Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘Emerging Travel Destinations’

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.

Gotcha!

Not so fast, junior.

Well played!

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.

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.

What’s on Your 2012 Bucket List?

  • January 5th 2012

The newest edition of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die was released before the holidays, and we were delighted to find Micato Safaris listed as the tour operator of choice in one of our favourite game-viewing locations, the Maasai Mara.

This is the first update to the original 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which was released in 2003—coincidentally, also the year Micato won the first of its eight Travel + Leisure #1 World’s Best Awards. Travel writer Patricia Schultz and her team of researchers compiled the first edition as a geographically organized list of the best cultural, natural, historical and thrill-inducing sights and experiences in the world. It was an instant hit and a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It’s no wonder: the title alone is a magnet to those with even a drop of wanderlust in their blood.

Presciently, the first edition of 1,000 Places also came out a full four years before the movie The Bucket List hit theaters and made the term an instant shorthand for a personal list of things each of us might wish to see or do before we kick the bucket.

The new edition has been updated with recently-introduced experiences, heretofore closed areas of the world, and hidden wonders. Certain existing sections have been refined. The up-to-the-minute best hostelries are featured. And Micato is honoured to have been included on the world’s most widely-shared bucket list.

Indeed, we’re noticing that travel writers everywhere are compiling their top bucket list-worthy destinations for the new year. And we couldn’t have been more pleased to discover that we’d been included on another as well—Forbes.com journalist Larry Olmsted included Micato Safaris in his round-up of the top ten bucket list trips for 2012.

In fact, he was kind enough to write: “I would only travel to Africa with Micato Safaris…! I would not go with anyone else…”

Needless to say, while we’re happy to be on every traveller’s bucket list, we want to move the possibility of safari from your “wish list” to your “to do” list for 2012. Take a look at our safaris and give us a call—we’re experts at bucket list wish fulfillment.

The Lure of Southern Africa: A Different Kind of Safari

  • September 2nd 2011

Pristine wilderness populated by thousands of animals is the constant in both East and Southern African safaris. The regions share endless stretches of wild land, lions stalking prey, lumbering hippos, and curious giraffes. Where they diverge is in the myriad activities available in the south. The countries of Southern Africa have come into their own in the past few years, offering diversions unique to this land, a sparkling jewel at the base of the continent.

Perhaps you’d care for a trip to Cape Town, a sophisticated city that is Africa’s most sought-after destination for a reason. In just a day, you can visit two oceans and view wildlife as diverse as baboons and penguins. Stroll the old Victorian streets of Simon’s Town in the morning and after lunch paraglide off of Lion’s Head with unbelievable views of the city—the sweeping ocean in one direction, the vast wilderness in the other.

Table Mountain beckons beyond Cape Town and the sea

Whether diving with sharks and learning to surf (not, of course, in the same place!) or taking a ferry from the famed Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to the legend-soaked Robben Island, which was once used to hold political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and current South African President Jacob Zuma, all types of travellers are sure to find a thrill in Cape Town.

For those seeking more pastoral pleasures, an idyllic destination is not far away. The Cape Winelands is not only stunningly lovely but also offers some of the world’s best vintages and hostelries, from boutique hotels to intimate farmstead-style lodges. The  fertile countryside not only yields world-class wines but also scrumptious farm-to-table meals, made with vegetables and herbs hand-picked from the garden, fish from the nearby sea, and local meats. A sojourn in South Africa’s Winelands should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.

Private dinner in a wine cellar

And while you’re making said list, don’t forget to add one of the Seven Wonders of the World: Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon of waterfalls. Hang-glide over the roaring falls and discover the true meaning of the word “awesome” or swim safely to the very edge in the famous Devil’s Pool. Because of the constant mists, this area is particularly cool and green, which makes it an excellent spot for golfing, tennis, and long walks in the rainforest, exploring this misty land of hippos and elephants, vervet monkeys and fish eagles.

The grandeur of Victoria Falls

Southern Africa’s active diversion are countless: fishing from helicopters, flight-seeing from bush planes, climbing Namibia’s gigantic sand dunes, exploring the Kalahari Desert by camel and quad bike, or gliding through Botswana’s Okavango Delta in a dugout canoe.

For a vicarious taste of travel in this unplumbed land, you can follow Micato’s own Pinto family as they explore the hidden corners of Southern Africa in distinctive Micato style (i.e. in absolute luxury). Perhaps it will inspire you to make your own trip south of the equator and into adventure beyond your wildest dreams…

Tribe in Focus: Samburu

  • August 11th 2011

In the northern reaches of Kenya, in a great swathe of the Rift Valley between Mount Kenya and Lake Turkana, lies Samburuland. As the name implies, this is home to the nomadic Samburu, one of the most fascinating tribes in Kenya, and the de facto guardians of the virgin wilderness of Samburu National Reserve and Buffalo Springs National Reserve.

