Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

Our Favourite Sundowners: A Slide Show

  • July 26th 2012

The Swahili word for sunset is magharibi. In Afrikaans, the sun dips behind the hills and the plains turn fiery red and gold at sonsondergang. And in Zulu, the magical time when we have our end of day drinks is known as ukumuka kwelanga.

At Micato , the word for an unbelievable sunset enjoyed with a cocktail in hand is sundowner. No matter what language you use to describe the moment, affection for the experience appears to be universal. It’s usually our guests’ favourite time of day. Ours, too.


There is an undeniable power and romance in a sunset, wherever you are—it’s a daily piece of artwork, given to us free of charge. In Africa’s untamed wilderness, the impact of a melting, coppery sunset is a hundredfold. Sit on a hilltop above the world, look out at the animals interacting as they have for hundreds of years, feel the warmth of a crackling fire and a glass of whiskey or wine: you’re living a quintessential sundowner.

Loving sundowners as we do, we of course have our favourite spots to indulge in them. Our past travellers will recognize some of the sundowner locations featured in the slideshow above, and maybe relive a moment from their own safari. Our future travellers will see places they simply must visit. Whether arousing passions or relaxing minds, an African sundowner is an experience of a lifetime.

World’s Best Safari Outfitter…Nine Times and Counting!

  • July 12th 2012

The results are in!

For a record ninth time, the readers of Travel + Leisure have named Micato Safaris the #1 World’s Best Safari Outfitter. For the past eight years, our winning title has been Worlds Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter but, interestingly, this year Travel + Leisure separated the categories of Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter—perhaps because we monopolized the double title for the past eight years!

Micato offers a singular African experience that’s authentic, luxurious, adventurous, personal, and life-changing. These words have always been synonymous with “safari” in our book, so our new title suits us just fine.

The Micato founders, the Pinto family, were born and raised in Kenya, and from the beginning crafted an experience like no other. Micato Safaris was the first safari outfitter of note to hire local African safari guides—breaking the myth of the “great white hunter” guide and setting the precedent for sustainable safari guiding, and ensuring a future for the bright graduates of African wildlife guide colleges.

Micato was also the first safari outfitter to integrate itself into desperately impoverished “informal settlements”—which Americans refer to as slums—and make a difference by building a community and training centre, sending orphaned  and vulnerable children to school, initiating community outreach and educational programmes, and providing much-needed services such as a fresh-water bore hole and a library. Our non- profit arm Micato-AmericaShare has been serving the community in this way for 25 years.

We were also the first company to travel between camps and game parks via bush flights, saving valuable game-viewing time and offering guests a chance to view the breathtaking sweep of savannah, mountains, rivers and plains (occupied by herds of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffe) from the sky.

From Micato’s very inception, we were the first and only outfitter to invite all of our travellers home to dine with the founders of Micato Africa, Felix and Jane Pinto, or at the home of their close friends in Cape Town for South African travellers. This was also a first, and is still something unique to Micato.

Our most important and exciting innovation? We are the first and only operator to set up a sustainable program that funds one child’s education for every safari we sell: we call it our One for One Commitment, and it changes lives.

Ground-breaking giving and innovative travel: these features have come to define us over the years. And this year, we’ve revolutionized the safari experience yet again…

Now Micato offers the virtually unprecedented luxury of including all tips during your trip—even to Safari Directors and Driver Guides—a feature rarely offered anywhere in the world. Micato guests can simply relax and leave the tipping to us. It’s that simple.

Through the years, we’ve kept pushing boundaries, and our growing list of “firsts” is no doubt part of the reason why our travellers consistently name us #1 World’s Best. Tour Operator, Safari Outfitter… either way, we’re simply proud to be exceeding our guests’ expectations every day.

A Taste of Namibia

  • May 10th 2012

Africa is home to the largest land animal in the world (the elephant), the longest river in the word (the Nile), the oldest human fossils (Ardi, a 4.4 million year old skeleton found in Ethiopia), and several wonders of the world (including the Rift Valley and Victoria Falls). It’s an amazing continent, and one we’re very fortunate to know like the backs of our hands.

Nevertheless, Namibia still manages to surprise and enchant us with its breath-taking natural wonders. From the shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast to the pink and orange towering dunes of Sossusvlei, this land is more like a dream than anything else. Care for a taste of a Namibian safari? Here are just a few of our favourite facts about Namibia… careful, they’re sure to whet your appetite for the real thing!

