A Unique Lens on Africa
One of the questions that I get asked a lot is: where is the best place to travel in Africa?
There are a lot of factors that go into answering this question. Not every traveler has the same interests, personality, style or desires. Some are more focused on natural beauty, some are more interested in wildlife, and some are more interested in the local people and culture. In my travels earlier this month throughout Southern Africa, I was able to focus on off-the-beaten-path experiences that offer a “new” look at what it is like to be on safari.
If you’ve already journeyed to Africa and are dreaming about a return and doing something a little different, or even if you have yet to taste what Africa has to offer, I hope some of the experiences I’ve had and am sharing might capture your imagination and help you make that leap into a trip you will never forget.
Kruger – Treehouse Accommodations
Kruger National Park in South Africa is a popular destination for most first-time travelers and for good reason. It’s a stunning year-round destination with a beautiful mix of open plains, rocky outcrops and lively riverbanks. The obvious draw to Kruger is the abundance of wildlife and the high chance of seeing the Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard). Besides the wildlife, there are many different styles of accommodations inside Kruger and the bordering Sabi Sands, but none of them will raise your experience from notable to memorable and breathtaking quite like staying in a Luxury Treehouse.
There is something other-worldly and exhilarating about spending a night intermingled amongst the canopy of an acacia and leadwood forest. The treehouses are extremely private and offer all the same amenities of a five-star lodge. As you prepare to end your day with a romantic candle-lit dinner with the backdrop of the African sun setting in orange and pink; the grunting of the hippos, the distant gruffing of a lioness to its cub and the splashing of elephants as they drink and bathe by the riverbank will allow you to not just be an observer of nature, but be part of it.
Namibia – Skeleton Coast
Some of my favorite experiences when I travel are those that make me realize how small I am in the grand scheme of my surroundings. As I was flying in a small charter plane to the Skeleton Coast of Namibia over the rough textured landscape stretching as far as the eye can see, is a great example. Sand dunes constantly rise up out of the earth before plunging just as sharp back from where they came. The Skeleton Coast National Park is a long, thin coastal strip along Africa’s southwestern coast (6,500 square miles). Strikingly beautiful, it is also a hostile landscape of extremes where the likes of lion, elephant, oryx, giraffe and springbok have adapted to a dry desert environment.
One remarkable wildlife experience there came when a grandma elephant was leading a parade with a 3-month-old baby nuzzling underneath. It was a large family and we stopped our vehicle in the middle of the dry riverbank to observe. As the giants slowly and gracefully meandered closer, we knew we were in for a unique experience. I am still amazed at how these giants, who require so much food and water, have adapted to this unsympathetic region and call it their home. As the elephants came closer, some of the young males curiously sniffed around the hood of our vehicle. To me it felt more like a welcome greeting, as our guide knew the individual names of each member and told us the unique history of this family. In an instant, the herd had flowed past our vehicle in the search of their next water hole and we were left speechless. That is an experience that is hard to forget!
One of the biggest draws of this area is the attraction to its namesake, the plethora of skeleton shipwrecks that line the coastal waters and shorelines. As you explore the century old shipwrecks of the Eduard Bohlen, the most fabled WWII Dunedin Star or the most recent Fukuseki Maru in March 2018, you will hear the stories of stranded crews, rescue missions and daring escapes that will intrigue and mystify. The remoteness and beauty of this unique region of the world is unlike any other.
Victoria Falls – Island Lodge
On most Southern Africa itineraries you will find a stop in Victoria Falls where you have the chance to witness the sheer majesty of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. With a width of a full mile and a sheer drop of over 330 feet in some sections, Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of falling water in the world. There are a number of unique accommodations to stay at, including the Grand Old Lady, the famous Victoria Falls Hotel built in 1904, which commands prime views overlooking the Falls itself. However, if you’re looking for something a little different and away from tourists, the new Victoria Falls Island Lodge might be that escape.
Accessible only by boat and located on Kandahar Island in the middle of the Zambezi River, upstream from the Falls, Island Lodge is built into the natural environment on elevated platforms overlooking the river. What makes your stay even more special, besides the private bulter service, included sunset cruises, game drives and tour of the Falls, are the retractable glass walls that disappear completely to allow you to become one with the environment. Sitting on your private balcony, or relaxing in your private plunge pool, you will find it hard to believe that you’re so close to Victoria Falls, yet so remote.
Cape Town – The Silo
There is no better way to end a trip to Southern Africa, then to spend a few nights in the Mother City, Cape Town. The Silo Hotel is a stunning new way to experience this beautiful city, a small hotel of only 28 rooms each with spectacular views of the Bay or Table Mountain. The building itself is a true celebration of art, architecture and modern African style. Built atop the historic grain silo complex, hence the name, the lower six floors comprise of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa which is the largest collection of contemporary art in the world. It is this style that flows throughout the remainder of the building, with each room uniquely designed and decorated. The most unique aspect are the 10-15-foot bloated windows, which bulge out of your room to allow for breathtaking views. After a spectacular safari, there is simply no better location to end your journey than a cocktail at the rooftop bar or in the rooftop infinity pool as the sun sets beside Table Mountain.
Traveling to Africa is an experience unlike any other. I can guarantee that you will be filled with a sense of awe from the natural environment, the wildlife, the accommodations and most importantly from the people you will meet. No matter how you like to travel, whether it’s your first time or if you want to return and looking for something new and unique, there are many options that will take your breath away.
Want to learn more about Kris’ journeys or talk about how you can experience Africa? Email him at KrisN@PiqueTravel.com.