Cape Town’s Golden Mile: Vacations in Cape Town

Walking along the Golden Mile

As a Capetonian myself, there is so much that excites me about Cape Town’s Golden mile – the atlantic seaboard coastline that stretches along the western coast of the city. Resting below the magnificent 12 Apostles Mountain Range and bordering the Atlantic Seaboard, the Golden Mile is a tranquil stretch of coastline offering some of the best vacations destinations in Cape Town.

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View From Victoria Road – Camps Bay

Since its a firm favourite for summer holidays, I’ll share some of my own favourite spots to stay at along this coast.

Check out the top places to stay along the way

First Stop Ellerman House

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The Garden at Ellerman House

Ellerman House is a breath-taking boutique hotel featuring a spa, swimming pool and exquisite ocean views. We recommend it to visitors looking for an exclusive stay near some of Cape Town’s biggest attractions – including Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront and the beaches of Camps Bay. We love Ellerman House for its impressive private art collection, wine cellar, champagne cellar and list of activities that you simply don’t find elsewhere.

Next up is..The Bay Hotel

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The Bay Hotel

The Bay Hotel is a coveted beachside hotel in the Camps Bay area. Although considerably larger than some of our other options – with 78 rooms and suites – The Bay Hotel is a bright modern hotel offering great sea views. With the beach across the road, it is an ideal destination for families, beachgoers, sunbathers and socialites to enjoy the iconic beaches of Cape Town, as well as the buzzing city nightlife.

Last but not least, and one of my Top Picks: The Clarendon

Robert Mark Safaris_Cape Towns Golden Mile_The Claredon Hotel in Bantry Bay
Breakfast With a View – The Clarendon in Bantry Bay

The Clarendon in Bantry Bay offers modern, luxurious boutique  B&B style accommodation in a beautiful hillside location along the peninsula – a good mix of beachy charm and 5 star sophistication. Interiors are elegant and neutral with a classic feel and the famous beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are just minutes away. The Clarendon offers privacy, quiet, relaxation and of course never-ending Atlantic seascapes.

Staying along the Golden Mile

My favourites along Cape Town’s Golden Mile are based on insights as a local, on quality of service and accommodation, as well as the surrounding scenery and close proximity to the city’s best attractions. They’re the choices I’d make if I were visiting my own city. A stay along the Golden Mile places you in a prime position to immerse yourself in South Africa’s natural beauty, buzzing nightlife and pristine beaches for a memorable vacation in Cape Town.

If you’ve fallen in love with the idea of a vacation in Cape Town, get in touch with our South Africa travel specialists and we’ll start planning your ideal holiday in Cape Town.

Visit some of our hand-selected hotels in Cape Town.

Follow us on Instagram: @robertmarksafaris

 

 

Where To Go On Safari in December

Experience the Green Season in Africa

Are you wondering where to go on safari in December? It is a generally held belief that the best time to go on a safari to Africa is during the dry, winter months from July to October. While we can’t disagree that the game viewing is usually better – the winter months see the highest amount of visitors, peak season rates, bitterly cold days in some parts and unlikely beach days if you are visiting South Africa, Tanzania or Namibia.

Imagine balmy summer days, afternoon showers and endless days of sunshine – this is what you get from the African summer. During a safari in December, at the peak of the rainy season in most countries, you can expect extended hours of sunshine, fields of grasses and wild flowers, new-born calves and unimaginable birdlife. A safari in the rainy season will not only save your wallet (as rates are usually much lower) but you will be spoilt with wildlife sightings. If you know where to look.

Best places to go on Safari in December

The Okavango Delta

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Wild Zebra in the Okavango Delta

The Okavango is a wonderful year-round travel destination with pros and cons for each season. Although we can’t deny that the big game viewing is better in the dry months – the Delta has so much to offer on a safari in December that you’ll hardly notice. From November to April the Delta transforms from a good birding destination, into a magnificent one. Rare species such as the Pel’s Fishing Owl are seen in the Delta, as well as the Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane and Lesser Jacana. Despite the receding of water levels on the floodplains, game viewing excursions still productive, and can still be done by mokoro or motorboat with careful selection of camps, and you can expect to be dazzled by Kingfishers, Cormorants, Cisticolas and Coucals. Doing a safari in December to this area is also a great opportunity for those looking to experience the comforts of the camps that can be found here, while avoiding the higher rates during the peak season.

