Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface

 

You don’t need access to an ocean to be able to enjoy fabulous underwater landscapes and ‘wildlife’; you can discover a whole new world beneath the surface even in the middle of Africa or a land-locked part of Brazil.

One of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks…

Images © Mumbo Island Camp, Lake Malawi

Teeming life in ‘the calendar lake’

Lake Malawi is 52 miles wide and an astonishing 365 miles long, hence its nickname ‘the calendar lake’. Think of it as one of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks, with a huge and fascinatingly diverse range of inhabitants, easily visible in the wonderfully clear waters.

Sailing on Lake Malawi is a joyful experience, and it’s a brilliant location for water-skiing, kayaking, tubing and parasailing; for all watersports basically.

But slip beneath the surface, whether that’s with a mask and snorkel or on a full-blown scuba dive, and a wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you, most notably the colourful cichlids.  There are more than 600 different species of cichlids which are endemic to the warm, freshwater depths of Lake Malawi. In fact, the lake has the largest number of fish species in the world; they have evolved in this ancient body of water over a period of some two million years!

Keep an eye open for blue stripy mbuna, electric yellow cichlids and the turquoise Livingston’s cichlid, and kampango and bombe catfish, and perhaps take a guided night dive to see nocturnal creature such as dolphinfish.

Not a diver? Not a problem! Snorkelling in the lake is hugely rewarding, as you find yourself surrounded by a rainbow of vibrant tropical fish. There’s an added bonus for those who choose to snorkel – as you’re not submerged beneath the waters, you can look up as well as down, and enjoy the glorious birdlife including fish eagles.

Snorkelling in Lake Malawi is hugely rewarding.

Image ©Kaya Mawa

A wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you.

Image left © Kawa Maya

Our consultants would be delighted to discuss the best places to stay for watersports at Lake Malawi, including Kaya Maya, Blue Zebra Island Lodge and Mumbo Island Camp.

We can tailor-make an itinerary for you or you might like to consider one of our suggested itineraries such as the Lake Malawi Holiday. If you want to combine Lake Malawi with a safari (the lake makes a wonderfully refreshing contrast to safari life), why not think about our Bush & Beach in Malawi itinerary, Lake of Stars or Nyika and Lake Malawi trip  or Zambia and Malawi Safari and Beach?

River snorkelling in Brazil

About 50km from Bonito, the south-western Brazilian eco-tourist hotspot, you can find what is regarded as the best river snorkelling in the world, in the crystal waters of the ‘silver river’ Rio de Prata. Rich seams of limestone on the riverbed act as natural filters, making it easy to see some of the stunning numbers of fish and plant species (see images above and below). You can also snorkel in the Rio Sucuri, – the world’s third clearest river, known for its fairytale-like underwater landscape.

There is a trick to river snorkelling in the Rio de Prata or Rio Sucuri; just float. Don’t kick, don’t splash and don’t touch anything. This makes it wonderfully relaxing and very easy for just about anybody but that’s not the reason why these rules (and they are rules) are in place. Kicking or splashing would stir up the sand at the bottom of these shallow rivers, significantly reducing visibility and impacting on the creatures that live in the waters. Big, chunky black pacu, slightly intimidating golden dourado (some up to 1m in length) and yellow-finned piraputanga will swim around you in Rio de Prata as tiny tetra emerge from beds of star grass to gently nibble on you in a friendly fashion.

Just getting to the snorkel site is an adventure in itself, with a 20 minute or so trek through the jungle. Then you’re issued with your snorkel and fins and a knee-length wetsuit (to protect the wild inhabitants of the rivers swimmers aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen or insect repellent), then you float face down and enter a whole new world. Take time also to look up, though – there are 200 different species of birds living in the lush vegetation that border the rivers.

If you think this might be for you, check out our ‘Rio, Waterfalls, Rivers and Coast’ trip or talk to us about a bespoke itinerary.

