enjoy our sundowners while lazing on comfortable couches with fellow guests who fast became our friends.
Thinking this trip could not get any better, Little Tubu on Hunda island in the Okavango, blew that theory right out of the Delta waters. Cruise was the most exceptional guide, and Philile the manager at Little Tubu was equally great. For the next two days we were lucky enough to have Cruise to ourselves and we never stopped chatting, learning, laughing and building memories to last a lifetime. A great little boat ride one afternoon took us to visit Jao for tea and Kwetsani for brunch. Both camps are located in the Jao concession, with huge flat plains ideal for game viewing. Kwetsani is just a 15 minute boat ride away from Hunda island, so guests get to enjoy game drives in both areas. If you want to have photography lessons for free, then check into Kwetsani, The dynamic managing couple here Dan and Charmaine, are one of the biggest draws of this lovely camp and prove that the staff that can make or break your safari, just as much as the wildlife sightings.
Our adventure sadly ended with a final two nights in the Vumbura concession. We had a memorable candlelit dinner pool side at Little Vumbura where we got to reflect on some of our favorite moments of the trip and all the wonderful people we met, and mammals, insects, fish, birds and trees we learned about along the way. Our final night was spent in the luxurious Vumbura Plains camp, where the shower was larger than Finley’s bedroom at home, and we got to enjoy a final game drive where we saw no less than fourteen lion. What a way to go out! Ke a leboga Botswana.
If you plan on spending the December holidays in Africa, here’s what you can expect to enjoy on the festive side of your trip. Remember to book your trip at least a year (if not more) in advance as everyone gets vacation this time of year and local travel is at its peak!
There are approximately 350 million Christians in Africa and Christmas is widely celebrated throughout the continent. You’ll hear carols blaring out from supermarket speakers, and churches near and far. Meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits made. Kwanzaa is not celebrated in Africa, as it’s an African-American holiday. And unless you’re enjoying a retreat in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, it is highly unlikely you will witness a white Christmas. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s summer time in East and Southern Africa. Beaches will be packed out; Santas with fake beards will be sweating in their red suits; palm trees and acacias will be strung with christmas lights; barbecues will be a-blazing.
Those who can afford it will generally give gifts at Christmas, but the holiday is not nearly as commercial as it is in Europe or the Americas. The emphasis is more on the religious aspect of celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing in church. If gifts are exchanged in poorer communities they usually come in the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods.
In most countries Christmas is a public holiday and people take the opportunity to visit friends and family. Don’t expect to find shops or public enterprises to be open, although safari lodges, restaurants and vacation spots will likely operate as normal (and be busy). In East Africa goats are quickly snapped up at the local markets and roasted on Christmas day. In South Africa the sun is hot and the beaches are full of families enjoying braais (bbq’s) or traditional Christmas dinners with paper hats, mince pies, turkey and plum pudding (a vestige of the British colonial legacy.) Zimbabweans make sure there’s plenty of bread, jam and tea to eat along with their goat meat.
How to Say Merry Christmas
In Zimbabwe: Merry Kisimusi
In Zambia: Kristu akhale ndi inu munyengo ino ya Christmas (Nyanja)
In Rwanda: Noheli nziza numwaka musha muhire
In Botswana: Masego a Keresemose
In South Africa: Afrikaans (South Africa) Geseënde Kersfees , Zulu (South Africa) Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle, Xhosa Ndikunqwenela imini yozalwa kajesu emnandi
In Lesthoto: Matswalo a Morena a Mabotse
In Tanzania & Kenya: Kuwa na Krismasi njema (Kiswahili)
In Egypt: Colo sana wintom tiebeen
New Year’s …
New Year’s Eve is celebrated in many communities across Africa. In most African cities, hotels and bars will be full of party goers celebrating the New Year. Every country in Africa enjoys a public holiday on January 1st, regardless if they celebrate their traditional New Year on that day. South Africa is one of the best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve if you like big parties. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town hosts one of the country’s biggest bashes with fireworks, music, dancing and more. Once you’ve finished parting, don’t forget to check out the big Minstrel Carnival on New Year’s Day.
Johannesburg used to celebrate the New Year by firing gunshots and throwing fridges off balconies, but that appears to be under control now. Instead you can usually head downtown to the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown and party the night away with 50,000 of your friends and carnival troupes. You can also head to any of Johannesburg’s numerous nightclubs and bars that will all have big nights planned.
If you are on safari, the lodges and camps will throw special parties, often complete with hats and noise makers courtesy of their colonial forebears! You may want to skip the morning game drive on the 1st!