Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten

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Budapest Essentials …

It’s been called the “Pearl of the Danube” — and no wonder. For elegance and feel, Budapest easily rivals any other major capital city in Europe. The artery that defines it is the Danube, one of the world’s most celebrated waterways and also one of the most popular for European river cruising. Spend any time at all in this grand city, and it’s easy to understand why the riverbanks of Budapest — that’s right, the riverbanks — have been assigned UNESCO World Heritage status.

The first thing you need to know about Budapest: It, in effect, operates as two cities with distinctly different personalities. Buda, on the west bank of the Duna (as the Danube is called), is hilly and houses the restored Castle District, a cultural and arts center known for its famed Matthias Church, Royal Palace and Fishermen’s Bastion, a rampart that offers the best views in town. The entire district is a real scene-stealer.

Pest, on the east bank, is the hub for dining, shopping, banking and nightlife. There you’ll find the pedestrian shopping zone, Vaci Utca; Heroes’ Square; the old Jewish quarter; the not-to-miss Andrassy, Budapest’s grandest avenue; and the imposing neo-Gothic Parliament, modeled after the British version in London.

Budapest’s history dates back to the third century, when Celtic warriors occupied the area. Study the place a bit, and you’ll find yourself wondering: Who didn’t invade the city? The Romans, Magyars, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, Austrians, Germans and Soviets have all played starring roles in Budapest’s longstanding municipal drama. Hungarians are said to be famously pessimistic and cynical — maybe that history explains why. As one guide told us, “We lost all our battles, but we celebrated all our defeats.”

Budapest is a town that’s been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries — part of the reason for its eclectic architecture. Its current skyline reflects the building programs and styles of the turn of the 20th century. For my part, I agree with Claudio Magris, who writes in his travel memoir, “Danube,” that “Budapest is the loveliest city on the Danube. It has a crafty way of being its own stage-set.”

What to See

A maze of cobbled streets and medieval courtyards, the Castle District is Budapest’s crowning achievement — literally. It hangs grandly above the city, and the lovely Matthias Church that is its centerpiece is known locally as “the coronation church.” Austria’s Franz Josef was crowned king of Hungary there in 1867 to the strains of Franz Liszt’s coronation mass, composed especially for the occasion. Today, as it has for centuries, the rampart next to the 700-year-old church offers incomparable views of the Danube and Pest. (There’s also a tourism office next to the church.) The scene of battles and wars since the 13th century, the Castle District is home to the former Royal Palace, one of Hungary’s most important national symbols.

There are shops and restaurants in the complex in addition to a number of other attractions, including the Budapest History Museum and the House of Hungarian Wines. The wine shop houses more than 700 wines from the country’s 22 growing regions. For a small fee, samples are available.
Andrassy Ut, the city’s grandest boulevard, is a 2.5-kilometer expanse, considered so special that the street was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2002.

There you’ll find the stunning State Opera House, opened in 1884; chic boutiques and grand villas with gardens; Franz Liszt Square with its open-air cafes; and, at the very end, Heroes’ Square. No visit to Budapest would be complete without a walk around the magnificent square, dominated by the Millenary Monument. The monument is topped by the Archangel Gabriel, credited with converting the pagan Magyars to Christianity. At the base of the column are seven figures on horseback, representing the Magyar tribes.

Across from the square is the Museum of Fine Arts and its showcase of Old Masters from outside Hungary. The Spanish, Italian and Dutch collections are particularly worth a look.

The architecturally eclectic St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in the country, and took more than five decades to build. The main attraction here is the mummified hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary and founder of the nation; his hand is housed in the reliquary.
In the late 1930’s, the Old Jewish Quarter was a thriving community with about 200,000 Jews. Most perished in the Holocaust.

Today, the Great Synagogue, the world’s second-largest after Temple Emanu-El in New York City, stands tall in the now-shabby neighborhood. Seating 3,000 people and built between 1854 and 1859 by a Viennese architect, the synagogue, with its onion-shaped domes, looks Moorish. The complex also includes a Hall of Heroes, where a Monument of Hungarian-Jewish Martyrs was erected in 1991; a Jewish Museum; and a Holocaust memorial room.

It’s not in the Jewish Quarter, but the Holocaust Shoe Memorial — on the riverbank, just south of Parliament — is especially moving. The simple memorial, erected in 2005, features 60 pairs of cast-iron shoes, representing thousands of Jews who were shot on that spot by soldiers in World War II. Many fell or were pushed into the icy Danube and died.

