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The Travel Butlers Blog

Revealed: Our Top 5 Destinations For 2016

PaulCampbell - December 31, 2015

As winter storms batter the UK and the excesses of the Christmas celebrations give way to hopes and plans for the New Year, we thought we would share a little inspiration with anyone thinking of planning their 2016 holiday over the next few weeks. These are our top 5 destinations in Africa and the Indian Ocean for the coming year:

The Greater Kruger Park

DPP_0112_1600The Greater Kruger Park is our top pick as the place to go in 2016 for a fantastic safari experience and unbeatable value for money. This vast area of 20million hectares in the north-east of South Africa is one of the oldest and largest wildlife reserves on the continent, and a safari here will get you incredibly close to some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet.

A stay of 3 or 4 days will mean that you are almost guaranteed to see the Big 5, as well as seeing countless antelope, giraffe, zebra and maybe some less frequently spotted birds and animals.  There are lodges and camps to suit every taste and budget, from self-driving in the park, to private 3* tented camps where all meals and game drives are included, to the most spectacular and luxurious 5* lodges offered by the likes of Londolozi, Singita, and Lion Sands.

Kruger is always one of our favourite places to visit, but the icing on the cake at the moment is that current exchange rates mean that the majority of safari lodges are between 12% and 20% cheaper than in 2015!  For example, a 3 night stay at the 3* Shindzela Tented Safari Camp in June 2016 would cost £219 per person if you book now vs £279 for a stay in June 2015 booked last January.

Namibia

Sossusvlei-and-the-Namib-DesertA holiday in Namibia is like visiting another planet: there are spectacular desert landscapes, wide open spaces, amazing plants and wildlife, an other-worldly atmosphere unlike anywhere else.

From the towering red dunes of Sossusvlei and the spectacular rock formations of Damaraland, to the huge herds of Zebra, Springbok, Wildebeest that cross the vast salt pan of Etosha, Namibia is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to get away from it all and see nature at it’s best.

The Seychelles

Silhouette-IslandThe Seychelles are made up of beautiful and remote group of tropical islands hidden far away in the Indian Ocean. The larger islands of  Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette Island and La Digue are rock formations covered with lush tropical forests and fringed with white-sand beaches, whilst the smaller coral islands are tiny specs of paradise dotted in the vast ocean and perfect for anyone with a Robinson Crusoe fantasy to get out of their system.

We would definitely recommend visiting a couple of Islands during your stay if you can:  if you are only in the islands for a week you might want to base yourself in one place and make day trips using the excellent ferry services, however for longer stays we would suggest a little island hopping and staying on more than one island to really experience the best of what Seychelles has to offer.

As well as relaxing on the stunning beaches and enjoying the full range of water sports (diving, snorkeling, sailing, jet skis etc are all available in various places), there is plenty to do inland, especially on the larger islands. There are numerous golf courses, nature reserves with giant tortoises, cultural experiences, and Praslin is home to one of only two UNESCO protected forest where you can see the giant coco de mer palm.  Foodies will love the local cuisine, which is a mouth-watering fusion of Indian, African and European flavours.

There is plenty enough to do in the islands to make them a perfect holiday destination in their own right, however Seychelles can also be easily combined with a safari in East Africa or Southern Africa for the ultimate safari and beach experience!

 

The Masai Mara

Masai-Mara

A visit to the world-famous Masai Mara is something that will be on many travellers’ bucket list, and with it’s wide open spaces, huge herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles, and plenty of predators it is easy to see why it attracts many thousands of visitors each year.

Of course, the biggest draw (in just about every sense of the phrase)  is the Great Migration which passes through the Mara between August and October of each year as the huge herds cross from the Serengeti in search of fresh grass. There just aren’t words to describe the feeling of seeing this firsthand, and if you should be lucky enough to see a river crossing then we are sure that the memories will stay with you forever .

Of course, the migration is only part of the attraction of this magnificent park: many experienced visitors to Kenya choose to visit the Mara when the migration is not passing through as there is still plenty of resident game, prices and the lodges tend to be lower, and their are fewer other visitors to the park.

 

KwaZulu-Natal

The-DrakensbergCape Town and Kruger will always remain the main attractions for international visitors to South Africa, however we have always had a tremendous affection for KwaZulu-Natal.  This beautiful province is home to the imposing Drakensberg Mountains, some wonderful safari lodges, the historic battlefields of Zululand and miles-upon-miles of sandy beaches.