Cape Town

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The famous beaches of Camps Bay in Cape Town

Cape Town in the summer must be one of the most beautiful and buzzing places to be in Africa in December, and being able to combine your safari trip with a visit to Cape Town is reason enough alone to travel in December. As the Cape experiences wet winters, there is usually not a cloud in the sky in the summer, and the weather is perfect for beach days or a cool glass of Chardonnay on the water. Unlike most safari destinations, however, summer is peak season for the region – so beware of pricey accommodation and increased traffic in the city. Make sure not to miss the gorgeous beaches and trendy cafes at Camps Bay and Clifton.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

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A Kalahari lion in late afternoon light

The Central Kalahari game reserve takes the opposite role to so many others, and starts to bounce back to life as the summer sets in. Having survived a harsh, dry winter, wildlife starts to return to this area after the onset of afternoon thundershowers early in the summer, which in turn then lead to the sprouting of fresh green grasses in an otherwise hostile and barren land. Expect to encounter large herds of plains game thriving in this environment, as well as opportunities to track the Kalahari Lions as they slink through the open plains.

The Central or Southern Serengeti

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Wildebeest grazing in the Serengeti, Tanzania

 

In our view, a potentially smart selection for a safari in December. We vary slightly from the consensus view in our recommendation here, as we think that while seeking out thrilling wildlife is very important, we also think that your time away in the wild can be better spent avoiding areas that become crowded. The famous great migration is found in the Ngorongoro Conservation area during December, and while this is an attraction for some, it can draw crowds into a confined area. The southern and central areas of the Serengeti lie  just alongside it, and bring you a little more tranquility with a lot more relaxation. And if you did want to see the migration, it is just a short hop away.

Rwanda

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Nyungwe Chimp in Rwanda

The best time for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is from December to February. A safari in December offers the easiest hiking conditions and lowest malaria risk. The apes are easier to locate as food is widely available and they don’t have to move very far to find it. December to February is considered the short dry season and June to September the longer. The Volcanoes National Park in the Rwandan part of the Virungas is home to 10 families of habituated gorillas, more than anywhere else on earth.

What to pack

Binoculars are a must. So is a decent camera. Pack a light, water-repellent jacket to save you from afternoon downpours and a good bush hat to protect you from the summer sun. Boots or sturdy sandals with a thorn-proof sole are helpful, as well as a handy bug-spray, as mosquitos tend to be much worse in the summer months.

 

The Coral Reefs of Mauritius

Discover the underwater paradise of the coral reefs of Mauritius on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation off the East Coast of Africa.

A veritable tropical paradise, Mauritius is the stuff of desert island fantasies. A small, multi-ethnic island, Mauritius is home to one of the most abundant marine ecosystems in the world with around 430 different creatures recorded. Parrot fish, napoleons, angels and clown fish are present, as well as dolphins and whales near the south of the island. Other than the southern coast, Mauritius is almost entirely encircled by coral reefs, making it an excellent destination for snorkelling.

The coral reefs of Mauritius are one of the few locations in the western Indian Ocean to have escaped mass coral bleaching in the late 1990s, which so severely affected other areas. The country has since established a number of protected marine areas, including 6 fishing reserves and 9 islets declared as Nature Reserves

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The Beautiful White Sand Beaches of Mauritius

The Best Coral Reefs of Mauritius

Blue Bay Marine Park

Blue Bay Marine Park is the most obvious place to start. The visibility is usually excellent and as the depth is quite shallow, it is a great place for beginners. Blue Bay is known for its clean, soft beaches and clear waters. In 1997, it became the first marine park in Mauritius, set up to protect the exceptional coral gardens home to about 70 coral species and 32 fish species. Some corals are as old as 800 years.

The best way to experience Blue Bay is from a glass bottom boat and then hop into the water to explore. We would recommend trying to make it to Blue Bay during the week as it can become crowded on the weekends.

Pointe aux Piments

Pointe aux Piments, on the north-west shore is a protected coral reef well-known as the place to see sea turtles. Not far south of the Grand Baie area, Point aux Piments is a cracking snorkelling destination accessible from the beach. This side of the island is largely protected from the wind and the water is generally as smooth as glass. The reef is quite shallow and therefor great for beginners and a bit further out it drops off 10m or so where Hawksbill turtles are often seen here.

Flic en Flac

Flic en Flac covers a vast stretch of the island’s western coast. The area boasts crystal clear water and abundant aquatic life making it a great snorkelling destination. Snorkelling can be done in the calm lagoon and the beach is also great for sunbathing and long walks. Do beware of sharp shells and sea urchins by investing in a pair of swimming shoes.

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Diving Around Coral Reefs in Mauritius

 

Trou aux Biches

Considered one of the finest sunbathing and snorkelling spots in Mauritius, Trou aux Biches stretches for over a kilometre of impossibly pretty coastline with shallow, calm waters at its edge. It is popular with snorkellers as the reef is accessible from the beach and other activities such as water skiing, parasailing, kayaking and big game fishing are available. Off Trou aux Biches, a well-regarded ship-wreck, the 45m-long Stella Maru is also worth a visit.

