Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

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.

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

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!

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.

Micato’s Top 4 Vacation Activities to Beat the Winter Blues

  • September 15th 2011

Wrapped up in boots and parkas, scarves under our noses and hats pulled down over our ears, it’s hard to believe that some of the world is lounging pool or oceanside. This is what makes winter travel so special, as vacation comes to mean something more: you’re not just vacating your home and lifestyle, you’re leaving behind a whole  season.

And though the sunny, muggy weather of late may speak otherwise, now really is the time to begin planning winter excursions to exotic locales south of the equator. Once your dream escape is planned, you can sit back, sip your hot chocolate, and enjoy the brisk fall to come, knowing that, as the days get shorter and darker and the cold really descends, you will be winging your way to the white sands of Zanzibar, the golden savannahs of Kenya, or the gentle, rolling green of South Africa’s wine country.

To help inspire your planning, here are our top four safari experiences for curing the winter blues:

4) Meander down the Garden Route

South Africa is diverse, with a wealth of ecosystems and species, some unknown anywhere else in the world. The Garden Route famously encompasses many of them within its ten nature reserves, including 300 species of birds, the indigenous Cape Fynbos Forest, bays where southern right whales come to calve, and sanctuaries for both monkeys and elephants. Beautiful coastal towns tempt along the way, the wineries and farms that ring them promising luscious meals and memorable evenings.

3) Get lost on the ancient Isle of Spices

Zanzibar… the name is a vacation in itself. From the bustling spice markets in the old bazaar to the bewitching magic of the jade-green Jozani forest, alive with rare colobus monkeys jumping from tree to tree, this truly is a destination unlike any other. Add to this tastefully luscious boutique hotels atop peaceful white beaches—snorkeling, boating and diving aplenty—and you’ll forget that winter even exists.

2) Hot-air balloon over the famed Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara has one of the largest concentrations of animals in the world, and the best way to view them inconspicuously is at dawn, floating above the savannah, with the rush of the balloon’s flame removing the need to speak as you take in the rich panorama of life spread below you. After watching the predators of the night slink off to bed and the herds take over, munching dew-fresh grasses, you’ll be greeted upon landing by an elaborate champagne breakfast in the bush.

1) Canoe through the Okavango Delta

The floodplains of the Okavango are true virgin wilderness, where the only sounds are the light splash of paddles and the call of an African Fish Eagle sighting a Tigerfish–the birds are your only fishing competition out here. An estimated 200,000 large animals call this place home at different times of year, including elephants, hippos, lions and baboons. Stay in one of the Okavango’s beautiful tented camps for a true experience of Micato’s Africa—a place where authentic experiences and true luxury meet.

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

  • September 8th 2011

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

“As clever as a cat” is a shop-worn saying for good reason, and lions are no exception. They wisely make their home in the savannah, where the tall tawny grasses hide them and provide excellent camouflage, making them nearly impossible to find by anyone but a seasoned safari guide. If they are spotted, however, lions stand their ground, preferring to face their supposed challenger than to run and hide, and the sight of a lion staring regally ahead into the unknown is one that travellers will cherish. Their easy confidence is part of why lions have been associated with royalty for millennia.

Favorite safaris for spotting lions: The Micato Grand Safari is an excellent trek on which to see lions, as the purported “king of the jungle” is actually the king of the savannahs, found in grassy plains all over Africa.

Fun fact: A lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away. Just ask our guests!

2. The Leopard: Quicker Than You’d Think

Leopards are just as cunning as lions, but not nearly so bold. They are nocturnal and mind-bogglingly fast (able to run at speeds up to 35 mph!). When they sense that they have been spotted they will flee, more than likely shooting up the nearest tree, as these big cats are expert climbers. They are also one of the few big cats that purr, and to hear this domestic sound in the wild is lucky indeed.

Favorite safaris for spotting leopards: Leopards range all over the East and South, and The Stanley Wing Safari is an especially great expedition for leopard-spotting (pun intended!)

Fun fact: Leopards can climb trees while carrying prey that weigh as much as they do!

3. The Cape Buffalo: The Nervous Nellie of the Bunch

Although lions and leopards are the predators of the Big Five, neither is as deadly as the cape buffalo, which is considered the most dangerous of the Big Five by far, due to its nervous and unpredictable nature. Large (up to six feet tall and 700 pounds) and equipped with sizeable horns, they are one of the only bovine species that man has been unable to domesticate. Cape buffalo graze in herds, and the sight of them spread out in the savannah, viewed from a hot-air balloon or bush plane, is truly majestic.

Favorite safaris for spotting cape buffalo: Helicopter game viewing on the Botswana’s Great Herds safari is an ideal time to spot cape buffalo. They can usually be found near water, all across East and South Africa.

Fun fact: Buffalo bulls love wallowing in mud–this is very good for the buffalo’s skin as it helps remove unwanted parasites such as ticks and mites

4. The Elephant: It Never Forgets. Or Whispers.

Elephants are also amazingly fast, for their size (up to 12,000 pounds), and the shrieking charge of a threatened elephant is not something that one will ever forget. They have reason to fear—the demand for ivory made elephants one of the most hunted animals on the planet, and foundations like The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are still struggling to ameliorate the effects of continued poaching. Fortunately, elephants are also quite smart, and when faced with something or someone that does not intend them harm they are gentle and peaceful.

Favorite safaris for spotting elephants: Elephants are everywhere! The African Splendour safari is an excellent trek for spotting elephants in many different habitats.

Fun fact: Elephants can swim – they use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.

5. The Black Rhino: The Rarest of Them All

The rarest of The Big Five is the black rhino, an animal prized by poachers for the medicinal properties of its horn, a quality that has driven this ancient animal (a 50 million-year-old species) nearly to extinction. There are only 4,000 of this shy and solitary animal left in the wild. Rhinos are large (the second-largest land animal in the world, next to elephants) but quick, nearly as fast as the leopard when charging, and because of their elusive nature they are quite a treat to capture in the viewfinder of your Nikon.

Favorite safaris for spotting rhinos: While there are not many black rhinos left in the world, their range is wide, and there is a possibility that you’ll sight one on all of our classic safaris—The Livingstone Wing Safari is great for seeing rhinos!

Fun fact: Rhino horns are made of keratin, like human fingernails and hair.

The concept of The Big Five has been around for so long that many riffs have been done on the theme. The most widespread of these variations is The Little Five, comprised of small animals found in Africa with names corresponding to The Big Five: rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver bird, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, and the ant lion.

In South Africa you might also hear tell of The Big Seven, a list that includes the traditional five plus the great white shark and the southern right whale, highlighting the incredible diversity of the region.

The legendary Big Five are indescribably magnificent to see on a Micato safari, in their native habitat, enacting age-old dramas on the endless savannahs. And so many more splendid animals await: giraffe and zebra, kudu and eland, hippos and crocs to name a few. In the great wilderness of Africa, there is majesty and beauty at every turn. We look forward one day to showing you where they all hide.

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…