Bucketlist African safari ideas for 2019

posted 18th February 2019 by Danica Wilson in Work in progress

Bucketlist African Safari

Top Three for 2019

There are many destinations in Africa that are absolutely world famous thanks to the likes of David Attenborough. People think of the great migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara or Kruger National Park for its big five. As specialists we know that there are many other hidden gems equally rewarding in terms of landscapes, wildlife and safari holiday experiences. So we want to share three of them with you today.

Bucketlist African Safari

Gorongosa National Park

Whilst it sounds like a type of cheese, this place is even more palatable for those who really want to get in the heart of Africa’s wild. Believe it or not, we are in Mozambique, the country more commonly known for beautiful beaches, tropical islands and archipelagos than its wilderness areas.

This is Africa’s greatest restoration story and we want to share it with you. Over ten years ago, the government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation (Gorongosa Restoration Project), a US non-profit organisation finalised and signed a 20 year public-private partnership for the joint management of this national park.   Last year on 7th June, an extension agreement was signed for another 25 years because it has been such an overwhelming success.

It has adopted a 21st century conservation model. What is that I hear you ask? Well, it balances the needs of wildlife and people. It projects and saves the beautiful wilderness and its animals whilst returning it to its rightful place as one of Africa’s greatest national parks

The four pillars to this approach are:

Conservation – by protecting the wilderness and wildlife, it ensures the future of this special place.

Community – by working together with local communities, we improve their well-being and future. This is done through educational programs, health care and farming assistance – it is about gaining their support in a sustainable way.

Science – great care is taken to study the web of life here in Gorongosa and from this intelligence, decisions are made on how best to conserve and manage the national park.

Sustainable tourism – this is where we come in, by developing sustainable tourism initiatives, locals are employed, revenue is generated for the park and the people. Every guest that visits Gorongosa plays a crucial role in the conservation story.

Gorongosa Wildlife and Wilderness

Bucketlist African Safari

Gorongosa wildlife safari offering

So I’m sure by now you would like to know the wildlife safari offering in Gorongosa. Thrillingly, we can say you will be impressed and in awe of the wildlife here. Gorongosa was once home to hundreds of lions and one of the missions here is to bring back that stronghold. Right now, there are 50 – 70 lions living in the park and researcher Paola Bouley is studying the lions to better understand behaviours and accurately document their existence for the future of the park and species itself.

Top elephant expert, Joyce Pool is currently studying the population here, identifying each individual, their age and gender and family groups. The aim is to better understand behaviours and from here, the information helps to make well informed decisions to protect them and secure their future. Interestingly, a high proportion of elephants here are without tusks making it hard to distinguish sometimes who is who!

Interesting facts on the elephant – Fully grown adult females are only half the weight of fully grown adult males, making females harder to age than males. Once females have reached their full height they seem to grow in length; old females often appear to have elongated, swayed backs. By age 17 males are as big as a large adult female, yet only half the weight of a large adult male. By age 35, as males are just entering their prime breeding age (35-55), their foreheads have grown significantly larger and their tusks have become thicker, giving their faces an “hour-glass” shape.

Other species here are hippo and crocodile in Lake Urema and its network of rivers and channels and an abundance of bird species (approximately 350 and you can expect to see over 100 in a single day in November when it’s migratory season) including a special bird found nowhere else in the world – the Green-headed Oriole. There are antelope galore from small species like orbit and duiker to medium sized impala, bushbuck, reedbuck and larger species waterbuck, sable antelope, Nyala, greater kudu, eland, blue wildebeest and Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest.   If you are fascinated by the micro-world you will love this place with its impressive array of bugs, frogs and beyond.

Gorongosa wilderness offering

The wilderness and landscapes are as diverse as the wildlife and you can be on a game drive one minute and hiking to waterfalls the next. It is located at the southern end of the famous Great African Rift Valley, an enormous and lush valley that stretches from far North Africa to Mozambique. This means the low-lying areas in the Gorongosa flood plains are home to many species found elsewhere in Africa. You will also explore magical woodlands and savannahs.

