Bucketlist Travel Review - Yellowstone NP, USA

 
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Contributor:
Kayla and Silas

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Adventures of Kayla and Silas

Website: www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com
Instagram: @kaylaandsilas

Age Group:
19-30 years
30-40 years

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Spontaneous
Explore
Food

 

Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Late September, 5 days

Inspiration:

A friend of ours ask if we would go with him to Yellowstone. Having never been there before, we both quickly agreed! We all wanted to get in some hiking, enjoy the quiet of nature, and have fun hanging out together.

Getting There:

Yellowstone is not easily accessible. We drove there (17 hours!), but you could fly into a nearby city and rent a car or R.V. It seemed nearly half the cars on the roads inside the park were R.V.s, so that is really common.

Local Knowledge:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both unlike anything else I've ever seen! Here's what I already wrote about how amazing these places are:  https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/02/12-Reasons-to-Visit-Yellowstone

 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb in Driggs, ID. It was delightful, however we had a pretty long drive into the parks every morning. I think it would be preferable to stay inside the park unless you only need a couple hours of sleep. We found everything was booked when we were looking, so you'll need to make a reservation as early as a year in advance of your trip if you want to stay in the park!

What To Do:

We packed a lot into our time at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here's our recommended itinerary: https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/09/A-Week-in-Yellowstone-and-Grand-Teton-National-Parks

Join our Patreon community here: www.patreon.com/kaylaandsilas Subscribe to our channel! http://bit.ly/2FFgx6E Earlier this year we took a road trip with our...

Must Do:

You need to watch at least one geyser BESIDES Old Faithful. They are just amazing.

Must See:

Grand Prismatic Spring!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

The park is BUSY. Bring as much as you can -- toilet paper and sanitizer for unkept bathrooms, picnic lunches for when restaurants are busy or you get too far from a main service hub (or you just want to save money), and a map so

5 Word Travel:

Gorgeous, interesting, unbelievable, breathtaking, exercise

Excess Baggage:

Don't get close to the animals! We saw a lot of tourists putting themselves in dangerous situations, but park rangers suggest keeping 25 yards distance to all animals and 100 yards to wolves and bears.

African Travel Bucketlist - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 
Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-18.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Christine

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @liveloveruntravel
Facebook: Live Love Run Travel
Website: www.liveloveruntravel.com

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Adventure
Running!
Budget but also splurge
Backpacking in hotels

 

Destination: Nogorongoro Crater, Tanzania

We first heard about Ngorongoro Crater while doing some work around the house with the Travel Channel on in the background. We both stopped to watch because we both knew we wanted to do an African Safari one day. At the time, we were newlyweds who had only been on our honeymoon and a few ski trips with our college friends together. We were planning to travel, but Africa seemed like it would be one of those trips that waited for after retirement.

However, we started to get serious about planning a trip there when we saw some safari trips come up on Groupon. A few were for South Africa and a few were for Kenya. We knew we wanted to go to Kenya if we were going to visit Africa to see some friends living in Nairobi. We started looking into the trip and ended up booking a three week trip to Africa within two years of first hearing about Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was a must for our trip.

Image 1 & 2: Driving through Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater

What makes Ngorongoro Crater so special? It is the world's largest crater that is intact, inactive and unfilled. The walls of the crater make it more like a zoo as there is less migration here than in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. That means that there is no "bad" time to visit. The animals are there all year. There are some animals that do migrate in and out of the crater, but the majority live there for life.

The crater is also uninhabited by humans. The Maasai are allowed to bring their herds in to graze, but they must enter and exit daily. The same is true of tourists. You are allowed to enter in the morning for your safari and stay for the day, but all of the lodging is outside of the crater. There are no restaurants (you bring your own food) and limited bathroom facilities (which are sometimes overrun by animals!).

Before we could enter the Conservancy Area, we had to wait while our guide paid all of our entrance fees. There was plenty of entertainment in the parking lot with lots of baboons of varying sizes. We watched them chase down people who were standing outside their vehicles to snack, fight each other playfully, and try to scratch the letters off of vehicles. We even watched one fall out of a tree when the branch he was swinging on broke. He was okay other than what appeared to be bruised pride.

 
   
  
    
  
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  This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

 

When we first arrived at the crater, our driver, David, stopped at a viewpoint along one of the crater walls. You could look out over the entire crater. We had seen this view from the Travel Channel show, but we did not expect to see it in real life. You could see some of the herds through my zoom lens even from the top of the crater.

From there, we headed to our lodging at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The dining area and lounge area had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the crater. Our room had a balcony that also overlooked the crater. At night, there were talented performers to entertain guests. Entertainment included music, dancing, and impressive stunts!

