Check out some of &Beyonds incredible African safari camp and lodge pools!
Certainly one of the golden rules as a child, and one that is guaranteed to put you in good stead for the summer holidays, is to always be nice to friends with a pool. If I think back to the long, carefree summers of my own childhood, this was definitely one of the age-old, unwritten rules of summer. Keep your enemies close and your pool-owning friends even closer. There wasn’t much that could tear us away from the water and our friends.
Yet as adults, many of us tend to grow out of our swimming pool obsession. Why though? Water does the body good and nothing beats the summer heat like a quick dip in a refreshing pool. Time spent in, or next to, the pool eases the mind, soothes the soul and gives us a healthy measure of vitamin D to boot. So if you don’t have access to a daily dose of vitamin ‘sea’, then go for the next best thing and soak up the glorious sunshine next to a picturesque pool.
We’ve taken our own childhood advice and continue to make friends with some of the best pool owners in the world. Here are 20 of the world’s best pools with a view… relax, soak up the remarkable scenery and let your troubles float away.
1. &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge, Ngala Private Game Reserve, South Africa
2. The Silo Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa
3. &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namib Desert, Namibia
4. &Beyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
5. &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
6. &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
South Africa’s Tintswalo has always been famed for its lion sightings, but for the month of April it has been something special as we saw over 50 different lions in just two weeks!
One of the biggest surprises for us has been the arrival of five little bundles of joy from the Talamati pride. We are so privileged that the Talamati lionesses trust us enough to bring out the cubs at such a young age. Our guests have been watching them for hours, playing and tackling each other and getting to know their new world. The young Avoca males are doing an incredible job looking after these females, and we may soon have another set of cubs appearing near the lodge.
Love is certainly in the air when it comes to the big cats of the Manyeleti.
The impressive S8 male leopard was seen mating with an unknown female in the south of the reserve. Nompethu female is showing signs of being pregnant again and we hope this amazing female has better luck this time with her litter of cubs.
Rolling on with the month of love, a pack of eight painted wolves (African wild dogs) were also seen in the south of the reserve and we had the privilege of witnessing the alpha pair mating. Mothers gestate their pups for around 90 days, so we hope that this pack will choose the Manyeleti again this year as their denning area. Exciting times ahead!
The cheetah sightings have been incredible lately with seven different individuals showing up and numerous sightings across the reserve. Three young sub-adults continue to be seen in the south of the reserve and are looking very confident in an area that is full of lions.
Two males have been seen regularly in the north of the reserve and have made a number of kills up on the open plains.
If you love elephants, Tintswalo Safari Lodge is the place to be at the moment. The lush grass and massive water supply are drawing elephants in from all over Kruger.
We are seeing massive herds in the area, and plenty of herds coming down to the dams to drink. During one morning drive, we counted 200 elephants!
The beloved Mbiri pride, our resident lions, are seen almost daily — all 12 members accounted for.
We watched in amazement one night when the pride took down a wildebeest right in front of the safari vehicle, and proceeded to feast on the animal. The sounds of their growls and roars right beside us were something to behold; and a reminder that the Manyeleti remains as wild as ever.
Recently an old male Buffalo died in the middle of a muddy waterhole at South Africa’s Kapama Private Reserve. The cause of death was difficult to determine as there could have been numerous reasons. But one thing we could be certain of was that the carcass of the Buffalo would not go to waste. In nature, every little bit gets used.
We discovered the dead Buffalo during our afternoon safari game drive with our Buffalo Camp guests. It seemed no other animal had noticed it yet as the Buffalo carcass was in a very difficult spot in the middle of a muddy waterhole and really difficult to get to, unless you were happy to get wet and muddy.
The next morning we decided to drive past the Buffalo carcass again just to see if there was any activity. As we approached we spotted a clan of Hyenas. They have an extremely good sense of smell and probably smelt the dead carcass. The spotted Hyena can detect carrion by smell, noise of other predators feeding on the carcass or even by observing Vultures descending on a carcass. Its hearing is so incredible that they can pick up noises coming from predators killing or feeding on prey over a distance of up to 10km.
When we got closer we noticed about ten Hyenas had surrounded the carcass.
It was no longer in the middle of the muddy waterhole, but had been moved to the side. They dragged it there as this would have made it easier to feed on than where it was first discovered. We sat there and watched the hyenas eating on the carcass as they filled their already full bellies, as they must have been feeding for most of the night. Some of the hyenas already started to get to the bones.