Ile aux Cerfs

Named after the stags (cerfs) which once roamed here, Ile aux Cerfs is a sand bar of soft white sand edged by the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. Every water sport imaginable is available here and the snorkelling is great. The coral reef is full of marine life, but we would recommend you visit during the week, as the weekend draw huge crowds.

Tamarin

Tamarin is a quaint island village about 5 kilometres from Flic en Flac, considered one of the most beautiful coral reefs of Mauritius. Tamarin is an underwater paradise that the Mauritian Marine Conservation Society (MMCS) is working on making into a marine national park. The bay is simply breath-taking, but you will need a boat to get out to the reefs. The reefs are a lot deeper here and pods of dolphins are no uncommonly seen.

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Snorkeling Boat Trips in Mauritius

The Best Season for Snorkeling

Situated above the tropic of Capricorn, Mauritius enjoys a tropical climate with year round sunny days and mild winters. The water temperature drops from an average of 28°c in summer to 21°c in winter, meaning you can snorkel the coral reefs of Mauritius throughout the year.

In summer, however, the warm water attracts an abundance of migrating fish and October to December and March to April are considered the best time to visit. During July and August the island experiences the strongest southeast trade winds and the seas are too choppy for diving on the east coast. The west and north coasts are better protected but visibility varies a lot.

 

See some of our hand-selected hotels and resorts in Mauritius.

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Mokoro Canoe Trips in Botswana

As we glide silently through the papyrus-lined waterways of the Okavango Delta on a mokoro, the experience of the true serenity and silence found on the waterways of Botswana start to come to life.

The mokoro or makoro – (mekoro, plural), is a traditional type of dugout canoe, commonly used by local people in Botswana as a mode of transport in the shallow waters of the Okavango. The mokoro has become synonymous with the Delta and is now a widespread way for visitors to explore the Okavango while on safari.

Originally intended to transport fisherman and goods around the channels, the mokoro used to be painstakingly crafted from tree trunks, hollowed out using hand tools. As the demand for mekoro steadily increased with tourism, certain problems arose concerning the impact they were having on the environment.

Today, modern mekoro are crafted from moulded fibre-glass in an attempt to cut down on the environmental impact of constantly cutting down trees. Designed to look the same as their wooden counterparts, modern mekoro are durable and environmentally sustainable but still maintain their character. A ride offers the same serene gliding experience through the papyrus-lined waterways of the Okavango Delta.

A mokoro usually carries 2 passengers, with a boatman at the back using a long wooden pole to push the canoe forward. Years of practice allow local boatmen – or ‘polers’ – to pilot the narrow channels with ease and dextrousness.

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The Okavango Delta

A mokoro trip in the Okavango is a popular activity among visitors who travel to Botswana. It offers an opportunity to become totally immersed in the sounds and sights of nature, without the interference of a running motor. Animals are thus much more relaxed and less easily scared off, offering keen photographers unbeatable close-ups of some of Africa’s greatest wildlife.

Mokoro canoe trips are accompanied by expert guides who are highly knowledgeable about the unique ecosystem of the Delta and the wildlife which call it home. They will be able to point out the wonderful variety of birdlife and smaller wonders of the bush, including frogs, insects and plant-life.

Big game is abundant in the Delta and you can expect to peacefully glide alongside elephant moving through the reeds on a river island, or carefully manoeuvre past a pod of hippo ear-deep in the water. You can also hope to catch a glimpse of a rare sitatunga and red lechwe in the Delta.

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Elephant Walking Through The Waterways

A mokoro canoe trip in the Delta is an absolute “must-do”. It is a careful balancing act where the simplest sudden movement could land you in the muddy waters of the Okavango. Even if it seems terrifying at first, the guides and polers are experts at what they do and have years of experience.

There truly is no better way to experience the watery paradise of the Delta than from a mokoro, the same way it has been done for centuries.

The Best Safaris in Tanzania, by Our Safari Experts

Tanzania is famous for the Great Migration, when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest head off in search of new grazing lands and water.

When travelling to this exciting land, many  of our guests are out to experience the best safari in Tanzania. So where do we find that? What should we be considering, and where are the hidden gems that truly offer the very best? Safaris in Tanzania are unique and exciting at any time, but there is nothing more disappointing than your trip of a lifetime being spoilt by a poor nights sleep or an average meal.

Continue reading The Best Safaris in Tanzania, by Our Safari Experts

A Leopard Never Changes its Spots

As the sun goes down the African wilderness comes to life, nocturnal animals begin to stir – in a few hours they will be at their sharpest: alive, awake and for some, hunting. Among these nocturnal beasts lives the elusive and solitary leopard.

African Leopards, or panthera pardus, are one of the African ‘Big Five’ and are some of the most beautiful animals that roam the African plains. With their distinct spots, their coats are very unique and recognisable. These spots are called ‘rosettes’, as the shape is similar to a rose, and as prominent as these are their coat is still the perfect camouflage for the african bush as the rosettes blend into chaotic backgrounds of dry grassy areas and patchy trees. They are also primarily nocturnal, making them tricky to spot on daytime safaris, but they can be found on the prowl at dusk as they head out to hunt, or sometimes early in the morning with their night-time catch.