Said to be one of the most beautiful McDonald’s restaurants on the planet, the fast-food outlet at Nyugati Railway Terminal is the largest in Hungary with its two-story Baroque interior crafted in the style of early 20th-century Budapest. Next door is the WestEnd City Center, the best shopping mall in Budapest.

The crowded Turkish baths are to Budapest what coffeehouses are to Vienna. This is where friends come to meet, gossip and relax in healing waters that are fed by the 120 thermal springs that feed the Danube. Among the most popular is Szechenyi Bath and Spa, located in a sumptuous yellow building at City Park, just above Heroes’ Square. There are indoor and outdoor pools, and it’s not unusual to see bathers playing chess on floating game boards. It’s a neat way to mingle with the locals.

Take a 20-minute detour out of the city to Godollo Royal Palace, the second-largest Baroque palace after Versailles. A favorite resort of Emperor Franz Josef and his Austrian Queen Elisabeth, the palace has a Grand Hall with marble-covered walls and gilded stucco ceilings; a Riding Hall; and the recently restored Baroque Theatre, now the venue for performances of chamber music and opera. If you’re lucky, you might catch a concert.

For a day trip into medieval Hungary, head to Esztergom, which delivers on two fronts: historical tradition and location. Situated on the scenic Danube Bend on the border between Hungary and Slovakia, this was the birthplace of St. Stephen — crowned there on Christmas Day in 1000 AD. Be sure to stop at Basilica, which was completed in the 1860’s, and the Bakocz chapel, built in 1510 by Florentine craftsmen, dismantled in the Turkish occupation and reassembled in 1823. You may also want to continue to Visegrad, whose heritage dates to the New Stone Age.

Where to Eat

Hungary has tasty national cuisine, much of it seasoned with paprika, which appears on restaurant tables beside the salt and pepper. Among the country’s signature dishes: goulash, a thick beef soup cooked with onions and potatoes; fisherman’s soup, a mixture of boiled fish, tomatoes, green peppers and paprika; chicken paprika; grilled fresh-water fish; and fried or grilled goose liver. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants. As for tipping, it’s customary to tip your waiter 10 percent, but be sure to check the bill first. Increasingly, the tip is included. It’s okay to tip in U.S. dollars or euros.

Long the centerpiece of Budapest’s cafe society, Gerbeaud is more than a sweet shop — it’s a Hungarian cultural institution. Known for its coffee and torte cakes, the cafe has classic high ceilings with crystal chandeliers, polished wood and marble, and thick curtains. Little has changed since it opened 150 years ago. The patisserie is sweetly situated on Pest’s Vorosmarty Square. The neo-Classical building also houses a pub with beer that’s brewed on-site, as well as a new gourmet restaurant, the Onyx.

For elegant dining, Gundel lives up to its legend. The award-winning restaurant, open under its current name since 1910, is located in a late 19th-century palace at Allatkerti Korut 2 in City Park, just a two-minute walk from Heroes’ Square. Gundel, with its innovative menu, is known — and deservedly so — for creating new spins on traditional classics. It can be a little stiff, though the formality eases up a bit during the Sunday lunch buffet. In the evening, men must wear jackets.

A local favorite for special outings, Karpatia Etterem, with its medieval interiors, will remind guests of Matthias Church. Situated in the courtyard of a former monastery, the restaurant specializes in traditional Hungarian cuisine, accompanied by traditional gypsy music, but also offers Mediterranean, Asian and Latin American fare. In addition to the restaurant, which is only open for dinner, there’s a less formal brasserie where you can grab lunch or snacks.

Budapest has a surprising number of Italian restaurants, and Fausto’s is one of the best established and most beloved. This elegant restaurant is the perfect place for a splurge, featuring dishes like lamb chops with goat cheese-flavored gnocchi and Mediterranean fish soup. For a less formal atmosphere but equally delightful Italian fare, try its sister restaurant, Osteria.

Hearty Jewish and Hungarian dishes — like matzo ball soup and roast goose leg with mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage — are on the menu at cozy Koleves (Stone Soup). The menu, which emphasizes seasonal and fresh ingredients, changes on a regular basis, and the wine list offers a selection of Hungarian options. Due to its popularity with visitors and locals alike, reservations are recommended.

Where to Stay

As Budapest’s popularity grows among visitors to Europe, its hotels have filled and rates have risen accordingly — but it’s still a bargain when compared to other major European capitals. Rates are often discounted during the winter months, when tourist numbers are down. Expect rate hikes over the summer and during holiday periods, especially the Formula One Grand Prix event held each August.

