EPIC ROAD'S SAFARI BLOG

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Thursday
Mar132014

Top Natural Wonders of Africa

Botswana SafariAt Epic Road we’re privileged to have travelled through some of nature’s most breathtaking places and inspiring landscapes,  and we’re often asked which would make it onto our bucket list of the world's most spectacular must-see natural wonders. It’s a tough choice, but here are our favorites for sub-Saharan Africa:

1.) Botswana – The Okavango Delta: In the middle of the arid Kalahari Desert lies a miracle of nature: a lush oasis of waterways and islands, teeming with birds, wildlife, and flowers. This remote, remarkable wetland known as The Okavango Delta is flooded each year with approximately 2.63 cubic miles of water, which eventually evaporates, transpires and drains into the adjacent Lake Ngami.  The floods peak between June and August when the delta expands to three times its normal size, and the abundance of water attracts animals from surrounding territories, resulting in one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. Visitors to the Delta can expect to see bush elephant and buffalo, hippopotamus, blue wildebeest, giraffe, lion, cheetah, leopard, brown hyena, spotted hyena, black rhinos and white rhinos, along with one of the Africa's richest pack densities of the endangered wild dog. Birders will also be kept busy trying to spot the more than 400 species of birds that inhabit the area.

We love the Okavango Delta because it is a place where conservation is prioritized and travelers have access not only to a place of great natural beauty and peaceful energy, but can also learn, explore and experience amazing adventures while on their luxury African safari

Related Epic Road Luxury African Safaris:

Selinda & Okavango Delta - Botswana's Water Wonderland

Botswana Family Safari: The Lion King Experience

2.) Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda – The Virunga National Park: The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo runs along the border between Uganda and Rwanda, and boasts a rich diversity that surpasses any other park in Africa.  This UNESCO World Heritage site covers an area close to 2,000,000 acres, with multiple habitats that include swamps and steppes, the snowfields of Rwenzori, lava plains and grassy savannahs. The Virunga Mountain range also consists of eight, mostly dormant volcanoes, except for Mounts Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira (both in the Democratic Republic of Congo)—which also happen to be the most active volcanoes on the continent.

The park is also home to iconic African animal and plant species—many of which are red listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—including the critically endangered mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorillas, African elephants, chimpanzees, owl-faced monkeys,  and more than 20,000 hippos.  We are in awe of the men and women who toil tirelessly in efforts to protect all wildlife in the park.  It is one of the most incredible biomes in the world, definitely worth saving, and definitely worth a visit on your African safari !

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda

Rare and Endangered Wildlife in Uganda

3.) Kenya – the Rift Valley: If watching the Great Wildebeest Migration from a hot air balloon isn’t on your bucket-list, well, it should be, as the the experience is an unbeatable way in which to view one of nature’s most incredible shows.  The Migration ends in Kenya's Maasai Mara region,  situated in the Rift Valley, with the Serengeti Plains running along its southern end.  The Mara covers 200 square miles of open plains, woodlands and riverine forests and is home to an enormous variety of wild life, including zebra, giraffe, gazelles, monkeys, buffalo, elephants, and hippos. It is a place where mighty herds congregate, where the cycle of life plays out daily, and Maasai warriors share their ancestral homeland with the fierce predators of Africa.

From July to October every year, the search for fertile grazing grounds and water draws more than 1.3 million Wildebeest who migrate in a single massive herd across the Serengeti over the border into Kenya—an amazing display of nature that stretches from one horizon to the other. The Mara River presents a formidable challenge for the Wildebeest, who plunge into the raging waters, fighting against swift currents and the constant threat of hungry crocodiles.  The Wildebeest herds are then followed by predators, most especially lions, though cheetah, hyena and jackals are also commonly sighted.

The region is also home to the Maasi people, who value tradition and ritual, and who rarely hunt, preferring to live harmoniously alongside wildlife. It is this rare co-existence of man and wildlife that makes the Maasai one of the most unique natural habitats in the world, and one of the most unforgettable places you can visit on your luxury African safari.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Crossing the Mighty Mara River

Maasai Wilderness and Elephant Conservation Safari

Maasai Walking Safari: A Slow Safari Experience

Conserving Africa's Big Cats - Kenya

4.) Mozambique - Vamizi: There are times when it’s not only what you see on the surface that takes your breath away; sometimes you have to look a little deeper, like the beautiful landscapes of Vamizi, one of 32 tropical islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago. This narrow stretch of land is covered with thick forests of Acacia, Hibiscus and Casuarina trees, and edged by glittering white-sand beaches that give way to the pristine turquoise ocean. Vamizi is a sanctuary for humans and animals alike: a place where green turtles make arduous journies up the sands to lay their eggs, giant coconut crabs nestle within the coral, and rare samango monkeys and exotic birds make their homes within mangrove forests.

It is when you venture beneath the surface of the gentle waves, that you realise the true natural beauty of Vamizi. Here, the coral reefs have been protected from bleaching by cool rising currents from the deep, and are alive with vibrant colourful sponges, corals and a myriad of fish species. The huge laced gorgonian fan corals which cling to the sides of the drop offs and the whip corals swaying in the gentle currents are mesmirizing, and for experienced divers the opportunity to explore Neptune’s Arm—considered one of the top ten dive sites in the world—will be impossible to resist.

We love Vamizi for its exquisite tranquility above and below the surface, and because of the emphasis on sustainable luxury safaris, leaving the island refreshingly free of the damage that often results from tourism and development.  

