EPIC ROAD'S SAFARI BLOG

Sunday
Oct012017

Foodie Destinations in Africa - Capetown, Marrakech, Zanzibar

When you visit some of our top destinations in Africa you’ll find culinary options across the continent that are as diverse as the people and the many cultures and customs that make it so vibrant. And if you’re one of those people with a penchant for both food and adventure, exploring far-flung destinations with your taste buds may be one of your top reasons to travel in the first place. In fact, sampling local flavors is one of the most authentic cultural experiences you can have in a foreign city. In the melting pots of Capetown, Marrakech, and Zanzibar, food influences from across the globe mix together with a result that is nothing like what you will find at home.

Capetown, South Africa

Capetown is not only a culinary capital on the African continent, it’s also known as a top foodie destination around the world. Traditional South African cuisine is hearty and flavorful, and often meaty. One dish you’re likely to find on many menus is boerewors, a coiled sausage made from beef and either pork or lamb that is usually grilled and often served with a porridge called pap. Cape Malay curry is another local favorite, created with local produce and a signature mix of spices like saffron, turmeric and cinnamon. Carb lovers might gravitate toward bunny chow, a curry dish served inside of a hollowed out bread loaf that hails from the coastal city of Durban known for its colonial and Indian influences. For more modern tastes, the Mother City’s food scene is continuously expanding with new cutting edge restaurants popping up on the regular, often helmed by world-famous chefs creating innovative menus that incorporate the most current global food trends. Check out our in-depth survey of the current restaurant scene for more specific restaurant ideas: The Cape of Good Eats.

 Marrakech, Morocco

From high-style modern fusions to the most traditional Moroccan dishes, from food stands inside the frenetic medina to cozy, darkly lit caverns to restaurants on the rooftops of souks, there is something in Marrakech for every taste and budget. Feast under olive trees on locally sourced vegetables and herbs, or oysters fresh from Dakhla, or delectable steak tartare, while Andalusian music plays softly in the background. Not sure what to order? On more traditional Moroccan menus you’re more than likely to see tajine, which is a succulent Berber stew named for the pot in which it is cooked, and Tanjia, which is a simple dish made from beef or lamb slow cooked overnight in urns on hot coals, oil, spices and preserved lemons. Tanjia stalls are prevalent around the city, and they also serve mechoui, which is whole roasted sheep, and roasted sheep’s head. Harira soup is another typical moroccan dish, it’s quite filling and generally combined meat with flavors churned up by a base of tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas. In Marrakech the food is delicious and the richness of the culture and surroundings only enhance the experience. Imagine breakfast in your luxury riad or cocktails with views of the Atlas mountains. Read more about luxury travel to Morocco with Epic Road here.

 Stone Town, Zanzibar

In Zanzibar’s capital city its historically Swahili cuisine has evolved over time to incorporate Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, and Arabian influences, which means for a smaller city the options are very diverse. Bucket list food items in Zanzibar include sorpotel, a combination of boiled diced meats that usually include some combination of tongue, heart and liver. Sorpotel is emblematic of the international nature of Zanzibari cuisine as it is originally a dish of Portuguese origin that gained its true identity by way of Goa. A menu item you likely won’t leave the region without trying is Pilau, a rice similar to what westerners call pilaf that cooks while soaking in a broth with a medley of spices, fried onions, meat and vegetables. Biryani is similar to pilau only the meat sauce is added after rather than during cooking. Boku boku is a good option for the less adventurous - a relatively simple dish of meat skewers flavored by cumin and ginger. As a seaside city, high quality fresh seafood of many kinds and in many forms is also readily available. The inner city of Stone Town is a UNESCO world heritage site with beautiful architecture, and you can’t beat eating on a rooftop, watching the sun set on the Indian Ocean, surrounded by the sounds of prayer calls. Stone Town and its surroundings will tantalize all your senses - read more about luxury travel to Zanzibar with Epic Road here.

Wednesday
Sep202017

Cape of Good Eats

Cape Town’s Jet Set Dining Scene Takes Center Stage

Updated September 20, 2017 

You’ve frolicked with penguins, hiked to the top of Table Mountain and navigated Noordhoek Beach on horseback.   If you think your luxury safari trip can’t get any better, think again.  Cape Town’s Jet Set dining scene is an eclectic feast, with world-class menus built around an evolving array of food and flavors, and restaurants characterized by their cool vibe, gorgeous patrons and edgy design.  This dynamic global city offers a fusion of influences—African, Mediterranean, Asian and French—and one-of-a-kind eateries abound.  It’s a foodie’s delight, serving everything from fresh seafood to imaginative gourmet dishes, and here are a few of our favorites.

THE SHORT MARKET CLUB: Located just off happening Bree Street, The Short Market Club is chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ newest venture, following the success of his other restaurants Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club. Dale-Roberts’ wife Sandalene has spearheaded the design here, creating an impressive ambiance by marrying old-world elements like antique barn doors and leather covered tables with a modern open kitchen that includes a Braai barbeque. The menu takes a cue from the design (or perhaps vice-versa) by re-inventing old classics with contemporary touches: Highlights include beef carpaccio with a miso-cured egg yolk, a crispy pig cheek with gorgonzola and granny smith apple, and perfect West Coast oysters.

BOUCHON BISTRO: Centrally located Bouchon Bistros is situated inside a winery which makes for earthy, cellar-like ambiance while still feeling upscale. Small plates and desserts are expertly paired with worldly wines, and the “Travel Through Your Glass” option, a weekly selection of wines by the glass, is a great way to taste and learn. Patrons come for the intricate dishes like artichoke and pea risotto or tender beef tataki and stay well into the evening for the romantic and cozy atmosphere. 

THE SILO HOTEL: Inside the brand new, luxurious Silo Hotel are three noteworthy spots to satisfy any discerning traveler’s food and drink cravings. On the sixth floor of the hotel, formerly a grain factory, is the Willaston Bar, a vibrant space with a long bar, deep blue velvet banquettes and soaring, pillowed glass windows that look out over the harbor. The bar then opens into the Granary Cafe, a refined eatery with an eclectic menu featuring delectable items like beef tartare, fresh seafood bouillabaise and a special Sunday Roast served on a carving trolley. Reservations at the Granary are advised. To round out the options, the Rooftop Bar at the Silo is an ideal spot to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand. The menu offers light fare and is open for lunch, too. 

THALI: Both menu and space are designed with groups both large and small in mind at atmospheric Indian tapas restaurant Thali. Exotic colors and patterns in the decor fill the restaurant’s multiple spaces, including a beautiful outdoor patio. Chef Liam Tomlin from Chef’s Warehouse does up an impressive menu with the highlight and most popular item being his signture “Tapas for 2” that may include such delicacies as black dhal, butter chicken, banana leaf steamed fish and tandoori cauliflower. Thali doesn’t take reservations but the bar is a cool spot to wait out a table.

VILLA 47: Family-owned Villa 47 offers three separate menus in a dynamic, multi-level space. Ground floor Locanda is a sleek Italian bistro and a choice spot for a mouthwatering eggs Benedict breakfast. One floor up, tapas bar and event space Stuzzico oozes a sultry nighttime vibe, an ideal place to sip an aperol spritz during DJ nights and First Thursday celebrations. The top floor venue, called simply Restaurant, offers a unique Asian-Mediterranean fusion menu in a luxurious space with rose gold mirrors and a central skylight. Yet another soon-to-be favorite, see-and-be-seen spot on buzzy Bree Street.

THE STACK: Housed in historic, 160-year old Leinster Hall, this traditional bistro proves that classic French fare need not be inventive to be delicious. An air of exclusivity trickles down from the members-only club upstairs while diners delve into a perfectly crusty croque madame or richly flavored coq au vin. The accomplished husband and wife team are trained hotelier and interior designer respectively, which is evident in the bold colors and high quality furnishings set between wood floors and pressed steel ceilings. 

HOKEY POKE: The Hawaian raw fish craze has officially come to the Mother City in the form of cool and funky Hokey Poke. The Menu features classic poke bowls as well as the option to choose innovative ingredients like samphire, jalapenos, or something called “nacho dust.” A strip of pink neon marks the entrance on narrow Church Street, and the interior white tiled tables and whitewashed walls are bathed in the same glow from a pink neon palm tree sign. Hokey Poke is decidedly casual - customers can order for takeaway and it’s still BYOB while they wait for their liquor license. 

CAFE CAPRICE: Café Caprice is where the cool kids are on a Sunday night. Combining artisan cocktails, a casual menu, relaxing landscapes and sidewalk seating, Caprice is at the heart of Cape Town's cosmopolitan social scene and has become a virtual landmark on the Camps Bay promenade. The ultimate sunset viewing spot but the fun doesn't stop there because hours are '9 a.m. till late'. *Thursday-Sunday, DJ's fill the space with laid-back house music.

BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB: As soon as you see the bejeweled tiger suspended from the ceiling, you know you’re in a quirky place.  With its bohemian vibe and kitschy, over-the-top neon décor, the design of the Bombay Bicycle Club may seem as though it would trump the menu.  But the restaurant takes its food very seriously, and offers an outstanding menu of fresh fish, giant juicy prawns, and gourmet platters of local meat, including venison tapenade, lamb shanks, and what many claim are the best ribs in Cape Town. 

THE BUNGALOW: Delicate plump sushi, smooth fleshy slivers of line fish, beef carpaccio, piles of prawns, panna cotta that wobbles like a voluptuous woman on stilettos…rustic The Bungalow may be, but food has never made the wooden board it's served on look so good.  Add to that a list of South Africa's best wines and champagnes (yes they stock French Champagne too), along with cocktails that preen and pose on the menu like a line of chorus girls waiting to be cast.  Despite all the fanfare about the food and the booze, nothing will prepare you for the magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean afforded from the dramatic cliff upon which The Bungalow sits in the ever-chic Clifton neighborhood—and never mind the well-heeled, gorgeous local patrons you will encounter.  Barefoot is the new Louboutin at The Bungalow, and as the sun drowns itself in a puddle as pink as rose champagne, curl up with your lover in a velvety private nook, or go find a new one on the sun-dappled deck.

ASOKA: In the shadow of Table Mountain on Kloof Street is Asoka, a stylish Asian fusion restaurant, bar and lounge, known for its distinctive design.  Located in a charming Victorian townhouse, Asoka’s main dining room is build around an open courtyard with an ancient olive tree—referred to as the Dharma Tree—growing straight up the middle.  An outdoor deck with a cozy copper fireplace, inventive menu of tapas and cocktails, and regular live jazz also add to Asoka’s ambiance of comfortable elegance and laid-back romance.

GRAND CAFÉ & BEACH: Perched on the pristine beach of Granger Bay, this local favorite is barefoot elegance at its best. More casual and less menu-focused than some of its competitors, Grand Cafe & Beach is a prime spot for groups to grab pizza and and libations on a sunny day. 

THE POT LUCK CLUB: Located on the top floor of the Old Biscuit Mill on Albert Road, Woodstock - a former industrial complex taken over & reinvented by new merchants, night markets, restaurants and designer stores. The Pot Luck opened its doors in February of 2013 and has since filled 2 sittings every night throughout high and low season alike, running to capacity of one hundred and twenty guests. Dubbed one of the coolest spots to kick back in Cape Town, the Pot Luck owes its success to fantastic views, innovative tapas-style cuisine & a relaxed yet edgy environment in a part of the Cape that has never before attracted an evening dining crowd.

HEMELHUIJS: Hemelhuijs is Dutch for heaven’s house. And if it's any indication of what breakfast tastes like in heaven, you might want to consider behaving yourself from here on out. You should also know that lunch is just as divine...mouth-watering creations such as pear-and-celeriac salad accompanied by hazelnuts & trout. Located on one of Cape Town's few pedestrian walkways, at the corner of exquisite and sublime, where fanciful treats are displayed in gold-painted bowls and beneath a collection of chandeliers intricately crafted from driftwood & star-shaped seedpods (whatever those may be). Hemelhuijs is an impressive showcasing of food, ceramic ware & lighting - so be prepared to take home some extra weight both on your person & and in your suitcase. Not to worry though, it will all be offset by much lighter wallets.

CHEF'S WAREHOUSE & CANTEEN: In need of a food fix & a good book list? Chef's Warehouse & Canteen gives you Liam Tomlin inspired tapas to take in on Bree Street and recommended recipe books to take home on the plane. Mediterranean, European and Spanish make for an ever changing menu with reoccurring favorites such as the feather-light gnocchi, al dente risotto or fresh oysters with shredded nori & lime, to be enjoyed with a side of Parmesan crisps and a cold craft beer or warm artisanal tea depending on the day. Rain or shine, desert is non-negotiable - silky smooth lemon posset & chocolate fondant with essence of orange and a scoop of orange ice cream. Don't trouble yourself with difficult decisions, you're on vacation, get both. 

MULBERRY & PRINCE: A stylish New York inspired eatery located at 12 Pepper Street, Cape Town. A marriage of South African & American conceives unto you creamy stracciatella with lovage and charred bread; cod with an ajo-blanco-inspired sauce; slow-cooked pork shoulder in brodo with burnt leeks and cucumbers & ricotta gnudi with parmesan broth and mushrooms. To complement Mulberry & Prince edgy menu, the space adheres to understated elegance and gives you a chic New-York feel with a South African flair. Expect stained glass, dirty pinks, lush velvets and an eclectic mix of custom-made and modern furniture alongside walls clad in the works of Cape-Town-based artist Kurt Pio.

