EPIC ROAD'S SAFARI BLOG

Friday
Aug302013

Interview with the Marketing and PR Director of the Tourism Council of Bhutan

 

This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Niall Murtagh, the Marketing and PR Director for the Tourism Council of Bhutan. He got us very excited about travel to Bhutan. He talked about the wildlife reserves of Bhutan, happiness, the history, his favorite treks in the Himalayas and much more. He made it very easy to see why Bhutan is called the Magical Kingdom of Bhutan and why it's such a great time to visit now. Run to Bhutan!


1.     What makes Bhutan so unique as a travel destination?

Wow, I think this is a hard question for me to answer.  Bhutan is unique in so many aspects, it’s a small landlocked country, nested and protected by the mighty Himalayas and surrounded by two of the world’s emerging powers, India and China.  Nearly two thirds of the country is covered in forestry and it is one of the world’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots.   With a population of only 700,000 people, this deeply Buddhist country has a unique outlook on development, which was coined by the fourth (Dragon) King as Gross National Happiness.  What lies at the heart of this development paradigm is the truth that, at our most basic level, happiness is what we all strive for.  I think in this day and age we are sometimes overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of everyday life, Bhutan as a nation is verbalising this simple message, that happiness is all we need in life. 

2.     The first tourists entered Bhutan in 1974, leaving the country’s culture and landscape widely untouched. What makes this a great reason to visit?

There are very few countries in the world that have been closed off from the rest of the world for so long.  It is because of this that Bhutan has, still to this day, such a strong and distinctive everyday culture.  The traditional dress (Gho for men, Kira for women) is still worn in the day-to-day lives of the Bhutanese.  This predominantly Buddhist country is dotted with beautiful ancient temple, monasteries and fortresses, some of which are located in some of the world’s most remote locations.  Its landscape is stunning, featuring what are predominantly north south trending snow peaked mountains and lush green fertile valleys.  By royal decree, forest cover cannot fall below 60%, it is currently at 72% and on the rise.  There is a deep respect for nature, which I believe stems from the philosophy of Buddhism that is hard to find anywhere else on earth. 

3.     Bhutan has some of the world’s rockiest terrain and varying altitudes. What activities can a traveler partake in to explore the landscape?

Bhutan is a country full of adventure.  Hiking is extremely popular and I just completed the 12 day Jomolhari Laya Gasa Trek along a route which covers some of the most varied landscapes in the Himalaya’s.  You trek through leafy deciduous forests, up into the blue green pines before you reach the high alpine meadow and into the snow-capped mountains and glacier feed valleys, every day was visually different.  Aside from the hiking, off road mountain biking is becoming very popular with the local Bhutanese while visitors are discovering the country by cycle tours.  Rock climbing, white water rafting and kayaking are becoming increasing popular and we recently started seeing the rise of adventure racing, traversing the country on foot.  These multiple day races cover everything from high mountain passes to paddy fields on an adrenaline fuelled holiday across the country. 

4.     What role does Buddhism play in Bhutanese lifestyle and travel?

Buddhism, as the predominant religion in the country, is intertwined with everyday life.  Some of the major landmarks in the country are some of the some sacred Buddhist sites.  Take for example the Tigers Nest (Taktsang); built on a sheer cliff face high above Paro Valle, a site where Guru Rinpoche meditated here in the 6th Century, he brought Buddhism to Bhutan.  It is believed that he was carried here on the back of a winged tigress, hence the name Tigers Nest.  This is one of three extremely sacred sites in the country and a must on any tourist’s itinerary, while we may initially visit for the ascetic beauty, few people leave without feeling the scanty of the site. 

5.     With China bordering on the north and south and India along the east and west, how can these diverse influences be seen in Bhutan's modern day culture?

While you expect to see close links to its neighbours, this is not really the case. Bhutan and its people are distinctive, it has a deep, rich and varied culture set in a stunning backdrop and ultimately this sets it apart as unique.  In Bhutan today I think you still see a society that looks into itself for answers and while increasingly influenced by the world around it, I do not think it is looking to its neighbours for inspiration.  You have to remember, TV and internet only reached Bhutan in 1999 and practically all sections of society now have mobile phones.  The change which can be seen is within its youth who look more to countries such as Korea, Japan, Singapore and the United States of America for some of their inspiration.

6.     What role does the Gross National Happiness play in Bhutan and where do its values derive from? What are its domains?

Gross National Happiness plays a large part in the government policy of the last number of years.  The fourth King of Bhutan declared the country should not look only to the economic growth or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure development but to a more holistic measure, coining the term Gross National Happiness (GNH).  Within the country GNH is measure periodically via an extensive survey.   Happiness is determined by looking at Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture, Conservation and Sustainable

Environment Management and Good Governance.   These are broken down into 9 domains that have 33 additional indicators.  To discover happiness, the process can be extensive, the survey once touch 4 days for a person to answer and I believe now it’s down to about 4 hours. 

So it’s one thing to know how happy you are but what do you do with this information? 

The answer is the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), this body stands over all ministries in the Bhutanese Government and any project that these ministries which to carry out must go through the GNHC for its approval before it can be rolled out.

7.     With a large number of wildlife reserves and national parks to visit in Bhutan, what type of wildlife can one expect to encounter?

Well approximately 42% of the kingdom is under protection with national parks linked by a series of protected corridors so that wildlife can move between these parks.  With the changing topography you encounter varying ecosystems, each valley tends to have a different environment.  The warm southern part of Bhutan supports wildlife that is usually associated with a tropical-jungle climate. As you travel north, the wildlife changes accordingly as the elevation increases. Considering the size, Bhutan has the most diverse ecosystem at least in Asia, if not the world.  Some of the facts: 678 recorded species of bird, 5603 species of flora 579 wild orchids, 46 rhododendrons, and over 300 medicinal plants. At least 30 bamboo species and Close to 200 species of mammals have been recorded in Bhutan. 

What can you expect to see?  Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard and a host of monkeys including the Golden Langur.  The cuddly Red Panda, Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin,  the Asiatic Elephant along the southern border region and the Himalayan Musk Deer, not to mention yaks, blue sheep and plenty of dogs.   During fall, winter and spring you should visit Phobjikha Valley to see the majestic Black-Necked Cranes (all 3ft).

8.     Local cuisine plays a big role in planning any trip. What are some of Bhutan's traditional dishes? How are the spices?

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness and the Bhutanese love chillies, no meal is complete without some.  It is the only country in the world where they considered a chilli as a vegetable and it is eaten with nearly every meal.  For people traveling to the country they are however, optional.  Some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes are Ema Datshi, the de facto national dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. Momos are a Tibetan-style dumplings stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.  Phaksha Paa is pork cooked with spicy red chillis. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach.  No meal is complete without red rice.  This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.

While these are more of the traditional cuisine, practically all restaurants serve a mix of Indian and western style foods. 

9.   If you had only one week to spend in Bhutan, what would be highlights on your itinerary?

I would suggest ditching the land cruiser and explore the country by bike; the pristine Himalayan air is best taken liberally.  A must is white water rafting down Punakha valley where you stop off at Punakha Dzong; this beautiful fortress dominates the riverside.  You can stretch out those legs by hiking from Dochula Pass (mountain pass between Thimphu and Punakha) to Lungchutse Monastery.  This beautiful three hour round trip is worth every step for the awe inspiring 360 degree mountain views.  People often get carried away with running round ticking off places to visit, I think it is essential to have at least one day to stop and take a meditation class and unwind with a traditional hot stone bath.  Of course, last but not least, is a trip to Tigers Nest, located high above Paro valley.   This monastery, which clings to the mountain side, is not only remarkable in its location but one of the most significant Buddhism sites in the Eastern Himalayas. 

Friday
Aug232013

Finding the Best Binoculars for your Luxury Safari

Some people obsessively document their trips; others prefer to relish them in real time. If you’re the latter, choosing a great pair of binoculars is key. Unlike a zoo, safaris reveal animals existing in their natural habitats—which often means they’re not at close range. Binoculars give you an opportunity to see the animals up close, in high definition, without losing that second it takes to press the shutter or check in image on the backscreen.

In choosing a pair of binoculars, the quality of the glass is paramount; the body is secondary. Most quality binoculars will advertise the provenance of their glass—Swarovski, for example. Zeiss, Leica, Steiner, and Swarovski are often cited as the highest-quality brands, but cost around $2,000 a pair. Good, cheaper options are  Nikon, Canon, Bushnell, and Pentax.

Other important factors are magnification, light capacity, size, and durability.