One of the hyenas decided to have a piece of Buffalo rib. We could hear rib bones being crunched into pieces with his strong jaws from where we were sitting on the vehicle. Hyenas are well known for chomping on bones. They are able to crush through bone with their powerful huge jaw muscles, which is then digested in their incredibly strong stomach acids.
Eventually the Hyenas had their fill and decided to move off as it got hotter. They tend to sleep during the day and become more active at night. With the spotted Hyenas gone the Vulture’s took their turn and swooped in to finish off the remains. There must have been over 50 Vultures that began descending on the leftovers.
Chaos reigned as the Vultures fought to get the best spot to feed, pushing each other out of the way to get further inside the Buffalo carcass. The Hyenas had ripped the tough skin of the Buffalo, making it easier for the Vultures to get inside. Vultures made quick work of the carcass, consuming the meat at an alarmingly fast rate not wanting to share with their neighbor.
Suddenly without warning the feeding frenzy ceased and all the vultures took flight as a small black backed Jackal come charging in. Considering the number of vultures that were feeding, this little Jackal was exceedingly confident. He lost no time chasing the vultures away, so that he could also get his fair share of the carcass. Jackals are omnivores and will eat anything that they can get, but a big dead Buffalo is too good of an opportunity to miss. After a while the vultures started to return, one after the other.
Did you know: when it comes to a Vulture group feeding around a carcass, they are called a wake, and when they are in flight formation, they are known as a kettle.
As their numbers grew once more, it became too overwhelming for the Jackal and he decided to move off. I explained to my guests that by the end of the day, the only thing that would remain of the Buffalo carcass would be some skin and bones.
Together in nature, Hyenas, Jackals and Vultures all play a huge part in the cleaning up process by eating all the unwanted rotten meat from carcasses so that diseases wont spread. Through such a collaborative feeding frenzy, nothing in nature goes to waste.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers
Stopping for a sundowner drink in the middle of the South African bush while on safari, can lead to unexpected visitors coming to join you. This is exactly what happened to me and a couple of guests not too long ago. We were in for the surprise of a lifetime.
We left Buffalo Camp in the afternoon to see what else we could find while out on safari on Kapama Private Game Reserve. The past few game drives we were fortunate enough to see most of the animals that Kapama has to offer, including the Big Five. With this drive being particularly quiet and only the sights and sounds of an array of colorful birds, we decided to go for a sundowner stop where we could enjoy a refreshing drink and a few delicious some snacks.
As we set up the drinks stop and viewed a beautiful sunset, we talked about the earlier morning sightings and what they still wanted to see while staying at Kapama. Just before we started to pack up my tracker – Vusi heard something. I passed him the light and he went off to investigate further as to what might have made the noticeable noise. With the biggest smile, I had ever seen on Vusi’s face, excitement bouncing off him, Vusi motioned for me to come over to where he had just been, and to bring our guests. It seemed we were in for a surprise that I never would have expected.
There it was between the grass, as relaxed as one can be, the most trafficked animal in Africa and a very rare animal to see in nature, the Pangolin.
Currently, It is so endangered that it is under the protection of international law.
Seeing this animal was one of the best moments in my life as we know how rare it is to spot such an endangered animal out in the wild. I explained to my guest just what a privilege it was to have spotted one. I ran back to the vehicle, grabbed my camera and took a few pictures to document the incredible experience. Vusi and I spent time with the guests and this most amazing animal.
The main reason why it is the most trafficked animal is that it is believed that parts of a Pangolins body possess spiritual and curative powers. The Pangolin is often used for traditional medicine and spiritual purposes as well as hunted and trafficked for their meat.
Pangolins are truly unique animals and anyone that is lucky enough to observe them in their natural environment will come to see that there are no other species quite like them in the animal kingdom.
Besides their uniqueness, they are characteristically shy, solitary and primarily nocturnal.
A few other interesting facts about pangolins are:
1.) Pangolins roll up into an endearing, impregnable ball when threatened, protecting its feet, soft belly and interesting face. They also protect their young by curling up around them.
2.) They are the world’s only truly scaly mammals. Covered in hundreds of individual scales comprised of keratin – similar to our hair or fingernails which continues to grow throughout their lives.
3.) The pangolin has a strong and sticky tongue in place of teeth. It uses this tough to catch its food which is longer than its head and body when extended.
