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An 'Expert's Guide' to the best safaris and holidays for 2020

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
13 Dec 2019
Nicola Shepherd giraffe.jpg

Over the last year my colleagues and I have travelled extensively exploring new destinations, inspecting newly-opened hotels, villas and camps (and re-evaluating existing ones) and sampling the most exciting and unique experiences imaginable.

I am delighted to share my favourite recommendations and inspire you in your search for the most exclusive and unique experiences to include in a truly special, life-changing safari or holiday.

204 hotels, lodges, villas and camps visited, 12 countries, 181 days in Africa and Asia!

 


Where are the most exciting new properties for 2020?

Royal Gorongosa, Mozambique: Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is back on the safari map!  This previously depleted wilderness has been rejuvenated and restored in a 21-year project resulting in some of the most diverse wildlife of any park located in captivating landscapes. The new, very intimate, luxury tented camp will have all the luxuries one could wish for as well as the most fantastic safari activities.

Camp Onduli, Damaraland, NamibiaThis new luxury camp is being developed by a leading conservation safari company with a purpose to preserve the wilderness and cultural heritage of this conservancy in the heart of Damaraland. Guests will have the benefit of stunning vistas with folded hills, open plains, wooded river valleys, semi-desert savannah landscape and fascinating geological features including granite inselbergs.

Camp Onduli will be private with only six exquisite tented rooms nestled amongst granite boulders, open-air bathrooms, a library, an infinity pool and the option to sleep on your private deck in the king-size bed under the vast starry skies.

 


Mashatu Euphorbia Villas, Botswana: Situated within a Euphorbia forest and designed to mimic the mopane tree, these newly built eco-villas are ideal for couples seeking solitude, exquisite views and game drives through this beautiful wildlife sanctuary.

Moela, Boteti River, Botswana: A new luxury lodge with seven kilometres of private frontage on the Boteti River and 700 exclusive-use hectares for game drives, walking and viewing hides. Moela is protecting vital wildlife corridors for conservation.

 


Tintswalo at Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa: Overlooking the colony of endangered African penguins on Boulders Beach in Simonstown, this newly opened intimate boutique villa can cater for couples as well as families with children It is even possible to book exclusively as a 9-bedroom private villa to share with a group of friends or a large family; with pristine swimming beaches within walking distance, this is a perfect Cape Town escape!

 


Glenburn Penthouse, Calcutta, India: With all the style and service that one expects from Glenburn Tea Estate, the property is perfectly located in Calcutta for visitors who want to stay in a gorgeous penthouse whilst exploring the city. Although often just a stopover, I think Calcutta is an interesting destination in its own right and well worth a few days of investigation!

Bori Sanctuary Lodge, Madhya Pradesh, India: Opening in early 2020, this new lodge is in a completely off-the-beaten-track region of Central India in the Southern Bori Sanctuary. The lodge is being created by the owners of Reni Pani Jungle Lodge (in Satpura) and will offer the same very high standards and safari experience.

This part of the forest has a healthy population of tigers and actually makes a perfect combination with Satpura, for the most comprehensive safari experience anywhere in India, with excellent chances of seeing tigers, sloth bears, leopards and a range of other animals and birds.

 


Aman Kyoto, Japan: A beautiful, spacious, light-filled accommodation set in a remarkable garden which, 400 years ago, was part of the grounds of an artistic community. Aman Kyoto is within easy reach of all of Kyoto’s most interesting sites. Explore the city’s cultural and historical delights, practise Zen mediation with Buddhist monks, enjoy the on-site Wellness Spa, learn Ikebana flower arranging with an expert -  and much more.

Where are the most unique experiences in 2020?

Private helicopter culinary adventure of Bali: Embark on a truly extraordinary culinary journey visiting some of Bali’s most notable venues in Ubud, Seminyak and Uluwatu without the hassle of traffic! You’ll get to eat your way through 12 exquisite, world-class, dishes; each expertly paired with a matching cocktail prepared by award-winning in-house mixologists.

 


Private cultural tour in West AfricaVisit Togo, Benin (the cradle of Voodoo) and Ghana during various festivals to experience the vibrant celebrations for yourself. Spend time with remote and unique tribes who have differing architecture, religious beliefs and ceremonies and learn about colonial history along the Gold Coast and Slave Coast.

Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda: It is thrilling to be able to track chimpanzees in the wild as they leap from tree to tree at high speeds, screaming and hooting to each other. Nyungwe Forest has a population of around 60 habituated chimpanzees, but also 12 other species of primates which are likely to be seen whilst trekking here. 

 


Exquisite off-beat wildlife combination: One of my top wildlife experiences to date: exclusive western-lowland gorilla trekking in the Republic of Congo followed by the most exciting wildlife encounters with around seventy different herds of elephants in the Dzangha-Bai area of the Central African Republic. Two completely different countries with two completely different experiences combining to make the most phenomenal adventure.

Nyika Plateau in Malawi: This is completely different to the rest of Malawi! The Nyika Plateau has high mountains and wonderful bird-life. An off-the-beaten-track safari which could pair perfectly with a beach stay on Lake Malawi at Kaya Mawa.

 


Helicopter safari over northern Kenya: My stay at Desert Rose was incredibly memorable. We walked to waterfalls for lunch and had cultural interactions with the Samburu tribe who came to dance. I spent a day with a private guide on a scenic helicopter flight over Lake Turkana, the Chalbi Desert and the Suguta Valley with breath-taking views of craters, ancient geological formations and flocks of flamingos.

 

The most exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime holidays and safaris in the world:


Wild dog photographic safari with Nick Dyer: Spend ten days in Zimbabwe with professional wildlife photographer and wild dog conservationist Nick Dyer tracking wild dog (painted wolves) in Savé and Mana Pools.

The safari also spends time with leading expert on conservation, Dr Rosemary Groom, where one learns more about the conservation of wild dog across Africa, and tracking black rhino with Ian Batchelor. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is available for a maximum of 6 guests to take exclusively and can be tailored to one's own requirements. 

 


Explore Chad’s Sahara Desert by private helicopter: The Ennedi Massif and the Tibeste Mountains in Chad are some of the most extraordinary landscapes anywhere in the world. One can stay in a tented camp and explore each day with a private pilot-guide, setting the itinerary as you go. The only other people you will see are the welcoming desert nomads!

I recommend pairing this with a stay at Zakouma National Park where I have witnessed the skies darkened with an extraordinary murmuration of birds at sunset and heard a lioness pacing just metres from my tent at night.

 


Private Thailand and Laos by executive jet: This extraordinary journey through Thailand and Laos by private jet is the ultimate private adventure! Chinmay has curated this experience to include all of his favourite highlights of the region, including a unique gastronomic adventure in Bangkok, a thrilling hot-air balloon ride of Chiang Mai’s pristine countryside and the chance to learn about elephants in the sanctuary there. Then cruise down the Mekong in a private boat and explore untouched mountain villages to meet tribal communities in Luang Prabang.

 

Where are the best philanthropic and conservation experiences?

Family rhino conservation safari: Spend time with expert conservationists and scientists at Morukuru in South Africa and assist with the tranquillising, measuring and chipping of an endangered rhino to help the work of the anti-poaching teams. During the process you will assist the veterinarian to take health-monitoring measurements and samples.

 

 

This is the most moving experience, to be so close to this beautiful and precious creature and directly assisting in the conservation work that is saving the species in Africa. This is an exclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience which can only be done when there is a need for a rhino to be chipped.

Visit the inspirational Reality Gives in Mumbai, India: This fantastic project runs quality educational programs and experiences for young people from underprivileged communities so that they are equipped with the tools they need to fulfil their potential and break free from the cycle of poverty.

One can visit Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, on a walking tour with a local guide who will show you the cultural and social aspects of the area and then take you to Reality Gives’ community centre where you can, respectfully, learn about and visit some of the projects that they run supporting young people. 

 


Pangolin conservation experience in South Africa: Phinda Private Game Reserve is protecting and monitoring their recently re-introduced Temminck’s ground pangolins using tracking tags to protect this highly endangered species – the most trafficked mammal in the world. Join the specialist conservation team as they locate a pangolin and replace its expired tracking tag, performing a full health check and taking measurements before releasing it and observing its behaviour and feeding.

 

If you would like any more information about any of my recommendations, please do feel free to contact me.

 

 

Images kindly provided courtesy of:

Suguta Valley image - Tropic Air copyright  Richard Roberts

Painted wolf image - copyright Nicholas Dyer

Somba Adobe houses - TransAfrica copyright Phil Kidd

Monkey in tree with flowers - Piotr Naskrecki

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