Sarah Gilbert lifts the lid on exciting developments in sub-Saharan Africa, from increased airlift and new transport links on the ground to recently launched lodges and resorts
Sub-Saharan Africa packs in everything from the watery wilderness of Botswana’s Okavango Delta and tracking gorillas in the misty mountains of Rwanda and Uganda to exploring the Namibian desert and lounging on Kenya’s Indian ocean beaches.
Visitors are now opting for multi-destination safaris thanks to an increase in international and regional flights, and multi-generational travel is on the increase, with more lodges accommodating families in multi-bedroom suites and villas.
Safari-goers are also becoming more eco-conscious, encouraging lodges to have a light footprint, utilise renewable energy and ban single-use plastics. There’s greater focus on experience too, including getting involved in wildlife conservation projects such as rhino tracking or even rhino notching.
The demand has also increased for more active game-viewing activities, including walking, horse-riding and canoeing.
“We’re seeing the majority of our guests come from Europe and the USA, which have remained the main markets for safaris for many years. We are, however, seeing more interest from various emerging destinations, such as Latin America and the Far East, and are extending our sales reach accordingly,” says Dave Bennett, Wilderness Safaris’ chief sales officer.
“The most popular safari destinations are Botswana and South Africa. Namibia has also grown in popularity over the past few years for its spectacular landscapes and desert-adapted wildlife. And Zimbabwe is definitely on the rise, with many travellers putting it back on their bucket lists.”
In March, Ethiopian Airlines – which hit record profits this year – launched flights to Buenos Aires, with Geneva and Chicago following in June. And from December 1, the carrier will be flying direct from Manchester to Addis Ababa four times a week and onward to more than 58 destinations in Africa – more than any other carrier.
RwandAir has announced plans to fly to new destinations, including Addis Ababa, Guangzhou, Tel Aviv, Guinea and New York. They will bring the number of destinations the airlines flies to from Kigali to 31.
British Airways launched thrice-weekly flights between London and Durban on October 29, as well as adding four more flights per week to its existing twice-daily London to Johannesburg service, bringing the total weekly frequency up to 18.
In Kenya, the recently opened Madaraka Express train line has made travel from Nairobi or Mombasa to the game reserves around Tsavo and Amboseli national parks much easier and quicker, and Kuoni has launched a new touring itinerary for 2019 named Kenya Beach and Safari.
Uganda currently offers the best value chimp trekking in Africa. The Budongo Central Forest Reserve is home to 700 chimps habituated by the Jane Goodall Institute and a Chimp Habituation Experience is available in June and September. A former research centre has also been transformed into the Budongo Eco Lodge.
After years of political and economic uncertainty, Zimbabwe is now a country to watch. Recent political changes appear to have been positive – the only proviso from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to exercise caution and avoid any political gatherings or demonstrations.
Wilderness Safaris (AF531) is returning to Chikwenya in Mana Pools national park. The elegant new Chikwenya Camp, at the confluence of the Sapi and Zambezi rivers, opened for guests on October 1.
African Bush Camps is also opening two new camps in the Nyamatusi Wilderness Concession in the east of Mana Pools on April 1, 2019. Nyamatusi Camp has six luxury tents and the family-focused Nyamatusi Mahogany has two tented suites and two family suites.
In Victoria Falls, the stylish 16-suite Stanley & Livingstone is the town’s first boutique hotel, just 10 minutes from the namesake falls.
In Uganda, new boutique hotel Latitude 0 opens in Kampala this month, joining sister hotels in Lusaka and Lilongwe in Malawi, with more city hotels to follow, and Uganda Lodges has opened Elephant Plains, a new luxury lodge in Queen Elizabeth national park that can accommodate up to 20 guests.
In Tanzania, Asilia has opened Jabali Private House, a three-bedroom villa with private vehicle, guide and chef in the remote Ruaha national park.