A stay at Ngorongoro Crater will require two nights lodging if you want to spend a full day in the crater. You will need to spend more nights if you want to spend more time in the crater. It is a few hours drive to get from anywhere to the crater, and you will want to maximize your time in the crater. After a certain time, the entrance road becomes another exit to ensure everyone makes it out of the crater before nightfall, so arriving in the afternoon means you cannot enter that day. We did a morning game drive in Lake Manyara before heading to Ngorongoro Crater and did not arrive until late afternoon, so we had to wait until the next day for our game drive in the crater.

   
  
    
  
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  Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

The next morning, David, our private guide and driver for our time in Tanzania, met us with boxed breakfasts and lunches before the sunrise. He gave us an option on if we wanted to start early with boxed breakfasts we could eat in the vehicle or if we wanted to wait for breakfast at the lodge. We wanted to get into the crater and start our game drive as early as possible. One thing we did not count on was for it to be cold in the crater. It gets chilly in the crater in the early morning!

Despite staying right at the top of the crater, our drive into the crater still took a little while. The road curves back and forth down the crater wall, and you are in a line of other early risers trying to get into the crater as early as possible. Once you are at the crater floor, all of the vehicles, some private like ours and others hotel owned, scatter, so you feel like you have the entire crater to yourself.

Sunrise in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater was our last stop on our safari, and we had yet to see any fully grown male lions with the full mane. As we entered the crater, we immediately spotted three adult males and an adult female. David informed us that the three males are brothers who rule one of the prides living in the crater.

Male lions who are brothers, usually born in the same litter or another mother's litter near the same time, will rule together for life. They will take over a pride together and will lead together. They will kill off any other males who try to overthrow them. Because there are three of them, they have ruled this pride for a long time due to strength in numbers and a low number of outside lions migrating into the crater. In fact, there are only 62 lions total in the crater thanks to several diseases decreasing their numbers in the last century.

 
   
  
    
  
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  The first three adult males we saw in the crater

The first three adult males we saw in the crater

 

After watching the lions for a while, we continued our journey throughout the crater, rarely seeing other safari vehicles. Because we had the vehicle and guide to ourselves, we were able to focus on the animals that we wanted to see. If we were enjoying watching something, we could stay as long as we wanted. If we just wanted a picture and then to move on, we could do that as well (we quickly learned that we aren't bird people!).

Throughout the day, we saw a variety of animals. Zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles are common in Ngorongoro Crater. We found several jackals, and I wanted to bring them home. We saw a few ostriches, some elephants, hyenas, warthogs, cape buffaloes and several more lions. Hippos joined us at our picnic lunch near their watering hole. We even found one of only nine cheetahs living in the crater.

Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-28.jpg

Our favorite memories include watching several lionesses hunt and watching a full stampede due to a male lion. As we were driving along, I spotted a lioness laying in the tall grass. We stopped to watch her and were the only vehicle around. She was watching a group of zebras coming into the area. She stayed crouched among the tall grasses to stay hidden. David explained to us that lions also have to watch the wind direction when hunting. If the wind blows their scent towards the prey, the prey will know they are there and leave the area. The lioness ended up not attacking the zebras since they stayed in an area without enough tall grass around them. They eventually caught her scent, alerted each other with a panicked sound, and left the area.

After they left, we continued watching the lioness and a jackal who was in the area. The jackal knew she was there, but he did not know exactly where she was hiding. He was panicked. When she finally sat up, he saw her and ran past, keeping his eye on her the whole time. After he left, a second lioness popped her head up above the grass on the other side of the path. Until that time, we had no idea she was even there!

The stampede was another impressive sight. We suddenly saw a large group of zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles running in the same direction. We came to a stop to watch. I spotted a few hyenas among them and immediately assumed the hyenas caused it like in The Lion King. Our guide told us they didn't because the hyenas were also running away.

As we kept sitting there and watching, we finally spotted the cause of the stampede. A male lion was walking up in the distance. We could barely see him at first, but he walked straight towards us. An adult male lion typically will not hunt. They are too big and weigh too much to be able to run down most of the animals. They are also too lazy, spending up to 20 hours a day sleeping. The females are typically the hunters. However, just him walking into the area was enough to scatter hundreds of animals. The only ones who stayed even remotely nearby were some Thompson's gazelles because they knew they could outrun him. All he did was walk over near us, lay down, and roll around in the grass before falling back asleep. Seeing the respect the other animals had for him was amazing.

 
The stampede

The stampede

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

 

As nightfall came, we headed back to our lodging before returning to Nairobi the next morning.

Ngorongoro Crater was a highlight of our safari, and we highly recommend it to anyone planning an African safari. Even if you are not planning a trip now, it's a great location to add to your bucketlist!


Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa - African Safari

 

Contributor  : Andy
Nationality   : Australian
Social Links  :  Instagram: @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   : Leisure, Family, Photography
Destination   : September 2017, 3 nights.