The cheapest places to stay are rooms in private homes, which the local tourist office can often help you find. There are also many inexpensive pensions and budget hotels, though these may be located farther outside the city center and lack amenities such as air-conditioning; ask before booking.

For a lavish and luxurious stay, head to the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, with its elegant historic facade and truly opulent spa (indulgences include a swimming pool, Niagara bathtubs and tropical rain showers, among others).

The property first opened as a luxury hotel back in 1896 (Josephine Baker stayed here in the 1920’s), and has since been fully restored. If your budget permits, opt for an executive room or suite; you’ll get free entrance to the business lounge where you can relax and enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks. All rooms, executive or not, offer marble bathrooms and free wireless Internet access. The hotel is comfortably located with easy access to public transportation.

Tucked away in an elegant 19th-century building is the Kapital Inn. Its four guestrooms are colorfully and stylishly decorated, and offer flat-screen TV’s, DVD players with a library of movies, free wireless Internet access and a complimentary minibar. To guarantee a private bathroom, book one of the “Deluxe” rooms. (A single bathroom is shared by guests staying in the two “Standard” rooms.) Weather permitting, breakfast is served outdoors on the lovely rooftop terrace. Note: This historic property is not wheelchair-accessible, and there is no elevator to the guestrooms.

For location and comfort, it’s hard to beat the Hilton Budapest next to Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District. The hotel has everything you’d expect of a Hilton: spacious rooms with flat-screen TV’s; stylish toiletries; and wireless high-speed Internet access throughout the hotel. There’s a restaurant that’s open all day and a lobby bar with views of Parliament across the Danube. Be sure to ask for a room with a view of the river.

A favorite of cruise lines, Best Western Hotel Hungaria is located near the Elizabeth Bridge in downtown Pest, so it’s close to many of the highlights. Best yet, it’s right next to Karpatia, the popular Hungarian restaurant. On-site, the hotel has two restaurants, a cocktail lounge and a fitness center. Computers are available, and there’s high-speed Internet access. The hotel also has excellent public transportation options with the Metro nearby.

The prime attractions at the Carlton Hotel are its affordable rates and its ultra-convenient location for sightseeing — it’s on the Buda side of the city at the foot of Castle Hill, just a short walk away from the Chain Bridge to Pest. Most of the city’s top attractions are within walking distance; for those that aren’t, you can easily catch the bus or Metro nearby. Rooms at the Carlton are basic but clean and comfortable enough, and the nightly rates include buffet breakfast and free Internet access.

Where to Shop

There’s terrific shopping in Budapest — at all manner of venues. Among the most popular souvenirs: hot or sweet paprika, the national spice; dried salami; Tokaji wine; Herend porcelain; cut glass; Helia, a facial cream made from the extract of sunflower seeds; embroidery; and Unicum, an herbal digestive sold in a distinctive round, black bottle with a red cross on it. As they say in Hungary, “It is good before, after and the day after.”

Vaci Utca is a wonderful pedestrian shopping street filled with gift shops, galleries, jewelers and boutiques. Also not to miss: a covered farmer’s market at the foot of Liberty Bridge on Vamhaz Korut at Vaci Utca’s southern terminus. It’s in an unmistakable building that looks like a railroad station with a yellow, green and red roof. Locals go there to buy groceries, but it’s also loaded with inexpensive souvenirs. Many of the market vendors accept U.S. dollars and euros (the local currency is the Hungarian forint), but ask first to be sure.

During the holiday season, you’ll find an outdoor Christmas market in Vorosmarty Square, just off of Vaci Utca.

Typically, shops open around 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Many businesses close at 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

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–written by Ellen Uzelac
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Driving New Zealand’s South Island

A drive on New Zealand’s South Island—with its Lord of the Rings landscapes, superb local wines, and glass-and-timber lodges—is like a visit to another, more perfect world.

From November 2010
By Anthony Dennis Appeared as “Road Trip: Southern Crossing” in T+L Magazine

Days 1–2: Queenstown
November is the ideal time for a springtime tour of the South Island’s secluded fjords, wild seascapes, and remote luxury lodges. Begin in Queenstown, New Zealand’s premier year-round alpine resort, a kind of antipodean Aspen. From the airport, head into town by following the shore of Lake Wakatipu and snare the lakeside window table at the glamorous Eichardt’s Private Hotel (lunch for two $58); the seafood chowder makes for a superb lunch. After shopping for merino wool sweaters in Queenstown’s compact, lively center, drive 10 minutes along Lake Esplanade to Matakauri Lodge (doubles from $1,010, including dinner), your lakeside retreat for the next two nights. Matakauri—the newest sibling to the North Island’s Kauri Cliffs and the Farm at Cape Kidnappers lodges—has 11 spacious, light-filled suites with panoramic views of the lake and Cecil Peak, whose 5,028-foot summit is often obscured by wispy clouds. Dinner at the lodge is cooked by head chef Dale Gartland, who uses exquisitely fresh local produce: green-lipped mussels; Southland beef; organic vegetables. Stretch your legs here for another day, allowing time for a lake cruise on the Earnslaw, a 98-year-old steamer, or a half day of white-water rafting on the Shotover River, with Real Journeys (lake cruises from $34; rafting trips from $130).