Given it’s wealth of attractions, we have always felt that this is a vastly underrated and relatively little visited region, but hopefully this is all set to change as Emirates and Turkish Airlines have been among the airlines to start offering flights straight to Durban without the need to go through Johannesburg. This makes the journey far easier, especially for anyone thinking of hiring a car to drive around the province (which we can highly recommend), and this along with the overall affordability of South Africa due to the weak Rand makes KwaZulu-Nata an excellent choice for your holiday in 2016.

 

Love is in the Air

TraceyCampbell - February 11, 2015

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it got us thinking about the romance that Africa can offer you. Here is our shortlist:

Proposing on the top of Table Mountain – One of the most iconic destinations in Africa, if you want your proposal to be memorable then going down on one knee here will not fail to disappoint – and hopefully elicit the answer ‘yes’ from your bride-to-be!

Table Mountain

Little Kulala – with the desert and towering red sand dunes as your vista, your private thatched ‘kulala’ (the word means ‘to sleep’) offers not only stunning accommodation but also a private plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers and a rooftop star bed for romantic star gazing. Truly one of the most romantic places I have ever stayed at, in all my years of travelling around Africa.

Little Kulala

Msambweni House – spacious rooms with private verandahs, a luxury tented room or private villas facing the ocean with private pools and jacuzzis. Whichever accommodation type you choose, end your day with a dip together in the infinity pool then walk down the winding jetty hand in hand to enjoy the perfect sundowner spot on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean. What could be more romantic?

Msambweni House

Sleeping out under the stars – For the hopeless romantic, nothing can beat a luxury safari sleep out. Imagine falling asleep in the middle of the African bush with a blanket of stars above you, surrounded only by flickering lanterns and listening to a bedtime lullaby of roaring lions, crying jackals and laughing hyenas.

Lion Sands Chalkley TreeHouse

Or for those not feeling quite so adventurous, then enjoy a luxuriant bubble bath on your private safari deck as the sun sets over the African bush. Either way, it is romance at its best!

Sanctuary Baines Camp

Denis Island – your own private Robinson Crusoe retreat, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Step out of your villa onto the deserted white sandy beach. Barefoot escapism doesn’t get better than this.

Denis Island

Singita Sabora – situated in the Grumeti Reserve in northern Tanzania, this intimate 1920s-style explorer’s tented camp is steeped in character and romance. Playing host to the annual Great Migration is just one of the reasons to stay here.

Singita Sabora

Sunrise balloon ride over the safari plains – despite the early start, drifting slowly over the African plains as the sun rises, with a birds-eye view of the wildlife below is a wonderfully unique and romantic experience. Upon landing, enjoy a glass of sparkling wine before heading off for a bush breakfast – a memorable finale to your adventure.

Balloon Safari

Helicopter ride followed by romantic meal on top of a mountain – only in the private Entabeni Concession in the Waterberg area of South Africa can you combine a short but exhilarating helicopter flight with a romantic meal on a secluded mountain top – with just the two of you left alone to enjoy the indescribable natural beauty of the landscape beyond you.

Entabeni Safari Conservancy

Luxury Train Journey – journey aboard the Rovos Rail and take a nostalgic step back in time to the romantic days of privileged, decadent rail travel.- an unbeatable way to experience the epic and ever-changing landscape of Africa.

Rovos Rail

A Private Slice of Tropical Paradise

TraceyCampbell - October 27, 2014

We were asked whether we wanted to include one night on Denis Island, as part of our recent educational trip to the Seychelles in August. I think it took me less of a second to say yes please! Who would not say yes to the idea of spending one night on your very own private island in the middle of the Indian Ocean? It is not something I get to do every day, I will admit!

Our night to Denis Island was scheduled towards the end of our week in Seychelles, on the Thursday. We waited in anticipation at Mahe Airport for our flight to arrive, and I spent a pleasant 40 minutes trying to work out who, out of the assembly of passengers waiting there, looked as if they were off to the same idyllic Robinson Crusoe island as I was. When we eventually boarded the small light aircraft, there were just 7 of us on the flight. Already off to an exclusive start, I thought!

The flight takes a mere 30 minutes. The pilot approached the island, and you flies over it, before banking back and heading down towards the grassy runway and his landing. From the air, the runway stretches right across the island, and the closer you get, you find your feet starting work imaginary brake pedals as it looks just too short for the plane to be able to stop! But the pilot is a pro, he has obviously done this many times before, and after a very smooth landing, the plane turned around well before the end of the runway and coasted back towards the welcome committee of staff waiting for their new guests.

