What is Ecotourism, and How is it Transforming African Safari Tours?

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Chances are good that if you have looked into booking an African safari vacation, you have encountered the word “ecotourism.” This term can be confusing since it is used in many different ways by different organizations.

At its heart, ecotourism refers to a method of travel that minimizes your negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Many also include education as a necessary component of ecotourism; they believe that visitors to a region should learn about the local ecosystem and the lives of the people that live within it. Whereas normal tourism may seek to change the appearance of a destination to make it more of a pleasure-focused experience, ecotourism intends to transform the perspective of travellers by introducing them to new ways of thinking, living and acting.

Abiding 100 percent to the principles of ecotourism is tough in our consumer-focused economy, especially given the impact of our growing populations around the world. Yet, many ecotourism safari tours split the difference by minimizing their impact on the environment, promoting conservation causes and enlightening travellers while still providing a comfortable experience.

Ecotourism Definition and The Importance of Education

The concept of ecotourism has been defined in many different ways by different organizations. These organizations themselves even shift the definition over time to reflect the goals and realities of ecotourism.

Perhaps the best definition comes from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015).  Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

TIES only recently solidified education’s role within their definition, but they have a good reason for it.

People who adhere to ecotourism principles believe that anyone who visits a destination should not just enjoy the exact same comforts they find back home, nor should they be presented with the same simplified “cartoon” version of the locale they might see on TV. Instead, the goal is to momentarily share the life of others there, including both the local people and animals.

By understanding more about how the Maasai people in Tanzania maintain their nomadic traditions, for instance, you can see how the lives they lead are a conscious choice that brings them satisfaction. You can also learn about their history of strict conservatism and dedication to the rights of living beings, including their refusal to eat game and birds.

Similarly, learning about the unique beauty and characteristics of the white rhino can help you understand why it is so important to prevent their extinction.

Conservation Ecotourism

Most public parks and private organizations in Africa now have a dedicated conservation component to their operations. Instead of trading off the sanctity of their ecosystems and preferred lifestyles for the sake of tourism income, they adapt their visitor programs to have a minimal impact and include significant educational components. Additionally, many of the proceeds from visitors are now donated to wildlife programs or used to directly fund operations like animal rescues.

For instance, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya uses funds generated by visitors to support innovations and advancements in wildlife protection. These funds help them do things like pioneer the use of aerial drones and image-recognition AIs, which track wildlife movements and detect poachers before they can make their move.

Learn Some of the Three Best Ecotourism Safari Tours to Try

Africa is rich with organizations and programs offering transformative ecotourism experiences. We will cover three of the most interesting examples in our next post for you to take a look at.

You can also find many other ecotourism-related experiences within our curated African safari tour packages. Start planning your trip today with our helpful suggestions, and contact us if you are interested in custom ecotourism safari tours to match your interests.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Secrets of Namibia: Explore the Skeleton Coast

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You can find the Skeleton Coast in the northern part of South Africa’s Namibia coast. It stretches alongside the Atlantic Ocean, south of Angola from the Kunene River. Over time, it has been referred to as “the gates of hell.” But the Skeleton Coast isn’t just a destination for horror fanatics. In fact, despite the storied history of crashed vessels and shipwrecks, the Skeleton Coast is popular today as an excellent place for surfing.

Curious about the history of the Skeleton Coast? Eager to hit the waves? Explore the Skeleton Coast of Namibia on your African safari journey and take home a story to remember!

About The Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast gets its name from a myriad of sources. For one, when the whaling industry was at its peak, whale and seal bones littered the shore, leaving literal skeletons behind as the rest of the animals were harvested. Today, a different type of carcass can also be stumbled upon: rusting ships and boat debris from the numerous accidents and tragedies that have befallen sailors who took on the seas while unprepared, battling intense winds and shifting currents as well as a cold, dense fog.

One of these vessels, the MV Dunedin Star, ran aground in 1942. A complicated but successful mission saved all of its passengers and crew, and the historical rescue was documented in a novel by John Henry Marsh, published in 1944. The book’s title? Skeleton Coast. The name has stuck to maps and with locals ever since.

Exclusive Shores

The Skeleton Coast National Park contains the most inaccessible shores, seized by a combination of harsh weather conditions, loose sands and massive shipwrecks. To best navigate the coast, the park is divided into two sections, north and south. The southern section can be traversed by 4-wheel drive vehicles, and you can drive as far up as the Ugab River Gate before the terrain becomes too dangerous. The northern section can only be explored by plane.

