Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Time of year travel

The Great Migration is magic any time of year, though we have a soft spot
for the calving season
This week's enews is to inspire ideas for your travelers who are specific about when they can travel, with options throughout the year by season....

January - March

Whale watching in Baja hits the spot for those seeking a
'transformative travel' experience. Photo by Colin Ruggiero.
Baja California Sur's whale watching season runs from October through March, but mid-January to mid-March is an extra special time with the arrival of gray whales. Todos Santos Eco Adventures has a great track record of getting their clients up close and personal with the gentle giants! Some even suggest that the experience can 'change your perspective.'

The Great Migration moves in perpetuity, and every season has its own highlights. What we love, love, love about visiting Tanzania this time of year is that we have the chance to see the calving season, where wildebeest are dropping their babies on the plains of the Southern Serengeti. Predator activity is also incredible during this time of abundance. Albatros Travel can advise on the best camps for your clients' safari to witness this beautiful spectacle.

For a delicious diversion a bit closer to home, we suggest visiting Guatemala for the annual coffee harvest. Maya Trails partners with De La Gente in Antigua for community-based coffee tours. The participatory tour comes with a translator and a bag of seriously delicious coffee! 100% of the cost of the tour is paid directly to the farmer. Add a traditional Guatemalan lunch with the family for an extra special experience.

April - June

Calm seas ensure great wildlife viewing both above and
below the surface in the Galapagos!
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination, but this time of year marks the end of the warm and wet season. Showers are brief (when they happen!), and the seas are at their calmest. With that calm comes easy boat transfers between islands for land-based travel with Tropic Ecuador (or smooth sailing if that's your choice), but best of all, it ensures excellent underwater visibility for checking out the amazing wildlife!

Travelers hankering for adventure in Namibia would do well to visit during our spring months as the rainy season is coming to an end and their winter sets in. Days can still be hot, but the air is fresh and clear, vegetation is green (great photography conditions!) and the mercury blissfully dips at night. It is pre-high season so there are fewer tourists, and game viewing gets better as the vegetation dies back. Ask Ultimate Safaris what they love about this special time of year.

Primate viewing is one of the ultimate wildlife experiences in Africa, and the countries with excellent trekking opportunities use that draw to help fund protection of the primates with permit fees. Savvy travelers can visit Uganda during the months of April, May (and November!) to take advantage of discounted gorilla and chimpanzee permits ($50 off chimp permits and $150 off of gorilla permits). These discounts might mean the difference between one or two days of trekking, multiple primate treks or a longer safari. Be sure to contact Classic Africa Safaris well in advance to secure permits!

July - September

Shutterbugs can perfect their elephant shots during Zimbabwe's
dry season. Photo by Mark Butcher.
Imvelo Safari Lodges' Nehimba Lodge is an epic location for close encounters with elephants during the dry season. Elephants can be seen close to the Lodge all year, but numbers swell significantly during the dry season. Guests can reliably witness the spectacle from July - Nov, both at the Lodge and at the Nehimba Seeps. Nehimba also offers an elevated vantage point for photographing the hundreds of elephants and other game that frequent its very popular waterhole. With lots of new flights into VFA (including this direct one from Cape Town with SA Airlink) it's easier than ever to visit!

August marks the peak of South Africa's flower season. In the country's arid northwest (Namaqualand), the plains come to life with a riot of color. The 4,000 species of flower seeds lie in wait for the right conditions, then bloom in a different and stunning way each year. Adventure opportunities in Namaqualand go beyond viewing its seasonal color palette, and include hiking and biking, fantastic seafood, walks to ancient rock paintings, delicious wine and tea, and more. For the short flower season, be sure to contact New Frontiers early, as accommodations can sell out months in advance.

These shoulder season months mark the end of summer and the onset of autumn in Ethiopia. September is particularly magical with landscapes that will defy your imagination - verdant and lush from the rains. Yellow (Meskel) daisies dot hillsides and their arrival ushers in the Ethiopian Orthodox church's celebration of Meskel (Sept 27), marking the discovery of the 'True Cross' in the 4th century. Weather is generally mild, though Travel Ethiopia recommends that travelers be prepared for rain with boots and a waterproof jacket.

