We’re not sure why, but great journeys often involve great contrasts. African Splendour is a case in point. We range through 34 degrees of latitude and four countries, but, most engagingly and contrastingly, we experience the diverse excitements of Cape Town’s urban pizzazz, the watery colossus of Victoria Falls, and the wondrous game lands of the Serengeti–Maasai Mara ecosystem, where the wandering rains compel the planet’s most momentous movement of big, interesting mammals. (And then there’s the Ngorongoro Crater, which really can’t be contrasted with any other place, because there really isn’t any other place remotely like it, at least on our home planet.)
Day 1 En Route
We board our flights in anticipation of the magnificent holiday that awaits us.
Days 2 to 4 Cape Town and environs
After a late afternoon or early evening arrival in South Africa’s second-largest and most scenic and snazzy city, we’ll settle into Cape Town’s grande dame hotel, the pink, very pretty, much-loved Mount Nelson.
Nelly, as it’s affectionately known, lies in the centre of City Bowl, the rocky natural amphitheatre that embraces old Cape Town. During our two full days we’ll make an excursion to the area’s famed Cape Winelands, lunching at an estate and strolling through one of the Winelands’ charming villages (whose names highlight their Dutch heritage: Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek). We’ll visit Cape Point Nature Reserve and, a little farther south, the Cape of Good Hope. And we’ll take the Aerial Cableway to the top of 3,500-foot Table Mountain, centre stage of Cape Town’s amazing amphitheatre, getting a feel for why in 1503 António de Saldanha, the first European to visit the Cape, scrambled up Table Mountain as soon as he could: for the huge, informative views and very much for the sheer grandeur.
Days 5 and 6 Victoria Falls
A lovely flight northward delivers us to Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders,” not the highest or the widest but the world’s grandest and most booming waterfall, a large lakesworth of water flinging itself 360 feet straight down every minute of every day, right before our delighted eyes.
We have a couple of days to appreciate the Falls’ subtly shifting moods. We’ll cruise on the Zambezi River, watching elephants and giraffes enjoying their own sundowners, we’ll helicopter over the Falls on the Flight of Angels, and we’ll wander from one misty vantage point to another, returning for sustenance and leisure to our magnificent Royal Livingstone Hotel in Livingstone, Zambia, named for the almost mythic explorer David Livingstone.
Day 7 Johannesburg
We fly south from Zambia and Victoria Falls to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, where we’ll take up quarters at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, whose palatial suites set amongst rolling gardens and secluded courtyards are a favourite of Europe’s royals.
Day 8 Nairobi
A just-over-four-hour flight takes us north to Nairobi—long enough to get thoroughly engrossed in Beryl Markham’s great flying/safari memoir West with the Night, perhaps. Markham spent her share of time hobnobbing at the famed Norfolk Hotel, but then again, so has just about everybody of note in Nairobi’s history, including, as of today: us.
Day 9 Lake Manyara
Africa is blessed with epic lakes (Tanganyika is the world’s second deepest; all the Rift Lakes are gigantic stunners), but many, including Ernest Hemingway, consider the smaller gem of Lake Manyara—with its diamond-white alkali rim, its million or so coralcolored flamingos, and the deep sapphire waters at its centre—the loveliest of all. We’ll arrive at the lake and the Escarpment Luxury Lodge via Arusha, Tanzania, and settle in to a fine afternoon of game viewing (many tree-climbing lions frequent the lake’s Africaembodying scrublands, mahogany forests, and bird-thronged marshlands) followed by a pleasant bush dinner. Tomorrow, before heading out for the Lost World of the Ngorongoro Crater, we’ll have time for a guided bush walk in the sweet lakeside morning.
Days 10 and 11 Ngorongoro Crater
We’ve got a lot of affection for Ngorongoro, where 25,000 or so large and very viewable mammals—from apex predators to galumphing hippos—inhabit the crater’s 100-square-mile floor, and zigzagging up the old volcano’s forested wall to its rim (where we’ll happily check into the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge), and gazing for the first or fifth time at the lush lands and their inhabitants in the crater below, is a great moment in any traveller’s life.
Days 12 and 13 The Serengeti
Returning to the Manyara airstrip, we fly to the Serengeti, the jewel in the crown of Tanzania, located deep in the heart of the famous migration corridor. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. After two days of intensive game runs we will feel passionate about this land. Our home, the exquisite Serengeti Pioneer Camp, is the epitome of the classic safari camp with antique-filled luxury tents ensconced in the gloriously golden Serengeti Plains. We’ll be reminded at every turn why Pioneer is a deft balance of splendid isolation and modern luxury.
Days 14 and 15 The Maasai Mara
Leaving the Serengeti, we fly via Arusha and Nairobi to the Maasai Mara, the northern, more verdant section of the single most salubrious wildlife habitat on this or any known planet, the Serengeti–Maasai Mara ecosystem. Game drives in the Mara are especially fruitful, combining much multiplicity of landscape with thriving animal populations. Our headquarters here will be either the Mara Explorer Camp or Ngare Serian, both of them riverside, both idyllic, both great favourites of ours. The camps’ tents—you wonder what it would be like to live in one for a year or so—are brilliant examples of the artfulness, creativity, and sheer ingenuity of East Africa’s camp architects.
Days 16 and 17 Nairobi and flights home
Having traversed the continent from Cape to Kenya, we’ll fly back to Nairobi, visit the AmericaShare Harambee Centre in the afternoon, relax in a day room at the Norfolk, have a quiet dinner, and head out to Jomo Kenyatta Airport for our late evening flights home, where we arrive, tired but exalted, on Day 17 of this short but mightily splendid safari.