4.) Pangolins are capable swimmers. Some pangolin species like the African ground pangolin are completely terrestrial, while others like the African tree pangolin are very good climbers, and use their claws and tail to get the bark to get up trees
5.) Mother pangolins keep their young down in burrows. They only start to be mobile when they old enough to ride on their mom tails.
6.) Their diets consist mainly of insects like ants and termites.
7.) Adult pangolins are very solitary animals, almost like hermits. They prefer living a solitary life rather than in pairsor families.
What an amazing find and what a privilege to share such a great animal with guests while out on safari in the South African bush!
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Hancho Olivier
A true African drama has been playing itself out in South Africa’s Rietspruit Nature Reserve near the bushveld town of Hoedspruit and the Kruger National Park, and residents of Leadwood Big Game Estate (a private residential estate inside the reserve) have been on the edge of their seats, hoping that a tiny female cub will overcome enormous odds to survive.
Two lion cubs were recently born to lions introduced to Rietspruit Nature Reserve in June 2018, and the mother was doing a great job of hiding them from other pride members and from predators such as leopards, hyenas and pythons (as mother lions do for the first few months). BUT then the tiny female cub left her mother and brother to go walkabout with the three pride males who visited the den site for a few days. When the males left to go hunting the female cub followed them. She was only five weeks old at the time, and still totally dependent on her mother for milk.
After 10 days this tiny explorer was still hanging about with her giant male travel companions, and looking gaunt and weak. During that time, she had not been with her mother and so had no milk, and although she was seen at a giraffe carcass with the males it is unlikely that she ate any meat.
Lion cubs only start eating meat at about three months old, although there have been anecdotal reports of younger cubs nibbling on small quantities of meat. The tiny cub was seen drinking water on a few occasions.
Quite how she had survived to this point with no nutrition is a mystery. Considering that her constant desperate calls would attract hyenas and leopards, and her proximity to a giraffe carcass which was bound to attract hyenas, the odds were well and truly stacked against her. Hyenas and leopards regularly kill lion cubs.
The adult males were very attentive of her, often doubling back during their wanderings to make sure she was keeping up, but of course they could not provide her with the necessary nourishment. She was seen trying to suckle from the males, obviously to no avail.
In the meantime, the mother was seen moving her male cub between dens in the dense riverine thickets some distance from the female cub, as they do to keep the location a secret from other predators. This too was reducing the cub’s odds of survival – finding her mother being her only chance.
Following the lion cub during this time were film-making crew Brent Leo-Smith and Wium Dornbrack of Painted Dog TV, whose four videos of this saga appear at the end of this post. The videos tell the story as it unfolds, and make for compelling viewing. Brent, who is a safari guide and presenter for Painted Dog TV, was concerned about how gaunt the tiny cub had become, after so long without nutrition.
He had this to say: “At first we enjoyed observing and filming the cub as she followed the big guys around, and cuddled with them whenever they rested. This was a unique situation, and we enjoyed making the most of the opportunity. But after a while she became hungry and weak, and started calling for food, and even tried to feed from the males. We then became stressed about the situation, and documenting her probable death was not easy for Wium and I. It was really tough to be following the cub and watching the sad saga unfold, hearing her call desperately for food, and yet having to simply observe, record and not get involved.”
After 10 days had passed, and with the weakening cub looking increasingly gaunt and desperate, the decision was made by Rietspruit Nature Reserve to intervene. The plan devised was to attempt to get the males and mother lion together, and so allow the female cub to once again join her mother.
Meat from a culled impala (this being a fenced reserve, where culling is necessary to prevent over-population) was used to create two pieces of bait – one for the mother and one for the males. The lions followed their respective baits, and met as planned, but in the ensuing frenzy the female was chased away by the males. While the meat was distracting the adult lions, Brent and Wium went back to the female cub that had got left behind. Thinking quickly, they devised a plan to catch the cub and move her closer to the den where her brother was in hiding. After receiving permission via mobile phone from reserve management for this spur-of-the-moment change of plan, Brent called to the cub, imitating a lion contact call.
She approached cautiously out of the shrubs, and Brent threw a blanket over her, wrapped her up and placed her in a bucket usually used for dangerous snake relocations.
The intrepid film crew then dashed over to where the last known den site for the male cub was, and left the female in nearby shrubs. They then left the scene and went home for some much-needed sleep, hoping that the brave female cub would be re-united with her mother and brother, but fearing that the morning would bring bad news…
Before first light they headed back to the den site, and were delighted to see the wandering female cub back with her mother and brother. The size difference between the two cubs was obvious, and it remains to be seen if the female can overcome 10 days of insufficient nourishment at such a young age.
