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The wildebeest of East Africa give life to the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” continually migrating through northern Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and southern Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve in search of green grass on which to feed. The annual Great Migration of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra over a 1,200-mile route is one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles on Earth. As such, travelers who’ve seen even a single National Geographic photograph of the event routinely have the famous Great Migration on their bucket list.
“The Great Migration is a spectacle unlike anything else,” asserts consultant Katie Blackstone. “It’s very powerful to be immersed in the incredible natural movement of wildebeest and zebra as they roam for survival.”
TIMING OF THE GREAT MIGRATION
Matching timing and location is of utmost importance when planning a safari to see the migration. We created the below map to spotlight how the animals tend to move annually, but depending on rain, grass availability and other unknown factors, the exact timing of the Great Migration varies year to year. For example, in a year of drought, wildlife has been known to leave breeding grounds earlier than anticipated in search of greener pastures.
Please note that the timing of the Great Migration varies each year, depending on rain, grass availability and other unknown factors. We cannot guarantee the migration will move at the same time each year. However, this map depicts the general timeframe of when the animals pass through each region.
Travelers often ask if they’ll be able to witness the famous river crossings, where the animals congregate atop a riverbank, waiting until a herd member builds up the courage to cross the crocodile-infested water. When the first few wildebeest start, the entire herd follows suit, splashing into the water in a stampede of survival. While seeing a river crossing only occurs for the luckiest travelers, we’re confident that regardless of when or where you see the migration, the sighting of thousands of wildebeest on an open plain will stick in your memory.
VIEWING THE MIGRATION
Because the timing of the migration varies annually, one of the best ways to ensure you’ll view the multitude is by staying at a mobile safari camp that changes locations depending on the movement of the animals. Serengeti Safari Camp, operated by our partner Nomad Tanzania, is a six-tented camp that moves every few months to provide the best migration location for safari-goers. The traditional Meru style tents open to the front and feature a separate changing area, eco-flush toilets and hot showers.
For discerning travelers who prefer more permanent structures, we recommend Lamai Serengeti, comprising two lodges, twelve rooms with en-suite bathrooms and amenities like a swimming pool, 24-hour power and full running water. For a more private feel, we recommend the exclusive-use Mkombe’s House, which sleeps up to four adults and six kids and includes an in-house chef and private safari vehicles.
PLANNING YOUR SAFARI
Is witnessing the Great Migration on your travel bucket list? Contact us for more information on this unforgettable East African safari experience.
My most recent trip to Africa was my fourth trip to the continent but included my first trip to an African beach destination (outside of Cape Town). After an amazing 3-week trip in Kenya and mainland Tanzania visiting 40 properties, I made my way to the island of Zanzibar for a bit of R&R. A trip to Kenya and Tanzania offers you a unique African experience! From classic safaris to the luxurious beach destination of Zanzibar in Tanzania, you will not regret time spent in these amazing countries.
Highlights from my safari on the mainland included:
My stay at Sirikoi in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy – the sheer number of rhino in the area is amazing!
Ngare Serian’s amazing hippo pods and adventurous footbridge across the river to access camp
The incredible Masai Mara, which is basically a Garden of Eden in November
And the views from Lamai Serengeti Camp which are unforgettable!
THE ISLAND OF ZANZIBAR
On the island of Zanzibar I stayed at Baraza Report and Spa, Xanadu Villas, and Mnemba Island. Each was amazing in its own way.
Baraza was unique because it felt like Aladdin’s palace. The rooms are opulent, the pools are pristine, and almost everything on the property is either white or a shade of gold. Not only was the property lovely and spacious, but the staff were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered! They made me feel instantly at home on the island. I spent most of my time here relaxing on their shaded chairs next to the beach, reading a book and watching the tides roll in and out.
Xanadu Villas is located just down the beach from Baraza and quickly became my favorite property. The villas are to die for! They are stunningly appointed, have bathrooms the size of my apartment, and each villa has its own unique design. I stayed in the 1-bedroom Kimwondo Villa which is nothing short of spectacular. It would be the perfect place for a romantic getaway, a honeymoon or anniversary celebration! Or if you are like me and you enjoy your time to decompress on your own… I LOVED having the villa to myself. What an amazing way to unwind and take in such a beautiful place with a rooftop pool overlooking the ocean in the distance!
My butler, Lissu, made my experience at Xanadu. He was so intuitive and kind. He noticed my favorite flowers are frangipani, so at dinner he set up a vase full of them, he also noticed that I virtually never left the beach so he offered to set up a candle lit dinner complete with a white linen covered table in the sand, just for me. And probably the most heartwarming of all, was that I was struggling to remember some Swahili words that he taught me – like my morning drink order, “black coffee”, so he wrote out a full page of English to Swahili translations that he gave to me before I left. I still have the sheet at home! It was so thoughtful and really took the experience from just a wonderful beach stay, to a perfect and memorable vacation. To me, it’s the little things like that that make such a big difference!
