Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘East Africa’

Finding the Big Five: Africa’s Most Sought-After Animals

  • May 9th 2014

Stalking one creature for hours, days, even weeks, was not uncommon in the hunting safaris of yesteryear. Hemingway spends the entirety of The Green Hills of Africa searching for kudu, a breed of antelope with horns so curly that they look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Beryl Markham chronicled the unpleasant conditions that surrounded elephant hunting in West with the Night, from being cornered by a frightened bull to losing her compatriots deep in the bush. Today, with the changing of the times signaling a growing awareness of the merits of conservation, safaris are no longer synonymous with hunting. And of course, the only shooting that has ever happened on a safari with Micato is with a camera. But a safari still requires cunning, a predatory instinct for where to find the creatures you hope to see, and The Big Five—the lion, leopard, cape buffalo, elephant, and black rhino—remain the most sought-after animals: the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Elusive, fast and dangerous, each animal has, in its own right, earned its place on the list of the most coveted safari sightings.

1. The Lion: Royal for a Reason (more…)

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.

Girl Enters Kenya Tree House As a Princess, Leaves as a Queen

  • June 8th 2012

On a starry February evening in 1952, Princess Elizabeth ascended into the leafy heights of a 300-year-old ficus tree in Aberdare State Park to attend a state dinner at the Treetops Hotel. The 25-year-old was on safari in Kenya with her husband of five years, Prince Philip.

They had no reason to hurry their meal that evening, overlooking the great expanse of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya beyond. Yet unbeknownst to them, many hundred miles away King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, was breathing his last. He died while they were at dinner, though Elizabeth did not hear the news until after she had descended from the rustling tree.

“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen—God bless her,” wrote Jim Corbett, resident hunter at Treetops.

We can only imagine that fateful evening when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II. The thin spicy air of the Aberdare Mountain Range, scented of wild mint and bush sage. The far-off roar of a lion hunting in the night. The soft, mournful sounds of night birds, and the comforting stillness of the million and one stars glowing undiluted from the equatorial sky. The knowledge that her beloved father had died, and that she would return to Britain as Her Majesty.

Sixty years later, Queen Elizabeth II still reigns and the Royal Family continues their jaunts to Kenya—indeed, Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton on safari—and we can only imagine that both the place and the experience remain close to her heart. It’s been a long and fascinating sixty years, and to think, it all started in a tree house in Africa…

Using a Smartphone in the Bush

  • April 19th 2012

The pleasures of safari are many… and the absence of a ringing, buzzing, beeping phone is one such. The interruptions on safari are far more interesting: a distant lion roar, the sight of an elephant quietly feeding property few yards from your hammock…you get the idea. The collective natural song of the bush has long survived without brassy ringtones.

That said, many travellers do desire a way to keep in touch with family and friends—even business contacts—while in the bush. So, although being “off the grid” is an appeal for safari travellers, we’d like to offer some handy tips for those of you who want to stay connected, but don’t want to be blindsided by astronomical phone and data charges after you arrive home.

Before you go:

1)      Consider your needs: Do you want to able to both make and receive calls? Do you only want to text? Do you need internet? What about GPS? Make a list of all the things you want to be able to do or have access to while in the bush, and then…

2)      Contact your cell phone provider: Policies and fees vary by provider, and it’s essential to know what works for your particular phone. You can research online— visit AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon or Virgin to find handy, detailed webpages for travellers—or call your company to find out what your options are (phone numbers will be on the website, and often vary depending on where you live.) Remember: even if your service plan includes international roaming, that doesn’t mean that it is the most reasonable option.

3)      You have options. If taking your current phone on safari just doesn’t seem like a viable option (if your everyday phone doesn’t have its own international card or the capacity to be fitted with one, it’s probably already a non-starter) there are many other options for staying in touch. You can buy a calling card or rent an international phone. If you have a laptop that you want to bring for other purposes, you can very easily  talk to friends and family via Skype or Google Voice.