Day 3: Queenstown to Te Anau (110 miles)
After a final alfresco breakfast on Matakauri’s terrace—basking in the views of the aptly named Remarkables Mountains—drive back into Queenstown and hug Lake Wakatipu as it veers south. The road will lead you past farming communities such as Mossburn, New Zealand’s “deer capital” and a source of much of the venison you’ll find on your plate, before reaching Te Anau. This is the start of the Southern Scenic Route (, one of New Zealand’s greatest, though least-known, drives, traversing a sparsely populated wonderland of forests, lakes, waterfalls, and wild coastlines. Fjords figure here, too; New Zealand is one of a handful of places blessed with the narrow inlets. Check in to the rustic-modern Fiordland Lodge (doubles from $520), owned by a veteran park ranger and designed to take advantage of the views. A three-course dinner is included in the rate.

Day 4 : Te Anau–Manapouri Loop (26 miles)
Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most famous fjord, is magnificent, but savvy Kiwis favor Doubtful Sound, which is both larger and less touristy. Real Journeys (cruises from $184) operates a daylong excursion to Doubtful Sound that starts in Manapouri, about 25 minutes from the lodge. You’ll take a one-hour boat ride across Lake Manapouri, then get on a bus to cross 2,200-foot Wilmot Pass before glimpsing Doubtful Sound glittering below. Once aboard the Breaksea Girl—a 20-passenger ketch small enough to get close to the waterfalls—look out for fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and penguins. The day ends with an astronomy session back at Fiordland Lodge: with no major cities for at least 100 miles, the stargazing here is unparalleled.

Day 5: Te Anau to Otago Peninsula (185 miles)
Have the lodge pack you a lunch: on today’s drive, the gourmet opportunities are limited to gas station cafés and the odd fish-and-chips shop. It is worth pausing at seaside Orepuki, about a 1 1/2-hour drive south of Te Anau, where southern right whales can sometimes be spotted. Push on another 30 minutes to Riverton, established by whalers in the 1830’s and now a busy fishing village, to find a spot on the beach for your picnic. From there, bypass the unremarkable city of Invercargill and head east directly to the Catlins, a rugged region of waterfalls, blowholes, and petrified forests from the Jurassic era—beyond this remotest of Pacific shores, the next landfall is in Antarctica. The Southern Scenic Route ends in Dunedin, a Scottish-influenced college town, but you’re heading about 30 minutes further to the Otago Peninsula, where the scenery is untamed and the wildlife abundant.

You’ll reach Kaimata Retreat (doubles from $320), a remote, timber-clad lodge, via a series of gravel roads. Toast the long drive with a bottle of outstanding Central Otago Pinot Noir and chill out on the deck overlooking the inlet and the sheep ranch that clings to the precipitous, pea-green hillside across the way Day 6: Otago Peninsula to Queenstown (185 miles) The tip of the Otago Peninsula is home to the Westpac Royal Albatross Centre ( tours from $32), the world’s only mainland breeding colony for the formidable birds, which can live longer than 60 years and have a wingspan of 10 feet or more.

Afterward, follow Portobello Road back into Dunedin and to the Octagon, its appealing central plaza—that’s a statue of Robert Burns in front of the cathedral. Grab a quick lunch at the hip Mash Café (lunch for two $23), located under the eaves of the historic Regent Theatre. From here, Queenstown is a leisurely four-hour drive via routes 8 and 6 through the interior of the South Island, passing farms and former gold fields. The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel (doubles from $335) is an unpretentious boutique property and the perfect spot to end your trip (“dairy” is Kiwi for “convenience store,” by the way).

From there, the plush and amiable Botswana Butchery (dinner for two $100), one of Queenstown’s hottest tables, is an easy walk for dinner. Dishes include a range of superior steaks, venison, and lamb, as well as seafood dishes—such as Antarctic sea bass with bouillabaisse sauce—direct from the pristine waters you’ve just been admiring.