  • The Namib Desert is between 80 million and 55 million years, depending on which geologist you talk to. Either way, the Namib is the oldest desert in the world.
  • The “Moon Landscape” is an inhospitable area of the Namib that is formed by granite which pushed up from the Earth’s crust some 500 million years ago.
  • Namaqualand is arid and dry for the majority of the year, but in spring a sudden transformation occurs: hundreds of thousands of orange and white flowers bloom, transforming the dry, empty land into something more often seen through a kaleidoscope.

  • The Fog Beetles, endemic to the Namib, have backs covered in hydrophilic bumps and hydrophobic troughs. These cause humidity from the morning fogs to condensate into droplets, which roll down the beetle’s back to its mouth.
  • The Skeleton Coast can experience more than 180 days of thick fog a year, hence the name—more than a thousand shipwrecks litter this coast.

  • Ships wrecked on the Skeleton Coast can be found as much as 50 metres inland, as the desert slowly moves westwards into the sea.
  • The dry inland of Namibia is home to baboons, giraffes, lions, black rhinoceros and springbok, all of whom get most of their water from wells dug by the baboons or elephants.

  • In April 2008, a 500-year-old shipwreck containing Iberian coins, bronze cannons, copper, and ivory was found in the Sperrgebiet (a region on the Diamond Coast).
  • Southern Namib comprises a vast dune sea with some of the tallest and most spectacular dunes in the world, ranging in color from rose pink to deep red to vivid orange. In the Sossusvlei area, several dunes exceed 300 meters (984 ft) in height.

  • Namibia’s Succulent Karoo, a portion of the Kalahari Deset, is home to fully one third of the world’s succulent plants—nearly half of them are only found in the Succulent Karoo.
  • The bizarre Welwitschia plant—with its strap-shaped leaves that may grow several meters long—is considered a living fossil, and is found only in the Namib Desert.

India: Brought to You by Micato Safaris

  • April 6th 2012

Vibrant. Colourful. Spicy. Spontaneous. Enchanting.

These are the words we use to describe India, though there are times—standing on top of a craggy mountain in the north, paddling down a gin-clear channel in the south, or watching a saffron-tinted, ash-scented ceremony on the Ganges—when we have no words at all. Two-sided India, as much clamour as serenity, regularly leaves us speechless.

“Why is an African safari company talking about India?” you may be asking yourself. The answer is simple: because Micato Safaris also operates in India. While Africa is our home and safaris are our passion, Micato’s founders, Felix and Jane Pinto, were born in Kenya of Indian heritage, and have sojourned frequently throughout their lives to their family’s ancestral home in Goa, India.

Felix and Jane founded Micato Africa in 1966 and built the safari outfitter into a revered name in the world of travel. With son Dennis at the helm in the 1990s running Micato USA, the company grew into the leading purveyor of ultra-deluxe safaris with an impressive list of clients that included virtually 100% of the world’s most renowned luxury cruise line calling in East and Southern Africa: from Cunard to Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Holland America, and others.

The cruise lines were so thrilled with the exceptional level of serviced provided by Micato in Africa that they approached Dennis with a rare proposition: if Micato would open a tour operation in India, they would support it with their business in order to receive Micato service and standards in that area of the world.

And so Micato Safaris in India was established with legendary Indian travel industry veteran, Cecil Haidar Ali, as General Manager. Cecil’s son and daughter would eventually join Micato as well, and the Haidar Ali family, just like the Pintos in Africa, offers Micato travellers unique, insider access to their homeland.

In India, a country where connections and family ties make all the difference, this is invaluable. Luxury cruise travellers eagerly queued up for Micato’s overland India excursions, and the word spread…. Soon the Micato India team found themselves operating over-the-top, private bespoke journeys for private, individual travellers as well.

It began twenty years ago, and today Micato’s bespoke journeys in India are still the best in the business (and we don’t mind saying so!) They are jointly hand-crafted by the Haidar Alis—who know India like the backs of their hands—and the Pintos, who know the desires and needs of their travellers, many of whom have become life-long friends.