Salt Pans, Clay Castles and Seal Colonies

But it’s not just a bleak history tour. In the northern half of the park, you can visit the Agate Mountain salt pans and the clay castles of the Hoarusib River for some breathtaking views or ideal photography opportunities. For an extra delight, you can also go to Cape Fria and see a huge seal colony, with almost 50,000 seals taking advantage of the fish and plankton that fill the waters.

Epic Surfing Spots

Then, in the southern region, grab a surfboard and join the many thrill seekers in the ocean. Swells consistently hit along the Skeleton Coast and, with enough training and tact, you can find some epic spots to surf. The water produces waves in fast and thick bursts, with strong tidal rips crashing in. Follow the line of surfers from May to September and keep an eye out for sharks — for surfer enthusiasts, the experience will be well worth it!

Namibia Safari Tours: See More of Africa

It sounds brutal, but despite its perilous reputation, the Skeleton Coast is a beautiful spot to discover — and certainly unique as a tourist destination. Some tours can be costly, particularly to the northern region of the park, where extra travel precautions must be taken. However, a trip to the Skeleton Coast will more than make up for it with the exclusivity of experiencing one of the best kept secrets of Namibia.

So what are you waiting for? Namibia safari tour packages are available right now and can be customized however you choose. Earn your bragging rights by braving the Skeleton Coast. Or, at the very least, make friends with some seals. Book your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Where to Visit Africa in August

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Africa’s predictable seasons make planning your African safari tour easy. Different parts of the continent have peak visiting times throughout the year for various attractions, helping you pick the most astonishing and memorable activities to take part in during your trip depending on the time you choose.

If you aim to visit Africa in August, for instance, it is the perfect time for both viewing wild game and experiencing some of the most incredible cities on the continent. To help you plan your trip, take a look at the following exciting places to see and activities you can do there.

Botswana

August means that the long, dry winter season in southern Africa is finally winding to a close. During the course of the winter, a lack of rain causes much of the vegetation to die and the temporary water holes to deplete.

This may not sound like the most scenic time to visit, but less vegetation means it will be easier to spot animals that are unable to hide in the tall summer grasses. A lack of water also means that many animals like elephants, lions, gazelle and antelope will all gather near the remaining rivers and permanent water holes, creating spectacular interactions and perfect photo ops.

To get the best viewing in Botswana during your August safari, make sure to visit Chobe National Park and the Moremi Game Reserve.

Namibia

Winter in Africa can bring some surprisingly chilly winds and frigid nights. In August, these temperatures finally begin to inch their way back up, creating the perfect in-between weather for a light jacket and mild days.

There may be no better time on the calendar to visit the deserts of Namibia. You can take sunrise pictures of the towering dunes to capture magnificent photos worthy of a National Geographic spread.

Cape Town, South Africa

Mild weather makes Cape Town a veritable paradise in August. The incredible wildflowers of Table Mountain first begin to bloom around this time, and many wineries are just beginning to roll out the red carpet for Spring’s slew of guests.

Whale watching is also incredible during this time of year. Many pods of southern right whales converge upon South Africa’s coast to calve during this time, offering one of the best opportunities of the year to see them breaching with their mates and newborn calves.

Zambia

Travelling to Zambia in August offers a fair mix of weather and small crowds as the area’s bush camps begin to prepare for their busy season. Mana Pools National Park is a great place to visit during this time as there are few mosquitos, the days are often clear and wildlife viewing is optimal thanks to the thinned vegetation.

You could also travel to South Luangwa National Park for a unique canoeing safari trip where you can get up close and personal with some of the continent’s most iconic animals.

Lake Malawi

The start of spring also happens to be amazing beach weather, giving you a wonderful excuse to explore the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Malawi on a sailboat or kayak.

Book Your August African Safari Tour Now to Save

Booking your African safari tour for August right now can give you the perfect opportunity to save on lodging and game viewing rates. As the peak tourism season approaches, many game lodges and camps still struggle with vacancies and sometimes offer incentives to fill their books.

Take a look at our sample African safari tour itineraries to get an idea of the amazing time you could be having on your luxurious African vacation in August.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Options for Travelling Within Africa

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Once you reach Africa for your safari vacation, you have many options at your disposal for travelling around the continent. Some of them are cheap, some are comfortable, some are quick, some are convenient, and some are very safe. Few offer all five.

