Tag Archives: safari

What Does Your Dream Africa Birding and Nature Tour Look, Sound, and Feel LIke?

From Lodges to Landscapes to Length, Building a Bucket List Africa Trip Depends on You

Imagining yourself in Africa is the way most journeys to the continent begin. Train your binoculars on a hunting Lion pride from the back of an open-air Landcruiser, come over a rise to greet a herd of Elephant. Return visitors anticipate the excitement of wild nighttime sounds just outside a canvas tent, of Elephants shuffling by, or Hyenas calling on the prowl.

Kenya wildlife safari, binoculars and telephotos up!

“The questions people ask me before they’ve been to Africa and after they’ve been are totally different,” Naturalist Journeys founder Peg Abbott said.

Whether you’re weighing bucket-list alternatives for a first venture or as an Africa veteran looking for that next wildness adrenaline rush, we have ideas for you. Read on to compare and contrast our carefully crafted Africa birding and nature tours, keeping in mind that if you’re flying to Africa from the US, you want to make the most of your investment. (Not to mention, once you start to experience Africa birding and nature, the lure to return will be strong, no matter how long you stay.)

Massai Mara Elephants. Photo Credit: Peg Abbott

East Africa or Southern Africa?

“People often tell me ‘I am only going to Africa once, so should I go to East Africa or Southern Africa?” said Peg Abbott, Naturalist Journeys founder and guide. “Keep in mind, once you go to Africa you’re going to want to go back.” If that is not possible, you want to hit it right.

“Second, consider this, that question is the equivalent of saying I’m only going to come to the U.S. one time, should I go to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon? They are very different experiences, and you should absolutely do them both,” she said.

Comparing Our Africa Trips (and the Competition’s)

There are many lenses you could train on our Africa Birding and Nature tour options: landscapes, lodgings, birds and animals, and of course, length and cost. But before we dive into each of those categories below, a word from Peg about how our tours contrast with our competition – because our guests are savvy travelers.

“Our Africa tours are aimed at people who want to learn the wildlife and birds in detail, to spend time taking photos and really absorbing place,” Peg said. By contrast, one of our competitors offers a 15-day, 3-country tour, with only 5 days in each country.

We can’t bear to move that fast! Skipping from place to place like that doesn’t allow for spending two to three nights at each stop of our mobile tented camp safaris, for example, which is always our goal.

“We like to let people settle in and experience first-hand Africa’s richness. To hear the sounds of the night,” Peg said.

“We have a LOT of facetime with these animals, so anyone with a camera or binoculars is going to be very happy,” she said.

  • Leopards are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Elephants are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Cape Buffalo are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • bat-eared foxes are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • A mixed herd of Wildebeest and Zebra are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • lioness kills are part of an Africa birding and nature tour

Landscapes

Great wildlife viewing can be found in all of the tours we offer in Africa, but the feel of place can be quite different. To latch on to the Yellowstone/Grand Canyon analogy, southern Africa is more like the desert Southwest in the US, warm and arid, though much flatter, while eastern Africa is more temperate, green and with both grasslands and mountains – not unlike Montana and Wyoming. 

  • Lions in Moremi, Botswana are part of your Africa birding and nature adventure.
  • Kenya is an old guard of the Africa birding and nature destinations.
  • Hippos in Uganda.
  • Rhino in Tanzania are part of an exciting Africa birding and nature tour
  • Amboselli is a wonderful stop on our Africa birding and nature tours
  • Elephants are a required element of Africa birding and nature tours

East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

East Africa offers a more temperate climate than one might expect near the equator, supporting massive herds of animals like the famed Wildebeest that migrate with seasonal rains between Kenya and Tanzania. (Our Kenya safari is perfectly timed so we are at the Maasai Mara at the peak of Wildebeest migration.) Mountains and forests add to the diversity of flora and fauna we encounter. Uganda is a very lushly forested country, supporting some of the last rare and endangered Mountain Gorilla in the world.

Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia and South Africa

Namibia and Botswana are home to the Namib and Kalahari deserts, respectively. Great wildlife viewing abounds here, as arid conditions concentrate animals at lakes, deltas and watering holes. The Okavango Delta and Chobe River in Botswana and the world-famous watering holes in Etosha National Park in Namibia make for reliable and spectacular wildlife viewing (and occasional excitement as predator and prey are brought together.) South Africa stands on its own, anchored at the southern terminus of the continent. It offers much more landscape diversity between its coast and its famous wildflower-strewn Cederberg or Drakensburg Mountains. South Africa is HUGE and contains a wide variety of ecoregions including grassland, bushveld, semi-desert, savannah, and riparian areas. South Africa’s Western Cape is more botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforest in South America, including the Amazon, offering unique plant species in the fynbos biome and the animals and insects that rely on it.

