Vacation Tours

5 of the best safaris in Africa

In the past, a safari (the Swahili word for ‘journey', itself derived from the Arabic ‘safar' meaning the same) was an overland journey to hunt big-game. These days it more often refers to short trips to observe and photograph wildlife. Thankfully, killing the subject matter and taking trophies is no longer considered essential. Here are our picks fro the five best safaris in Africa:

Wildebeest migration

Over 2 million wildebeest follow a circular migratory pattern around the border area between Kenya and Tanzania in search of fresh pasture. The importance of this cycle is now well recognised and much of this land is protected; as the Masai Mara Game Reserve (Kenya) and Serengeti National Park (Tanzania).

The grazers are a temptation too great for predators to miss and the poor wildebeest must run the gauntlet between lions and leopards on land and avoid the huge crocodiles waiting in ambush as they seek to cross any rivers across their route. The annual migration also incorporates the natural life cycle for the wildebeest so choose your season carefully to be in the right place if you particularly want to see courtship or birthing.

Unfortunately, much has been made of the regularity of the migration when in fact there is considerable variation in route and timing year-on-year. Booking a particular lodge for a set of dates therefore brings a certain amount of risk - even if you are willing to travel out in vehicles in search of the herd each day.

A recent innovation is to set up mobile camps as these can be placed close to actual route for any season. Mobile camps are considerably more comfortable than they sound and normally operate from July to November and from December through to March.

Suggested stays

For a great experience, check out Nomad Tanzania's Serengeti Safari Camp. This is camping, but elegantly done.

Ngorongoro Crater

As one of the premier safari destinations, this volcanic crater in Tanzania offers a dense and varied selection of wildlife and a good selection of mid-range and luxury lodges on the crater rim. Since there is plentiful prey the predators are also seen in force. A visit here is a lifetime experience and one of the best opportunities to see the Big Five in one day.

Ngorongoro is one of the most beautiful settings for an African safari and many visitors find themselves just as absorbed by the backdrop as the foreground action. You'll need to be up early to catch the best of the morning mists, but then you will have memories to savour for long after.

The animals within Ngorongoro Crater tend to be residents so it is possible to visit year round. If you cannot take time off when more seasonal options are at their best then this could be the destination for you.

Suggested stays

Our pick for your nights here is the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, perched on the edge of the crater itself. The views are simply divine.

Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is an anomaly. The Kalahari is renowned as one of the harshest deserts in the world and yet here it is interrupted by the waters of the Okavango River, which fan out into a wetland wonder; and ‘oasis' on a grand scale. Only 2% of the water passes beyond the delta area, the rest evaporates or is consumed by the local flora and fauna.

Travel within the delta is not always by the typical open-topped safari vehicle but is more often by mokoro (a traditional dugout canoe). For most visitors this adds a completely different dimension to the experience, making it a very personal one between you and your guide. Their keen eyes will help you to spot the wonders of nature up close and with as much explanation as you desire.

Visitors to Okavango are likely to see a wide range of wildlife including some of the great African mammals such as elephant, buffalo, lion and zebra as well as hundred of bird species, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects and exotic plants.

The rainy season between November and March features mostly short thunderstorms with October to February being the hottest and least pleasant time for a visit.

Suggested stays

In the Okavango we recommend Pelo Camp for those who intend to make the most of the unique water-borne experiences. For those who prefer their comforts to be on dry land the Sandibe Safari Lodge is sure to fit the bill.

Kruger National Park

Kruger is South Africa's most exciting African safari destination. Classic packages here offer abundant wildlife in spectacular wilderness settings with every conceivable creature comfort once you return to base for the night. As a long-established destination, Kruger has a well developed tourism infrastructure with a wide range of accommodation and sightseeing options. Whatever your particular interests you are likely to find something suitable here.

Established in 1898, this national park is unrivalled in the diversity of its life forms. Kruger is home to an impressive number of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals. The south-east of the park is said to be the best place to see the Big Five though it is the Skukuza Area that is home to the highest concentrations of leopard in the world.

Kruger Park is an all year round destination, with each season bringing its own highlights. Game viewing can be at its best during the dry winters months, however the wet summer season brings migrant birds and is a time of full waterholes, lush bushveld and newborn life.

Suggested stays

Two lodges stand out amongst the crowd in Kruger: Lion Sands River Lodge with its 20 luxurious thatched rooms and intimate Dulini Leadwood Lodge where only 8 guests stay at any time.

Kafue and Victoria Falls

Kafue National Park is Zambias oldest and largest National Park; Victoria Falls need no introductionand the combination is one that offers a whole gamut of lifetime experiences.

Kafue is very much off the beaten track with a timeless sense of remoteness. The open grassy plains team with wildlife including large prides of lion. The plains are also most suitable for spotting cheetah, not one of the Big Five and therefore a very under-rated predator species.

The more adventurous visitors to this area are drawn to extreme bungee jumps and some of the best commercial white water rafting in the world. Those with a lower tolerance for adrenalin might still be interested in a hot-air balloon ride or some of the excellent fishing.

The best time to visit Kafue are the months June through November when the wetlands start to dry up and the wildlife is concentrated around the permanent sources of water. The rains usually return some time in December.

Suggested stays

In Kafue you will need to stay in a Bush Camp to see the best of the wildlife. Both Shumba and Busanga Camps come highly rated.

Sangeeta Sadarangani is Founder and Owner of Crossing Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger onA Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.

Related posts:

Africa's top 10 experiences

5 safari parks where you can see the Big 5

7 alternative safaris to take you off the beaten track

Africa's top 5 new camps to visit in 2017

5 of the most unique game lodges in Africa

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Hotel Crush The Postcard Inn On the Beach

One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by VISIT FLORIDA.