Wild inland swimming

There are lots of places where you can swim in the Amazon river but the water is too dark and murky to snorkel. Yes, the Amazon is home to piranhas but, contrary to what we’ve all seen on James Bond films etc., they don’t actually attack people! Tribes’ consultant Paul Cook – a huge fan of snorkelling in Rio de Prata – went kayaking and swimming on a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon aboard the Delfin and, we are happy to report, came back in one piece!

Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon has created a swimming pool within a mesh-enclosed area of the Pilchicocha Lake. This lets guests shake off the rainforest heat in the lake without running the risk of encountering caiman or 6’ long giant otters, who look cuddly but are very territorial and have a nasty bite. You may still be able to enjoy seeing them swimming on the other side of the net, but have the reassurance that the encounter will remain friendly!

Costa Rica has plenty of river floats and waterfalls. At Rio Perdido they have a unique thermal river. It’s fed by hot springs and is bathtub temperature. You can walk along the river and jump in and out without worrying about the temperature, and the river it is too hot for anything to live inside. So, no snorkelling possibilities, but what a fabulous experience!

 

Why a homestay?

Why a homestay?

Why a homestay?

Staying as a guest in someone’s home has a very different feel to staying in a lodge, hotel or even a B&B. A night in a private home is a fascinating way to see at first-hand what life is like when you step out of the travel environment and into the daily life of the people in the destination you have travelled to. For many it forms one of the most memorable parts of their holiday.

“Our hostess was very welcoming and smiley.”

As a homestay guest you will eat the food your host prepares for you, cooked in their home kitchen and consumed with their family. You spend the night in a room in a ‘normal’ village or city home and neighbourhood and your host family will do all they can to make you feel at home. There is plenty of time to talk to your hosts, to learn about their way of life and their homeland, gain a new perspective on the destination you are visiting and maybe pick up the kind of insider knowledge you wouldn’t find in a guidebook.

Most homestay hosts love to meet new people so are very welcoming, and you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have directly benefited the local community.

Amantani Island homestay, Peru

The pre-Inca Aymara people of Amantani island on Lake Titicaca, Peru, welcome guests and their guides for overnight stays with local families. The island is between four and five hours by boat from Puno and a stay here is usually preceded by a visit to the floating reed islands of Uros, with a trip to Taquile island the following day. Guests are assigned their host family on arrival on Amantani, with the islanders taking it in turn to host visitors.

As a guest in an Amantani island homestay you are likely to have the best bedroom in the house or outbuilding, though it is likely still to be fairly basic by western standards, possibly with limited or no electricity. Remember, you are living as the islanders do.  You’ll enjoy wholesome, simple local meals and may well be invited to the village meeting place for a dance afterwards.

Just as you would do if you were a guest in someone’s house in your home country, it is nice if you take a small gift for your hosts, perhaps vegetables, fruit or bread or candles.

Tribes’ guest feedback includes comments such as ‘Our hostess was very welcoming and smiley and produced tasty food from her stock-pot over an open fire and a gas cooker’, and ‘Walter and Vilma and their children welcomed us with open arms and treated us like friends, the food and level of service was wonderful.’

 

Indian homestays 

Hospitality is one of the most valued traditions of Indian culture, with guests in Indian homes being seem as representatives of God. Tribes’ directors Amanda and Guy Marks recently stayed at Rosie’s Homestay in Meghalaya in north east India. This is larger than the usual homestay, with four guest bedrooms and Rosie is an excellent cook who is happy to give cookery lessons to her guests, who can also watch local craftspeople at work.

 

Hospitality is one of the most valued traditions of Indian culture, with guests in Indian homes being seem as representatives of God.

Amanda said “Rosie is a lovely Khasi lady with plenty of oomph! And she is a great cook too; we had a superbly tasty pork dinner. Her 4 bedrooms are clean and have the basic necessities. Ask her to take you for a walk around her little lake and grounds if you come, and maybe even ask for a cooking lesson. A stay here is not about luxury, it’s about seeing a bit of (middle-class) Khasi life.