October - December

Predators were abundant during Gretchen's visit to Kenya
during its 'secret season'
Procrastinators, rejoice! There is something to love about year-end travel and squeezing out every last vacation day. All of our destinations provide an opportunity to escape the oncoming North American winter - it's just a matter of choice! Maybe Kenya's 'secret season' with fewer tourists (but lots of wildlife!), or marking the holiday season in Latin America with family to experience a shot of culture in an escape close to home...the only limit on where to go is travelers' imaginations!

Speaking of Latin America, if olive ridley, green, and leatherback turtles or the elusive resplendant quetzal are on your client's 'must see' list, we have an exciting announcement coming in a few weeks - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kusini in Kenya, cats on the tracks and octopuses can walk

Lions cause a delay for the Elephant Express -
this is the kind of traffic jam we can get behind!

 What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Direct flights to Kenya from the US will get clients on
safari faster!
Albatros Travel: Tad is currently exploring Kenya with Albatros Travel (keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates!), and while his journey went off without a hitch, no traveler would object to getting there faster. Good news on that front - Kenya was recently granted approval for non-stop direct flights to the United States. Permission was granted more quickly than anticipated after Kenya implemented a number of US recommended security enhancements. Kenya joins four other African countries whose airports have achieved Category One status - South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, and Nigeria.

Big cat sightings in Hwange have been amazing during the
green season! 
Imvelo Safari Lodges: We've mentioned that timing is important when booking Imvelo Safari Lodges' Elephant Express, and we must acknowledge that every now and then the train is delayed. It had to make an unscheduled stop last week due to a convergence of cats on the rails, though there wasn't a single passenger complaint. Big cat sightings have been abundant during the beautiful green season. Earlier this week guests spotted two different litters of lion cubs on a drive. Leopard and cheetah sightings have also been incredible. No matter the season - Hwange NP delivers!

Tents are basic but comfortable, and allow guests to
experience the wild side of Murchison Falls NP
Classic Africa Safaris: Classic Africa Safaris is now offering mobile tented walking safaris in Murchison Falls National Park! Walks take guests into one of East Africa's oldest forests, over the lip of the Albertine Rift Valley and into the Nile Valley. These safaris allow guests to experience Murchison Falls and the White Nile in a way few others ever will. The two or three night adventures are led by Andy Ault, a licensed professional guide from Zimbabwe who has lived and worked in Uganda for the past 8 years.

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: Octopuses (yes, that's the correct plural!) have proven to be highly intelligent, with the ability to use tools, 'walk' outside of water, and deploy camouflage in a way that rivals that of any other creature found in nature. Guests of Todos Santos Eco Adventures can see octopuses and myriad other sea life in both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Check out this blog post for a word with Bryan and Sergio Jauregui and to learn more about these incredible animals that have been swimming through our oceans for nearly 300 million years.

T+L's '50 Best Places' list for 2017 includes
Botswana's Okavango Delta
T+L's 50 Best Places to Travel in 2017: What do Cape Town, Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Okavango Delta and Rwanda have in common? They all share real estate on Travel + Leisure's '50 Best Places to Travel in 2017' list! They all also happen to be destinations well represented by clients in the Kusini Collection. If you are seeing demand for these exceptional locales, New Frontiers can steer you right for Cape Town and Botswana's Okavango Delta, Tropic Ecuador will give you the goods on Guayaquil, and Classic Africa Safaris can unearth Rwanda's magic for your clients.

Gelada baboons are among the unique endemic wildlife
found in the Simiens 
Travel Ethiopia: Travelers are drawn to Ethiopia's Simien Mountains to explore the area's beauty, endemic wildlife and cultural opportunities. The African Wildlife Foundation and Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority are supporting new tourism ventures in the Simiens to disperse tourists over a wider area, benefitting both communities and the landscape. They include a new multi-day community-based trek incorporating simple lodging, authentic food and cultural interaction, and the AWF partnership with Limalimo ecolodge makes it a great, community-enriching choice for lodge-based trekking. Contact Travel Ethiopia to discuss options, including ways to combine both.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Octopus's Garden

Credit: Lara Ray
To travel with Todos Santos Eco Adventures (TOSEA) is to understand their passion for what they do. Bryan and Sergio Jauregui are not just running a business, but do it for the love of the land and sea...they are always learning, always sharing. When we came across Bryan's most recent, and fascinating, blog post, we had to share. But first, a few questions with the two of them:

KUSINI: What was your inspiration to write this article?
TOSEA: (Bryan's voice): My sister gave us Sy Montgomery's book, The Soul of an Octopus, for Christmas last year. We both found it absolutely charming and completely revelatory about the intelligence and emotions of octopuses. This book actually inspired omnivore Sergio to stop eating octopus! It also inspired us to do the behind-the-scenes tour at the New England Aquarium in Boston when we visited last summer and it was wonderful to meet the aquarists who are doing such great work there. I write regularly for our local Baja California Sur magazine, Journal del Pacifico, and when the editor asked if I'd like to do a piece on octopuses I jumped at the chance to dive even further into the octopus's garden.