Balmy beaches. Tigers in teak jungles. Crisp pine air in the mountains. Yoga with a guru. Snake charmers in the bazaar. Bollywood razzle-dazzle. Colonial games of polo and cricket. Dinner in a palace—with a Raj. And of course, curry, chili, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and clove…

Experience India as family friends of the Pintos and Haidar Alis… only with Micato Safaris.

Learn our Founder’s Favourite Sport

  • March 8th 2012

If you’ve been with us in East Africa then you can probably attest to Micato founder Felix Pinto’s unbridled passion for cricket. His wife and company co-founder Jane declares that when he’s not at the Micato office in Nairobi, Felix is “practically glued to the games!”

And it’s no wonder—as a former batsman and fielder, Felix was playing a cricket match in Kisimu, Kenya when he first met Jane. That was in the 1950’s, right before the country declared independence, and their initial meeting was followed in succession by a wedding, a family, a successful farm and the founding of a tour company. So in some ways, cricket is responsible for the existence of the eight-time #1 world’s best tour operator: Micato Safaris.

South Africa's 1888 cricket team—don't they look serious!

Cricket began as a popular game among the former British colonies—hence its popularity in South Africa, Kenya and India—and has spread across the world. From Japan to Chile, Israel to Bulgaria and everywhere in between, cricket commands attention. The sport has somehow skipped over the United States, though you can sometimes catch a pick-up game played by expatriates in as unlikely places as Missouri or New Jersey. It’s a difficult game to understand, but that makes it all the more intriguing as the novice learns the depths of the sport.

And should you wish to learn cricket, South Africa is the place. Why?

South Africa's 2011 cricket team—quite the difference!

Cricket South Africa is one of the hottest teams to watch in the ICC (the NFL of cricket)—they were even chosen to host the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007. With family friends and a Micato office in South Africa, Felix has a convenient excuse to pop down and watch the games whenever he can get away, and he’s in good company with our South African guides, avid fans who delight in sharing the sport with pros or novitiates alike.

Our favourite places to watch a game? Sahara Park Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town is reckoned by many to be the most picturesque cricket venue in the world—the ground is ringed by mountains, their craggy shoulders swathed in clouds, and lovely old-world chalets and blossoming green trees that grace the surrounding lowlands.

It's sometimes hard to tell who's more impassioned—the players or the fans!

But then there’s also Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg—it has an electric atmosphere that comes from a storied history: the first match played here was against England in 1956, and the air has been charged ever since with the energy of the devoted fans.

Whatever venue you choose to begin your cricket education, the company of a Micato guide makes the experience all the better—they’re your local friends in this far-away country, taking you out for a day of cheering and laughter, followed by a few pints of South African Breweries much-lauded Carling Black Label or Castle Lager in the local pub. By the end of the day you may even find yourself to be a budding cricket fanatic—which would please our founder Felix to no end!

Why Africa Packs Appeal for Writers

  • March 1st 2012

Why does Africa pack such appeal for writers?  Perhaps it’s the wealth of the region, its surface thick with fantastic plants and animals, its underbelly crusted in jewels. Maybe it’s because the continent is the cradle of mankind and as such, perpetually nurtures us.

For Micato, the writerly appeal comes from the simple expanse of it all. Africa is a land where it is easy to get lost, in the best sense of the word. In the bush, disconnected from the noise of everyday life, much about the self is cherished, and discovered, and rediscovered.

And this was the appeal for two of our favourite explorers and memoirists as well: Beryl Markham and Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway: “This Girl Can Write Rings Around All of Us”

Africa for Markham was home. It was the place where she learned to train horses and fly planes; where she fell in love and married not once but three times; and where she faced almost certain death more times than she could count. It was in Africa that she befriended legendary authors such as Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince), and it was where she became an author of some renown herself, with her startlingly fresh and gripping memoir, West with the Night.

This memoir was admired by none other than Hemingway himself, who wrote:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? …She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl… can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers… it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Who Loves Africa More?

Hemingway’s own African explorations were characterized by a gruff machismo that serves as a counterweight to Markham’s wry humour and exuberance. In the autobiographical Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway, in his trademark serious, short prose, recounts days of hunting elusive kudu in the bush. And because he is there for only for a short time, he yearns to stay:

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” —Green Hills of Africa

Markham, on the other hand, grew up in Kenya from the age of four, and loves Africa in a steadier, less yearning way. In West with the Night, she writes:

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home.”