  • Mountain Gorilla in Uganda are part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • East African Crowned Cranes is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Kori Bustard is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Africa Paradise Flycatcher is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Lilac-breasted Roller is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Mountain Gorilla in Uganda is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Hartlaubs Spurfowl is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Violet-eared Waxbill is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Baboons are part of an Africa birding and nature tour

Africa Birding Diversity/Animal Encounters

 “The mammal viewing is equally compelling,” Peg said, in eastern and southern Africa destinations, with Uganda’s Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee trekking an optional added bonus. Not for the faint of heart (or the bum of knee) these encounters offer a stunning and emotional payoff at the end of your trek. Guests sometimes encounter Gorilla after as little as an hour of hiking with our guides and porters, but four or five hours of hiking would not be unusual.

Bird diversity, on the other hand, is going to be significantly higher in East Africa or South Africa because of the greater variety of habitat types. If going for the most birds: choose Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. 

One of the reasons we scheduled our shorter Botswana trip to pair with Namibia (and put the two together in our Ultimate Namibia-Botswana combo) is to enrich birding options. Botswana is landlocked, so adding Namibia brings in coastal and arid-land birds. Visitors to the Botswana Namibia tour have the opportunity to see in the neighborhood of 270 amazing birds, while those on the Kenya-Uganda trip can easily see more than 400!

Here are the most recent species lists from each country:

Botswana  • Kenya Trip Report  • South Africa  • Tanzania  • Uganda  • Namibia

Lodging/Movement Between Parks

Our tour lodging is ALWAYS selected with seeing the animals in mind. Where can we go that maximizes our opportunities to see wildlife in a safe and eco-friendly way? That said, there are differences between countries in what lodging is available to us based on factors like the maturity of their ecotourism facilities. 

  • Selinda Bush Camp
  • Tanzania Lodges are a wonderful respite during our Africa birding and nature tours
  • Uganda accommodations are a wonderful part of our Africa birding and nature tours there

Kenya is the old guard of African wildlife safaris and that’s apparent from its lodge selections, many of which harken back to a British colonial time in style and in their not-yet-updated but absolutely charming facilities. Movement between parks in Kenya can involve highway travel to get the maximum diversity, whereas in Tanzania, once you enter the park system, it’s possible to go from park to park without emerging into the outside world (though you stay solidly in savannah.) 

Built in a different era than Kenya’s, Tanzania’s lodges tend to be big resort-style properties; big enough for large buses to roll in. We’ve worked hard to find some smaller safari camps like the one we visit at the apex of Wildebeest migration at their calving grounds in Ndutu.  

“There are a lot of lodges in Tanzania that are luxury and high end but not particularly well situated – we don’t typically go to these,” Peg said. “We pick our trips by the wildlife, not so they will have a bathroom the size of one’s living room.”

Botswana’s facilities are new, idyllic for ambiance, and they tend to be smaller, Peg said, many with no more than a 35-person capacity. Botswana made a choice for low-volume, higher cost visitation – it’s a place to spoil yourself and immerse. South Africa travelers demand trendy atmospheric lodges, resulting in their well-deserved reputation for extravagant safari options and local dining specialties.

At the other end of the maturity spectrum from Kenya, Uganda is a newbie and an up-and-comer. Uganda has the old colonial facilities but they went dormant in many years of unrest. Post Idi Amin’s military dictatorship, from 1980 a new page was turned. “There’s a real upbeat feel to Uganda’s nature and its ecotourism,” Peg said. “The roads get better and there are new facilities every time we go back. The quality of guides and their training is astonishing. ”

  • guides and porters in Uganda Africa birding and nature tour

Length/Cost

While all of Naturalist Journeys’ tours are centered on birds and wildlife, you can find a range of experiences. A two week South Africa tour, for example, can be viewed as a sampler: a toe-dipping option with a bit of everything for the Africa-curious. It includes a three-night safari in Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s crown jewels, wonderful food and wine in glorious Cape Town, a trip to experience endemic fynbos wildflowers, and comfortable but exciting birding in varied habitats. For some people, it feels more like pampering than “Out of Africa.” It’s also more budget-friendly than many of our other Africa trips, because we aren’t spending as much time in national parks. When you are comparing different companies’ offerings, look at how many days of your trip are inside national parks. That’s where the animals are, admission fees pay for their conservation and that’s a big driver of Africa tour costs –rightfully so!  

