Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘southern africa’

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

  • July 12th 2012

The results are in!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Taste of Namibia

  • May 10th 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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.