Anthony Dennis is T+L’s Australia and New Zealand correspondent.
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Petra Introduces New Electronic Ticketing System


PETRA – This summer, Petra park officials have introduced a new electronic ticketing service, to facilitate quicker entry for visitors, according to the Petra Archaeological Park (PAP). Petra ticket barcodes now indicate the numbers and nationalities of visitors streaming into the rose-red city each day.

The system, under which officials check tickets with handheld scanners, also allows park officials to check what time tourists enter and track peak visiting hours for future management plans at the park.

According to the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA), future plans include an expanded electronic service whereby visitors can reserve a day and time for their visit from kiosks to be placed in Amman, Wadi Musa and Aqaba.

Under the expanded system, visitors will be required to present their tickets at both entry and exit points, so that park officials can keep tabs on the number of tourists in the ancient Nabataean city at any given time, PDTRA officials told The Jordan Times previously.

Managing the flow of visitors has been at the top of park officials’ agenda, as peak times for tour groups lead to overcrowding, particularly in the Siq, which currently serves as both the entrance and exit to the park.As part of their plans for visitors, Petra officials have considered introducing an alternate exit and imposing limits on how many visitors can enter in a given hour.

PDTRA figures released earlier this week revealed that some 53,283 people visited the ancient Nabataean city last month, a 23 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2009, when 43,147 tourists visited the site. Approximately 515,000 tourists visited Petra in the January-July period, 40 per cent more than in the first seven months of 2009, when 368,000 tourists visited the site, the PDTRA indicated.

The 10 best safaris in Africa – Telegraph

Published in Telegraph Journal
The 10 best safaris in Africa
Whether you go deep bush in northern Kruger or follow the big cats in the Maasai Mara, a trip into the wilderness will be life-changing.

When Telegraph Travel asked a group of Africa hands to come up with a shortlist of top safaris and safari destinations, the said hands leapt at the opportunity of celebrating the slices of African wilderness that touch their hearts and souls. So here we feature a selection of 10 ecosystems in six countries, ranging from volcanic forest landscape to desert plains, with animals from mountain gorillas and marauding lions through to equally fascinating dung beetles. People who have been on an African safari will tell you that it is life-changing; that is why, despite the high costs, those who have revelled in the experience invariably come back for more.

In these austere times the prices of the holidays listed here are bound to cause comment. They range from £2,700 to £4,000 for a total of seven days in the bush.
The African tour operators vehemently deny that they are profiteering and argue that it is the logistics of providing comfortable tourist facilities in the middle of nowhere that pushes up the cost of safaris. Again, wildife enthusiasts believe that these are prices worth paying.

Duba, Botswana

I have long held the belief that Botswana’s lions are the biggest in Africa. This is certainly the case with the large, magnificent prides of Duba – namely the Skimmer pride and the Tsaro pride, both of which were controlled for some years by two splendid males known as the Duba Boys. The Duba Boys sadly passed away last year, and for the moment a younger Skimmer male has taken over both prides. We shall see what happens next, as inevitably other males will move into the territory looking to take over these prides – and all hell could break loose.

What is so unusual about Duba is that these lions hunt by day – most prides throughout the continent hunt at night – and so visitors to Duba can watch marvellous set pieces as the lions and the buffalo take each other on in epic battles. I have been lucky enough to witness some of these battles which, from the initial stalking to the final kill and pride feeding, have run through an entire afternoon.

Duba is a 65,000-acre concession in the far north of the Okavango Delta, with no access by road for most of the year. It has been the bush home of the filmmakers and National Geographic explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert for close on a decade, and it is where they filmed Relentless Enemies, the story of the confrontations between lions and buffaloes. Their company, Great Plains, recently bought the camp, and they are currently revamping what is already an idyllic place.
Graham Boynton

The details
Seven nights at Duba Plains, to include all meals, safari activities, international & regional flights and light aircraft transfers costs from £4,115 per person, based on two sharing. Africa Travel (0845 450 1520; arrange tailor-made holidays to Botswana.

Mundulea Reserve, Namibia

Covered in seemingly endless bush, the rugged hills and sparse plains of Mundulea Reserve may match a thousand corners of Africa, but it’s the exceptional resident guide and his vision of conservation that set it apart. A decade ago, Mundulea was four large cattle farms and things were very different.
“It took two years to remove the 127km [79 miles] of internal fences,” remembered its founder, Bruno Nebe, as we wandered through his private reserve. Bruno’s aim has always been to restore the area’s ecology: “And not just the animals; the botanical side as well”, he explained, stopping to talk about the nutritional value of the grasses at our feet.

