Our guest Andrea M. Rotondo is a luxury travel expert who has traveled around the world to photograph elusive African wild dogs, search for the rare white lions of Timbavati, hike Alaska’s bear country, and experience the phenomenon of bioluminescence at Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques. She’s written for a variety of publications, including Cruise Critic, Cruise Travel, and FamilyVacationCritic.com, and has updated several guidebooks for Thomas Cook and Birnbaum’s. Don’t miss her blogs: LuxurySafariExperts.com and LuxuryCruiseBible.com.
We caught up with Andrea (via email) and asked her for some tips on planning a perfect luxury safari vacation.
What are some of your favorite luxury safari destinations?
Africa is an incredibly diverse continent – geographically, politically, and culturally. Travel experiences vary greatly from north to south and east to west, but all African destinations possess something special. South Africa is the best country to experience a true luxury safari for three reasons: 1) It’s easy to get to via the international airports at Johannesburg and Cape Town, 2) Many game reserves have been in existence for decades and the animals are very used to people, which means more up-close sightings, and 3) High-end safari lodges rival resorts in other parts of the world. You’ll find all the amenities you’re accustomed to, such as standalone villas, butler service, private plunge pools, fine wines, and gourmet meals. Botswana lodges are your next best bet as they are equally luxurious but a bit more off the beaten path. Tanzania and Kenya camps may not have the polish of those in other places but they are on the path of annual Great Migration and that pushes these countries to the top of your “must visit” list. If you want to see gorillas in the wild, head to Uganda or Rwanda.
Are there any excursions or annual events that a first-timer shouldn’t miss?
Absolutely! First and foremost, village tours are essential to understanding how people live in the bush in modern times. Most lodges offer programs that take you to a local school or community center. Many volunteer opportunities exist as well. I also think that everyone should experience the power of Victoria Falls at least once during his or her lifetime. You can view these breathtaking falls from both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The annual Great Migration of grazers (wildebeest, zebra, antelope, etc.) across Tanzania and Kenya each summer should also be on the bucket list. When in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, be sure to go on a river expedition via mokoro, a canoe that’s used to traverse shallow waters. Finally, there are many animal rehabilitation centers throughout Africa that are well worth visiting. (Some options include the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya or the Hoespruit Endangered Species Centre, focusing on cheetahs, in South Africa.) You’ll meet and learn from the individuals who are on the front lines in regards to protecting endangered species.
If you can only choose one luxury perk while on safari, what should it be?
That’s easy: laundry service! Many luxury lodges offer free laundry and other camps charge a small fee. This is a lifesaver when in the bush! Most camps are in remote locations and require that you arrive via light aircraft. Those bush planes have very strict luggage weight limits and you’ll need to be very judicious about what you bring to the camp.
Even luxury travelers like to save. Any tips on how to spend a little less while on safari?
Airfare to Africa is a massive chunk of any safari budget. Watch for seasonal specials or use your frequent flyer miles. Package deals are often a terrific value and generally include roundtrip international airfare, a few days in a city like Cape Town (South Africa) or Nairobi (Kenya), and a few days on safari at a game reserve. Tour packagers and safari outfitters like Ker & Downey, Abercrombie & Kent, Orient-Express Safaris, Norman Carr Safaris, Micato Safaris, Thomson Safaris, Volcanoes Safaris, Wilderness Safaris, and Robin Pope Safaris offer vacations that often cost less than if you booked each part of the trip a la carte. Sister lodges and those within a consortium also tend to offer special rates for booking within the group. Look at the deals offered by &Beyond and Seasons in Africa (which offers a “stay 8 nights at two lodges and only pay for 6” package). Africa is a mesmerizing destination and you can’t go wrong no matter which country you travel to while on safari.