Asilia has also relaunched Olakira Migration Camp, which moves twice a year through the Serengeti following the wildebeest migration, with new stargazing tents giving guests the option to have their beds rolled from the main bedroom out to a custom-designed, mosquito net canopy.
Namibia has always been a good-value destination – now it’s developing its luxury tourism accommodation, giving visitors more options.
Natural Selection is opening up Kaokoland in the country’s wild north-west corner, with two new lodges – Hoanib Valley Camp, set among granite boulders overlooking the ephemeral Hoanib river, and the architecturally unique Shipwreck Lodge, the first to be built on the dunes of the Skeleton Coast. Other recent openings include Omaanda, a partnership between Zannier Hotels and the Namibian Naankuse Foundation to create a 9,000-hectare reserve close to the capital Windhoek.
Namibia Exclusive’s Sorris Sorris has only nine suites overlooking Damaraland’s desert and mountain scenery, while Ultimate Safari’s new semi-permanent tented camp Sossus Under Canvas is set in the Neuhof nature reserve and offers a unique wilderness experience.
Rwanda is one of the fastest growing destinations, with arrivals increasing by 4.2% on average from 2012 to 2016. The largest market is the US, with 30,000 arrivals in 2016, followed by the UK, Belgium, India and Germany.
Belise Karisa, chief tourism officer at Visit Rwanda, says: “We expect visitor numbers to reach about 1.9 million annually by 2024, as we continue to grow our tourism offerings across the country, including the expansion of Volcanoes national park project, and new cycling and paramotoring activities.”
Visit Rwanda has signed a three-year agreement to be the official tourism partner of Arsenal FC and has been focusing on promoting the new “tourism circuit” tracking, including all three national parks, Akagera, Nyungwe and Volcanoes, as well as Lake Kivu and the capital Kigali.
While mountain gorilla tracking is still the main draw, despite the increase in the permit price to $1,500, several upscale lodges are opening up other areas of the country.
Wilderness is launching Magashi Camp in March 2019. This six-tented camp will overlook Lake Rwanyakazinga in the north-eastern section of Akagera national park, a Big Five destination. In October, One&Only opened Nyungwe House in the lush surroundings of Nyungwe Forest national park, with more than 300 bird species, over 75 species of mammal and 12 primate species. A second lodge, Gorilla’s Nest, is slated to open early next year close to Volcanoes national park.
Singita is also extending its conservation footprint into Rwanda with the opening of Kwitonda Lodge in August 2019 on the edge of Volcanoes national park, with seven one-bedroom suites, a two-bedroom suite and a four-bedroom villa.
South Africa remains the most popular destination in sub-Saharan Africa. Sisa Ntshona, chief executive of South African Tourism, says: “As part of our global strategy of attracting four million more international tourists to South Africa by 2021, we are committed to nurturing and growing all our key source markets.
“South Africa boasts an amazing breadth of experiences – that’s why it is so important for us to provide our trade partners with the best training, such as workshops, takeover days and fam trips.”
To tie in with the launch of British Airways’ direct service to Durban, Rainbow Tours has introduced a new 12-night self-drive tour around the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
And Southern Africa 360 has launched a six-day Northern Cape Kalahari Explorer itinerary to encourage guests to visit the beautiful and varied landscapes of the Green Kalahari and the Kalahari Red Dune Route.
In 2019, the iconic Blue Train is reinventing its classic Pretoria-Cape Town experience to a two-night journey, with evening departures and time spent onboard increasing by one third, but prices only rising by 10%.
In accommodation news, andBeyond Tengile River Lodge is set to open its doors in Sabi Sands game reserve in December, with nine raised suites set in riverine forest, and its private villa Phinda Homestead has reopened following a rebuild.
The Royal Portfolio has unveiled the opening of The Farmstead on June 1, 2019, close to Royal Malewane on the Thornybush private nature reserve, with three Luxury Farm Suites and The Farmhouse, a four-bedroom, privately serviced villa.