 

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Leopard in a Tree

 

Despite being the 5th largest cat in the world, they are generally not big creatures. The size of males and females vary depending on their habitat, and females are normally 20-40% smaller than their male counterparts. This moderate size makes them very agile creatures – unsurprising really since they are, after all, from the cat family. With their cat-like features, they jump approximately three meters high and six meters wide, a skill that aids them hugely during their hunt. Using their camouflaged disguise to their advantage on the hunt, they are able to hunt very successfully through flatter but sometimes very dense bushlands as well as from treetops.

After a successful hunt, leopards frequently use their strength and agility to drag their prey into a tree to hide it from other predators – particularly from lions and hyenas who are  often in the market for an easy meal. They are not only agile but also remarkably strong – larger males have been known to drag prey weighing up to three times their own body weight into a tree for safekeeping.

 

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A Leopard Having a Morning Yawn

 

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An Impressive Display of a Leopard’s Teeth During a Growl

 

Socially, leopards are somewhat solitary animals. They do not interact with each other much at all and are very territorial, normally only coming into contact with each other for mating purposes. During the mating ritual, a male crosses into a female’s territory for just a few days before leaving again, after which he has no contact with the either the female mother or his cubs.

 

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A Leopard Cub Learning to Hunt

 

Following mating, leopards have a gestation period of 2-3 months and will normally have just 1 or 2 cubs. When giving birth, females do their best to hide themselves from other animals in order to protect their newborn cubs, which are an easy target for other predators. When their cubs are born, they have a notably different fur to their grown-up parents: their fur is longer, softer and does not yet have the well-defined black rosettes that characterise the fur of adults, but rather have a soft grey fluffy hair marked with smaller, weaker rosettes.

When cubs reach an age of approximately one year, it is time to learn to hunt. Teaching is normally done by the mothers, who in total rear their young through childhood and the teens for a total period of only around 18 months to 2 years, after which their cubs leave them, as they head off to find and fight for a territory they can call their own.

 

LEOPARD
‘Leopard and Cub’ taken in Botswana by Katya De Nysschen – a Robert Mark Safaris travel specialist

 

 

Follow us @robertmarksafaris for more stories and excellent African Wildlife photography.

Gorilla Trekking: Is it Uganda or Rwanda?

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A number of people scratch their heads whilst researching whether to go to Uganda or Rwanda. This article is set to prove which country, Uganda vs Rwanda, would suit you better when going on a gorilla trekking adventure.

There are approximately 700 mountain gorillas that remain on the planet, and they all live in the Virunga Mountains of Central Africa. The Virunga Mountains cross three different countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the Congo has had some problems in the last few years, Uganda and Rwanda are a more popular choice for gorilla trekking.

Uganda and Rwanda have a different number of Gorillas:

Uganda – 10 Troops
Rwanda – 8 Troops

A ‘troop’ is the group or family of gorillas which can be sized between five and thirty.
These numbers are not always accurate as the Gorillas tend to cross freely over the boarders between the countries through the forest.

 

Rwanda vs Uganda – Which One Is Best For You?

 

Where to See Gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda

Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (accessible by road with an 8hr scenic drive from Kampala or a short light aircraft flight transfer) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Rwanda – Volcanoes National Park Mountains (2 hour drive from Kigali airport).

Rwanda comes up tops for us for its ease of access.

Rwanda: 1     Uganda: 0

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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda

Terrain and scenery: Uganda vs Rwanda 

The terrain in Uganda is generally a little bit easier for trekking versus that in Rwanda, as it is not as mountainous. However, Bwindi National Park can be a little more difficult trek at times due to the weather conditions as well as the fact that it is a mountainous region. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda shares the hilly Park de Volcans with Rwanda, and this area is one where Gorillas easily cross the border.

Renowned for being a little bit tougher to trek than Uganda, Rwanda has stunning forrest that takes your breath away. The scenery is very different to that found in Uganda – known as ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ Rwanda overall is a stunning country with diverse landscapes. Venture from the rainforest floor and up into the mountains for some stunning views over the rolling hills.

Our pick – although it can be a harder trek – is Rwanda as the views are truly magnificent.

Rwanda: 1     Uganda: 0

Altitude in Rwanda or Uganda

Mgahinga is at a higher altitude (approx 3,000 meters) than Bwindi, making it a destination for travellers looking for a higher-mountain experience within Uganda. The volcano range found in Mgahinga National Park crosses over the border, spreading into all three of the gorilla trekking countries.