TEST KITCHEN: A revolutionary blend and beautiful harmony of Peruvian, Venezuelan and Ecuadorean flavors. The Test Kitchen will not only inspire your taste for fine food but will further support your desire for mind-expansive travels. Award-winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts' appoints travel as his muse and the base for most if not all of his delicious creations - "my time in Europe taught me to cook; my time in Asia broadened my horizons". Exceptional South African produce, hand-made plates and bowls, accomplished wine flights, delectable nine-course tasting menus, theatrical style and risky food pairings make for an extraordinary gastronomical experience. Plan ahead, as tables at Test Kitchen can be booked online as far as three months in advance and it’s the most sought-after reservation in town. 

BELUGA: European and cosmopolitan, Beluga is housed in a century-old building and features an open-plan kitchen. It’s renowned for a sophisticated menu of sushi, dim sum and seafood selections, as well as contemporary twists on more traditional meat platters like Lamb Shank with wasabi mash, and Beef Ribs braised in coriander and ginger. On a warm night, ask to be seated in their beautiful stone courtyard. Beluga also has a very vibrant bar scene, offering a fun selection of cocktails—like white chocolate martinis and mojito lollies—that can double as desert. 

NOBU: For those craving a familiar taste, Nobu Cape Town at the luxurious One & Only Hotel and Resort is the first African outpost of the high-end sushi empire, and the menu features unique twists on the restaurant’s classic Japanese cuisine. Indulge in fresh local seafood with indigenous spices and flavors—like the popular Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno—paired with inventive Sake based cocktails from the restaurant’s trendy lounge.  After experiencing Nobu South Africa, home won’t feel so far away. 

THE ROUNDHOUSE: Nestled in the glens of Table Mountain and with sweeping views of Camps Bay and the expansive Atlantic waters, the Roundhouse will inevitably appeal to more than one of your senses. Tapas-style European cuisine with a touch of South African character and an extensive wine collection allow for unique tailored pairings and beautiful displays - every dish is truly a work of art. 

DUTCHESS OF WISBEACH: A restaurant that operates by Mae West's wise words, "you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough". Written up as a hip cross between a New York speakeasy and a Parisian cafe, with fun music and a Mediterranean menu that all help to create a buzzing cool vibe. Homemade ice cream flavors change all the time so no matter how many times you go, you're always in for a delicious surprise. 

KLOOF STREET HOUSE: Dark, boozy and cool. Kloof Street House is an eclectic restaurant, bar and lounge, featuring richly furnished dining rooms set in a gorgeous character-filled Victorian room. Go back in time and go for Sunday lunch Jazz, romantic candle lit dinner or drinks in their cozy garden resting under the shade of cooling lush palm trees. Enjoy mouthwatering sharing boards, Saldanha Bay Oysters and a variety of Moroccan, French and locally inspired dishes.  

Looking to lunch like a local and have a casual bite? Try Culture Club Cheese or Bacon on Bree, which are right next door to each other. 

SOUTHERN SUBURBS - Constantia, Noordhoek, Simons Town

Cape Town’s southern suburbs hold their own in terms of gastronomical delights. We’ve mined the options and picked the best in case you find yourself out that way or feel like getting out of the fray of the city - these are worth the trek. 

In Constantia...

GREENHOUSE: Modern South African fine dining at the serene Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel. Acres of lush gardens and vineyards surround the property where the restaurant has been carefully built around a beautiful 300-year old oak tree. Perhaps inspired by these surroundings, ever dish at Greenhouse tells a story, or such is the motto from this team of accomplished chefs, who make painstaking effort to create a harmony of flavors by selecting and combining local and meaningful ingredients. The artful presentation is almost as impressive as the food itself, and the kitchen is especially accommodating to vegetarians and other dietary restrictions. Greenhouse has won multiple culinary awards and is hailed as one of the country’s best restaurants.

CHEF’S WAREHOUSE AT BEAU CONSTANTIA: Chef Liam Tomlin’s newest outpost is situated inside beautiful boutique wine farm Beau Constantia. The open plan kitchen helmed by Ivor Jones, previously of Test Kitchen, and the elegant space offers some of the best views over the valley and False Bay. As with Chef’s Warehouse downtown outpost the signature experience here is “tapas for 2”. The ever-changing menu of chef’s selections is driven by seasonal and produce-driven mix of ingredients; current or past examples include coal seared blesbok and pork fillet with roasted apple. Of course, the excellent array of wines to pair with the food enhances the experience with opportunities to sample the farm’s own range called Pas de Nom and their bespoke Beau Constantia label, among many others. 

LA COLOMBE: La Colombe is contemporary cuisine at its' finest. A creative twist of Asian, a touch of French and a flair of local inspiration make for an unexpectedly delightful fusion. Sourced from the restaurant's organic gardens, paired with an award-wining wine list & served over sweeping views of Constantia Valley. It's no wonder La Colombe is a frequent contender on Cape Town's Top 10 and no stranger to S.Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants. "The freshest seasonal produce, uncomplicated clean flavours and classical elegance are the essence of my inspiration and the passion for my food” - Chef Scot Kirton.

FOXCROFT: Renowned chef Scot Kirton has opened a sister restaurant to famed La Colombe in partnership with his pastry chef - and Foxcroft’s namesake - Glen Foxcroft Williams.  The airy, welcoming space has a freestanding central fireplace and an open kitchen and the menu focuses on quality, seasonal ingredients, like a 7-day dry aged duck breast with turnips and fermented plum. And Williams’ in-house bakery serves up crave-worthy homemade breads and freshly made pastries. Foxcroft has a  laidback and comfortable design, while much of the furniture and lighting fixtures are locally designed. 

In Noordhoek...

THE FOODBARN:

The Foodbarn serves fine dining-quality food in a relaxed setting within family-friendly Noordhoek Farm Village. Chef Franck Dangereux, who got his start at La Colombe, has succeeded in creating a comfortable space for both adults and kids to enjoy beautiful food prepared with respect and love, without all the fancy bells and whistles. A place with a focus on sustainable and organic ingredients where one will find fresh bread and coffee roasted from local beans. And beyond just the restaurant, the experience here includes the Foodbarn Deli, a space that sells pastries and other takeaway items during the day and then turns into a vibey tapas bar at night. There’s also a secondhand Barn Bookshop, a favorite among area locals, and at Foodbarn Studio occasional interactive cooking demonstrations.

In Simons Town...

MANGATA: Located on busy St. Georges Street in Simons Town, the chef team behind Mangata, lead by owner William Sharp, has created a contemporary French fusion menu with staples like delicate ostrich carpaccio with bloody Mary jelly, a richly delicious duck breast, and a fantistic creme brulee. Also highly recommended are the 3- or 7-course chef’s tasting menu. The ambiance here is relaxed yet romantic - in colder months it’s a great spot to enjoy a drink by the log fireplace, or in the summer snag a spot on the balcony for views of Simons Town Harbor out to False Bay. If you’re doing a peninsula tour Mangata is the best alternative to some of the more touristy eateries. 

 

Tuesday
Sep122017

Top Destinations for Foodies in Japan, India, and Sri Lanka

Japan, India, and Sri Lanka have some of the most incredible offerings for food lovers that complement or even anchor the extraordinary experiences that can be had on a bespoke luxury trip to Asia with Epic Road. For some people, sightseeing and adventurous excursions are even just a way to fill the time in between meals, and even if you don’t consider yourself a true “foodie” a fantastic meal may end up being one of your favorite trip memories. Maybe it has something to do with sensory overload - the texture of the freshest sushi, the exotic aroma of the spiciest curries, that sleepy satisfaction following the finest meal that’s heightened by tropical surroundings.

TOKYO, Japan

Serious foodies know that Japan’s capital city has some of the best restaurants in the country, which as a whole is known for its incredible cuisine, and boasts some of the best food on Earth. In fact, Tokyo is the city with the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Fresh and innovative sushi is an obvious choice, and a visit to the world-famous Tsukiji Market is a must. Tokyo has excellent food offerings of all kinds that prioritize high-quality seasonal ingredients. Specifically, Yakitori - skewers of meat roasted over hot coals - is a good option for carnivores, as is Kobe beef and Wagyu, a delectable marbled beef that comes from a breed of Japanese cattle. For the Japanese comfort food comes in the form of noodles; in a place known as Ramen Street eight of the best shops cluster together. A visit to a brewery to taste the best sake in the world comes at a price but is worth the indulgence. Excellent dining options are found everywhere from street stalls to back alleys to exclusive eateries, including an Epic Road signature experience involving a private dinner with a geisha and musicians. 

RAJASTHAN, India

India’s Rajasthan region has some of the best food in this colorful nation, and the city of Jaipur sits at the top of the list of foodie hot spots with a cuisine that is influenced by a rich culture of exotic spices, busy bazaars, and diverse religious influences, as well as by its environment. Rajasthan is arid, but despite the dearth of vegetables that grow here the food is primarily vegetarian, with recipes including an abundance of lentils, beans, red chilies, buttermilk, flatbread, rice, garlic, and different types of curries mixing together various spices like fennel, turmeric, and cumin. Perhaps the most famous Rajasthani dish is called dal baati churma, a combination of three distinct flavors and textures: balls of dough (baati) that are usually dipped into a bowl of spice lentils (dal) and then churma, a mixture of wheat, ghee and sugar. Dal baati churma is emblematic of the Rajasthani way of combining sweet and savory in one meal, with no demarcation between entree and dessert. To sweeten the overall experience in Rajasthan, Epic Road can arrange a private full moon excursion to the magnificent Taj Mahal at sunset or a stay at the sophisticated Jawai Leopard Camp in the Aravalli Hills where meals include organic produce from their own garden. 

SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, the island’s colonial history means that the culture and gastronomy both have Portugese, Dutch and English influences. The food also takes a cue from nearby India with a strong focus on rice and curries, albeit without the bite - Sri Lankan food tends to incorporate milder spices like cardamom and cinnamon. Expect to see a huge variety of flavors in menu offerings, with unusual options like pumpkin curry with mustard seeds, jackfruit curry, and side dishes like mixed leafy greens with coconut, flatbreads and homemade chutneys. As a relatively small country, it’s possible to sample and savor it all in one trip: a visit to the tea plantations in the southern hill country, the high end restaurants and street food stalls in cosmopolitan Colombo, and fresh seafood restaurants in northern Jaffna. For a really special experience, Epic Road can set up private cooking lessons for a chance to learn - and taste! - more about this underappreciated cuisine. 

Click here to a deeper look at the incredible travel experiences to be had in different parts of Asia with Epic Road, and read more in depth information on our pages about Japan, India, and Sri Lanka

 

Wednesday
Sep062017

Off the Beaten Path Travel in Africa - Festivals and Ceremonies

 For a truly unique adventure in Africa, consider a trip to take part in a colorful arts & music festival or an authentic tribal ceremony. Africa has so much to offer in the way of fascinating cultural experiences where visitors are more than welcome to join in the festivities, and keep in mind that the less-visited places can sometimes be the most culturally rich. Tourists have a unique opportunity to support locals in nations where the local people are some of the most welcoming in all the world. Below are a few examples of experiences to be had across the continent at different times of year: from a courtship ritual in Chad to a sacrificial voodoo ceremony in Benin or a Burning Man-style festival in South Africa, there is so much to explore. 

AfrikaBurn - South Africa - Much like its U.S. counterpart Burning Man, AfrikaBurn is a collaborative celebration of the arts where a community of volunteers and participants create a temporary city of theme camps, musical performances, visual art creation, elaborate costume exhibitions, and more. Located in the remote and arid Tankwe Karoo National Park, a beautiful spot to experience the region’s desert flora, fauna, and wildlife. 

Sauti za Busara - Tanzania - Each February, vibrant Stone Town in Zanzibar hosts a music festival where locals and visitors come together to experience the best of East African music through performances by hundreds of local artists. Visitors can expect an atmosphere filled with electric energy set against an incomparable backdrop of coastal scenery, including some of the world’s best sunsets. 

Timkat - Ethiopia - Celebrated every January over three days, Timkat - also called the Feast of the Epiphany - is a colorful religious event involving horsemen, bells, trumpets, and a mass. Priests ceremoniously extinguish a candle in a river which is generally followed by participants jumping into the water.

Lake of Stars Music Festival - Malawi - On the banks of Lake Malawi, arguably one of the most picturesque locations for a music festival in the world, the town of Chintheche hosts Malawian musicians as well as globally famous artists, and the music-lovers who celebrate them, for an annual festival in September/October that also honors Malawian culture and raises money for local charities. 

Panafest - Ghana - a biennial celebration of music, performance, strength and resilience, Panafest promotes unity of Africans and people of African descent. The weeklong festival hosts creative performers of all kind in the realms of theater, music, poetry, and more.

Durbar - Nigeria  -  An annual tourist-friendly festival in various cities of northern Nigeria, Durbar marks the end of Ramadan with a roaring celebration of loyalty to the Emir. Men in extravagant turbans show off their horsemanship while wild performances by musicians and acrobats are accompanied by the shooting of muskets.

Gerewol Festival - Chad - Gerewol is a colorful and exuberant festival of courtship that takes place annually in Chad among the Wodaabe, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders.  The young men dress up in elaborate costumes and engage with young female tribe members in dancing, singing, feasting and flirting rituals.

The Nguon Festival - Cameroon - A biennial event dating back over 500 years, the Nguon Festival celebrates the culture of the Bemouan people with stunning costumes, dancing and rituals. Named for a type of locust to celebrate the harvest, the festivities hit a high point when the current king is deposed, critiqued and then ceremoniously reinstated to his throne.  

Voodoo Festival - Benin - Once a year in January the Beninese people come together to honor their spirits with a ceremonial goat sacrifice, and to dance and chant to drumbeats and drink gin. The event happily intermingles thousands of voodoo devotees and plenty of curious tourists. 