KUSINI: Are visitors to Baja California Sur able to see octopuses in their native environment?
TOSEA: (Sergio's voice): Yes, we see octopuses in both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Several of the 300 species of octopus can be found in Baja California Sur.

KUSINI: What are the threats to these magnificent creatures?
TOSEA: Climate change and the resulting increase in ocean acidification is one of the key threats to the octopus. When the pH level of the ocean gets too low, octopuses can't circulate enough oxygen to survive. Octopuses are also threatened by habitat destruction and events which cause a decline in their key food sources.

KUSINI: What's your best octopus story/sighting?
TOSEA: (Sergio's voice): There is an octopus that lives in a conch shell right off the shore at Camp Cecil and we see him all the time with our guests - he's quite friendly. There's another octopus who lives near one of the dive sites near Espiritu Santo and he likes to keep a series of shells in front of his house. If we move one of the shells, even a little bit, he always comes out and fixes them back just so. Octopus are also amazing predators. One of our guides actually saw an octopus eat a bird!

The Octopus's Garden

by Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures
This article was originally published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico

California Two-Spot Octopus, The Pacific Ocean.
Photo by Kaia Thomson
There was a thief in the aquarium and no one knew what to do. The institution had just recently purchased 10 Australian Pineapplefish at a price per head that brought tears to the financial officer’s eyes, and now these expensive beauties were
disappearing – eerily, quietly, and exactly one fish per night. Management’s initial hypothesis was that night-time employees were seeking to boost their fortunes by selling the fish on the black market, so they set up monitoring stations at employee exits to inspect bags and purses. No pilfered fish were found, and they kept disappearing, one fish each evening. Puzzled, and anxious to protect what remained of their investment, aquarium officials finally decided to set up a camera monitoring system at the Pineapplefish tank to try and catch the thief in the act. Turns out, it was the perfect inside job.

Three tanks away the giant Pacific octopus planned and executed the crime. He figured out how to undo the lock on his tank, walk past the (obviously less delectable) Barrier Reef Anemonefish and Bicolor Parrotfish, open the tank of the Australian Pineapplefish, and leisurely enjoy his midnight snack. He then carefully replaced the top of the Pineapplefish tank, walked back to his own tank, and put the lid back in place.

An Octopus planning? Picking a lock? Walking? The aquarium theft story is one that is widely told in marine science circles, although no one seems to remember the name of the aquarium or exactly when it happened. Even is not entirely sure. Yet the story has such wide currency as those who study and work with octopuses (yes, it is “octopuses” as the greek-derived word octopus will not suffer a latin ending like “I”) know an octopus could easily plan and execute such a caper. In fact, the remarkable intelligence of octopuses, coupled with their other-worldly, alien-seeming bodies, has given rise to a spate of books in recent years that explore and celebrate these amazing creatures. In Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith talks about engaging with octopuses as “probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.” In The Soul of an Octopus Sy Montgomery tells wonderful stories about the octopus friends she made at the New England Aquarium, their personalities and their sophisticated cognitive skills of being able to imagine what is in another creature’s mind. And in Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea, Harmon Courage discusses how “the big-brained cephalopod can navigate through mazes, solve problems and remember solutions, and take things apart for fun.”

Mirror Minds

Octopuses and humans last shared a common ancestor (a wormlike critter) about half a billion years ago, so minds of the two groups developed into complex, sentient entities completely separately. As did their bodies, which seem to be almost the inverse of each other. Octopuses can shape-shift through cracks no larger than their eyes. Humans lack such fluidity. Vertebrates are structured around a central nervous system centered in the head, while the brains of an octopus – whose neuron numbers are comparable to those of mammals – are distributed, with two-thirds in their 8 arms and only one third in their heads. This means that the arms can engage in independent problem-solving behavior, like how to open the tank of the Australian Pineapplefish, while the owner can be checking to see if there is a similarly worthy object of its attention in another tank. As Godfrey-Smith notes, “An octopus is so suffused with its nervous system that is has no clear brain-body boundary.” Imagine.

