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The Travel Butlers Blog

South Africa – it’s the cat’s whiskers!

PaulCampbell - January 22, 2016

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In the past decade, South Africa has become established as one of the most popular long-haul destinations for visitors from all over the world. And with exchange rates and special offers meaning the majority of safari lodges and hotels are around 20% cheaper than in 2015, there’s never been a better time to book a trip to this diverse and fascinating country.

Seven nights from £655pp

Book a seven night Cape Town and Kruger trip from only £655 per person, excluding international flights (available on request).

Find out more or get inspired by South Africa!

There are world-class attractions in every part of South Africa, from Table Mountain and the beautiful city of Cape Town, to the spectacular wildlife of the Kruger National Park and countless places in between. In fact, there’s so much to see and do that South Africa is sometimes referred to as ‘the World in One Country’. If the cities and wildlife don’t appeal to you, then the weather, beaches, vineyards, history, culture, mountains, deserts or forests surely will.

Despite all this variety, there’s no denying that the crowning glories are Cape Town and Kruger

text_uploads_avatars_VA_Waterfront(1) -  - Cape Town Tourism Toolkit 5Cape Town has one of the most beautiful settings of any city in the world. At the foot of Table Mountain, surrounded by beaches and a sparkling (if chilly) ocean, it’s home to beautiful parks, imposing buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants in which you can relax and watch the world go by. On top of this, the Cape Winelands, the Cape of Good Hope, the penguin colony at Boulders Beach and the whale-watching center of Hermanus are all within easy reach as day trips.

The weather can be scorching hot between November and April (making it an ideal winter sun destination), and even in the coolest months, average highs are around 18C. There’s also plenty to do on any days when the beach doesn’t appeal.

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The 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 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 three or four days will mean that you’re almost guaranteed to see the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo), as well as seeing countless antelopes, giraffes,zebras 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 three-star tented camps where all meals and game drives are included, to the most spectacular and luxurious five-star lodges. Wherever you choose to stay, a visit to Kruger will leave you with memories and photos to cherish for a lifetime.

Travel Butlers specialize in safari vacations, and our friendly team has been helping visitors plan trips to South Africa since 2003. So why not contact us and let us help you put together your ideal holiday to this stunning country – whatever your budget and bucket list.

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

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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.

 

Tipilikwani – Difficult to Pronounce, but so very Difficult to Leave

TraceyCampbell - October 27, 2015

I have just recently returned from 4 wonderful days in the Masai Mara, courtesy of Atua Enkop Africa. There is so much to say about the trip, although it was only for 4 days, that I am going to break the story down into different blog posts.

I am going to start my Marvellous Mara blog series with reports on where I stayed. First up – Tipilikwani. If you break the word down, it is actually quite easy to pronounce – Te-pil-ik-wani!

We arrived into the Mara on a Sunday morning straight off the Kenya Airways flight that lands at Jomo Kenyatta at 0630. Because it was Sunday, there was, for once, no traffic on the normally busy roads of Nairobi, so we got to Wilson Airport in record time! We boarded our Air Kenya flight and set off to the Mara, bouncing through the air on the thermal currents – well, I bounced in time with the small plane, but my stomach was left behind a few times, I must admit.

We landed smoothly and our group was met by 2 wonderful guides – Dee and Jonathan. Off we set on the short drive to camp (or rather, it would have been short had we not encountered a cheetah on the way, with 2 dinky little cubs – so OF COURSE we had to sit and watch them for a while!).

Tipilikwani is located on the northern border of the Masai Mara, right on the Talek River and not too far from the Talek Gate, so if you are driving down from Nairobi, it is ideally placed. When you arrive, you cross a small bridge, and head towards Reception, where you are greeted with a much needed face cloth to wipe away the Mara dust, a gorgeous welcome drink, and a huge friendly smile from the management staff.

My tent was large to say the least – 2 double beds just for little me, a writing desk, a huge en-suite bathroom with 2 basins, a flushing toilet and a walk-in shower – none of this bucket shower melarkey either, it was hot running water at the turn of a tap! Outside I had my own private wooden deck – the perfect setting for the massage table to be set up on when I eventually got a spare couple of hours to myself.

