January 27

“My private East Africa safari during Covid” – Guest Review

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By Luke Lalin on
January 27, 2021

Travelling during the Covid pandemic might seem like a strange concept and one which many people, for good reason, have put off indefinitely. But like all things, there are always positives to take out of any bad situation. For those open to the idea, there are a number of benefits from selecting to take a safari holiday during this time.

One of our guests completed a trip to Rwanda and Tanzania in December 2020. While very nervous in the planning and execution, he decided to push through and take on the challenge. His comments (which we have included throughout the blog) perfectly highlight the extraordinary lengths African hotels and lodges have taken to guarantee the safety of the guest as well as assist with all the seemingly complex Covid requirements when entering and exiting each destination. What is more, with travel numbers drastically reduced, he relished the private safari experience in some of the world’s most pristine and untouched natural environments.

The magical hills of Rwanda
The ethereal & ancient hills of Rwanda

At a time when isolation is required and promoted, as we at Rhino Africa have so often said, why not do it in Africa? 

What our guest, Tim Sanders, had to say about his Covid safari trip

It took some guts to go on this trip, because of the huge COVID risks. But, I was determined from day one and I am thrilled that I did, it was a totally unique and almost private experience. I had the most wonderful time so at this stage, all that I can do is to thank you from the bottom of my heart for preparing such a wonderful trip. It was simply the best, so a huge thank you!”

Tim’s 14-day epic East African itinerary started in Rwanda, where he flew in, via connections, from San Diego, USA. Here he started with a few nights in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, before exploring the magical Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Parks. From there, Tim flew across the border into Tanzania for a traditional East African safari to finish off his trip.

The open plains of East Africa provide great sense of solitude and peace
East Africa provides an incredible sense of space & openness during this Covid time

Starting off in Kigali, Rwanda

Tim started his holiday staying at the Kigali Serena Hotel, in Rwanda. 

“The Kigali Serena was very comfortable in every aspect; lovely bedroom; super bathroom (I loved the separate shower and toilet rooms); beautiful and lush green grounds; good food; well-priced beer and a very good gym. Having the COVID testing facility on-site was very convenient.”

While in Kigali, Rhino Africa always recommends having someone to guide you around someone who is knowledgeable and best able to show you all there is to see. From the local markets and cultural hotspots to the Genocide Museum and personal coffee-tasting experience (Rwanda produces some of the world’s best coffee), there really is so much to see that having someone to hold your hand through it all is essential. Uber Luxe Safaris are a firm favourite of ours, and it seems Tim quite agrees. 

“This (Uber Luxe Safaris) was my really pleasant surprise. I had expected them to be good, but, I had not expected them to be that good! I essentially received a private driver to accompany me on my 7-day trip. My driver/guide/Rwanda expert, namely Guillaume, was simply the best. He was so knowledgeable, kind, enthusiastic and efficient. Frankly, I felt that I hit the jackpot! I should add that Uber Luxe was absolutely excellent and pivotal when it came to the somewhat complex COVID-19 testing requirements as the Rwanda authorities require testing every 72 hours. Uber Luxe has this quite important step well mastered!”

Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

After 3 nights in Kigali, Tim headed into the southwestern corner of Rwanda, to the Nyungwe Forest National Park. As one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, Nyungwe is home to an incredible array of wildlife. The biggest drawcard to the area is being able to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat. However, Nyungwe also has 12 other primate species in the reserve. Another highlight is to explore Nyungwe’s diversity from the Canopy Walk, which sits 50m above the forest floor and offers amazing views you will never forget.  

“Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel is the only place to stay for the Nyungwe National Park. The rooms were comfortable; the views stunning; the lodge staff friendly and the food good. I loved the hot water bottles in the beds at turndown time, as it does get cold at their elevation.” 

Chimpanzee in the wild of Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda
Chimpanzee in Nyungwe Forest National Park. Photo Credit: Nyungwe Forest Lodge

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

The magic of Volcanoes National Park is palpable just in its name. It conjures up images of dramatic, ancient mountains all covered in dense forests with thin mist-like clouds wafting through. And for once, the image matches reality! Volcanoes National Park is most famous for its gorilla trekking and is also one of our must-visit destinations for 2021, all for good reason! Half the world’s mountain gorilla population can be found in the Rwanda portion of the park, making it the best gorilla trekking experience possible. Tim stayed at the Tiloreza Volcanoes Ecolodge during his gorilla trekking experience and had this to say: 

“I really liked this lodge; very friendly staff who shared in the excitement of my unique gorilla trek. I loved how they had air-con and heating, as again it did get cold at nighttime. The food was excellent; the lodge beautifully open and breezy; the pool looked super and the grounds wonderfully green with lots of grass; shaded seating and weaver birds! I suspect that there are many other lodges in the area but I really enjoyed Tiloreza, as it matches the quality product that some other more expensive lodges might offer, largely because of the very friendly staff and very pastoral location.”