What is less common are species in and around Mount Gorongosa, an isolated mountain covered in lush rainforest and pristine waterfalls. This is home to species found nowhere else on earth, hence the focus of science in this area too with researcher Piotr Naskrecki regularly visiting. He found the nearly mythical lizard that was discovered only in 1971 on the mountain one night – only a handful of people have ever sighted this creature called the Gorongosa Pygmy Chameleon. It is a member of a group found extensively in Madagascar but only has a few relatives on mainland Africa.   This species lives on the forest floor amongst the leaf matter rather than high on trees.They do climb up onto branches at night to avoid being eaten by nocturnal predators like the shrew.

Gorongosa Pygmy Chameleon interesting facts – smaller than your pinky finger, their only defence mechanism is camouflage. Should you irritate one of them, expect a sudden, loud buzzing sound that is made to confuse predators. We find this creature fascinating and would love to see it in the wild.

Bucketlist African Safari

Activities in Gorongosa

Immediately you are contributing to sustainable tourism, so that in itself brings reward. The greatest reward is in the remote setting, immersive environment and the fact that few people visit currently. You will head out on game drives, boating safaris, walking safaris, canoeing safaris, mountain hikes and if you’re adventurous, why not fly camp in the bush with nothing but sounds of the wild to lull you to sleep at night.

Accommodation in Gorongosa

Right now there is not a massive range of accommodations on offer. Montebelo offers villas, bungalows, garden rooms. Our personal favourite has to be the Gorongosa Wilderness Fly Camp. Set up for a maximum of six guests, you spend evenings around the camp fire dazzled by stars and stories whilst wildlife go about their usual evening routines. Your stay includes all meals, local drinks, guided activities and camp set up – simply relax and enjoy the fun.

Gorongosa combines beautifully with Mozambique’s island life and South Africa’s cosmopolitan Cape Town and Kruger if you want a big five safari finale to the adventure.



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Images courtesy of Gorongosa National Park

Bucketlist African Safari

Treehouses and Sleepouts

This is a top Bucketlist item for the team here at Encompass Africa and whilst we are blessed to travel each year, we will never get around to staying in each and every treehouse or sleep out because there are now so many. It has quickly become a real trend and no longer only for the rich and famous.

So what is so special about a treehouse or sleep out safari? First, let’s define it.

  1. Treehouse or sleep out is an activity offered from camp or lodge as an additional ‘experience’.
  2. You literally spend the night sleeping out under the stars – although sometimes not quite literally as the offerings become more luxurious and comfortable with walls of glass and rooftops for your protection against the elements.
  3. The treehouse or sleep out deck is raised off the ground for your safety and all of them provide beautiful beds and a bathroom.
  4. You are briefed on the experience, given a radio or alarm system should you get anxious or scared during the night and often times, dinner is served on your deck.
  5. In the morning you wake as the sun rises and another day in Africa begins

Let’s check out some of these romantic safari settings.

Bucketlist African Safari

Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa

One of Danica’s all time favourite destinations in Africa is Tswalu in the midst of this extensive private wilderness reserve with exceptional vistas across the vast plains of the green Kalahari.  The main lodge is currently closed for epic renovations, reopening in May/June this year.  On the property also resides a private residence for exclusive use hire and The Malori, sleep out.  Malori is a Tswana word meaning ‘dreamer’ and this experience certainly exceeds all worldly expectations.

You usually come to The Malori for a night during a longer stay at Tswalu and the entire experience is magical. You are driven out by your private guide, game viewing along the way and arrive at the location. When you first arrive it’s rather unassuming because everything is facing south-west for the main act – sunset.  Sunset drinks are served whilst your private dinner is prepared and the colours bounce across the sky from hues of pinks and oranges to blazing reds. As the sun dips below the horizon, dinner is served complete with campfire, candles and singing cicadas of the night.

Your king sized bed is under thatch and on wheels so you can move out under the stars if you wish. Draped in netting and stunning linens, it doesn’t take long to fall asleep to the African night symphony.