After enjoying watching the three lions reunited, Brent and Wium left them to themselves.
Kevin Leo-Smith, a resident of Leadwood Big Game Estate and conservation manager of Rietspruit Game Reserve, had this to say: “Wild lion cubs have a high mortality rate, and we usually do not interfere with natural incidents such as this, because it is important that nature takes its course. This is how nature determines which individual animals survive the rigours of life in the bushveld, ensuring that the species as a whole benefits by way of natural selection. In this instance though, we decided to make a one-off exception, and authorised the moving of the female cub to within a close proximity of her mother. This was a unique situation, truly extraordinary, and I have not found anyone that has heard of a similar story.
“Big cat expert Dr. Luke Hunter was totally correct in his analysis that this entire saga was due to an adventurous cub – his main point being that lions have personality. This cub proves his point in so many ways. I would like to thank to Brent and Wium for their bravery, common sense and dedication.”
With only around 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, these elegant and striking cats are currently listed at ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, with many conservationists calling for their status to be changed to ‘Endangered’ due to their rapidly decreasing population. This decrease in cheetah numbers is due to numerous factors, including their vulnerability to larger predators, lack of prey to feed on, and habitat loss, but the main the reason behind the population decline is, not surprisingly, humans.
However, there is still hope for cheetahs. Conservation work in Africa is being done to ensure the long-term viability of cheetahs in small fenced reserves, as well as promoting the long-term genetic and demographic integrity of the metapopulation.
This is why it was so exciting when it was discovered that a new cheetah female, that was introduced to the Manyoni Private Game Reserve last year, successfully gave birth to a litter of four cubs!
The cheetah cubs were first spotted by the Wildlife ACT team, who have been monitoring the female cheetah closely. At just six weeks old, they were still sporting their adorable ‘honey badger’ outfits, which is thought to help deter predators as honey badgers are notoriously aggressive animals that most animals give a wide berth.
This female is only the second female cheetah introduction ever performed at Manyoni Private Game Reserve. It was done because the founding females in the reserve are ageing and will soon not be able to reproduce anymore, and the existing population within the reserve is saturated with their genes.
Genetic variety is vital to the long-term viability of cheetahs so we are extremely happy that she managed to produce cubs after being in the reserve for less than a year. Raising four cubs is certainly going to be a challenge for a first-time mother, but we’re rooting for her and hoping she goes on to produce many more generations of cheetahs!
In 2018 Wilderness Safaris joined forces with Olympus in an exciting partnership to enhance our wildlife photography experience in camps. The result of this partnership has produced incredible images taken by guests, guides and camp managers alike.
Olympus Photo Hubs, set up at selected camps across Botswana, Rwanda, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, allow our guests to enjoy capturing images while our Wilderness photographic guides assist with sharing tips on how best to capture those powerful wilderness moments.
Isaac Kalio, Wilderness Safaris Shumba Guide, shares his top 20 favorite Olympus images taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
Enjoy viewing this beautiful selection!
An early morning hunt through dew-laden grass
An elephant bull approaching our vehicle. We all know who’s boss here!
Early morning light perfectly complemented by two grey crowned cranes
A buffalo bull peers through the tall grasses
These two males arrived in 2018 as nomads. They are now well settled, and are breeding with our lionesses.
Lechwe in the mist at sunrise – taken from the deck of Shumba Camp
A large flock of open-billed storks. The storks have adapted to living on snails and fresh water mussels.
Elephants cross a channel making their way to an acacia island
The nomads in a ‘kick-boxing’ match!
Grey crowned cranes display their impressive wingspan in the misty early morning light.
We watched this lioness from across the channel, only a few meters from our boat!
Puku are common in Busanga, and are differentiated from lechwe by their habitat (found in the dryer, rank grass alongside floodplains) and smaller size; they also do not have the lechwe’s distinguishing black bands on their forelegs.
A lioness eating grass as a way to ease uncomfortable digestion.
Sable – another beautiful African antelope, not often seen in such large numbers.
Low-level and close-up shots taken from the boat.
Lechwes leap through deep water channels as they flee a pursuing predator.
A lioness wards off a yellow-billed kite.
At the beginning of the season, the channels are too deep for lions to cross. They prefer to leap from one riverbank to the other to avoid getting wet!
Spur-winged geese are commonly seen on game drives.