My last stop in Zanzibar was Mnemba Island. This private island is just a short boat ride off the mainland, but once you arrive in this little slice of paradise, you’ll feel like the rest of civilization is a world away. Each thatched bungalow -style room is completely open – no closed windows or doors. At night, the only thing between you and the stars and the sea breeze is a roof over your head and netting over the bed. One night while I was reading in bed, a crab actually stared to climb the net over the bed – ha! To me, this was barefoot luxury at its finest!
Mnemba offered a very unique opportunity to snorkel right off the shores of the private island – and if you are lucky swim with dolphins in the wild. Let’s just say I got very, very lucky! I am a huge animal lover and wildlife enthusiast and am lucky to have been on safari many times in several countries… that being said, swimming with dolphins in the wild, for me, takes the cake for my all-time favorite wildlife experience! It was the most magical interaction I’ve had with animals in the wild. The dolphins swam around me and within inches of my body. At several points, I thought a fin or tail was going to brush against me, but just in the last moment the dolphins would keep their distance. They were calm and clearly aware that I was right there swimming with them. I was able to jump in the water off the boat and swim with them three different times before they made their way further out to sea.
I can’t quite put into words how special that experience was – I will never forget it!
Although Africa is a big place, and there is a lot to do and see on the mainland, I highly recommend considering adding 4+ nights at the beach at the end of your safari – consider it a vacation from your vacation!
In December 2017, a travel dream came true. After being with Travel Beyond for 22 years, I was asked to travel to Rwanda to experience tracking the highland mountain gorillas. A gorilla trek has been high on my bucket list for the last 15 years, about as long as I had been offering it to my clients, but the opportunity finally presented itself!
I was asked in May to travel in November, and waiting so many months for the trip was a challenge, as I wanted to be there immediately! In retrospect it was good I had to wait, and it paid off for a few reasons. First, it allowed me some time to “train,” as you need to be in decent shape for this trip. The trek to the gorillas at times is uphill, and the altitudes are often over 8000′. To prepare, I used the treadmill at an incline or walked hilly areas near my home. Living in Minnesota, I didn’t have access to training at altitude, but I knew if I was in shape and hiked slowly, the altitude would be manageable.
In addition, the wait allowed me to be the first at Travel Beyond (and even in the safari business) to see some amazing new properties that have opened in Rwanda, as well as a massive upgrade to an existing property. In Kigali, we stayed at the brand new The Retreat, a five-star boutique hotel with eleven rooms and very personalized service. Near Volcanoes National Park, we stayed at Bisate, the newest Wilderness Safaris property. Bisate has six gorgeous rooms with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Bisate Lodge – a Wilderness Safaris property in Rwanda, just outside of Volcanoes National Park
While it’s not the newest kid on the block, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (under the Governors portfolio) has been a staple in the Volcanoes region for more than 10 years. They recently started a massive overhaul of the property and will continue the refurbishment in 2019. It is looking great!
Five Volcanoes is the new 3.5 to 4-star property close to park headquarters. I did not stay here; however, I have been hearing wonderful comments about this property from past travelers and people that I met while in Rwanda.
The Gorilla Trekking Experience
Now, onto the reason for my trip: gorilla trekking! On the day of our trek, we woke early to get to park headquarters and be assigned to the family group that we’d be hiking to find. We were presented with three options: an easy hike, an intermediate hike and a hard hike. The levels indicate how high in the mountains the gorilla family is, so a hard hike could take 3-5 hours to reach the gorillas. On day one, we opted for the intermediate hike and on day two, we chose the easier hike. We were then briefed by the head guides and taken to the beginning point, where we started the trek and hired our porters. (The porters made the trek much easier.)
We hiked for about 2.5 hours, at a slow and steady pace, and when we finally reached the gorilla family and saw them for the first time, we all had goosebumps. It was one of the best wildlife experiences I’ve had to date. We were allowed to be with them for only one hour, and the hour went incredibly fast. We watched as a 9-month-old learned to swing from trees and as the blackbacks (male juveniles and next to be silverbacks) sized us up. Each blackback tried to show us that they will soon be king, all the while knowing whether the real silverback boss was watching. One of the females laid on her side as if posing for the camera and then gave us a big smile. As our hour ran out, the silverback sat completely relaxed for the last five minutes for us to take photos and at minute 60, he and the rest of his troop walked away. As our guide said, “See? They know when 60 minutes is up!” The only way I can explain what had happened was like watching a theatrical play: as the silverback walked away, the curtain went down.
During our next trek on the following day, we had an easier walk and saw the Sabyinyo family within 20 minutes of entering the park. This family was lively, with a lot more young and curious males that would swing over our heads in the trees above. This family also had two silverbacks (not typical), but the oldest one is currently 45. Because the maximum age gorillas reach is around 45, his son is still in the group as a silverback. Since this family seemed to have so many young ones, it was fun to watch them wrestle and beat their chests, practicing for when they are adults!
On the third day, we embarked on another type of primate trek, spending an hour with a very fun group of around 150 golden monkeys. This group of golden monkeys was also habituated to humans, so it was fun to be able to get close enough to them to hear them eat and dig around for ants and termites in dead wood. Seeing the golden monkeys was a nice contrast from the gorillas as they were more lively – jumping and playing.