Next morning, you wake at sunrise and venture out for your morning game drive or if you love horseriding, they will bring the horses to you and then it’s time to ride off into the Kalahari to see what you can find.

Bucketlist African Safari

Loisaba Star Beds, Kenya

This is a stunning setting in the wilds of Kenya and also part of a conservation success story.  Loisaba Conservancy is owned by The Nature Conservancy and partners with Space for Giants elephant foundation. Home to elephant of course, lion, wild dog and an abundance of other animals, Loisaba is an outstanding safari location in a spectacular wilderness setting of northern Laikipia. The star beds here are phenomenal and set on raised wooden platforms with thatched roof. Your bed is rolled out to enjoy the night under the African night sky.  Each started has a handcrafted four poster bed draped with a fine mosquito net. You will game drive to your star bed with your local Samburu guide, enjoy sundowner drinks and private dinner and then once your bed is wheeled out, it’s time to snooze under the stars.

We love this location because the landscape is picturesque and the activities diverse – camel riding, mountain biking, rafting, horseback safaris, tracking lion and wild dogs collared for research, hiking to the waterhole, game drives and bush breakfasts not to mention waterfall exploring. 

Bucketlist African Safari

Lion Sands, South Africa

A family run collection of five beautiful safari properties across Sabi Sand Private Reserve and Kruger National Park is Lion Sands. Quick to see the beauty of treehouses, Lion Sands created perhaps the most impressive treehouse rooms called Chalkley’s, Tinyeleti and Kingston.   Made entirely off glass and wood, Kingston takes in the beautiful views of the treetops and bush of Sabi Sand. Chalkley’s is the most romantic and simple – you arrive at sunset to a picnic, spend sunset relaxing and listening to the calls of the approaching night. Your platform is high up with two levels. The first is the bathroom and top floor your bedroom oasis.

In the Kruger, there is Tinyeleti (means many stars) sitting beside the Sabie River. It has a huge deck for stargazing and tapas style dinners and a beautifully draped bed protecting you from mosquitos without compromising your night sky view.

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Images courtesy of Tswalu, Lion Sands, and Loisaba

Bucketlist African Safari Three

Spend a night on the cusp of a volcano

You can now stay on the cliff face of an active volcano in the Congo – the perfect place to watch one of the world’s greatest lava lakes boil and bubble beneath you.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to Mount Nyiragongo, the locals call it the General. Reason being, ‘when he comes, everyone runs’ said our local guide with a cheeky grin. Located inside Virunga, Africa’s oldest and most threatened national park, Mount Nyiragongo is an active and somewhat volatile volcano with the world’s largest lava lake. It is quite a sight to see and now, you can set off with a climbing crew, rangers and team of porters to summit the 11,382 food mountain.

Jonathon our MD was blessed to experience this for himself back in 2017 and quickly got excited by the experience and started to plan an expedition safari for a group of adventure seekers. Sadly the country soon became unstable and our plans were put on ice.

We are pleased to say Encompass Africa is now mapping the expedition to include gorilla trekking, volcano hikes and more. Expressions of interest are welcome. You will need to be well versed at hiking, like adventure and not be precious about where you sleep at night – no fancy thread counts and silver service on this trip. It’s fully immersive experiences, hugely rewarding and slightly unpredictable.

Bucketlist African Safari

The Volcano Hike

You start out with your walking stick (highly recommended) and bag full of energy and excitement walking along a pretty tree lined pathway. Within a few hours you are hiking up lava coated trails trying to keep your footing. Soon after, you are above the clouds with sweat pouring down your body as you quickly reach for a jacket.   The great news is whilst the hike is gruelling (and the last hour more akin to a scramble), it is achieved in a day and usually around five hours. At the top, your hike is rewarded as you see not your accommodation, an A-frame cabin that clings to the mountainside, but the lava lake bubbling below you. As the sun sets and you settle into your mountainside accommodation, dinner is prepared (rice and stew over an open fire). There is nothing more magical than knowing you are on the edge of a volcano, its lava lake starting to dance as night falls and stars appear.

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