Interested in planning an unforgettable trip to the heart of Africa? Email us at hello@epicroad.com. 

 

 

Thursday
Jul202017

Top Tips for Your Honeymoon in New Zealand


If you’re planning a honeymoon to New Zealand, you’ve chosen one of the most pristine, otherworldly places on earth for your once-in-a-lifetime trip. With daring adventure travel to test your nerves, gorgeous, cliff-clinging luxury lodgings to calm your body and mind, and gourmet meals with local wines, produce and meat to tease your senses, New Zealand is a top choice for honeymooners. We’ve compiled a list below of just a few of the most romantic, memorable experiences in the land of the Kiwis. 

Stay

On the North Island, The Lodge at Kinloch, Taupo, is a modern version of a dramatic Scottish castle, where guests take in views of the gorgeous lake or play golf on their renowned par-72 course. For those wanting proximity to Auckland but a taste of country life, the Boatshed at Waiheke Island is a short ferry ride away, set amidst gardens, olive oil farms and vineyards. 

On the South Island romance, seclusion and outdoor adventures abound. At mountainous alpine lodge Blanket Bay, Glenorchy, honeymooners hike on trails past waterfalls and wildflowers, then unwind with soul-soothing spa treatments and cozy nights in front of the fireplace. Annandale, an elegant working farm on a peninsula near Christchurch, offers guests the luxury of a private chef in an off-the-grid location surrounded by fields full of roaming sheep. 

Taste

New Zealand has a culinary scene with top notch restaurants like the award-winning Sidart in Auckland, or the plethora of fine dining options in Wellington, the country’s culinary capital. Food is of the highest quality everywhere, with many luxury properties sourcing fruit and vegetables from the gardens on their own property, and sheep and cow meat is all free range. Freshly caught seafood in the form of mussels from local farms or Tuatua, a type of indigenous New Zealand shellfish that isn’t found anywhere else in the world, are readily available. For a truly authentic experience try Hangi, a Maori specialty comprised of some combination of fish, chicken, sweet potato, pumpkin, cabbage and root vegetables, cooked in a hole dug in the ground and best experienced on a visit to a Maori village. For wine enthusiasts visiting Marlborough, New Zealand’s most famous wine region, is a must. 

Experience

For adrenaline junkies, the best thrill ride of your life might be a bungy jump with your new spouse over the Nevis River in the Nevis Swing, which can hold two people. In Abel Tasman National Park, beautiful Cleopatra’s Pool is a good spot for a romantic dip, or ride down a waterslide that has been formed naturally by moss covered rocks. During the summer months (January - March) the beaches at Herne Bay are a luxe locale to see and be seen near surf and sun, while swimming with dolphins off Kaikoura and Lake Taupo fly fishing round out the outdoorsy activities for the more adventurous. During winter, heli-skiing in Queenstown is a surprisingly affordable, and unforgettable, treat, as is snuggling up at a prime spot on Stewart Island or Dunedin to watch the fantastical Aurora Australis, the Antarctic Circle’s answer to the northern lights. 

Contact us at hello@epicroad.com to start planning your perfect New Zealand honeymoon, and check out our main New Zealand page for more general information. 

 

Friday
Jun302017

New Zealand Travel: Top Surprising Facts

 

When planning your dream trip to New Zealand you’ll learn about all the best travel experiences, from daring outdoor adventures in Aoraki/ Mt. Cook National Park, to cultural immersion with the indigenous Maori people at a marae near Auckland, to touring with your taste buds through the Marlborough wine region. But whether New Zealand has been on your ultimate travel bucket list for years or you just added it, some of the following fun facts may surprise you:

1. World of Sheep - New Zealand is home to 40 Million Sheep and just about four million humans, which is the highest sheep to human ratio in the world. Sheep roam freely at some of the country’s top resorts, like the Annandale or Minaret Station.

2. Bungee Pioneers - The first-ever commercial bungee jump took place in New Zealand in 1988. The best spot for it now is world famous Nevis Bungee over the Nevis River,  a major adrenaline rush for even the most adventurous thrill-seeker. 

3. New Zealand is for Wine Lovers -  Marlborough on the north island is the biggest region and best known for its tantalizing and flavorful sauvignon blancs. Two-thirds of the wine produced in New Zealand is white but red wine enthusiasts will find plenty to satisfy their taste buds too. 

4. Golf Central - New Zealand has the most golf courses per capita in the world with more than 400, some of which are situated surrounding the most magnificent resorts, including Kauri Cliffs at Matauri Bay or The Farm at Cape Kidnappers.

5. Southern Lights - The southern hemisphere’s counterpart to the Aurora Borealis is the Aurora Australis and New Zealand is one of the best places to see this natural and fantastical light show in the sky. 

6. Shrinking Mount Cook - In 1991 a large rock fall sliced a full ten meters off the top of New Zealand’s highest peak turning the summit into a knife edge ridge, which means present day climbers will never reach as high in the sky as the early mountaineers. One of those early explorers was Emmeline Freda Du Faur, the fourth person to summit Mt. Cook, and she was faster than all of the men who preceded her. 

7. The Littlest Penguin - New Zealand (as well as neighboring Australia) is home to the world’s smallest penguin species, known as Korora by the native Maori, or also just called Little Penguin. These tiny friends stand at an average of just 13 inches tall. 

8. Culture Trip - For the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population, a typical greeting doesn’t involve a handshake or a hug but rather a Hongi, where two people press their noses and foreheads together at the same time.

 

Visit our main New Zealand page with more info about the mind-blowing experiences and luxurious lodgings you might find on a trip with Epic Road to this utopian corner of the world. 

Wednesday
Feb012017

Safari With Epic Road & Adopt A Baby Orphaned Elephant At The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust In Kenya

Elephants have lived on Earth for over 55 million years. 

Over just the last 100 years, we have lost 92% of elephants to habitat loss & ivory poaching.


A typical story...a baby elephant’s mother is illegally poached for her tusks which are turned into ivory trinkets and sold to supply the voracious demand of the wildlife trade. If the baby elephant is not also killed, she is often found draped over her mothers carcass, traumatized, and on the brink of starvation with no access to her mother’s milk.

Kenya's David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues, rehabilitates and re-introduces orphaned baby elephants back into the wild. And as you can see, they are extremely well cared for.

@epicroad is a proud supporter of the DSWT and provides its' travelers with the special opportunity to have a private visit with dozens of orphaned baby African elephants who are being cared for until they are able to be released back into the wild.

Like human children, baby elephants need toys and stimulation. Highly intelligent, with a giant memory, they duplicate human children in many ways, so during infancy, distractions of all sorts must be built into the daily routine. The Keepers take them on walks and play with them every day, they even give them weekly coconut oilings which the eles are particularly fond of.

Cause for celebration is when a baby elephant plays for the first time, because only then can one be sure of a reasonable chance of success as an elephant will only thrive if they are happy.

Be that cause.

Email us at hello@epicroad.com to start planning your next transformative travel experience.


In this video you will see Epic Road Co-Founder Mark Lakin and client Jennifer Wexler meet, connect and bond with these playful and extraodinarily intelligent animals. 

For All Inquiries Email: hello@epicroad.com

Follow Us On Instagram: @epicroad

Thursday
Jan122017

The Best Travel to the Seychelles & the Seychelles' Best Kept Secret

The Best Travel to the Seychelles & the Seychelles' Best Kept Secret

The Seychelles is the ultimate destination for a luxurious beach vacation. Typically reserved for the most special of occasions, the Seychelles is the perfect destination for a honeymoon, wedding anniversary, the romantic retreat of her dreams, the best escape from reality - but that's due in large to the fact that the Seychelles is one of the most luxurious beach destinations in the world - a.k.a, one of the most expensive. But if you can afford it, that's all the reason you need. And whereas the Seychelles evokes that once in a lifetime exclusive, intimate, private beach dream trip for two, the Seychelles' 115 isles are also a preferred destination for a family vacation or a great escape for no particular reason. 

If the Seychelles is on your radar, as it should be, you can find everything you need to know about the Seychelles and how to have the most extraordinary of experiences whilst there by reading through Epic Road's Signature Honeymoon in the Seychelles.

Epic Road is an award-winning custom-design travel company - named Top Travel Specialist by Travel+Leisure two years in a row (2016 & 2015), with a special acknowledgement for our expertise & insider knowledge pertaining to the African continent & the best luxury travel to Africa as well as to Antarctica & Japan. 

So if you're looking for a customized, seamless & unforgettable experience - rest assured you'll get nothing less than when you travel to the Seychelles with Epic Road. 

To start planning your luxury safari to the Seychelles, just send us a note at hello@epicroad.com

And to uncover one of the Seychelles' best kept secrets, simply read on.

A 26 Foot Tall Raised Coral Reef Home to 100,000 Giant Tortoises

From above, the Aldabra Atoll, adrift the Indian Ocean, looks like a giant utopian green fortress - much like the Aldabra tortoise from which it gets its' name - a 470 pound gentle giant native to these waters and these bathlike turquoise waters and the greater Seychelles archipelago that dwells upon them. The species roam freely (and slowly) across many & most of the 115 isles, but this one atoll in particular is home to more than 100,000 i.e. two-thirds of the species' global population. This same atoll is also home to the world's second largest raised coral reef, topping out at 26 feet! 

A World Heritage site, consisting of four coral islands encircling an immense central lagoon and bizarre limestone structures referred to as champignons like the one pictured above. Over time, tidal waters will erode the coral, gradually chipping away at the structure's teetering stem before eventually toppling over into shallow waters.

Epic Road is your go-to travel resource for extraordinary, unique & impactful experiences all around the world. Our goal is to provide you with the knowledge & access so that you can do incredible things like reconstruct coral or get hands on with Aldabra tortoise conservation from one of the most arrestingly beautiful far-flung corners of the world; so that you can discover how to travel with purpose and always leave a place better than you found it; so that you can see for yourself that travelling this way always makes for a far better experience.

Epic Road was born out of the idea that you should never have to sacrifice consciousness for luxury to have an incredible travel experience, and that in fact, the most extraordinary of journeys include both moments of indulgence & inspiration. We pride ourselves on creating trips that make our clients feel alive with the right blend of adventure, immersion, education, comfort & safety...trips that focus on exploration and enjoyment, yet blend in experiences that broaden your perspective of humanity and the environment. 

Thursday
Jul142016

The Best Safaris to See Lions - Top 5 Safaris to See Lions by Africa Travel Experts at Epic Road

The lion is perhaps Africa's, if not the world's, most iconic animal. Travelers come from near and far to see the African lion, but sadly there are fewer than you might think. We have lost 98.4% of lions. If you've just read that and paused to reflect on how alarming 98.4% is, you'll be encouraged to know that your travel dollars to Africa's leading national parks often entirely go to the conservation and protection of these big cats. Eco-tourism is alive and well in Africa and the great part about safaris is that you're not only having an extraordinary experience, you're helping to conserve our world's incredible wildlife. Even the safari lodges turn around and contribute a great portion of their earnings to help protect the animals. So now that we've given you the best reason to go on safari, let's run through the best safaris to see lions. The following safaris are in our opinion, the top 5 safaris to see lions: Masai Mara National Reserve, the Okavango Delta, Serengeti National Park, Mana Pools National Park & the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary.

Best Safari to See Lions #1 - Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The Masai Mara is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, globally famous for its exceptional population of lions (as well as leopard, cheetah and many other species). This is where BBC filmed their series 'Big Cat Diaries' and where Disney filmed their documentary 'African Cats'. So if you plan to visit the Masai Mara for spectacular lion sightings, these two films serve as the ultimate teaser for what's to come. And that is because you will safari along the Mara River and through the territories of the Marsh Pride and a number of other lion families that were actually depicted in both these films.

The Masai Mara is also the stomping ground for Great Plains Conservation, an amazing company founded by National Geographic filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert, and a leading expert in eco-tourism. Their mission is to find the perfect balance of conservation, communities and commerce that allow for a sustainable and long lasting impact on both wildlife and wilderness. Their safari lodges and properties are phenomenal, their guides know the land better than anyone else and their dedication to and deep knowledge of the African continent will make for a truly extraordinary safari experience.

Best Safari to See Lions #2 - The Okavango Delta, Botswana

Botswana's Okavango Delta was named the 1000th site on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Simply put, the Okavango Delta is mind-blowing. It is one of the few places in the world that still feels untouched by man, wilderness and wildlife abound and you truly feel as though you've entered a different world. And to top that all off, the Okanvango Delta hosts one of the densest lion populations on the African continent. The Okavango Delta is an earthly paradise for Africa's big cats which allows for its safaris to boast guaranteed lion sightings.

Within the Okavango Delta is Great Plains Conservation's Duba Plains, a permanent island with exclusive access to a unique lion habitat and particularly know for its confrontations between these hungry cats and big herds of buffalo. The buffalo are trapped by surrounding water, a well-known fact to resident lions and your front seat ticket to epic battles between the two species.

Another camp to keep on your radar is Selinda Explorer's Camp. The property has access to a channel where the Okavango Delta links with the Linyanti and Kwando water systems, and where lions are often seen preying on hippos.

The Okavango Delta hosts an abundance of prey and is considered the predator capital of Africa. It is almost as if the delta was formed to give lions an upper hand in hunting, and this means you'll undoubtedly see a lot of them. A safari in the Okavango Delta is hands down one of the best safaris to see Africa's big cats.