And that’s just for starters. Vertebrates have just one heart, while octopuses have three.  Two of the hearts are engaged solely in the task of moving blood beyond the gills, while the third heart is tasked with keeping circulation flowing for the organs. When an octopus swims, the organ heart actually stops beating, which explains why in many cases an octopus would rather walk, or crawl, than swim, as swimming is exhausting for them. And walking does come in handy when getting out of the water for an aquarium hunting expedition.

Common Octopus Juvenile, Sea of Cortez.
Photo by Kaia Thomson
But perhaps of all the cool things that an octopus’s brain/body can do, the most amazing is its ability to disguise itself by almost instantaneously changing not only the color and pattern of its skin, but the very texture of its skin to everything from small bumps to tall spikes to match its surroundings such that even the most determined and observant predator or prey cannot distinguish it from nearby coral, algae-covered rocks, kelp fronds or the sandy seabed. And color also denotes mood. As Sy Montgomery wrote upon meeting an octopus named Athena, “As I stroke her with my fingertips, her skin goes white beneath my touch. Later, I learn this is the color of a relaxed octopus.” Alternatively, “An agitated giant Pacific octopus turns red, its skin gets pimply, and it erects two papillae over the eyes, which some divers say look like horns.”

It is tempting to chalk up the body-changing abilities of an octopus to instinct alone, but Dr. Jennifer Mather, a comparative psychologist who studies octopuses, has found that octopuses use specific disguises for specific species in specific conditions – both offensive and defensive. That is, it is another sign of the octopus’s intelligence. Dr. Mather believes that the octopus’s loss of the ancestral shell is what lead it to develop this intelligence. Being shell-free allows the octopus to be an active predator like a lion, rather than a passive muncher like a clam. But the dozens of different prey species that it hunts require different hunting strategies, just as different strategies are required for defending itself against different predators.  Dr. Mather has documented that octopuses will often use what is called the Passing Cloud display – flashing pulses of color that move across the octopus like passing clouds – to startle an immobile crab (one of its favorite foods) into moving and give itself away. To catch shrimp, octopuses have been seen to compress themselves, creep up to the shrimp, extend an arm up and over the shrimp, then touch it – an act which scares the shrimp right into the mouth of the octopus.

Common Octopus, The Pacific Ocean.
Photo by Kaia Thomson
On the other side of the equation, if an octopus is being hunted by a hungry fish it might rapidly change color, pattern and shape; fish have strong visual memories for certain images, and if an octopus is rapidly changing from light to dark, from spots to stripes, the fish can’t place it and moves on to something it can identify to eat. But if that psychedelic display is not enough, octopuses have many more tricks in their bag – including the ability of some species to deploy a pseudomorph, a life-size self-portrait made from a cloud of ink and mucus. This essentially freaks out and disorients the predator, allowing the octopus to get away. It seems that octopuses actually enjoy messing with the (lesser) minds of would-be predators. The mimic octopus, rather than making itself look like something passive such as coral or rock to avoid detection, transforms itself to look and act like venomous creatures such as jellyfish, sea snakes and spiky lionfish to send its would-be predator running the other way.

Octopuses also employ tools for defense. Researchers in Indonesia have documented octopuses lugging half coconut shells across the ocean floor, assembling them into spheres, and climbing inside for protection. An octopus at the Middlebury octopus lab found that a sea urchin was hanging around too close to its den so she ventured out, found a piece of flat slate, and erected it in front of her den like a shield.

As Sy Montgomery notes, “…of all the creatures on the planet who imagine what is in another creature’s mind, the one that must do so best might well be the octopus – because without this ability, the octopus could not perpetrate its many self-preserving deceptions. An octopus must convince many species of predators and prey that it is really something else….(then) assess whether the other animal believes its ruse or not, and if not, try something different. “Writes Godfrey-Smith, “When surviving requires decision-making, brains have developed awareness. Sentience,” he notes, “has some point to it.”

