Thinking of holidaying in Africa and looking for some travel inspiration? Combining the bush and the beach has always been popular, but there are so many more options than you might have thought possible.
Here are three bush-and-beach combo suggestions that we predict people are going to love in 2020 and beyond. They represent the very best in African travel: stunning locations, the finest safari and adventure experiences, luxe lodgings and sustainable, eco-conscious living. To know you’re helping to protect the places you fall in love with on your holiday is the only way to travel in this new decade.
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1. Combo for people wanting remote experiences
Bush: Time + Tide King Lewanika, Zambia
Zambia is one of the most rewarding destinations for an African safari holiday, but narrowing down the choices within this magnificent country can be difficult. Here’s a suggestion: Liuwa Plain National Park. This remote park in Zambia’s Western Province is renowned for its magnificent birdlife, a growing cheetah population and the famed Lady Liuwa lion pride (check out the moving story of the “last lioness” here). The Liuwa Plain National Park is also home to one of Africa’s most remarkable natural events. Everyone’s heard of the Great Wildebeest Migration through the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, but hardly anyone knows that the second-biggest wildebeest migration on the continent takes place right here, in this 3,600 square kilometre park. After the rains, which usually come in October, there’s dramatic game viewing when vast herds of more than 40,000 wildebeest arrive to take advantage of fresh grazing, along with zebra, antelope and predators including lions, cheetahs and spotted hyenas.
Liuwa Plain National Park is one of the earliest protected areas in Africa – the head of the Lozi people, King Lewanika, appointed his people to be the custodians of the park and its wildlife back in the 19th century. Time + Tide King Lewanika was named after this amazing visionary, and is the only luxury permanent lodge in the grounds of the park, making it probably Zambia’s most exclusive camp. Designed by the architectural team behind Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and other stars of the African luxury accommodation scene, this little patch of paradise features just six elegant villas. Each one is positioned on its own raised platform, and from your king-sized bed or private deck you can look out over the endless plains. The aesthetic here is traditional-safari-meets-contemporary-chic. The walls are canvas, there are indoor and outdoor showers, and natural materials and muted tones are used throughout, complemented by local arts and crafts. The communal lounges and dining area are just as beautiful – and beautifully understated so as not to take attention away from the extraordinary views of the plain.
Being the only luxury lodge in the park gives guests unrivalled access to the region – it’s exclusivity on another level. There are game drives, night drives and walking safaris on offer, as well as the chance to take a scenic helicopter flight, sleep out under the stars, go on canoeing safaris or see spectacular wildflowers in bloom (when in season). Time your trip right, and you can even attend the spectacular Kuomboka ceremony, which takes place at the end of the rainy season each year. ‘Kuomboka’ is a Lozi word meaning ‘to move out of the water’ and this ancient ritual celebrates the moving of the king and queen of the Lozi people, on elaborate barges, from their dry season palace to their rainy season palace to escape the rising waters. Colourful and exciting, it’s preceded by heavy drumming the day before, and is regarded as one of Southern Africa’s greatest ceremonies.
Beach: Time + Tide Miavana, Madagascar
Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, is famous for its extraordinary landscapes and rare, curious wildlife. As one of only 17 countries considered “megadiverse”, it’s home to an incredible number of species, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet.
Just off the northeast coast of this fascinating country lies the island of Nosy Ankao. Accessible only by helicopter, it’s here you’ll find the five-star luxury eco-lodge, Time + Tide Miavana. This heavenly resort offers the ultimate in remote, barefoot luxury in Africa. It makes the absolute most of its setting, within a marine reserve that spans almost 15,000 hectares. Fringed by white-sand beaches and coral reefs, it’s ideal for water-related expeditions and activities, especially snorkelling or scuba diving among reefs that few humans have ever witnessed. The fishing in this part of the world is world-class, whether you’re keen to go fly-fishing or take to the deep seas. Catch the humpback whale migration from around July to November (you’ll be able to watch them breach right from your villa), or book in from December to March if you want to see sea turtles hatching on the beach.
There’s plenty to do on dry land, too. Madagascar is home to more than half the world’s chameleons, and on Nosy Ankao you’ll find both the largest and smallest species – great guided nature walks let you see the best of the wildlife on the island, or you can take a helicopter adventure to see creatures such as the rare black lemur on the mainland. There are secluded coves on the island where you can enjoy a beach picnic, or you can sleep under the stars on a nearby, uninhabited island.