Other Activities in Rwanda
The properties mentioned above primarily focus on the gorilla and golden monkey experience, as that is most people’s objectives for traveling to Rwanda. However, each property has much more to offer. Many of the properties sponsor the local villages, and from Bistate and Sabyinyo, you can go out with a guide to meet local people, entering their homes and learning how tourism dollars is helping make a huge difference. You can visit the Musanze Caves or hike to Dian Fossey’s gravesite.
I started with the most exciting part of my trip, the gorillas, as I thought that was about all there was to do in Rwanda. I’m happy to admit how wrong I was. First and foremost, I have always recommended two nights in Kigali (if first stop in Africa) as not only does it allow for a “cushion day” for flight delays/cancellations, but also a great spot to get acclimated, as the city is at 4000′. However, I was very surprised at all that you can do in Kigali.
The Genocide Memorial, is powerful and very tastefully done. As I walked through the memorial, I was surprised to find I was not only reading about the genocide in Rwanda, but also about all of the other genocides around the world. The outdoor memorial is a sobering experience, with more than 250,000 people buried there. In my humble experience, I recommend the memorial as a first stop before seeing the rest of Rwanda today. Even though the genocide was only 24 years ago, the fact that Rwandans are all able to live together in peace and full of hope was amazing to see.
In addition to the memorial, I’d recommend a culinary experience. In this activity, you’ll visit the local market with your chef in order to buy items to cook for your afternoon lunch. Or visit a milk bar, where people come to have beer glasses full of milk as they belly up to the bar! Visit local shops where women sew bags, clothes and more. Do yoga in the gardens or get a massage. All of this can be done in Kigali!
If you want to get off of the beaten track before or after gorilla trekking, head to Lake Kivu . Relax on the sandy shores, take a boat out for the day, visit a local organic coffee farm, see the Congolese border and watch as over 40,000 people pass between the Congo and Rwanda each day. Most of the Congolese come in on market day to purchase the gorgeous vegetables that Rwanda is able to grow.
Most travelers don’t make Rwanda their only destination, but add a safari to their trip. Currently this can be done in Rwanda, as they do have the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino.) However, Rwanda can also easily be paired with the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania or safaris in Kenya, as daily flights operate to both locations (minimum number of passengers may apply.) Depending on your destination, you can often be on safari on the same day. In addition to flight connections within East Africa, there are direct flights from Kigali to Johannesburg, South Africa, where you can connect to Cape Town or a safari in South Africa.
I went to Rwanda for the gorillas, but I left with so much more. The countryside is lush and green, supporting an abundance of agriculture for delicious and fresh cuisine. New and refreshed properties offer unique activities, stunning views and comfortable bases for exploring the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Most importantly, the people of Rwanda are some of the friendliest I’ve met, with the warmest smiles to welcome all visitors.
As the most famous site in Peru, Machu Picchu draws travelers with its mystical presence, ancient charm and scenic beauty. This “must-see” location is the focus of most trips to Peru, but many travelers also want to experience Peruvian highlights that are off the beaten path-or beaten Inca Trail in this case!
Below, we highlight four experiences in Peru that aren’t found on most standard itineraries. Breathe in the ocean air on the sunny beaches of Mancora. Board a boat and search for humpback whales, hop on a surfboard for lessons with the locals or soak in some sunshine on the relaxing beach. Drink in the Milky Way while staying in a transparent (and adrenaline-inducing) Skylodge in the Sacred Valley. Board a luxury train for an two-night trip through the Peruvian highlands or explore the impressive Colca Canyon on the back of a famous Peruvian Paso horse. Get to know Peru beyond the bucket list.
Mountains, valleys and rainforests are the scenes at the forefront of travel to Peru, but the coastal country also boasts sunny beach destinations like the small town of Mancora in the northwest. At Mancora, search for humpback whales migrating from Antarctica in August through November and keep an eye out for the countless dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles and frigate birds that grace the warm Pacific waters. Take a surfing lesson with the locals, who view surfing as a spiritual experience, or wander through the town’s Hippie Market. Pair your activities with relaxation on the beach or a yoga class or massage offered at your beachfront retreat.
Skylodges in the Sacred Valley
Committing to a trip that’s off the beaten path sometimes involves a bit of courage and a willingness to get creative with accommodation options. The “hanging bedrooms” of Skylodge Adventure Suites fit the bill on both aspects. The unique property invites guests to stay in transparent bedrooms with unprecedented views of the Milky Way, the Sacred Valley and the mountainsides off which the modules hang! With a steel-cabled climbing route and zipline as part of the arrival process, the journey to the Skylodge ensures an adventurous encounter for each guest. With room for up to four travelers in each suite, a private bathroom and privacy curtains, these transparent domes boast an unforgettable way to experience the Sacred Valley.