In the bush:

1)      Know how to turn off “data roaming.” Unfortunately, just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean your phone isn’t active. It’s a good idea to turn off “data roaming” and “data synchronization” on your phone whenever you’re not using the internet or an application. You can usually find these options under “settings” on your phone. Find out how to do this before you leave.

2)    Monitor your mobile data usage. Smartphone apps for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry can track your data usage, which is incredibly handy. If you have internet access, you can also visit the website of your provider, log into your account, and check your data usage this way.

3)    Consider Airplane Mode. If you just want to use the internet and don’t need to make calls or use apps, Airplane Mode is ideal. It turns off the cellular and data radio but leaves your Wi-Fi receptor on. This solution only works if you’re at a lodge, hotel or camp with Wi-Fi, so ask your Safari Director or Guide first. Just using Wi-Fi, you can use services like Skype and Google Voice to call friends and family overseas for a fraction of the cost—or free!

Your last option, of course, is to skip all the hassle and leave the phone at home. It’s a daring move, in this day and age, but the benefits of essentially being incommunicado stretch far beyond mere financial savings—something that hits home when you’re lying in a hammock overlooking a gently flowing river, listening to hippos chortle and bubble below and birds singing in the trees. A butler brings you a refreshing cocktail, and a gentle breeze whispers in the acacia trees, bringing scents or eucalyptus and sweet wild mint. At these moments, email should be the last thing on your mind…

Your Own Home in the Wild

  • April 12th 2012

Greet the dawn on your sea-view veranda in Cape Town with a delightful breakfast cooked by your personal chef. Sip cocktails brought by your private butler as you lounge beside your pool, watching as the giraffe walk by in the majestic Kenyan landscape that seems to exist only for you. Dinner is a family affair, just you and your travel companions laughing and sharing stories in the glow of a thousand candles.

Have everything—from the menu to the bedding to how many cubes of ice in each drink—tailored exactly to your expectations and desires. It’s your home, after all—at least for the duration of the holiday.

Exquisite properties all over Africa are building homes for exclusive use—turning an already sumptuous experience into something sublime. There’s a home for every kind of traveller, from the savannah in Kenya to the bushveldt in South Africa; the sophisticated Cape Town to the adventurous Kalahari Desert—just tell your Micato Bespoke Safari Specialists a little bit about yourself, and they’re guaranteed to find the ideal combination of private ranches, family homesteads and upcountry estates.

Make Memories as a Family

Children delight in eating passion fruit picked off their own tree with help from the butler at Loisaba Cottage in Kenya, or playing Marco Polo in their own pool at Singita Serengeti House in Tanzania, their happy shouts silenced by the awe-inspiring spectacle of a herd of zebra rushing across the plains. And everyone in the family revels in the experience of sharing the landscape with a herd of resident elephant at Camp Jabulani’s Zindoga Villa in South Africa—one of the beauties of the private bush home is the guarantee that your only neighbors will be fascinating wildlife.

Revel in the Romance

It’s no surprise that Prince William and Kate Middleton spent a large portion of their engagement safari at Lewa House—stunningly beautiful and private, couples can while away the days here horse-back riding or flight-seeing in a bi-plane together—much like Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa.

Honeymooners may find bliss in the airy Molori Clifton, a private home with panoramic views of the ocean and Cape Town, where “your song” can be playing in every room thanks to iPod docking stations, and the infinity pool beckons. Or celebrate your anniversary at Ol Malo House in Kenya, where you lounge together in a hammock, watching the animals pass by without a care in the world.

Whatever your desires, we can guarantee one thing: your Micato Bespoke Safari Specialist can find the exact right property for you.