All of this assumes, of course, that you’ll be able to drag yourself away from the exquisite Time + Tide Miavana. This place is something else. There are just 14 villas, all dotted along a white-sand beach. Each one has a private pool overlooking the Indian Ocean and direct access to the beach in case you fancy an ocean dip. Spacious and luxurious, the villas feature floor-to-ceiling windows, a full kitchen and living room. There’s a sophisticated island aesthetic that blends local Malagasy tradition with modern chic, with a soft, natural and pretty palette that’s perfect for the island setting – a local pale-pink stone and natural hues of wood, complemented by splashes of turquoise. You can unwind with an in-villa spa treatment, there’s a butler service to tend to your every need, and complimentary bikes and an electric buggy make exploring the island easy. At the heart of the resort is a village-like piazza designed for relaxing, dining and socialising. It also features a large infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean and the mountains beyond. Lazing by the pool is sure to be a favourite daytime pursuit, followed by sunset drinks on the panoramic rooftop bar. #Heaven.
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2. Combo for people wanting exclusivity
Bush: Siruai Expedition Camp, Kenya
About an hour’s flight or five hours’ drive from Nairobi, in northwest Laikipia, one of the 47 counties of Kenya, lies a privately owned ranch. Encompassing 17,400 hectares of stunning valleys, dramatic escarpments, plateaus, woodlands, rivers, waterfalls, pools and grasslands, it’s also home to Kenya’s ultimate private mobile camp, Siruai Expedition Camp. Overlooking a stunning river and a plateau, with sweeping views to Mount Kenya in the distance, the camp is definitely off the beaten safari track, and all the more appealing for it.
In the Maasai (Maa) language, ‘Siruai’ means ‘eland’ – the world’s largest antelope. This is just one of many animals you’re likely to spot here. Game-viewing opportunities are plentiful, with other resident wildlife including elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, hippo, reticulated giraffe, ostrich, buffalo and oryx, as well as rare species such as the Grevy’s zebra and African wild dog.
Siruai Expedition Camp is perfect for holidaymakers wanting a classic safari experience. Up to 10 guests can stay at the camp, sleeping under the canvas of seven cosy sleeping tents that are dotted among fig trees and huge granite boulders. There are comfy beds, traditional safari bucket showers, en-suite flushing loos (quite the thing for a mobile safari) and private verandahs with incredible views. The mess tent, meanwhile, sits at the top of a ridge and overlooks a waterhole frequented by elephant and Grevy’s zebra, so there’s often something amazing to look at while you enjoy an amazing meal. When the sun goes down, guests can sit around an open campfires under the starry African night skies and reflect on the day’s activities and the adventures to come. And what adventures you can have here. There are traditional game drives (there’s a private guide, spotter and vehicle for every five guests), as well as walking safaris, catch-and-release fishing, bush picnics and sundowners out in the middle of nowhere. You can check out ancient rock paintings, hike to a bush breakfast overlooking a hippo pool on the river’s edge and even spend a night fly camping on top of a splendid rock kopje. Kayaking or tubing down the river is a must, as is climbing up giant boulders and leaping from them into the waterfall pool below.
Beach: Blue Safari Seychelles, Seychelles
The island nation of Seychelles is made up of 115 glorious islands in the Indian Ocean. Most people who visit tend to visit the main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, but if you’re looking for something truly pristine and wild, the Outer Islands might be the paradise you’re looking for. Scattered across 22 million hectares of marine wonderland, they remain largely unexplored and untouched thanks to their wonderful remoteness.
There are 72 unspoiled coral islands in total, but you can access four of the finest (well, to be specific, one island and three atolls) with Blue Safari Seychelles. You can go island hopping between the atolls of Astove, Cosmoledo and the Amirantes, as well as Alphonse Island – there’s just a single resort on each one, offering charming, rustic, eco-friendly accommodation. The company’s philosophy is a combination of sustainable travel and luxury accommodation, so you can enjoy the beauty of these pristine islands and at the same time be involved in their protection.
The best way to experience the incredible waters beyond the atolls is to go beneath the surface. Snorkelling or diving in the warm, crystal-clear waters will take you among awe-inspiring coral reefs to experience some of the most diverse marine life on earth – exotic, colourful creatures abound and visibility can reach up to 50 metres. Don’t miss the “Wall” off Astove Atoll – this incredible sheer drop has been described as a sort of underwater Grand Canyon, and is possibly one of the best snorkelling and dive sites on Earth. There are so many marine adventures to be had, including kayaking, paddle boarding and spotting dolphins and whales. There’s even an amazing, truly unique ‘Blue Five’ checklist: Snorkel with sailfish or manta rays; walk the flats with turtles, rays and juvenile sharks; watch seabirds and spot a “lifer” (a species that you’ve never seen before); track and encounter turtles hatching or laying eggs (this is a breeding grounds for hawksbill and green turtles); and catch and release a bonefish (this is often described as the best saltwater fly-fishing destination on the planet).
Activities are not just limited to the ocean – there’s also fantastic hiking, cycling and bird watching, plus you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy conservational experiences such as tree planting, beach and ocean clean-ups, and tracking Aldabra giant tortoises, the longest-living animals on earth. Or you can just enjoy beachside relaxation in one of the most remote and lovely locations on Earth.