Close up gorilla and baby in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park
It’s a heart stirring moment seeing gorillas up close in their natural environment

Arusha, Tanzania

After a short flight from Kigali to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania (with all Covid requirements taken care of – naturally), Tim started his more traditional safari segment of his itinerary. Known as the gateway to the Seregeti, Arusha is often a stop over for travellers either starting or finishing their safari, however it is worth exploring this city if you do have some time. For this, Tim stayed at the quaint Rivertrees Country Inn. 

I had a soft spot for Rivertree ever since you suggested it to me as a destination. It exceeded my expectations in every aspect. I really appreciated how the staff let me eat at the bar, which is always a welcome relief when one is traveling solo. The grounds were expansive and exceptional; the pool was very big and having the Usa River as one of the perimeter sides was another treat. Seeing (and hearing) all of the colobus and blue monkeys playing each morning in the grounds trees and on the grass was a real treat. I highly recommend this destination!”

Serengeti, Tanzania

Renowned as one of the world’s best kept natural spaces, the Serengeti is another must visit destination for 2021. Often requiring booking over a year in advance to witness the migration, travelling in December and January allows for you to view the animals as they return from the north to their seasonal grazing areas in the southern portion of the reserve. This is also a far quieter travel to time, and coupled with the recent low travel numbers, Tim had a safari experience of a lifetime!

Wildebeest in Serengeti National Park
Following the rains in their annual migration. Photo Credit: Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti Camp

My game drives could not have been better as my “exclusive” ranger, namely Eddie, was absolutely THE BEST. As I love animals, and he loves everything associated with the Serengeti bush, we made for a wonderful pair to roam the savannah and woodlands for what I considered was an extremely generous length of 9.5 hours/day. I frankly think that length of daily game drive will not be beaten anywhere. I felt truly lucky as Eddie showed me everything that I could possibly ask for. Eddie was simply an exceptional ranger.”

Tim stayed at the  Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp and had this to say about them:

Glamping in style. Photo Credit: Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp

“Wow & Excellent! I am glad that this was left to the conclusion of the trip, as it was exceptional. Staying in such a luxury tented facility (“glamping”, as one of my Facebook friends commented) was a first for me, and one that I would love to repeat. The standard of the “tent” was super comfortable; the bathroom unique (40 litres of hot water loaded via a pulley system at the prearranged shower time); the view totally private into the bush; the lodge super comfy and practical and the food excellent (and I mean that!). The friendly staff were so efficient; all calling me by my name. The Wi-Fi worked well in the lodge, and the electrical sockets (one drawer per tent with three outlets per drawer) worked a treat. It really was a super destination.”

Flying in East Africa

Now, flying between the lodges in East Africa is an experience all on its own. Sitting in a small plane with wilderness around you – it is pure magic – when it all comes together perfectly, that is. I think Tim summed it up beautifully in his account of his final flight back to Arusha and then onto Kilimanjaro International Airport for his return journey home.

“Well, flying in an aircraft that small was a first for me, and I learnt to love it. On the return flight from Ndutu to Arusha, I was somewhat nervous as there is no “real” confirmation that the plane was actually going to arrive, which caused me some anxious moments (about 60 minutes of anxiety). As I was the only passenger going back to Arusha, if that flight did not happen, then my entire return itinerary was in jeopardy. Until that unmarked, but very luxurious plane, suddenly appeared from the sky, I certainly was very nervous. But, the flight did arrive, and I should have listened more to Eddie’s comments of TIA –  “This Is Africa”- so essentially be patient. After that, it was all plain sailing in comfort.” 

Flying between lodges in East Africa with mount Kilimanjaro in the background
Flying between lodges in East Africa is an experience all on its own. Photo Credit: Coastal Aviation

Africa is ready for exploring

There is always a silver lining, even in the most dire situation, if you are open to it. Travel isn’t a possibility for everyone at the moment and we are encouraged by the increased roll out of the Covid vaccines around the world as it means travel is soon to become a possibility for everyone again.

But for those adventurous few, like Tim, there are incredible rewards for travelling at this time. You have access to sensational places, often impossible to get into, and you get to experience it all to yourself as well. This opportunity is unlikely to happen in our lifetime again.

And for those not quite ready to take on an African adventure just yet, our Rhino Africa travel experts are on-hand to curate your dream holiday, precisely when you are ready for it.

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About the author 

Luke Lalin

Born and raised in Johannesburg, Luke ventured to a small town in the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown, where he studied at Rhodes University. Clearly not having studied enough, he then completed a finance degree just for fun - who even does this? Luke is passionate about travelling and was lucky enough to work in the USA for almost 2 years. However, his love for Africa was too strong and he returned home and moved to the spectacular city of Cape Town to pursue a career in the travel industry. Having once been a competitive swimmer, Luke can often be found doing laps in the pool. He is, however, a general fitness junkie and can be found doing anything from cycling, running, mountain biking, triathlon, tennis, squash or anything that gets the heart rate up.

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