Inspiration:

We travel to South Africa each year to visit my wife's family. Previously my son had not been on safari before, but is obsessed with animals and wildlife. Having turned 7 years old, we decided he was old enough to join the experience. Phinda Mountain Lodge is close enough to Durban to drive, so we booked here for myself, my son and my father-in-law. Located within Phinda Private Game Reserve, it provides some of the best game viewing in South Africa. The Lodge is part of the highly rated &Beyond group, which has a number of properties throughout Africa and Asia that provide unique safari and adventure experiences. 

Getting There: 

We flew directly into Durban from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can also fly via Johannesburg with internal connecting flights. Phinda Mountain Lodge is just over 4 hours drive North of Durban, passed Jefferies Bay. It is a relatively easy drive and the lodge sends straight-forward directions. Close to the property it does change to unsealed roads, but they are not difficult to navigate. You can also drive from Johannesburg, which is roughly 6 hours.

On the drive in, you will start to see many species of wildlife, so have the camera handy and not packed away in the trunk of the car!

Some guests, especially those short on time, can arrange for small domestic chartered flights directly into the airstrip at the reserve. I spoke to one couple who were visiting several game parks in a short period of time and they suggested the time saved made up for the costs involved. This may be worth looking into if you are tight on time.

The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

Local Knowledge:

Different game reserves throughout Africa vary in terms of the services they offer, the accomodation options and the variety of wildlife. Many visitors are desperate to see either a) a certain species of animal or b) the largest variety possible. Phinda is renowned for a great variety, with all of the Big 5 in the reserve. Of particular interest, Phinda has significant populations of White and Black Rhinoceros and cheetah. It is worth asking around and getting advice on the likelihood of sighting particular species at various reserves if you have a special request. If you are looking for a great variety, somewhere like Phinda is an excellent choice!

The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

Where To Stay:

Phinda Private Game Reserve is a massive reserve of 170sq km and has 6 separate lodges, providing a variety of accomodation options. We chose the Mountain Lodge as it is a family friendly lodge, with great accomodation and access to excellent game viewing.

The private huts are extremely comfortable - essentially 5-star accomodation in the bush. The interiors are beautifully fitted out and full amenities are provided. We had a private plunge pool which was great for cooling off during the day.

5 Star Luxury in the African bush

5 Star Luxury in the African bush

The lodge has large common areas that are great for socialising with other guests and chatting with the guides. There is an swimming pool and a spectacular view out over the bush.

Mountain Lodge has a "kids room" and structured activities for children. Children over 6 years are allowed to go on game drives, which our son loved. In between time, he also went out making plaster casts of animal footprints and made traditional african crafts.

You are personally welcomed on arrival by extremely friendly staff and this carries through to the time they say goodbye. The atmosphere they have created at Mountain Lodge is honestly something that will leave a lasting impression - truly genuine hospitality.

Travel to South Africa, with the current conversion to the Rand, is relatively affordable for the most part. The luxury game reserve safaris however are one thing that is quite expensive. That said, if you are travelling to Africa, doing a safari should be really high on your list and spending a little extra to stay somewhere as nice as Phinda could certainly be seen as money well spent. 

What To Do:

For me, there are few things that compare to the magic of African safaris. Each drive has the excitement of what you might see and each interaction is completely different to those before. It was particularly special to share this experience with my son and father-in-law.

I have been on drives at many game reserves in South Africa and would have to say the variety at Phinda was probably the best I had encountered. Whilst we didn't spot any leopard (the only member of the big 5 that continues to elude me), the range and quality of other species was out-standing. The complete list of species we saw across the 4 days would be too long to list and the photographs in the gallery barely do justice. Personally the highlight of my experience would probably have been the amount of time we were able to sit and watch a family of cheetah. Or maybe it was the lion cubs? Or the enormous bull elephant? Its really impossible to choose.

For those who haven't been on safari before, most lodges operate in a very similar way. You start each day with a morning drive around sunrise, there is always tea/coffee and some cakes at the meeting point so you don't leave hungry. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, you will also stop for a morning tea break, with snacks and drinks all provided. The vehicles are comfortable and provide great viewing. We had a tracker, Cebu, whose knowledge of the bush was incredible and had an innate ability to spot even the most camouflaged animal. Our guide, Andy, was fantastic in explaining all that we needed to know about the lodge, the animals and the conservation work undertaken by &Beyond across its many properties across Africa.

Morning tea stop

Morning tea stop

You will return to the lodge for a well earned breakfast that the chef prepares - the meals are served in a common dining room which is a great opportunity to share stories with guests from other vehicles. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere at Mountain Lodge and the guides also made an effort to get around and talk to everyone.