Best Safari to See Lions #3 - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The Serengeti is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world, in other words, it's a must on your top safaris list. The Serengeti National Park is home to the Great Migration, the largest terrestrial mammal migration on the planet, and similar to the Okavango Delta, lions and other predators certainly take advantage of the abundance of prey. 1.7 million wildebeest migrate in search of food and water and the lions follow. It's virtually impossible to miss a herd of that size so follow the migration and you can bet you'll see lions trailing behind.

With the right guide, and at the right time of year, you can expect more than 150 lion sightings. You'll see them resting on the ground, wading through the waters, taking down their unlucky prey and climbing nearby acacia trees. And that is why the Serengeti offers one of the best safaris to see lions, as well as one of the best safaris overall.

Best Safari to See Lions #4 - Mana Pool National Park, Zimbabwe

Depending on how close you wish to get to Africa's lions, a safari at Mana Pools may or may not be for you. Zimbabwe's Vundu Camp within the national park conducts walking safaris, enabling visitors to approach wild lions more closely on foot than anywhere else on the continent. So if you're up for it, you'll approach on foot to about 50 yards and then crouch down and continue to inch forwards within 20 yards. The experience is exhilarating and not to worry, you will be escorted and directed by an expert guide. These walking safaris operate from May through November, but a regular safari is available year-round.

Best Safari to See Lions #5 - The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary, South Africa

The Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique opportunity for volunteers and avid travelers who are interested in hands on lion conservation. The sanctuary was created by Kevin Richardson himself, often called the 'Lion Whisperer' and you can forego teh typical safari experience or pair with it, and spend 1-4 weeks working with Kevin, his team and the lions under their purview.

Volunteers work from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, 6 days a week and while much of the work is physically demanding, it is incredibly rewarding to know that you're actively helping to conserve one of our greatest species. And if you're lucky, you may get the chance to interact with some of the younger animals.

Head of International Development for Twitter, Marie Sornin, has recently launched an incredibly inspiring personal project involving Kevin's work. She and her husband will volunteer at the sanctuary in November 2016, and will thereafte spend the next year raising funds for another couple to do the very same thing. That couple will volunteer their time in 2017 and fundraise for the next and so goes the cycle. It's a great way to actively encourage people to get involved in lion conservation and help raise awareness about the plight of the species, which is the sanctuary's ultimate vision. To learn more about how to get involved, send us a note at hello@epicroad.com

 

Wednesday
Jun222016

The Best Honeymoon Safaris - Top 5 Honeymoon Safari Destinations According to Travel Experts at Epic Road

This list of our top 5 honeymoon safaris are each the perfect blend of romance and spectacular wildlife sightings. Africa is home to epic landscapes, natural wonders, incredible cultures, iconic wildlife and remote romance. It really is the perfect destination for newlyweds looking for an extraordinary romantic getaway. After all, a honeymoon is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and an African safari vacation is exactly that. The best honeymoon safari destinations according to us are Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia and the Seychelles. We recommend Benguerra Island and Tofo Beach for Mozambique, Zanzibar for Tanzania, the Cape Winelands & Kruger National Park for South Africa, Hardap for Namibia and both North Island and Fregate Island for the Seychelles.

Best Honeymoon Safari #1 - Benguerra Island & Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Mozambique is the perfect destination for incredible underwater safaris and an all-around 5-star luxury experience, as we wouldn't suggest anything less for your honeymoon. The warm current contributes to the never-ending buildup of the pristine sandy coastline, over which coutless palm trees dangle - creating an idyllic tropical island stretch of beach.

An exquisite piece of paradise surrounded by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean where the pace of life slows and the scent of fresh grilled lobster fills the air. Relax on intimate beaches and only get up for a dip in the crystal clear, bathtub-like waters.

Situated on the second largest island in the sunny Bazaruto Archipelago off the coast of Mozambique, is &Beyond Benguerra. Set in a protected marine conservation area boasting unspoiled coral reefs teeming with marine life. Looking out onto a sandy beach and set on a deep lagoon unaffected by the tides, this exclusive beach getaway is ideal for swimming and snorkelling. Surrounded by premier diving sites, the lodge provides access to an underwater wonderland with a rich variety of tropical fish species complemented by Africa’s only population of the rare dugong. The deep Mozambique Channel, which runs alongside the island, is renowned for its game fish and Benguerra Island offers some of the world’s best catch-and-release deep sea fishing and fly fishing opportunities. While the island is fringed with golden, sandy beaches, its interior is a lush patchwork of forests, wetlands & fresh water lakes. Horse riding trips and island expeditions cross both the coastline and the interior of the island, uncovering traditional culture at the local village and climbing soaring sand dunes.

As for Tofo Beach, it just so happens to be the world's premier destination for swimming with whale sharks and manta rays.

Best Honeymoon Safari #2 - Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar is a gorgeous white-sand archipelago located off the coast of Tanzania and home to historic Stone Town, one of East Africa's last remaining ancient cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can wander the town's narrow cobblestone streets and bustling marketplaces, swim in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean and come face-to-face with the exceptional aquatic life that Zanzibar has to offer. One of our favorite properties here is the Mnemba Island Lodge. The lodge occupies a previously uninhabited island just 5 km from the eastern coast of Zanzibar and at its center lies a tropical forest, home to spaniel-size suni antelope and brilliantly colored butterflies. The lodge itself boasts ten private bandas perfectly nestled in between lush forest and white beach.

Best Honeymoon Safari #3 - Cape Winelands & Kruger National Park, South Africa

A trip incorporating both the Cape Winelands and South Africa's Kruger National Park is the perfect romantic getaway. The Winelands' breathtaking bucolic hills, award-winning vineyards, restaurants and 5-star luxury properties paired with Kruger's 2 million hectares of land and over 147 species of mammals is simply guaranteed to be incredible - and that's exactly what you want for your honeymoon.

The Winelands has the quintessential charm and activities such as biking through the vineyards with a romantic picnic at sunset and Kruger has the adventure, the adrenaline-filled safari and the experience of a lifetime that will surely make the best of memories - and both have the luxury. Our selection of properties in the Winelands are mostly private estates boasting suites with verandahs and pools overlooking the vineyards and our selection of properties in Kruger are built on the very grounds that the animals call home, so you can often see them grazing or galloping by as you relax from your private jacuzzi as the big African sun sets, champagne in hand.

Best Honeymoon Safari #4 - Sossusvlei & Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Namibia is beginning to make an appearance on travellers' radars, especially those looking for an epic getaway that is romantic, luxurious and adventurous all at the same time. Namibia gets its name from the Namib Desert, a 10 million acre expanse of mountainous terrain, broken up by endless streaks of red and golden dunes and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. It's both rugged and peaceful in the sense that the surrounding wildlife and wilderness have adapted to harsh surroundings in an incredible way. The coastline is scattered with sunken shipwrecks and massive seal colonies, meanwhile lion, antelope, elephant, rhino and more roam the dunes. And you get to observe all of this from light aircraft or hot air balloon above and quad bike or 4x4 on ground. You can also trek up the dunes and roll down!

As for the properties, they're mind-blowing. The challenge of eco-tourism in Namibia has led way to incredibly innovative and luxurious desert lodges - ones that reflect and respect the natural surroundings yet provide every comfort imaginable. Among our favorites are Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Little Kulala and Serra Cafema.

Namibia is considered one of the top stargazing destinations in the world. Skies are often cloudless, there is little to no artificial light or pollution contamination and the overhead views of the southern constellations are truly unmatched. Some of our favorite lodges, as mentioned above, feature private rooftop sky beds built above open-aired luxury suites so that you can literally sleep under the stars.

In Namibia, everything is uncapped - the romance, the luxury, the nature, the wildlife and the adventure.

Best Honeymoon Safari #5 - North Island & Fregate Island, Seychelles

Saving the best for last may apply here. The Seychelles is a drop dead gorgeous archipelago of 115 pristine islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Kenya. We always say that the best part about the Seychelles are the sweeping vertical views, because when you're relaxing from your private pool or swinging lounge chair for 2, the panoramic view looks out over spectacular mountain tops, crystal clear waters, crescent shaped white powder beaches and some of the msot massive granite rock formations on the planet. Warm weather year-round, amazing luxury properties, award-winning beaches such as Anse Source D'Argent and spectacular diving make the Seychelles the ultimate destination for an exclusive luxury honeymoon.

North Island and Fregate are both private islands, exclusively accesible by helicopter or small boat. As North Island features only 11 villas, each at 5,000 square feet and with your own private butler on call 24/7, the property guarantees a truly luxurious experience. Rates include just about everything from scuba diving, private yacht rentals, hiking and kayaking but the price certainly reflects the abundance of services and amenities. Fregate Island similarly boasts 16 intimate villas, each one nestled into the coastal line, with a private pool and sunken jacuzzi and a sumptuous daybed overlooking the lush jungle behind and the deep blue seas beyond. Fregate Island is also home to 7 beaches, one frequently voted 'most beautiful beach in the world'. And we haven't even covered the spas...

Now onto the safari part. The Seychelles is consistently rated one of the best diving destinations in the world. Sea turtles, sting rays, whale sharks and a plethora of tropical fish decorate the healthy coral reefs and granite alcoves. And keep in mind that all of the resorts we recommend feature house reefs, which means that what will easily be the best diving or snorkelling experience you've ever had, is just steps from your daybed. The Seychelles is also home to 660 pound giant tortoises. The Aldabra Tortoise is native only to the Seychelles, they roam freely on the islands and will happily eat a handful of leaves right out of your palm. To learn more about our signature honeymoon in the Seychelles, click here.

Friday
May132016

The Best Safaris to See the Big Five - Top 5 Safaris to See Africa's Big Five

When researching the best safaris, you will often come across 'the Big Five'. The Big 5 refers to the African lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. These animals certainly aern't the only ones you wish to see on your luxury safari, but if your travel time is limited or this is your first safari, we definitely want to make sure you see as many as Africa's incredible wildlife as possible - including of course the iconic big 5. We have chosen five safaris that we feel are the top 5 safaris to see the big 5 and they are the following: Kruger National Park & Madikwe Reserve (South Africa), Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania), Masai Mara (Kenya), the Okavango Delta & Chobe National Park (Botswana) and Hwange Park & Mana Pools (Zimbabwe).

It is sometimes difficult to see all members of the big 5 on one safari but at the right park, with the right guide and at the right time of day, you can certainly maximize your chances. Safaris usually take place in the early morning or at night, as the animals escape the midday heat and hide out in the shade for the better part of the afternoon. Expert guides know the land better than anyone else, as well as the animals' behavioral patterns and habitat preferences, which is key when trying to get a glimpse of the leopard for example, as they are such an elusive species. Many of the parks do offer self-guided tours but we do recommend that you opt for a fully guided safari at least once during your stay. Conveniently, many of the luxury safari lodges have in-house guides who are often times the best you can get.

If you want to really prepare for your safari, you can always learn about the species beforehand. To do so, visit our post on Seeing the Big Five on a Luxury Safari in Africa. With that, there's nothing left to do but read on for the 5 best parks to see Africa's incredible animals!

Best Safari to See the Big Five #1 - Kruger National Park & Madikwe Reserve, South Africa

Kruger National Park is South Africa's flagship game park as well as one of Africa's best national parks overall and one of the most famous nature reserves in the world. Kruger is home to over 147 species of mammals including over 2,000 lions, with 5-8 lions per 100km2. Kruger also hosts an elephant population of over 13,000, an estimated 37,000 buffalo, 1,000 leopard, 1,500-3,000 white rhino and 300 black rhino.

Madikwe Game Reserve is listed as the 5th largest game reserve but unlike Kruger, it is one of the lesser-known parks in South Africa. This allows for a more intimate experience while still offering an extraordinary safari and the chance to spot the big 5. Madikwe boasts common elephant, lion, white rhino and buffalo sightings whereas catching a glimpse of the black rhino and leopard is a little less frequent. Hippo, zebra and wildebeest are also common sightings throughout the park, as well as the endangered wild dog. Granted, the wild dog is not a member of the big 5, but given their highly endangered status, it is a rare privilege to see them and Madikwe has an exceptional population of these amazing animals.

A combined safari with Kruger National Park and Madikwe is hands down, one of the best ways to see the big 5 and an all-around incredible experience.

Best Safari to See the Big Five #2 - Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

A safari in Tanzania is one of our all-time favorites, arguably our preferred safari overall, so the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater are certainly the way to go. The Ngorongoro Crater is a must as one of the world's most astonishing natural wonders, and the Serengeti is the perfect pairing as a quieter, more private safari experience.

Lions and other predator populations are always relative to the number of prey, so with sizeable numbers of blue wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and buffalo, the Serengeti is also home to a large population of lions. With 2 million wildebeest, 900,000 gazelle, 300,000 zebra and 70,000 buffalo, it makes sense that these vast plains are also home to 4,000 lions and 1,000 leopard. Serengeti National Park also hosts 2,700 elephants and though the rhino population is uncertain, the park has made great efforts over recent years to reintroduce and help protect the species. The Serengeti is also home to the Great Migration, the largest migration of mammals on the planet, so not only will you get to observe the big 5, you will see them interact with one another as they move through the ecosystem in search of food and water.

As for the Ngorongoro Crater, it is one of the most beautiful natural wildlife safari sites in the world and an exceptional place to see the big 5. The Ngorongoro Crater is a highly-esteemed wildlife sanctuary, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 8th Wonder of the World and Africa's Garden of Eden - home to over 25,000 large mammals, thereby making it the densest concentration of wildlife on the continent.The grounds are home to a healthy population of all members of the big 5: rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo. Other wildlife include cheetah, jackal, gazelle, hyena, foxes, flamingo and large herds of wildebeest. The wildlife stays in the crater year-round so there's really no bad time to visit, but it's a popular site and may therefore be more pleasant to visit during the shoulder or low seasons.