Love and Friendship

Common Octopus. The Pacific Ocean.
Photo by Kaia Thomson
Montgomery, Godrey-Smith and numerous others have documented that octopuses can readily distinguish different people, even if they are wearing identical uniforms, and that they have very particular feelings about those different people. With people that they like, they will touch them, hold their hands and arms, give them gentle squeezes, and allow themselves to be stroked. They are friendly and engaged and will readily come to the surface of their tank for interaction. People that they don’t like may be subjected to rude squirts of water and – if the visitor is too close – even a bite. But what about with each other? Every Valentine’s Day the Seattle Aquarium hosts the Octopus Blind Date, in which the partition between the tanks of a male and female giant Pacific octopus is lifted and nature is allowed to take its course – six hearts beating as three might be the romantic view. But in 2016 the blind date was cancelled due to fears that the 70-pound male, Kong, would simply find his 35-pound date a tasty snack, a decidedly unromantic outcome. While it was a loss for Seattle’s octopus sex voyeurs, it was a new lease on life for Kong. Mating, while ensuring the survival of the species, is a death knell for male octopuses, who die shortly thereafter. This close link between sex and death might account for some octopuses rather hands-off approach to sex – literally. The males and females of the Algae octopus will find houses next to one another so that the male only has to reach his hectocotylus (sex arm) out his front door and into her’s to get the job done. The Argonaut octopus doesn’t even get that intimate. Males simply detach their hectocotylus and send it off to mate with a passing female.

Female octopuses can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they attach to the ceiling of their dwelling and lay in long strings like translucent ropes of pearls. They guard and tend their eggs diligently until they hatch. Sy Montgomery reports how her octopus friend Octavia in the New England Aquarium wove her egg chains and tended them with meaningful rituals, even though there was no male to fertilize them. Of course the eggs never hatched and Octavia succumbed to death a few months later, as do all female octopuses once their reproductive cycle is over.

The Octopus’s Garden

Octopuses are the blue bloods of the marine world. Truly. Octopuses evolved a copper rather than an iron-based blood, and it’s the copper that turns their blood blue. Copper is more efficient at transporting oxygen than hemoglobin in deep ocean environments, where water temperatures are low and there is not much oxygen. But this system also means that octopuses are very sensitive to changes in acidity, and when the ocean’s pH gets too low, octopuses can’t circulate enough oxygen. There is therefore a great deal of concern in the scientific community about what will happen to octopuses with the increasing ocean acidification being brought about by climate change.

Octopuses have existed on the earth for at least 296 million years, the age of the oldest known octopus fossil.  That’s over a thousand times longer than humans. “The sea is the original birth place of the mind. When you dive into the sea, you are diving in to the origin of us all’” writes Godfrey-Smith. It is perhaps for this reason that Godfrey-Smith dedicates his book to “all those who work to protect the oceans.” As Carl Safina notes, “As we change the world, let’s bear this in our minds: Other minds are living their own lives here with us on earth.”

In Baja California Sur our two oceans, the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, are filled with many of the 300 species of octopus that inhabit the world, and it is possible to visit many octopus gardens and match wits with these amazing creatures when snorkeling and diving. Jacques Cousteau, who called the Sea of Cortez the Aquarium of the World, tells a charming story in his 1973 book Octopus and Squid: The Soft Intelligence. “Our friend Gilpatric … brought an octopus home and put it in an aquarium, which he then covered with a heavy lid. A short time later, the aquarium was empty, and Gilpatric found the octopus going through his library, book by book, turning the pages with its arms.” And that’s a true octopus story.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Ultimate Stellar Escape, Rift Valley lakes and new flights to VFA

Spend an enchanting night under a billion stars on a Stellar Escape with
Ultimate Safaris in Namibia!
 What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Namibia's night skies are the ultimate 'bush TV!'
Ultimate Safaris: We are beyond excited about the introduction of Ultimate Safaris' new 'Stellar Escape!' This very special sleep out experience is set in an ancient dry riverbed on Ultimate's private concession in the //Huab Conservancy. In addition to an afternoon walk, sundowners and a sumptuous bush dinner, the evening offers crystal clear skies with nothing between travelers and Namibia's brilliant stellar display. As guests drift off to sleep, they'll spot satellites, galaxies and shooting stars with the naked eye! Learn more on the Kusini blog.

Albatros Travel: Exciting news out of East Africa where Albatros Travel reports that plans are underway for the Kenyan government to establish a customs and immigration office at the Sand River Gate on the border with Tanzania. The new facility will ease the movement of cross-border travelers visiting the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem, and will eliminate the need for significantly lengthier border crossings via the Narok-Nairobi or Kisii-Migori-Isebania routes. Stay tuned for updates on construction and opening dates!