Counter-intuitively, high magnification is not what you want in a pair of safari binoculars (the magnification is the first number in standard binocular indicators such as 8x40). The higher the magnification, the less stable the image becomes, so unless you’re planning to stand motionless for long stretches of time with a tripod—in birdwatching, for example—you’ll want a lower magnification. High magnification also compromises the field of vision, which isn’t helpful when you’re scanning the bush for hidden animals. A magnification of 7x-10x is ideal. Anything above 10x will be very difficult to hold steady.

The second number in standard binocular indicators (ie 8x40) tells you how much light the binoculars let in, making objects brighter in dim morning and evening conditions. For safari conditions, this number should not be below 30; anything above this should be fine.

Binoculars generally come in three sizes: full, mid, and compact. Full binoculars (42 mm +) will give you the strongest image, but they are often very heavy and will take up significant luggage space. Compact binoculars (21-28mm) are small and light, but offer a compromised image. If you will be walking or hiking a lot, consider compact; if not, your best bet is probably a nice set of mid-sized binoculars.

You’ll also want a pair of binoculars with a good reputation for durability, as conditions on safari can be harsh. Waterproofing is also an option.

 

Monday
Aug122013

Interview with the Co-founder of MPOWERD Inc., Creators of Luci Solar Lights

Epic Road Luci Solar Light Drop in Namibia

This week, we spoke with John Salzinger, the Senior Director of Business Development and Co-founder of MPOWERD Inc, the creators of LUCI solar lights. He tells Epic Road's blog readers about the inspiration behind Luci, the mission, future plans and how to get involved.

Where did the inspiration come from for MPOWERD and Luci solar portable lights?

MPOWERD’s CEO and Co-founder, Jacques-Philippe Piverger, was exploring the renewable energy sector as a means of combining his business and development oriented interests.  Accordingly, he assembled a team of partners to help actualize his vision. On a trip we took together to post-earthquake Haiti, the benefits of such technology really hit home for the team as we were able to see first-hand how the reliance on fuel-based light and power sources negatively impact health, safety, gender disparity, the environment and economic prosperity. Coming from the United States, where rural areas have benefited both socially and economically from electrification for more than 100 years, we felt the issue of energy poverty was unacceptable and decided to do something about it.

What is MPOWERD's mission?

As a B-Corp. we aim to do good by doing well. Our vision it to help eradicate energy poverty through solar justice. We develop, manufacture and sell innovative and affordable solar powered products like our inflatable Luci light in order to achieve this vision. We sell directly to individuals and to major retailers, and we partner with organizations like Epic Road and NGOs to set up micro-distribution channels in developing communities in order to get our technology into the hands of those who need it most in the final mile. We believe that our forward thinking business model is good for business and for society at large.

What makes Luci so revolutionary and disruptive?

Its utility and its light environmental footprint. Luci is waterproof, inflatable and collapsible, portable, durable and green. She replaces such harmful traditional light sources as kerosene, which is expensive, heavy to transport, unsustainable and dangerous.

Can you provide our readers with an example of successful deployments of Luci Lights in places with energy poverty?

Epic Road has done a great job of incorporating Luci into some of their transformational trips and having guests introduce her to people in remote developing communities through their “Luci Drops”. This inspiring video shows what the reaction is like when she is introduced to a member of the Himba Tribe in Namib Desert, Namibia.  

We also partner with NGOs through our Give Luci Program which allows people to purchase Luci at a discount and give her to one of our several partners for distribution in communities where she is needed most. For example, Jamie Bechtel, Founder of New Course, one of our partners, has distributed lights in various areas in Africa and most recently in Bongandanga, a village in the middle of the Congo where the head of a women's group was very happy to receive the MPOWERD solar powered lamp. According to Jamie, the woman said: "It will help my children with homework, it will help when doing housework and other work at night, and of course it will save us a lot of money."

As well, through some of our more traditional distribution methods, we have been able to have a very positive impact in such places as Nigeria, Kenya, Haiti, The Philippines, Haiti, Congo and Tanzania, to name a few.

What new products or ideas does MPOWERD have for the future?

We are working on building additional smart, green and cost-efficient products that introduce new utility. MPOWERD’s entire product line will be solar in nature but will encompass much more than simply illumination.

For those clients who have come back from a Luci Light drop with Epic Road, what are some other ways they can get involved?

We would love for them to contact us so that we can explore ways to work together. For example, by participating in our Give Luci Program or by working with us to develop a meaningful, high impact corporate social responsibility program for their organization. The issue of energy poverty is huge so the more people we can engage in the movement, the better for our environment and society at large. To learn more, we encourage people to follow MPOWERD on social media or email us at info@mpowerd.com.

Friday
Aug022013

Finding the Best Camera for your Luxury Safari

Most African safari goers want return from their journey with amazing photographic images that memorialize the breathtaking beauty and power of life in the African wilderness. But which camera to bring? Some qualities to consider are size, zoom, range, and shutter speed. There’s no best safari camera—there’s only the camera that’s right for you.

The first consideration when buying a camera is whether to choose a compact point-and-shoot or a DSLR. Here are some options to get you thinking.

Size

Size may not matter in a 4x4, but on a walking safari, it's a real factor. The compact camera is a great choice for the safari-goer who wants fun, dynamic vacation photos to document a great experience. Many compact cameras today can produce pictures that are clear and vibrant. The major benefits of compact cameras are their usability, price, and size. Lugging around heavy equipment for professional-grade photos isn’t always necessary!

Some good bets are the Panasonic Lumix FT5, which was designed with the outdoors in mind, and is waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, and pressure resistant; the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, which boasts an impressive 20x zoom, does great in low light, films full HD movies, and is even equipped for wifi; or the Nikon Coolpix, which comes in a range of bright colors, and has a 16x zoom super-zoom with wide-angle coverage, plus full HD video recording, and impeccable picture quality.

If you want to carefully capture the full majesty of your safari in the style of a professional nature photographer however, you’ll want to go with a DSLR. Although DSLR (which stands for Digital Single-lens Reflex) cameras are bulkier and significantly pricier than compact point-and-shoots, the resulting quality is much higher, the speed is faster (no shutter lag), and the options are manifold. Once you learn how to properly use and handle your camera (which you should make sure to do before you leave on safari!), you’ll feel in control of your photos’ look and feel.

When choosing a DSLR, most photographers will cite Nikon or Canon as their brands of choice.

Zoom

Who hasn’t dreamed of capturing that thrilling cheetah kill on film? One limit to compact cameras are their zooms, which rarely go above 20x and often lose quality as they go.

Not so with the DSLR. A common adage says that the body of your DSLR is less important than the lens attached. Indeed, once you’ve chosen the body of your camera, there are still myriad lenses that can be attached to achieve different effects in different contexts. One of top recommended DSLR bodies is the Canon EOS range. The 450D/Xsi, 500D/Xti, and 1000D/XS are all good entry models priced below $1,000. If you’re planning on doing a lot of shooting in low light, Nikon is highly recommended. Three popular models are the D90, the D300s, and the D7000. The latter shoots full HD-video as well. If you have no budget, and want the best of the best, with a steeper learning curve, go for the Nikon D3S.

On safari, you’ll want a powerful telephoto lens—at least 300mm. It’s usually difficult to get close to your animal subjects, so photos will be taken at a range. You’ll also want a lens with continuous predictive auto focus, for speed, so that you won’t miss any thrilling moments, like the lion who ambushes an impala on a river bed. Some safari experts advocate buying a starter body (one of the cheaper models), which are less complicated and easier to use, and pairing it with a more sophisticated telephoto zoom lens. Some good options for amateur nature photographers (slightly less expensive and significantly easier to master) are the Canon EF 100-400L IS or the Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS ($1,500 and $650, respectively). The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens is also a popular choice, at about $580.

Another great option is what’s often called a ‘bridge’ camera, meaning a digital point and shoot with a telephoto lens attached. With a bridge camera, you can achieve zooms akin to a DSLR telephoto lens, without the complications of use. This is probably the best way to go if you’re buying a camera last minute and don’t have time to acquaint yourself with the functions, or if you want high quality photos with minimal bulk and equipment.

Some good options are the Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR or HS50, the FujiFilm XS-1, or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18. The Canon SX30 IS has the most powerful zoom range of any bridge camera at 80-240mm—a focal range that would see you carrying bags full of incredibly pricey lenses with a regular DSLR. For a truly massive zoom, you can combine the FujiFilm with the powerful Raynox DCR-2025PRO Super Telephoto Conversion Lens.

Some other Dos and Donts:

-Quality telephoto lenses are very heavy! You’ll probably want to get a light, compact tripod to help you stabilize the camera if you’re using one.