“I fell in love with Africa long before I ever went there. When I got there it felt like coming home.” ~Jane Goodall

5 Reasons to Travel to Rwanda

  • March 22nd 2012

1) Tracking the Endangered Silverback Gorilla

You trek out at first light, the crisp green-scented air suffused with pale pink light. You’re surrounded by the sounds of the jungle waking up: strange calls of exotic birds, hoots of distant monkeys, the last drops of dew plopping off of huge leaves. Then your Micato guide points, and time stops.

You’ve come across a family of gorillas.

There’s nothing between you and them, and there’s nothing to do but sit and stare. The family is in the throes of their everyday life—feeding, playing, resting; raising their young. As one mother turns to groom her child, she catches your eye, and you experience a powerful shock of recognition. The intimate experience of encountering the Silverback gorilla in its natural environs is sure to be the most emotional wildlife experience of your life. There are only 700 of these magnificent creatures left on the planet, so the time to see them is now.

3) Experiencing Country Clean-up Day

Hot coffee in hand, you step out onto your veranda and are greeted by a stunning sight. The landscape is dotted with people, all bent over and picking up trash. A pleasant hum of conversation rises from the scattered clusters of people. Some are in rags, others in business suits, others in tribal clothing. But today they’re all one.

This is Country Clean-up Day, a mandatory monthly event for which the whole country turns out—even the president. This is just one way in which the Rwandan commitment to preserving the environment manifests itself. Rwanda’s path toward unity was an incredibly rocky, heart-breaking one, and to see the results so clearly and positively displayed is hugely moving.

2) Hiking the “Land of a Thousand Hills”

Rwanda is called the “land of a thousand hills,” and we can assure you, the nickname is apt. The lower hills are the realm of the farmers—90% of Rwandans farm for subsistence—and the emerald slopes seen from above look like a patchwork quilt spread over a lumpy bed: each square planted with sweet potatoes or bananas, beans or cassava, tea or coffee. But the mountains—these belong to the intrepid.

The Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes, is our favourite place to hike. Mt. Muhabura is one of the “Ultras,” the most prominent peaks in Africa. It tops out at 14,560 feet, and from its craggy cap all of Africa fans out around you, lush and rich and wild as far as the eye can see. Hale and hearty, pink-cheeked with the pleasure of having hiked all the way up the winding trail, you marvel at the vivid colours and spicy, earthy scent of this gorgeous country.

When you finally tear yourself away from the view, you find that your Micato guide has laid out a magnificent picnic. It’s a hearty repast you’ve fully earned, and makes this excursion truly a delight for all the senses.

4) Getting to Know the Rwandan People

The faces of Rwandan people say it all: gentle smiles paired with liquid eyes. This country has been through a lot, but its remarkable people have turned their heartaches into patience, love and gratitude for life. It’s incredibly rewarding and inspiring just to spend some time with the warm and welcoming locals.

With a renewed country comes new high spirits, and Rwandans certainly know how to celebrate. Music and dance are features of every occasion, ranging from commemorating excellence and bravery, acting out marriage or other  rituals, or teasing each other with humorous one-act imitations .

Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in a village. Even more exclusive, Micato can arrange a performance of the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore—literally “The Chosen Ones”—once performed exclusively for the Royal Court.

5) Discovering the Rare Golden Monkey

With your Micato guide, you come across a group sitting in a clearing grooming each other. A mother swings effortlessly down from a tree with a tiny baby clutching her chest. Two young males come running, tumbling into each other, so much like two human children that we have to laugh. One of these males approaches a female flirtatiously but is rebuffed. The other eyes the alpha male, who is being groomed by a bevy of females—possibly he’s plotting a coup? The tableau is like one of Shakespeare’s plays, and it’s so mesmerizing that we’re moved to simply sit and observe.

The Golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti) is quite rare, and—much like its cousin the Silverback gorilla—it can only be found in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes. An opportunity to view these small, engaging creatures in their habitat is not to be missed.