BELMOND ANDEAN EXPLORER
Often, the time it takes to transfer between one destination and another is seen as a necessary evil in an itinerary, but a trip aboard the Belmond Andean Explorer challenges that assumption. Departing Cusco, the luxury train traverses the Peruvian highlands on its three-day, two-night journey to Arequipa. Along the way, the train stops to give guests the chance to view the sunset over the La Raya mountain range, visit the traditional islands of Lake Titicaca and explore the 8000-year-old rock art of Sumbay Caves, among other schedueld stops. Introducing a relaxing pace to any Peru itinerary, the train’s comfortable sleeper cabins and ornately decorated interior encourage guests to drink in the passing scenery, enjoy a spa treatment or make new friends over a Pisco Sour in the piano bar.
As one of the deepest canyons in the world, Southern Peru’s Colca Canyon is a breathtaking wonder that offers so much more than scenic views. Archeological sites, ancient rock art, colorful villages, hot springs and rare wildlife like the Andean condor area make the region a perfect addition to any Peru itinerary. Here, active travelers can hike in the canyon (which is twice as deep as America’s Grand Canyon) or ride the famously smooth-riding Peruvian Paso horses along the canyon top for a local twist.
MORE TO PERU
We designed a 16-day itinerary to Peru with Explorandes, our local partner, that includes all of the unique experiences described above and many more.
Looking for other experiences, activities and destinations in Peru? Let us know your travel style, and we’ll design a trip just for you.
I have loved South America since my first visit in 2001. Over the past 17 years, I have explored the continent in depth, from Colombia down through Chile on the western side, and from Argentina back up to Brazil on the eastern. Somehow in all those years and dozens of trips, I never made it to Bolivia…until this past November.
Bolivia is a natural crossover point, connecting Peru to the north and Chile to the south. For those travelers with a bit of extra time and a spirit of adventure, this is a perfect add-on. My favorite aspects of traveling are culture and nature, and Bolivia did not disappoint on either front. It is by no means a five-star destination, but it’s as original and authentic as it gets.
My exploration began on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca, just a few hours’ drive from La Paz, but also easily accessible by crossing overland (or over water) from Peru. The Aymara people live on the shores and small islands which dot the lake, and while everyone relies on the surrounding water for their existence, each village is different from the next when it comes to traditions, clothing, and style of homes. Some reside in simple wood or stone structures, while others live in reed huts. I was greeted with sunny skies and clear blue water, which made the ride from place to place aboard the hydrofoil boat (which is essentially raised on skis above the water when it reaches cruising speed) calm and comfortable. The many flowers and textiles found here add to the palate of colors that make this area such a lovely work of art.
The city of La Paz offers quite a contrast to the tranquility of the lake, but La Paz is rich with history and tradition. Many of the city’s residents have come from the surrounding countryside in search of opportunity, so its population is diverse and its offerings plentiful. Here you can enjoy everything from the mysterious, exotic (and sometimes cringe worthy!) items for sale at the famous Witches Market, to modern, chic restaurants highlighting the wide range of food found throughout the country.
The charming town of Sucre provides a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of La Paz. With its cobbled streets and lovely colonial architecture, it certainly ranks up there with the prettiest cities I’ve seen in South America. A quaint central plaza, quality museums, and a variety of boutique shops and restaurants round out the experience here.
The Uyuni Salt Flats in the southwestern corner of Bolivia are so massive they can be seen from space. Covering an area of over 4,000 square miles (or slightly smaller than Connecticut), the scale is almost impossible to grasp. Sitting at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet, these are some of the world’s most remote and spectacular landscapes, yet the difference in elevation across the flats is so slight (less than one meter), it is used to calibrate satellites. The sky at night overflows with stars, and the silence is like nothing I’ve ever heard.
Traversing the flats by car is an adventure in itself, as the drivers seem to have an internal GPS to find their way across the endless field of white. After a day of exploring, some visitors choose to stay in hotels made of salt on the outer edges of the flats, but I was lucky enough to sleep in an Airstream Camper right in the middle. Modified to offer all the creature comforts (including heat, AC, hot water shower, and minibar), this was one of the most epic and comfortable nights I’ve ever spent traveling. With my own personal chef, bicycles for exploring, and one of the world’s great wonders outside my door, I couldn’t have asked for more.
From Uyuni, we headed south by road across the border to Chile, stopping along the way to see high altitude lakes of green and red, colored by the region’s distinct mixtures of minerals and sediments. Finally, we transitioned into the volcano-flanked dry desert of Atacama and luxury adventure destination of San Pedro, marking the perfect end to my first journey through Bolivia.
In September of 2017, I was privileged to lead a sailing club’s membership travel program to Kenya. The planning was two years in the making – a long road of anticipation and excitement. It was a group of 17, most all whom had never stepped foot on the continent. With wide eyes and smiles, I met each individual as they arrived into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to commence their journey. This journey was dubbed as a trip of a lifetime, and the trip was made even sweeter by the relatively last-minute decision of my colleagues Kay Beal and Jayme Madson to join me in co-hosting.
What strikes me every time I visit Africa is the contrast of emotions. Unlike any other destination to which I’ve traveled (I’ve lost count, but somewhere around 50 countries), Africa is a roller coaster of emotions. The highs are the highest of highs and the lows the lowest of lows. It’s tremendous and overwhelming. I believe all of the travelers in this group got to experience these feelings in some capacity. I was told often that these experiences left people humbled, and some went as far as to claim “life changing”.