-Don’t forget to insure your photo gear. Expensive gear is a prime target for thieves, and accidents happen in the wild. 

-Don’t forget to bring extra batteries and SD cards, and buy a higher capacity if you plan to shoot HD video (usually 16GB is good). Stow your used SD cards separately from your gear! Cameras are replaceable but photos are not.

-Excited to get started before starting on safari? Visit your local zoo and practice on the residents!

If you still want more info, don't hesitate to contact our safari experts at hello@epicroad.com 

 

 

Wednesday
Jul242013

The Maasai Olympics

 

Epic Road’s mission since its founding has been to take travelers on luxurious, philanthropic trips to Africa and the Arctic. Whether it be dropping Luci Solar Lights to energy poor communities or visiting animal conservation sights, ER allows you to create a positive change first hand.

The Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania are taking part in their own conservational efforts with the Maasai Olympics. This sports competition is used in place of the Maasai tradition of teaching new warriors to kill lions in order to compete for women, display their bravery, and distinguish themselves as leaders. 

There is a small group of Maasai leaders referred to as the “menye layiok” which translates to “fathers of the warriors”. These select few are responsible for teaching all new warriors the required skills, and in 2011-2012, the menye layiok made the progressive decision to discourage lion hunting by hosting the Maasai Olympics: an athletic competition that revolves around the skills of a warrior. These skills include a 200m sprint, 5k run, high jump, spear throw, and rungu throw. Various prizes are given out to winning athletes, from a stud Borana bull to scholarship money.

The Maasai Olympics also has a powerful educational component in the form of a short documentary that is shown to all new Maasai warriors. The film is titled “There Will Always Be Lions?” and was created by filmmaker Kire Godal. It preaches that although tradition is an important part of their tribe’s culture, hunting lions and other endangered wildlife is no longer acceptable. Failing to take conservational action, the menye layiok recognize, will lead to an unsustainable future for the Maasai. Another great film produced by the Big Life Foundation about the Maasai Olympics can be viewed here:

 

The event is expected to take place again in December of this year. To explore the culture of the Maasai and other African tribes, visit our African Safaris page to plan your next trip! 


Monday
Jul152013

Luxury Safaris for Everyone

'Luxury safari' conjures a different image for every traveler. Across Africa, top end lodges and luxury safari operators offer a wide range of luxury safaris across a spectrum of access, landscape, dining, guiding and lodging. A luxury safari in Botswana or South Africa will invariably be a different experience to a luxury safari in Tanzania and Kenya. The former focuses on water and oasis activity, whereas the latter focuses on the wide, open plains of the Serengeti and the Great Migration.

South African Luxury Safaris:

South Africa is perhaps Africa’s most family-friendly place to experience safari. The proximity of Cape Town makes a mixed trip of wild beauty and cultural experience an easy option—and reduces necessary medical precautions and lightens packing. You won’t sacrifice the ‘wild’ in wilderness though—South Africa’s safari parks are some of the best places in Africa to spot the “big five.”

Zambian and Zimbabwean Luxury Safaris:

Zambia and Zimbabwe are known for thrilling safari at more modest price points, which focus on guided walking safaris. In many ways, Zambia and Zimbabwe, in the South Eastern heart of Africa, are the undiscovered gem of the country.  Zambia boasts one of the largest swaths of land under national park protection. And the crown gem of the two nations is the majestic, thundering Victoria Falls—unlike anywhere else on earth.

Tanzania and Kenya Luxury Safaris:

Perhaps the image often associated with safari is the open plains, covered by grazing animals, low trees, swaying grasses, and the canny predators they hide. This is the Serengeti. The vast Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is the stuff of movies, books and dreams—think Earnest Hemingway game hunting. The wide plains are home to wildebeest, lions, zebra, cheetahs, giraffe, elephants, antelope, and more, best seen by jeep or four-wheeler, arranged by one of the spectacular luxury lodges in the area.

Rwanda luxury safaris:

Rwanda is the lush, green, misty heart of Africa. The most spectacular safaris are the ones that bring us eye to eye with the continents gorillas—one of our closest relatives—in one of their last remaining habitats on earth. In most gorilla safaris, a guide will lead you up the forested hills of volcanoes on foot, to quiet clearings where you can watch the gorillas live and play in peace.

Botswana and Namibia Luxury Safaris:

The Kalahari, across Botswana and Namibia, is the oldest desert on earth. Still, there is vibrant life there, concentrated in great diversity around oases and waterholes. Desert safaris focus on these pockets of concentration, where spectators can quietly watch usually solitary animals, like the black rhino, interact with a range of desert neighbors, including giraffe, ostrich, and lions. Despite the vast emptiness of the desert landscape, some of Africa’s most spectacularly luxurious lodges are found here. And last but not least, Botswana's Okavango Delta is in a league of its own when it comes to game rich luxury safaris that combine mokoro rides on the water and open vehicle game drives.  It's the pinnacle of luxury safaris.

 

 

Tuesday
Jul092013

Know the Big Five on Your Safari

There are an endless number of wild animals you might encounter on a luxury safari. The most well known wildlife you might see on your safari has been labeled the Big Five.  Lions and tigers and rhinos? Oh my! Get to know Africa's Big Five so you know exactly what-and who!-to expect on your next safari.

 

Name: Leopard

Size: 1.5-2.6 ft tall, 3 to 6 ft long with a 2-3.5 ft tail, 70-180 lbs

Lifespan: Up to 20 years

Diet: Gazelle, impala, deer and wildebeast are a leopard’s favorite. They also might hunt monkeys and birds.

Where in Africa do they live?: Throughout most of Africa on rocky landscapes with dense bush. They can, however, adapt to cold climates as well. 

Fun Fact: Leopards are amazing swimmers! They can hunt on land and in water.

 

Name: Rhino

Size: 4.5-6 ft tall, 750-8,000 lbs!

Lifespan: Up to 35 years

Diet: All rhinos are herbivores. White rhinos use their square-shaped lips to eat grass most efficiently, while other types of rhino prefer eating the foliage off trees and bushes.

Where in Africa do they live?: Various parts of Africa. From savannas to tropical forests, rhinos adapt easily. 

Fun Fact: Although rhinos are one of the most endangered species on the planet, they are getting help! In 2010, all countries with rhinos signed an agreement to monitor populations and increase law enforcement surrounding these creatures.

 

Name: Lion

Size: Up to 9-10 ft. in length and anywhere from 265-550 lbs

Lifespan: 12-15 years

Diet: Lions have strong jaws and forelimbs that enable them to hunt large prey such as zebra and wildebeest. Females are the primary hunters in a pride, and lions are known to steal food from other animals like their Big Five friend the leopard. 

Where in Africa do they live?: Lions live in a savannah habitat, anywhere from the southern Sahara to northern South Africa.

Fun Fact: A lion's roar can be heard from up to five miles away!

 

Name: African Buffalo

Size: 6-11 ft in length and 1,100-2,000 lbs in weight

Lifespan: Up to 20 years
 

Diet: They consume various grasses and other vegetation. It is also extremely important for them to drink enough water, so these buffalos rarely stray far from a water source.

Where in Africa do they live?: Various woodlands, savannahs, and grasslands of Africa. 

Fun Fact: A buffalo's hide can be 2 inches thick, making it difficult for other bulls to penetrate with their horns when they fight.

 

Name: African Elephant

Size: Between 5 and 14 ft tall, weighin in at 6,000-15,000 lbs

Lifespan: They can grow as old as 70 years old
 

Diet: Elephants eat about 350 lbs. of bamboo, grass, leaves, and roots per day. Sometimes they will even steal farmer's sugarcane and banana crops.

Where in Africa do they live?: South of the Sahara Desert, African elephants live in the rainforests of west and central Africa.

Fun Fact: The phrase "memory like an elephant" comes from an elephant's ability to remember the journey to a distant watering hold during the dry season.

 

If you are fascinated by all of this wildlife, a luxury safari is certainly the trip for you. Take a look at our many luxury African safaris right here!

Monday
Jul082013

Top 5 Thrilling African Safaris

 

Our speciality at Epic Road is taking travelers on unique African safaris. You might think a safari is limited to scoping out wild cats and zebras, but ER’s luxury African safaris are a one of a kind experience. From tracking gorillas through Rwanda to walking safaris with the Maasai, Epic Road redefines the term 'safari' and shows travelers how unforgettable-and thrilling!-Africa can really be.


