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

The History of Kruger National Park

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Kruger National Park is South Africa’s first national park and one of the largest game reserves in the world. Every year, it hosts millions of visitors from all over the world anxious to go on an African Big Five safari tour and see the continent’s most celebrated, majestic wildlife. The efforts the South African government and local private reserve operators put in also make Kruger one of the most convenient, comfortable and easy-to-reach destinations for Big Five safari tours.

The current success and popularity of Kruger would never have happened without the hard efforts of past South African government officials and passionate conservationists. Learn more about the park’s history and how it came be one of the most popular wildlife preservations in the world by reading on.

Small Beginnings: The Sabi Game Reserve

The Sabi Game reserve was established in 1898 by the former South African Republic. Early park commissioners established a general area equivalent to just over 4,000 square miles. Soon after the game reserve lands were declared, the Second Boer War broke out. A resulting British victory caused all of the formerly Dutch-held Transvaal lands to be transferred to British rule.

The British appointed several wardens to the reserve, and the third one, James Stevenson-Hamilton, became successful at expanding the role of park management. He appointed his own game rangers, assigning them territories to protect within Sabi and surrounding areas. By 1903, a new reserve was established nearby, the Shingwedzi Game Reserve. In 1906, the first hunting ban was enacted between the Olifants and Letaba Rivers.

Around 1916, some within the commission in charge of operating the reserves began to request that the boundaries be shrunk to make way for industry, hunting and exploitation of resources. A report was conducted to study the effects, but when it was released in 1918, it firmly established that not only would the reserves remain intact, but that they would be developed for visitation and easier access to game wardens.

As the report wrote: “The provincial administration should be directed toward the creation of the area ultimately as a great national park where the natural and prehistoric conditions of our country can be preserved for all time.”

The Formation of Kruger National Park

Tourists first began to visit the Sabi reserve in 1923 as part of South African Railways’ renowned “Round in Nine” tours. At the time, park visits consisted of a short bush walk while escorted by armed rangers. These walks proved so popular that the efforts to expand them hastened the establishment of the reserve area as a true national park.

The park was officially proclaimed in 1926, and it was named after the former South African Republic president Paul Kruger, who governed from 1825 to 1904. The first game three tourist vehicles wound their way through Kruger in 1927. Visitors then had to establish their own camps in the bush since the park was devoid of any amenities.

Road construction began that same year, and by 1929 over 383 miles of road were created. In 1948, the park hit a new record of 58,739 visitors. However, the first sealed tarmac roads were not created until 1965. The park was seeing around 300,000 annual visitors by that time.

Visiting Kruger and Big Five Safari Tours Now

Today, Kruger remains one of the most popular natural destinations in the world. Over 1.6 million visitors came to the park in the 2014/2015 season, with 382,396 guests staying overnight.

Big five safari tours and game drives remain one of the most popular attractions in the park, with dozens of comfortable safari lodging options to accommodate a wide variety of budgets and preferences.

If you are interested in visiting Kruger on a safari tour of your own, we offer many different South African safari tour packages to choose from. You can select from a range of amazing and transformative experiences, or you can create your own custom safari tour package when you contact us today!

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

 

Africa’s 4 Deadliest Snakes: How to Avoid Getting Bit

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Africa’s abundant wildlife evolved in some pretty astounding ways to help each species get their lunch without becoming lunch in the process. In the case of Africa’s deadliest snakes, a combination of clever camouflage and potent venom can allow them to play both offense and defense as the situation arises.

Before revealing the most dangerous of these snakes, let’s go ahead and put the idea to rest that they are likely give you a chomp on your African safari trip. All snakes are incredibly shy, more likely to slither away and flee a fight rather than defend themselves with their fangs. Snakes also never strike unless cornered, and only a few in Africa happen to have venom.

By following our tips at the end of this post, you can also reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with these snakes even if you do happen to cross their path.

With that out of the way, here are some of Africa’s most lethal — and beautiful — serpents:

Boomslang

The boomslang snake is a blue/green tree-dwelling snake found in the jungles of Sub-Saharan Africa with a great name and even better coloration. Its venom is slow-acting but potentially deadly, causing internal bleeding over hours or days if left untreated.

Luckily, boomslang bites are rare because the snake flees quickly from humans.

Cape Cobra

Calling the arid regions of Southern Africa home, the Cape Cobra hunts during the day and is particular fond of weaver bird nests, often stealthily infiltrating them for a raw omelette snack. They also have a tendency to find their way into human settlements in search of mice and small prey.