Everyone was elated to see one another in Nairobi, and we spent the first full day touring the Karen/Langata area visiting places like the Karen Blixen Museum, Giraffe Center and Kazuri beads. The day was fun, educational and an easy transition to being in Kenya. We then concluded with a private visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage, founded by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in memory of her late husband. This served as our first exposure to the contrast of the highs and lows I referenced earlier. Each day, the orphanage has one hour allotted for a “private viewing” (if one is interested, this encounter books out months in advance) and our group got to interact with about thirty energetic and playful baby and adolescent elephants. The noises and excitement was tremendous, but I also noticed some in the group reduced to tears. Some who couldn’t understand nor cope with how many of these majestic creatures ended in the facility – many as a result of poaching of their mothers. Conversations followed at the dinner table regarding poaching, conservation, community and human-wildlife conflict. The stage was set for the rest of the trip.
One of the benefits of traveling with a group of this size is that private chartering aircrafts becomes a financially viable option. We chose to work with a company that specializes in scenic flight transfers to connect camps on our itinerary. Our first low-level flight took us over massive herds of the Great Migration in the Naboisho Conservancy before dropping us at Naboisho Camp where we stayed three nights in the greater Masai Mara ecosystem. As my first time in the Mara during the migration season, I found the sheer volume of wildlife was unbelievable. I had to pinch myself constantly, as I was in disbelief to what I was witnessing.
The hot-air balloon excursion over the migration was a highlight for me, offering a unique perspective to what’s happening on the ground. In contrast to these incredible wildlife experiences, we also had an amazing guide who shared her stories of what she had to endure in her childhood to pursue an education and what she currently endures as a female in her position in a male-dominated field. We also had an enlightening presentation and supper with a lion researcher from the Lion Project and the Mara Trust who shared stories with us regarding the hardships facing lion conservation and women in the community. Again, the contrast of high and low was present, sparking some more interesting discussions.
Our second stop was the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, home to some of the largest populations of both white and black rhino. Lewa’s success in conservation is directly tied to community engagement and the involvement of both government and private sector. In addition to seeing a variety of wildlife we didn’t see in the Mara (rhinos and unique northern species), we were exposed to the back-end operations when we visited Lewa’s headquarters. Here, state of the art technology was combined with good old-fashioned alarm bells by the surrounding communities, giving us a glimpse of what it takes to combat poaching and grow a population of endangered species like the rhino and grevy’s zebra. Some of our group also elected to spend an afternoon visiting the town of Isiolo and an AIDS orphanage called Pepo a Tumaini. Yet again, a humbling experience in contrasting the lives of the children who live there and the visitors who come and contribute to the community. Lewa was an important stop in understanding how tourism positively impacts the well-being of the surrounding communities and its wildlife.
We concluded our trip at Sarara Camp in a remote 850,000-acre wilderness area. The wildlife was sparse here compared to the previous two stops, much due to the continuing drought conditions. However, we did have some great elephant viewing in and around camp, combined with the unique cultural experience with the Samburu. Visiting the community, seeing how the Samburu live and witnessing the unique and remarkable practice of the “singing wells” was simply magic. The views of the Mathews Range were intoxicating and a perfect cap to our two-week journey.
Ever since my first trip to Africa back in 2001, I’m still in awe of her magical landscape, beauty of wildlife and the humility experienced by spending time with her people. Africa’s like a drug, and I yearn to be in her presence. I think of her obsessively and count the days until our reunion.
It was a welcome return for me to Bali. Known as the “Island of the Gods,” Bali is blessed with natural beauty and a unique culture. Frangipani, plumeria and jasmine flowers abound – so fragrant you are constantly taking deep breaths to try and capture their essence. Its beaches attract surfers from around the world. Its warm and welcoming people, most of whom are devout Hindu, add to the spiritual feel of the island. Ancient Hindu temples are everywhere, and each morning, you will see local people presenting offerings comprised of colorful flowers, palm leaves and fruit. These offerings are seen not only in temples, but on small outdoor shrines in Balinese homes and even on the dashboard of cars. Intricately put together with loving detail, these offerings are presented as a sign of thankfulness and dedication. Taking in these scenes of color, fragrance of flowers and burning incense are a delight to the senses and one of the aspects that makes travel to Bali so special!
However, the sense of peace and tranquility is sometimes lost when shared with too many other travelers—the sad reality of a beautiful place no longer a best kept secret. For this reason, some travelers may assume that Bali is becoming a bit “too touristy.” But is that truly the case? My goal this trip was to journey away from the masses and to enjoy “the real Bali,” still waiting to be discovered and still unspoiled. Yes, it most definitely exists!