The altitudes that gorilla trekking is done at are higher in Rwanda than in Uganda. In planning your trekking, head to Uganda if you prefer lower altitudes, or for those who prefer the higher altitudes, Rwanda is the best choice. The altitude difference really depends on what you’re after, so there is no clear winner here.

Rwanda: 0     Uganda: o

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Rwanda ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’

What about the weather in Uganda and Rwanda?

Since it is a tropical rainforest, one can expect regular rainfalls and frequently wet conditions when trekking, so we would award some points to the drier destination.

Uganda and Rwanda both experience the same rainy seasons, which happen twice a year: usually in April and May, and then between October and December. We ideally recommend going to visit the Gorillas between January and February, or in  June and July. At this time, both countries have the same tropical weather, and so, there is no winner for what the right season is to visit the gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda.

Rwanda: 0     Uganda: 0

 

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A ‘Troop’ Relaxing in the jungle

Uganda vs Rwanda – Which One Has Better Activities?

As a country that has a lot of diversity in the way of scenery, national safari parks and mountain gorillas, Uganda is the number one place to visit in the region for a diverse safari holiday. If organised appropriately, visitors can include exciting game safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park with their trip to see the mountain gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest does not only draw visitors who want to see gorillas, but it also for those who are keen birders. In fact, its one of the top birding destinations in Africa.

In Rwanda, Gorilla photography opportunities are exceptional. Nyungwe National Park has a diverse selection of other primates that visitors can also track in the same way as mountain gorillas; although the treks are possibly longer, they are very rewarding with approximately thirteen different primates as well as a variation of incredibly coloured birds. Our Africa experts voted that although Uganda has more to offer in terms of diversity across the country, Rwanda offers stronger diversity of wildlife in the immediate area.

Rwanda: 0     Uganda: 0

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Young Gorilla Eating at Volcanoes Bwindi Safari Lodge

What about Accommodation?

In Uganda, there are a number of gorilla lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Gorilla Forest Camp is nestled amongst the forest, creating a magical atmosphere in the camp. Volcanoes Bwindi Safari Lodge is positioned on the mountainside so has beautiful views over the park. Both of these accommodations are favoured by our travel experts.

In Rwanda, lodges have fantastic views over the lakes as well as prime positions in the heart of the forest, with fantastic treks available on your doorstep, head out to see primates as well as other exciting wildlife in the close vicinity. Our pick would be Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Volcanoes National Park or Nyungwe Forest Lodge in Nyungwe Forest National Park overlooking Lake Kivo.

Rwanda: 0     Uganda: 0

Uganda vs Rwanda: The Final 

Rwanda – 2

Uganda – 0

Although our scores have brought out a winner in Rwanda, from reading this you will have found out that Uganda and Rwanda host a very different gorilla trekking experience, and both have their advantages. Uganda is the better destination for you to go to if you are looking for a Gorilla adventure as well as other safari activities, an easier-going trek, or wish to see the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Rwanda, on the other hand, is the destination to go when you are looking to spend some time trekking through higher altitude mountainous rainforest, or for easier access from the nearest international airport. We think that Rwanda is more rewarding overall for guests looking solely to see the mountain gorillas and other primate species. Although the trek is harder, you are more likely to see larger troops and gorilla families due to the higher number of residents in the forest here.

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‘Charles’

 

Fun Facts About Rwanda & Uganda

  • Gorillas are the world’s largest primate.
  • Gorillas all have a unique fingerprint just like a human as well as a unique nose print!
  • If you have a common cold or illness you will not be able to see the gorillas as they are susceptible to pneumonia which they develop from a cold.
  • Uganda has more Butterflies of different colours than any other East African Country.
  • Rwanda does not allow plastic bags anywhere. In fact, if you land in Rwanda with a plastic bag it will be confiscated.

Follow us @robertmarksafaris for more images and news

The Notorious Maasai Tribe

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‘Masai Warrior heading into the sunset’

With the breeze comes the delicate sound of a voice singing; through the dust and haze a flash of a multitude of colours jumping in the air comes into view. This is the ‘Adumu’, or ‘jumping dance’ performed by the Maasai warriors in celebration of the coming-of-age of younger warriors. With each movement into the air, not a heel touches the ground as their high pitched voices accentuate the height of each and every jump.

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The Maasai are a group of semi-nomadic people who inhabit southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Although they have their own language – Maa – many also speak Swahili as well as English. They are a tribe that has roamed Kenya and Tanzania since long before the 18th Century, when they were discovered by the Austrian explorer Oscar Baumann. Their population reached an all-time high during the mid-19th century, however in modern times the Maasai tribes and their culture’s very survival is at stake, with new land management systems being in place together with sometimes limited access to vital resources.