His purple T-shirt and jaunty Rastafarian hat – rather than regulation khaki and cap – bore testament to an unorthodox style. Although one of Africa’s top guides, he has never been to guiding school. Bruno grew up in Namibia, working summers on his father’s game farm, and studied for a degree in zoology before switching to fine art. Eight years at a top German film school, capped with photographic prizes, led to him covering Namibia’s Independence in 1990.

Almost 20 years later, as we climb a rock-strewn slope, Bruno talks enthusiastically about bush encroachment, burning biomass and the digestive tracts of zebras. In the distance, a small group of black-faced impala align their lyre-shaped horns to study our progress. “There are probably less than 1,000 of this native subspecies left; we reintroduced 38 three years ago: now we have 127.”

Later walks yielded more game – a herd of eland, a relaxed leopard in the fading sun and even a glimpse of rhino – but the animals and conservation projects at Mundulea aren’t the main attraction. If we had only seen the impala, it wouldn’t have mattered: a guide as inspirational as Bruno is what makes a truly great African safari.
Chris McIntyre

The details
A nine-day itinerary including three nights at Mundulea would cost from £2,995 per person including economy return flight from Britain and car hire in Namibia. With Audley Travel (01993 838500;

Northern Kenya

I like my Africa wild and vast, with the sort of huge horizons that reduce even the most hardened of bankers to tears. Up in Northern Kenya, right up against the Ethiopian border, far away from the fashionable animal-stuffed parks, you can find it. To wander through a land that is populated only by the indigenous peoples to whom it belongs, who live easily and naturally among all its inhabitants, the lion and the elephant as well as the goat and the cow, is to have a glimpse of how things once were and how perhaps they ought to be.

To go deep into Samburu country with Anna Trzebinski and her Samburu husband, Lemarti, is to enjoy a glimpse of an Africa that almost everywhere else has vanished. The days acquire a rhythm of their own. With them you can walk in the morning, lunch in the shade of some acacia trees and then as the sun begins to cool you walk some more, arriving at the end of the day to find the tents are up, there’s a kettle on the fire and dinner around the campfire is already cooking.

The downside is that the game is sparse and very skittish, but for an intense immersion into the Africa many of us dream about, it’s hard to beat.
Lucia van der Post

The details
A seven-night trip to Lemarti’s Camp, to include all meals, game drives, walks, camel treks and cultural visits, international flights and light aircraft transfers, costs from £3,995 per person, based on two sharing. Africa Travel (0845 450 1520; can tailor-make visits to Northern Kenya.

The Zambezi Valley, Zambia

There are few other places in Africa that feel as unspoilt as this valley, through which the sluggish Zambezi river flows past grassy floodplains and lush riverine forests beneath a soaring purple escarpment. It was here that I saw the only full-moon eclipse I will ever see: a burning white flat circle brightening into a bulbous orange orb against a black sky littered with billions of glittering stars. It was here I spent a sleepless night as lions moaned and roared around my tent. Here where I marvelled at the migration of clouds of brown-veined white butterflies en route to East Africa, watched a leopard flick its tail on a branch above my head, saw a baby elephant swim beside its mother across the waters from Zimbabwe, and held my breath as a prehistoric-looking crocodile slithered off its sandbank into the murky waters beneath my canoe.

This is not a park; it’s a wilderness that happens to have a sprinkling of rather comfortable camps and expert guides to bring comfort and knowledge to the experience: Chongwe (, with its romantic open-sided tented suites, or Chiawa (, with its passionate guides, or Sausage Tree (, with its perfectly positioned sunset cocktail deck. Best of all are the activities available, from walking with armed guides in the early morning to angling for tigerfish, canoeing, boating and spotting nocturnal creatures by torchlight. Or just sitting with a cold beer, listening to hyenas whoop in the hills at night.
Lisa Grainger

The details
Seven nights in a standard tent at Chongwe River Camp, including all meals, most drinks, game activities, current park fees, flight transfers within Zambia and international flights with BA from London, costs from £2,906 per person through Expert Africa (020 8232 9777;;
On the same basis, seven nights in the Cassia Suite at Chongwe costs from £3,268pp; seven nights at Chiawa costs from £3,613pp.

Gorillas, Rwanda

With the confidence of an accomplished slayer, François brandished his machete against a mesh of gargantuan green stems. We cautiously picked our way in his wake, in awe of his proficiency. Perhaps we needn’t have been so impressed: such skills aren’t new here; they were used to devastating effect in countless bloody murders during 1994. Since then, memories haven’t faded – even Google still expects the word “genocide” to follow “Rwanda” – but the country has moved on apace.