My first destination to explore was to the West in the direction of Menjangan Island (also known as “Deer Island” for the many local deer found here). Surrounded by the most beautiful coral reefs, this region offers the best SCUBA diving or snorkeling experiences on Bali. It is also home to the West Bali National Park (the only national park on the island) and Bird Sanctuary (with over 160 different species of birds). The drive from the south of Bali to the west took me approximately 4.5 hours. But of course, the drive was part of the adventure! I passed through the regency of Tabanan and Belimbing with its quaint villages, striking volcano views and gorgeous, green rice terraces. I also passed by plantations of clove, coffee, sweet potatoes and much more. There were so many photo opportunities that it was hard to keep to a schedule, as I just wanted to keep stopping to observe daily life. Ancient temples (home to many mischievous monkeys) were devoid of tourists and interesting to explore. Closer to the west, I saw several mosques and could hear the call to prayer – a sign I was close to Bali’s Western neighbor Java, with a largely Muslim population.
Sometimes when you venture far from tourist attractions you are forced to sacrifice comfort. Not the case here! I stayed at the heavenly Menjangan Dynasty – a luxury glamping resort. Resting on a quiet peninsula beside a white-sand beach, this safari-style tented, boutique retreat is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who just want to relax and be pampered. My Cliff Tent Villa had an incredible view from my private outdoor deck and pool across the bay to the lowland forests of the National Park, and out to East Java’s volcano alley in the distance. The resort is the perfect place to spend a few nights, exploring Bali’s underwater treasures and natural wonders.
From the west of Bali I headed 2.5 hours to the north to a village called Munduk. Climbing in elevation, the cool temperatures were a welcome break from the heat. Due to its cool climate, almost everything grows here in abundance—fresh strawberries, vegetables, tropical flowers and, of course, coffee. Coffee plantations abound in this part of Bali.
Munduk was a former hill station for the Dutch colonists who came to escape the heat, and you can still see old colonial buildings, some now made into guest houses. I stopped at the beautiful Twin Lakes en-route, located within the caldera of an extinct volcano and separated by a thin forest. From the top of the hill there is a great viewpoint to overlook the two lakes. The views were breathtaking, and even with this stunning vista there were only a handful of others there to share it with.
I arrived at Munduk Moding Plantation and was greeted with a garland of locally grown marigolds and a warm cup of coffee home-brewed with honey, ginger and lemon grass. I had never tasted anything like it! This eco-resort on the grounds of a working coffee plantation will have you feeling one with nature and literally up in the clouds (which really move in by the afternoon for some surreal sunsets). My villa was remote and private, with an incredible infinity pool on a cantilever (long projecting beam) over the jungle ravine with views out to the Java Sea. Even with the cool temperatures I could not resist a fantastic morning swim. Each room at the property is different, some with jacuzzis and fireplaces. There is no air-conditioning here but temperatures are so cool you will certainly not miss it! Food was unbelievably fresh and tasty with all produce grown locally. This is the perfect escape for those who wish to explore remote villages, trek to hidden waterfalls and hot springs, and visit ancient temples and pristine lakes. It was definitely a side of Bali most never experience and well worth the effort to come here (1.5 hours away from the more popular Ubud everyone visits).
From Munduk, it was another 3 hours to the east coast, my next destination. However, I first stopped to visit the nearby Ulun Danu Water Temple. In spite of being such a picturesque landmark in Bali and an important temple, I encountered very few people (and those I saw were local people vs tourists). This is a very different experience compared to its counterpart water temples in the south such as Tanah Lot and Uluwatu, which are always busy with tourist crowds. The temple appears to be floating in the lake with the mountains surrounding it as a scenic backdrop. It was so peaceful I could have stayed and admired the temple grounds and lake all morning. But I continued on, past the local markets, temples and warungs (local food stalls) to Bali’s east coast to reach the incredible Amankila Resort.
Amankila means “peaceful hill” and is perched above the Lombok Strait with a cliff-edge setting that is simply beyond belief. From the main dining area, three infinity pools lead you down a walkway to the beach (which has its own lap pool as well). The incredible resort makes it hard to leave, but those who do venture out to the surroundings will be rewarded with authentic village visits (this area is known for its textile making) and volcanic black sand beaches. You can also visit Tirta Gangga – the Royal Watergarden belonging to the Balinese Royal Family.
It was so hard to leave the comfort and tranquility of east Bali but I was headed by boat for a trip over to the neighboring island of Lombok. (That’s a story for another blog!)
It suffices to say that Bali’s main tourist areas of Ubud and the beaches of Seminyak are still worth a visit, as they are both beautiful in their own right. However, if your time allows – spreading out to the west, north and/or east coasts of Bali will bring with it its own special rewards on the path less traveled.
Drawn by India’s rich history, iconic temples and authentic cultural charm, travelers are often surprised by another notable aspect of India’s allure: the rich hospitality of her people.
For hundreds of years, the elaborate palaces of India were home to royal families who hosted dignitaries and eminent personalities from around the world, introducing their guests to Indian hospitality and opulent design. Today, these royal palaces and luxury resorts operated by Taj Resorts and Palaces offer the same level of hospitality to the most important guest in India: you.