The camp itself is what I would call ‘authentically rustic’ – the main dining/lounge and bar area is dark wood with open sides – for me, it just said ‘you are on safari’ immediately you walked in. There are no frills here, just a good, honest, down to earth safari experience. And great food too – lunch was a 3 course affair, so was dinner – with choices galore. You do not go hungry here, I can tell you!

Being near the gate does mean that it is near a village, so at night, you have the true safari sounds of lion roaring and hyena calling – which in turn set off the village dogs who then bark, who in turn disturb the cattle owned by the local Masai who live in the village. So it is a combination of comforting ‘home’ noises (my cat does like to annoy next door’s yappy little terrier so the sound of a dog barking was just like lying in my own bed at home) combined with exciting ‘safari’ noises.

The area around Tipikikwani is renowed for its high hyena population, so if you are a hyena fanatic, this really is the place to go! We did see quite a lot out on game drives, and we were also fortunate enough to meet 2 hyena research students who are studying in the area for a year – who ‘introduced’ us by name to the local hyenas from a huge file of photos that they have compiled over the months – they are so passionate about their work and it was lovely to hear their stories.

As well as hyena, on our game drives, we saw absolutely loads – lion, cheetah, zebra, rhino, giraffe, warthog, buffalo, leopard, elephant, vultures, impala, gazelles… it was a never-ending stream of wildlife just presenting itself to us. And we were only here for 2 nights – so 4 game drives in total. All you could hear at times was the constant click click click of cameras going off simultaneously. It was a wildlife photographers dream. But that is the Masai Mara…mmm, I wonder why it is one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa!!

My 5 highlights of my short stay here were sitting watching a leopard mum interact with her cub, heading out at 4 am to see the supermoon and the eclipse, dinner in the bush on our 2nd night (all beautifully lit with lanterns), finding a lovely family group of elephants, and going on a sunrise hot air balloon trip.

Was I sorry to leave? Yes I was. It felt like home the minute you arrived, and it was difficult to say goodbye. Little did I know at the time that my next stop was going to leave an even bigger impression… more on that later…

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22 September is World Rhino Day

TraceyCampbell - September 22, 2015

Today is World Rhino Day. There will be lots of stories today about this truly worthwhile cause, which is to stop the barbaric and illegal trade in rhino horn, and to promote global rhino conservation issues. Rhino horn is believed by some to have medicinal purposes, such as a miracle cure for fever, pain, arthritis, and even cancer. Hundreds of rhinos are being slaughtered for their horns in South Africa and the figure continues to rise. The animals are being hunted and cruelly killed, and even rhinos in the private game reserves are being targetted.

However, today is also the day to celebrate the rhino. A famous member of Africa’s Big 5, when tracking rhino you can always tell where they have been because of their middens – a reasonably sized pile of dung basically that marks their territory. But did you know that a long, long time ago, the rhino’s middens used to be much, much larger…

Once upon a time, when the animal kingdom could talk, Elephant used to tease Rhino about his short sight and bad temper (this is a bit of pot calling kettle black, but hey, if you are the size of Elephant you can afford to tease any other animal without fear…). After many months of this incessant teasing, Rhino, who is not short of a few pounds himself and has plenty of courage, decided to stand up to Elephant and challenged him to a duel.

The rest of the animals gathered round, to decide what would be a fair contest. They all agreed that a fight was out of the question – Rhino had the unfair advantage of a rather sharp horn as a weapon; Elephant had the rather unfaair advantage of being twice the size of Rhino – so they all put their heads together to think of something that both Rhino and Elephant had in common, to make it a more even contest.

Now, both Rhino and Elephant are known in the animal kingdom for the sheer amount they can eat in a day, so Lion had the idea that they should have a contest to see, over the course of a day, who could produce the largest dung-heap.

Rhino and Elephant set off in the morning, and ate and ate and ate. At the end of the day, the animals gathered around to look at both dung heaps. Rhino’s dung heap was just huge, and it completely dwarfed the dung-heap that Elephant had produced. Rhino was the winner.