Ecuador has the easiest access of any country into the Amazon
Tropic Ecuador: There's a lot more to Ecuador than the (admittedly wonderful) Galapagos Islands. Whether your travelers are interested in history, culture, adventure or cuisine, Ecuador has something to offer everyone. Tropic Ecuador crafts tailor-made and small group expeditions throughout the country, from an insider's Quito exploration to unveiling the secrets of the Amazon. View this brief Ecuador Mainland Programs webinar for a taste of what makes the country such a diverse and amazing destination.

Imvelo Safari Lodges: More direct international flights into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe? How 'bout a direct connection to Cape Town? Done and done! The hope for additional service to VFA's new international terminal is coming to fruition as both Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have added flights into the hub. Ethiopian Airlines starts direct ADD - VFA service March 26th, followed by the addition of Kenya Airways flights from Nairobi beginning May 18th. Even better, the Kenya Airways flights continue on to Cape Town! It's never been easier to connect the Mother City with Victoria Falls and a safari with Imvelo Safari Lodges!  
Visitors to lovely, wallet-friendly Rukyia Safari Camp
will not be disappointed

New Frontiers: 
With space at a premium at New Frontiers' preferred safari properties, Christine and Faith recently embarked on a rekkie to northern Kruger and managed to find some new gems that offer authenticity, great value and a good safari experience. The areas visited include Balule, which is part of the Greater Kruger bordering Klaserie and Timbavati, as well as the Timbavati itself. Get the skinny on these carefully curated options on the New Frontiers Agent Zone.

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: Todos Santos Eco Adventures created an annual Christmas Bird Count Circle (CBC). It is a citizen scientist effort that has evolved to become a critical data pool for researchers studying status and ranges of bird populations across the Americas. The only other similar count is the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) run during the June breeding season. Survey results become the combined yardstick by which ornithologists and conservation biologists assess the health and migration status of bird populations across the Americas. The Todos Santos circle has a 15-mile diameter encompassing estuaries, coastline, desert and mountainous areas.

The Haile Resort on Lake Ziway is a lush sanctuary
Travel Ethiopia: Travelers wishing to visit Ethiopia's beautiful and otherworldly Bale Mountains National Park will have the chance to see a large swath of country on their journey, including descending into the Rift Valley with its lovely lakes. Travel Ethiopia recommends breaking up the drive with an overnight at either Lake Ziway or Lake Hawassa. Haile Resorts have a modern, full-service property at each lake. Both have excellent dining and leisure activity options, and each has a unique feel. Ask Travel Ethiopia which would be best for your clients.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Introducing Ultimate Safaris' Stellar Escape

Ultimate Safaris Namibia continues to redefine luxury travel with magical experiences which amaze, inspire and transform! Driven by an explorer-type determination and enthusiasm, Ultimate started by operating relatively lightweight mobile camps in impossibly remote corners of the country. They have since moved on to committing to help preserve some of the wild places that have captured their hearts and imaginations.

Last year, Ultimate introduced their first exclusive seasonal camp, //Huab Under Canvas. They had a phenomenal first season with fantastic guest feedback.  From being pampered in camp to having days filled with thrilling encounters (the first season saw 100% success in their engaging rhino tracking activity) and enjoying nights of exclusivity beyond most people’s expectations, Ultimate's guests are looked after by a tribe of magicians who aim to leave lasting impressions.

//Huab Under Canvas is redefining luxury, going back to a bygone safari era and foregoing some of the creature comforts of modern permanent camps or lodges. The safari experts at Ultimate have identified a strong desire in many travelers to go back to the roots of safari - to touch, smell, feel and experience the wild, with their feet firmly in the dust that covers Africa.

2017 will see a number of new experiences offered at //Huab Under Canvas, and one of these is Ultimate's new STELLAR ESCAPE.

Known in other parts of Africa as a sleep out or sky bed, Ultimate's STELLAR ESCAPE is set in an ancient dry riverbed on their private concession in the //Huab Conservancy, offering crystal clear skies with nothing between travelers and the brilliant stars. Satellites, galaxies and shooting stars can all be seen with the naked eye, providing the ultimate in 'bush TV' entertainment.

Guests are escorted on their Stellar Escape by their guide, normally starting with a leisurely late afternoon walk, arriving in time for a cocktail or two while enjoying the sunset. A sumptuous bush dinner is prepared on an open fire by one of Ultimate's magicians, and this can be enjoyed while the night sky comes into full splendor. After an astronomy tutorial by the guide, and once guests are ready to retire for the night, the support crew will leave travelers with a radio (for communication in case of an emergency) for an enchanting night under a billion stars, in complete privacy - although the guide can spend the night a discreet distance away if so desired. Guests are woken in the morning by a spectacular sunrise along with their favorite hot beverage, before returning to camp to freshen up and have breakfast.