Taj’s commitment to treating travelers as royal guests, part of the culture of hospitality they call Tajness, is first evident in their commitment to “Spectacular Arrivals.” Upon arrival at Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, for example, guests are welcomed by decorated camels, horses and elephants alongside colorful dancers in traditional Rajasthani attire with Shehenai music.
Intricate decor, opulent palaces and elaborate welcome ceremonies perfectly complement the scenic locations in which many of the Taj properties reside. Located on an island in Udaipur, Taj Lake Palace boasts stunning and romantic lakeside views and an aura of secluded luxury. As consultant Jeanie Fundora gushed after her stay at Taj Lake Palace in 2015, “We felt like we were in a fairy tale every single day. Udaipur and the iconic Taj Lake Palace in the middle of Lake Pichola did not disappoint.”
Within the grounds of each property, guests can take advantage of curated experiences, thoughtfully designed to share the rich history and luxury of Indian royals with modern guests.
Heritage walks allow travelers to enjoy a glass of champagne while wandering through palaces under the entertaining tutelage of the resort butlers, eager to share the lore and legends of the historic properties and their storied guests. At many properties, guests can witness a traditional sunset ritual, watching property staff light lamps and candles as dusk falls. The littlest family members can even join resort-led adventures like cookie baking classes or peacock feather hunting around the property while Mom and Dad relax at the spa or enjoy a meal at an award-winning restaurant on property.
Beyond the Property
Pair nights at regal palaces with daytime exploration of the cities and regions in which each palace or resort is centered. Our Travel Beyond consultants recommend activities that give travelers a feel for the pulse of Indian daily life. Meet with local artisans in Udaipur, enjoy a privately-guided street food tour touting the best flavors of Mumbai or board a rickshaw on a tour of Jaipur to immerse yourself in the local culture. In every location, learn about the longstanding traditions, fascinating history and status of modern life while viewing ancient temples and iconic sites.
We’ve designed a sample 14-day trip to India that showcases some of our favorite Taj properties throughout the country and features activity and tour recommendations for each location. From the Blue City of Jodhpur to the Pink City of Jaipur, each location visited is bursting with color, history and culture.
For More Information
Our India specialists would love to share more about the diversity of experiences within the vast country, from city cultural tours to jungle safaris to relaxing spa escapes. To learn more about travel to India or the stunning portfolio offered by Taj Resorts and Palaces, contact us.
“When you run alone, you run fast.
When you run together, you run far.”
– Zambian Proverb
Located on the plateau of Central Africa, Zambia is a country with fourteen ecosystems, classified into forest, thicket, woodland and grassland vegetation types. The Rhodesian giraffe, Kafue lechwe and Zambian barbet are some of the country’s well-known endemic species, and an estimated 757 bird species are known to exist in Zambia. Statistically the country has the highest density of leopard in Africa, and the fruit bat migration from the Congo Basin to Kasanka is the largest mammal migration on Earth. This phenomenon takes place in a pocket of forest in the smallest and least visited national park. As a safari destination, Zambia delivers a unique experience not to be missed.
South Luangwa National Park
As the Proflight airplane wheels hit the runway at Mfuwe airport, the sun was hanging over the horizon, painting the sky in hues of red. Children were out in masses playing soccer on the adjacent sports field. It was Sunday, and that all-familiar lingering smell of smoke hung in the air. We had arrived at the gateway to the South Luangwa National Park. Here in Zambia, walking is the way forward!
My journey in the South Luangwa National Park started with the bushcamps of the Norman Carr portfolio. These camps are small, intimate properties which resemble traditional life in Zambia. Each property consists of 5 reed chalets, which are open to the elements, giving guests an authentic experience with nature.
From Luwi Bushcamp, it is a 9km walk to Nsolo Bushcamp. Kakuli Bushcamp is a further 14.5km walk from Nsolo, and Mchenja Bushcamp is another 8kms for those who want to walk a full circuit. As I wrote after my 2014 trip to the country: in Zambia, walking is king! These walks between camps range from 3 to 5 hours on foot, depending on fitness level and sightings along the way. But don’t fear, a vehicle is always on standby to assist those who need a ride. You won’t have access to WiFi here, so be prepared to disconnect and immerse yourself in the experience. Charging of electronics is done in the main area only, and most camps operate on solar power.
These experiences are what sets Zambia apart from any other safari destination—the authenticity, small camp sizes and ability to walk between properties. The country is arguably the most seasonal safari destination in Africa. Much like the Carmine bee eaters, which arrive in August and stick around until November, safari-goers flock here starting in May when the season officially opens. While the season officially ends in November, game viewing peaks in October before the rains arrive. However you must be prepared for the heat if you travel during the latter months.
We ventured further up the Lewi River to its conflux with the Luangwa River. Kaingo Camp, a Shenton Safaris property, lies on a stretch of the Luangwa River deep inside the park. The property consists of 6 well-appointed chalets, complete with all the creature comforts. Each chalet has in-room charging, an en-suite bathroom and an outside bathtub. Chalets have ample relaxation space and a private viewing deck. The property offers three very productive photographic hides (structures which “hide” photographers by blending into the scenery) as well as a sleep-out deck. This part of the park is more remote, and vehicle traffic is less dense than the Mfuwe sector. Kaingo takes a maximum of four guests per vehicle, and all game drives vehicles are decked out with photographic beanbags, dust covers and guides that understand the importance of vehicle positioning at a sighting. The camp’s entire fleet is made up of Toyota Hilux vehicles for the most comfortable game viewing experience possible.
