Without exception a safari in Africa is the quintessential romantic, exotic, super special adventure to remember… sage-scented breezes; the vast star-studded night blanketing your luxurious tent; game drives tracking elephant, lion and leopard; sipping champagne from your bubble bath watching a smoldering sunset on the Zambezi River. Yes, a safari in Africa is truly the perfect honeymoon holiday and despite having planned hundreds of honeymoons over the past 25+ years, we continue to be thrilled with each new opportunity to plan this milestone trip for our clients. So it was with an equal measure of disappointment that we had to advise Gabby and Jeremy that their April 2020 honeymoon safari would have to be postponed. Reflecting back to that time, you might well wonder, “what were we thinking” in deciding to re-book the trip to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday, but we very much believed that the pandemic would be well behind us by now. Yet even with several required revisions to both the itinerary and international flights, the Hutchers were absolutely determined to make this long awaited adventure happen … and we are happy to say their perseverance paid off. The newlyweds celebrated their honeymoon, (now first anniversary), with an amazing 10 day safari in Zimbabwe and on returning to Harare declared themselves ‘Africa addicts’, already plotting to extend their stay in Cape Town.
While we can all agree that an escape to Africa’s remote wilderness is the ideal antidote to lockdown and quarantines, as we’ve noted, travel in the time of COVID-19 is not without its challenges and thoughtful preparation and planning, not to mention patience and flexibility, is essential. But as our honeymoon couple discovered, the rewards were more than worth the extra effort in re-working logistics and the inevitable twinges of anxiety about what awaited them. The immersion in the unique, unspoiled natural surroundings that define the safari experience, while being looked after and pleasantly pampered, was the best possible escape from the pandemic and political pressures of this year.
The travelers flew Ethiopian Airlines from Newark – Toronto – Addis Ababa – Harare, arriving on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in time to connect with a FastJet flight to Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe requires a negative PCR test within 48 hours of arrival and fortunately turn-around times in New York allowed for them to have a test on Friday with same day results, ready to board their flight at 6am Saturday morning. On arrival to Harare, temperatures were taken, certificates checked, health questionnaire forms submitted, visas applied for and approved, baggage collected, and customs cleared all in less than an hour.
There are few lodges in Zimbabwe that can compete with the stunning setting of Matetsi River Lodge, along the banks of the upper Zambezi River in Victoria Falls. And it was here that Gabby and Jeremy were able to completely exhale and relax after the stress of the long journey. With very few visitors in camp these days, they enjoyed an exclusive, private safari allowing them to customize their game viewing activities, sight-seeing, meal times and welcome siestas. As for the game viewing, they were particularly in awe of the magnificent elephants, who were quite curious as to who was now swimming in their drinking pool! In addition to the lovely setting, beautifully appointed rooms, first class service and hospitality as well as fantastic game drives … Matetsi’s food is in another league. Jeremy commented that the meals were consistently as good or better than their favorite New York City restaurants.
With charter flights not yet operational, we organized a road transfer from Matetsi to Somalisa Camp, about a 3-4 hour drive, depending on the game viewing en route. Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest national park, featuring the contrasts of dense teak and acacia forest to vast open savannah. Even during ‘rainy season’ with the bush more lush and green, Hwange offers phenomenal opportunities for viewing a variety of game – as our clients learned for themselves during their 4 night stay. As is true of most first time safari go-ers, Gabby and Jeremy were so impressed with the passion and encyclopedic knowledge of their safari guide. On day and night game drives as well as guided walks, their wildlife sightings included lions, leopard, lots of elephants, impala, kudu, zebra and giraffe. Despite being literally in the middle of nowhere where social distancing is a matter of course, our clients commented on the extensive and thorough COVID protocols and procedures in place, ensuring they felt safe, respected and protected.
While we intended for the clients to continue onto Lake Kariba from Hwange, this was not possible due to the lack of seat on plane charter flights, so instead they returned to Victoria Falls to spend another two nights exploring Victoria Falls town and participating in some of the adventure activities on offer, including the Canopy Tour over the Gorge. They arrived at Victoria Falls River Lodge in time to enjoy a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, where in Gabby’s words “the hippo were hungry” and let her know. The first privately owned safari lodge to be built within the Zambezi National Park (Zimbabwe), the River Lodge is ideally located for exploring Victoria Falls and combines the African Safari experience with one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World – the iconic Victoria Falls – the spray of which can be seen in the distance. As Gabby and Jeremy were continuing on to Cape Town from Harare, they needed to have another PCR test to meet the requirements for entry to South Africa (a negative test within 72 hours of arrival). This was organized in advance and easily facilitated by the lodge staff, with results received later that afternoon.
Part of what makes a safari so wonderful, is the anticipation and excitement of what’s to come. For Gabby and Jeremy, despite the worries and hassles of pre-trip planning, they could not have been more thrilled with their decision to travel – the highlights of which were an exclusive, luxury, stress free safari experience, far exceeding their expectations.
So remember there are endless opportunities to surprise and delight you with memorable moments throughout your safari. We have the inside track with the safari camps, safari operators, hotels and beach resorts who specialize in wow-ing guests celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary, or a romantic, adventurous, restorative escape of any kind – with the magic and mystery of Africa. Plan now to have an adventure of a lifetime to look forward to in 2021 or 2022.