Though the global pandemic has challenged our norms, it’s also invited us to live a simplified existence and reside in the present. A “be-here-now” mantra is the DNA of Africa, where daily wildlife survival is always uncertain. While on safari, nature is defined by a soundtrack of animal calls, a breeze across the vast landscape, or an approaching storm. What to expect? No TV and unreliable Internet (often intentionally), so you can truly unplug from the day-to-day and immerse yourself in the present. This step back in time is deeply restorative – almost hypnotic. Outside news becomes unwelcome noise, while the importance placed on time is abandoned. Rather, simple pleasures—the ceremonious gin-and-tonic sundowner, stargazing at an infinite sky without light pollution, and bush walks to study animal tracks—are all intimately orchestrated and offer natural physical and social distance.
A number of countries in Africa have reopened their borders with careful measures to preserve and enforce the health of its visitors, local communities, and incredible wildlife. In this edition of JETSETTER, we showcase our team’s extensive knowledge of this mesmerizing continent. We invite you to keep dreaming and ensure that when you do travel, we will remain two steps ahead, delivering peace of mind via real-time updates on entry restrictions, testing procedures, and safety protocols. What’s more, we’ll work with the top on-the-ground local experts and guides to curate unforgettable “pinch-me” moments.
RWANDA: Julia B. Pirrung
Affectionately dubbed “the land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda is home to the world’s largest population of mountain gorillas. This delicate population—once expected to be extinct by the millennium—has steadily grown, thanks to the careful conservation and gradual expansion of their habitat (achieved by reclaiming land near Volcanoes National Park). An encounter with these amazing animals via an adventurous jungle trek is available to only a select few each day.
In October 2018, Julia was fortunate to check this box on her bucket list. “We could hear the rustling of leaves and bamboo breaking as we approached the Susa group after nearly three hours of trekking,” she says. “A large Silverback sat in our path and served as the gatekeeper, ensuring we maintained a comfortable distance from the mothers and babies. In that moment, time stood still. I experienced a flood of adrenaline as I squatted a mere four feet from this brute force whose gaze pierced my soul. It felt as if past, present, and future collided. The evolution and strength of the species was juxtaposed against the vulnerability of our planet and collective survival.”
KENYA: Sunni McBride
During the summer of 2017, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel with my family to Kenya, and the vast beauty of this land will always be in my heart. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to witness the wonder in our kids as they watched families of elephants gather at sunset by a watering hole. Just a few feet from us, the young “eles” (slang for elephants) tangled their trunks in play. And as we further discovered the country, we met the most wonderful people. We climbed trees, experienced dung fights with Samburu guides, swam in the rivers, and danced around campfires.
An unforgettable highlight? Our time at a wildlife sanctuary feeding baby zebra and getting kisses from young giraffes. That day will forever be locked in my kids’ memories. And for me, our day at the “singing wells,” while walking among local tribes as they chanted to their animals and hauled buckets of water from deep wells, felt like reversing time.
TANZANIA: Melissa Pugh
Known for its vast wilderness, including Serengeti National Park and Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania is comprised of endless plains, Africa’s famous Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros elephant, and Cape buffalo), and Mount Kilimanjaro. “Tanzania will be forever embedded in my mind and heart,” says Melissa, who bore witness to an elephant being born and watched the newborn explore the world for the very first time through sight, smells, and sounds. “As the calf tried desperately to milk, the mother was preoccupied with covering up the birthmarks on the earth, as the smells would lure prey. She was so eager to protect her newborn that she ate her placenta in order to do so. It was astounding,” explains Melissa. “The beauty of this miraculous moment was overwhelming. There wasn’t a dry eye in the vehicle.”
And after witnessing the Big 5, Mel suggests R&R in Zanzibar. After experiencing Instagram-worthy game drives or the Kilimanjaro summit, Zanzibar is the perfect island tonic to relax, unwind, and process your experience on pristine, white-sand beaches.
NAMIBIA: Jill Taylor
Namibia is full of contrasting landscapes, where the planet’s oldest desert (more than 80 million years old) meets the Atlantic Ocean. Light pollution is non-existent, which makes for spectacular stargazing. And as one of the world’s least populated countries, Namibia’s night skies are among the darkest on earth. The country is also known for its desert-adapted wild animals (a photographer’s dream!).
Highlights? Climbing the spectacular Sossusvlei dunes, hiking into the Deadvlei salt flat (where camel thorn trees are estimated to be approximately 900 years old), and spending time with Dr. Flip Stander, who has spent his life researching rare desert-adapted lions.
SOUTH AFRICA: Peter Tibble
South Africa offers so much more than safari. While you’re nearly guaranteed to witness the Big Five here, too, this southernmost country offers endless appeal for all interests. Its cities are brimming with fine cuisine, world-class art, ethnic music, globally-inspired fashion, and celebrated wineries (within an hour’s drive of Cape Town).
Oenophiles can vineyard hop by bike through Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, while outdoor enthusiasts can SUP amongst penguin colonies, rappel down Table Mountain, fly above migrating whales, or submerge themselves in a cage to observe Great Whites. The Garden Route also houses some of the best golf courses in the world. Additionally, the U.S. dollar stretches further here than many other countries, so expect incredible value for an iconic bucket-list trip.
ZAMBIA: Jill Taylor
Zambia is most lauded for the mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, but it’s also famous for having legendary walking safaris. Thirty percent of the country’s land is allocated to National Parks, with a huge focus on sustainability and conservation. The result? Flourishing local communities and wildlife. Jill will never forget her first walking safari. “We saw a pack of 24 wild dogs kill an impala—so close to us that we were coughing from the dust! I loved being out of the vehicle as it heightened all my senses. I was truly in the moment.”
She continues, “I recognized at that moment just how talented these trekkers are, as, through years of observation, they can successfully anticipate both the mood and movement of the animals. Their thousands of hours of tracking on foot near wildlife allows them to keep everyone safe. It’s an absolutely exhilarating way to experience a safari.”
In closing, as we look toward a brighter 2021 together, our team of Africa specialists would be honored to design your next “Into Africa” trip. As you’ll find when you watch a pride of lions frolicking beneath a setting, orange-candy sun, there truly is no time like the present to celebrate the transformative power of nature.
Ready. Set. Africa.