Wildlife of Uganda

Spend your safari tracking endangered mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Along the way you will encounter a variety of Uganda's wildlife including hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and many other spectacular creatures. This classic safari also allows travelers the rare experience to meet and learn from the Batwa Pygmies of Uganda. Embark on a truly fascinating combination of wildlife and cultural immersion with this safari!

The Great Migration

Step back and marvel as millions of Africa's wild creatures migrate a thousand miles in search of food and water. This safari is certainly unlike anything you have experienced before, as zebra, giraffes, elephants, wildebeests, and various other animals dart past on their quest for sustenance. You have the option to take a balloon ride over the Serengeti to get an aerial view of all the action. For a more up-close look, travelers can also take in the excitement by foot or from an open car.

Bow and Arrow Hunt

Encounter a few of Africa's culture-rich tribes in the Lake Eyasi Region. This safari is how you get to heart of authentic African culture. Join in on a bow and arrow hunt to search for food with the nomadic Hadzabe tribe or partake in a traditional jumping lesson with the Maasai. There are opportunities to hike mountains or watch members of the Dakota tribe make arrowheads and jewelry. Each tribe has a different memorable experience to offer.

Gorilla Tracking

Observe the playful habits of mountain gorillas in the rain forests of Rwanda. With only 800 of these gentle giants left in the world, this African safari is a very special experience that might not be around much longer. On your safari you will track a specific gorilla family each day and get to know their personalities while watching them eat, climb, and interact. Encounter other wildlife along the way, such as troops of rare golden monkeys. In your spare time, there is a nearby agricultural market to explore and get a taste of the local produce.

Tribes of Ethiopia

On this enriching safari, travelers will learn the differences between the Mursi, Hamer, Benna, Tsemai, Konso, Karo, Arbore and Surma tribes. Each of these Ethiopian tribes has developed their own specific culture which you will get to experience first hand. Discover their distinct language, dress, and rituals which have been minimally influenced by outside forces, due to Ethiopia's remoteness. While it is an incredibly peaceful and welcoming country, many tribes still practice violent rituals like Donga Stick-Fighting in the Surma tribe which you can watch from the sidelines!
 

To learn more about all of our custom-tailored thrilling African safaris, click here!

Wednesday
Jun262013

Painted Dog Conservation

 African Painted Wild Dog on Safari

Painted Dog Conservation is leading the charge in the conservation of wild african painted dogs. Peter Blinston has worked with Painted Dog Conservation for over a decade and is currently the organization's manager. Originally a Britain-based PDC volunteer, Blinston relocated to Zimbabwe in order to take on his commitment full-time. He has since taken on various roles within the organization all in the effort of protecting this very special endangered species. 


What inspired the creation of Painted Dog Conservation?

A desire to tackle all of the issues, as we saw them, that were and still are driving the painted dogs towards extinction. It was an organic process. Poaching with wire snares grew as a threat almost overnight, so we addressed this by employing anti-poaching units. With the wires collected we established an arts and crafts programme and re-trained artisans to work with wire rather than wood to create curios, knowing that this also helped with deforestation and resulting habitat loss. Education is a vital component in any conservation programme, so we developed a residential programme for local children who live in villages that border Hwange National Park where we are based. An extension of this was obviously to take education into the communities as well. The poaching is driven by hardship (as well as poor land management), so we do what we can to alleviate the hardships endured by local communities.

What is it that makes painted dogs unique?

They are biologically unique in the sense that they have no close relative, having evolved some 15 million years ago from the bear / dog evolutionary tree. Thus they are not a true dog and can not cross breed with domestic dogs as, for instance, a wolf can. To put this into some sort of context, painted dogs are as related to domestic dogs as humans are to baboons--quite a gap! Painted dogs have a highly evolved social system and caring for sick, injured, or old dogs in the pack is quite a remarkable thing to witness.

What are the goals of your conservational efforts and where do they primarily take place? 

Our core operating area borders Hwange National Park. This is where our education work, etc., takes place. We also monitor packs in Mana Pools. The aims of the Painted Dog Conservation Organisation, as outlined in the registration, were initially identified as:

  •  To enhance the long term appreciation of the desirability of maintaining maximum biodiversity in Zimbabwe to the benefits of all generations of this country by promoting Painted Dogs as a flagship species.
  • To promote the education of people in Zimbabwe in such matters.

Our Goals to date have been expressed as:

  • To increase National and International awareness of the plight of Painted Dogs.
  • Ensure population stability by protecting and maintaining populations in the buffer zones as well as responding to any Painted Dog individual, pack or population in need of assistance.
  • Maintain and facilitate diversity within the gene pool of the Zimbabwe National Population.
  • Maintain and develop our anti-poaching unit (APU) initiative.
  • Maintain and further develop our Community Education Programme.
  • Maintain and further develop our Community Development work by linking more community needs with appropriate International Aid Organisations.

How does PDC take an educational approach to conservation? 

We conduct a world class residential education programme with grade six (11/12 year old) children and extend this into the communities via the establishment of Conservation Clubs. The Children’s Bush Camp Programme conducted by the Painted Dog Conservation Organization provides a free of charge, residential, total immersion, conservation education experience for all grade six students from the primary schools of the indigenous communities that border the Hwange National Park buffer zone. The programme introduces students to native species, ecological relationships, the adverse effects of extinction and the need for nature conservation. Concepts are reinforced through hands-on, discovery and creative activities in small groups. Painted Dog Conservation’s bush camp programme is an unparalleled educational opportunity for local children that will have a significantly positive impact on conservation endeavors in the area by encouraging a stakeholder attitude in local communities over time and by providing direct benefit from conservation activities to local people.  Having seen the local wildlife, experienced the excitement and beauty of the wild African savannah and gained an experiential understanding of its complex ecology, bush camp graduates have more of an emotional investment in caring for it. Whereas before, locals have been expected to protect something that they had no direct experience with, no emotional attachment to and received no direct benefit from, short of conducting illegal activities. Bush camp alumni will increasingly represent a new generation of villagers over time.

How has the community benefited from PDC’s involvement?

We employ 40+ local people and engage a further 20+ in the art and craft programme. Benefits come in all shapes and sizes from this employment to the education opportunities, bore holes drilled to provide clean water for drinking, and a reliable water source for gardening projects. We conduct an award winning HIV/AIDS programme, income generating projects and even sponsor the local soccer league.

What are some ways to get involved in Painted Dog Conservation?

We always need money! Its like pushing a ball up a hill, we can never stop. We do welcome visitors who can spend up to three weeks with us to experience what it is like on the front line of conservation. We encourage advocates to spread the word and at the end of the day the dogs need all the friends they can get.

For More Information please visit Painted Dog Conservation

Wednesday
Jun262013

Discover Namibia: Skeleton Coast Luxury Safaris and Beyond

Namibia is home to the world's oldest desert, the Namib, meaning ‘vast place.' The landscape across the desert is indeed vast, and diverse—ranging from tthe spectacular pink and orange dune seas to the so-called ‘long wall’ where the ocean meets the tall sands to the mysterious and foggy Skeleton Coast.

The Namib’s Sand Sea in Naukluft National Park has recently been added to UNESCO’s list of 217 World Heritage Sites. The area is the first in ten years to meet all four of the criteria. The ever-changing dune landscape is believed to be the only one on earth shaped by fog.

Namibia is a truly singular place to experience nature. Curious global nomads will thrill in exploring the region’s endless solitude via nature drives and quad bike excursions through the towering red sand dunes. Boating on the Kunene River, bordering Angola in the north, offers a lush conduit through the desert’s green riverside oases.

At Epic Road, we have a special place in our hearts and minds for the often otherworldly and entirely unique landscapes of Namibia. One of our global nomads, Amanda Manchia, wrote to us, “I recently went on a week-long, mind-boggling journey through Namibia with Epic Road. The Namib Desert was an unexpected, endless, arid expanse of sand dunes and mountains set among the dense bush of southern Africa. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Namibia is a gorgeous country unlike any other.”

Here are a few of our favorite destinations in the country:

Sossusvlei: The startling salt and clay pan of the Sossusvlei, in northern Namibia, have been drawing curious travelers for generations. The pan is surrounded by immense red sand dunes of breathtaking beauty that stretch unbroken in rolling, crested waves until they reach the sea. They can be explored by car, quad bike, or even a hot air balloon. The area is inhospitable but not barren—you may catch sight of one of the adapted species that calls Sossuvlei home, like the jackal, the ostrich, and the oryx.

To experience Sossulvei in luxury, stay at the isolated Little Kulala, where you’ll sleep peacefully in a climate-controlled, thatched villa with a romantic skybed for rooftop stargazing. It’s hard to imagine a sky where the stars burn more brightly.

Damaraland: You might not expect large wildlife in Damaraland’s vast sandy wastes, but there it is. The desert sustains small but vibrant populations of rhino, oryx, ostrich, elephants and giraffe, who have adapted to survive the harsh demands of life in the desert. The region is also home to some astonishing scenery, including petrified forests, craggy mountains, and prehistoric rock paintings. In Damaraland, the slow passage of time is palpable.

At Desert Rhino Camp, the largest population of free-ranging black rhino is on at your doorstep. In collaboration with Save the Rhinos Trust, Desert Rhino camp offers a comfortable place to observe on of the most magnificent, and fastest dwindling, species on Earth.

Skeleton Coast

In a land of little water or resources, the Skeleton Coast is a major exception. The cold ocean water is rich in fishery resources, which support populations of brown fur seals and shorebirds that, in turn, serve as prey for the Skeleton Coast's lions.

It’s a fascinating ecosystem that makes for a great safari. Despite the inhospitable, arid weather, life finds a way.

Kunene River

The Kunene River is a rare channel of life in a very dry desert--a winding band of green surrounded by the lunar landscape of the Namib Desert stretching to the Serra Cafema mountain range in the north.  It is a precious resource to the people and animals of the region, and it draws an impressive panoply of wildlife to its shores. 

We recommend experiencing this desert oasis from Serra Cafema, the most remote camp in Namibia. The only way to reach the lodge is by a 3hr, light aircraft trip from Windhoek. Once there, you'll be rewarded by a riverfront, Meru-style tent with an en-suite bathroom and a private deck, complete with breathtaking views of endless wilderness.

The l camp shares this region with the Himba tribe, one of the last true nomadic people in Africa.  

Luci solar lights and the Himba People

We often wonder at animals’ ability to adapt to inhospitable conditions; we forget that we, too, are a species who have made homes in some of Earth’s harshest corners. The Himba, one of the last true nomadic people in Africa, have built a home and a way of life in the desert that few could imagine or endure.

Epic Road is working alongside MPOWERD to bring Luci, a solar-powered inflatable lantern, to the Himba people. Amanda Manchia told us:

“The Himba people are thriving in one of the harshest environments on the planet—their bodies muscular, their bellies full, and their livestock hearty, despite the relentless heat and minimal water, plants, and shade. While visiting with these tribes, Epic Road arranged for me to deliver solar lights to members of the Himba tribe that do not have access to electricity. The potential impact on their lives is huge: increasing productivity and safety, decreasing CO2 emissions, reducing incidents of pulmonary diseases, kerosene burns, and risk of gender based violence, as well as saving money spent on kerosene. I spent several hours herding cattle to a small underground water source with four welcoming Himba women. I was struck by how strong, independent, and resilient these women were and how indomitable the human spirit can be when pushed to the limit. This trip made me realize that the only thing that holds any of us back from achieving the extraordinary is the determination, confidence and discipline that defined these women. When I returned home, I felt a renewed sense of self, that any obstacle was surmountable, and that anything is possible.” 

Thursday
Jun132013

ER's Top 10 Romantic Lodges in Africa

Whether your idea of perfect romance is tropical brilliance or exhilarating adventure, old-world safari tents or sleek modern vineyards, surrounded by ocean or surrounded by dunes, eating top gourmet meals or fishing for your own—Africa has it all. Here’s a list of ER’s ten favorite spots to truly feel romance.

Vumbura Plains, Botswana

Vumbura Plains sits in the extreme north of the Okavango Delta. The lodge is styled like a contemporary beachside ranch house—a modern, airy design of light fabrics and pale wood. Each freestanding thatched villa is fitted with a large deck, a private plunge pool and an outdoor shower, all with spectacular views of the surrounding plains. Sit on the deck with your lover and watch as the wildlife pass by: elephants, leopards, hippo, and the famed “Golden Pack” hyenas.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Crater, a World Heritage Site, is a fantastically romantic destination in its own right, but the Lodge is undoubtedly the most spectacular way to view it. Each suite’s exterior is built in the Masaai’s rustic mud-and-stick manyatta style; each interior is fitted in total luxury, including an ensuite chandelier–lit bathroom and an opulent gem-tone design, all of which offer a plush frame for the dramatic views out your window.

Sindabezi Island, Zambia

Sindabezi is unique: a private island in the middle of the Zambezi River. The five open-plan thatched cottages all directly overlook the water, offering singular access to the river’s flora and fauna, and close proximity to Victoria Falls. The only sounds you’ll hear are the rushing water, the hippos, and you.

Delaire Graff, South Africa

Delaire Graff has everything: two gourmet restaurants, a state-of-the-art winery, a beautiful spa and two luxury boutiques, not to mention the stunning backdrop of Stellenbosch’s famed wine country. Nestled between mountains and vineyards, Delaire is paradise at its most sophisticated. Striking Cape Dutch architecture and stylized African interiors are simply the icing on the cake.

Sabora Tented Camp, Tanzania

Most travelers to Africa harbor a fantasy of the tented safari camp, a la Earnest Hemingway, where zebras canter past billowing tents and dinner is served on the open, golden plains. Sabora is the stuff of fantasy-- this northern Tanzanian explorer’s camp is permeated by a sense of nostalgic adventure and by the palpable pulse of the Serengeti.  Guests will delight in the thrill of knowing there isn’t much separating the comforts inside from the wildlife outside.

Vamizi Island, Mozambique

Imagine a tropical paradise, inhabited only by you and your lover, where the breeze blows through white curtains into your villa, and ruffles the surface of your private pool. Just a stone’s throw away, the azure waters teem with turtles, tropical fish, and corals. Samango monkeys chatter in the trees above. Welcome to Vamizi, a private island in the Quirimbas Archipelago of Northern Mozambique.

Kaya Mawa, Malawi

In the middle of spectacular Lake Malawi on Likoma Island sits Kaya Mawa, a luxury waterfront lodge, both chic and rustic. Kaya Mawa was voted as one of the top ten 'Most Romantic Places in the World' by Conde Nast, a Tatler top 101 Hotels in the World, and recently the 3rd Best Beach Property in Africa 2013 by the Good Safari Awards. Dive the unique freshwaters, kitesurf across the surface, or simply enjoy a romantic beachside dinner with your loved one.

Sossusvlei Desert Reserve, Namibia

In the heart of Namibia’s ancient Namib Desert lies the NamibRand Desert Reserve, an oasis of rolling gold, pumpkin and sienna sand dunes—one of the oldest landscapes on Earth. Sossusvlei Deset Lodge is pure luxury, from the air–conditioned desert villas constructed of stone and glass to the private wraparound verandas, outdoor showers, king sized beds, a personal spotting star-scope and the lodge swimming pool and walk-in wine cellar. This is remote, otherworldly wilderness that few will ever experience.

Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Tanzania

Faru Faru Lodge is pure classic, arechtypal African luxury. Fantastic views of the plains? Check. Freestanding porcelain tubs? Check. Sleek and modern wooden interiors? Check. Gorgeous outdoor swimming pool? Check. Access to the most spectacular wildlife on Earth? Yes, indeed. Faru Faru is the perfect jumping-off point for your African safari trip.  

Tintswalo Atlantic, South Africa

In the South African Shangaan language, Tintswalo means “the intangible feeling of love, gratitude and peace bestowed upon someone offering you a meaningful and worthy gift.” African vacations are frequently associated with adventure and exoticism, but Tintswalo offers something different: a charming new home. Atlantic is set above the quaint fishing village of Hout Bay, Cape Town, from where you can access both the city and its gorgeous coastal and inland countryside. But the gorgeous Mediterranean luxury of the lodge itself may make it hard to leave.  

 

Wednesday
Jun122013

Safari Packing List - What to Pack for Safari

 

safari packing list

How should you pack for your African Safari? Packing for any type of trip, be it a weekend getaway or month-long immersion, can seem daunting. However, Epic Road prepares you for every type of weather and possible adventure on your African Safari. Just keep in mind that soft sided luggage is required for smaller bush flights, and these flights also have weight restrictions, so check with Epic Road or your safari operator before packing. With our tried-and-true guide that follows, you won't leave anything behind!

