One of the Google search engine’s biggest timesavers is Autocomplete. It’s here you can find shortcuts to the most popular questions, all ready to go.
The same thing happens to us. We are asked a lot of similar questions from people all across the world. So, to save some time, we thought it best to make our own version of Autocomplete. The common questions aren’t always what you think they’d be.
How do I see…
…the most animals in Africa?
This can have two meanings. Do you want to see the most amount of animals numerically, or in terms of diversity? It also comes down to the old East vs South battle, which we have talked about a few times before. Talking about this recently with a photographer guest of ours, we stumbled across this useful analogy.
Imagine you come across a group of animals standing in a large field and want to take a photo. East Africa is like using a wide-angle lens. In the resulting photo from a wide-angle lens, you can see many animals at once. What you also get in the shot is a large amount of emptiness, just land and sky. You get a sense of space and landscape, but the photo is both a lot of animals and then a lot of open space. Southern Africa is more like using a telephoto lens. You get a close-up view of the animal, spending time with each one before moving on to the next one in another intimate moment. Less space, less landscape, and fewer numbers in each photo but more focused viewing.
There are exceptions to the rule of course, and it depends how and where (and when) you go, but that’s the general shortcut.
Large numbers and scale: East Africa.
Diversity and intimacy: Southern Africa.
…the Skeleton Coast?
Part of the Namibian Skeleton Coast’s attractiveness is its remoteness but it’s this appeal that makes it difficult to offer to most guests. The majority of the northern Skeleton Coastline is a restricted concession, with the famed Shipwreck Lodge being the only lodge located inside the Skeleton Coast. This is an amazing place to visit, but also not within the budget of every traveller.
The other issue is that expectation doesn’t always match reality. When you ask someone why they want to go they mention shipwrecks, seal colonies, exploring the dunes and seeing whale bones etc. There is actually not one place where you can see it all, and each attraction is scattered over hundreds of miles, most of it inaccessible even by air, or restricted due to park and concession rules.
However, the very conditions that caused the ships to become stranded in the first place are also the conditions that destroy the wrecks, and over time there is nothing left of the ships other than a few rusted beams. The best-preserved shipwrecks are actually found along the southern shorelines of Namibia, not on the northern Skeleton Coast. Arguably the best shipwreck found along the Namibia coastline is the well-preserved Eduard Bohlen, best seen on the scenic flight between Swakopmund and Sossusvlei. The Eduard Bohlen is a German cargo ship that ran aground in 1909 while it was on its way to Table Bay from Swakopmund. Years after the ship ran aground the desert began to expand into the ocean and the ship that was once stranded in the ocean slowly became stranded in the desert. The wreck currently sits about 500 metres from the ocean.
So, in conclusion… either drop a cool AUD$7,000 pp and spend 3 nights at Shipwreck Lodge or incorporate visits to key regions from more accessible locations such as Swakopmund.
…tigers and lions?
Go to India, then go to Africa. These two aren’t neighbours.
Easy. First, you head to a country that has them, Rwanda and Uganda being the obvious choices for mountain gorillas. Then you wake up early and take your permit to the assigned briefing point. Here you get assigned to a gorilla family and receive the necessary briefing. Then you head to your starting point and follow your guides into the forest. After anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 hours you will connect with a gorilla family and spend the maximum amount of time (1 hour) you can with them. Not only have you entered an amazing place, but it’s a place where time acts differently, as one hour here feels like 10 minutes. Enjoy your time taking in the dynamics and behaviours of these utterly fascinating animals. Then it’s all done and you slip and slide your way back out to a well-earned drink.
Our popular Uganda v Rwanda blog post also provides additional information.
When is the…
…Grand Egyptian Museum going to open?
Good question. It was meant to be a few years back, but they have delayed the opening. The museum is pretty much ready, but the necessary pomp for the opening ceremony wasn’t available, as few world leaders could come to attend the opening. So, it is now scheduled for the end of this year. Apparently. With 500 years of history, it seems to be a case of “What’s the rush?”.
The museum is currently open for visitors, but only if you want to take a tour that includes the statues on display in the atrium as well as the gift shop and cafe. We’ll pass. The main museum, with almost three times the amount of history on display as the other museum, will remain closed until the grand opening.
…best time to go to Africa?
Ultimately, and as glib as this sounds, it really doesn’t matter. The animals are not flowers. They don’t have seasons of bloom and seasons of absence. They are there all year round, rain or shine, high season or low season. Whenever you can go is the time you should go.
That is, of course, unless you have something particular that you really want to see, rather than a safari in a general sense. Want to see the portion of the migration when the wildebeest jump the rivers? There’s a time for that. A festival or event? Yep, (a) time for that. Want to see the famed Sardine Run or Fynbos season in South Africa? There is a season for that too. Or maybe it’s that you want to see the animals when there is the fewest amount of other people around? There’s a time for that too!
There are seasons in Africa, and of course, there are tourist seasons as well. But, there isn’t a ‘best’ time. Every month has something to offer. The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia or the lions in the Sabi Sands don’t look any less impressive in the lower seasons.
…great wildebeest migration?
See above. In short, the migration is an annual event but the meaning of this can change depending on who you ask. Ask a Kenyan and they will say it only happens for a few months each year. Ask a Tanzanian and they will say it happens for nine months a year. They are both right, in their own way. As we said, the migration is an annual event, but this is more of the case that it takes a year to happen, and happens every year.