Samburu warriors

The Samburu, cousins of the Maasai, have been called the “aristocrats of the nomadic tribes” (and in the New York Times, no less). Levis, Dockers and button-ups have yet to infiltrate their lives—they continue to dress as they always have, draped in lavish, brilliantly coloured fabric, the women wearing strings of beads and the men in feather plume headdresses. Their lives are carefully structured in a hierarchy that favors elders and values honor and respect above all else. Life transitions are celebrated with care and great pomp: from circumcision to weddings, births to funerals.

Age and the size of a man’s herd are the primary status and wealth indicators. Both are focal points in Samburu mythology, which traces the Samburu’s origin to the god Nkai, who lives on Venus (a planet clearly visible in Samburuland skies). Legend has it that Nkai sent the Samburu to Earth via a long rope, later using the same interstellar rope to send them a gift of cattle. The Samburu flourished, but over time the respect of the warrior class (young men) towards the elders began to wane, and their contempt did not go unnoticed. Nkai, in a rage, sent forth a massive thunderstorm that severed the rope between Venus and Earth forever.

This story reinforces the dominant roles of the elders in Samburu society,and underscores the belief that an elder has the ability to curse disrespectful warriors. Because this belief is so widespread, elders are careful about who they curse and why, and reckless young men are quick to make amends if they do something to warrant a curse – especially if the elder cursing them happens to have an eligible young lady in the family.

A group of Samburu women prepare for a traditional dance

Cattle are the literal lifeblood of the tribe, and Nkai’s “housewarming present” to the original Earth-bound Samburu. Traditionally the tribe has relied solely on herds for food, living off a diet of meat, blood and milk. This diet is still largely followed, although the popular additions of maize meal porridge and tea with milk and sugar have become staples as well.

This tribal way of life—centered on cattle and warfare, with major transitions marked by age-old rites of passage—is strong in Samburuland, and the people have yet to be lured by the purported benefits of modern life.

The Samburu’s lack of interest in an urban, westernized lifestyle has been an inspiration for Hollywood since the ‘50s, when tribal members took to the screen to act in the background of Mogambo while Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly fought over the attentions of Clark Gable. The 90’s Kevin Bacon movie The Air up There has a Samburu man (Charles Gitonga Maina)  in the starring role, and the Samburu way of life in this movie is eerily reminiscent of the ideal world of the Na’vi people in James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster, Avatar.

The Air Up There was filmed in Kenya and South Africa

In the information age the Samburu’s authentic way of living, so close to the land and tied to their immediate community, is a refreshing rarity. Travellers seeking insight into genuine African culture need look no further.

 

Micato’s Africa, Through the Eyes of Three Journalists

  • July 28th 2011

In the flurry of activity that surrounded our eighth Travel+Leisure “World’s Best” win, we were remiss in sharing some truly great recent articles on the Micato Safaris experience. Here are a select few that highlighted for us some of the rare and precious glories of safari:

  • Great, great, great, great migrations. The pure pleasures of an African safari are legion, but Sarah Gold focused in on one in particular in her article on the World’s Great Animal Migrations for Travel+Leisure – the magnificent wildlife. The Wildebeest and Zebra Migration that she highlights is one of the most spectacular sights on the planet:, whether you’re witnessing thundering herds galloping across the plains or hundreds of creatures pausing for a morning snack on the savannah. Being there for this timeless journey from August through September makes visiting Kenya and Tanzania an automatic line on anyone’s bucket list.

 

  • Love on an exotic holiday. Luxury and the romance it yields is the focus of Rick Shively’s piece on Africa as a honeymoon destination for Recommend. The timeless romance of Africa has been well documented, from “The African Queen” to “Out of Africa,” but even without cinematic proof few would argue the point after waking beneath an ethereal canopy to coffee delivered on fine china and a view of the sun rising over Ngorongoro Crater, or from behind Mt. Kilimanjaro.

 

  • Friends in a foreign land. When Becca Hensley went on a Micato bespoke safari for San Antonio Magazine she found what she expected – wildlife in abundance and unbridled luxury. But she was surprised and thrilled to discover that it was the people of Africa that made her trip glow, especially her ever-present guides, who became friends. More than just unparalleled game spotters, her guides were also founts of information on topics ranging from photography to poaching, stars to social systems, and their conversation was as refreshing as the cocktails they mixed. In Hensley’s own words:

“They are everyman’s gateway to transformative African adventure. In short, they give us the gift of the bush. And that’s something worth squealing about.”

 

And there you have a trifecta of safari delight, brought to you by three lovely writers. Thank you Gold, Shively and Hensley for bringing the joys of safari to life with your words – we look forward to seeing your readers out in the bush for the real thing!

An Impossibly Beautiful Safari, and Beautifully Impossible Golf

  • June 2nd 2011

South Africa is renowned for many things: the work of native sons like Nelson Mandela and JRR Tolkien, hosting the 2010 World Cup, producing world-renowned wine, the enthralling mix of cultures – Kalahari Bushmen sharing a nationality with the grandsons of Dutch traders –  and having some of the most stunning and haunting landscapes on the planet.

Amidst all these wonders, South Africa’s world-class golf courses were once a well-kept secret. That is, until April of this year, when Johannesburg native Charles Schwartzel became the first golfer in the history of the Masters to birdie the final four holes and win the title.

The 26-year-old, who grew up on a chicken farm outside of the metropolitan bustle of one of South Africa’s most famous cities, has officially linked “golf” and “South Africa” in the minds of serious golfers the world over. Fortunately, Micato Safaris was ready for the sudden demand, stepping forward with a brand new itinerary: the South African Grand Golf Safari.

The courses in southern Africa are like none other, due in large part to the wild and majestic landscape. Serious and amateur golfers alike will revel in the stunning mountain views and lush wetlands on the Steenburg Golf Club, one of the country’s three best courses. The Montagu and Outeniqua courses at five-star resort Fancourt rival with each other for which has the most spectacular geographical diversity, but they also share the only TaylorMade Performance Lab in the southern hemisphere, where players can receive unparalleled swing analysis and custom fitting.

The Pezula Championship Golf Course provides breathtaking views of the South Cape’s craggy coastline and the Indian Ocean, and then it’s on to Legend Golf & Safari Resort. Legend combines an unimpeachable African experience – complete with opportunities to view rhinos, hippos, lions and leopards – with a truly unforgettable course, each hole designed by one of the world’s top professionals.

And still, we take you higher. Quite literally, actually. The Extreme 19 golf course has the highest and longest Par 3 in the world, accessible only by helicopter at more than 1,400 feet in the air. A tee shot takes a full 20 seconds to land on the green below.

The journey closes with a refreshing game blessed by the mists of Victoria Falls, at the Livingstone Royal Golf and Country Club. Founded in 1908, this course is a slice of old Africa, with a history rich in tradition and carried on by the likes of Charles Schwartzel, continuing to make southern Africa proud. The smell of fresh-cut grass blends with the headier scents of African flora, and as you inhale, smile, and swing, you just might birdie too.

Crystal Cruise Luxury Meets Largesse in the Village of Lengala

  • April 26th 2011

Guests on a Crystal Serenity Cruise are used to luxury – sumptuous meals, elegant rooms, and impeccable service. This year Micato Safaris worked with Crystal Cruises in Sri Lanka to offer guests something a little different: a chance to get their hands a little dirty, make some friends, and give back. They jumped at the chance.

A Crystal Cruise guest helps to beautify the Lengala Village School

On March 25th, when docked at Colombo, an eager group of eighteen Crystal Cruise guests boarded a bus for the village of Lengala, in order to volunteer under the auspices of Sarvodaya (a Sri Lankan humanitarian movement). Upon arrival, they were presented with a traditional tea with all of the fixings. Then, it was time to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Using supplies that the guests had funded through Sarvodaya prior to the trip, they began work painting the Home Science unit, the main hall and the library of the Lengala Village School. As they were painting, the locals brought them fresh coconut juice, and the village children couldn’t help but be a delight to the guests, laughing and chatting away.

After the day’s work was done, the children asked the guests for their addresses, so that they could write them and become their pen pals. To show their thanks, the children performed a beautiful and unexpected dance for the guests, and the principal of the school expressed his heartfelt gratitude. The village saw them off smiling.

Newfound friends in far-flung places

Departing reluctantly, the guests returned to the ship glowing with the knowledge that they had made a difference in the lives of their wonderful new friends, thanks to the seamless work between Crystal Cruises and Sarvodaya, all facilitated by Micato Safaris.

This experience of voluntourism gave something special back to the guests and the Sri Lankan locals alike, something that will be thought of often, whether as a reminiscence upon entering a paint store or a school, or the receipt of a letter from a young pen pal, with a Sri Lankan postmark. The length of a trip abroad is finite, but the memories of new friends and good deeds done can last a lifetime.