Although poor, Rwanda is now stable. Its parliament is run by a majority of women, average incomes are rising fast, and laws actively promote reconciliation. Africa’s most densely populated country is prospering; in many ways it is a model of success.

Tourism has played a vital role in re-energising the economy. For our mountain hike, we had each willingly paid US$500 (£316) – a price that is high but which guarantees one of Africa’s finest wildlife sightings. François always heads unerringly to the morning’s sighting, guided by radio directions from the animals’ full-time bodyguards. Even so, when we heard a rustle, just 10 minutes after hacking off the main path, and several gorillas appeared around us, it was a real surprise.

Slowly, more of the group came into view: the large ones munching on substantial shoots, the younger ones playfully wrestling and tumbling, and an infant suckling contentedly from its mother. Looking into the eyes of a sizeable silverback male transcended any other “wildlife” experience I had known. He stared right back, clearly conscious that I was another individual. We held each other’s gaze; he was, I believe, as curious to know my thoughts as I was his.
Chris McIntyre

The details
Three nights at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda followed by three nights at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Uganda and one night at Kampala’s best boutique hotel, Emin Pasha, costs from £3,150 per person including return international flight, transfers, full-board accommodation while on safari and one gorilla permit per person in both Rwanda and Uganda. cazenove+loyd (020 7384 2332;

Kruger, South Africa

I have included Kruger Park more for balance than out of any personal conviction. None of my fellow Africa hands has included South Africa, and while I understand their choices, it’s difficult to leave the country off any listing of this kind.

So, the southern part of Kruger is dominated by exclusive, expensive luxury lodges that provide haute cuisine, fine wines, excellent guides and a pretty good first-timer’s glance at the Big Five. But it cannot offer the deep-bush experience my colleagues on these pages so love. For that you need to go to the northernmost part of the Kruger Park, right up to the South African border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Pafuri, a tented camp in this lovely, pristine wilderness that looks out over the Luvuvhu River, accommodates between 80 and 100 people – too many for the purists – but it is a lovely area to be in.

The vegetation and large diversity of mammals and bird life are reminiscent of the most beautiful parts of the Zambezi Valley – and until recently the area was mainly inhabited by hunters, smugglers and the local tribes people, the Makuleke. The camp has 20 exquisite thatch-covered tented rooms, all of which look onto the river, and are joined to the dining area and other communal facilities by raised walkways.

The 24,000-hectare concession is also at the centre of a significant but as yet unfulfilled wildlife experiment: the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the planned super-wilderness that will join Kruger to Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and the western wilderness in Mozambique.
Graham Boynton

The details
Seven nights at Pafuri Camp costs from £3,095 per person including return flight with BA from London to Johannesburg and connecting domestic flights to Pafuri, plus accommodation fully inclusive of meals, drinks, game drives, excursions and all activities. The Africa specialist Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; can arrange private tailor-made travel across the continent.

Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Even before the plane touched down, I knew I was going to love Ruaha. On our approach we banked sharply over a range of broken hills. Below us a herd of zebra was stampeding across a yellow plain, and farther off was a huge river bordered by acacias.
Over much of Africa, our covenant with the wild has been broken beyond repair; but not here. Not yet. There was a rawness I had never seen before. This was the Africa of long ago, and who better to show it to me than Chris Fox, the bush-wise owner of Mwagusi safari camp?

At Mwagusi I met an American who told me he had been all over Africa, but now he goes only to Ruaha because nowhere is better. “I’ve been here two days and already I have seen three cheetahs, two leopards and God knows how many lions,” he said.

With each passing day, following Ruaha’s red ochre game trails among smouldering purple hills, I could feel the place getting under my skin. There is nothing gentle about it like the Mara. Its beauty is of an altogether harsher kind. Its parched plains are littered with boulders and wherever you look there are grotesque baobabs as old as London.

Every day we went looking for lions along the sand rivers. The land was painted in muted colours, but in the hour before sundown it glowed like amber, and that was when we watched five male lions emerge from the long grass, one after another. They were nomads, said Fox, hell-bent on a pride takeover, and that night they roared around camp for two hours or more. Life on safari doesn’t get much better.
Brian Jackman

The details
Seven nights at Mwagusi in Ruaha, including return flight from London, internal flights within Tanzania, current park fees and activities, costs from £3,795 per person sharing through Expert Africa (020 8232 9777;;

The South Luangwa, Zambia

This isn’t the most beautiful spot on Earth. It can be very hot (over 100F/40C in summer), is thickly vegetated and lacks any outstanding geographical features. But it’s where, in the Fifties, professional game guiding began in Zambia – and it’s from here that some of the best walking safaris operate.