Our shorter Uganda trip is also less expensive at 9 days and 8 nights, it’s meant to be paired with our Kenya tour but also to fit into other travel plans. We can facilitate add-ons to your journey. We recommend time in Cape Town or a few days in Victoria Falls.

  • Victoria falls should be added to any Africa birding and nature safari

At the other end of this spectrum, our 23-night, 24-day Namibia-Botswana Combo will really leave you feeling the re-entry to your not-Africa life. Living the true safari life in mobile tented camps, staying as close to wildlife as possible, our guests find this a truly immersive, life-changing, bucket-list trip with Greg Smith, one of our most experienced guides. Ultimate Botswana with company owner Peg Abbott is just that – limit of six or seven clients, and more depth in one country than one can imagine.

In between on the spectrum our various Africa tours feature safari game drives and mobile tented camp experiences offering great looks at wildlife and birds. All of them transport you into the other world that Africa is.

A Pantanal Perspective

A visit to Brazil’s Pantanal.

Hyacinth Macaws, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Hyacinth Macaws, Naturalist Journeys Stock

Naturalist Journeys is back to the blogging world and wanted to kick off our first new post with a great participant account about her time in Brazil’s Pantanal.

Please enjoy Kelly’s comments and her perspective on what we too, thought was a fantastic wildlife safari.

Gate to the Pantanal Transpantaniera by Peg Abbott
Gate to the Pantanal Transpantaniera by Peg Abbott

“Hi Peg and Xavier,

Before we all go back to our daily lives, and our memories start to fade, I wanted to thank both of you for a truly spectacular trip to Brazil!

Xavier, your ability to manage the details -both large and small- of a logistically difficult trip is impressive, and your willingness to accommodate the needs of everyone in the group is much appreciated.

Posada Horseback Ride by Mark Wetzel
Posada Horseback Ride by Mark Wetzel

But it’s your continued enthusiasm for sharing every bird new to us, even ones you have seen many times, that made the trip special (And it goes without saying that you really do know your birds!)

Peg, your knowledge of birds is equally amazing, and your steady cheerfulness (even through the group’s episodes of illness, and when some of us, [i.e. me], were getting tired and a little grumpy around the edges) was critical to the success of the trip! Bob and I hoped to see a piculet on this trip, but are not disappointed that one didn’t appear, since we instead became better acquainted with a far superior bird – the “red-crested Peg-u-let”!  I hope the association continues.

Sunbittern, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Sunbittern, Naturalist Journeys Stock

For what it’s worth, my highlights include:

Watching the incredible numbers of herons, egrets, ibises, and miscellaneous other “aves” fly up as we went along in the bus, boat, or on foot.  One of the great wildlife viewing opportunities still left in the world, this experience rivals the sight of zebras or giraffes running across the plains of Africa.

Rufous horneros and their nests. While these birds are not rare

Rufous Hornero Nest Pair by Peg Abbott
Rufous Hornero Nest Pair by Peg Abbott

or particularly showy, their characteristic strut and epic nest-building efforts epitomize the Pantanal for me.

Pouso Alegre. If I could magically transport myself back to one of our sites for an occasional weekend visit, this would be it. I loved the wetlands, the walk to the hide, the tegus outside our door, and the overall peacefulness.

The charming, befuddled expression on the faces of all capybaras, large and small. I still want to bring one home … Bob bought a capybara leather belt in Uruguay but it’s just not the same.

Capybara Family by Peg Abbott
Capybara Family by Peg Abbott

The unexpected sight of the Streamer-tailed tyrants along the road to Caraca. So cool, and one of the reasons having an experienced guide is essential! Who else would know to look for such a spectacular bird in such a mundane location?

The hikes at Caraca Sanctuary. The undisturbed habitats here are a rare treasure – in both an ecological and spiritual sense – allowing us lucky visitors to truly connect with the landscape. I will remember the araucaria trees, the fantastic flora of the fens, the Face of the Giant, the Pin-tailed manakin, and the quiet of the Brother’s Woods for a long time.

Flocks of [Gilt-edged] and Brassy-breasted Tanagers! Amazing!

Our extended encounter with the unflappable Red-legged Seriema –too funny!

Red-legged Seriema, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Red-legged Seriema, Naturalist Journeys Stock

Our final count of (~?) 302 bird species, each with its own character and personality.

Brazilian coffee!  And desserts!

And many, many, more.

Thanks also to all of my fellow travelers – I’m proud to be part of such a jovial yet stalwart group. Let’s do it again!”

Kelly

Resting Jaguar by Xavier Munoz
Resting Jaguar by Xavier Munoz


Thanks for traveling with us, Kelly … we can’t wait to go back to the Pantanal again next year.

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