There is some down-time to have a dip in the pool, catch up on emails/photo editing or have a nap. There is also an option on one of the days, to go for a walk through the bush, which can put a completely different perspective on watching the animals - actually standing next to a lake with hippos or walking through grassland only 50 meters from grazing giraffe. 

The chef prepares a gourmet lunch back in the dining area, then, its back in the vehicles for an afternoon safari drive, with a quick stop for afternoon tea and sundowners.

If you enjoy nature, wildlife or animals, you will absolutely love safaris in South Africa. It is truly the best way to see these animals. There are no guarantees regarding which animals you will see or what they will be doing - but for me, that is probably the greatest part. You will see the animals in their natural state - sleeping, playing, hunting. Some will be so close you are convinced they have no fear of humans, others will be almost impossible to see, they are so timid. When you go on drives in reserves like Phinda, you do get an incredible opportunity to sit for extended periods of time and watch some of thee animals just go about their daily lives.

Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

The lodge does offer a number of other activities that you can look into doing. These include; rhino tracking on foot, scuba diving at nearby Sodwana Bay, leatherback sea turtle nesting, photographic safaris and spending a night out under the stars in the bush. Essentially they are capable of tailoring a safari experience to suit your needs.

Eating:

All meals at Phinda Private Game Reserve are provided, including breakfast, morning/afternoon teas, lunch and dinner, with consideration to any dietary requirements. The chef prepares wonderful dishes, using a lot of local ingredients and recipes. On one of the evenings we had dinner by candlelight at a bush camp, which was a memorable experience.

If you like to have some of your own snacks, you can bring them also, but generally speaking there is plenty and even during the day the common areas have something to snack on. 

Must Do:

It goes without saying that going on safari drives is the "must do", however there are some huge advantages of going on drives in places like Mountain Lodge. The guides at reserves like Phinda are experienced to know where the animals are likely to be and have an incredible eye to be able to spot them from a distance. Many people opt to go for cheaper self drive options in South Africa, but you will potentially end up missing out. I have always found that going on drives with the experts gives you a much better chance of seeing animals, getting in great positions to watch them and also learning a lot more about them. The staff at Phinda are really committed to ensuring you get the most out of the time you spend with them and the guides especially are fantastic. If like myself, you have limited time available when you visit South Africa or even if you are living in SA and have a set amount of time, it is well worth speaking to the team from &Beyond about the lodges and packages that best suit your situation. We dealt with Susie from their booking team and she was fantastic from arranging the best accomodation options through to ensuring we had the right directions to get us to the lodge.

The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

Must See:

The obvious answer here are the stars of the show - the animals. But I would also encourage you to ask about going out early for a sunrise. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, there is a beautiful lookout not far from the accomodation that has a stunning view over the bush at sunrise. It is an incredible way to start your day!

Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

5 Word Travel:

Safari
Wildlife
Luxury
Bucket-list
Africa

TravelTip:

When visiting the African bush, people become safety conscious of the obvious lions and hyenas, however, it can be some of the smaller creatures that can be a concern. It wasn't until after returning home that we discovered a small tick had hitch-hiked on my son. As well as being uncomfortable, ticks can be carriers of disease. To avoid any issues, you can take measures to prevent ticks (repellants, sensible clothing) and also be vigilant in checking and removing any ticks that do climb aboard. It isn't recommended these days to burn off ticks. Rather, correct manual removal or actually freezing them off using the nitrogen wart sprays were the methods recommended to us.

For those looking to stay in contact, I did find the wifi connection at the lodge was relatively poor. You may wish to look into 3G mobile phone coverage as the reception was adequate. Whilst nobody enjoys peoples phones ringing out on safari, if you like to be contactable for work or family reasons, then you will get local reception around the lodge.

Excess Baggage:

One of the many things that I was really impressed with at Phinda, was the significant work they do in conservation. The &Beyond group is fully committed to supporting both the local community within which their lodges operate as well as the animals that have made their reserves famous.

In all of the &Beyond lodges, they make a concerted effort to employ members of the local community, as well as invest back into those communities through purchasing of produce and leasing of land.

Africa has long had issues with illegal hunting and poaching of wildlife, to the point where certain species are on the brink of extinction. &Beyond puts significant efforts into breeding and conservation work, to promote the sustainability of species that are currently threatened. At Phinda, the rhino and cheetah conservation projects have been particularly successful. Whilst it is sad learning of the situation populations of these animals are in, it is encouraging to know groups like &Beyond are working on solutions. They place an emphasis on educating guests during their stay and then carry this through to breeding and anti-poaching programs on the ground. It is nice to know that some of your money spent staying at these lodges is being re-invested back into the conservation of the animals!

Declaration:

I did not receive any financial discount or benefits from &Beyond or Phinda Mountain Lodge to write this review. The information provided is completely independent of &Beyond.