In southwest Kenya, the Masai Mara Game Reserve is a land of open plains known for prime wildlife viewing. Named for the local Maasai people and the Mara River which flows through the reserve, it’s home to abundant big cats (lion, leopards and cheetah), amphibians and reptiles and hundreds of bird species. In July through October, the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle here is an astonishing sighte as incredible numbers cross the plains in search of watering holes. Further east, Amboseli National Park’s mostly flat, grassy plains make it a preeminent site for viewing both elephants and Mt. Kilimanjaro in neighboring Tanzania. Streams coming down from the mountain create wetlands that attract lions, buffalo, leopards, spotted hyena and giraffe.
Inside Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a place of volcanic craters and fertile grazing grounds, lies the world’s largest intact caldera, Ngorongoro Crater. This is a great place to see Africa’s “Big Five” (lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and elephant); there are also hyena, wildebeest, cheetah, jackals, gazelle and birds. Co-existing with the wildlife are the semi-nomadic Maasai people. This is also where the first of many fossils and stone tools were discovered by the Leakey family, supporting the theory that humankind’s early roots were in Africa. Serengeti National Park is famed for its annual migration, when some “six million hooves pound the ground” (herds of buffalo, giraffe and impala that also attract their natural predators like lions and cheetahs.) Zanzibar, an archipelago off the eastern coast of the Tanzania mainland, was once known for the spices traded here, especially cloves. Today it is better known for its beautiful beaches and Stone Town, the oldest part of Zanzibar City. A fusion of African, Arab, Indian and European influences, its jumbled alleyways lead to markets, mosques and buildings with carved wooden doors, balconies and loggias – some dating to the 1830s.
Zambia and Zimbabwe
When the explorer David Livingstone discovered Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning “smoke that thunders”) in 1857, he named them Victoria Falls in English after the British Queen. The Falls straddle the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. On South Africa: An Elegant Adventure, Tauck guests stay on the Zimbabwe side; on Botswana, South Africa & Zambia, they stay on the Zambian side. Both offer picturesque views. The Falls are said to have a roar that can be heard from a mile away, caused by the plunge of the Zambezi River over a series of gorges into a deep, narrow gorge. The resultant mists can drench and UNESCO calls the rainbows here an “outstanding beauty.” Water levels vary depending on the time of year – highest in April and lowest in the dry season of October to early November.
Countless river tributaries, lagoons and reed beds lead to a daily drama of wildlife in the Okavango Delta, sometimes referred to as Africa’s “Eden.” This is one of the largest wetland wildernesses in the world. In May when floods arrive, lush grasslands attract hippos and crocodiles, and from July to September an estimated 200,000 animals migrate to this oasis. The delta’s Moremi Game Reserve offers a landscape of floodplains, islands and woodlands with an array of wildlife that includes lion, cheetah, leopards, elephant, wild dogs, zebra and plentiful birds. On Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the stark, flat landscapes open to panoramic views of the horizon and marvelous sunsets.
With its diverse topographies and experiences, South Africa offers both rural and urban pleasures. The Garden Route means glorious beaches, ancient forests and seaside towns along the southern Indian Ocean coastline. Near Plettenberg Bay, Monkeyland offers a “living-forest” experience with some 500+ primate residents and the Elephant Sanctuary lets visitors touch, feed and get to know its domesticated residents firsthand; both are visited by guests on Tauck Bridges family adventures. In the north, Kruger National Park is a land of baobab, fever, marula and mopane trees; beneath them lurk Africa’s “Big Five” as well as Africa’s “Little Five” (hornbills, vultures, eagles, owls and bustards). In the Cape Winelands, mountains serve as backdrops to renowned wine estates and classic Cape-Dutch homesteads. Lying offshore from the gorgeous setting of Cape Town, is Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in incarceration. Idyllic views of the city’s surrounds are available (weather permitting) after an aerial tramway ride to the top of iconic Table Mountain. Johannesburg, South Africa’s second largest city, was built on a mining legacy of gold and gems; nearby, the township of Soweto offers educational and cultural learning and the acclaimed Apartheid Museum.