In early February 2021, my wife and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Africa. We had been married in August 2020 and naturally had not been able to honeymoon. I had been awarded vacation for early March and because of my profession, airline pilot, that vacation worked out to 3 weeks off. Itching to travel, with 3 weeks free to do whatever we wanted, we decided to take a leap, brave the COVID world and book a trip to Africa.
Intimate knowledge of operators
We began our research the only place people our age do, the internet. That being said both me and my wife are well seasoned international travellers who love the outdoors so we knew what we were looking for. We wanted a reputable company that would be comfortable but also that would provide a little bit of adventure and not be over the top pampered. In that research, we found Clyde at Tailormade Africa. We had made several different inquiries at other providers but Clyde seemed the most willing to work with our rapid timeline, all the challenges related to COVID, and had the best plan to provide the type of trip that we wanted. Clyde was able to provide information on each possible itinerary and was intimately aware of all the different providers. I really liked that he could provide great detail on the individual operators.
Tailormade Africa go the extra mile to make things easier
Once we had chosen our desired itinerary we began the payment process. Americans if you plan on using a credit card unless you are booking well in advance think again. This was not our first overseas booking and know from experience wiring money can be a giant pain and this time was no different. That being said Clyde and his team were super helpful, several phone calls in one day, and we got it done. If you are wiring money be patient. During this time Clyde provided us with an APP that had our itinerary loaded into it with all the details we could ever want. This was also made available offline so things like phone numbers were available in the bush if need be. Also as we got documents like COVID tests they were uploaded so everything was in one neat location.
Our advice for airline routing to Africa
After the itinerary was set and paid for, Clyde began making all the bookings on his end while my wife and I began to work on the international travel on our end. Being airline employees we can travel on most international carriers for a discounted price on a space-available basis but I think our routing would apply to anyone. Because most of Europe is not allowing American travellers we chose to transit through Qatar in the Middle East using Qatar Airways. Non-COVID from the states there may be better options but with COVID this was the best option and it worked quite well.
What to expect when travelling during these COVID times
COVID......ugh. All in all, we had to take 5 covid tests to complete this trip one of which wasn't totally necessary but was nice to have just to be sure we were being safe. Our biggest concern was we didn't get anyone sick in Africa by coming from America. Because of the turnaround time of a PCR test we took one test about 48 hrs before departure so that we had a valid negative test when we left. With the extremely long travel time that first test would have been over 72 hrs old when we got to Botswana so in the Seattle airport we were able to have another PCR test done while we waited for our flight to depart that promised next day results. These results would be within the 72 hr valid window for when we arrived in Botswana. Also because it was being offered we had a rapid test done at this time just for peace of mind. We did spend one night in Johannesburg because they were only running two flights a week to Maun Botswana and the process as far as COVID goes was very easy.
Off to Maun in Botswana - Let the safari begin!
The next day we flew on South African Airlink to Maun in Botswana. My wife and I both enjoyed the trip, and the food and beverage we got were much better than anything you would ever get on a US-based regional carrier. Upon arrival in Maun, all 10 passengers on the flight were moved to a shady yet still very hot spot on the ramp. We each drew numbers out of a hat to determine the order of our rapid COVID test administered by the Botswana government. My wife and I were the last two selected ugh. The test was administered just like any other, all tests were negative and we were allowed to clear customs.
A mobile safari with Letaka Safaris
The itinerary we chose consisted of 6 days of mobile safari provided by Letaka Safaris and 3 nights at Shinde camp provided by Ker and Downey. Once we cleared customs we were meet by our pilot from MAC air who would be flying us to the Suviti airstrip in the Okavango Delta where our Safari would start. Our bags weighed we were taken to a small single-engine airplane and made the 1 hr flight to camp. This was the begging of what was to be an amazing 6 days with the guys of Letaka Safaris. Our guide Gee was an encyclopedia of knowledge about everything in Africa and was able to guide us to pretty much every sighting we could have hoped for. This included multiple lion sightings, and incredible leopard sighting, elephant, giraffe, plains game more birds than we knew existed and so much more. The mobile camp was comfortable and way fancier than we make our camping trips in America. Kk the camp chef never stopped impressing these two foodies and we came home with many new recipes to try and reproduce on our own camping trips. KB and Elliot were all ways available to provide anything we needed. Freshwater, hot water for showers, and a cold Gin and Tonic! The camp was more than comfortable when you consider it was a tented camp in the middle of the African bush. The beds we comfortable, the linens nice, and all the accessories top-notch. I could go on and on but Africa is one of those places that needs to be experienced and we can't see better people provide that experience than Letaka Safaris.
Top noth guiding and a great way to end our honeymoon safari
After 6 days with Letaka, 3 days exploring Savuti in the Chobe national park and 3 exploring the Khwai concession we bittersweetly left the team at Letaka and boarded the same small single-engine airplane for a 30 min flight to Shinde where we would be spending our last 3 days in a permanent camp run by Ker and Downey. Because of it being the rainy season we were unable to land at the primary runway for Shinde so we landed at the airport for a neighbor camp. Some would look at this as an inconvenience but we thought it was amazing because it meant we got an hr long boat ride exploring the waterways of the Okavango on our way to camp. The camp at Shinde was a welcome increase in creature comforts. Our accommodations were beyond beautiful and the ability to shower endlessly, take a dip in the pool, have a fan to sleep and a little bit of internet was nice. For my wife and I, this level of pampering was nice for a few days at the end of the trip but I think we both liked the rustic nature of the mobile Safari more. The game viewing and knowledge of our guide at Shinde were nothing less than top-notch.
Clyde at Tailormade Africa goes out of his way to make things easier
After 3 days at Shinde, our trip was sadly coming to an end. After the hr boat ride, we boarded a plane to head home. This was the only flight where there was more than my wife and I onboard. We dropped a few of our camp guests at a different lodge to continue their safari while we continued on to Maun. In Maun, we were met by a representative of Ker and Downey and the manager of the Thamalakane river lodge which Clyde had set up for our night in Maun to complete our COVID tests for home. We were whisked off to the clinic where we completed the unpleasant process of completing our 5th and final COVID test. The manager was nice enough to take about two hrs out of her day to drive us around to find some local souvenirs before heading to the lodge. The lodge was a great place to spend our last evening relaxing before our long trip home. My COVID results were emailed to me about 4 hrs after testing but by the morning of our departure, my wife still had not received her results which was scary, to say the least. A quick call to Clyde and his team was on it. They were able to quickly discover that her results had been sent to the big city for secondary screening and they were able to push the process and get the result back in time for our departure. The trip home although long was uneventful. The COVID results provided in Botswana were more than satisfactory for all the countries and we arrived home about 38hrs after leaving Botswana.
So is it worth travelling to Africa at the moment - You bet it is!
COVID makes what is normally a very long trip even longer and more stressful than normal. That being said we can both say it was absolutely worth it to have Africa to ourselves. Clyde and his team were amazing always keeping in touch as were every other person and provider we came in contact with. We always felt safe in Africa, the people were nothing but kind and the economy seemed stable. Long story short we will be back!!