When threatened, they will sit upright, bear their copper-colored belly scales and fan out their iconic hood. In this position, they will not hesitate to strike in response to sudden movement, but standing still will often give them the chance they need to slink away.

Black Mamba

The black mamba is the most famous of African snakes thanks to the gargantuan dose of venom it delivers and its immense size — up to eight feet long! The snake itself is usually brown rather than black, but when threatened it will bare the black inside of its mouth to frighten away predators.

Unlike other mambas, which tend to live in trees, the black mamba hunts in tall grass along the ground. They avoid humans at all costs, staying far away from settlements and typically fleeing rather than getting defensive.

Puff Adder

Puff adders are responsible for the most snake bites of any venomous species in Africa because of their incredible camouflage and widespread distribution. They will hiss quite loudly when threatened and inhale air to “puff” up their body size and appear larger.

While puff adder bites are common, this viper’s venom is mercifully well-tolerated by humans. Most people seek treatment in the time needed to prevent going into a critical condition, and even untreated cases have an 85 percent survival rate.

Avoiding Snake Bites on an African Safari Trip

Your best bet for avoiding snake bites is to wear tall, thick boots with stiff ankles since most bites occur on ankles. You should also avoid walking in tall grasses since many snakes hide in them and will strike if surprised.

When walking around the bush, keep an eye at ground level and walk firmly to send vibrations that make snakes aware of your presence. Pay close attention to your guide’s advice since they have the knowledge and experience to help you avoid risky interactions.

At your lodging, ensure your doors and windows stay shut. Because camp tents zip up tight, they actually provide better protection than most lodge-style buildings.

If confronted by a snake, react calmly and give them a chance to flee. You can move slowly around the snake if possible, outside of striking range. If you must retreat backwards, do so very slowly.

And remember, even if you do happen to get bit, most snakes in Africa are not venomous. We are quite familiar with the ones that are, so most game reserves and park clinics have an ample supply of antivenom for each snake type on hand! Seek treatment quickly, and your odds of survival are typically near 100 percent.

With all this information, you can appreciate the true beauty and uniqueness of these snakes without getting too up close and personal of a look.

Start planning your African trip — where you may even see a rare snake from the safety of your game drive vehicle — by taking a look at our African safari tour packages today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

What to Expect on a Game Drive During Your African Safari Tour

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When people think of an “African safari tour,” they are typically thinking of game drives. Parks like Kruger and the Maasai Mara are enormous, so riding in a vehicle is one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground without getting exhausted. You can also make sure to see some of the best viewing experiences all in short time.

You are definitely encouraged to try other sorts of activities during your stay, such as a “bush walk” walking safari or a canoeing safari upon a river, but game drives will likely comprise a large portion of your wildlife viewings and give you a chance to become more familiar with a park.

So what can first-timers expect on a game drive? Even though every experience is unique and every lodge will do drives differently, there are plenty of common threads. You can learn about a typical game drive by reading on.

Open Air Vehicles

Most game drive vehicles have an open top for maximum viewing. There are three rows of seats that can accommodate 2-3 people each. These are raised like theatre seats so that each row is taller than the one in front, with the rear row as the tallest. One person may have the option to sit next to the ranger in the front, which will be the lowest seat but one with unobstructed front views.

Usually Two Guides: A Ranger and a Spotter

You will be most likely accompanied by two people on your drive. A ranger drives the vehicle and is responsible for serving as your direct guide, telling you stories and information while answering questions. The second person is a “spotter,” who stays focused on helping you locate wildlife while keeping an eye out for possible threats.

Interacting with your ranger is highly encouraged, but try not to distract the spotter.

Game Lodges Working as a Team

Game drive operators understand that the best way for everyone to enjoy their trip and see as many animals as possible is to work together. They will usually communicate over radio when a significant find is spotted, like a family of elephants, an elusive leopard with a kill or lions sunbathing near the road.

No one wants ten cars crowded around a single lion, though, so guides refer to an implied set of etiquette rules, giving the reporting vehicle the best position while other vehicles try to hang slightly back until the first vehicle departs. You may even find yourself in a sort of “queue” as each vehicle pauses to give everyone a satisfactory photo op.

Stay patient and be respectful of other groups since this system provides the best benefits for everyone!