Necessary for Travel

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport photo page with number, photo and important info.
  • Passport-sized photographs (in case of losing your passport, these can serve as a backup).
  • Necessary Visas
  • Yellow Fever inoculation certificate (depending on country).
  • Personal prescription drugs (allergy medication too!). Bring these in your carry-on luggage.
  • Travel insurance plan card
  • Anti-Malaria Tablets (at your own discretion). Pregnant women may choose to avoid these tablets, but able travelers can start taking them a few days before arriving in Africa for optimal effectiveness. Please get advice from a doctor when getting your vaccines. 
  • Universal Voltage Adapter and Converter 

What to Wear on Safari

  • Comfortable Walking Shoes
  • Both T-shirts and long sleeve shirts. Stick with light-colored clothing, because dark blue and black attract sun, mosquitos, and Tsetse flies.
  • Jacket and light sweater are best for early morning and evening game drives.
  • Lightweight water-proof jacket
  • Shorts or light skirts
  • Jeans or cargo pants for cooler days and chilly evenings.
  • Swim and beachwear
  • Extra eyeglasses/contacts and a copy of your most recent prescription

What Else?

  • Camera, along with extra film or memory cards, batteries and charger. Zoom lens can double as binoculars for those who don’t want to carry both.
  • Binoculars A good pair can make or break your safari experience!
  • Toiletries Stored in zip lock bags.
  • Strong insect repellent, at least 25% DEET.
  • Sunblock, sunglasses, hat, skin moisturizer, and lip balm. These are crucial for keeping your eyes and skin protected in the African heat.
  • Headlamp and extra batteries.
  • Ear plugs (evening animal noises can keep you awake!)
  • Melatonin to assist with sleep while adjusting to the jetlag.
  • Select First Aid supplies. Most hotels are equipped with First Aid kits, but it is smart to keep some supplies on hand such as bandaids, eye drops, antiseptic cream and/or pain relief tablets.

Looking for more advice to make your trip a success? Keep an eye on our blog for regular updates!

 

Tuesday
Jun112013

Geometric Storm

This past May 31, an unexpected geometric storm created some stunning views of the aurora. Videographers started posting their time-lapsed clips of the Northern and Southern Lights immediately, wowing viewers from around the world. The exact cause of the storm is unknown, but the following videos are extraordinary for certain!

 

An incredible perspective on the Southern Lights of Tasmania.

 

Northern Lights glowing across the skies of British Columbia.

 

Over Lake Superior, thunderstorms duel with the Northern Lights.

 

Want to witness these awe-inspiring lights first hand? Take a look at our trips to the Arctic. Check out the aurora as well as some great wildlife (like polarbears!) along the way!

Thursday
Jun062013

Wine and Dine in Africa

winelands south africa

Harvesting of grapes at a winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Embarking on a safari might top your to-do list while visiting South Africa, but don't forget about the local African wine and cuisine. Great food paired with great wine may be considered a luxury in our daily lives, but on this continent it is not such a rare find. The farm-to-table movement sweeping U.S. gourmet cuisine is alive and thriving in South Africa, and has been for years. Farm-to-table means using fresh, local ingredients to enhance taste, health, and sustainability. 

Primarily along the Cape, high-end chefs are cooking with vegetables from their on-premise gardens, seafood from the near coasts, and meat raised in local valleys. From traditional South African food to experimental gastronomy, only the freshest of ingredients are dominating top restaurants. And dinner is rarely complete without a careful pairing of one of the country's best wines. 

Some of the finest restaurants and wineries in the world can be found in the winelands surrounding Cape Town, and many of them incorporate their own luxury lodgings. Delight in exquisite African wine and cuisine while enjoying Africa's top hotels.

Delaire Graff Estate

Lodging overlooking the vineyards of the Delaire Graff Estate.

Where to Stay

Le Quartier Francais

On the Western Cape, Le Quartier Francais’ cottage-inspired suites are nestled in lush gardens that offer tranquility amidst the liveliness of Franschhoek. The luxury hotel houses two award-winning restaurant experiences: innovative fine dining in the Tasting Room and tapas-style cuisine in the Common Room. Both are run by Food Network’s 2012 Chef of the Year, Margot Janse. Both are notably vegan and vegetarian friendly. Even the hotel’s available cooking classes use locally grown and seasonal produce. 

The Steenberg Luxury Hotel

Surrounded by gorgeous views of the Constantia Winelands, The Steenberg is situated on the Cape’s oldest running farm. The location allows for both the freshest local cuisine and best African wines, with an emphasis contemporary South African flavors. Guests are welcome to have an impromptu wine tasting at the Wine Tasting Bar or schedule a longer experience in the ambiance of the Wine Tasting Lounge. Catharina, The Steenberg’s acclaimed fine dining restaurant upholds chef Garth Almazan’s philosophy that a meal should be as fresh and minimal as possible. 

One & Only Cape Town

For a more urban experience, One & Only offers modern elegance while maintaining the authenticity of South African city life. The accommodations are exquisitely furnished with color palettes inspired by the vibrancy of African culture. This same tribute to Cape Town can be felt in the food at Reuben’s, the hotel’s on-site restaurant, which prides itself on beautifully crafted dishes with big flavors. Beloved South African chef Reuben Riffel collaborates with the country’s top winemakers to host Wine & Dine Evenings that allow guests to indulge in the diverse tastes of South Africa. 

Delaire

One of South Africa’s most historic wine regions, Stellenbosch, is the backdrop to the Delaire Graff Estate. Once exclusively a farm, the lodge now houses two gourmet restaurants, a spa, two boutiques, and a winery. The estate’s executive chef Christiaan Campbell creates what he likes to call ‘sunshine cuisine’, meaning his clients are brought to life through his food, which uses only ethically sourced ingredients. Owner Laurence Graff also displays his personal collection of South Africa’s contemporary artwork, making Deliare an incredibly unique culinary, hospitality, and fine art destination.

Wednesday
Jun052013

The Best Time to Go On Safari in Africa

So when is the best time to go on safari in Africa? On such an enormous continent, that really depends on where you want to go. If you already have a time in mind, weather can be a great guide to narrowing your options. A month that’s vibrant and dry in one country might be wet and miserable in another. And if you’re not sure when you’ll be on safari, you can use this guide to decide the season that perfectly fits your vision of wild Africa. Here is Epic Road’s handy safari calendar guide!

We've divided the continent up into East Africa and Southern Africa based on common weather patterns.  

African Safari CalendarBest Time to Go on Safari by Epic Road

East Africa: Best time to Go on Safari in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda

In Africa, many safaris follow the path of the Great Migration.  In Tanzania, the Great Migration of ungulates can be seen throughout the year; you just need to know where to look. The migrating herds enter Kenya for a much shorter period, usually from July or August until October – though recent years have seen major arrivals as early as June, and lingerers in the Maasai Mara region until November or even later.  (See our post on the Great Migration calendar.)

In Kenya, the year is divided by two wet seasons—the “long” rains, from April to June, and the “short” rains, spanning a few weeks in November and December. The long rains aren't an ideal time to view game across East Africa, but they are followed by a relatively cool season—and this is the time of the Great Migration. In August, Kenya often experiences a safari crush as herds and their accompanying predators fill the Mara. The short rains are followed by a season of hot, dry weather in from January to March, a perfect time to dive or snorkel on the coast.

In Tanzania, the main rainy season lasts through the spring-- the end of March through May. Afternoon tropical downpours are common, especially on the coast and islands. The dry season, from June to October, is a perfect time to visit. In the winter, most of the ungulates, like the zebras and wildebeest, are calving their young which makes December through the end of February an incredible time to visit as well.

Zanzibar follows a similar pattern to the rest of Tanzania, though it tends to be more humid. The best time to visit is from June to October, when the weather is hot and dry. But December through the end of February can be just as beautiful.

Rwanda, too, is divided by its two rainy seasons—March to May, when rains are heavy and persistant, and October to November. In between are two drier seasons, but because of Rwanda’s pleasant tropical highland climate, rain is always reality in Rwanda.

Southern Africa: Best time to Go on Safari in Botswana, Zambia and Namibia

When it’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s autumn in the South. Southern Africa from February to April tends to be dry and green, following the rains of summer. So-called rain pans, holding large refuges of drinking water, are a draw for some of the region’s most spectacular wildlife, both large and small. Especially for elephants, the mud-bottomed pans are a special treat, and a great way to watch the animals in a social atmosphere. Namibia and Botwana are particularly lovely in these months.

May brings the floodwater to the Okavango Delta. This is one of the most interesting and exciting times to watch the wildlife. As the tongue of the flood moves through the dry riverbeds, the region explodes in a spectacular show of flora and fauna. The hippo and crocodiles have been waiting for this moment. It’s a time for them to shine.