Homestays aren’t restricted to villages; travellers to Dehli can enjoy daily family life in an affluent residential suburb of the city with a stay at Aashiyan Homestay, a contemporary house where hosts Kiran and JP Singh  go out of their way to make guests feel at home. And, for a peaceful night just 4km from Mysore city, the spacious and elegant Gitanjali Homestay in the Chamundi Hills provides relaxing air-conditioned comfort and Kodava cuisine.  Cookery classes can be arranged, as can yoga sessions and Ayurveda treatments.

So, if you’d like to live like a local for a night or two on your holiday, let us know!

Travels as a father

Travels as a father

Travels as a father

With Father’s Day this Sunday, June 16, I asked that seasoned traveller, Tribes’ Director Guy Marks, about his experiences of seeing the world through the eyes of his sons…

“You don’t get a second chance to experience something for the first time, but sharing someone else’s experience comes a close second.”

What age were your boys when you started taking them on ‘serious’ holidays, and where was the first destination you took them to?

Or youngest, Luke, was five and our oldest, Dan, was eight when we first took them on safari in Tanzania.

Where else have they travelled to with you?

We’ve been to a few places in Europe and even UK holidays to Cornwall; but the real travelling has been taking them as a family to wonderful long-haul destinations – Nepal, Jordan, South Africa and Costa Rica. And I’ve also taken Dan to Brazil for a trip deep into the Amazon.

As somebody who specialises in helping other people have their own dream holidays, how did it feel to start to see the world through your sons’ eyes? Did it make you look at anywhere, or any experiences, in a different way?

When you have done as much travelling as I have, a lot of things that other people would think were out of the ordinary become pretty normal to me and sometimes go unnoticed. So to see the boys experiencing things for the very first time certainly made me sit back and take another look. You don’t get a second chance to experience something for the first time, but sharing someone else’s experience comes a close second. It was fabulous to watch them see their first lions and elephants, or smile as they tried new exotic foods in Nepal, especially when Dan tried something too hot! And the thrill they got from white-water rafting or from seeing a chameleon change colour in front of their eyes was simply enrapturing.

 

Some people shy away from taking their children on safari, but your boys have been lucky enough to experience a number of trips. What are your best or most exciting memories of taking them on safari?

A five year old has a short attention span even if he is on safari, but I remember how brilliant our driver-guide was in Tanzania, taking Luke on his lap at the wheel of the Land Rover so that he thought he was driving the car himself. 

And at age 7 and 10 they tried their hand a horse-riding whilst on safari in South Africa, only to come face to face with rhino. Most adults don’t even get the opportunity to do that, so to see the two of them get such a magical experience at such a young age and on their first ride was certainly memorable.

Most children love seeing wildlife on safaris and holidays to places like Costa Rica – what were your sons’ most memorable wildlife encounters?

I think for Luke it was seeing a sloth in Costa Rica, but only because it so closely resembled his older brother!

Many of your trips have been as a family, but you have also travelled just with your oldest son. Tell us about that.

Yes, I took Dan to Brazil on a work trip when he was 15. A great age where he was old enough to get the most from it and to put up with me doing some hotel inspections, but young enough still to want to go on holiday with his dad. We did Rio in a couple of days, making time to see the key sites, and then we headed for Manaus in the heart of the Amazon. Taking a river boat cruise into the smaller tributaries gave us amazing encounters with everything from tarantulas to pink river dolphins, and monkeys to piranhas. Then we went deeper into the jungle to a floating lodge in the Mamiraua reserve in search of the elusive uakari. It’s a white-coated monkey with a bald bright-red face. I’m pleased to say we saw several. It was a wonderful time and fabulous to have Dan there to share it with me.

 

“Travel has given them more than just a great thrill… it has given them a broader field of reference for life”

How do you think the travel experience has impacted on your sons? 