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Vamizi Island, Mozambique: Castaway Chic

5.) Namibia – the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Kunene Region: Namibia is known for its varied dramatic landscapes, and the strikingly beautiful dune fields of the Namib and the Sossusvlei, found in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the southern part of the Namib Desert, are absolute must-sees. The Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by massive dunes, many of which exceed 600 feet, and glow vivid shades of red, orange and pink, the result of high iron deposits in the sand.  Vegetation grows on the higher dunes, drawing water from underground ephemeral rivers which occasionally flood the surface, and when dry the pans turn almost white from the resulting concentration of salt.  While the Sossusvlei is not teeming with wildlife, there are many small animals in their area which can survive with little water, including small reptiles, rodents and jackals, as well as larger mammals such as oryxes and springboks and ostriches.

The Kunene region is one of even more contrasts. You wouldn’t expect it but the arid, lunar-like landscape is becoming a genuine wildlife destination where you’ll regularly see desert-adapted animals including elephants, black rhino, lions, Hartmanns Zebra, giraffe and gemsbok. We love that the government had the foresight to give local communities land management rights, resulting in more than 70 conservancies and wildlife sanctuaries, and successful conservation efforts that have led to an increase in the number of desert-adapted black rhinos, one of the largest and fastest-growing rhino populations on the continent.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Romance and Luxury in the Nambian Desert

6.) South Africa – the whole country: South Africa has so much to offer visitors that we’re declaring the entire country a natural wonder!  This modern, cosmopolitan nation has an incredibly rich biodiversity, which plays out across some of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, along with rich forests, stunning coastlines and deserts. The Cape Floral Kingdom, found in the southwest portion of the Western Cape, contains 9600 plant species, 70% of which do not grow naturally anywhere else on earth. Table Mountain, in the heart of the Floral Kingdom, has more than 1,500 plant species alone, and the views from the 3,500 fot, flat-topped sandstone peak are spectacular. 

Then there’s the incredible wildlife. While South Africa covers less than one percent of the earth’s land mass, it is home to six percent of the world’s mammal and reptile species, and ten percent of the world’s plant, fish and bird species. Sightings of Africa’s Big Five happen on a daily basis, particularly in the Kruger National Park. South Africa is also the custodian of 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, and the opportunity to catch sight of one of these prehistoric creatures during your South African safari is an experience that will linger for a lifetime.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Jet Set in Cape Town

Vintage Wine and Fantastic Food in Cape Winelands

Microchip a Rhino in the African Wild

South Africa Family Safari: Luxury, Wildlife and Adventure for All

7.) Tanzania - Kilimanjaro National ParksNgorongoro Crater: With Serengeti (shared with Kenya) and Kilimanjaro National Parks and Ngorongoro included on the list of winners of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, it’s easy to understand why we include it on our top ten.  To begin with, the Great Wildebeest Migration, which occurs from July to October of every year, starts in the Serengeti, and is considered one of the most spectacular wildlife events in all of nature. Then there's the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, one of Africa’s best known attractions and one of the the most accessible of the world's highest peaks.  The landscapes of Kilimanjaro are diverse, with the cultivated lower slopes making way for lush forest, and encompassing habitats for elephants, leopard, buffalo and the endangered abbot’s duiker, along with other small antelope and primates. Higher up the slopes you’ll find the moorland zone. Higher still, the alpine desert which supports very little life, and gives way to the ice, snow and majestic views from atop the roof of continent.

In addition to these wonders, Tanzania contains the nearly three-million-year-old Ngorongoro Crater, a vast un-flooded volcanic caldera home to almost every species of wildlife in East Africa—an estimated 25,000 animals.  And also not to be missed on your Tanzania safari: the fascinating, historical Zanzibar Archipelago, off the Tanzanian coast, which include the culturally significant islands of Unguja (known more commonly as Zanzibar) and Pemba. Zanibar's location in the Indian Ocean made it a natural regional trading center, famous for its spices, Stone Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and exquisite coastlines.  Unguja especially is renowned for its powdery white sand beaches and fringing coral reefs, rich in marine biodiversity.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Safari in the Ngorongoro Crater

Serengeti Safari: Witness the Great Migration

Safari in Zanzibar: Low Key and Local

Tanzania Family Safari: A Classic African Experience

8.) Zambia and Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls: When it comes to understanding the incredible power of nature, there is nothing like an African adventure safari at Victoria Falls. Located on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, this awe inspiring curtain of water has columns of spray that can be seen from miles away. The falls are classified as the largest in the world based on their width of 5,604 feet and height of 354 feet, and at the peak of the rainy season more than 1.766 cubic feet of water per minute plunges into the river gorges below, transforming the generally placid Zambezi into a ferocious torrent of rolling rapids and rolicking waves.

The walls that encase Victoria Falls are capped by mist-soaked rainforest, and the surrounding area also contains two national parks: The UNESCO designated Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which runs over 16,000 acres on the Zambian side, and the 5,683 acre Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe.  There are also a number of smaller parks—including the Zambezi National Park, Matetsi Safari Area, Kazuma Pan National Park and Hwange National Park—containing sizeable populations of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, and a variety of antelope. Vervet monkeys and baboons are also common, and the portion of the Zambezi River above the falls is also home to large populations of hippos and crocodile.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Re-Imagining Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe Safari: Autheticity by Car, Boat and Foot

Victoria Falls Family Safari: A Water Wonderland

 

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.