As the southern Hemisphere tilts away from the sun, temperatures across southern Africa drop. At night, temperatures can be close to freezing, especially in the drier Kalahari. Great flocks of birds have arrived with the floods. The molapos, or seasonal swamps, of the Okavango Delta are filled, attracting enormous herds of zebra, giraffe, buffalo, and impala. In August, the elephants are feeding on the fruit of the palm tree. The congregation of many animals in small, concentrated wet areas can lead to a busy peak season for safaris, but in many ways, this is the Okavango at it's most beautiful. 

In spring, the trees start to flower. The molapos are filled with waterlilies, making for beautiful, verdant vistas.

DecemberJanuary, and February are the hottest months in southern Africa, easily reaching temperatures of forty degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Okavango Delta, the rains make it an imperfect time to safari, and in Zambia too, this is the “emerald season,” full of flooding rains that force camps to close and make roads impassable. Instead, head to the Kalahari Desert, which is spectacular this time of year. 

Southern Africa: The Cape

The Southern Cape (and Cape Town) has weather patterns unlike anywhere else in southern Africa, which is partially what makes the region so fascinating and unique. From November to March, while it rains in the rest of southern Africa, the Cape is hot, sunny, and dry—perfect vacation weather. Christmas and New Years are beautiful, but can be predictably busy with local and international vacationers.

The winter—from April to August—is cooler, with a bit more rain. June and July are pleasant but changeable, locally known as the “four seasons in one day” time. September marks the beginning of spring—famous in Namaqualand for fields full of blossoming fynbos flowers.

 

Monday
May202013

Under African Skies

In the major metropolises where many of us dwell, the primordial beauty of the stars is shut out by light from skyscrapers, stadiums, and advertisements. Luckily, much of Africa remains the world's most pristine wilderness, making it the perfect place to rediscover and experience firsthand the amazing power of the night sky. Here are some of Epic Road's favorite African locations to do just that. 

MoroccoZagora & M'hamid, Dunes of Erg Chigaga

Travelers to the Dunes of Erg Chigaga report a sky more thickly laced with stars than any they’ve ever seen. The dunes, southwest of Marrakesh, are located sixty miles from the nearest trafficked road. This is true desert. Enjoy a delicious tajine dinner on a moonlit sand dune and then absorb the awesome power of the fiery sky.

Namibia: Namib Desert

In this nearly lunar landscape, one of the world’s oldest, it makes sense that the universe should feel so close and almost palpable. The low and flat desert horizon frames and accentuates the dome of earth’s atmosphere. According to NASA, Namibia boasts one of the planet's darkest night skies, creating a spectacular showcase for shooting stars, constellations, and the Milky Way.

Serengeti: Lamai Wedge

Sleeping beneath the enormous, glittering Lamai sky is a singular experience. The stars seem almost to descend and kiss the ground. Lay back and search for Scorpio, Cygnus the Swan, and Taurus. You may even be joined by star-gazing companions, like hyenas, wildebeest, and elephants.

Malawi: Likoma Island, Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is a truly magical spot to view the celestial landscape. At night, fishermen use lanterns on their canoes, dotting the lake like stars in the night sky. Above, the stars twinkle like diamonds in velvet, creating a 360-degree sparkling panorama. 

Mozambique: Quilalea Island

Where better to star-gaze than from the isolation of a private island? At Quilalea, only the gentle sound of the surf can interrupt what may be one of the most romantic, stellar nights of your life. The pink and blue cloud of the Milky Way is visible overhead almost every night.

Botswana: Duba Plains, Okavango Delta The Southern Hemisphere offers a completely different view of the universe than the Northern. On a clear winter’s night (June-September), with a strong telescope, there’s a possibility of glimpsing Mars, Jupiter with its four Galilean moons, and the ever-stunning ringed Saturn.  

Friday
May172013

Rebuilding the Circle: Africa's Conservation Success Stories

Africa conservation of animals

The African continent is one of the few remaining places where we can witness the breath-taking range of nature’s diversity. Although 45 percent of the world’s wilderness lies in Africa, the human population is growing at nearly twice the global rate. With a growing population come serious threats to the natural majesty of the continent. From the windy crucible of the Cape to the steaming jungle of the Congo, from the red moonscape of the Kalahari to the blizzards of the Atlas Mountains—totally unique biospheres are disappearing before our eyes.

But the future isn’t hopeless. The tireless efforts of individuals across the continent to turn back the tide of environmental degradation make a difference every day. Here are some inspiring examples of conservation efforts in Africa that are succeeding.

Gorongosa National Park: Gorongosa National Park lies at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley, in the heart of central Mozambique. Known as “Africa’s lost Eden,” Gorongosa was recently and miraculously brought back from the brink of disappearance. Years of civil war in the country decimated the large mammal population (including hippos, elephants, buffalo, zebra, and lions) by over ninety percent, and ravaged the natural landscape.

But in 2004, the American-based Carr Foundation and the Government of Mozambique teamed up to restore the park. They reintroduced both large mammals and tiny critters, like ants, essential to rebuilding a complete ecosystem, and refurbished Chitengo Safari Camp. Since then, Gorongosa has emerged as one of Africa’s greatest success stories—wildlife is thriving and the park is once again beginning to function as a wonderful place to experience African safari. As E.O. Wilson, one of the world’s most celebrated biodiversity scientists, said, Gorongosa gives us the rare opportunity to “see earth as it looked and felt before the coming of humanity.”

Vamizi Turtle Preservation:

Mozambique’s Vamizi Island is famous for its private resort, its simple luxury, and its unspoilt beaches—but it’s also home to a large population of green and hawksbill turtles, who lay their eggs on the same pristine beaches where we tan and swim. When baby turtles hatch each winter, they immediately begin an arduous trek down to the water’s edge. Turtle survival is already one of nature’s greatest lotteries, made much more difficult by the intervention of humans who poach them for their shells or catch them in fishermen’s nets.

Since 2012, the WWF has been working with Vamizi to stabilize the turtle population. A fulltime staff of nine protects the nests, nurtures hatchlings, spreads the turtle news throughout the local community, and encourages the island’s guests to get involved hands-on.

The plight of the turtles is one of the most compelling and accessible conservation stories on Earth, and as a result, success stories are multiplying. Why not combine a world-class luxury retreat in Vamizi with the life-changing opportunity to watch hatchlings emerge from shells, and nudge them towards survival?

Singita Grumeti Anti-Poaching Unit

Before 2002, illegal poaching across Singita Grumeti in Tanzania, west of the Serengeti, was a daily occurrence. Poaching undermined the tourist potential of the reserves and, in doing so, undermined the ability of local communities to reap sustainable benefits from the area’s rich natural resources.

In 2002, Singita Grumeti Lodge, alongside the Tanzanian Wildlife Division, created an anti-poaching unit to patrol the area, consisting of 120 rangers (many of them ex-poachers) and resulting in unprecedented success. Since the creating of the unit, illegal poaching within Singita Grumeti has been virtually eradicated, and ecotourism is thriving.

Recently, Singita Grumeti has reintroduced black rhino into the reserve, as part of the “Save the Rhino” repatriation initiative, in the hope of revitalizing the population’s numbers and genetic diversity.  

Big Life Foundation

Singita Grumeti isn’t the organization that’s successfully tackling poaching in East Africa. The Big Life Foundation, founded in 2010 by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham, is dedicated to coordinated cross-border poaching prevention. In its first 22 months of existence, Big Life made 627 arrests and confiscated 1639 weapons in the Amboseli ecosystem across Kenya and Tanzania where Big Life operates. They are successfully protecting 2 million acres on a daily basis with a team of more than 250 rangers—all of whom are hired from local communities.

Since its inception, Big Life has branched out into other, innovative conservation efforts, such as GPS rhino tracking, doggy rangers, a compensation fund for livestock killed by endangered predators, and a Maasai Olympics.

The efforts of these committed conservationists are keeping certain species afloat. But much of their success depends on continued interest in the region, which spurs demand for conservation and makes it financially viable. Tourism is essential to keeping Africa’s biodiversity alive.

By choosing an African safari that engages and explores these issues, you’re choosing to keep the efforts to solve them alive.  

Friday
May032013

Epic Road's Most Romantic Honeymoon Safaris

romantic honeymoon safari

Whether you're looking to relax together in the utmost elegant luxury, or to strengthen your bond over thrilling natural adventures, Epic Road has the most romantic trip for you. 

Rwanda: Trekking with Gorillas

With less than 800 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild, the time to see them is now. Ascend the slopes of Rwanda’s dormant volcanoes into dense, misty green forest, and come face-to-face with the great ape who shares 95% of our DNA. Be amazed by the eerily familiar behavior of these intelligent, charismatic and endangered apes as they eat, nap, and play in family groups.

