Having previously travelled extensively within Australia and overseas both with tour groups and independently we were absolutely blown away with the quality and service provided on this tour, our very first “Captains Choice Tour”.
R & R Stephenson, Back of Beyond by Private Plane
Our African expedition begins when we board a flight from Australia bound for Entebbe in Uganda. We ready ourselves to meet the majestic wildlife, be immersed in tribal cultures and unearth the earliest traces of civilisation.
We arrive in Entebbe after lunch. Upon arrival we are taken to the Lake Victoria Serena Resort. Set between the rolling Lweza Hills and the vast inland sea of Lake Victoria, the resort is styled after a rustic Roman villa. Every room is guaranteed panoramic lake views, and serves as the perfect introduction to the continent. Spend the afternoon on nine holes of golf or treat yourself to a spa treatment. We dine in our hotel and retire early, in anticipation of tomorrow’s adventures.
Some parts of Africa are dry savannah while others are lush rainforest. Today we travel from one to the other. Our destination is one few have visited, The Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp. The camp is located deep in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park which has a dense ground cover of herbs, vines and shrubs. It is home to more than 1,000 flowering plant species and is thought to have the richest collection of fauna in East Africa. Several species of birds are found here and nowhere else, making it an ornithologist’s paradise.
The original custodians of the forest are the Batwa, a tribe that many have heard about but few have encountered. We are invited to visit and experience their unique customs and way of life.
Since their discovery in 1902, the mountain gorilla has endured hunting, habitat destruction and disease. Conservation efforts continue, but there are now fewer than 800 left in the wild, with half of them residing in the park. We are about to embark on a rare experience, that of meeting a gorilla in its natural habitat. The day is spent hiking and tracking a gorilla family. As this is essentially a safari, sightings are never guaranteed, however, Bwindi National Park offers us the highest rate of success. Should we chance upon a family, prepare to be awed by their presence and their interactions with each other, which are, strikingly, nearly human. We are allowed to observe each family from just metres away, and for up to an hour each time - a true privilege, and one we will remember for life.
While the forest is seemingly impenetrable to people, it is a welcoming place for wildlife. With over 120 types of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 varieties of butterflies and numerous reptiles and amphibians, it is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. Explore the forest’s many facets with these Your World experiences. Whichever activity you choose, make sure to take a camera.
Each gorilla has a distinct personality. Discover more of them today on another trek through the forest.
The colourful, the weird and the wonderful. Birds of all three categories can be found here. Go in search of them today, and don’t forget to look out for the crested crane.
All around us, the forest is filled with L’Hoest’s monkeys, rare forest elephants, antelopes and giant forest hogs. Join a game drive to look for them.
After breakfast we break camp and a private charter flight takes us to Maasai Mara Game Reserve. We are met by a Sanctuary Olonana Camp representative and transferred to the camp, viewing game en route. Sanctuary Olonana is an exclusive, boutique camp located on a private stretch of the Mara River. We stay in well-appointed canvas pavilions with floor to ceiling mosquito netting and en suite bathrooms. The main dining room has a commanding view of the Mara River and the large verandas overlooking it provide us with the perfect place to watch hippos wallow.
We have two full days to explore the Maasai Mara Reserve and, as it is 1,510 km2, we may need it. The reserve has an incredibly diverse array of wildlife. Lions, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and gazelles call it home. From July to October it sees the ‘Great Migration’, a time when up to 1.7 million wildebeest descend on the area. While extremely rare, the most coveted experience is witnessing a lion stalking its prey. Truly a game watchers’ paradise, it is often referred to as the ‘jewel in Africa’s crown’.
Each day, we go on game drives, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. In between, you can enjoy nature walks, meet the Maasai, see local schools, or, for an incredible bird’s eye perspective, take a hot air balloon safari.
With each game drive, we discover more of the Reserve’s ample riches. In between, you may choose to visit a Maasai village, where you will be struck by their distinctive customs and dress, always colourful and usually adorned with copious strands of beads. Their traditional lifestyle is centred around cattle and a religious belief that their deity, Enkai intended for them to own all the cattle in the world. Historically, their diet has relied on raw meat, raw milk and, most distinctively, raw blood from cattle. They are semi-nomadic, and have a rich tradition in music and dance, including the famous adumu, sometimes called the ‘jumping dance’.