So, usually you pick a destination then start looking for accommodation, right? In this case, planned a trip kind of backward , I started with a vintage vacation spot I couldn’t resist, and built a solo trip to St. Petersburg, Florida from there.

And on this trip I learned a secret – The Sunshine State is home to a treasure trove of hidden gem boutique hotels.

When VISIT FLORIDA invited me to explore one of the state’s beautiful boutique hotels, I knew I wanted to be on the ocean. I also knew I didn’t have huge budget tastes, but I craved great design. And I knew that anything that could further my obsession with classic retro Florida vibes was a win. That’s when I found The Postcard Inn on the Beach.

St. Pete has a laid-back beach vibe that’s reflected in the affordable, hip and casual Postcard Inn, originally built as The Colonial Gateway Inn in 1957. Before restaurateur Stephen Hanson gave the property new life as the surfer chic Postcard Inn, it was a Travelodge, and plans to demolish and rebuild were strongly opposed by the community, eventually encouraging Hanson to renovate and preserve the historical motel instead.

Postcard Inn avoids the downsides that can often befall famed boutique hotels – high rates and snobby attitudes. “Howard Johnson meets JetBlue,” is how the team behind the easy-going Postcard Inn creation described their end game.

The results are, in my humble opinion, the happy place where budget and bohemian make a baby, with room rates starting at $99 out of season (July through December) and $189 in season (January to June). Pets are welcome for a reasonable $75 fee per stay , as if there wasn’t already enough to like.

The chic lobby is lined with a bright rainbow of books on built-in shelves in one direction and a chalkboard displaying the times of sunset, sunrise, the tides and the temperature on another. There's a cute breakfast nook, and in the mornings free coffee and tea are served, and a microwave is available to guests.

Although I was traveling solo, I opted for a classic double queen for my stay, drawn to the collection of surf photos by local St. Pete artists pasted into a visual headboard. I swooned over the full size surfboards in each room, the brightly colored Tommy Bahama toiletries, and the vintage table lamps on the desk.

Larger cabana-style rooms boast wooden carved headboards with detailed maps of the local area, chilled-out private patios with hammocks, and a small kitchenette. Other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo murals of longboard surfers catching a wave, or a series of bold quotes by legendary surfers , as well as Thoreau, the Beach Boys, Warhol, or Jay-Z.

The two-story, U-shaped motel is made up of just under 200 rooms, with an Olympic-sized pool and a lush garden patio in the center. Rooms facing into the courtyard and pool are slightly higher priced, while those offering the best value face outward toward the parking lots for each wing.

Bonus! Parking is included in the $25 per night resort fee, along with Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and use of the other hotel amenities.

The weather was unseasonably rainy and cloudy during my stay, which gave me plenty of time to explore downtown St. Pete, though less to explore the beach and pool. Still, when the rain paused one morning I walked down for a breakfast picnic on the sand and could see why beach bums flock here.

For those who prefer to stay busy, a serious of lawn games and two beachside gyms provide alternative entertainment. In the lobby, a vintage photo booth, a library of art books, and a caricature artist who set up shop in the corner offered even further distraction. “Dive in” movie nights, where films are projected over the pool, are a popular weekend event.

I found that the majority of St. Pete’s most alluring dining options were a 20-minute drive or so away in the downtown core. The onsite restaurant, The Boathouse Kitchen and Bar, is an exception – I had a lovely lunch here with my aunt one day before venturing out for the day to explore, and ordered room service another night.

Between the pool and the beach is the freestanding PCI Beach Bar, and an adjacent Snack Shack, which is open in high periods (during my visit, mid-week in June, it wasn’t open.)

One night, I held a reader meet-up for fellow travel addicts in the Tampa and St. Pete area. Fourteen of us kicked off at the PCI Beach Bar, where live music and a stunning sunset made a Sunday feel like a Friday. Reclaimed wood, a recycled tin roof and license plates from around the world made me feel like we’d washed ashore and come up in the Florida Keys. Locals promised me the PCI beach Bar was the perfect spot for my reader meet-up, and they were right.

Interior designer Tara Oxley said in an interview that photographer Stephen Shore’s 1970’s American road trip images and a passage from Jack Kerouac provided some of her primary inspiration. That free-spirit, travel-loving vibe was there from check-in to checkout.

There’s so much that I adored about my stay at The Postcard Inn on the Beach, my only complaint is that I didn’t have more time to spare. But I’ll be back. Between the love of a community that spared this Gulf Coast gem from being dozed and developed, a design team that believed style is for every budget, and the picture-perfect location, this place has a lot to love.

The hotel truly reflects St. Pete, which I quickly learned is itself a funky and affordable, no-fuss kind of city, from the retro beach to the hip downtown. Even at its most upscale, St. Pete is unpretentious, the kind of city where flip-flops feel more at home than high heels. Barefoot? Even better.

Other Boutique Hotels in Florida

Looking for somewhere affordable and stylish elsewhere in the Sunshine State? Check out these other boutique hotels I’ve bookmarked for future trips.

• One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville: A slick resort with a spa and ocean views. Rates starting at $219.

• Postcard Inn in Islamorada: The sister hotel to St. Pete’s Postcard Inn, the Florida Keys location brings all the charm of the original down South. Rates starting at $209.

• Hotel Cabana in Clearwater: Another recently renovated motel with stylish rooms, affordable rates, and an Instagram-able pool. Rates starting at $120.

• Sense Beach House in Miami: This sleek and stylish 18-room boutique hotel in South Beach boasts a rooftop pool and a happening restaurant. Rates starting at $170.

What's your favorite Florida boutique hotel? Does the Postcard Inn look like it's your style?

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

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