Cape Town, South Africa: Jet-set holiday

Cape Town is the most European of African cities–a true melting pot, molded by Dutch and English imperialism, and deeply infused by the indigenous African cultures. The glittering skyscrapers that stretch towards the cloud-wreathed peak of Table Mountain are punctuated by the shouts of children in the townships and the call of the muezzin from the mosque. In one day, you can experience dazzling landscapes, visit cutting-edge art galleries, and enjoy a world-class meal made from the region’s many farms and vineyards.

Serengeti Plains, Tanzania: Africa's vast plains and you

Experience the Africa of storybooks and documentaries of the Serengeti Plains. Wide open savannahs, herds of wildebeest and big cats tracking them down. Zebras, elephants, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes and you. Reminiscent of a bygone era, Singita Sabora Tented Camp dishes up lavish doses of romance, exploration and intrigue. It's location on a private reserve in the Serengeti will often make you feel like you’re the only one on the planet. Alone to experience Africa’s vastness.

Arctic Circle: Northern Lights

The delicate, painterly wash of the Aurora Borealis is worth staying up for. Nestle close with your loved one outside of your safari-style luxury igloo while the sky lights up in psychedelic pinks and greens. In the morning, helicopter over the ice floes in search of a mother polar bear with her cubs, and the rare Torngat caribou herds. When night falls, settle once again into the warmth and luxury of your own personal igloo.

Mozambique Archipelago: Lost in the Indian Ocean

Aside from the wonderful staff on Mozambique’s Vamizi Island, who provide everything—shade, lunch, drinks, snorkeling equipment—don’t expect to see a soul. In this most remote, pristine setting, you and your loved one can dive with whales, dolphins, turtles, giant parrotfish, and manta rays, fish for your dinner, explore the island’s conservation activities with the World Wildlife Fund, or simply lie on the beach and let your worries be washed away by the island’s beauty and gentle surf.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Wonders of the World

Few natural sights are as arresting as the massive Victoria Falls, the biggest waterfall in the world and one of Africa’s top draws. Less known however, are the wonders that surround the waterfall in this rich and diverse regions—one of Africa’s most beautiful. Swim in the thrilling precariousness of Victoria Falls’ Devil’s pool. Lounge beside hippos as they bathe in the great Zambezi River. Bungee jump next to the awesome, powerful Falls. Safari on the back of an elephant. This is romance at its most exciting.

Namibia and Botswana: Animal Adventure

The Kalahari Desert, stretching across Namibia and Botswana, is Africa’s oldest, unchanged landscape. This land of epic dunes, volcanic mountains, and prolific plains is also home to some of Africa’s most luxury safari lodges. In addition to spectacular landscapes—vast deserts with thousand-foot sand dunes and a coastline strewn with bleached whalebones and ancient shipwrecks. Stay at the Serra Cafema Camp in the northwest corner of Kakaoland to enjoy the mars-like landscape in luxury. Then head to greener Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where you can spot some of Earth’s most adorable creatures (giraffes, elephants, zebra, wild dog, hippopotami, lions, and leopards) gather at the rich floodplains near Selinda Camp.

Stellenbosch and Franschoek, South Africa: Food and Wine

Few regions on earth rival the gustatory bounty of South Africa’s Western Cape. This is the heart of Africa’s farm-to-table movement, a veritable eden of vegetable garden’s, sheep farms, vineyards, orchards, and even apiaries. Feast your eyes and stomach on the best that culinary Africa has to offer—from famous fine dining to over one hundred wine cellars open to the public. 

Thursday
Apr252013

The Great Migration: Epic Road's Recs

The great migration is one of Earth’s most thrilling spectacles—and one of Africa’s most consistent draws. Every year, millions of zebra, Thomson’s gazelles, giraffe, and wildebeest move northwards across Africa from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains to the Maasai Mara in Kenya in search of food and water. As the grazers move, so do the predators, in anticipation of the massive herds of prey. In fact, it’s the greatest migration of mammals on the planet. The arduous journey covers 18000 miles in a clockwise circle, and every year, many animals don’t finish it.

Whether you’re watching it from an open vehicle, on foot, or in a hot air balloon (yes, really) the great migration is a seriously spectacular sight. Stand witness to the natural majesty of lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, cheetahs, leopards, wildebeest and more as the move across the African plain, interacting at close quarters. Watch crocodiles as they hunt their prey in the Grumeti and Mara Rivers. Watch lions stalking antelope. Watch massive herds of wildebeest and zebra graze peacefully together on the flat, green plains.

The great migration in its totality lasts the whole year, meaning that there’s a wide variety of places and times to view the action. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorites, by season. 

January, February, March: Ndutu (southern Serengeti)

In the southern Serengeti, the herds birth their calves—almost all are born during a three-week period. When the herds and the newborns are strong enough they restart the migration north. Wildebeest babies are born to run, and can run alongside their mothers almost immediately after birth.

ER recommended lodges: Kusini Tented Camp, Olakira Ndutu

April, May: Seronera (central Serengeti)

In late spring, the herds move north into the Central Serengeti for rainy season. Seronera, in the Serengeti National Park, can be a taxing place to watch the migration, due to a high volume of tourists and restrictions for off-road safaris, but with the rainy season, it’s off peak with many camps closed. So in summary not our favorite time but it can have its own charm if the camps are open.

ER Recommended Lodges: Dunia, Serengeti Under Canvas, Four Seasons Serengeti

June, July: Grumeti River (western Serengeti)

The Grumeti River, in the northwest Serengeti, is the first major obstacle facing the herds. While attempting to cross the river, herds are exposed to hunting crocodiles, hoping to take advantage of distressed zebra and wildebeest.

The Grumeti River crossing is one of our favorite moments and places to see the migration, because of the stunning natural beauty of the region and the high quality of its luxury lodges.

ER Recommended Lodges: Faru Faru, Sabora Tented Camp, Singita Explore

August, September, October: Lamai Wedge, Mara River and Maasai Mara

As fall arrives, the herds move northeast towards the Mara River and eventually into the Maasai Mara. The rolling hills and endless plains of the region make for a beautiful, unforgettable backdrop to the migration. It's a picturesque, remote and unspoiled part of the Serengeti. The Mara River too, is filled with chomping crocs.

ER Recommended Lodges: Sayari Mara Camp, Lamai Serengeti, Singita Mara River Camp, Serengeti Bushtops, Governors Camp

November, December: Lobo and Seronera

The herds move south in winter, crossing back into the Serengeti National Park to birth their young and begin the cycle anew.

ER Recommended Lodges: &Beyond Klein's Camp and Serengeti Under Canvas

 

Visit Epic Road to learn more about the Great Migration


Wednesday
Apr242013

Best Documentaries on Africa

documentaries on african safaris

Here at Epic Road, we like to get ready for our epic journeys and African safaris by reading up on the natural history of the region. Another, faster way to prep is watching some of the best documentaries on Africa there are—and there are many. Here are a few great recommendations to get you excited and aware.

The Last Lions

A collaboration between National Geographic and Explorers-in-Residence Derek and Beverly Joubert, The Last Lions documents the rapid decline of Africa’s lion population due to poaching and a terrible lack of government protection. The film documentary focuses on a lioness named Ma di Tau ("Mother of Lions") as she battles to protect her cubs against the daunting onslaught of enemies to ensure their survival. This is the jumping-off point for a disturbing, well-researched and beautifully shot cri de coeur about our moral duty to save this majestic species and others like it.

BBC’s Planet Earth

There’s no one segment on Africa in this mind-boggling series about the world’s wealth of little-known natural wonders; rather, spectacular footage of the continent is sprinkled throughout. Look out for a lion pride’s elephant hunt, elephants migrating towards the Okavango Delta, a seasonal bloom of life in the otherwise arid Kalahari desert, huge families of gelada monkeys living on the steep precipices of Ethopian highlands, and the touching, uncannily human behavior of Chimpanzees in the Congo.

War Dance

In war-torn Uganda, the L. R. A. (Lord's Resistance Army) kidnaps young children, turning girls into sex slaves and boys into soldiers. Thousands of children seek refuge from the L. R. A. in the Patongo camp, and this film follows several of the camp's children as they compete in the National Music Competition. Despite the enormous odds against them, these children manage to find new life and hope in dance. A story of human resilience in the face of total brutality, War Dance was nominated for an Academy Award and heralded as one of the best documentaries about Africa.

Africa

BBC’s latest addition to its spectacular annals of nature documentaries is Africa, a beautifully shot, in-depth look at the elusive continent. Narrated by David Attenborough, the series travels across Africa region-by-region, capturing never-before-recorded natural phenomena and animal behaviors on film.