Best Safari to See the Big Five #3 - Masai Mara, Kenya

The Masai Mara lies directly on the path of the Great Migration, thereby making it the ultimate location for extraordinary wildlife sightings. The animals migrate from the Serengeti plains further north to Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. Much of what applies to the Serengeti in terms of wildlife sightings, is similarly relevant to the Mara. The reserve is home to roughly 825 lions, 35,000 elephants, 40 rhino, thousands of Cape buffalo and a healthy leopard population. The Mara hosts over 95 species of mammals and reptiles including resident crocodiles, spotted hyena, cheetah, giraffe and over 570 recorded species of birds. Similar to the Serengeti, the Mara's dominant inhabitants are the wildebeest, their numbers consistently ranking in the millions.

A safari in the Masai Mara can be done by open-aired vehicle, hot air ballon, on horseback or by foot. The Great Migration runs through Kenya from July to October but regular safari is on offer year-round and is amazing in its' own right, even preferrable to those who ardently wish to avoid crowds of any sort during their travels.

Best Safari to See the Big Five #4 - The Okavango Delta & Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is one of Africa's last remaining great wildlife habitats and as such provides refuge to huge concentrations of game, including every member of the big 5. The delta sustains robust populations of white and black rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard. It is home to 130 species of mammals, 482 birds, 64 reptiles, 89 fish and over 1000 different plant species.

What is fascinating about the Okavango Delta is that the animals have adapted to the wetland habitat and resident lions have actually learned to swim in pursuit of their prey as well as climb trees for a better vantage point. The lions of Duba Plains within the delta have also developed the habit of hunting during the day as opposed to at night - this is good news for you as it means you will have better chances of spotting these big cats. Buffalo are typically the favored prey of lions and it is a common saying in the Okavango Delta that 'where there's buffalo, there are lions'.

As for Chobe National Park, it is Botswana's third largest park and has one of the largest game concentrations in Africa. Chobe is home to huge herds of elephant and buffalo as well as high numbers of lions and leopard and a smaller population of rhino. The area is famous for having the biggest elephants in the world both in size and number, with an estimated 35,000 to 55,000 depending on time of year. The elephants are extremely fond of the Chobe riverfront and have more or less claimed it as their own so you will most likely see them chasing other wildlife away from the water. The image above was taken at Chobe National Park and does a decent job of portraying a herd's territorial dominance over the waterfront...

Best Safari to See the Big Five #5 - Hwange National Park & Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe's largest game park extending over an area of 14,600 km2. It is a haven for wildlife and home to vast herds of elephant and buffalo and over 500 lions. Leopard sightings are fairly uncommon as per usual and rhino sightings are unfortunately rare. Outside of the big 5, Hwange also has an exceptionally large concentration of giraffe and a significant population of zebra.

To safari through Hwange National Park today is to see what much of Africa looked like centuries ago, and it's truly extraordinary.

Mana Pools is also up there as one of Zimbabwe's best parks and a World Heritage Site, coined as such even before the great Victoria Falls. The Zambezi River runs right through the park which is very inviting to the animals, especially elephants and lions. Mana Pools is also home to the other members of the big 5, rhino, buffalo and leopard and as you might imagine, the region attracts very large hippos and crocodiles. Mana hosts a special walking safari where you can safely get within just yards of lions and other big mammals - these operate between the months of May and November. Regular safari is available any time of the year.

Final Notes

The African continent has so much to offer, even beyond the most amazing safaris. Africa is home to many of our Earth's natural wonders, the few remaining indigenous tribal cultures and a selection of mind-blowing luxury lodges. Planning your safari can be a little tricky with so much to choose from, animal migratory routes and seasons to take into consideration but not to worry, that is what we're here for. Epic Road was named Top Travel Specialist by Travel+Leisure, notably for our expertise in travel to the African continent, so if you're looking for a customized & seamless experience, just send us a note at hello@epicroad.com.

Thursday
Apr142016

The Best Family Safari Lodges in Tanzania - Top Safaris for Kids & Families in Tanzania

An African safari is an incredible travel experience for everyone and for every occasion whether it's a honeymoon, a romantic getaway or a family vacation. As for families, especially those travelling with younger children, you want to make sure that the destination, accommodation and experiences are all child-friendly and can be enjoyed by everyone. A safari is the ultimate vacation for families, and even more so if you select the safari lodge that is right for you.

We have compiled the following list of the best family safari lodges in Tanzania & the top safaris for kids and families when visiting Tanzania. Our selection features lodges that expertly combine the notions of luxury, comfort, safety, fine foods, breathtaking natural surroundings, surreal proximity to Africa's iconic wildlife and last but not least, fun for all ages.

It is important to note that in the interest of safety however, the majority of safari camps do have age restrictions when it comes to younger children participating in safari game drives. These restrictions vary but most recommend that kids, at most, under the age of 12 or, at the very least, under the age of 6, not partake in game drives - the decision is often left upto the property manager's or your guide's discretion. To compensate however, many of the lodges have designed amazing programs that are specifically geared towards children with activities and are both fun-filled and educational. Moreover, the properties in the below list of the best family safari lodges all feature an incredible selection of activities that parents and children can enjoy together.

&Beyond Bateleur Camp

&Beyond Bateleur Camp is technically located in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park but seeing as it shares a border with Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, and given its' phenomenal reputation as one of the best safari lodges for families, we opted to include it regardless. &Beyond Bateleur Camp was listed as highly recommended at the Safari Awards 2016, specifically under the category of 'Best Family Safari Experience'.

The lodge easily and happily accommodates parents who wish to share a room with younger children. Safari game drives are available to children aged 12 and above, though those aged 6 to 12 are allowed on game drives per the lodge manager's discretion. Whereas children under the age of 6 are not permitted to participate in game drives, the camp has a series of supervised kid-friendly activities that can be arranged during your safari as well as during meals.

There is one thing in particular that makes the &Byeond Bateleur Camp such an exceptional safari lodge for kids and families - the &Beyond WILDChild Programme. As its' name suggests, the program was specifically designed for children and includes a series of exciting and interactive activities that offer opportunities to learn and to appreciate and partake in new experiences and cultures. Upon arrival, every child is given a signature WILDChild bag containing a logbook, crayons, pencils, an age-appropriate toy and more. It also contains a personalized welcome note as they want your child's experience to be just as special as yours.

Lamai Serengeti

Lamai Serengeti is operated by Nomad and is in our opinion, one of the best family safari lodges in Tanzania. Lamai is incredibly welcoming to families and features a great selection of activities that can be appreciated by adults and children alike. Whereas children under the age of 12 are generally not permitted on walking safaris, regular game drives are slightly more flexible here. Extraordinary animal sightings are great to share with the family and will surely create amazing memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. Lamai's pool is also child-friendly!

At Lamai, you can end the day with signature sundowners (juice for the kids) on top of 'the rock', home to an entertaining troop of baboons and panoramic views of the breathtaking, seemingly endless plains.

The accommodation at Lamai is comprised of 12 raised luxury suites, 8 of which are at the Main Camp and the remaining 4 make up the Private Camp. The front walls are made of mosquito gauze so that you can enjoy the views of the Serengeti and its' iconic wildlife even from the comfort of you bed. Depending on the size of your family, we may recommend that you book the 4-room Private Camp exclusively, which then has the added advantage of your own dining room, lounge and swimming pool.

Singita Sasakwa

Singita Sasakwa is the ultimate family safari lodge. The property is extremely welcoming to children of all ages, has babysitting services on offer and tailor-made activities to suite each and every family. Children's participation in safari game drives and related activities are left to the discretion of your private guide. Activities that children can partake in include swimming, archery, snooker table, tennis, baking lessons with in-house chefs, arts & crafts, visits to the Environmental Education Center, face painting, and a special program called the Mini Ranger's Course.

The program is specifically designed for young explorers are includes the following: tracking animals, frogging, butterly capture & release, a cosmic safari, learning bush survival techniques, flower-pressing, game-spotting competitions, nature quizzes and a final Ranger's test. Upon completion of the course, children are awarded a special certificate.

There are only 10 accommodation units at Sasakwa, including 9 cottages with the option of 1-3 bedrooms and 1 villa, all featuring a private infinity pool. For bigger families, we do recommend the villa which boasts 4 bedrooms.

Little Chem Chem

Little Chem Chem offers a great safari experience for families. Little Chem Chem features just 5 exquisitely decorated luxury tents, which you can rent out in its' entirety if you are travelling with a lot of family members. Each tent either has a king-size bed or twin beds, a charming rocking chair and study desk, a vanity area with dressing room and an en-suite bathroom. Each tent also has its own private fire pit so families can sit together and enjoy the sounds and star-speckled skies of the African night.

Not specific to families, but worth mentioning nonetheless, is the unparalleled wilderness and proximity to wildlife. Lions roam the camp and call for each other at night, elephants march down to the lake to cool off and spray themselves with water, cheetah sprint by before your very eyes and the surrounding dense woods are full of iconic African wildlife including leopard and eland.

Activities on offer include both day and night game drives, animal tracking experiences, photographic safaris, private helicopter tours, hot air balloon safaris and more.

Serengeti Bushtops

Serengeti Bushtops is a Tanzanian haven for family safari seekers. Their 2 family tents are ideal for bigger families, especially since they are linked by a short bridge to create a private family suite that can accommodate up to 8 persons. One thing to note however is that only children over the age of 7 are permitted to stay at Serengeti Bushtops.

Activities beyond the safari game drive include walking safaris, breakfast in the bush, local community visits, Kuria archery lessons, Swahili lessons, traditional board games, aromatherapy massages and simply relaxing from your private outdoor hot tub. If you're feeling social, you can also hang out at the open-aired restaurant, library or sit by the campfire and pool.

Private Selous Family Safari

The Private Selous Family Safari is perhaps the bespoke family safari experience to be had in Tanzania. You experience the luxury of an entirely private safari lodge with a private guide and camp crew who are dedicated exclusively to your every need and to ensuring that your safari experience as a family is nothing short of perfect and better than you could have ever imagined. Take full advantage of private safari game drives, the private pool, your luxury open-aired suite, the nearby hot springs and Miombo forest and essentially what will be your own private little corner of Africa.

One of our favorite experiences for families here is fly camping. An afternoon walk leads you to a small camp set by the water where adults can enjoy fun cocktails and everyone can enjoy a 3-course dinner under the stars. In our opinion, 'glamping', or glamorous camping, is the ultimate compromise or happy medium for parents and kids so we definitely recommend that you opt for fly camping during your stay at Selous.

 

Friday
Mar112016

Top 10 Festivals in India - Time Your Travels around India's Most Popular Festivals

There are endless reasons to visit India - Indian cuisine, tiger safaris, national landmarks ranking among the 7 Wonders of the World, a diverse landscape including the northern Himalayas and the golden beaches of Goa, and an incredibly vibrant culture largely contributed to by India's most popular festivals. As a year-round destination with so much to offer, when to visit India can often be a tricky undertaking, so why not plan your travels around India's best festivals? There are said to be more festivals in India than there are days of the year so we have compiled a list of the top 10 festivals in India that should absolutely be taken into consideration when planning your next visit. So make the most of your travels and celebrate some of India's most popular festivals where beautiful colors, music, food, arts, religion and people come together and bring even more life to an already extraordinary destination.

Keep in mind that some of these festivals have a specific location and others are celebrated country-wide, so make a note of which Indian cities are at the top of your list and select festivals accordingly - or vice-versa.

Read on for Epic Road's list of India's Top 10 Festivals. And if you're looking for travel experts to plan a custom itinerary for you so that you can have a worry-free vacation, visit our signature travel to India page or email us at hello@epicroad.com and we'll take care of everything, from the moment you leave and until you return, down to the very last detail. We were recently selected as 'Top Travel Specialist' by Travel+Leisure so rest assured, you'll be in good hands.

1. Diwali - The Festival of Lights

Diwali is one of India's most popular and prominent Hindu festivals, also known as the Festival of Lights. During Diwali, people celebrate all over the country by decorating their homes with clay lamps, candles and Ashok leaves. Everyone takes to the bustling streets and markets to show off their new clothes, to share sweets with friends, family and visitors alike and to light the night with fireworks and crackers.

Diwali takes place over the course of 5 days between mid-October & mid-November every year. (Specifically scheduled for the darkest new moon night during the month of Kartika in hte Hindu lunisolar calendar)

2. Ganesh Chaturthi - The Elephant-Headed God, Pujas & the Final Day of Visarjan

Ganesh Chaturthi is another very important Hindu festival in India, celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God. Beautifully crafted life size idols of Ganesha adorn both the interiors and exteriors of homes and are further used to compliment public pandals or fabricated structures that are commonly used in religious ceremonies. During this festival, people celebrate with song, dance, theater, and a special focus on giving back with the setup of free medical and blood donation stations.

Ganesha Chaturthi is a 10-day affair that takes place in either August or September. (Specifically scheduled for the 4th day of the 1st fortnight during the month of Bhadrapada in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) Pujas are performed every morning and every night and the last day of the festival is known as the day of Visarjan - the immersion of an idol in a body of water. You probably won't be present for the entirety of the festival so you should definitely try to make the last day as it's said to be the most special.