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3. Combo for people wanting real adventure
Bush: Odzala Discovery Camps, Republic of Congo
If you really want to go somewhere different on your next African holiday, how about the least-explored wilderness in all of Africa, the Congo Basin? This is the second-largest tropical rainforest on earth and often called “the lungs of Africa”. At more than 3.4 million square kilometres in size, it actually spans six countries, including the Republic of the Congo. Here, at the heart of the Congo Basin, lies Odzala-Kokoua National Park, where an incredible holiday experience awaits. Odzala Discovery Camps operates three exclusive camps in this 13,000-square-kilometre park, located in the northwest of the country. Each one has been designed to showcase a different ecosystem in this paradise for nature lovers.
First up, there’s Ngaga Camp. Odzala-Kokoua National Park has Africa’s highest density of western lowland gorillas, and this camp is the place to go if you want to track them on foot. The camp sits in a glade surrounded by dense, virgin rainforest, so after tracking these magnificent animals, you’ll head back to relax in one of only six rooms, elevated so you can gaze straight into the lush canopy.
Then there’s Lango Camp, which overlooks a ‘bai’, or marsh area, in the middle of a forest. There are just six guest rooms at this lovely camp, which are all raised to the level of the surrounding forest. It means the views of the bai are phenomenal, not to mention the wildlife it attracts. Enormous flocks of African green pigeons and African grey parrots, as well as herds of forest buffalo during the day and forest elephants at night, are some of the creatures you can expect to see. You’ll also have the opportunity to explore local rivers by motorboat, kayak or traditional <pirogue> (a long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk), and to explore streams and marshes on foot – this is one of the few places in Africa where you can do so safely, so it’s a chance that can’t be missed.
Mboko, is the largest of the three camps. Here, 12 guest rooms are dotted along a riverbank at a spot where tropical rainforest meets grassland savannah. Forest elephants, forest buffalo and spotted hyena are frequent visitors. Visiting nearby villages to interact with local people is just one of the activities on offer. There’s also amazing star-gazing; walking, 4xr4 and boating safaris; and, if you time it right, extraordinary profusions of flowers and butterflies.
Odzala Discovery Camps lets you explore the stunning Odzala-Kokoua National Park, discover rare species (and around 444 bird species), and enjoy outstanding adventures with minimal impact on the ecosystem.
Beach: Sundy Praia, Sao Tome and Principe
Africa’s second-smallest nation, São Tomé and Príncipe, lies about 225 kilometres off the west coast of Africa, floating in the Gulf of Guinea. This beautiful, incredibly safe and welcoming nation is made up of the two main, volcanic islands after which it’s named. Thanks to the incredible number of plant, animal and bird species unique to both São Tomé and Príncipe, it’s known as the African Galapagos. The smaller Príncipe is tiny – just 136 square kilometres in area – and a nature lover’s paradise. Remote and wildlife-rich, Príncipe is also protected as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – yes, the entire island.
On the wild northwest tip of Príncipe, on land that was once a huge cacao plantation, you’ll find the island’s first five-star accommodation, Sundy Praia. It’s one of four luxurious eco-lodges on the island. The man responsible for them all is a South African tech entrepreneur called Mark Shuttleworth, famous for being the first African to travel to space. Returning to Earth, he fell under Príncipe’s spell. Since then, he’s worked with the government and invested millions in infrastructure, hoping to transform Príncipe into a model of sustainable, responsible tourism without destroying the pristine environment that makes it so special. Keeping things local is key to this mission. At Sundy Praia, this means everything from the products in the rooms, to the ingredients used in the restaurant – the resort is even run by highly trained local staff who are descendants of slaves and plantation workers.
The luxe and lovely resort perfectly balances nature, design and comfort. Hidden among banana and tropical almond trees, there are just 15 elegant wooden tented villas, with private terraces affording easy access to the beach. Each villa looks out towards the ocean, echoing the style of the fishermen’s huts that once stood here, just back from the golden beaches and surrounded by tropical forests teeming with rare and endemic species and and hidden waterfalls.
During your stay you can swim, snorkel or go scuba diving in Príncipe’s clear turquoise waters or kayak along its shores. There’s incredible birdwatching or you can watch turtles hatch or whales breach, hike mountain peaks and Biosphere trails, and take tours of islands, plantations or local communities. There’s so much to do but you’ll probably find you spend a fair bit of time hanging out at Sundy Praia’s freshwater infinity pool. The luxe pool bar with cabanas and open-air lounges will definitely demand a lot of your attention during the day. There’s also a wellness tent and a magnificently designed vaulted bamboo dining area where you’ll feast on local produce from this very special island.
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