Educational Exploration with Micato

  • February 23rd 2012

Kids see the world differently. A backyard can be the infinite wilds, and an unfinished basement a cavern to explore. A neighbor’s dog is actually a lion. The garden hose is an elephant trunk.

When simple suburbia yields so much delight, imagine what kids can experience when they’re out in the world beyond. An endless savannah populated by real lions and elephants is the stuff of dreams and food for the imagination. It is also the stuff of a Micato family safari.

Tribal cultures come to life on a Micato village visit, and your little ones find that kids the world over speak the same language, a combination of impishness, silliness, and knowing glances about their sometimes-embarrassing parents. There is much talking with hands. A cartwheel competition or impromptu soccer game may commence and just like that, your kids will have made friends with a Maasai warrior’s young ones.

That’s why we love to plan adventures for families—exploring with kids is not just fun, it’s a learning experience to last a lifetime. From helping researchers track lions in the Serengeti to stomping grapes in the Cape Winelands to participating in archaeological research with the Leakey’s in Turkana Basin. The dreams of childhood quickly become reality in Africa.

Kids skip away from a remote Kisii village with a priceless understanding of different cultures and people. They climb out of Olduvai Gorge with an intimate knowledge of the “cradle of humanity.”  Africa is the land of teachable moments, wrought that much more meaningful by Micato safari directors and driver-guides, irrepressibly sharing tidbits from their own incredible childhoods: herding cattle for their villages and encountering wildlife in the bush.

But perhaps the most powerful experience for kids in Africa—more than even being close to lions and waking up to the sound of monkeys on the roof—is a sobering and inspiring visit to see Micato-AmericaShare’s work in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum. Your children come face to face with children of the same age who share a one-room house with three generations of family. These are children whose families can’t afford even the most minor of fees required to attend a crowded government elementary school. Micato-AmericaShare helps them to reach their full potential with the School Sponsorship Programme and our One for One Commitment.

Kids return from this experience with a fresh view on the world and memories that last a lifetime. The backyard is still a wilderness, and on a hot day the garden hose still makes an excellent elephant’s trunk. But now your children know that these things hold an even greater magic than make-believe—they are symbols of their good fortune. Gratitude and good works spring from such early understanding of the world. A Micato safari, truly, changes lives.

Destination Wedding in the Wild

  • February 10th 2012

Two long rows of Maasai warriors lock their walking staffs overhead, creating a pathway through which you walk with your betrothed, hand in hand, entering a new life together amid the chanting song of the warriors and the Maasai women surrounding them and throwing flower petals.

Or you exchange vows barefoot on a sugar-white beach beneath the great blue dome of the sky. A full-sailed wooden dhow is anchored off-shore in the gin-clear sea, waiting to take you away on a honeymoon adventure like no other—after your island reception, of course.

Perhaps instead your wedding day is old-fashioned safari chic—the groom in tweed and linen, the bride in crisp white muslin, tying the knot in a colonial club where Hemingway and Roosevelt once hung their hats. High tea is served to the bridesmaids as they prepare, and your wedding party is transported from place to place in vintage automobiles.

And these are just a few of the many options for a destination wedding in the romantic wilds of Africa—the birthplace of humanity and the inspiration for romances from Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa to Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart’s love in The African Queen. Hold your ceremony in the shadow of majestic Mount Kenya; take your wedding party to an exclusive location via old-fashioned railways; or pledge your love in a hot air balloon whilst floating over the Maasai Mara. The possibilities are as varied as they are exhilarating.

A wedding is the one chance that a bride and groom have to celebrate the beginning of their new life together with their friends and family. An exotic destination wedding is a holiday away from the ordinary—a venture into the realm of the extraordinary as a celebration of your love.

Each wedding is as unique as the couple, and our safari specialists are experts at creating the ceremony of your dreams, giving every last detail the attention it deserves—after all, we were drawn to our profession by the undeniable romance of safari life.

Create your own fairy tale—anything you desire—and it will be our pleasure to make it happen.

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.