What it is like - feedback from a tailor-made private African safari around Namibia and South Africa
Wildlife in Etosha, Namibia
We designed a tailor-made trip around Namibia for Dave and Karen, two repeat travellers who previously travelled with us to Costa Rica and China. Here is their detailed review.
All flights were good all the way into Windhoek. The Hilton was very modern and nice….good rooftop bar and lounge. The city tour the next morning was worthwhile to use up some time but there is not a lot to see in Windhoek. We did meet some locals who still spoke the “click” language. Fascinating if you have never heard it as they combine letter sounds with a series of “clicks” to form the sentences. Our guide seemed somewhat nervous and was very careful to ensure that we were alert at all times about our surroundings. We had no trouble but his mannerisms were noticeable.
High compliments to both Scenic Air and Wilderness Air. They run a complicated schedule among the game camps and have many planes coming in and out of key airstrips but managed to stay on time. Our one delay was due to fog (a very common problem) and was about two hours, but this was OK as our routing was changed to a direct flight into Etosha instead of having to make a stop so overall only a slight impact. Both airlines seemed to try to do everything possible to get people to where they needed to be. We talked to a lot of people and many said the same thing……we had to drive 5 hours….or six hours….or eight hours to get here on the gravel roads. While I was concerned about the number of flights on this trip, flying is the only way to see Namibia. The transfers between camps was efficient and the planes in most cases can land within a 5 minute drive of the camp.
Sossusvlei. High compliments to you on the selection of accommodations, across the board. The NEST was exceptional. A converted residence that is only accessible by a 20 minute drive by land rover over bumpy/rocky roads. We were the only guests so all staff tended to every need. We had the large master bedroom upstairs. The food, guide and staff were exceptional. This was quite a unique place to stay. [If you have figures on what it cost to book this one, I would be interested, just to know. I asked the host and she told me some astronomically high number.] The tour of the dunes was great and a must see. We climbed several (not to the top) and had a nice lunch provided (picnic on the dunes). We did get in the balloon ride which was really good as well. It was very windy that morning but it got better right at take-off so we got this activity in. Booking this is a risk, as wind or fog could cancel it. The next day, which was our last day in Sossusvlei, the balloons did NOT go up due to fog. While we were waiting for our departure plane, we made a quick stop at the Hammerstein camp and where they keep some animals including cheetahs, caricals and leopards. We got to pet the carical.
Etosha. Highly recommend Safarihoek. It is a nice lodge but its location is what makes it special. It sits on a hill and you can see a long way out over the plains. Because it is SO DUSTY you can see the herds of elephants moving around by the clouds. Honestly, it is very dry and dusty and the jeeps kicked up lots of it driving around. People need to be prepared for that. But there are LOTS of animals there. We saw everything except cats, including both white and black rhinos. Safarihoek has an man-made water hole and a superb concrete viewing stand that is great for pictures. As our flight out was mid-day we spent our last morning (about 3 hours) just in the viewing area watching as one animal(s) after another came down to drink. It really is worth a full half-day to do this instead of an abbreviated game drive. You are really close to the animals. The elephants were the overall highlight. The one comment that I have and there is no way to truly assess is the fact that we did NOT get into the Etosha National Park per se. We were in the 3X as large “preserve” that is adjacent to the park. I don’t know if we would have had any different experience with animals or landscapes if we had spend a day(s) in the actual park. The guide indicated that the vehicles were required to stay on the roads at all times and the crowds could be much worse (we could be 28th in line to see “the lion”). In the preserve, we were free to drive anywhere and we frequently went off-road to get closer. We did see other vehicles but they were few, so possibly this is indeed better. I did have a feeling that we may have had a better chance at a cat sighting within the park, but who know.