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The brightly coloured Shúkàs and jewellery worn by the Maasai juxtapose the ancient red earth of the African wilderness. The Maasai women in the tribe have a multitude of earrings and necklaces, which hang loosely off their stretched earlobes. These are worn with pride as each colour has a unique meaning, and overall they display social importance and respect earned via a warrior’s age and accomplishment. The women in the tribe are the creators of Kraals – groups of houses that are enclosed within a boma, which is a fencing created from sticks that protects the livestock from predators such as the Olowuaru (Maa for lion). These Kraals are created from natural resources and built with precision and care using mud, cow dung and animal urine.

Amongst the men, livestock ownership is seen as a large indication of a man’s wealth. Livestock among the Maasai include cattle, sheep and goats; all of which are vital to the Maasai economy, either in trade, sales or as a natural resource of food. The Maasai rely on meat and milk from their livestock as well as their blood, which is drunk on special occasions due to its high protein content.

Saruni-Samburu-Masai-Man

The Maasai are one of the interesting tribes of Africa that has had to adapt continually in order to adhere to the economic development in eastern Africa. They are a tribe that should be admired not only for their long-standing history, but also for their way of life in an ever changing world.

For more information on Kenya and Tanzania as well as first-hand experiences with Maasai tribes, visit www.robertmarksafaris.com 

 

Southern vs East Africa for your first African adventure

Visiting Africa for the first time and unsure as to which destinations will best satisfy your craving for a uniquely African experience? Look no further. The choice between Southern Africa and East Africa can be an overwhelming one, given the spectacular variety of safari, beach and culture. However, depending on your bucket list and individual taste, not to mention the time of year for which you are wanting to travel, it needn’t be anything less exciting than a diverse menu.

EAST AFRICA

East Africa is world renowned for its incredible game migration (think wildebeest, gazelle and zebra.) Whilst the migration is year round, it is circular, and as such camps are best chosen according to the specific time of year. The Serengeti (situation in the north of Tanzania) is best between November and August, whilst the Masai Mara (South-west Kenya) is best in August, September and October, not to mention home to the fascinating red-robed Maasai warriors.

Close-up-aerial-wildebeest-great-migration

Furthermore, white sand beaches are aplenty in East Africa with the splendid choice of Zanzibar or the Seychelles. Both archipelagos boast dazzling beaches and coral reefs as well as rare wildlife such as the giant Aldabra tortoise!

So once you have flown in via Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, there is a plethora of both safari and beach options at your disposal in East Africa. Did we mention Mount Kilimanjaro, bird watching, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas are on offer too? This array of options should help you decide East Africa or Southern Africa as your first African experience.

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SOUTHERN AFRICA

Southern Africa is a spectacular destination for private camps and lodges in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia or South Africa which can be done in conjunction with a number of other major tourist attractions.

Safari wise, the Kruger National Park or the Okavango Delta in Botswana are both magnificent options. The former is South Africa’s very first national park and remains to be one of the largest. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is a large inland delta and is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Victoria Falls is an excellent additional item to pop on the agenda – it’s on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and is the largest curtain of water in the world!

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Cape Town is best done in the summer months between January and April, in order to enjoy its spectacular beaches and laid back city lifestyle. The winelands are found in the greater Western Cape region, encompassing Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Paarl and Franschhoek and not only produce legendary wines but also excellent restaurants and historical charm aplenty. From here, a road trip along the Garden Route is highly recommended. It’s where you will find the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains just inland of a spectacular South-Eastern coast line.

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So if you are wanting a wild, Out of Africa experience combined with white sandy beaches, East Africa is just the thing for you. If you are more keen on a contemporary safari experience, or wining and dining in eclectic towns and cities, then Southern Africa is sure to pique your interest. We offer some of the best. If you want to know more, and are keen to use our local expertise in helping you decide which is better suited – get in touch with us here or visit our website for more inspirational destinations: http://www.robertmarksafaris.com/

The surprising thing about hippos…

Hippos, for all their wallowing in the cool shallows of lazy river bends, are surprising creatures.

Fat, short-legged and remarkably piggish in appearance, the humble hippopotamus is capable of running up to 30km an hour, much faster than a human.

Powerful jaws can snap a small boat in half in just one bite.

With their ancestry shared with the likes of whales and dolphins, it is easy to see why they are so well equipped for life in the water.

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The eyes have sophisticated membranes that provide the hippo with a set of built-in goggles.

When submerged, the nostrils use a flap mechanism to close completely, allowing a hippo to hold its breath for up to 5 minutes at a time.

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Despite spending their days in large territorial family groups along the river, hippos are herbivorous grazers who leave the coolness of the water at night to feed on lush green grass.

On dry land a hippo is solitary, non-territorial and no more a swimmer than a common dairy cow.

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Despite spending most of their lives in water, hippos, unlike many mammals, are unable to swim.

Using their built-in snorkel kits for support these aquatic giants walk along the bottom of the riverbed.

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They are simply too heavy to float.

With nails instead of claws they push-off from the bottom of the river with semi-webbed feet, creating a graceful dance like motion.

They are known as underwater ballerinas.

Seemingly relaxed, hippos are agressive and considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about a hippo is its milk.

Hippos secrete hipposudoric acid which causes the milk to turn a bright shade of pink.

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste like strawberry.

Safari secrets… relax, rewind, unwind

As a travel consultant I come across a phrase all too often; “I’m not the kind of person who can sit and do nothing.”

It is true that doing nothing can make one a little loopy, yet somehow, in order to achieve pure rejuvenation, the mind and body need to do precisely that.

Nothing.

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Safari holidays follow the patterns of the bush and regardless of your lodge of choice work to a similar flow.

Mornings begin with a sunrise coffee and a crisp game drive.

These drives in the wee hours of dawn activate your natural sleep pattern whilst boosting your body with pure, sunlit vitamin D.

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The freshness of the day, during the golden hour, fills one with internal energy, whilst your friendly hosts serve muffins and tea and look for animals.

It is not only safari guests that enjoy this time. Each animal, in its own unique way, is celebrating the triumph of a new day.

Hunters, filled with the nights kill, rest and relax under the coolness of the trees and the success of finding a meal.

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Herd animals, having survived the nights hunt, feed peacefully, gathering their strength, tending to their young, seeking comfort in the social interactions of their tight-knit familes.

As late morning sets in and the animals retreat under the heat of the day, safari guests are returned to camp to enjoy a delicious brunch.

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Afternoons are spent lulling around the banks of the swimming pool, snoozing in the shade, reading a book, going on a bush walk or simply relaxing in a deck chair to watch the game as it goes about its business and comes down to the waterhole to drink.

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With the sun laying low in the sky, guests are once more taken out, wind in their hair, eyes peeled for the sighting of a lifetime.

Evening drives carry all of the tensions of the wild.

Every ear is alert, every eye sharp as a pinprick.

The energy is electric.

It is here that you may be lucky enough to see a pride of lions on the prowl, or a leopard or a kill.

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Arriving back to camp after dark provides a rare opportunity to see the nocturnal animals such as bushbabys, snakes, hyena and owls.

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By the light of the fire and the sounds of the bush, dinner is served with a side of shared stories, warm hearts and excited chatter about the days events.

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In pure darkness, far away from the city lights and the sounds of its people going about their business, an early night and a deep sleep is a welcome end to the day.

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Safari holidays, in the true sense of the word, involve doing nothing.

There is no concentration required. None.

It is the most relaxing kind of holiday imaginable. No technology, no chores, no strenuous activities, no driving, no need for effort of any kind whatsoever.

Why then does all this doing nothingness not lead to one going a little mad?

The answer is simple. A safari is the perfect mix of deep sleep, early morning sunshine, lazy pool days, extreme excitement and a connection to nature that can so easily be found in Africa.

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Game drives bring optimism for the big five you most hope to see, and every brush with the wild is a sense of achievement.

The world is filled with positive energy, excitement and beauty.

Every day is different, every day a perfect routine, every day a new start and every day, a memory.

Sit back, relax and soak it all in.

 

Photography in focus: What is shutter speed?

As a photographer, I am asked the same question time and time again by fellow travellers; “What settings shall I use?”

There is no true answer to this and I have found that the majority of those asking would like one of just a few answers – sport, landscape, portrait or night. My answers on the other hand are limited to M (manual) for confident photographers, or the more user-friendly settings  TV or SV (time or shutter speed variable) and AV (aperture variable) for those looking for an easy fix. These settings allow you to control the way light reacts to your camera without having to stare a hole in the user manual, and without having to rely on guess-work or risk losing the shot.

The focus of this article is on shutter speed – the TV setting, or SV on some brands of camera.

By choosing this setting you are telling your camera that you would like to control how long your shutter is open for to allow light to react with the digital sensors (or film) in your camera. Your camera will adjust all of the other settings to ensure correct exposure, giving you limitless creative freedom. What can you do with this? Many, many, wonderful things!

Your shutter speed controls the time it takes for the picture to be taken. Sometimes your camera is open for a fraction of a second during exposure, other times it can be open for minutes or hours. Everything that moves in your frame during your exposure will blur. The longer your camera is open for, the more opportunities there are for things to move. Your camera can also move during exposure, which is why pictures with longer exposures are generally shot on a tripod.

To reduce photography into a simple language, movement controls mood, and so your shutter speed controls the atmosphere of your image.

Action Shots

Action images capture drama. They show something frozen in time such as a lion mid-roar or an impala suspended in the air mid-leap. You could show an elephant splashing water with every drop clear and sharp. Shots like these are filled with excitement. They offer a single moment and very often show you something you would never have seen with the naked eye, like a swarm of bees or a fight between two giraffe.