You must decide your own priorities when trying to arrange transportation within the country you arrive at. The following are some of the options you may have for travelling on your African safari tour along with their respective pros and cons.

Train

Riding by train is one of the few options that can check off most of the needed boxes. In most areas, it’s quick, incredibly cheap, often borderline luxurious, and definitely safe. The only issue is that it may not be convenient since train service is limited to the number of rails available.

Going between common destinations like Pretoria and Cape Town is a perfect fit for travelling across southern Africa by train. But when you need to travel north to areas with less-developed infrastructure, things can literally get a bit more rickety. Therefore, make sure to research the reputation of the rail service you intend to use to ensure you will get the level of service you expect.

Charter Bus

Charter bus services like Baz Bus are perfectly oriented towards tourists and backpackers. They offer direct service to common destinations, including trips between Johannesburg and major cities like Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Tickets offer convenient hop-on, hop-off service, including unlimited rides within a set time period.

The only issue is that longer trips can get fairly steep, above $150, and that few of these trips bring you to game reserves and parks. Nevertheless, a charter bus is a great alternative to flying or trains.

Minivan Taxis

If you want a true African experience and plenty of harrowing moments, then a minivan taxi is for you.

Be warned that drivers pack in far more people than the official number of seats, and they also tend to drive as fast as possible, even when it may not be the safest decision. They also tend to wait around until the van is packed full, so if you do want to enjoy a cheap but thrilling adventure, try to find a van already near-full to avoid waiting an hour or more to depart.

Public Bus

Public bus routes in South Africa and other countries are much safer and more comfortable than you would expect. They also happen to be quite lively, so expect to make plenty of new friends and hear some interesting conversations.

Bus stops within certain neighborhoods of big cities may be less than comforting, though, so be wary of where you get on and off. Also, research the bus service in the particular country you visit to make sure it is safe and can provide the needed level of service.

Renting a Car

Driving in certain areas, like along the Garden Route, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But you do not usually want to drive around cities like Johannesburg on your own since traffic laws can be more fast and loose than you may be accustomed to.

Prices for renting cars can also vary according to your duration or the amount of miles you intend to travel, so weigh the freedom of driving yourself against the cost and the stress of navigating certain areas on your own.

Plane

Flying within Africa can be quite cheap, but make sure you end up close to your destination. For instance, you may be able to find flights from Cape Town to Gaborone for cheaper than the price of renting a car, but you will still be many miles from Chobe National Park or the Moremi Game Reserve. Weigh the total cost of your trip when flying, and you could end out still finding a deal.

Using an African Safari Tour Package

Of course, the most simple way to ensure all of your travel needs are met within a reasonable budget is to book your trip through a safari travel service like Roho Ya Chui. We plan the optimal transportation option for you to make your trip memorable and safe while still getting you where you want to go at a reasonable time and price.

Take a look at our various safari tour packages to see how convenient it is to allow a service like ours to make all the hard decisions for you, and then book your trip soon!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Best African Train Safaris and the Most Memorable Journeys by Rail

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Travelling through Africa by train is a magical way to experience its scenic beauty in comfort. Some of the continent’s historic rail lines have been carefully restored and lovingly maintained for over a century, while a few brand-new high-speed rail lines have begun offering service just recently. Both ends of the spectrum offer a convenient and enjoyable way to travel between major cities and across the more iconic landscapes the continent offers.

Include a journey by rail on your African safari vacation to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can fit well within your travel plans by making your journey as exciting as the destination.

The following are some of Africa’s most notable or famous rail lines to consider booking a ticket on as part of your safari trip.

The Blue Train

The crown jewel of Africa’s historic rail lines, South Africa’s “Blue Train” began service in 1923 as a way to transport luxury businessmen and travellers from steam ship ports in Cape Town to Pretoria.

Each trip covers just under 1,000 miles over the course of 27 hours, including a stop in the either the Karoo town of Matjiesfontein or Kimberly, a historic diamond mining town in the Northern Cape province. Sleeper compartments offer the luxury of a five-star hotel, and tickets to the train include gourmet meals and complimentary drinks genuinely fit for royalty. Indeed, passengers on the Blue Train have included kings, princes, diplomats and celebrities.

All of this luxury comes at a steep price — around $1,600 for a one-way ticket. Those who balk at that fare can instead opt for a journey on the Shosholoza Meyl train, which costs about a tenth as much for a two or four-berth sleeper compartment, although meals in the restaurant car cost extra. The Shosholoza Meyl offers a scenic voyage across South Africa’s Karoo region and the Cape winelands.

Jambo Kenya Deluxe

Once a luxurious rail line, Kenya’s Jambo Kenya Deluxe is now beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, your leisurely journey from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi only costs about $60 for a first-class ticket, which includes a hot breakfast and a three-course dinner.

Those seeking more modern comfort can find it on the Madaraka Express, which just began service this past month. This extremely modern Chinese-built rail line provides high-speed service from Mombasa to Nairobi while crossing through Tsavo National Park, allowing passengers to catch a glimpse at elephants, antelopes and other majestic wildlife along their journey.

Desert Express

The Desert Express in Namibia is a sumptuous rail line offering service for travellers from Namibia’s capital of Windhoek to the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Options for travel range from direct trips to a seven day excursion across Namibia, encompassing a safari in Etosha Park, a yacht cruise in Walvis Bay, game drives and scenic train rides in comfortable cars across the Namib Desert.

Other Well-Known Lines

  • Rovos Rail’s Prince of Africa provides service from Cape Town through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania in a 14 luxury journey.
  • Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) offers two trains, the Kilimanjaro and the Mukuba Express both travelling from New Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The two day journey is slow and not-quite luxurious but perfect for those looking to authentically experience Africa.
  • The Zimbabwe Rail travels between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1950s-era British-built cars that still bear the now-defunct Rhodesia Railway’s “RR” logos.

Include a Train Ride on Your African Safari Vacation

You can explore your options for including a scenic journey by rail on your safari tour when you look at our Africa safari vacation packages now. You can also contact us directly for a custom safari tour package that includes a ride on the rail of your choice along with a curated itinerary of the best activities offered in your preferred area of travel.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

7 Small Cats of Africa That Need Your Love, Too

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Africa’s lions, leopards and cheetahs are absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word, but they are not the only fabulous felines the continent has to offer. In fact, there are seven other species of wild cats that can be found during an African safari vacation.

While these kitties may be smaller than their larger counterparts, they are no less beautiful or fascinating. Many of them actually happen to have some fairly astounding abilities, like leaping 10 feet into the air! Read on to learn more about seven small cats of Africa that need your love, too.

Caracal

Caracals are gorgeous, medium-sized wild cats recognizable by the tall black tufts they sport on their ears. They stand about 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 40 pounds.

While caracals may be best known for their wispy ears, they have an even more impressive quality: they are some of the world’s best jumpers. An adult caracal can leap up to 10 feet in the air in order to catch elusive prey like pheasants and other birds. The ancient Egyptians even once tamed caracals to use for hunting.

Spotting a caracal is difficult because they are mostly nocturnal, solitary and shy, but they can potentially be found throughout grasslands in southern and eastern Africa.

Serval

A serval is another medium-sized African cat. This species often looks like a large version of housecat but with longer legs and a stunning spotted coat. In fact, the serval has the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. They typically stand around 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh 30 to 40 pounds.

Although they are still shy, you can find servals more easily than caracals. They have a wide-ranging habitat stretching across central Africa and reaching along the east coast all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat is an incredibly rare and beautiful medium-sized cat that lives almost exclusively in the forests of the Congo, with some subspecies also being found along swathes of the west African coast.

This species is reddish-brown, and about twice the size of a typical domestic cat, weighing up to 35 lbs. Seeing an African golden cat is truly a rare treat that can make safaris in the Congo and East Africa well worth the trip.

African Wildcat

If you spot a creature stalking in the Savannah that looks like it could be a large stray, look a little closer. There is a solid chance that this may actually be an African wildcat, the species that was domesticated to become a common housecat.

True African wildcats have a longer, lankier, and more muscular build compared to a housecat. Their shoulder blades also protrude more noticeably, like a cheetah’s. All have a faint grey tabby pattern.

With a wide range stretching across most of Africa, they are also very common in the wild. And, like most regular cats, they definitely won’t come when you call them!

Black Footed Cat

Black-footed cats are tiny, spotted cats that are found predominantly in arid regions of South Africa. Weighing less than six pounds on average and at a standard size half that of a typical domestic cat, black-footed cats may be the smallest wild cat species in the world.

They typically hunt at night and rest during the day in abandoned burrows dug by animals like aardvarks. Their small size means they must hunt voraciously every night to maintain their energy — an adult black-footed cat may catch as many as 14 small animals a night!

Cats of North Africa

  • The Sand Cat is a small cat adapted to life in the desert, with thick paw pads and large ears used to detect vibrations caused by small prey.
  • The Jungle Cat is rare in Africa, only found near the Nile in Egypt, but found more commonly in the jungles of southern Asia. They live mostly in wetland habitats, hunting with large fangs.

Come Get to Know Africa’s Small Cats on an African Safari Vacation

You can potentially meet Africa’s small cats in person — and ensure they get the spotlight they need to shine alongside their big cousins — when you book an African safari vacation package today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

6 Facts about Lake Malawi Will Make You Go Get Your Snorkel Gear

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Lake Malawi is an incredibly gorgeous place unlike anywhere else on Earth. The stunning lake is home to hundreds of cichlid species, picturesque still waters and a community of friendly locals eager to warmly greet new visitors.

Explaining all that makes Lake Malawi unique and worth visiting on a Malawi safari tour could take a lifetime, so here is a smattering of the six most interesting facts about the lake to encourage to come visit and explore.

1. It’s One of the Biggest Lakes in the World

Lake Malawi is officially the ninth-biggest lake in the world and the third-biggest lake in Africa. At 11,400 square feet of surface, Lake Malawi is large enough to fit the state of Massachusetts within its shores!

The lake can also plunge surprisingly deep, with its deepest point reaching 2,316 feet, or nearly a half mile.

2.  It Has the Highest Number of Fish Species of Any Lake in the World, Including Over 700 Cichlids

Lake Malawi’s biggest celebrities are the colorful cichlid fish that teem near its shores. Biologists estimate that there could be over 700 different cichlid species, and we have only begun to scratch the surface of recording and categorizing all of them.

There are also many other interesting species, including the spotted Mochokidae catfish and the neon-tinged African tetra.

3. It Was Formed Around 2 Million Years Ago From a Rift in the Earth

Lake Malawi sits on the bottom of a massive geological formation known as the East African Rift. This rift was formed when tectonic plate underneath the African continent shifted, changing the flow of rivers and causing many bodies of water to form, including Lake Victoria and the tributaries of the Nile.

4. Its Waters Stay in Stratified Layers That Never Mix

Most lakes have warm and cool waters that churn over the course of the seasons, mixing up oxygen and sediments while causing dynamic changes throughout the year. Instead, Lake Malawi forms layers of water that never change, making it what geologists call a “meromictic lake.”

These distinct and unchanging water layers make Lake Malawi incredibly clear and blue, and they may have also helped drive speciation within the diverse cichlid populations.

5. Explorer Dr. Livingstone Called It the “Lake of Stars”

Lake Malawi was first discovered by Europeans in 1846 when Portuguese traders stumbled upon it. The famous explorer David Livingstone later charted the Lake’s shores and gave it the nickname of “the Lake of Stars” because of the lanterns upon fishing canoes that twinkled like stars in the night.

The Lake of Stars is now the name of a popular music festival occurring on the shores of Lake Malawi.

6. It Was the Site of the First Naval “Battle” of World War I

Legend has it that a British gunboat patrolling Lake Malawi, the SS Gwendolen, scored the U.K.’s first naval victory of World War I when it captured the German vessel Hermann von Wissmann. In truth, the Gwendolen’s Captain Rhoades made no attempt to sink the Wissman and instead snuck up on the vessel and fired one warning shot.

The crews of both ships were drinking buddies who would frequently partake in parties involving copious amounts of Malawi’s famous local gin. Allegedly, the captain of the Wissmann responded to the warning shot by shouting: “God d***, Rhoades, are you drunk?”

While the Wissmann was never scuttled, scuba divers can still find many shipwrecks within the deep, clear waters of Lake Malawi where cichlids and other fish claim new homes.

Come Explore Lake Malawi on a Malawi Safari Tour!

Boating, canoeing, water-skiing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or just relaxing on the beach with a locally made gin and tonic can all be possible when you visit Lake Malawi as part of your African safari tour package. The lake is also home to African fish eagles, crocodiles, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys and many other captivating species.

Come see everything the incredible lake and the national park on its southern shores can offer when you book your safari adventure today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

image: Chintheche Inn