Queen, the oldest lioness on the Plains, still has a lot of energy to leap across channels!
A largely pristine wetland system that supports a diverse ecosystem during annual dry season flooding, the Okavango Delta is a world-famous safari destination and well-deserving of World Heritage status. Every year on 18 April, those cultural and natural sites deemed valuable assets by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee are celebrated.
Today, people around the world will be honoring those sites out of the 1,092 that are most significant to them.
We look at why the Okavango Delta was awarded the 1,000th position on the World Heritage List five years ago.
The annual flooding by the Okavango River into the Okavango Delta is a welcome respite during the height of Botswana’s dry season in June and July. It is one of a very few large inland delta systems without an outlet to the sea, its waters draining instead into the desert sands of the Central Kalahari Basin.
It is this astonishing juxtaposition of a lush wetland within an otherwise arid landscape that is the catalyst for spectacular wildlife gatherings. In a marvelous example of the interaction between climatic, hydrological and biological processes, the indigenous plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods.
The Okavango Delta is home to healthy populations of some of the world’s most endangered large mammals, including cheetah, white rhino, painted wolves (African wild dog) and lion. Botswana supports the world’s largest population of elephants and the Okavango Delta is considered the core area for this species’ survival.
Along with these notable wildlife species, the delta supports 1,061 plant, 89 fish, 64 reptile, 482 bird and 130 mammal species. Each species has found its distinct habitats. Whether it be in the seasonal lagoons, permanent swamps, dry deciduous woodlands of any of the diverse habitats, each species lives within an ecosystem where it thrives.
As a remote and difficult area to access, the Okavango Delta has successfully sustained a high level of unspoiled wilderness across its vast 2 million hectares. There has been little significant development and impact by humans, with tourism to the inner delta actively limited by governmental policies to tented camps with access largely by air.
These safari properties are carefully managed and monitored for compliance with environmental standards and aim at the lowest ecological impact possible. Mining activity in the delta is prohibited and any such activity in neighboring areas and countries are monitored closely to avoid any detrimental impacts to this environment.
From contrasting landscapes that are exceptionally wild and beautiful to diverse wildlife species that thrive in its various habitats, the Okavango Delta is well-deserving of its place on the World Heritage List.
With four of Africa’s Big Five already ticked off, I set off from South Africa’s Buffalo Camp with guests for our afternoon game drive. We only had one very important, intriguing and regal creature left to complete the list. As we set off on our adventure, one of my guests asked if Ishmael, my tracker, and I could show off our tracking skills and find them the elusive Leopard as that was actually highest on their bucket list.
Not long into the drive, Ishmael raised his hand for me to stop. He pointed out some tracks on the road. Not just any tracks, it was very fresh Leopard tracks. Could we be so lucky? Only time would tell!
That morning and during the day we had strong gusts of wind blowing. All tracks would have been blown away or damage, so spotting something at this late stage in the afternoon was a wonderful and positive sign that it could be something worth following. Yet, I still held my breath as nature plays according to her own set of rules.
We tracked the Leopard footprints all the way along the road! Sadly the tracks disappear into the bushes and my heart sank. We went around to the next road hoping that we could pick the tracks up again. Ishmael’s skills were certainly being put to the test. Our guests were eagerly watching each hand and body motion coming from the seat up at the front of the vehicle to see if Ishmael would give away any hints or excitement of something spotted. Eventually, we found more tracks again on the road that followed once again back into bushes, so not all that much to work with. I continued along the road, trying to figure out where this Leopard would have ended up.
At one point in the road, we saw some scuff marks in the sand as if some kind of fight had taken place. Ishmael surveyed the terrain with his keen hawk eyes, and once he ensured it was safe, he jumped off his tracker seat in the front and walked up to the display of commotion on the ground to decipher its cryptic message. On further investigation, we discovered a few drag marks. Was it a predator’s kill? Something had certainly been dragged across the road he was staring at, so we continued with our pursuit.
Not far off we picked up on Leopard tracks once more. Ishmael and I were convinced it was our earlier Leopard we started tracking and it seemed as though the Leopard had made a kill. It was certainly worth investigating, so we followed the drag marks as far as we could. Just then, we came across the Leopard’s kill, a male impala, but no Leopard in sight. I moved the game vehicle just a little bit deeper into the shrubbery and there she was, lying down not too far from her kill.