Views on Hunting

The writer’s thoughts on hunting were also vastly different. For Hemingway, hunting was his sport of choice and a source of pure poetry. For Markham, it was a source of money and the object of some derision.

Markham spent many years of her life piloting hunters high above the countryside, spotting elephants and making impromptu landings. Flying was her passion, and hunting was a funny thing that men did:

“I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant… At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.”—West with the Night

Between Markham’s irreverence and Hemingway’s solemnity, we have a full picture of the glory that is—and has always been—the wilds of Africa. The savannahs, bushveldt, deserts and beaches invite wanderers and dreamers. The people, the animals, the landscape… The very air in Africa has an unparalleled richness and freshness. This land sparked two of the best memoirs the world has ever seen, and we feel quite sure that there are more and better yet to come. Could yours be one? Join us in Micato’s Africa and find out…

Louis Vuitton Knows Africa Is Not A Trip…It’s An Experience

  • February 2nd 2012

“A journey is not a trip. It’s not a vacation… It’s a process of self-discovery.”

So says Louis Vuitton in the company’s compelling video about the value of journeys, which struck a particularly lovely chord for us here at Micato when combined with their Africa -inspired 2012 spring/summer collection.

A journey is a true, authentic type of travel, bringing the traveller right to the heart of a place. We couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to travelling to our beloved Africa: a safari is not just a trip… it’s an experience.

“Every journey begins in Africa,” reads one of the Vuitton ads—an ad that supports Bono and wife Ali Hewson’s fair-trade clothing company, Edun. And strictly speaking it’s true—Africa is the cradle of mankind, the ground where human life began. This alone, Micato has always maintained, is a beguiling reason to visit the continent.

But “every journey begins in Africa” is true in another sense as well. From Kenya to Namibia, Rwanda to Botswana, this land has tempted explorers and adventurers for hundreds of years. Crusaders in the 12th century returned home with fantastic tales of beasts with impossibly long noses, larger than any creature they’d ever seen (elephants, of course.) In the 19th century, the immense unknown spaces tempted restless wanderers searching for the Last Frontier.

Dree Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway's great-granddaughter)

The true magic of Africa is in the very land’s steadfast determination to hold on to its glories. The crusaders and their way of life are long gone, but elephants still lumber across the savannah. Colonialism, thank goodness, is a thing of the past, and the infinite, virgin wilderness remains just as massive and unspoiled as ever.

The birthplace of humanity is a land of vast spaces, fierce wildlife, and wizened tribal elders with eyes that gaze into forever. It is undulating hills speckled with acacia trees, lions whose roaring shakes the windows, sunsets that turn the whole country red and gold. It is Maasai warriors dancing in flickering bonfire light, their shadows long on the ground.

Journeys have always begun in Africa, and they always will. So important is a journey of self-discovery to Louis Vuitton that the concept is one of the company’s core values. It’s safe to say that it’s one of ours, too. The mysteries of Africa run so deep that they remain largely unplumbed… and the only way to discover them is to experience this powerful continent for yourself.

The Hottest Travel Tip of 2012 – No Tips at All!

  • January 26th 2012

Picture it.

You’re lying on a chaise lounge on your tent’s private veranda, without a care in the world. Spread before you is the Maasai Mara, a green landscape that undulates into infinity. A herd of giraffe nibble on acacia trees in the middle distance. Elephants are silhouetted against the sinking sun. Hippos chortle and bubble in the waters of the Mara River below.

A waiter comes to bring a bucket of champagne. You thank him with a smile. And you didn’t have to move from your chaise lounge to find your wallet…

Earlier that day you said goodbye to your driver guide in another game park—that “thank you” was said with a hug and an exchange of emails. You’ve promised to send him the video you took of him dancing and singing a song in Swahili.

You sip from your chilled glass, sigh and stretch to the last rays of sun warming your face. You haven’t had this few worries since childhood.

And your wallet? That’s been tucked away in a series of room safes since you arrived in Africa—you haven’t had to use it once.

Sounds too good to be true? It is… unless you’re on safari with Micato. This year, in a practically unprecedented move, absolutely every tip is covered on your safari.

Yes, we’re covering ALL tips, even those to your Micato safari directors, drivers, and guides—something virtually no other tour company in the world does. Also included are gratuities to the Micato concierges as well as the staff you’ll meet at every lodge, camp, and hotel during your safari. 