3. Holi - The Festival of Colors

You could say that Holi is a prime contender and Diwali's main competition for the title of India's most famous festival. Not only is it celebrated country-wide, Holi is internationally acclaimed and probably the most well-known Indian festival beyond national borders - Holi is often referred to as the Festival of Colors. On the eve of Holi, people celebrate by constructing enormous Holika bonfires and thereafter singing and dancing through the night. On the actual day of, everyone gathers to partake in the world's largest paint fight - people cheerfully decorate each other with every color imaginable and some come fully decked with water guns and colored water filled balloons. The festival commemorates the victory of good over evil and the onset of spring.

Holi is held in March (Specifically scheduled for the full moon during the month of Phalgun in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) and though it is celebrated all over the country, the most vibrant celebrations can typically be found in the North.

4. Navrati & Dussehra or Durga Puja - The Holy Ganges & a 10-day Celebration

The first 9 days of this festival are known as Navrati and are filled with dance in honor of the Mother Goddess; the 10th day is called Dussehra and this 2-part festival is observed country-wide. In Eastern India however, the same festival is referred to as Durga Puja, where large statues of the celebrated Goddess are made and then immersed in the holy waters of the Ganges. Regardless of where it takes place, what it's named or how it's celebrated in different regions, this is by far one of India's best festivals and an incredibly social oriented event, allowing you the amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and both observe and partake in the dramatic dance performances that Navrati, Dussehra & Durga Puja are so well-known for.

The festival takes place between the months of September & October. (Specifically the first 10 days of the month of Ashwin in the Hindu lunisolar calendar)

5. Krishna Janmashtami - Mathura, Vrindavan & Human Pyramids

Krishna Janmashtami is a particularly esthetic and colorful festival beyond being one of India's most important religious festivals. People fast during the day, they break with a special meal after dusk and then go on to visit temples, pray, dance and sing throughout the night. Younger children are often dressed up like Lord Krishna as this festival celebrates Krishna's birthday. A special traditional component of the festival involves people forming massive human pyramids in an attempt to reach and break clay pots which have been strung up high for the occasion.

The festival occurs in either August or September (specifically the 8th day of the month of Bhadrapad in the Hindu lunisolar calendar) and is celebrated by the Hindu community all over India - though the festivities in Mathura and Vrindavan are especially popular.

6. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan - 50,000 Camels & the World's Largest Pop-up Marketplace

The Pushkar Camel Fair is an incredible event where 50,000 camels and as many as a quarter-million people assemble in the tiny desert town of Pushkar, Rajasthan. It is a 5-day affair and is exactly what it's called - a camel fair - where merchants come from near and far to buy, sell and trade camels. The camels are adorned with jewels and dressed to impress, and the festival is accompanied by great feasts, cultural shows and the world's largest pop-up marketplace.

The Pushkar Camel Fair occurs in autumn, at the same exact time as the Kartik Purnima Full Moon Festival. So you're actually getting 2-1 as a livestock fair converges with a religious festival and takes over the beautiful rural town of Pushkar. If you prefer to avoid the larger crowds that inevitably come with the fair, you can always arrive a few days before the actual event as the traders and their camels will already be there.

7. Kerala Temple Festivals, Kerala - Thrissur Pooram & Exotic Elephant Processions

The southern state of Kerala is a must when visiting India, regardless of any special festivities. That being said, Kerala's exotic temple festivals are definitely worth planning your travels around. Magnificent processions of bejeweled elephants fill the streets and are accompanied by colorful floats, fireworks, drummers and other musicians.

The temple festivals are only held in Kerala and the most popular of them all takes place at Vadakkumnathan Temple in Thrissur - it is hence referred to as Thrissur Pooram. They are held between the months of February and May and each one typically runs for about 10 days.

8. Goa Carnival, Goa - Never-ending Party on India's Beaches

Similar to Kerala, we recommend a visit to the golden hippy beaches of Goa any day of the year, but if you can, you might as well visit when it's exceptionally lively and experience a fantastic cultural celebration. Goa Carnival is greatly anticipated by all and attracts people from all over the world. During the festival, the streets come alive with color, enthusiastic parades, guitarists, musicians, traditional dance and all-around never-ending party.

The Goa Carnival typically lasts 3-4 days and is of course only held in Goa. It takes place during the month of February.

9. Onam, Kerala - Intricate Floral Designs & Snake Boat Races

Onam is yet another one of India's most important festivals as it marks the homecoming of legendary King Mahabali. People celebrate by wearing traditional dress, decorating the ground in front of their homes with incredibly intricate floral designs known as 'Pookalam' and preparing a very elaborate meal consisting of 13 dishes called 'Onasadya'. The main attractions of this lively festival include snake boat races (Vallamkali), as well as public dances such as Kaikottikali clap dance and the Pulikali procession where artists are disguised as tigers and hunters.

Onam is a 10-day harvest festival that occurs in either August or September and is only celebrated by the communities of Kerala. (Specifically corresponds to the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar)

10. Ratha Yatra, Puri (Orissa) - Colorful Chariot Parades

Ratha Yatra is a huge Hindu celebration and one of India's most famous festivals. The main attraction of the festival are the enormous, colorful and intricately designed chariots that are built to resemble temples and pulled through the streets of Puri. People come from all over the world and volunteer to help local priests pull these chariots all the way to the grand avenue of the Gundicha temple.

The festival is held during the months of June & July and only takes place in Puri, Orissa.

 

Tuesday
Mar012016

The Best Tiger Safaris in India - A List of the 5 Best Places to Spot Tigers

The iconic tiger is an elusive animal so we have narrowed down what we consider to be the best safaris in all of India, which are coincidentally reputed to be the 5 best places to spot tigers. The following list is primarily based on tiger population, documented tiger sightings and best experience overall. India is home to roughly 2,226 tigers residing across 40 different national parks but if you want to maximize your chances of seeing a wild tiger, we recommend that you opt for one of the following tiger safari parks: Bandhavgarh National Park, Ranthambore National Park, Kanha National Park, Jim Corbett National Park & Satpura National Park.

Read on for a brief description of each to figure out what the best tiger safari is for you!

And if you're looking for travel experts to plan a custom itinerary for you so that you can have a worry-free vacation, visit our signature travel to India page or email us at hello@epicroad.com and we'll take care of everything, from the moment you leave and until you return, down to the very last detail. We were recently selected as 'Top Travel Specialist' by Travel+Leisure so rest assured, you'll be in good hands.

1. Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Bandhavgarh National Park is consistently rated the #1 best tiger safari in India and the #1 best place to spot tigers for one simple reason - it has one of the highest densities of tigers in the region. The main area of Bandhavgarh extends over 100 square kilometers and is home to over 50 wild tigers. That may not sound like a lot but with only 2,226 tigers remaining in total and with a ratio of tiger:land that plays in your favor, you are almost guaranteed to spot a tiger at Bandhavgarh. To give you a good frame of reference, Kruger National Park in South Africa is spread over 19,485 square kilometers - nearly 2,000 times bigger than Bandhavgarh.

Note that within the park itself, certain zones are better than others for spotting tigers so if you want to book the best zones, we recommend that you do so well in advance.

Other animals at Bandhavgarh National Park include several different species of antelope and deer as well as native bison, fox, bear & leopard.

2. Ranthambore National Park, Sawai Madhopur

Ranthambore National Park is similarly rated as one of the best tiger safaris in India, if not the best. It is specifically known as the best tiger safari for photographers - in fact, the better images of Indian tigers that one can find were most likely taken at Ranthambore. Whether you're a professional photographer or not, a tiger safari with your loved ones is certainly something you're going to want to document so make sure to keep Ranthambore National Park at the top of your list.

It is one of India's largest parks, spreading over an area of 1,335 square kilometers with a population of roughly 50 tigers.

Believe it or not, the tigers are not the only attraction here as the park is dotted with gorgeous ancient ruins, including a fort that both the tigers and leopards are particularly fond of - so you might be lucky and get an amazing shot of a regal tiger lounging about or slowly walking by, with the added benefit of distinct local architecture in the background.

Other animals at Ranthambore National Park include leopard, jungle cats, crocodiles, hyenas, sloth bears & native foxes.

3. Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Kanha National Park is one of the best places to spot tigers because the grounds are primarily large open meadows. Beyond providing better tiger sightings, the grounds are also strikingly beautiful and home to the hard-ground barasingha, an endangered species of deer that can only be found at Kanha.

The park extends over 950 square kilometers and hosts roughly 130 Indian tigers.

Other animals at Kanha National Park include wild pig, striped hyena, black buck & ant-eating pangolin (aka a scaly anteater).

4. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

Jim Corbett National Park has a great reputation as one of the best tiger safari parks in India partly because it's been around since 1936 and is therefore one of India's oldest parks. After your safari through Jim Corbett, we highly recommend that you visit one of the grounds' watchtowers and get a bird's eye view of the wildlife below and beyond.

The park is located in the foothills of the Himalayas, spreads out over an area of 500 square kilometers and is home to over 165 tigers - making it one of the best preserved national parks in all of India.

Other animals at Jim Corbett include leopard, sloth bears, deer, jungle cats & fishing cats. Most notably however is a thriving population of over 600 Asiatic elephants - this is why Jim Corbett National Park is often referred to as 'Elephant Park'.

5. Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Satpura National Park is the best tiger safari for travelers looking for a more private and intimate experience. Only 12 vehicles are permitted in the park at a time so if you absolutely want to avoid any crowds, you should highly consider a tiger safari at Satpura. Satpura is unique as the only park that offers a walking safari, allowing you to disembark from the jeep, explore the grounds and track the elusive tiger by foot - with an expert guide of course.

The park extends across roughly 525 square kilometers and is home to over 340 tigers.

Other animals at Satpura National Park include several species of deer as well as hyena, leopard, foxes, bears, wild dogs & flying squirrels.

 

*Alternate Tiger Safari Suggestions: Other great parks include Sundarbans National Park (West Bengal), Pench National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Tadoba National Park (Maharashtra), Nagarhole National Park (Karnataka) & Bandipur National Park (Karnataka).

 

Monday
Feb152016

Why an Okavango Delta Safari Needs to be on Your Bucket List

Why does an Okavango Delta safari need to be on your bucket list? Here are our top ten reasons that help to explain why the Okavango Delta is one of the best safaris and an adventure of a lifetime. The Okavango Delta is located in Botswana, an extraordinary country located in Southern Africa. Botswana safaris are some of the best that the continent has to offer including Chobe National Park, the Kalahari Desert, Makgadikgadi Pans, Savute and the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve, but notably their flagship Okavango Delta safari. And that is due in large to the fact that the Okavango Delta is one of the best places to see the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, African leopard, Cape buffalo, White/Black rhino) and one of the, if not the, best water safaris as it hosts a series of winding waterways and an annual flooding making it one of the largest inland deltas in the world - which you get to explore by dugout canoe! Last but not least, the Okavango Delta is home to many incredible luxury safari lodges - including Mombo, Little Mombo, Kings Pool, Jao Camp and Zarafa Camp, conceived by National Geographic filmmakers Dereck & Beverly Joubert. The Okavango Delta is the ultimate safari destination, a unique romantic getaway or honeymoon and an overall must on any avid traveler's bucket list.

1. The Okavango Delta is a Beautiful Destination as One of the Last Unspoiled Wilderness Areas on the African continent.

The Okavango Delta is one of the last remaining unspoiled wilderness areas on the African continent. When you’re there, you truly feel as though you’re one of the few to have ever traversed certain landscapes and in some areas, you may very well be. Sometimes you even have the privilege to walk on tiny unexplored islands. The product of humanity is virtually non-existent with the exception of incredible sustainable luxury safari lodges, each of which blends seamlessly into the natural surroundings. The wealth of fauna and flora alike creates an atmosphere of enchanting no man’s land.

2. It is Home to Some of the Best Wildlife Sightings in Africa and is a Great Place to See the Big 5

The Okavango Delta may quite possibly be the best wildlife sighting and safari you’ll ever experience. Not only is the density of wildlife unparalleled but the proximity is extraordinary. You will undoubtedly come across prides of lions, packs of spotted wild dogs, humongous hippos, tree-climbing leopards, cheetah, hyenas, 300 lb. buffalos, innumerable elephants and giraffes, wildebeest, impala, zebra, incredible birdlife and so much more. You’ll observe these animals in their untouched natural habitat, you’ll see lions wading through the water, elephants rolling in mud to cool off, large crocodiles lounging in the sun, giraffes galloping across endless terrain and you’ll almost always be just a few feet away. The Okavango Delta is truly a wildlife wonderland and the best part is that the animals are living and thriving as they were meant to, the areas you will safari in are not closed off and are completely protected from human activity. Embarking on a safari through the Okavango Delta is like entering another world altogether. 

3. The Okavango Delta is a Year-Round Destination

The Okavango Delta is a year-round destination. Depending on what you’re looking for and looking to do, there is something for everyone every day of the year. Generally speaking however, Botswana’s Okavango Delta offers great animal sightings year-round. If you travel during the green season from December through March, you can expect intermittent showers but this also means extra lush vegetation and lots of young babies – seeing a lioness interact with her cub is a memory that will stay with you forever. Elephants are also a very affectionate species and watching them play together inevitably puts a smile on your face.

4. It is One of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa

The Okavango Delta is the 1000th site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 2014 and rightfully so. It also secures a position as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The Okavango Delta is a natural wonder in and of itself, an oasis amidst the parched Kalahari Desert. A vast ecosystem created by a localized seasonal flooding in an otherwise dry environment, each year approximately 11 cubic kilometers of water spreads over the area to form one of the largest inland deltas in the world. Whether you’re exploring the delta by hovercraft plane, boat, vehicle or foot, the landscape will truly take your breath away – lush greens, serpentine water trails, colorful birdlife overhead and incredible wildlife on the ground – what are you waiting for?