My guests silently erupted with excitement, not quite believing we we were able to track that Leopard for them. Nor did they realise that this little Leopard adventure had taken us about 2 hours to track her down. I explained to my guests that she would rest a bit before continuing to eat. While we watched her she stood up and walked away deeper into the bushes.
Knowing that there was a small water hole just around the corner, I was sure she was making her way there. I moved the game vehicle around to the other side hoping we would find her. As we rounded the corner she was laying on the wall of the water hole giving us the best possible photo opportunity.
Seeing her was just amazing but what made it so rewarding, was the opportunity to show my guests in an exciting, yet informative way, how incredible the signs of nature can be!
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers
Every day, dozens of African elephants are killed by poachers seeking for their ivory, meat and other body parts. Elephant calves left without their mothers are sure to die as they lack survival skills and source of food.
In Zimbabwe, there is a place where orphaned baby elephants can have a second chance at life. The Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery, founded by Roxy Danckwerts on her family farm, rescues helpless infants, providing them with care and love 24/7 in a bid to reintegrate mighty animals back to the wild.
RTD’s Aleksandr Avilov visits this extraordinary place outside of the capital Harare. He meets Moyo, Limpopo and other elephants in the nursery, and hears touching stories of the incredible bond between the animals and sanctuary staff. Roxy and her family speak about the challenges and joys of raising elephants and the new challenge of returning the ones that are ready back to where they belong.
Watch the documentary, When an Elephant Smiles, below:
African Safari Co.’s President recently ventured to the Galapagos and then onto the Amazon in search of the best lodges and experiences for your next excursion! Read his trip report to find out more.
Arriving at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito passport control was quick and easy. Our hotel, the Patio Andaluz, in the historic old town was clean, comfortable and well situated to explore the narrow cobble stone streets. The following morning, we joined some other travelers on the shuttle van heading to the cloud forest retreat of Mashpi. This very modern lodge is only accessible by a 3 1/2-hour road trip. The lodge offers various outdoor activities including guided walks and hikes through the forest trails, two very different experiences above the forest canopy, a visit to the humming bird garden and a visit to the Life Center. Adjacent to the lodges is a small research center where we were very impressed by the moth research being conducted. I highly recommend this experience as an add on to a Galapagos cruise, but allow for at least two or three nights in order to enjoy all the activities. The lodge is a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
The following day, after our morning gondola ride through the canopy, we were transferred back to Quito where we spent the night at the Polo Club. The Polo Club is not just a name, but an actual working polo facility with polo fields, ponies, excellent accommodation and wonderful cuisine. Our 4:30AM transfer had us back at the airport in good time to check in for the flight to Balta to begin our Galapagos Islands adventure! A guide from our boat, the Endemic, met us for the short bus ride to the jetty where an inflatable (panga) took us to the catamaran moored in the channel between Baltra and the island of Santa Cruz. As this was our second visit to the islands, we had opted for the short 3 night/4 day. This shorten cruise itinerary has us join the last 4 days of the full 7-day cruise.
The Endemic is a luxury catamaran that entered service 6 months ago. By expedition boat standards the 8 cabins were huge, each with full length sliding doors leading to a small balcony looking out onto the waters. The food was excellent and our guide, Raul, was very congenial, very experienced and passionate about conservation. The walks on the islands and snorkeling in the usually warm water did not disappoint. Although there has been a big increase in boats and visitors since we were last there 10 years ago, itineraries and shore excursions are well planned, and it did not feel overcrowded. Before returning to the mainland we spent a night at the Galapagos Safari Camp. Built to resemble a tented African safari camp, the lodge offers a variety of guided excursions including diving and day trips on small boats to some of the other islands. A great way to end a cruise! After flying back to Quito for our final adventure we spent the night the Airport Wyndam Hotel. Within walking distance of the terminal this new hotel is very convenient, and I recommend it for anyone with late arrival or early departures.
The next morning, we returned to the airport for the short flight to Coca, gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazonia. Coca is a sprawling town of low-rise buildings built on the banks of the Napo River. Our lodge, La Selva, is built on a remote lagoon about 2 hours down river. Transfers to the lagoon are a short paddle up creek in long, narrow motor boats. We had an orientation presentation on arrival and met our guide. Activities included various hikes in the jungle, canoe trips on the river, a visit to the canopy tower, the parrot clay lick and a very interesting visit to the local Kichwa cultural center. Rooms were very comfortable, and the food was excellent. All told, this was a wonderful 12-day excursion in a very friendly South American Country that offers wonderful culture, wildlife, scenery and adventure.