Travel has given them more than just a great thrill and experience. It has given them a broader field of reference for life that can only be a positive thing in understanding the world and their place in it. When you see how other people live and what the wild places on earth are really like then you appreciate the society and privileges we have here, and have a greater understanding of global concepts like conservation and the destruction of biodiversity. 

And how did travelling with your sons impact you?

For me, having already gained that wide field of reference from an unbelievable amount of travel in my life, the impact has been less profound. But the best thing about it has simply been the fun – the joy of spending quality time with the people I love most in the world.

 

On your bike!

On your bike!

On your bike!

Whether you’re a regular cyclist or haven’t turned a pedal in years, heading off on a jaunt on two wheels can add a whole new element to your holiday.

You don’t have to be a lycra-clad cycling enthusiast to add some pedal power to your holiday. There are plenty of low-key options available that let you get a new dimension on the destination you are visiting, while providing gentle exercise for travellers of all ages. Of course, if you are a keen cyclist and want to get a more vigorous work-out that’s doable too! Just let us know what type of cycling you’re comfortable with and we will do the rest.

A saddle safari

If you fancy riding past elephants and zebras and pedalling your way to a sundowner break, there are plenty of opportunities to saddle up in Africa. Cycling in the Great Rift Valley and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania would be a memorable part of any holiday. Or how about cycling along the beach in Zanzibar, following in the tyre tracks of the local fishermen and enjoying cooling breezes from the turquoise waters as you make your way to a seafood restaurant?  A trip that includes opportunities to do both could make a brilliant family holiday!

At Tafika Camp on the banks of the Luwanga River in Zambia you can go mountain biking in the bush or ride to the local village and school, while the Laikipia Plateau in northern Kenya is a glorious place to explore by bike, with lodges such as Borana and Kicheche Laikipia offering the chance to enjoy wildlife viewing by mountain bike.

The luxurious Mashatu Tented Camp and Mashatu Lodge, set in a private game reserve in Botswana, have bikes available for guests to go on rides along animal tracks with guides, and also offer mountain biking safaris that last for several days. And how about taking a ‘fat bike’ onto the iconic dunes of Swakopmund, Namibia? Fabulous!

 

Visiting South Africa? The Cape Winelands offer some stunning cycling routes, with good roads making them easy for even novice cyclists, while a bike tour is a fantastic way to explore the charms of Cape Town. You could do both on our Cape Town & Winelands holiday! Tribes’ consultant Sinead Bailey had a wonderful holiday in South Africa with her family last year, and her sons had a whale of a time on bikes in the Winelands, and also loved  wheeling down Signal Hill and Table Mountain on fat-wheel scooters!

You can also take a two-hour eco-friendly cycling adventure around the Soweto township of Johannesburg, cycling past historic landmarks, enjoying a delicious traditional South African meal and really getting to experience the community.

Delhi by bike

Tribes’ Alex Neaves and his fiancée had a hugely enjoyable cycle tour of Delhi last year, getting up early to avoid the crowds and whizzing along through narrow streets getting a really fascinating picture of the city waking up for the day, its shops and street vendors preparing for business. It’s a great way to get off the more obvious tourist routes and see the ‘real’ city.

Forests, glaciers and more…

Central and South America offer some wonderful cycling opportunities. Costa Rica is a great place for taking to two wheels; wildlife and flora-spotting in Manuel Antonio National Park from the seat of a bike for example is huge fun. Or why not explore Chile’s beautiful Lake District by bike?

Here’s a treat for lovers of stunning landscapes and ancient history! Mountain biking through Peru’s Sacred Valley, stopping at Inca sites en route and gazing out at truly glorious scenery. Now that’s pretty hard to beat, but what about biking on Easter Island, cycling up to those huge, enigmatic statues, or wheeling your way through Patagonia’s iconic Torres del Paine National Park?