5. The Okavango Delta is One of the Best Water Safaris in Africa

The Okavango Delta is home to a series of mind-blowing canoe and water trails. The Okavango is a group of meandering waterways and scattered islands that are best explored by dugout canoe – locally known as mekoro. Mekoro are traditional canoes made by digging out the trunk of a large tree that grows in the area, such as an ebony tree. The mekoro has since evolved however in an effort to promote the preservation of large endangered trees and are therefore increasingly made of fibre-glass. One of our favorite experiences involves canoeing the famous Selinda Spillway, the waterway that connects the Okavango Delta to the Zambezi river. It is nearly impossible to depict these awe-inspiring waterways in a way that does them justice, which is why we’ve chosen the above photograph to accompany this post – though even the best image can’t convey the true magic of the Okavango Delta.

6. There is an Amazing Selection of Luxury Safari Lodges & Some of the Best Safari Guides

The Okavango Delta is home to amazing luxury safari lodges. Our favorite luxury safari lodges in the Okavango Delta include Vumbura Plains, Zarafa Camp, Selinda Camp and Duba Plains Camp. Vumbura Plains mimics the design of a contemporary beachside ranch getaway and features thatched villas each with a private plunge pool, outdoor shower and deck from which to enjoy the breathtaking views. Zarafa is probably one of the most well-known properties in the area as it was conceived by National Geographic filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert. Zarafa is an intimate camp with just four luxury tents and an insane attention to detail and hospitality. The Selinda Camp is composed of eight beautiful tents, adorned with traditional artwork and featuring deep stone baths. Duba Plains Camp is by far one of the more remote safari camps in the Okavango Delta. It is built on an island shaded by large indigenous trees and surrounded by expansive terrain – the ultimate location for wildlife sightings. These lodges all maximize on the gorgeous natural surroundings and provide unique experiences beyond the safari, such as romantic candlelit dining aboard a boat on the Zibadianja Lagoon. But even that is a safari in and of itself as the lagoon is often teeming with hippo and elephants.

7. The Okavango Delta is the Ultimate Destination for Photographers

The Okavango Delta is a photographer’s dream come true. Inspiring backdrops and wildlife and the proximity to both, allow for wanderlust-inducing imagery, whether you’re an aspiring photographer or simply wish to cherish the memories and share with others.

8. It is also the Perfect Romantic Vacation or Honeymoon & Hosts a Surreal Sunset

The Okavango Delta hosts a gorgeous sunset. The sky over Botswana is often graced with a big iconic African sun, that which we relate to the Africa of storybooks; it rises and sets over the mighty Okavango Delta. Part of what makes the sunset so mesmerizing is that the forefront will often be accompanied by a herd of elephants or other wildlife passing through. Additionally, some of the properties listed above host outdoor beds for stargazing and have personal binoculars and telescopes on sight for your convenience – because the sky will continue to enamor you long after the sun has set. 

9. The Okavango Delta is Home to One of the Largest Mammal Migrations in the World

The Okavango Delta is home to the second largest migration in the world, just after the Serengeti. At the onset of the rainy season in November, as many as 25,000 zebra begin their migration in search of water and food. As noted above, the wet season means an abundance of young and both zebra and wildebeest can run alongside their mothers within just an hour of being born. Witnessing a young zebra foal or wildebeest calf walk and run for the very first time is spectacular and evolution never fails to astound us – a young zebra is the same height as its mother so it can be shielded from predators such as lions and other big cats that prey on comparatively weak and inexperienced young. To note is that the migration throughout the Okavango Delta is extraordinary and surprisingly unknown as it is often shadowed by the Great Migration in Tanzania.

10. Botswana is Greatly Committed to the Conservation of Animals & Their Habitat

The Okavango Delta is committed to the conservation of the animals and their environment, an effort that resonates deeply with us as well. The Botswana government correctly recognizes not only the fundamental importance of ensuring that the wildlife remain protected but that the local communities benefit through this conservation. Many African countries struggle with disallowing the local population to hunt as it is a long-standing way of life for many and a means for income and food. By providing jobs that support the conservation of species, the local government and organizations on the ground can better protect the area while empowering Botswanans to do the same and maintain a sustainable way of life. And it makes sense for everyone, with the region being a leader in conservation, tourism is an increasing sector and those that travel from near and far to witness the wonder that is the Okavango Delta, allow for the continued commitment to the environment. It is referred to as eco-tourism and is done in a way that is not harmful to the natural habitat. That being said, the Okavango Delta will not remain a secret for long, so we encourage you to visit sooner vice later!

 

Wednesday
Jan202016

10 Reasons to Celebrate the New Year in Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa is one of our all-time favorite destinations any time of the year, but New Year’s is a particularly great time to visit and here are ten reasons why!

 

1. Award-winning Restaurants

The restaurants are obviously there year-round but dining on New Year’s in Cape Town is particularly lively and festive. For those of you looking for a glamourous New Year’s celebration, the Bungalow is an absolute must. The Bungalow is Cape Town’s replica of Malibu where you can watch the sun set beyond the edge of the Atlantic Ocean from the dramatic cliff upon which it sits and while sipping on an amazing selection of cocktails. Serving South Africa’s best wines and champagnes, delicate plump sushi, delectable carpaccio and endless choices of mouth-watering freshly-caught seafood. Other restaurants to consider are Mondiall and the 12 Apostles. A few things to look forward to at Mondiall are an excellent waterfront view of the fireworks and white mushroom crème brulee, meanwhile the 12 Apostles similarly features gorgeous views of the coast and a luxurious 5 course menu. To learn more about some of our favorite top restaurants in Cape Town, click here for our post on Cape of Good Eats.

2. Luxury Yacht Cruise

There’s nothing to welcome the New Year quite like a luxury yacht cruise in South Africa’s Camps Bay. A change of pace, great views and fun cocktails await.

3. Jet Set in the Cape Winelands

We can’t think of a better time to sample top vintages than New Year’s and of a better place than the Cape Winelands. So for those of you who have been to Napa far too many times and are looking to celebrate in style, consider spending New Year’s in Franschhoek, just an hour and a half from the center of Cape Town. The town of Franschhoek boasts a wide selection of internationally recognized and award-winning cellars and restaurants. It is also home to the annual Kinky Summer festival where you can dance the night away as the clock encroaches on midnight.

4. Winter is summer in Cape Town

For many of us, New Year’s is characterized by a cold snowy day from which we seek refuge by celebrating indoors. In Cape Town however, a southern hemisphere destination, the seasons are reversed and the best time to visit is during the hot sunny months of November through March – with New Year’s being right in the middle. Do note however that we’re not the only ones to know this, and if you’re planning on spending the holiday in South Africa at this time, it is best to book far in advance.

5. Festivals & Parties

The New Year’s Eve lantern festival in Nieu Bethesda is a great way to welcome the next 365 days. You can make your own lantern at the Bethesda Arts Center and later join the parade as the night draws to a close. Or rather celebrate ‘a la Great Gatsby’ and attend a 1920’s themed Masquerade ball at Chicago Piano Bar, where you can choose from a sit down dinner and dance or just partake in the dancing! There are so many festivals and parties to choose from when you spend New Year’s in Cape Town.

6. Ox Braai Roast

One of the biggest bashes in town and a traditional celebration. This annual New Year’s party involves a plethora of alcohol and perfectly roasted ox spits. From there, many will continue the festivities on the beach at Kenton-on-Sea, a small coastal town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, otherwise known as the Sunshine Coast

7. Swim with Penguins

New Year’s is the perfect opportunity for new experiences and it’s not every day that we get the chance to swim with penguins off the coast of South Africa. A day at the beach takes on a whole new meaning when you’re darting in and out of the water with 3,000 African penguins at Boulders Beach. Shark diving is also on offer for the adrenaline addicts and bucket list enthusiasts.

8. Kruger Park Safari

As a company with a deep appreciation for the African continent and its extraordinary wildlife, we’ll recommend a safari any day of the year so why not New Year’s? Kruger Park is a bit of a trek from Cape Town but as one of the largest game reserves in Africa, it’s certainly worth it. Kruger National Park is the flagship of South African parks – it extends across 2 million hectares of land and is home to an astounding number and variety of species including more than 150 mammals, just over 500 birds and roughly 115 reptiles. You will undoubtedly see most if not all of the Big Five: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhino.

9. Hiking Table Mountain

Most of us can agree that celebration is always better and more gratifying after a good challenge. Start New Year’s Eve with a hike up Table Mountain where you will see breathtaking vistas at every turn of the way. We recommend the Platteklip Gorge Trail which can take up to three hours but the panoramic view of the city and the surrounding sea at the top is the perfect way to jumpstart the ensuing night’s festivities.

10. Hot Air Balloon in South Africa

You can take on this experience in one or two ways. You can either embark on an enchanting balloon safari on New Year’s Eve or you can use the experience as a cure to New Year’s inevitable hangover. Wake up before dawn (or stay out until dawn) and float over the game of golden Magaliesburg or the bucolic hills of the Cape Winelands as the sun slowly creeps above you. Follow this spectacular experience with a champagne breakfast, especially if you’re going for the post New Year’s option - the hair of the dog is a thing for a reason. 

Friday
Dec182015

Africa's Best Beaches

When one speaks of taking a trip to Africa, 'safari' inevitably comes to mind. We're here to tell you however that Africa has so much to offer, and one of those things is an incredible selection of award-winning, off-the-grid gorgeous beaches. The beaches in Africa are out of this world, so read on to learn about some of our favorite beach destinations on the African continent. 

BEST BEACHES SEYCHELLES

Any list of top beaches in Africa worth reading includes the Seychelles - hands down, one of the best beach destinations Africa has to offer. 

The Seychelles, an archipelago of 117 islands off the coast of Kenya amidst the Indian Ocean, have emerged as one of the world's most romantic getaways. Prince William and Kate Middleton spent their honeymoon here and they certainly took advantage of some of Africa's greatest beahces. The private island of Desroches boasts several miles of secluded beach and amazing coral reefs where visitors enjoy diving, bike riding and moonlit dining. Those wishing to extend thir stay on the island can stay at the Desroches Island Retreat, the only accommodation on the island, featuring just 20 luxury villas, an incredible spa and a gorgeous pool built on the sea line. 

Other private islands to keep on your radar are North Island and Fregate Island. North Island is only accessibly by helicopter and truly tailors the experience to you, whether you want a romantic beach picnic, activities for the kids or a week dedicated to exploring the reefs, your wish is their command. Rates include just about everything from diving to private yacht tours to mountain biking. Fregate Island is simlarly only accessible by helicopter, small plane or boat and it's quite honestly one of the most stunning places you may ever lay eyes on. The island is home to 7 beaches, one of which is frequently voted 'most beautiful beach in the world', thousands of free-roaming Aldabra Tortoises who will happily eat a handful of leaves right out of your palm, unique tree-house dining venues and so much more. The property on Fregate Island boasts 16 gorgeous villas built into the coastline, each with private sunken jacuzzis, terraces and panoramic daybeds overlooking the lush jungle behind and the crystal waters in front. 

One of Africa's best beaches also qualifies as one of the world's best beaches and has been awarded as such, year after year. The beach we are referring to is Anse Source D'Argent and is also located in the Seychelles, specifically on an island called La Digue. Coined by many as the picture perfect beach for its dark boulders surrounded by pristine white powder sand and crystal clear waters that quietly lap the shoreline. 

BEST BEACHES CAPE TOWN

Camp's Bay Beach, Camps Bay, is located just outside of Cape Town. Graced with the ideal positioning, this gorgeous beach is situated adjacent to 5-star luxury properties, exclusive restaurants, upmarket clubs and cocktail bars. Camp's Bay Beach, truly one of the best beaches in Africa, is the recreational retreat for visiting celebrities and local luminaries alike. 

Next in Cape Town are the Clifton beaches. Featured in several different travel publications, the Clifton beahces are thought of as some of the most beautiful and romantic beaches in the world, let alone in South Africa. They received the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2014. 

Cape Town is also home to Bloubergstrand Beach. Offering one of the best uninterrupted views of stunning Table Mountain and Cape Town, this long beach is clean, quiet, and amazes visitors with its breathtaking panorama. 

BEST BEACHES MOROCCO

Legzira beach, Sidi Ifni, Morocco. This quiet, tranquil beach's primary draw is the amazing rock structures that stretch far out into the water, as well as the rarely seen off-the-grid water caves. Visitors particularly find a visit at sunset most beautiful and most memorable. 

Not to miss is the seaside town of Essaouira. What makes Essaouira so unique is the remnants of its bohemian past - crocheted rasta beanies are sold in the bustling souks and surfers come from all around the world to lap up the waves and what is now considered one of the top windsurfing spots on the planet. It's one of Africa's best beach destinations alright, but if you ever get bored of soaking up the sun and crisp ocean breeze, there's so much more to do. Hit the boardwalk where you can go wine tasting and watch snake charmers perform their best tricks! 

One of Morocco's most scenic routes runs right through Mirleft, another flourishing surf scene with gorgeous beaches and beckoning restaurants lining the main street. Other Moroccan beaches on our radar are Al Hoceima, Saidia and Taghazout. 

BEST BEACHES MAURITIUS 

Le Morne Beach, Mauritius. A gorgeous beach stretching more than 3 kilometers, with a visually stunning location - a mountainous backdrop paired with a light blue sea. The waters are so clear that visitors can observe the fish and other underwater life without ever having to leave the white sandy beach. 

BEST BEACHES KENYA

Diani Beach, Kenya. This beautiful 20-kilometer stretch of palm-fringed beach is nothing short of pristine and entirely kept clear of seaweed as a result of coral reef formation just offshore. 