To capture an action shot you need to have your camera open for as short a time as possible to stop any movement. As this is a fraction of a second you need to choose a TV or SV setting that is a small fraction such as 1/500 (a 500th of a second) or 1/250 (a 250th of a second). The higher the fraction number, the shorter the exposure, the sharper the image.

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Romantic Pictures

Romantic images are moody. They manipulate reality to make things seem endless, surreal, misty, atmospheric or ethereal. Romantic images use long shutter speeds to allow for things to move naturally during your exposure. It could be that grass sways in the wind, or stars move in the sky to create star trails. Perhaps there is a current in a river that can be blurred into mist, or lots of drops of water flowing over a waterfall can be blurred into a fast, strong fall.

With romantic images the possibilities are never-ending, however, it is important that you always include something sharp to show that the picture is not just out of focus. This can be a house shot against a million moving stars, or the rocks in your waterfall, or a steady tree in the windy grass.

Images like these use TV settings that are longer fractions of a second, like 1/15, or whole seconds which are shown on your camera using a ” symbol. The TV amount of 5″ for example indicates a 5 second exposure. Longer exposures allow for lots of light to enter your camera and work best in low light conditions such as dusk or dawn.

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Creativity

Most SLR cameras allow you to select up to 30″ for a 30 second exposure. This is great for twilight conditions, but not long enough to shoot the stars or play with light painting techniques. For images like these you need to use the shutter speed B. This is the bulb setting that allows you to keep the shutter open indefinitely using a trigger remote.

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Star trails need anything from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 hours depending on how long you would like the trails to be. The longer the shutter is open for the more the earths’ rotation affects the position of the stars, creating white lines in your image. Light painting is intuitive and usually needs a torch to shine into areas of interest for 10 to 20 seconds.

If you are shooting on TV or SV, you are essentially using one of your cameras build in settings. It will automatically compensate the other settings to keep the exposure correct. For a practice project try shooting the same moving object in two key styles. In one shot, freeze the frame to stop the movement, in the other, use the movement to capture the mood.

The safari pack list: top tips for a comfortable stay

Africa, for all her beauty, is not for the feint-hearted. When you embark on a safari, no matter how luxurious, you are stepping into an untouched wilderness where vast ecosystems exist in a perfect harmony.

Nights are so dark that the milky way can be seen with the naked eye. Silence is so pure that one can hear the tiny wings of a butterfly, or the crickets rubbing their legs together to attract a mate.

Although your luxury lodge provides all the amenities to make your stay completely comfortable, we’ve put together a pack list to help you get the most out of the experiences that make a safari so special, and so completely different from life in the city.

Sunscreen and a hat

The sun is much, much stronger in the southern hemisphere than the north, and a day without sunscreen is likely to leave you red. Choose a high protection cream and wear a hat. Wide rimmed hats are fashionable in the bush and protect your neck in an open-air vehicle.

A strong torch

Torches serve 3 purposes on a safari. They light the walk ways to ensure you don’s step on anything alive. A strong torch makes an excellent photography tool (read the article about light painting for more information on this). A very strong torch can be shone into the bush in the evenings to catch a glimpse of the nocturnal birds, bush babies, hyenas and assorted wildlife that will visit the waterholes and rivers close to your lodge throughout the night.

Binoculars

Unlike in a zoo, safari animals can cover huge amounts of ground in a single day. Your safari guide and spotter have trained eyes to pick out rare birds, chameleons, unusual trees and of course, wildlife. Whilst they will always aim to get you as close as possible to the sighting, sometimes a pair of binoculars is necessary, especially for those who enjoy the birds.

Camera

Any camera will do, however, if you have access to an SLR it will be well worth the extra effort.

A small day bag

Game drives follow the wildlife. In a luxury lodge where your drives are done on a private or semi-private basis the length of your game drives will be somewhat flexible and can last 3 to 4 hours. It is a good idea to carry a soft, small day bag with an extra layer of clothing, and lots of water!

Sunglasses

Grass and water are surprisingly reflective.

Light cotton long wear

Evening time is when the little creatures come out of the woodwork, and mosquitos tend to be more active during the evenings when they are attracted to the warm lights of your lodge. Wearing longs in the evenings will protect your wrists and ankles from bites.

Mosquito repellent

Although your lodge may provide you with repellent, Tabard or Peaceful Sleep will ensure you are bite free and get a good night’s rest. These can be purchased as a spray or roll on for those with sensitive noses.

Closed shoes

Even if you are not planning on doing any bush walks during your stay, it is advisable to wear sturdy shoes to protect your feet from insects, sharp grasses, thorns and dust, especially in the evening when it can be harder to see where you are walking.

A soft, warm hoodie

Although the days are hot, at night when the sun is gone the evenings can be cold as there is no pollution to trap the heat. Choosing soft fabrics that are warm, cosy and quiet will keep you relaxed and comfortable.