Guests come not just because there is great game (everything but rhino, which were wiped out by decades of poaching), but great guides: Robin Pope (infrequently, now he has retired) and Deb Tittle at Nsefu (; and Abraham Banda at Kapani Lodge (

With these pros at the helm, guests walk a few hours a day, stopping to learn about every moving thing en route, from the Big Five (such as buffalo) to the Little Five (buffalo weaver) and Plant Five (buffalo grass).

While walking is not for sissies (the big animals can, and sometimes do, charge), traversing the bush on foot is the best way to drink in the surroundings, to smell the dung-infused earth, to listen to elephants grumble and trumpet as they trundle, to watch dungbeetles roll their egg-filled balls, to spy on crocodiles digging nests in a sandy riverbank.

There’s no barstool I’d rather drink at than the deckchairs set up beside a Luangwa fire, and no shower as sensually thrilling as the simple bucket hung on the branch of a tree. This isn’t a place for lovers of iPods and spas; it is the earth as it has been for millennia, untouched and unspoilt.
Lisa Grainger

The details
A seven-night safari in South Luangwa, with four nights at Nsefu followed by three nights at Kapani, costs from £2,950 per person. The price includes return international flight, transfers and full-board accommodation throughout. cazenove+loyd (020 7384 2332;

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

When most people think of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, they think desert. They think dust and barren earth, thirst and deprivation. Me? I think blue, blue skies, the sun turning the grass a deep gold, the acacia trees dotting the landscape, each one topped with a chanting goshawk standing sentinel among its leaves. Up in the sky the raptors whirl; down under the thorn trees the animals seek the shade.

In the Kalahari, you have to mind about the small, the neglected, the unsung – the dung beetle and the snake, the African hare and the jackal. You learn to look out for the springbok, the ostrich and the gemsbok, and you get your thrills at night when you hear the roar of the black-maned Kalahari lion and the howl of the brown hyena, while up in the sky the stars are brighter and more extravagant than anywhere in Europe. It doesn’t take long before you understand why Tom Hardbattle, a British policeman who arrived in what was then Bechuanaland after the war, declared: “Everything I ever wanted I found in the Kalahari.”

It’s scarcely ever visited; the camps are few. I like to go with my own mobile safari guide (Peter Comley through African Explorations), pitching the tents where the fancy takes us. But I also long to do what some gloriously dusty, sun-tanned Swedes I once met at Maun airport had done – they had hired two camper vans, complete with vast fridges and tents that rose up at the press of a button, and driven themselves through that land that’s as beautiful, as pristine, as unpolluted as it’s possible to find. They had had more fun, more adventure than any swanky safari lodge could ever deliver.
Lucia van der Post

The details
Seven nights at the Kalahari Plains Tented Camp costs from £3,995 per person, including return BA flight to Johannesburg, connecting domestic flights, transfers, full board and drinks and all excursions, game drives and activities at the camp; book thorugh Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; can organise a well-priced mobile safari with Peter Comley or, more luxuriously and more expensively, with Roger Dugmore. has Kalahari Plains Camp in the northern part of the CKGR.

Maasai Mara, Kenya

If, like me, you are a big-cat junkie, there is only one place to go. Come rain or shine, Kenya’s Maasai Mara national reserve always delivers. Here in one day you can photograph a leopard up a tree, look into the amber eyes of a cheetah and come face to face with a whole pride of lions. No wonder the BBC chose it for its Big Cat Diary television series. This is where I saw my first simba, roaring from the top of a termite mound with the morning dew glistening all around him, and where I got to know the Musiara Marsh lions years before the BBC made them known to millions.

For cats and visitors alike, the best time of year begins in July when the migrating wildebeest and zebra herds arrive from the Serengeti in numbers beyond comprehension – the greatest wildlife show on Earth. But in the end what gets you is the intoxicating sense of space and freedom. Driving over its boundless savannahs, you find yourself either gazing up at its wide rolling skylines on which animals – zebra, topi, or perhaps a herd of elephants – are outlined against the blue. Or else you are in the sky itself, on somewhere like Rhino Ridge, looking out over widescreen Africa.

Where to stay? Take your pick from Rekero, Little Governors, Cottars 1920 Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp and Porini Lion Camp.
Brian Jackman

The details
An eight-day itinerary, with three nights at Kicheche Bush Camp in the Mara, would cost from £2,760 per person including return flight from Britain through Audley Travel (01993 838000;

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