  • Maximum of 6 guests
  • Ideally included on a 3 night stay at //Huab Under Canvas
  • Comfortable private open-air retreats with camp beds, bedside table, basic lighting and wardrobe set on the sand of an ancient riverbed 
  • Serviced field loo
  • Campfire dinner
  • At an additional surcharge

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ethiopian lions, rain(!) in Namibia and the most remote camp in Zimbabwe

The star beds at Jozibanini make for an unforgettable sleep out in Hwange NP
What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

The majestic black-maned lion captured on film in
Bale Mountains NP. Photo: Çağan Şekercioğlu
Travel Ethiopia: Visitors to Ethiopia are richly rewarded with exploration of ancient churches, sampling incredible food, witnessing intriguing traditions and viewing exciting endemic wildlife. Travelers headed to beautiful and remote Bale Mountains NP not only have the chance to see the endangered Ethiopian wolf, but also black-maned lions! Bale Mountain Lodge averages 1-2 lion sightings weekly during 'lion season' from April to October. Get a glimpse of these gorgeous cats in this recent National Geographic video and ask Travel Ethiopia about incorporating Bale Mountains NP.

New Frontiers: In the "boring but VERY important" category, the requirement by the South African and Botswana governments for presenting unabridged birth certificates (both parents' names must appear in full) for minors upon entry remains unchanged despite reports to the contrary. This has not decreased demand in South Africa, and because of the pressure for space, New Frontiers must implement a 2 week automatic release on all provisional bookings with immediate effect, though some properties have an even shorter release period. Your consultant will advise you if this is the case. More details as well as exciting new product updates from across southern Africa here.

Ephemeral rivers are flowing after rain arrives in Namibia 
Ultimate Safaris: Very few of us have had the privilege of seeing a dry riverbed in the Namib Desert filling with water as it pushes towards the ocean, but that changed this week as much-needed rains arrived. Ultimate Safaris reports that ephemeral rivers have begun to flow and there is even a salt pan where iridescent amaryllis lilies are blooming in a blaze of pink, purple and white. What an extraordinary sight for travelers, and just one of the small miracles that makes Namibia such an incredible destination!

Maya Trails: Looking for a great family destination that isn't too distant, provides great value and is fun for everyone? Guatemala is a great choice! Maya Trails' Guatemala Family Getaway hits highlights for every age group - peanut butter and chocolate making for the kids (and parents!) to get their hands dirty, horseback riding, kayaking, zip lining, and hiking on an active (but safe) volcano so everyone gets a bit of adventure, and a visit to the jungle to see Guatemala's wildlife and ancient Mayan sites. It's perfect for spring break or summer! Contact Adriana for more information and to start planning!

Did we mention Jozibanini's awesome "Look-up" blind?! Wow. 
Imvelo Safari Lodges: Imvelo Safari Lodges' Jozibanini Camp is situated in the remote southwest corner of Hwange NP. The Times fell in love with the beauty of its simplicity, wildlife and setting. It has just three ensuite tents, and dining happens alfresco under a starry sky near a crackling campfire. Want a star bed? Beds can be rolled out onto the deck! Wildlife close-ups abound from Jozi's hide, and walks and mountain-biking excursions are available. The real luxury here is the total exclusivity - 100km from the nearest camp! - afforded to Jozi's few lucky guests.

Classic Africa Safaris: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel is making life a little easier for guests planning to track gorillas in Volcanoes NP, Rwanda. They now have gaiters available for complimentary use by hotel guests. They come in handy for myriad reasons including protection against mud and insects, and it's one less thing trekkers have to remember. Check Classic Africa Safaris' Rwanda Info Pack for additional recommendations on what gear trekkers should bring on safari in Rwanda.

Camel safaris are just one of the activities available at Sasaab
Albatros Travel: In case you hadn't heard, Kenya is an IT destination for 2017. The latest recommendation comes from CNN in their '20 Travel Destinations the Experts Say Not to Miss,' where the country appears twice! Segera Retreat and Sasaab both get a mention. Segera (in oh-so-hot Laikipia) is highlighted for its 'eco-retreat' features and Samburu's Sasaab for its great variety of activities. Albatros Travel can help your clients get the very best out of a visit to East Africa on a customized luxury safari.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fire at Uganda lodge, ancient Mayan superhighway and Why Zimbabwe?