Safari fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Safari fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Sitting round the campfire and swapping tales is one of the highlights of any safari. While wildlife is inevitably the major focus of such a trip, a safari will usually also include other memorable events, such as encounters with local people, wonderful walks, amazing landscapes etc. So here we recount some of the special experiences Tribes’ customers have enjoyed during their African adventures that (largely) didn’t involve wildlife…

“The clear Kenyan night sky at the Porini Mara Camp was beautiful but the sky came alive with the stargazer talk around the campfire by the camp manager. A wonderful experience especially as we had cloudy skies up till that night.” Alison C – (trip to Kenya)

“From the moment we boarded the little airplane from Maun the excitement began. I loved the flight over the Okavango Delta, we could see the beauty from above and pick out the animals, so special. After our first game drive we arrived back at the Lodge to be greeted by the staff and some wonderful African singing and dancing, what a fabulous way to enjoy our first evening. My son and I particularly enjoyed the walking safari; amazing to be in the wilderness on our own with just our guide and driver. Finally, our last experience was going out into the waters of the Delta, Wow! We were watched by a family of hippos just a few feet away! It was so peaceful and so stunning there and the birds and water plants were just beautiful, I’ve run out of superlatives…”

Diane Soames – (trip to Botswana)

“The local people we met and saw on our travels welcomed us with open arms and huge smiles. It was incredibly touching. We learnt so much about the wildlife and felt privileged to be guided by such well-informed guides who understood these animals and enabled us to feel at one with their environment. At Elephant Top Camp we walked with the warriors to the hill top with the sun setting on one side and the full moon rising on the other. We were met by our guide and welcomed with drinks and a fire. The warriors danced and sang their tribal chants as we watched and then joined in. It was a true honour to be in their presence. We loved this and will hold this memory close to our hearts.”

Susan Mathew – (family trip to Kenya)

“To wake up with a full view of the ocean, with canoes and dhows drifting past, was truly glorious. Just wandering along the path accompanied by butterflies, strolling on the beach and lazing on the day bed or hammock was about as much activity as we felt was necessary. We were treated to a star-lit dinner on the beach to celebrate our anniversary, surrounded by candles in hearts drawn in the sand.”

Liz & Dave Milway – (trip to Tanzania)

“Posing for photos with Maasai in my Maasai blanket, which I wore when I washed my one and only set of clothes after my suitcase did not arrive with me on safari… coffee with the owner of Livingstone’s cafe (where Livingstone and other explorers stayed) in Stonetown, near the sea in beautiful, balmy weather… New Year’s Eve in the roof top restaurant of Swahili House with church bells ringing, and ships’ sirens sounding… lunch under an acacia in the middle of the Serengeti with NO ONE around… the quiet, the warm breeze, the peace.”

Bronwen Gill – (trip to Tanzania)

“The colours were amazing – from the balloon trip sunrise, through the superb starlings and many other birds, the Maasai costumes, right to the sunset at the end of the day.”

Imogen Stewart – (trip to Kenya)

“Throughout there was the backdrop of unforgettable scenery seen from those little planes – including having giraffe on the runaway necessitating a second approach – and from the cars, from underwater, when stopping in the bush for meals, by the campfires, from the safari rooms.” Georgina Geernaert – (trip to Tanzania)

“One of the best ‘non-animal’ experiences came when we were driven to the airstrip near Porini Amboseli camp to catch a plane to Nairobi. The airstrip was just a bit of bush that had been cleared, the plane was a small 6-seater, and one of us got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. The children loved it. ” Anna Economides – (trip to Kenya)

“I was hoping and expecting that the holiday would be interesting and even exciting (which it was) but I wasn’t expecting it to be so relaxing. There were loads of moments when I felt completely calm and relaxed in the spectacular natural environment. The fact that every Zambian and Malawian we met was ready with a smile and a joke greatly helped. Lovely people.” Timothy Connolly – (trip to Zambia and Malawi)

“Delicious local food served in a wonderful setting high on a balcony overlooking the lake or down by the campfire in candlelight. Or lunch on the boat in the lake surrounded by hippos and crocodiles. A walking safari ending up with the most amazing breakfast or drinks watching the sunset.” A McCreery – (trip to Tanzania)

 

“I saw some amazing sights, getting to see all that I expected and more besides, but the thing that I will never forget is the warm, friendly hospitality of the staff. I loved the Zambian sense of humour and the people were always trying to fulfil your wishes.”