However, rather than accept the winner’s crown graciously, Rhino did gloat a bit. And a bit more. And even more. Now, as mentioned earlier, Elephant is also not particularly known for his calm temper, and Rhino’s gloating made Elephant lose his temper. And when Elephant lost his temper, well, just watch out. He threw Rhino to the ground and beat him with his trunk and tusks. Poor Rhino did not stand a chance, and begged for mercy and for Elephant to stop. Eventually, Elephant did stop, but only after he made Rhino promise never to challenge him to another duel and NEVER to make Elephant look anything less that the mighty King of the Bush.

Rhino never forgot that terrible beating, and afraid that he may get another one, he always today makes sure that his dung-heap is smaller than that of Elephant. And that is why Rhino kicks at it, scattering it until it is quite flat.

Rhino in Kruger Park

24 Hours in Windhoek

TraceyCampbell - September 16, 2015

Windhoek…for most visitors to Namibia, it is just a city where you land and depart from. Many people arrive early in the morning, pick up a hire car and head straight off to the more iconic Namibian destinations such as Etosha or Sossusvlei.

But we always like to suggest that you spend your first night in Namibia in Windhoek – not only does this give you time to recover after the international flight (especially if you do not find it easy to sleep on planes!) but actually, Windhoek is a pleasant little city and is worthy of more than a cursory glance. I personally have spent a long time here, and have a very soft spot for Windhoek indeed!

So for anyone with 24 hours in Windhoek, here is our quick ‘insider’ guide of what you can see and do:

Definately spend some time on a self-guided walk through the city centre, exploring the Independence Museum, the Christuskirche and the Tintenpalast Gardens. Don’t miss out on visiting the Craft Market – this is a one stop outlet for numerous Namibian artists and women’s empowerment projects. Leatherwork, basket weaving, pottery, jewellery and textiles are all on sale here and the origins and artists of each piece is documented. If you haven’t had your duty-free shopping fix already, then this is the place to head for!

For those who have a little more time on their hands, join Equitrails for a horse riding trip on a farm just to the North of Windhoek, or explore the colourful Windhoek townships on a bicycle and learn more about the cosmopolitan capital city’s history.

If you need to get out of the city, head down to Avis dam, on the airport road. This is a great birding spot very close to the city centre. Violet eared waxbills, Crimson Boubou, near-endemic Bradfield’s Swift and the Rock runner can all be spotted here.

You won’t need to take your umbrella to Windhoek – the city is known for having over 300 sunshine days a year. If it does rain when you are there, don’t despair – just sit and people watch, as it is normal to see the locals outside trying to figure out what this liquid is falling from the sky!!

If you’re feeling peckish head for the Stellenbosch Bistro and try their steak – they do have the best in Windhoek – or visit The Olive Exclusive and have their chef’s tasting menu. However, it is also fair to say that you cannot go to Windhoek without visiting the famous Joe’s Beerhouse – it is a drinking/eating legend in its own right!

If sunsets are your ‘thing’, the best place to catch this is at River Crossing Lodge, on the outskirts of the city towards the east. Close to the second highest peak in Namibia, River Crossing Lodge is the perfect location to enjoy a sundowner drink while watching the sunset over the city, as the twinkling street lights turn the capital into a fairy tale wonderland.

After your sunset sundowner, head back into the city to the Skybar on the rooftop of the Hilton Hotel right in the city centre – they have a mean cocktail menu, we recommend working your way right through the alphabet!

And finally, a little ‘did you know’ fact about Namibia to wow your friends with when you get home…the ‘Namibian Sun’ is a patented diamond cut unique to Namibia and inspired by the Sun emblem on their National Flag; and was first debuted in 2005. An independent laboratory report by the Hoge Raad Voor Diamant in Antwerp has concluded that the Namibian Sun cut has an 8% greater light return and a 1% greater contrast than the traditional classic brilliant cut – the diamonds in Namibia REALLY do sparkle a little brighter.

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