Watamu is similarly incredible - boasting smooth white beaches and gentle turquoise waters. Watamu is within Kenya's Malindi Marine Reserve Park, a marine protected area, allowing for phenomenal snorkeling and diving, some even say the best in all of East Africa. 

BEST BEACHES MALAWI

Chitimba, Malawi. Not many inland beaches make Africa's best beaches list, but this one certainly merits the honor. Densely vegetated hills and trees wrap around the beach bordering one of Africa's biggest lakes, Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is, simply put, a freshwater paradise, and home to 1,000 different species of fish. 

Not to be missed is Likoma Island - an enchanting tiny island that has everything you could ever want from a beach vacation, pristine beaches, calm translucent waters, untouched reefs and the most relaxing atmosphere. Whether you want to lounge atop dramatic waterfront cliffs and watch the sun set, pick up a soccer game with the friendly locals or indulge in a gourmet dinner under a sky awash with innumerable stars - the beaches of Likoma have it all and will guarantee a truly incredible vacation. 

BEST BEACHES MOZAMBIQUE

Bazaruto, Mozambique is an idyllic tropical island beach. The island's peaceful sand beaches extend endlessly out into the clear turquoise water before dropping off into the azure hues of the Indian Ocean. Palm trees dangle over the beach, providing welcoming shade on hot summer days. The Bazaruto Archipelago is also renowned for its diving opportunities, so divers get the double benefit of great waters and a beautiful beach. 

Tofo beach is also one of Mozambique's best beaches. Characterized by an intimate stretch of beach with clear waters and for those who venture out into deep waters, a hotspot for divers and fishermen alike. 

BEST BEACHES NAMIBIA

Skeleton Coast, Namibia. This is not the typical clean sandy beach by the seaside, which in itself may lend to its popularity. A wild, wide, rugged stretch of beach between the Kunene and Swakop Rivers, cold air over the Atlantic Ocean colliding with the warm air of the Namib Desert often leaves the beach shrouded in fog. Curiosity seekers look out for ships that have run aground in the rocky, shallow waters off the beach. A great deal of seals and marine bird life can be spotted near the shipwrecks. Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe Namibia's Skeleton Coast. 

Other than being fun to pronounce, Swakopmund, Namibia should also be on your radar for Africa's best beaches. More of an adventure playground than a relaxing getaway, and offering a plethora of activities from fishing, surfing and kayaking to quad biking and sand boarding. 

BEST BEACHES GABON

Other beaches that stray from conventional beach stereotypes are the beaches of Loango National Park, Gabon. These beaches have become famous for this surfing hippos, best seen in January (that's right, surfing hippos). This uninhabited coastline of the park, more than 100 km long, also sees leopards, gorillas, buffalo and elephants trek across the sands. Loango is the only place in the world where one can see all these animals in a single setting. 

BEST BEACHES TANZANIA

Mnemba Island, Tanzania - hands down one of the most popular beaches in Africa. Mnemba is a private island cast amidst the Indian Ocean and belonging to the Zanzibar Archipelago. From here, visitors can watch whales and dolphins, and of course, one of our favorites, swim with whale sharks. Only 10 cottages rest on the island, owned and operated by luxury travel company &Beyond. Each little cottage is a little piece of heaven, all right off the beach with private verandas and tucked away in the shade of a tropical beach forest. 

BEST BEACHES MADAGASCAR 

Sainte Marie Island, Madagascar. This tropical paradise, one of the best beach destinations Africa has to offer, has year-round sunshine, incredibly calm, warm waters, and pristine, white sand beaches lined with endless palm trees. Divers can't get enough of the gorgeous coral gardens, and viewers up on land can see humpback whales, in season of course. 

Wednesday
Oct282015

When to Visit the Seychelles

When it comes to enjoying a picture-perfect tropical vacation getaway, you can't go wrong with the Seychelles. A chain of 115 islands situated northeast of Madagascar off the East African coast, the Seychelles are characterized by year-round warm temperatures, white sand beaches, clear, warm waters and an array of natural and cultural attractions. Kick-start the planning for your trip by determining when to visit the Seychelles, where to stay and what to do. The following tips will help. 

About the Seychelles

Only a handful of the Seychelles' 115 islands are inhabited, and the majority are found in the Inner Seychelles, which include Mahé, the main island and location of capital city Victoria. This is also where you'll find Seychelles International Airport, which is how most visitors arrive here. You have many options when it comes to Seychelles attractions, including botanical gardens, nature preserves and, of course, some of the most stunning beaches in the world. 

When to Visit the Seychelles

There's really no bad time to visit the Seychelles, that's how paradise goes. Seychelles beaches are beautiful throughout the year, and the weather is fairly consistent. The year-round average temperature is 81 degrees, but most agree that April, May, October and November are the best times to visit because they are transition times between the humid, hot weather brought by the northwest trade winds from November to March and the cooler, drier southeast trade winds from April to October. The rainy season typically starts in November and ends in January, though this rarely means day-long or consecutive day rainstorms. Peak tourist season occurs in December & January and July & August. 

Where to Stay

The vast majority of visitors stay on Mahé, the main island. You can take your pick from many upscale resorts, including many all-inclusive options. In Victoria, you'll also find numerous luxury hotels. Before booking a hotel or resort, investigate 'things to do in the Seychelles' to ensure easy access to your favorite attractions and activities. Some of our favorite properties include Four Seasons, Maia and Savoy in Mahé, Raffles in Praslin and three private islands only accessible by similarly private boat, plane or helicopter and they are North Island, Fregate Island and Deroches Island. 

What to Do

There are plenty of things to do in the Seychelles. A few examples include:

  • Beaches - Seychelles beaches are famous around the world for their incredible beauty. Crystal-clear Indian Ocean waters maintain a year-round temperature of around 80 degrees, and soft, white sand makes it a breeze to kick back, relax and soak it all in. Consider hiking from Beau Vallon to Anse Major to find some especially scenic, isolated beaches. Be sure not to miss the most popular Seychelles beaches too, including award-winning Anse Interdance and Ance Source d'Argent. 
  • Victoria - The most populated city in the Seychelles. Victoria is a splendid place to explore. It boasts numerous restaurants, cafes, art galleries, markets, monuments and museums. Spend a few hours at the stunning botanical gardens, or take a tour of a well-preserved Creole plantation house. Be sure to hit the town after dark too - the nightlife is incredible! 
  • Water Sports - The Seychelles are a water sports enthusiast's dream come true. Rent a boat to explore the islands as you see fit. Try your hand at windsurfing in May or October. Great snorkeling and scuba diving are to be had at Baie Temay as well as at Glacis and the reef near Port Launay. 
  • Food - Seychelles cuisine is characterized by seafood and Creole influences, so the food is equally spicy and fresh. Red snapper is especially popular, and you can't go wrong with a locally brewed beer or dark rum. 

After deciding when to visit the Seychelles, map out your itinerary. Try to include Seychelles beaches and a variety of other Seychelles attractions. Regardless of when you visit, one thing's for sure: You're in for the trip of a lifetime. 

 

Thursday
Oct222015

When to go to the Maldives

If you're thinking about when to go to the Maldives, you'll have two main things to consider - activities & weather. Visitors enjoy a variety of beach-based activities such as swimming, fishing, snorkeling, diving and surfing, all made possible by year-round tropical temperatures ranging between 80 and 90 degrees. But with tropical weather comes the inevitable rainy season - and we do recommend that you plan your travels around it. That being said, even at the height of the wet season, it would be unlikely to experience more than 3 consecutive days of solid rain. Rain can occur at any time of year, and often times with very little warning, so don't let the different seasons dissuade you all too much - the Maldives is paradise even when its raining!  

Basics

The Maldives offer two main seasons. The islands normally experience dry weather from January to April. Vacationers looking to maximize on sun often opt for this season. The rest of the year generally brings increased precipitation as well as bigger waves, more hotel vacancies and less expensive lodging. During these months, travelers can take advantage of resort spa services and a selection of water sports. Although traveling outside the dry season means that storms and rain are more likely, warm weather nevertheless persists and marine life is more varied. 

Beach

If you're looking to relax, dig your toes into hot sands and wade in bathtub-like turquoise waters, you'll be happy to know that beach season is year-round. The dry season does of course limit your chance of rain so if you want to play it extra safe, be sure to schedule your vacation during this season. The islands see consistent sunny 80 degree weather 365 days a year more or less, but you can expect lower humidity and less wind from December to April. Beyond beach-based activities, the dry season is perfect for hiking, sightseeing and all around exploring. 

Scuba

The great thing about the rainy season is that it is favorable for diving, and you will likely encounter more underwater creatures during this time. Maldives' coral reefs are phenomenal year-round but the rainy season is notably exceptional. 30-foot manta rays, sharks, sea turtles and vibrant coral are just a few examples of the amazing wildlife you'll come across during your dive in the Maldives.

Surf

When surfers think about when to go to the Maldives, most favor the wet season's impressively large waves. Nevertheless, beginners may benefit from surfing or windsurfing on more tranquil seas. So schedule your Maldives surfing holiday during the drier months if you want to play it safe. 

Fish

Anglers have an understandably deep appreciation for the islands; and some will even fish at night. Although you can enjoy this activity at any time of the year, fishing enthusiasts typically favor November through March. December and April certainly won't disappoint either.

Events

One more component to factor in when deciding when to go to the Maldives is special events. If you don't mind a few crowds, you might consider celebrating New Year's under the shade of a coconut tree. If live music, great food and exciting parades are your thing, time your visit to coincide with Independence Day on July 26. 

Although the Maldives consist of over 1,100 islands, its climate remains largely uniform. You can more or less expect hot tropical weather throughout the year in any locale, but humidity and rainfall are subject to change depending on the season. So, as noted at the beginning, if you need to decide when to go to the Maldives, weather and favorite activities will rank among your most important considerations. 

To read about our favorite luxury resorts and what we love most about this Indian Ocean getaway, take a look at our signature travel in the Maldives.

Friday
Oct162015

When to Visit Japan

If you're trying to decide when to travel to Japan, you should know first and foremost about a few major events. Golden Week runs from April 29-May 5, mid-July through August is school break season and New Year's Day is a national holiday. Millions of people travel within Japan during these times, which naturally drives up the costs of transportation and accommodation; nonetheless, many foreigners do consider the holidays to be the best time to go to Japan because the larger cities are mostly deserted. Additionally, with the exception of a few days around the New Year, most museums and attractions remain open during the holidays. 

Weather & Climate in Japan

Japan is about the size of the American east coast, and it covers roughly the same latitudes, so temperatures and weather patterns vary greatly by region during the year. Overall, summer is hot and rainy throughout most of Japan, while autumn is cooler and dryer. Winters in northern Japan are snowy and prone to ice storms, yet visitors of southern Japan can get by with just a warm jacket during the late and early parts of the year. Typhoon season runs from late August to late September, and although storms rarely venture inland, expect to get wet wherever you go during this time. 

The Best Time to See the Cherry Blossom Trees

The best time to see the cherry blossom trees is dependent on where you are staying. For example, the best time to see the cherry blossom trees in southern Kyushu is mid-March, but flowers in Hokkaido don't start blooming until the beginning of May. There are dozens of cherry blossom species, each possessing unique beauty, but blooms only last a few days, which is why many will travel across the entire country to see these spectacular flowers arrive in every region during the spring. You can further plan your trip around local attractions like the remains of castle Nangusuku on Okinawa Main Island where the Ryukyu-higan-zakura trees bloom as early as January. Mt. Yoshino is another sight to behold as it is home to 30,000 trees that flood the hills with cherry blossoms during the month of April. 

Japanese Culture & Festivals

Almost every Japanese shrine hosts an annual festival, drawing hundreds of people out into the streets for dancing, games and celebrations. Festival dates often change, so check with the Japan National Tourist Organization if you're planning your visit in accordance with a festival, or you can always ask us as well!

Food in Japan & Kaiseki Cuisine

Kaiseki cuisine combines the best of traditional Japanese hospitality, food and art. Enjoying a traditional Kaiseki means eating a multiple-course meal made only with fresh, local ingredients that are perfectly plated and garnished. You can experience Kaiseki cuisine in a restaurant or as part of your stay in one of Japan's luxury ryokans.

Accommodations & Luxury Japanese Ryokans

Luxury ryokans are traditional, often family-owned, Japanese inns featuring wooden corridors, soft lighting emanating from paper-covered lamps and decorative baskets of wild flowers throughout, and most will serve Kaiseki directly in the privacy of your own room. All rooms in Beniya Mukayu for example, a ryokan in spa town Yamashiro, feature private hot spring baths facing private traditional gardens. Many of these establishments, like the 300-year-old Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto, have been hosting guests from all over the world for several centuries.

All in all, the best time to go to Japan really comes down to whenever you can. The weather is always great somewhere, so pick out the regions and attractions you want to visit, and let that guide you in deciding when to travel to Japan. To recap:

Spring (March-May) marks the height of the cherry blossom season, but it also marks one of the busiest travel seasons. Keep in mind that hotels are often booked out as far as 6 months in advance so make sure to contact us early on! 

Fall (September-November) is similarly a busy season but the autumn leaves in Japan are particularly vibrant and colorful and well worth a few crowds. 

Winter, as noted, can get cold and there's always a chance of rain or snow. That being said, crisp blue skies, delicious seafood and fewer crowds also make this a desirable season during which to visit Japan. 

*Our personal favorite time to visit Japan is from late Spring (mid-May to end-June) & late Summer (September to mid-October). The weather is great, the crowds are sparse, and if you're lucky you might just catch the end of the cherry blossom season!