Desert Rhino. This is a tough one and is totally attitude dependent. This can be described as “an extended drive over bumpy roads through exquisite scenary (Damaraland is fantastic) stopping to see small numbers of animals along the way and culminating in a view of the elusive black rhino followed by an excellent lunch in the bush”……or “the opportunity to spend 11 hours in a jeep, driving over very rocky roads to see one rhino for 30 minutes.” We are certainly glad we did this now that we are back but would probably not recommend this as highly. By the time we got back to camp, we were very tired and “bumped out.” The problem is that the guides tour through 4 zones which they rotate to minimize rhino impact. We were “lucky” enough to get Zone 4, the farthest from camp. The next day, we went out again but this time we were in Zone 1, closest to camp, and we saw a rhino within the first hour and actually got much closer. So this was very good. The Desert Rhino Camp staff was the best of any camp. They greeted you with singing on arrival and departure, prepared a fantastic welcome meal for everyone and were exceptionally friendly. So we saw 4 rhinos at Etosha and 2 rhinos at DRC. Again, this is a question of attitude.
Swakupmond. An interesting town to walk around in and it was good to get back to the coast and some humidity. It took about two days for our hair and skin to recover some moisture after the last stops in the desert. It is a very sleepy town as we did not see lots of cars or people. The Hansa Hotel was great and we were in the “Senators Suite” which was very nice. The Sandwich Harbor tour is a must. There is no experience like being driven in the jeep over those immense sand dunes. Impossible to describe the extent of the sand unless it is seen. The flamingos were also exceptional and we have never seen anything like the way they congregate in that area. The lunch on the dunes was very good as well. A must-do activity.
Cape Town. An extraordinary city, we loved it. Robben Island is a must see and I’m glad we put that back in. Table Mountain was actually open (a week early) but we did not go up as it was overcast at the top all three days we were there, but I don’t think we missed much. The City Tour was good and we had fabulous lunches on all three days of touring. The tour of the Cape of Good Hope was great. We had excellent weather and got some good pictures and our guide actually took us down some roads where we could see come more wildlife, including a colony of baboons. The One and Only Cape Town was a great hotel and the Marina Suite was incredible. We had a huge living room, a huge separate bedroom and hallway with closet and 2.5 baths. Unbelievable but wonderful. The next day in the wine country was also fantastic, what an extraordinarily beautiful area……although my opinion may be suspect as our guide had us drinking wine by 9:30 in the morning. 😊 We visited three wineries, had another great lunch on the coast and toured a antique car museum (as we were wined-out). The Mount Rochelle hotel was another fantastic place with a nice suite overlooking the wine valley and mountains. We had to deal with an overall power failure the next morning but no big deal. We did get to see and pet the cheetahs as planned. This was very close to the hotel and the hotel provided transportation for us at no charge. We loved petting the cheetahs but the purpose of Cheetah Outreach in our minds was a bit suspect as it seems they do very little to actually benefit the cheetahs (mainly focusing on awareness and nothing on returning animals to the wild).
If you are flying in Namibia, there is no reason to schedule anything additional such as a Skeleton Coast flight. You will get the idea from the other internal flights. Plus, there is high risk of them not flying on a day to day basis due to the fog. You really take your chances on this one.The key for the luggage is to use the soft-sided bags that we had. The dimensions did not seem critical and nobody weighed anything, ever. It would have been a huge mistake to purchase an extra ticket for the “camera equipment.” We could have taken more, probably exceeded the stated weight limit and it would have been fine. There was only one flight that was full, and we were the only passengers on several flights.Karen had the required number of blank pages in her passport before we left the USA and she still has the same number of pages blank now that we have returned. I do not understand all the fuss about this, as the customs agents just stamped the passports normally wherever they found space.We did change money once in Namibia and once in South Africa. You can’t really use US dollars for everything. All tips were in USD.
So outside of the flu on our return it was a great experience and a unique one. There really is a lot of desert in Namibia. We saw far more animals than we expected, which exceeded expectations, but Etosha must be included for this to occur. From your perspective, I think you have us figured out as to what accommodations we prefer. Some truly excellent lodgings.
Dave and Karen - Okatie, SC - August 2019