A Rigid Schedule

Wildlife have certain patterns throughout the day, and one of the times they are most active is in the very early morning. That means for morning drives you will be waking up anywhere from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m.

Even if you are not a morning person, it is still important to drag yourself into the 4×4 to ensure that everyone gets to leave on time and can get the most out of their drive. You can choose to sleep in at your camp instead, but you will likely feel envious if everyone comes back with stories to tell!

Evening drives are also common, usually departing around 4:00 p.m. or so. These drives usually see less action at first because the animals are still shrugging off the heat of the afternoon sun, but nocturnal animals begin to stir and get active as the sun goes down. Some lodges offer special night drives, which can come at an added cost but often see active predators and sometimes even a kill.

Plenty of Time for Snacks and Natural Business

Just because you are getting up early does not mean you will have an empty stomach! Game lodges usually provide a light “morning tea” before your drive and a heavy breakfast when you return. You can then enjoy lunch and sleep off the afternoon heat. Evening drives also have “high tea” or “sundowner meals,” which are enjoyed right in the bush.

Drivers also understand that nature calls to us all, so they will take breaks for everyone to relieve themselves in the “bush loo.” Bring your own toilet paper and a sealable, disposable bag so that you can take everything back with you. You may not want it, but the bush definitely doesn’t, either!

Book Your Perfect Lodge for Thrilling Game Drives on Your African Safari Tour

Each lodge and park offers its own set of activities and style of game drives. You can take a look at what options you may have by exploring our available safari vacation packages and then booking your exciting trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Money Saving Tips for a Cheap African Safari Tour

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Many people do not realize just how affordable an African safari vacation can be when you use the right money-saving techniques. With some smarts, know-how and plenty of research, you can significantly reduce the cost of your trip to make it a cheap African safari tour, especially on a per-day basis.

If you are interested in spending less during your trip or finding a way to plan an affordable African safari, you can use the following money-saving tips to reduce the overall cost of your vacation.

Come During the Low Season

In places like South Africa’s Kruger Park, slow times of the year mean not only better accessibility throughout the park but also cheaper prices. Local vendors and businesses change their prices to match the season. Periods of higher demand allow them to charge higher prices, but lulls in the calendar are often accompanied by discounts to lure in more customers.

Take advantage of these times! Winter is a low season in southern and eastern African parks and reserves, for instance. Everything from lodging and airfare to tours, services, goods, food and drink can all receive hefty discounts when you visit from April to October. You can also negotiate cheaper group rates for game drives, lodge stays and other services when these business owners are more motivated to earn a sale.

Keep an Eye Out for Flight Specials, But Watch Out for Remote Airports

Flight prices change nearly every hour, so the time you buy your flight to Africa can make a huge difference in terms of the final price. Set up price alerts on services like Kayak, and look up travel blogs to see if any specials or promotions are coming up soon.

With all that said, pay attention to the hidden costs of your flight, as well. Flying into a more remote town can appear to save you money, but then you must hire a taxi or bus to reach your intended destination, tacking on extra costs. Always try to calculate the final costs of your travel when buying tickets.

Another tip: Johannesburg and Cape Town often have cheap flights to other destinations throughout Africa, so consider buying separate tickets and comparing the price to other connecting flight options.

Shop Around With Lodging and Safari Tours

Many tourists come into African countries not realizing how much cheaper goods and services typically are. They then make the mistake of booking a hotel or game lodge stay at a far higher price than would be normally reasonable.

For that reason, try to find accommodation with a good reputation for quality and safety but also rates closer to what locals would expect to pay. Unless you demand the absolute best luxury, the difference in price will not affect the enjoyment you get out of your trip.

Buy From Locals, and Realize You Can Haggle

Haggling, bartering and negotiation are all common activities at local markets in many African countries. Your best bet on a great price on artisan goods is therefore to buy directly from the artists at markets and to negotiate.

Do not be too shrewd since people are trying to earn a living through their goods, but also recognize that many quoted prices may be trying to take advantage if you are clearly a foreigner.

Use a Safari Company for Cheap Safari Tour Packages

Experienced safari companies know the best places for tours, lodging and dining that provide amazing quality service at an affordable rate. When you book a vacation package through a company like Roho Ya Chui, you can get the best deals on everything, and you are also better-equipped to estimate the whole cost of your trip.

Take a look at the pre-planned safari vacation packages we offer to get an idea of just how affordable your trip can be, or contact us for a custom safari tour package based on your budget and preferred plans.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui