Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘Safari’

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…)

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Flamingos Aplenty and Archaeology, Too: Why UNESCO Honours the Kenya Lake System

  • November 17th 2011

Four million Lesser Flamingos make the three lakes of the Kenya Lake System their home. To put that into perspective, that’s more flamingos than there are humans in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, combined!

For most of the year, the flamingos move between Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita, foraging in their shallow alkaline depths. When they move from one lake to another, they rise together to fly away in one great, pink sheet—like a living sunset.

As the Kenya Lake System is the single most important foraging spot for the Lesser Flamingo, there is truly nothing like this breathtaking spectacle anywhere in the world. And this is only one of many reasons why the Kenya Lake System was named a UNESCO site this year, and granted all the protection that entails.

The three lakes are treasures in and of themselves, as their high alkaline content (the reason why they’re called “soda lakes”) makes them perfect for the abundant growth of green algae, which in turn nurtures an astonishing diversity of wildlife.

Not only home to the flashy flamingo, the lakes are also vital nesting and breeding grounds for Great White Pelicans, and are home to over 100 species of migratory birds including the Black-Necked Grebe, African Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, Little Grebe, Yellow Billed Stork, Black Winged Stilt, Grey-Headed Gull and Gull Billed Tern.

Not a keen birder? That’s okay. “Diverse wildlife” really does mean diverse. Birds share this property with sizeable mammal populations, including black rhino, zebra, Rothschild’s giraffe, greater kudu, lion, cheetah and wild dogs. The simple life-giving presence of water and algae sustains an eco-system that encompasses fish, birds and all sorts of mammals, including, of course, humans.

In fact, as the lakes are nestled on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, the animals share this part of Africa with some of the greatest finds in archaeological history. This area was the birthplace of mankind, and when you’re there you can feel the truth of that. Standing next to a soda lake, watching a sheet of flamingos rise and a rhino lumber by, you’re transported to the earth of our first ancestors, born in this land of hot-springs and geysers, sheltered by the steep escarpment of the Rift Valley.