We were greeted and whisked off to the main lodge by golf buggy, where we were warmly welcomed with a cold drink, and the offer of a late breakfast if we wanted it, as we had arrived right at the tail end of the breakfast serving. We declined, as we were eager to just get to our room and relax a bit before lunch.

Back on the golf buggy again, and less than a minute later we were pulling up in the sand round the side of our cottage. We walked around the side, and you just felt any stress and strain immediately drain from you. The cottage was beautiful – a huge bedroom, and an en-suite bathroom completely open to a tiny garden area. A verandah with 2 chairs were just begging for us to sit in them, but we were too excited about running up the tiny sandy slope and onto ‘our’ beach. And what a beach it was. Whichever way you looked you just saw white sand, lapped by the blue Indian Ocean. It really was the stuff that dreams are made of. So the sun loungers under the shade of a palm tree won the battle for our attention, and for half an hour we stretched out there just listening… to nothing. Just the sound of the ocean.

Then there was a shout from the cottage, and our welcome ‘masseur’ had arrived to give us each our complimentary 30 minute massage. Thankfully, my husband didn’t want to leave the sun lounger, so I persuaded the masseur to give me a full hour instead, which she happily did. Lying on the verandah, I was treated to a head to toe full body massage. Never again will a massage at the gym spa be the same, listening to ocean music being piped through the speaker, when I have had ‘the real thing’. It was amazing.

It was then time to go up for lunch at the main lodge. We walked back, holding our sandals as this is what you do on your private island – walk around barefoot? I did put my sandals on when I went into the restaurant, but I probably didn’t need to be so formal – but I am British, after all.

Lunch was a buffet style affair – my husband opted for fresh sushi, I went for a healthy buffet salad plus grilled freshly caught fish. And then home-made ice cream for pudding. And this was a light lunch? I was starting to think that after more food like this, I may need to book an extra seat on the plane back for the extra weight I was undoubtedly about to pile on.

Our afternoon was spent in the company of Andre, the resident guide, who took us on a full tour of the island, about 2 hours. We saw the farm animals and where the furniture is made – this island is truly self-sufficient. We explored forests and beach coves and found wild bird nests. We learnt so much about the island and its wildlife in those 2 hours, my head was reeling with all the new knowledge it was trying to keep in!

Then it was back to our cottage to get changed into suitable attire for the obligatory dip in the ocean. Running again up and over the sandy slope, we just did not stop until we were in the ocean – ok, I admit, it was only about a 2 second run – we were on holiday, after all, you don’t want to exert yourself too much. I couldn’t have run further anyway if I had wanted to – the ocean literally is ‘just there’.

Then it was time to retire back to the sunloungers. Clutching our room delivery of 4 very cold beers, we settled in with our cameras for the next 90 minutes to watch the sun set. So peaceful. Just us and the setting sun and a few birds flying around. Not another person in sight. You really do start to believe that this is your very own private island, and you are the only people that exist on it.

Dinner was lovely, a 5 course affair which was delicious as to be expected. We laughed with the waiters, we said hi to other guests, and it was amazing to think that everything on our plates was from this very small island.

Then it was back to the cottage again, and this time, the verandah got our attention for about an hour, while we sat and just reflected on what it would be like to live here forever, and I even started working out the logistics of getting my cat flown out. I think Denis Island has that effect on you – after only a few short hours, you feel as if you have been there for ages, and you just do not want to leave.

The morning came too quickly, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then it was back to the airstrip for our flight back to the main island of Mahe. To say I was sad to say goodbye was an understatement, and I had been on the island for less than 24 hours. If you stay there longer, it must feel as if you are leaving a part of yourself there. Probably a bit of your heart. It is an easy place to fall totally in love with.

Seven reasons to get stranded on the Seychelles

PaulCampbell - October 2, 2014

The islands of the Seychelles are little slices of heaven on earth. Scattered throughout the remote reaches of the Indian Ocean, they’re the place to live out all of your desert island daydreams. The beaches really do take the tropical biscuit, but there’s so much more to the Seychelles than their silky white shores. Scratch beneath their perfect sandy surface and you’ll find fascinating culture, untamed jungle, endangered wildlife and the world’s sexiest nut!La-Digue

There are hundreds of reasons to hop on the next plane to the Seychelles, but, to keep it simple, we’ve whittled it down to seven. So, here you have it, whether your are looking to go island hopping or include these magical islands as part of a safari and beach holiday, here are seven reasons why you’ll be in seventh heaven in the Seychelles:

1. MIND-BOGGLINGLY BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
You won’t be sorry to be stranded in the Seychelles. The beaches are more perfect than you can possibly imagine, with powdered ivory sands sliding into crystal clear waters and coconut palms rustling in the warm breeze. Dotted across the coastline of every tiny island, you’ll find sun-kissed coves giving way to blue lagoons and pastel pink boulders hugging the edges of the beach. A handful of these pure shores are rated amongst the most beautiful beaches in the entire world. Step off the plane and you’ll soon see why.