One of the rewarding views on the Sierra La Laguna Sea-to-Sea trek with
Todos Santos Eco Adventures

 What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Imvelo guests usually find themselves without company
at sightings!
Imvelo Safari Lodges: What makes a Zimbabwe safari unique to other destinations in Africa? Imvelo Safari Lodges has the answers in the Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Zimbabwe Safari! Diversity of activities tops the list - walking, canoeing and biking safaris plus the Elephant Express! Plus Hwange delivers exclusivity - about Kruger's size but only 43,000 visitors per year vs 1.5M! Add in flexibility - no set timetable for activities - and you have one incredible safari value. The benefit to local communities is the icing on the cake.

Maya Trails: An ancient Mayan road network has been found in the Guatemalan jungle! Over 150 miles of roadways have been identified in the Peten region, according to laser-based scanning of the area. While researchers have known about the roads since 1967, only with the new technology have they been able to gain an understanding of their scope, which far exceeded expectations. Read the full article on Seeker here, or contact Adriana to understand the variety of options that Maya Trails offers for your clients to explore the ancient Mayan world.

The Quito Polo Club is just 15 minutes from the airport and 30
minutes from downtown 
Tropic Ecuador: Travelers are drawn to Ecuador for well-known destinations like the Galapagos and the Amazon, but Quito is also worthy of exploration. Recently voted one of the '50 Most Beautiful Cities in the World' by Conde Nast Traveler, its attractions range from art to architecture, from cosmopolitan dining all the way to a museum dedicated to the equator. Tropic Ecuador can arrange insider activities with locals, like cooking classes or behind-the-scenes visits to galleries, and a stay at the Quito Polo Club will have guests snug in luxury in one of Quito's genteel suburbs.

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: Baja California Sur is not just about the beaches. If you are looking for a change of pace, consider a sea-to-sea hike through the Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve with Todos Santos Eco Adventures. This unforgettable 2 day/1 night trek across the Baja peninsula is a terrific adventure for avid walkers and campers. With burros carrying all your belongings and guides on hand to do all the cooking and show the way, you can simply relax and enjoy the walk through the magnificent scenery. For inspiration, view the itinerary here!

New Frontiers: 
Wildtrack Safaris Eco Lodge is new to New Frontiers. Ask
about their '4 countries in 1 visit' itinerary!
2016 was an exciting year in southern Africa. Nearly every lodge or camp had some type of spruce-up, including soft refurbs, adding family rooms, new activities and other improvements, and 2017 is shaping up to be just as exciting. Visit the New Frontiers Agent Zone to read Sally's report highlighting a number of new, rebuilt and refurbished properties in Botswana, Mozambique and the Zambezi region of Namibia. Some are new to New Frontiers, and all give you a great variety of options to craft the best possible safari for your clients.

Classic Africa Safaris: We were saddened to learn that Kyambura Game Lodge in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park has closed following a fire that gutted a section of the lodge. Thankfully, no one was injured. 4 cottages and the main area were unaffected, and rebuilding has already commenced. The lodge will reopen March 1st with 4 cottages, and another 2 are expected to be ready by June 1st. Classic Africa Safaris is proactively working with agents and operators on any affected bookings.

One Forty Eight is filled with original artwork, making it
a living gallery
Albatros Travel: Great feedback is flowing in from Albatros Travel guests who have stayed at the new One Forty Eight in Nairobi. Located in the Langata suburb, the boutique property is proximate to Nairobi National Park, great dining and shopping, the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Center. The hotel is intimate with just 8 luxury rooms, and unique with warthog, parrots, peacocks and monkeys freely coming and going through the garden. Tad will be visiting next month, so stay tuned for his review!

Ultimate Safaris: Ultimate Safaris operations manager Tarry, and guides Ronny and Vincent, recently drove 5,000 km to East Africa to deliver 3 vehicles for modification. This takes Ultimate's fleet of specialized Land Cruisers to 18 vehicles. Ronny and Vincent are now spending 6 weeks in the Masai Mara with Alex Walker's Serian Camps on their annual 'guide exchange,' a fantastic cross-training and collaboration opportunity! Tarry had a chance to explore Nairobi National Park and also take a helicopter flight over the Rift Valley before flying back to Namibia. Follow Ultimate's Facebook page for updates from Ronny and Vincent in the Mara!