Geoffrey Gamble – (trip to Zambia)

“The highlights for us were the boat safaris at Mvuu. A peaceful way to see so much wildlife, especially the birds, and enjoy the wonderful views of the rivers and mountains in the distance and the big African skies.”

Joy Longmuir – (trip to Malawi)

 “We loved ziplining and a sunset cruise and canoe trip on the Zambezi river. A last-minute addition was hiking up to the first base camp at Mt Kilimanjaro. The people we met in Tanzania, were some of the most friendly and enjoyable people you could ever meet!”

Kimberly Robinette – (trip to Tanzania and Zimbabwe)

 

“Tracking lion prints through the bush with the reassurance of an excellent guide from the camp and an armed ranger from the National Parks service – and someone bringing up the rear with our morning tea and biscuits!”

Lucy McKenzie – (trip to Zambia)

 

“We would walk to the other side of the island after breakfast to a tiny beach where we would be all alone to swim in the warm sea, listening to the fish eagles and watching the kingfishers. We had a lovely massage in the best situation ever on the banks of the Luangwa River listening to the hippos chatting to each other.” Dr Caroline Russell – (trip to Zambia)

“It was very humbling having Phillip, the head keeper at Umani Springs Stockade thanking us for coming and supporting the Sheldrick organisation as, without all the supporters from around the world, he and the other keepers would not be able to do their jobs. Emanuel at Ithumba also thanked us profusely for our support. Not only do the supporters/foster parents of the ellies keep the orphanages going, but they also help the native wildlife due to the water holes that the Sheldrick organisation keep full with water.  Being able to chat to the keepers and be with them while they work and watch the elephants at the water holes and mud wallows was just AMAZING and so special.” Susan Bailey – (trip to Kenya)

“Our guide, Nkosi, was superb. He must have grown out of the very earth of Africa such was the depth and variety of his knowledge. His love for his country, the wildlife and flora in it, and his joy at imparting his wisdom shone through. It was a real privilege to share his insights and to watch him interact with wildlife to give us the best possible experiences. A talented photographer himself, he was able to place us in the best possible locations for photographs, whilst at all times respecting the needs of the wildlife. He drove us around with skill, responsibility and concern for our comfort and welfare through some very challenging situations.” Jane Simpson – (trip to Botswana)

“The companionship of my fellow ‘van’ travellers plus campfire drinks and other colourful characters. Breakfasts round a revived campfire with a kettle steaming on its embers and a cauldron of porridge keeping warm. Waking up to a full silver moon beaming in, shimmering across the Kafue River. One evening I was particularly awe struck at being able to see the sun set and the moon rise, one to my right the other to my left, both at the same time. Showering outside beneath a still star-studded sky in the moonlight before leaving for home.” Ruth Samways – (trip to Zambia)

“Seeing Kilimanjaro from the plane. People carrying massive bunches of bananas on their heads with perfect balance. Three people – barefoot, with no helmets – riding pillion on a motorbike ‘taxi’. The drive from Tarangire to Manyara through villages where all the children called and waved (and were very grateful for biscuits – hope they have good dentists) and realising this was effectively the Garden of Eden – didn’t see Adam, Eve or any snakes though.” Dr Robert Climie – (trip to Tanzania)

If we’ve whetted your appetite to take an African adventure and discover your own fireside tales, we’d be delighted to help you plan your trip!

We can tailor-make it specifically for you – but here are some trip ideas to get you thinking…

And here are some experiences that could make a holiday extra-special…