Boy & Coco de Mer_Raymond Sahuquet2. JAW-DROPPING JUNGLE TRAILS
The castaway beaches and impossibly clear waters may get all the press, but these spellbinding islands have far more in store. If you peek behind the curtain of swaying coconut palms, you’ll find sprawling jungles bursting with strange, scented blooms. In the Vallée de Mai National Park on peaceful Praslin Island, you’ll find mist forests filled with coco de mer, the world’s heaviest (and sexiest) nut, shaped like a lady’s pelvis. You’ll also stumble across Jellyfish trees, tumbling vanilla vines, rare orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants and more. It really is paradise untamed.

3. WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WILDLIFE
In addition to the bizarre flora, the jungle-rich interiors of the Seychelles are home to some fantastical fauna. The Aldebra giant tortoise, one of the largest in the world, plods across these islands, with a whoppingly long neck that measures up to a metre. Incredibly, these tortoises can live for over a century and each one weighs up to 500 pounds. At the other end of the scale, the Seychelles are also home to the Soogloassid frog, which may well be the smallest in the world.

Not only this, but the birdlife is bountiful, with 250 species twittering in the jungle canopy. Some of the rarest birds in the world nest here, amongst them the Seychelles paradise flycatcher, the Seychelles black parrot, the Seychelles bulbul and the fruit pigeon. You’ll also find the sunbird, the Aldabra drongo and the Seychelles fody on these shores. If you’re a twitcher, you’re in for a treat.

Snapper Seychelles_Tony Baskeyfield4. A MATCHLESS MARINE WORLD
The land-dwelling wildlife of the Seychelles is certainly eye-popping, but the underwater world is equally as astounding. You can swim with wild dolphins, snorkel through coral reefs amongst hawksbill sea turtles and dive into sea caves filled with gorgonian fans and sleeping nurse sharks.

There are over 2,000 different species of fish swanning about in the translucent waters of the Seychelles, including parrotfish, angelfish, pufferfish and moray eels. And, when you need a break from exploring the world beneath the waves, you can wash up on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches for a cocktail or two. Bliss.

5. MAGICAL MULTICULTURE
The Seychelles is a magical melting pot when it comes to culture. With a mottled history of slavery, piracy and spice traders, the Seychellois people have ancestry drawn from all four corners of the earth. It’s fascinating stuff. First French, then British and now Creole, the islands are a colourful collage of international influences. Troublemakers from the British were sent here in exile, pirates hid their bounty in these jungles, spice traders stopped here between India and Africa and Europeans settled here to restart their lives in a peaceful paradise. The diversity, and especially the harmony, is inspiring.

6. FANTASTIC FUSION CUISINE
With such a rich cultural patchwork, it’s no surprise that the Seychellois cuisine is deliciously diverse. A mix of spicy, fruity, tangy and fresh flavours, it is sure to take your tastebuds on a wild ride. There are coconut curries, vibrant green papaya salads, giant crab soups and an overwhelming choice of fruit chutneys. Fresh fish is served in a thousand different ways – grilled with garlic, curried, poached in Creole sauce or spiced and baked in a banana leaf. There are also some startling delicacies on the menu, such as Rousettes (fruit bats), shark chutney and Seychelles beef (sea turtle).

7. THE SUN-KISSED SIMPLE LIFE
The Seychelles really is the place to let time slow down and get back to some serious basics. It’s all about nature and nurture, so just succumb to the magic. soak up the sunshine and snooze in the shade of a coconut palm. Many of the islands, La Digue, for example, have few roads or none at all. Luggage is ferried about my horse and cart while the locals get around on bicycles. The Seychelles is the perfect place to switch off the iPad, get lost offline and take a much-needed break from modern life. It’s rare, barefoot bliss that is harder and harder to find in our hectic world. So enjoy it.

IMG28 Anse Source d'Argent