The most famous image of the migration is typically the wildebeest crossing the rivers in dramatic fashion, thanks to countless wildlife documentaries. This happens in Kenya from July to October, and to most Kenyan operators, this is THE event. But, when this is done the animals don’t just disappear for nine months. They keep migrating in their large herds through Tanzania, which for Tanzanian operators is when the migration happens. In February you can find them in Ndutu in their hundreds of thousands. From late April to June, they are in Grumeti. Unless you want the river crossing (and the crowds that follow) then you can see the herds at any time. They do spread out a bit as they have more room to do so, but to be honest, if you aren’t happy with only 200,000 animals together at once then you have some bigger issues.
This one is easier to remember. The Antarctic season is the warmer months in the southern hemisphere. This is because in winter, as the ice freezes and the temperatures plunge, it is pretty inaccessible. So, almost all trips will occur over the warmer months when the temperature rise allows you to get there, and not freeze your penguins off.
The early season sees more pristine ice conditions and penguin courting. Mid-season sees penguin hatching and the arrival of some whales. The late season sees the best chance to head deep into the Antarctic Circle and the best times for whale watching.
As per anywhere else, unless you want something specific, just go when you can go. You can read more about it in our Antarctica 101 guide post.
Is the Explorer Society…
Yeah, fair question. We don’t have an office, we don’t put full-page ads in the newspapers and we are much younger than some other companies. This is all by choice. However, it does mean that we are new to most people when they first come across us. In the modern internet world, how can someone know we are legitimate?
Firstly, we are accredited members of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and our co-founder Martin also sits on its board.
Secondly, you can ask any of our former travellers, who have given us an average of 5 stars.
Thirdly, we are pretty visible online, with our professional histories, travel stories, experience and bona fides there to see in plain sight. The company might be newer than others, but our team have been doing this for a long time. In addition, we are still doing it and still exploring. This means our experience with the destinations as they are today is unmatched.
Lastly, call us and ask away. We are transparent about what we do. We often get travellers who, when about to make their first payment with us, give us a call to check the account number. They are really checking if we are who we say we are. So, call us and ask away.
On a side note, being old or well-known also isn’t a strong indication of legitimacy, relevancy or financial stability. If you don’t believe us, ask Thomas Cook, Pan Am, Blockbuster, Lehman Brothers or Kodak. We believe what matters is you are passionately doing things today and tomorrow, not how long you have been around.
We are largely based in Australia however our entire team works remotely. This not only gives us the advantage of being able to hire the best people from around the world (rather than living in proximity to any particular city) but it also means we can look to hire people that, despite their skills, working in an office is difficult for. This means we can also hire young mothers looking for part-time work, those with young families, and those with mobility issues. If you call us in the mid-afternoon you might often find we have ducked out to pick up the kids from school. We can also work from anywhere and practise what we preach. This means this year alone our team has or will be working from across Australia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and even Antarctica.
If you want to meet face to face we can definitely organise it, but the advantage of keeping our team happy is far more important to us than an impressive-looking office to meet in.
…As good looking in real life?
Yes, although it depends on how many sundowners you may have had.
Should I go to…
Yep. We get asked this a lot, as people often tell us that they don’t want to see cities. To quote them: “I can see cities anywhere”. And whilst that is true, there is something special about Cape Town that is worth a visit, or two. The ‘Mother City’ offers a depth of culture that affects everything. This is from the food on offer and the music that is played, to the art that hangs across the city. The landscapes are stunning, from the iconic Table Mountain to the nearby Winelands or a winding coastal drive. The history is there, from District 6 to Bo Kaap to the Company Gardens to the well-known prison of Robben Island. The biggest mistake people make is not allowing enough time. So, yes, you should go.
…Zambia or Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls?
Most rivers are seasonal. This means that most waterfalls are also seasonal because waterfalls, as you’d expect, need water to work.
The Zambezi River, which feeds Victoria Falls, is filled with rainfall. The rains typically start in November and end around March or April. It takes a little time for the water to flow downstream though, so expect a month or two delay before it reaches the falls. What this means is that from November onwards the amount of water going over the falls is going to increase until it hits its peak between February and April. Water levels then remain high until about June, thanks to that delay. Then they begin to drop, reaching their low point around October. And then, it all starts again!
The falls are so large, with so much spray produced, that for the first six months of the year, you can feel the power of the falls but barely see them at times. The second six months you can actually see them but don’t get the same power.
Zimbabwe holds over three-quarters of the ‘frontage’ of the falls, meaning that most of the vantage points are on the Zimbabwean side. In addition, the main flow of water is on the Zimbabwean side, meaning that even as the water levels drop and the width of the falls shrinks Zimbabwe still has water to offer. The town on this side is a tourist hub, set up for the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Zambia, whilst working with less frontage, is closer to the falls itself. During high-flow months this means you will be saturated with the spray and really feel the power of the falls, particularly as you head over the Knife Edge Bridge. During the low months, however, this side (and this side only) will be almost completely dry. This shortage of water in Zambia does allow you to take on other activities, like bathing in the Devil’s Pool on the falls’ edge or visiting Livingstone Island. Whilst the town here (Livingstone) is a bit more of a business town, the lodges here are typically riverside and quieter, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.
The annual drying of the Zambian side does also bring another yearly phenomenon, that of dodgy international news media claiming that “Visiting tourists ‘shocked’ to discover Victoria Falls completely dried up”. Despite what the unprepared tourist may claim for clickbait-seeking articles, the falls are never actually empty. It just means that being seasonal, the tourist is looking at the wrong side. This may also be because their head is up their backside.
In reality, you can transit from one side to the other without too much difficulty, especially if you organise yourself a Univisa, allowing entry into both countries.