We depart the sanctuary and take a private charter flight to Nairobi. Upon arrival, we have lunch at the Karen Blixen Tamambo Restaurant. Karen Blixen was an aristocratic Danish woman who came to Kenya with her husband in 1914, to set up a coffee plantation. They eventually divorced, but by then, she had decided that Africa was home. In 1937, under the name Isak Dinesen, she published Out of Africa, a tribute to her adopted home, filled with vivid descriptions of her environment and the locals she had come to regard as family.
After lunch, we visit the museum and giraffe centre that bear her name. We then check into Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel, our home for the night.
Today we bid farewell to Nairobi and fly to Lalibela. Located in northern Ethiopia, the town is one of the country’s holiest cities for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The city is named for King Lalibela, who ruled in the 12th century and was determined to build a ‘New Jerusalem’. The result - 11 monolithic churches carved out of rock that are constantly watched over by priests. We spend our morning exploring these feats of engineering and artistry, feeling as if we have travelled back in time. After lunch, choose from these immersive Your World experiences. Proceeds from our visits go to the hosting families.
Mountain View Hotel, set high above town, welcomes us for two nights.
Each rock-hewn church is different from the one before. This morning, we discover new ones on these Your World experiences.
You may spend the afternoon at your leisure, or visit the cave church of Yemrehanna Kristos, another remarkable monument that predates the rock-cut churches by nearly a century.
We fly from Lalibela to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. While the country has had a turbulent past, its present bears little resemblance to it. The city is a modern metropolis and today’s organised chaos comes mainly from commerce. On our afternoon exploration, shops, cafes and restaurants jostle for attention. Stop in at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where the tomb of Emperor Haile Selassie is located. Our residence for two nights is the Sheraton Addis, which offers sweeping views over the city.
When it comes to history, Ethiopia was there at the very beginning. It is known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’ and is where life was thought to originate. Visit the National Museum in Addis Ababa and see Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton considered by some to be the oldest discovered ancestor of humanity. On the basement level, you’ll find two remarkable casts, one lying prone and the other standing. You will be struck by just how small our ancient ancestors were - Lucy was barely over a metre tall and would have weighed just 60 pounds. She was found in 1974, by accident, with her forearm bone partially exposed above ground. The museum also holds fossils of other astonishing extinct creatures, including a gigantic sabre-tooted cat and an equally large savannah pig.
Later, we stroll through Africa’s largest open air market, Merkato. Its 12,000 stalls are a constant hive of activity, and offer the perfect environment to immerse yourself in everyday Addis Ababa.
We say our goodbyes as our holiday of a lifetime draws to a close. On the drive to the airport, we soak in our final views of Ethiopia. This has been an immense adventure where we have seen the humanity in animals and traced our own origins. We arrive in Australia on 13 September.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and even sightseeing trips - including those by helicopter or reindeer sled. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
Welcome to your homes away from home. Each one has a certain something that sets it apart from every other residence at its location. Whether for its history, cultural significance or natural setting, we’ve selected only the very best.
Deep in the World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, this camp is, in fact, an exclusive group of eight luxury tents with en suite bathrooms and plush beds. Your bathtub looks straight into the jungle, while a grass-roofed pavilion invites gathering at the end of the day. Mountain gorillas even make frequent appearances within camp.
Oversized safari tents with four-poster beds, mosquito nets, en suite bathrooms and private verandas overlooking the river and its resident hippos - no explorer of the past enjoyed such creature comforts as these.
First open in 1904, the hotel is a historic landmark of Nairobi, a place where new arrivals from Europe and England gathered, where Winston Churchill, then Under Secretary of State for the Colonies stayed, and where Kenyans calling for independence protested.
Fares include Emirates flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Per Person, Twin Share. Prices from other cities available on request.
Solo availability at the above price is extremely limited.
Land Only Guests join the tour in Entebbe for dinner on Day 2 and depart Addis Ababa after breakfast on Day 14.
Private journeys can be arranged and customised for a travelling party of 8 guests or more. Please contact us on 0800 650 740 for details. This bespoke service is limited to select itineraries.