So imagine it. Throughout your safari, every “thank you” will be said not with cash, but with a handshake or a hug. In other words, friendship—the best thanks of all and with Micato, the only thanks necessary.

Staff on Safari: Seeing Mt. Kenya on Horseback

  • January 19th 2012

I prefer to walk or bicycle whenever possible—that’s partly why I’m a converted New Yorker. Fortunately, options on safari with Micato are as varied as you want them to be. While preparing for my safari it was the alternative game-viewing opportunities that I looked forward to the most, but one stuck out for me especially: horse-back riding. I hadn’t been on a horse since I was twelve, but when our group arrived at Mount Kenya Safari Club on a fresh, misty day in November, I decided to give it a try.

As it turns out, horseback riding is the best thing to do when you’re 7,000 feet above sea level in Central Kenya. My guide was a taciturn young Kikuyu man named John, and one other member of my party joined me—a more experienced rider named Steve. Steve and my horses were named, respectively, Nat King Cole and Caspar. They were both gentle and sweet, and Caspar had a fondness for meadow grass that he indulged in whenever possible. Appropriately geared up, we ambled off of the Safari Club’s extensive property and into the montane forest.

The author on "Caspar"

The air was rich and spicy with the scent of cedar trees and sweet mint bushes, grounded by the earthier smells of wet grass and horse. Herds of zebras clustered together in the clearings, incongruous in the highly English-looking meadows.

Through the trees was the faint blue silhouette of Mount Kenya, the second-highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro), and the highest in Kenya. It felt good to be sitting tall, using my body to guide Caspar, and breathing in this impossibly clean air.

John pointed silently to the right—there was a rare albino zebra, white with very light brown stripes, just standing and staring at us, munching grass. A waterbuck, big in the chest and shoulders, jumped out and ran past the unfazed zebra. They were all so accessible, being eye-level with my horse. The wildlife was just an added bonus. I was focused on Caspar, remembering how to post, and grinning uncontrollably at being out on a horse with these green mountains and mist, cedar trees and baboons.

Yes, I also rode camels, but that's another story...

I was still grinning a few hours later when we trotted back up onto the Club’s grounds, passing the hedge-maze and the pool and coming up to a stop in front of the main lodge. Sadly, I parted from Caspar and headed into the lodge, a structure seeped in the history of past guests, including Bing Crosby and Winston Churchill. I had missed high tea, but the woman waiting on me, knowing that I had wanted the experience, brought me my own pot of tea and a slice of chocolate cherry cake. It was exquisite, just like the rest of the day.

Post by Mary Mann, Micato New York staff writer

Micato’s Africa… by Helicopter!

  • January 11th 2012

Your helicopter grazes the leaves of a montane forest, thick with the hoots of monkeys and caws of birds. Remote deserts undulate off into infinity. Jewels of lakes teem with green crocodiles, or shine pink with flamingos.

Yes, we said your helicopter. Because while a Micato safari provides a lifetime of exhilaration, a Micato safari by helicopter literally takes exhilaration to a different level, making what once may have seemed inaccessible perfectly accessible.

The Pinto Family, left to right: Joy, Sasha, Tristan, and Dennis, and their pilot

The fact is, Micato has been arranging helicopter excursions for years, but recently we’ve seen an increased demand from our guests for this exceptional experience.

Imagine. In a helicopter, Africa’s majestic landscape is entirely yours. As you soar through the sky—flying low with doors open—you may see all manner of wildlife, from galloping herds to predators on the prowl. And the scenery is breathtaking. Your pilot cuts deftly between two towering kopjes, and you marvel at the landscape seen from this new and unimaginable angle.

Victoria Falls, seen from a helicopter

What makes your helicopter ride not just joyous, but convenient, is your ability to stop on a dime. From the rim of a crater to the top of a mountain, and everywhere in between. You might wish to visit a far-flung village, have sundowners on the steepes of a snowy mountain, or picnic near a gin-clear and isolated rock pool.

Having a personal chef cook your catch would likely provide enough fodder for a story to tell, but what if you caught that fish directly from your helicopter? And why not? Your wish is our command — that’s the beauty not only of an exclusive helicopter excursion, but of everything we do here. With Micato, by helicopter, the sky truly is the limit.