Mwamba Bushcamp is a short 3-hour walk from its sister property Kaingo. The property consists of four tents and allows children ages 7 and up. Mwamba has a magnificent sleep-out hide in the plains where herds of wildebeest gather. They have their own photographic hide, and like Kaingo, this opens in three levels, giving photographers the option to lie horizontal to the water levels they are shooting. I had one of my most memorable sightings here, as we witnessed the Kianga pride (16 lions) take away a buffalo kill from the Kapanga pride (9 lions) just after the buffalo had been taken down. This magnificent display of dominance filled the night’s silence with growling and roaring as the prides collided! Twenty-five lions were in full fight mode, while the heard of buffalo scattered like deer in the headlights—fading into the night after realizing that one of their own lay slain.
Next, we crossed the channel onto a peninsula. This is where Tafika lies, surrounded by the Luangwa River. The camp is located just north of the Nsefu sector and is owner-operated by Johan and Carol Coppinger. This six-chalet property offers a “home away from home” experience. The owners have lunch with guests daily and enjoy a drink with clients before dinner. Chalets are basic and open to the environment, with electronics charging available in the main area. You can mountain bike during your down time and visit a local village for a cultural component. Chikoko Trails and Crocodile Camp are Tafika’s two bushcamps. Chikoko Trails is a 4-hour walk from Tafika and consists of three chalets on raised platforms. Crocodile is further and consists of three rondavels (traditional round rooms with conical thatched roofing). Your only option here is walking, and meals are prepared the old-fashioned way on an oven in the ground! If you are looking for a remote experience, this is for you!
I ended my stay in the South Luangwa with the Robin Pope portfolio. Their delightful camps each have their own personality, look and feel. Nsefu Camp consists of six rondavels and is the oldest photographic camp in the park, while Tena Tena boasts six luxurious safari tents with unique adjacent open air en-suite facilities. The ethos is the same across the portfolio, focusing on phenomenal guiding, excellent cuisine and a warm and welcoming feel. Here single travelers can visit without paying an additional single supplement, and long stay rates offer great value. Although you would be limited to a section of the park if you do a circuit, in my opinion it is the best sector in the park.
Lower Zambezi National Park
There is a direct flight from South Luangwa to the Lower Zambezi. The first stop is Royal Airport and the second Jaci Airport, serving the entire Lower Zambezi before the flight heads back to Lusaka.
I headed into the park, where old world safari splendor meets the mighty Zambezi. Greeted by a welcoming sense of awe, I stepped in Chiawa Camp, with nine tents (including a honeymoon suite with its own private plunge pool.) Here they offer creature comforts like a work-out area adjacent to the main pool area, hairdryers and robes in the tents and ala carte dining, catering to all dietary requirements in style. However, this is not where the awe-inspiring experience ends. This portfolio remains a leader in conservation, using red filters on spotlights and vehicle headlights when driving at night. Photographers don’t fret, they use wax paper to dim the brightness of the white light if you must take photos.
Chiawa’s sister camp Old Mandoro is smaller, more intimate and thrillingly open to the elements. The camp consists of four reed chalets with open-faced views of the surrounding woodlands. Elephant activity is at its best here, and close encounters are par for the course as resident bull elephants frequent the property. Staff are delightful, and the guiding is exceptional. If you want the best of both worlds, you can combine these two lodges for an extended stay in the Lower Zambezi.
Nestled between Chiawa and Old Mandoro lies a camp with arguably the best view of both the river and escarpment: Sausage Tree Camp. This eight-tent property has a breakfast bar that has guests sit with their feet dangling over the mighty Zambezi. Their sister camp, Potato Bush, has four rooms, and small groups or families can take sole use of the camp for a more intimate experience.
Further up the river lies Anabezi and its smaller more intimate sister property Amanzi. If you want luxury in the bush, this is the place for you! Stocked mini bars in each tent, indoor and outdoor bathrooms, state of the art espresso machines, water spraying from the ceiling in the main area offering relief from the afternoon heat, plunge pools, ala carte dining – no expense was spared in the build of the newest addition to the Lower Zambezi. This is part of the wonder of the Lower Zambezi – there really is something that appeals to everyone.
Kafue National Park
My last stop was in Kafue National Park, where I visited Busanga Bush Camp and Shumba Camp, the two Wilderness Safaris camps in Zambia. This is where I took flight over the Kafue plains in a hot air balloon, overlooking large herds of puku and red lechwe, pods of hippo and vast open plains. The scenery here is breathtaking and quickly puts into perspective why conservation efforts are so important.
“We are seeds as well as parasites to the earth. We can either give or take, depending on our perception of growth.”
During this flight, I was reminded why it is so important to run together and not alone, for the race does not end with my personal victory, but with what I leave behind for my children.